"Wireless headphones" can mean different things to different people. Many envision Bluetooth portables--either the one-ear cell phone headsets or lightweight stereo models designed for on the go use. But there's also a large market for wireless home headphones, those larger models that are designed to be used around the house for listening to movies, music, or games--either to provide a more immersive experience, or simply to enjoy the entertainment at a decent volume without bothering others in the house (during late night DVD, TV, or gaming sessions, for instance). The Acoustic Research AWD510s fall into that latter category. The headphones, available for about $180, accept analog (stereo) and digital (surround) audio from virtually any audio source.
The AWD510 headphones, like most such models, are a two-part system: a stationary base station and a full-size pair of wireless headphones. The circular base has three separate inputs: one stereo minijack, an optical digital, and a coaxial digital. Acoustic Research also includes the necessary cables for each, including a minijack to stereo RCA adapter. The upshot is that the AWD510s are compatible with nearly any audio source you can throw at them, be it analog stereo (TV, receiver, iPod, Nintendo Wii) or digital surround (DVD player, cable/satellite box, Xbox 360, or PS3). You can connect all three inputs simultaneously, and toggle between them at the touch of a button. The base also includes a power button and a selector for toggling between eight possible radio channels (in case you encounter interference), as well as a rubberized, 3.5-inch-long antenna.
The headphones are fairly standard full-size models with padded earcups that cover the entire ear. The only controls are a power button on the right earcup and volume and mute keys on the left, all of which are easy enough to access while wearing. The cups swivel so the unit can lay fairly flat for easy storage in a drawer or while recharging. The padded headband is flexible and expands to accommodate larger heads, and they weren't so tight that our eyeglasses felt jammed into our skull. For the most part, we found the AWD510s to be relatively comfortable for the duration of a two-hour movie, though--like all such over-the-ear headphones--your ears may get a bit overheated during long listening sessions.
Each earcup of the AWD510s include three separate Neodymium drivers that collectively mimic the setup of a 5.1 audio system--a 40mm one that handles the front-left or -right and subwoofer channels, a 15mm one dedicated to the center channel, and a second 15mm driver dedicated to the surround-left or -right channel. We've seen--and generally liked--the same multidriver design on Turtle Beach's line of Ear Force PC headphones.
The unit's base can decode standard Dolby Digital surround soundtracks found on nearly any DVD, Xbox 360, or PS3 game. Other surround options, such as DTS, Dolby Pro Logic II, Dolby Headphone, or the advanced Blu-ray soundtracks (Dolby Digital Plus, as well as the lossless Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Audio) aren't available. If that's an issue, stick with the stereo analog input instead--that'll work with anything.
The AWD510s utilize the 2.4GHz wireless range for transmission between the base station and the headphones. That means that other household items including Wi-Fi networks, cordless phones, and even microwave ovens can interfere with the signal. That said, our listening tests were completely free of dropouts or static, and even the omnipresent hiss--commonplace for nearly all RF headsets--was noticeable only on the quietest dialogue passages or light jazz tunes, and then only barely.