Sennheiser’s RS 170 wireless headphones sit in the middle of the company’s new range of wireless digital headphones. They’re more powerful and possess better range than the entry-level RS 160s, but lack some of the frills of the RS 180.
What the RS 170 do have in common with those two models, however, is the use of digital wireless transmission technology from Kleer, and this puts it on par with wired headphones when it comes to audio fidelity. It’s an end to the hiss and pop that has plagued wireless headphones from the very beginning – and it actually works as advertised.
The headphones themselves are closed circumaural cans with electrodynamic transducers. Though they’re full-size earsets with plenty of padding both around the ear and on the bridge, they weigh just 216g (sans batteries), making them a comfortable choice for long listening sessions.
They come with a modem-sized base station that doubles as a charger when you hang the headphones on them at the end of an evening. Up to four headphone sets can be linked a single base station.
As we saw in both of the other models in Sennheiser’s new wireless range, the headphones’ audio reproduction is outstanding. Delivering crisp audio across the full frequency spectrum (and most especially in the midrange), the RS 170s produce sound a step above most competing models.
It’s helped by the new digital transmission system from Kleer, which replaces the FM radio transmission we saw in older models. According to Sennheiser, the base station can deliver uncompressed digital audio to the headphones out to a range of 80m. We tested it a range of 20m, from one side of a house to another and through several walls and the audio came through perfectly, without any noticeable static interference or dropout, nor any loss of depth in the audio itself. This is the kind of wireless performance we’ve been waiting for.
The performance is also helped by excellent noise insulation. As soon as we put on the closed earpieces the din of the outside world dropped away to almost nothing. It doesn’t have any active noise cancellation technology inbuilt, just excellent noise shields that shut out external distractions.
The headphones and base station have volume controls and balance settings, as well as a dynamic bass boost and (non-Dolby) surround sound simulation settings. While we didn’t find that much value in the virtual surround and bass boost, the base station does have a useful two-position attenuator switch which can compensate for certain types of input signals (one for iPod-style device, the other for home theatre equipment).
It also features RCA audio outputs, which are particularly useful when you want loop audio through the headsets to an external amp or speaker set.
While the audio performance is similar to that of the cheaper RS 160, the added wireless range of the RS 170 makes it worth the extra $85 or so it will set you back. And for a little less than $400 on the street, these are outstanding wireless headphones, with just about everything you could ask for at this price: excellent audio quality, long range, plenty of volume and crystal clear and vibrant transmission.