Sennheiser RS 220 review: Sennheiser RS 220

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The Good The Sennheiser RS 220 is a large, full-size headphone that uses advanced DSSS lossless wireless technology for exceptional sound quality.

The Bad The RS 220's shiny black plastic construction doesn't jive with its lofty price tag and the digital connection doesn't work with Dolby or DTS audio signals.

The Bottom Line The Sennheiser RS 220 is one of the best-sounding wireless headphones on the market, but its super sonics don't offset its ambitious price tag when other models in the same line offer similar performance for less.

7.6 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 9
  • Value 6

The Sennheiser RS 220 ($599) was conceived as a design statement and uses the same driver elements as the reference grade Sennheiser 600 series of wired headphones. Their plastic construction doesn't feel worthy of the price tag, but the material still feels durable and keeps the weight down to just 0.73 pound, making them lighter than most full-size wired models.

While I concede that the RS 220 is the best-sounding full-size wireless headphone I've heard, the Sennheiser HD 180 sounds almost as good and costs $329.95. Unless you're only satisfied with the best, save your money and get the RS 180.

Design and features
The RS 220 is an open-back, over-ear headphone, so its sound will be audible to people nearby. That might rule out its use in bed, and if that's a concern, Sennheiser's RS 170 closed-back wireless headphone is a better alternative. However, the upside to open-back designs like the RS 220 is they don't isolate the wearer, letting you hear environmental sounds from all around you.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The black velour-covered ear cushions and faux leather padded headband provide high comfort levels, and I'm happy to see the user-replaceable ear pads aren't round, but oval to fit the shape of your ears. The shiny black plastic transmitter/battery charger base also doubles as a headphone stand. Connectivity options include single sets of stereo RCA analog, coaxial, and Toslink optical inputs and outputs (the analog and digital inputs sounded the same over the headphones).

The connectivity suite may not seem all that generous for a top-of-the-line wireless headphone system, but it's better than what Sennheiser offers on its less expensive systems. The transmitter can be hooked up to an AV receiver, TV, Blu-Ray player, computer, laptop, tablet, etc. The power supply comes with four multi-country power receptacle adapters: for the U.S, U.K., Australia, and the EU.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Sennheiser engineers selected DSSS (Direct Sequenced Spread Spectrum) wireless and lossless technology for the RS 220, which is a different type of wireless technology than the KLEER wireless system in Sennheiser's RS 170 and RS 180 headphones. All three headphones have 2.4-2.8 GHz technologies, and have "CD quality," 16-bit/44.1-kHz resolution, but Sennheiser engineers claim DSSS sounds better than KLEER.

One downside to DSSS is that it uses more power than the KLEER system, so the RS 220 has a much shorter playing time at 6 to 8 hours versus the 24 hours for the RS 170 and RS 180. Like those two headphones, the RS 220 is powered by a single NiMH (nickel-metal hydride) AAA battery in each ear cup.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The headphones' maximum wireless range is listed at 300 feet in line of sight from transmitter to headphone, and 100 feet indoors. The RS 220 worked fine in any room in my 1,000 square foot apartment, and I never heard any noises, buzzes, or sound dropouts.

Based on its digital connectivity, I expected the RS 220 to feature onboard Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Audio processing, but it can't actually decode any type of Dolby or DTS signal. If you want to use the RS 220's digital input, you have to set your AV receiver, player, or TV to send PCM digital signals to the RS 220 transmitter/charger base.

If you can't do that for some reason, use the 3.5mm stereo analog input. I listened to the analog and digital inputs and found they sound identical, but I could achieve slightly louder maximum volume with the analog connection.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The right ear cup houses raised buttons that control volume up/down, left/right balance controls, while the left ear cup carries the power and input buttons. The layout is logical and easier to use than the controls on the RS 170 and RS 180 headphones. Finally, you hear a beep when the RS 220s reach the maximum volume level.

Accessories include a coaxial digital cable with RCA connectors, a stereo analog cable with RCA connectors, and a stereo 3.5mm plug to two female RCA jacks adaptor. The RS 220 comes with a two-year warranty, and a proof of purchase or sales receipt from an authorized dealer is required for warranty claims.