There may be years of your life where there’s no need for a set of full-sized wireless headphones, but there are other times when a good pair is the wisest investment in audio that you could make. Sure, a full 5.1 or 7.1 surround speaker system is the ideal for home cinema, but if you live in a flat or a mid-terrace house, running it at full-bore isn’t always practical. Similarly, it’s hard to beat a proper, full-scale Hi-Fi setup, but what do you do when you want to listen late at night and the rest of the family is trying to get some sleep? A set of corded headphones is fine, but do you really want to deal with 3m of cable trailing between the TV set or amplifier and the living room sofa?
It’s no coincidence that several people I know who have become dads in the last few years now swear by their wireless cans. It’s the only way they get to watch the movies they want to watch at the volumes they like to watch them without waking up the kids (or getting an earful from their worn-out other halves).
Sennheiser is a big name in this market with its RS series, to which the RS 170 we’re looking at today is a recent addition. In fact, it’s one of three models Sennheiser launched at the tail end of last year, the others being the mid-range, closed-back RS160 and the high-end, open-backed RS180. There’s some good reason to get excited about these new models. While the previous headphones in the RS range – the RS120, RS120 and RS140 - transmitted sound over an FM radio connection, the new headphones use a version of Kleer’s 2.4GHz digital wireless technology, as also found in Sleek Audio’s excellent W1 Wireless IEM adaptor.
Why is this good news? Well, FM stereo – as still used in most full-sized wireless headphones – needs tuning before it works, is prone to background hiss and interference, and compresses the sound in the same way that commercial FM radio signals do. Even if you’re listening to a CD, the effects of the transmission technology mean that you’re not really listening to CD quality audio.