Most helpful positive review
829 of 840 people found the following review helpful
At last... wireless sound worth bragging about
on November 30, 2005
Audio choices are obviously very personal, so I hesitate to recommend anything too strongly here. Tastes and tolerances differ so greatly, and wireless audio products really seem to push those differences. Maybe some of my needs and wants will match yours, maybe not, but please consider my thoughts here in light of the many personal qualifiers that I add. Those qualifiers may or may not relate well to your own situation. By the way, my apologies in advance for such a long review, but I really appreciate details when researching audio gear. I thought you might, too.
I'm about as picky as they come when sound is the issue. I have a small home recording studio, with 30 years of experience as a semi-pro musician (jazz, rock, classical, country). That said, I approach every musical equipment purchase with thorough research and comparison. Since I already have good wired phones (Senn 280s, Audio Technica M50s, and others) in my studio, I wanted some wireless cans mostly for moving around the house and yard while listening to music from my home stereo system, kind of a self-indulgent luxury. I've read enough to know that any wireless models using a radio signal (the best type of signal if you'll be in a different room than the transmitter) will produce some hiss and pop on occasion. I accepted this fact before buying. Still, I decided I would not accept something else: poor sound quality, in a musical sense. Two of the sub-$200 phones with rather consistently high reviews (in magazines and online) were the Senn 130 and 140 models. So I ordered both models to compare them in the privacy of my home. (I paid about $115 for the RS-130 and $135 for the RS-140; be patient because the prices here fluctuate often.)
A 100-watt/channel JVC receiver and JVC CD player--both typical (low-end) home stereo components. To suit my personal tastes for EQ, I boosted some at 16 kHz (to add air to the highs) and at 60 Hz (to add depth to the lows).
FOR MUSIC NOT TV
I've used these cans mostly for listening to music, which usually masks any low-grade background noise. TV use, with its emphasis on dialogue, would be demanding in other ways, so I'd defer to other reviewers for feedback concerning that application.
POINT OF REFERENCE
The entry-level price for a decent set of wired (corded) cans is roughly $100. The price of these wireless Senns, especially the 130s, isn't much more.
Musically, both models sound as good as I'd hoped except for their shy response at the extremes (see Test Equipment above). Still, when I've been wearing them while working outside, I sometimes have to stop what I'm doing, raise the volume, and just listen for a while. They sound that good. I wouldn't use them in my studio, but considering the low price and mobility, I'm very satisfied. As I'd read, the open-back 130s sound (and look) a bit like Senn's popular 580 audiophile (wired) model--open, smooth, warm, and most of all, pretty well balanced. The closed-back 140s have a similar sound, maybe a bit boxier, overall, as is typical of closed cans. I think that some folks (such as heavy rock n' rollers, rappers, computer gamers, the hearing impaired, and even office workers) might prefer the 140s for their enhanced isolation, but I found the 130s, which offer the spacious open-back sound that made Senn famous, to provide the flatest, truest sound, overall. After a lot of back and forth listening to verify my impressions, I kept the 130s. The 140s would be a perfectly acceptable alternative, though. The differences are minor.
Both models are cushy comfortable, and the features and controls are top-notch. I've never liked surround-sound simulations and the like, so I can't comment on that feature (130s). But I find everything very simple to use, and all works fine. Like easy? Hang these Senns up and they turn off and charge automatically. Press a button and they tune their reception and then memorize it, also automatically. The reception's very good, too, after I improved it significantly by moving the transmitter unit to a slightly higher shelf and trying the different freq-channel options. Remember this if you buy. Also remember to boost the source volume plenty so that the phones receive a strong signal. (By the way, I've read that you may experience greater interference noise if you live in a congested area, which I don't.)
No review would be complete without some criticism and warning, so here's mine. Above all, choosing musical equipment involves personal tastes, which vary greatly, so try to listen before buying. Trust your own ears. If you do buy either Senn wireless model, you should expect some hiss and pop and hum at times, usually just when you move around, but almost certainly if you head outside or into another room far from the base unit. (The stated spec of "up to 150 meters" seems laughable.) You may even notice the sound strengthen and weaken on occasion. In this price range, at least, I think you'll need to accept such reception problems or else stay with wired cans. Period. Wireless freedom is never perfect, is it? Beyond that, I wish these cans were as snug-fitting as my Senn 280s, which grip my head tightly. These wireless phones are like light pillows, very comfortable since they sit 'around' the ears (not 'on' the ears), but I'd bet that some folks with smaller heads could find them to be a bit loose when walking around. And finally, another obvious point--bad or good, depending on your situation--is that the 130s (which I prefer in terms of smoother, truer sound) are open-air cans, meaning that you'll hear your family if in the same room. That's good for staying in contact but bad if you want to get away from outside noise. The closed 140s are certainly better for blocking out a barking dog or not disturbing a nearby loved one.
COMMENT ABOUT INTERFERENCE PROBLEMS
If you're not already totally sick of me, you can check out my reaction to the interference problems that some users report here. (Click on 'Comments' below.)
All in all, both models of these phones admirably meet my picky expectations although being realistic about the limits of low-cost wireless sound was a necessary starting point. Nah, these wireless phones aren't perfect, and they're certainly no match for good wired cans, but I think they offer impressive overall performance for $100 plus change. An enthusiastic '4 and a 1/2 stars' and a lot of brag from me. Well done, Senn. Happy listening, all.
P.S. TO ANYONE WITH HEARING LOSS
If you have reduced hearing, particularly in one ear, you should probably choose the RS-140 model. The addition of the closed back (for isolation), L-R balance control, and compression switch (to equalize the overall volume) could be helpful.
NEED MORE RESEARCH?
Head over to "Consumer Search" online for a master summary of pro and consumer reviews of wireless headphones, including these. (The Senns do very well.)
A quick update, more than six years of frequent use later: no surprises, no regrets. I stand by my review fully. I did find one time that the headphones didn't work, but a quick jiggle of the audio input in the base unit brought them back to life. True, as some folks have noted, there is indeed annoying interference at times but usually just when moving around in another room or outdoors. That's only a minor limitation for me but clearly a deal-breaker for some people (although some of them, I suspect, haven't boosted the source volume enough). But the surprisingly good music quality and thoughtful design at this low price point is the real story here for me and my primarily musical needs. If you eventually decide to give the Senns a try, just be sure that you can easily return them if they don't fit your own needs and limits. I typically return about half of the audio equipment I buy, even after thorough research, and have learned the value of a simple return policy. Good luck to you.
I notice that the price has nearly doubled since when I wrote my review, and that would change things for me. If I had this much to spend on wireless cans, I'd likely opt for Senn's new RS-180 model instead.