Over the last few years, PC audio with 5.1 channel and 7.1 channel surround sound solutions have become common place. This has lead to the influx of some great speaker systems offering virtual pro-sumer performance at a fraction of comparable high-end systems. However at the same time, headphones for the PC audio market were poor and bad in quality. A typical PC headset offering muffled sound, will also have weak bass output and lack balanced tonal output. These headsets may satisfy the normal user but for an audiophile … well it’s like listening to Britney Spears trying to perform a Pink Floyd song.
However things are beginning to change, with companies, who normally cater to the high-end market entering the PC audio market. Sennheiser who has been operating in the high-end/studio level for over 60 years are appreciated for the quality of their engineering and the sound quality in their products. The product we are reviewing today is the RS130, a wireless headset that offers switchable surround sound and claims to work over a range of 150 meters. Does it deliver on these promises? Read on to find out.
One thing I have always appreciated about Sennheiser is the care they take in the design and packaging of their products. Unlike others, who often eschew functionality over form, Sennheiser seeks a balance between the two. The RS130 is no different in this respect and is overall a very elegant affair. The headset is made of sturdy plastic, with strategically placed velvet padding which prevents the headphone from simply feeling "heavy on the head". The same velvet padding has been used around the speaker area and makes this one of the most comfortable pair of headphones we have ever used. The only pair that we have found to be more comfortable is HD600s, which are far more expensive and for the professional user.
The wireless base of the RS130, after the beautiful design of the headset is a bit of a letdown. The body of the wireless base, is done up in plain silver and black and sports a rather unsightly metal prong (for the lack of any other word) that serves as a charging base for the headphones. The wireless base comes equipped with a standard RCA audio cable which sports a standard 3.5mm jack. Sennheiser thoughtfully has also provided small to large stereo converter jacks that help in connecting the headphones to a variety of audio equipment. The base also comes equipped with a channel button that allows the headsets to jump to different RF frequencies, should the user face interference on a particular band. The second button on the base acts as a surround sound enabler i.e. it takes the incoming audio signal and adds a simulated surround sound effect to your existing music.
For power, the headset uses a pair of rechargeable pair of AAA NiMH batteries that are rated for around 22 hours of audio play. For charging these batteries, one has to just drop the headset onto the metal prong. The headset itself has two metal plates that act as the charging point for the NiMH batteries. Overall this is a well designed charging solution and decreases the no of wires one has to deal with. In normal situations, most companies tend to provide separate chargers for the headset unit and the base. Sennheiser by combining the base and the charger into a single cohesive unit has taken a step in the right direction.
For testing the RS130, we followed a simple test pattern. We first checked out its audio capabilities with a series of uncompressed music tracks, which have been designed to really stress an audio device. These tracks range from classical music recordings such as Mozart Symphony no 40 to Bob Marley’s "Legend" album and a variety of club, house, hip-hop and Rock numbers. We also put the RS130, through a series of computer games such as Command and Conquer 3, World of Warcraft, Infernal (which is pretty well optimized for high level audio playback and environmental sound) and other games. The sound equipment we used
1) M-Audio Revolution 7.1 – For the audio samples.
2) Creative Audigy 4 Pro – For games.
3) Marantz PM-6010 amp connected to a Marantz CD6000KI CD player – For testing classical music.
After this rather long and comprehensive round of tests, here are the results - The RS130, in keeping with the Sennheiser brand name has excellent audio playback. The simulated "soundstage" or depth of the audio playback of the RS130 is also very good. The highs, mids and lows are clear with no bleed-in. The SRS works as advertised and broadens the standard two channel stereo signals, to a much larger area, making the listener feel like he is in a nice large concert hall.
For our second test, we simply tested the wireless range of the headphone and level of interference the RS130 would pick up. Here we ran into some major problems. The RS130 seems to attract and pickup on every little RF interference, that one can think of. It got so bad we had to move it to different PCs and a better series of soundcards, before we were able to carry out our review in peace. Once it found a good sound source, the RS130 really came into its own. It performed admirably and we found that the wireless range that has been advertised by Sennheiser is actually on the mark, provided you live in a warehouse. In an open area, the Sennheiser performs remarkably well. However the moment it encounters interference, such as a wall or a large cupboard it begins to hiccup and the sound quality slips rapidly.Our final test consisted of testing the battery life of the product. Here the RS130 was bang on target, easily achieving a very good battery life of nearly 20 hours. This is an excellent figure and shows some good battery management.
The RS130 as an audio product is a study in contradictions. On one hand, it offers excellent audio playback wirelessly, however its wireless nature attracts every stray RF signal that might be bouncing around, be it a mobile looking for a signal or a cordless phone talking to its base.
Ultimately keeping everything in mind, we still rate this headphone as recommended. If you are an audio enthusiast and have the Rs. 10,500 required to purchase this headset--- go for it. The RF issues can be worked upon and once you get past that, this headset will be like owning a piece of audio nirvana.
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