For us, the holy grail of headphones would have excellent sound quality, high comfort levels, and no burdensome wires. Sennheiser’s new RS 220 comes close to fulfilling these wishes, and despite (or perhaps because of) the wallet-busting £349 price tag we'd seriously consider buying them. We have few complaints about the RS 220. Visit Group test: what are the best headphones?
Sennheiser RS 220: Design and specifications
The Sennheiser RS 220 wireless headphones come in a big box, but there’s a reason for this other than just showing off. Bundled with the HDR 220 headphones is the TR 220 — a glossy black obelisk that acts as an all-in-one headphone charging station, wireless transmitter and bank of inputs.
The TR 220 transmitter runs off a DC power pack (which comes with UK, US and EU plugs), and has inputs and outputs at the back for stereo analog RCA, coaxial digital and optical digital audio. This wide variety of inputs is excellent, as is the output stage, meaning the RS 220 can be set up alongside a home theatre system or in tandem with a TV’s speakers — excellent for late-night movie watching. There’s also a button to pair headphones and a dial to adjust the audio output level.
Around the front of the transmitter, it’s a pretty simple setup: two buttons and five status lights. Use one button to switch between analog, coaxial and optical digital inputs, and use the other to turn the transmitter on or off. One niggle we encountered was having to power on the headphones separately from the transmitter — you can’t just pick them up from the cradle and put them on. This is presumably to keep the batteries topped up until you need them, though.
The Sennheiser RS 220's front buttons and status lights.
The top of the transmitter has two electrical contacts that line up with corresponding points on the RS 220’s headphones, letting the headphones’ internal batteries charge while sitting on the dock. We recorded a charging time of about three hours from entirely empty to fully charged on fresh batteries, with a total listening time of just under eight hours with the headphones set to a volume level of about 50 per cent.
The headphones themselves have HDR 220 badging, but you can’t buy them separately from the RS 220 bundle. They’re very sturdily constructed, with a variety of plastics making up the ear-cups, a metal headband, and a good mix of well-padded leatherette and suede-effect fabric used on the headband and ear-pads. Apart from the aforementioned electrical contacts, there are a few features to note. Each ear-cup has a single battery compartment, already stocked with a NiMH rechargeable AAA but disposable alkaline cells can also be used.
A side view of the Sennheiser RS 220's headphones, the HDR 220.
The bottom of each ear-cup on the HDR 220 headphones has three buttons — or at least that’s what it looks. The left ear actually only has a central power button (headphones only, remember: the transmitter has to be independently triggered) and a button to switch inputs, but the third ‘button’ is merely cosmetic. The right ear is more honest, with a pair of volume control buttons that also function to balance the headphones once a third, central balance button is pressed.
The headphones are very comfortable thanks to a headband that has just the right level of clamping force. The fabric ear-pads are well cushioned and don't get sweaty during long listening sessions. We did notice the slight premium in weight over a wired competitor — the extra internal circuitry for wireless playback adds about 50 grams, giving the RS 220 a little more heft. If you don't mind your headphones heavy, this isn't a problem. It's good to exercise your neck muscles, at least.
Sennheiser RS 220: Sound quality and performance
N.B: We initially listened to the RS 220 straight out of the box, and then broke them in with three eight-hour sessions at moderate volume before listening again. We did notice better overall performance after this short break-in period.
We tested the Sennheiser RS 220 with a variety of sources, predominantly an Apple iPhone 4 and a Trends Audio UD-10.1 USB DAC. We also tested directly from the audio outputs of a Apple MacBook Pro. Tracks were a mix of electronic, rock and classic music in formats ranging from lossless FLAC and ALAC to 320KBps MP3s from Rdio.
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