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Sennheiser scores big for performance and comfort

Experts largely agree that Sennheiser makes the best wireless headphones for home theater use. However, there's some disagreement about which Sennheiser model is the absolute best. The Sennheiser RS 180 (Est. $245) earns multiple recommendations for its comfort and its superb sound quality, which CNET's Steve Guttenberg says rivals that of similarly priced wired headphones. Guttenberg especially likes the RS 180's Automatic Level Control (ALC) feature, which evens out the sound levels between scenes in TV and movies. He says this feature is so useful, "Sennheiser should put it on all of its wireless headphones."

The RS 180 gets strong feedback from users as well. We found more than 600 reviews for it across retail sites such as Amazon.com, Newegg.com and Crutchfield.com, and on every site its overall rating is at least 4 stars out of 5. Like the professionals, owners say it delivers great sound and comfort, and its Kleer wireless technology is mostly interference free. The main complaint we saw from both experts and home users is that the tightly packed controls on the earpieces make it easy to hit the wrong button by mistake.

We also found many positive reviews for the Sennheiser RS 220 (Est. $380), Sennheiser's flagship model. Instead of the Kleer technology found on most Sennheiser wireless headphones, the RS 220 uses a more advanced system called DSSS (direct-sequence spread spectrum). Experts say this technology transmits wireless signals with terrific fidelity. CNET's Guttenberg says the Sennheiser RS 220 "has a degree of refinement/clarity lacking in the less expensive models." However, he also says that the RS 220 sounds only marginally better than the RS 180 -- certainly not enough to justify the $135 difference in price between the two. Testers at TheWirecutter.com say they actually prefer the sound profile of lower-priced Sennheiser models to the "audiophile sound" of the RS 220, saying that it suffers from a boosted upper range and flatter mids and lows.

Moreover, the RS 220 doesn't fare nearly as well in user reviews as the RS 180. We only found about 40 reviews for it on Amazon.com, and its overall rating is a mediocre 2.9 stars. Owners generally love the headphones' sound quality and comfort, and many find them easier to use than the RS 180. However, we saw repeated complaints that the supposedly superior DSSS technology doesn't deliver a steady wireless signal. Many users say the sound drops out even when they stand just a couple of feet away from the receiver. But some add that the chief culprit is interference from other devices operating on the same frequency range -- mainly Wi-Fi networks/routers. Changing the channel those work on is simple, and reports say that doing so minimizes or completely eliminates dropout problems.

Wireless headphones for TV focus on privacy and clarity

If you want wireless headphones specifically to use while watching TV, your needs will be slightly different from those of a user whose main interest is listening to music. Rather than full, rich sound across the entire musical spectrum, your main need will be clarity in the low to middle range, where spoken dialogue tends to fall. You're also more likely to prefer headphones with fully enclosed earcups, which filter out ambient noise and keep the sound of your program from leaking through to annoy others. Also, virtual surround sound, which simulates the feeling of being inside a scene, can be a plus.

Reviews of wireless headphones generally focus on how good they are for listening to music. However, there are a few models that are often specifically mentioned as being great wireless headphones for TV. Lauren Dragan of TheWirecutter.com names the Sennheiser RS 160 as the best wireless headphones for home theater use, saying they "not only sounded the best, but cost $100-plus less than the next great-sounding alternative." Editors at What Hi-Fi? are a little less enthusiastic, describing the RS 160's sound as a bit "aggressive" on the treble end, but still "extremely crisp and clean." The RS 160 uses the same Kleer technology as the RS 180, and its batteries can last up to 24 hours.

In general, however, we found better reviews overall for the Sennheiser RS 170 (Est. $240). In terms of looks and sound performance, these are basically identical to the RS 160. They have the same Kleer technology and long battery life, which is good for viewing marathons. However, their wireless range is much longer: up to 260 feet, compared to only 60 feet for the RS 160. They also include bass boost and surround-sound features, though Dragan says her team didn't find either one especially useful.

CNET's Steve Guttenberg doesn't like the sound on the RS 170 quite as well as that of the RS 180, but he says this set still "delivers CD-quality sound." He also notes that it has only a single 3.5 mm analog input, but he doesn't see that as a problem for TV watching, since "users can plug all their sources (cable box, game consoles, Blu-ray player, etc.) into their television or AV receiver and simply connect the RS 170 to the TV or receiver's stereo analog outputs." The biggest downside of the RS 170 is that it has the same awkward arrangement of buttons found on the RS 180. Users at Amazon.com agree that it can be hard to find the right button by feel, but most think these headphones are worth it for their overall comfort, long range and "amazing" sound.

The Sony MDRDS6500 (Est. $205) are another consideration for those looking for wireless headphones for TV. User reviews say they are very comfortable, their controls are intuitive and their sound quality is excellent. One owner posting at Amazon.com enthuses, "I can now hear dialogue from movies, etc., without turning the volume up to Blast! The system they have for making speech clear over music and explosions is great." But while these Sony wireless headphones rate highly with users, they have not been covered in any professional reviews.

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Sennheiser RS 160 Digital Wireless Headphones
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from Amazon.com
New: $199.95   
In Stock.
Average Customer Review:  
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Sennheiser RS 220 Headphone - Black (Discontinued by Manufacturer)
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from Amazon.com
New: $499.95 $489.19   
In Stock.
Average Customer Review:  

Wireless Headphones Runners Up:

Sennheiser RS 220 Est. $380

5 picks including: Amazon.com, CNET…

Harman Kardon BT Est. $175

3 picks including: Amazon.com, CNET…

Sony MDR-1RBT Est. $245

3 picks including: Amazon.com, Wired…

Logitech G930 Est. $105

2 picks including: Amazon.com, Engadget.com…

Swage by Rokit Boost Est. $50

2 picks including: Amazon.com, TheWirecutter.com…

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Sennheiser RS 220 Headphone - Black (Discontinued by Manufacturer)
Buy from Amazon.com
from Amazon.com
New: $499.95 $489.19   
In Stock.
Average Customer Review:  
image
Harman Kardon BT Premium Over-Ear Headphones with Bluetooth Technology
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from Amazon.com
New: $299.95 $129.99   
In Stock.
Average Customer Review:  
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Logitech Wireless Gaming Headset G930 with 7.1 Surround Sound
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from Amazon.com
New: $159.99   
In Stock.
Average Customer Review:  

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