Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.
Wireless headphones are popular among home-theater devotees who like to indulge in uninhibited late night soirees, as well as music lovers who don't want to be tied down to their receivers or computers. Sennheiser is one of Germany's leading headphone manufacturers and a major proponent of wireless technology, so we couldn't wait to try its new-for-2005 model, the RS130 ($170 list).
The Sennheiser RS130s are very light, just 9.8 ounces, and we found them extremely comfortable over a long evening of watching DVDs. This set of Open-Aire headphones comes with a stylish base station/charger that houses a 900MHz wireless transmitter. The newly revised system is fitted with Sennheiser's Intelligent Auto Tuning system, which automatically selects the best of three available base-to-headset channels to ensure the lowest-possible distortion and noise. To charge the headphones' two AAA nickel-metal-hydride batteries, just place the RS130s on the cradle of the transmitter base. Fully charged, the headphones will play for as long as 22 hours. The base/charger can be mounted on the wall or placed near your components. Just be aware that it must be hooked up either to your HTIB/receiver's analog stereo outputs or to a headphone jack. All of the necessary cables and adapters are included.
The RS130 also features Sennheiser's SRS Headphone virtual-surround-sound system. SRS is compatible with two-channel audio sources such as CDs and DVDs. SRS opened up the sound a bit so that it was less stuck inside the listener's head, but it also made the sound more echoey and reverberant. Some people will like the effect, others won't. We didn't and opted to switch it off.
As with Sennheiser's previous generation of wireless headphones, the RS130s' volume and tuning controls are located right next to each other on the right earcup. Their close proximity is unfortunate, because we kept accidentally nudging the tuning control while adjusting the volume. Touching the tuning button causes the sound to drop out until you reset the tuning. The RS130s' reception was consistent throughout our home theater, though low-level hiss and whistling tones were audible during quiet scenes.
The Saw DVD quickly demonstrated the RS130s' mettle by directly injecting the sound of this scary flick into our skulls. The early plot line involves two men inexplicably trapped in a disgusting bathroom, and the increasing panic of the men's voices, the rattle of their chains, and the unsettling soundtrack made us queasy, but that's what we love about horror films.
When we switched over to a set of corded Sennheiser HD 485 headphones, the sound didn't dramatically change for the better--and that's a first in our experience. Sure, the RS130s' residual background noise was audible though not intrusive during the quiet scenes, and we noted the corded 'phones could play louder.
CDs also sounded excellent over the RS130s, with plenty of separation and a rich tonality. But the corded 'phones had superior detail and a clearer overall sound. At the end of the day, we'd still go with a corded headphone, but if you want the freedom of a wireless headphone, the Sennheiser RS130s would be one of our go-to choices.