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Friday, June 01, 2012

Review: Sennheiser RS120 wireless headphones

Now that I share an office with my wife and a house with a baby, keeping volume down when watching video, etc., has suddenly become important. While I've used blue-tooth headsets in the past, the quality has always been spotty, the range poor, and the amount of set up almost not worth the hassle for PCs, and of course, nearly impossible for TVs.

The Sennheiser RS120 is available in re-manufactured form for $55. By contrast, the newer technology RS 160 costs more than 2X that refurbished, at $117. It also does not come with a charging cradle. If you want a charging cradle with the newer technology, you need to shell out $186 for the RS 170. For that price, I figured I'd put up with a finicky setup and go cheap.

The big difference between the technologies is that the RS120 is analog: it's essentially a 900MHz transmitter and receiver, with a radio-like tuner and 3 channels so you can tune your headphone to receive the signal for maximum clarity. Because interference can attenuate the signal or shift the optimum frequency slightly, you need to tune the channel for best performance depending on where you sit, whether there are GSM phones nearby, or whether there's another 900 MHz channel in use. The plus is that you can tune multiple headsets to the same channel, so two of you can watch a movie, for instance, while the baby sleeps.

I wired up my Headroom Amp to my PC's port, and then wired that to the RS120. The result sounds great when properly tuned and with no interference. The no interference part is difficult because in the modern household, you have cordless phones, GSM mobile phones, Wifi, etc. But after fiddling a bit with the channels I found something that worked most of the time with great fidelity... until the wireless phone rings and you get a slight buzz. Oh well. When the phone rings I usually pause whatever it is I'm doing and take the call anyway.

The headset is powered by two rechargeable AAA batteries. The charging mechanism is ingenious: there are two metal plates on the headphones which when dropped onto the meta cradle, charge the batteries. This is very cool because the headset and cradle are designed so that when you drop the headset along any point on the cradle contact will happen and the charging starts.

The range of the headset is fantastic. I can wear them all around the house and hear music streaming from the PC. Walls, etc., are no barrier whatsoever. The annoyances are the occasional blips and cuts, and sometimes interference. If that bothers you, spend the extra money and buy the digital technology headsets.

One minor annoyance is that the transmitter automatically cuts off power when there's no input from the PC. This is not a problem for listening to music: you're probably streaming a playlist so music never cuts out. However, it's a problem for watching a movie: you'll watch a movie and then pause it to do something else. If you pause for long enough to say, feed a baby and change a diaper, the transmitter will cut off. That's not a problem. However, there's some latency before the transmitter comes back on when you resume the movie, so you might miss a few words. The headset also only hears static if the transmitter is off, which is annoying but not fatal.

Do I recommend the unit? Yes. I should have bought one ages ago when the inlaws were staying with me, because it would have reduced a few conflicts when someone wanted to watch TV during the night but it was annoying other members of the household. Is it of the highest possible audio quality? No. You'd probably get better quality (and less fiddling of the tuner) out of the digital technology models, though for a lot higher price. But as far as price/performance is concerned, these are the wireless units to beat. Recommended

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