Thumbs up for the wireless tech, then, but what about the headphones? Well, the RS 170s are exactly what you’d expect from Sennheiser: a solidly-constructed, well-designed and comfortable set of cans that you can use for hours at a time without irritation. The circumaural (around the ear) cups are attached via two pivoting joints to a single adjustable headband, and a close but not vice-like fit ensures they stay on without placing your skull in a migraine-inducing death grip. There’s generous padding inside the headband and around the ears and, while the cans are mostly made of plastic, they don’t feel cheap or easily breakable. If you’ve ever tried Sennheiser’s HD59x series, these won’t feel unfamiliar at all.
The transmitter/charging cradle has had a redesign since the RS120/30/40 series, and it’s now a more streamlined black affair, with a simple three pin charge point at the top where the headphones hang, which connects to three strips inside the headband. Apart from the socket for the miniscule wall-wart power adaptor, the only connection is a single 3.5mm jack, though Sennheiser bundles a 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable, a 3.5mm to 6.3mm adaptor and a phono to 3.5mm adaptor which you can use to take audio direct from an amp, DVD player, Blu-ray player or games console as well as a TV, Hi-Fi system or MP3 player.
The two rechargeable AAA batteries – one inside each ear cup – take around 16 hours to charge and will last for around 24 hours, though your mileage will vary depending on range and volume levels. As it’s natural to place them back on the charging cradle at the end of a session, this isn’t that much of an issue anyway.
The headphones themselves have five buttons; on, volume up, volume down, and toggle buttons for the Surround-Sound and Bass-Boost processing options. You can check whether the last two are activated by looking at the LED indicators on the front of the cradle which also double as buttons to activate the two functions. Both are pretty self-explanatory, and while the surround sound function isn’t as convincing as the more advanced processing you’d get from a Dolby Headphone setup or Creative’s CMSS 3D technology, it does provide a wider, more enveloping soundstage which helps give movies a powerful, immersive feel.
On first listening, I was a bit concerned about the quality of the sound delivered by the RS 170s. It’s great to hear a set of wireless headphones that don’t suffer from hiss like the old RF and FM models, yet can be used without line of sight (the bugbear of the old Infra-Red based Sony systems). However, despite showing Sennheiser’s usual excellent grasp of detail, the sound was a bit brash and top-heavy, and not really ideal for music or movies. After only a few hours of settling in, however, things improved dramatically. The RS 170s are engineered for home cinema over Hi-Fi, but that doesn’t mean they fall down when it comes to playing CDs, FLACs and MP3s.