The closed-back design does a great job of shutting out the outside world, though a small amount of sound leaks out, and also ensures a decent bass response, which you can always beef up with the bass boost. I’ve heard more articulate and well-defined low-ends before, but the RS 170s handled poppy electronic tracks from Royskopp and small group jazz from The Bill Evans trio equally well, and there was no shortage of raunch when I switched to rockier material from Soundgarden, Led Zeppelin and Pearl Jam. The mid-range sounds ever so slightly boxed-in, but there’s plenty of detail there and in the high-end.
If you want a pair of headphones that can reveal intakes of breath and other subtle nuances in a vocal performance, then the RS 170s won’t let you down. And if the sound isn’t as open or revealing as you’d get from Sennheiser’s HD595s, it’s certainly more so than you might normally expect from closed-back headphones. Even a spot of Wagner’s Gotterdammerung, with layer upon layer of strings, brass and woodwind piled on, didn’t faze the pair.
The RS 170s’ home cinema focus gives a definite advantage when it comes to playing big action games or watching blockbuster movies. Turn the sound on the TV or amplifier up then adjust the volume on the headphones to your comfort level and you’ll get dynamic, punchy soundtracks with great definition and effective placement of effects across the stereo range. The opening bank heist from The Dark Knight gave the RS 170s plenty of room to demonstrate their chops, with the ballistic effects rattling out with real impact. It’s a great set for games, too. A few hours spent on the excellent Battlefield: Bad Company 2 proved that the RS 170s don’t struggle with crammed, chaotic soundscapes, and as bullets ricocheted, walls collapsed and gas tanks blew up all around me, the Sennheisers put me square in the centre of the action, with plentiful supplies of crash, bang and wallop.
There’s an awful lot to love about the RS 170s, and very little to dislike. In fact, my one complaint would be that the volume controls are hard to locate by touch alone, and that you have to remove the headphones to change it. This, I think, is pretty small beer, and when set against the excellent sound quality and wireless performance, not worth worrying about. Sure, the RS 170s are three times as expensive as some budget wireless headphones, but to my mind the premium price is just about worth it. Think of them as a long-term investment, giving you your music and movies as you like them, and the rest of your household a spot of peace.
Sennheiser’s RS 170 headphones offer a potent combination of practicality and audio quality while avoiding the traditional pitfalls of their peers. Whether you’re after some late-night home cinema or some music while you’re doing the chores, these are amongst the best wireless headphones around.