by Aaron Bendich
The wireless headphone market is broad, featuring seemingly endless lists of specifications and models. While some of these parameters are subjective or depend on the user’s audio preferences or music choices, others are purely application based. The type of wireless audio signal is one of these application-related specs. Bluetooth audio, a digitally encoded signal, is popular for portable wireless headphones. However, the digital encoding and decoding process creates a delay between broadcast and reception. As such, Bluetooth is ineffective for television viewing, since it creates a delay between audio and video.
RF, or radio frequency, is the alternative wireless transmission method, and it actually predates Bluetooth by about a hundred years. RF refers to electromagnetic frequencies that propagate quickly and effectively through space with few adverse effects to people. It is the oldest and most commonly used method of audio transmission. Radio frequency transmission is useful for TV headphones because it does not elaborately and time-consumingly encode audio, eliminating any sort of delay.
The RF headphone market is somewhat less crowded than the wired or Bluetooth markets. However, it is still sprawling and presents a different assortment of technical specifications and differences. While Bluetooth has a standardized transmission and reception mechanism, with normalized broadcast distances, RF units perform differently depending on parts and physical design. Furthermore, consumers looking for a television headset are bound to be looking for different audio specifications than someone looking for music headphones.
When looking for a pair of TV headphones, there are a number of things to consider. As far as audio quality is concerned, the basic idea is similar to that of music headphones; listeners want accurate sound reproduction. For many listeners this means deep bass, clear highs and prominent mids. Comfort is a necessity of a different magnitude for TV headphones, since they are bound to be used for longer, more regular, stationary listening sessions. Battery life and charging setup are also important factors, due to the intended duration of use as well as the need to fit the headphones and charging station into a home theater environment. Lastly, wireless range is an important factor for listening throughout the house or even in a large room.
While the number of television headphone options is immense, trusted brand Sennheiser features a line of RF headphones that run the gamut of wireless headphone options. Sennheiser is a German company which was founded in 1945. For nearly 60 years, Sennheiser has manufactured headphones. Its lengthy tenure in the industry, as well as its reputation for high quality products, situates Sennheiser as a premier headphone manufacturer. Sennheiser’s RS line has something for everyone, from the casual, relatively inexpensive entry-level option, to the high-end premium offerings.
Let’s take a look at their offerings…
Sennheiser RS 135
The 135s replace, and take a step up from, the classic RS 120 model. These headphones use an on-the-ear design with soft and comfortable foam pads that rest directly on the ear. The headband is also very comfortable and can be left on for extended periods without scalp irritation. The headset is also impressively lightweight, an added comfort bonus. The built-in volume controller, saves the user from needing to carry around a remote or having to walk to the television to make an adjustment. These headphones boast an impressive 20 hours of playtime. The 135s use an innovative charging station with metal prongs that make contact with metal plates embedded in the headband. To charge, the user simply has to place the headphones on the base station, which doubles as a charger and transmitter. The base plugs into your sound-producing device’s RCA output to receive the audio. It utilizes an included AC power supply. Most impressively, it advertises a 300ft transmission range which cannot be beat. Sound reproduction is excellent, with deep, resonant bass and crystal clear highs and mids. This pair of headphones is a perfect starter set for those of you interested in wireless headphones for television.
Sennheiser RS 175
In many respects, the 175s are similar to the 135s. Like the lower-end offering, the 175s use RF as well as a metal plate contact charging setup. Both headsets feature 300ft wireless range and 20+ hours of battery life. Both are lauded for their high quality sound and feature well-crafted audio components. Otherwise, the RS 175s are distinct from the other model in quality of build, playback style and comfort. The 175 model features a more attractive, professional-looking design. The base is considerably smaller and sleeker. This model ditches the on ear style for an over-ear cup. This allows for more natural sound isolation, and what some may consider to be higher comfort. This model features a bass boost setting as well as a virtual surround sound option. Each of these, as well as the volume control, can be set with buttons on the ear cup. The 175 also introduces Toslink connectivity. Toslink is Toshiba’s fiber optic audio cabling, a simple and inexpensive hi-fi audio solution.
Sennheiser RS 185
The RS 185s are nearly identical to the 175s in both design and their set of features. The underlying difference is that the 185s feature an open back design. Open back headphones are known to bring a higher level of clarity and authenticity to playback. There are a couple of drawbacks that prevent all headphones from being open back. For one, external sound bleeds in; these are not sound isolating models. Similarly, the sound being played in the headset will bleed out through the open back. In the home theater setting, it is much less likely that others will be in range to be disturbed by your audio playback. There is also less of a chance for ambient sound in the home setting. With these factors in mind, open-back headphones are ideal for at home listening, which means the 185s are fantastically suited for their intended use. One trade’off between this model and the 175s is the 185s lack of a bass boost or virtual surround sound mode. Overall, the choice between the 175s and 185s comes down to the open back vs the additional audio features. If you are curious about open back headphones the 185s are a great option.
Sennheiser RS 195
The RS 195s are a very unique headphone offering. They are a collaborative effort between Sennheiser and Fraunhoffer Institute for Digital Media Technology, who specialize in hearing aid technology. These headphones offer a wide array of settings designed to improve the listening experience of those with hearing loss. A lettered array of settings ‘A’ through ‘G’ isolate and amplify different frequency ranges. Furthermore, the 195s have a speech mode and a music mode, each optimized for their respective use. Additionally, there is a left/right balance setting for individuals with different levels of hearing ability between their two ears. Otherwise, these headphones possess all of the innovative design features of the Sennheiser RS line making them an excellent choice besides their main draw.
These headphones offer an incredibly unique set of features, allowing an oft ignored subset of music, film and television lovers to continue doing what they love. For some, this headset is and will be revolutionary to their media experiences. This technology bridges the ever-developing headphone market with the massive demographic of people with hearing loss. This sort of specific, yet broadly applicable technological innovation is precisely what the audio field needs. It is great to see Sennheiser tapping into this potentially fruitful and revolutionary market.
All above headphones are available at Audio 46 Sennheiser store.