Sennheiser RS 220 wireless headphones hands-on (video)

You can buy wired headphones for $600, so why not throw a pricey cordless pair into the mix? That seems to be Sennheiser's approach, which quietly launched the RS 220 wireless headphones at CES Unveiled in New York City tonight. These cord-free cans pipe analog, coaxial or optical sources from a glossy black base station over a 2.4GHz DSSS connection, which seemed to work fairly well even in the crowded event space -- chock full of hundreds, perhaps even thousands of wireless devices.

A packed noisy environment isn't the ideal location to conduct audio tests, but given the conditions, the RS 220 performed well -- Aerosmith's Love in an Elevator was clear and crisp, with a reasonable amount of bass. The headphones were quite comfortable as well -- the velvet-like cups formed a fairly secure fit without putting too much pressure on our ears, as you might expect given the sky-high price tag. They're rated for a distance of up to 300 feet, though the connection dropped at just over 50 feet during our test tonight -- you'll likely see a better range outdoors, however. Jump past the break for a video walkthrough and the PR from Sennheiser.%Gallery-138863%

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Sennheiser introduces its Audiophile-quality Digital Wireless Headphone System

OLD LYME, Conn., November 8, 2011: With its RS 220 wireless headphones, audio specialist Sennheiser is opening up a new class of wireless listening enjoyment. Due to their uncompressed transmission technology, the digital headphones combine high-end quality with absolute freedom of movement.

"Reproducing music as naturally as possible and therefore as closely as possible to
the original has always been the dream of audio engineers and audiophiles alike," explained Maurice Quarré, Director Product Lifecycle Management at Sennheiser Consumer Electronics. "The conventional means of transmission for reproduced sound is the cable. It conducts the analog signal directly and with no delay from the audio source to the transducer in the headphones." The disadvantage of wired transmission, no matter how expensive the cable is, is that the listener's freedom of movement is restricted.

The RS 220 is the first wireless headphones model that fulfils the demands of the most discerning audiophile. "The Sennheiser RS 220 opens up a master class in wireless audio transmission," Quarré said. "It is a pioneer of wireless high-end headphones."

Wireless transmission at the highest level

The transmitter for the new RS 220 wireless headphones also transmits the digital signals to the headphones without compression via a stable 2.4 GHz connection. The wireless system makes use of what is called Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum (DSSS) technology. "This is a frequency spreading process in which the output signal is spread to a width of 22 MHz by means of a specified bit sequence. If interference occurs at one point within this frequency range, the output signal experiences no interference, as the data are transmitted with redundancy, in other words, several times. As a result, the overall sound quality is fully maintained," explained Axel Grell, Senior Acoustical Engineer at Sennheiser. A further advantage of the process is its low latency.

Choice of input sources

"The RS 220 can be connected to various outputs: analog, coaxial digital and optical digital," Grell said. "Discerning users can therefore decide themselves on the type and quality of the audio signal being fed in." If a digital input is used, for example, the conversion step from an analog to a digital signal is no longer necessary. With an analog input, the quality of the audio signal can be influenced by the choice of cable.

Loopthrough mode

Several audio sources can be connected to the transmitter of the RS 220 at the same time. Signal loopthrough is also possible, allowing the transmitter to be integrated into an existing connection between an audio source and another device. In this loopthrough mode, the signals are passed on even when the transmitter is switched off. Sensor buttons on the transmitter or directly on the headphones enable users to switch back and forth between the sources.

Dynamic range fully maintained

An important means of creating a musical effect is the gradual transition between quiet and loud passages, as can be heard, for example, in Ravel's Bolero. Conventional digital data transmission sometimes reduces this dynamic range, as an optimum signal volume for the entire data package is often assigned to the information when the analog signal is converted into a digital data package.

This challenge has been resolved in the further development of Sennheiser's wireless digital headphones system by completely dispensing with the automatic level control function. The data of the digital sources are transmitted unchanged, and the user can manually adjust the reference volume for the analog inputs. The RS 220 therefore comes very close to the audiophile ideal: a lifelike, completely unrestricted sound experience.

The RS 220 (street price: $599.95) will be available soon from select retailers.