Treble smoothness is the second aspect of the RS 180’s performance that I found laudable. Cymbals are rendered cleanly with good definition. Vocal sibilants are kept in check, too. I would say that upper treble is somewhat down in level, but this is far from the worst coloration you’ll hear on headphones (including those costing many times what the RS180’s do).
I think most people would also enjoy the bass that the RS 180s deliver. Mid-bass is ample without being bloated and string and drum definition is quite good. You don’t get the sense that the lowest octave is as strong as the rest of the bass range, but like the upper treble, this probably won’t be of maximal consequence for many listeners.
In the midrange, I liked the RS 180s better than many other Sennheisers. Balance within the midrange seems mostly even, and this is key. Vocals sound smooth with a level a clarity that won’t have you wondering why things sound muffled.
With all those good qualities in mind, the RS 180s don’t strike me as state of the art. At this price, you shouldn’t expect that, but it may help to know how they deviate from perfection to determine if they’re likely to be your cup of tea. First off, the RS 180s aren’t the most vivid or dynamic headphones you’ll hear. You get the feeling that you’re listening to music through a thin, almost unnoticeable veil. This is usually a function of limited microdynamic depth. You also get the feeling that the headphones are holding back a bit to avoid losing control. It reminds me somewhat of the difference you hear between a good headphone amp and a great one. The balance mostly remains the same, but on the great amp everything just seems more “there” without any deleterious side effects.
I’d also say that the bass performance could offer more definition and clarity. You might not notice what’s missing, of course, until you listen to better (and likely more costly) headphones, because the RS 180 bass is quite good.
The great thing about these Sennheisers is that you have to look to find the flaws—they don’t hit you over the head. And with a list price of $379, which for all intents and purposes includes a headphone amp, the RS 180s offer a good value. Grado (SR 325is) and AKG (K 702) offer headphones at around this price point on the street that are quite different as well as very good (more midrange focused, more vivid). Shure offers a less expensive and superb headphone (SRH 840), which has broad similarities to the RS 180s. But all these headphones need an amp, so the price difference isn’t what you might think, and in some cases favors the Sennheisers. And of course none of these conventional headphones is wireless.
On Shelby Lynne’s “You Don’t Have a Heart” from Suit Yourself [Capitol], the drive and punch of the rhythm section comes through pretty well and instrumental separation is good. Vocal and guitar clarity is slightly shaded.
On “Times Like These” from Jack Johnson’s On and On [Universal], the bass is warm without covering up the rest of the mix at all. The bass has a good sense of air, with some loss of definition and depth. On “Gone” from the same album, the cymbals sound clear and very clean, but there is more sense of “stick” and less of “shimmer” than one would hear live.
On the power pop in “No Good in Goodbye” from Jewel’s Sweet and Wild, the whole mix seems slightly distant. You can hear each instrument well, which is impressive, but you can’t hear into all of the music’s subtleties.
On Paavo Jarvi’s brilliant rendition of the Beethoven Third Symphony [RCA Red Seal], the orchestra has lovely warmth, with bass and cello admirably balanced against the active yet smooth strings. The definition of instrumental lines is also well preserved. The only issue you might have is that the hall sound is a bit diminished.
The Sennheiser RS 180s have fundamental sonic strengths and relatively subtle weaknesses. As such they would be very competitive with wired headphones in their price class. Since they add to this sonic package the undeniably useful wireless feature, they must be considered a special value.
Sennheiser RS 180 Wireless Headphone
Frequency response: 18 Hz – 21 kHz
Transducer: open, dynamic
Ear coupling: circumaural
Impedance: 32 ohms
Weight: 204 g
Signal-to-Noise Ratio: 85 db
Wireless Range: 100 m