Sennheiser RS185 Review

Sennheiser RS185 Review

Thanks to Sennheiser for the sample.

First Impressions:  Squeeeeee!!!!  It would be improper I think for me to not acknowledge I have excitedly waited for the parcel man to bring me the RS185’s.  I have had the old RS180’s and while I don’t use them a ton I recognise them as being pretty damn awesome.  They are what makes cleaning and tidying up round the house bearable.  I like Sennheiser rather a lot and I think I probably have more Sennheiser products than I do from any other company.  I am sure I’m not alone in this.  Anyway, so excited was I when they arrived that I completely forgot to write my “first impressions” at the start of my time with them.  Oopsy.

With that in mind I do recall a bit of an initial quandary whether to use the analogue or digital input.  I ran with analogue for the first day or so.  Initially I felt that the sound sig was a bit changed from the 180 in that the 185 felt much less dramatically V shaped in sound.  More of a mature sound but less immediately attention grabbing.  One thing however is very clear, these are a seriously quality sounding product.  If you were blindfolded you wouldn’t be able to tell these are wireless from their audio quality.  They are superb.  Frankly I’d be shocked if any upper end product from Senn wasn’t.

Source:  Err it doesn’t really have one.  It has an optical input therefor it uses its internal DAC and then the headphones being wireless have their own inbuilt amp.

Lows:  The 185 is the open one so as you expect with a big open can the bass reaches to a point then it drops off like a cliff.  Senn may be good but they can’t change physics.  Stylistically I’m a fan of open can bass, it’s far more open, articulated with far better dynamics and expression than you ever get from a big closed can.  The detail and nuance is gloriously agile.  Fast and ever so clean which making it far more suited to a little bit more grown up music.  Sure it’ll do trashy pop rubbish but it never really lets the bass overwhelm and dominate like pop is inclined to and its openness means it never feels super bassy, that feeling the air on your ears move.  It’s just not.  It’s like trying to send a Bentley round a racetrack.  Sure it will do it and it perform pretty well but there is no mistaking that’s not what it’s made for.  The 185 is meant for the sort of lows that come out of a cello or double bass, not a subwoofer.

In quantity terms the bass is a bit elevated but not as much as Senn normally do.  To compare with the 180, the bass here is more grandly scaled, that symphonic breadth and depth whereas the 180 is more directly punchy.  The 180 is the more immediately aggressive and feels more eager to blast out something from the top 40.  The 185 feels a little all above such petty trifles.

Mids:  Arguably the mids are you probably expected, are in a bit of a valley.  It’s a gently sloped valley but nevertheless it’s still a valley.  Senn don’t really do anything midcentric, the closest they have come yet was the IE7 (still one my all-time fav’s) so the sound here isn’t a shock.  They have a great, just achingly broad width to the mids however.  Lots and lots of air, it may be open and perhaps a little bit warm, little bit muggy, still it’s there.  Being a particular fan of clear, clean, maybe even a little cutting vocals the 185 are a bit laid back.    I personally want the vocalist to shine, they don’t here.  Detailed of course and without a doubt very nuanced and capable but everything is so integrated.  The 180 in comparison seems so more liquid in the mids.  They can shove them right up into your face, not quite “aggressive” let’s say assertive.  The 185 is ever so much more mature and controlled.  I suspect that while the 180 was happily tuned with Senn’s traditional pretty mainstream sound, more V shaped sound, the 185 feels like its aiming for a more audiophile audience.

Even when I push them, pulling out the big lady from Malta, (Chiara) she is a big old beast of woman vocally.  Think not much in the way of delicate but a big old belter vocally.  She should be the only thing on the stage and the 185 has politely asked her to tone it down a bit, to play nice with instrumentalists.  The articulation is beautiful and so full of detail but…. Vocals just aren’t capturing the soul in the way that the likes of Dido or Nora ought to.  Superbly polite but reticent and lack any will to be creamy or liquid in their presentation.

Highs:  Delicate, tremendous breadth and scale.  They convey the orchestral grandeur before you and the highs are flat out amazing for something wireless.  Highs are simply the hardest bit to get right, stay accurate and for me, not get ear stabby.  Sennheiser have clearly worked some magic or been selling souls to the devil.  Detail, oh my god the detail is fantastic for wireless. I’m never normally one to get gushy over the highs on anything but, holy balls its good.  Okay, so it’s not aggressive which won’t please everyone but it sure as hell pleases me.  The impact of a metallic edge is a little bit on the muted side but the shimmer and trail away is rather excellent.  The 180 could get a little overexcited in the treble when things get wild but the 185 has an improved level of refinement.

One curiosity though, I noticed on one track the pithily named “There’s A Good Reason These Tables Are Numbered Honey, You Just Haven’t Thought Of It Yet” the early treble in the track felt a touch overly digital.  Curious because normally the 185 is the more refined but I’m putting it down to the DAC in them.  The audio card the 180 is running off I feel is what’s giving the 180 the more analogue tone there.

Quantitatively there is a bit of a lift to the treble but it’s very slight.  Senn normally do rather more but here feels pretty much all in line with everything else.

Soundstage:  Scale. Vast and symphonic scale.  The 180 feels soooo very much more up and in your face but the 185 is far more relaxed and huuuuuggggggeeeeeeee.  On paper thats great right, but you know it meant the 185 at times felt a little unengaging.  Thats not a bad thing per say, just a stylistic choice.  Something you might want to use to relax with of an evening, maybe a little Nora, or that Krall woman, a hefty glass of decent Scotch and let the world melt away.

Fit:  Grand.  Slapped on head and boom, done.

Comfort:  Excellent.  I will toss in a small caveat though.  The 185 are big and pretty weighty.  The 180 next to them feel far smaller and weigh nothing.  The 185 doesn’t “feel” heavy when on but flicking back and forth made it hugely apparent how considerably much more the 185’s weigh.  The spec says 204g for the 180 sans battery and the 185 is 310g with batteries.  On paper it’s not a lot but the 180 in the hand feels very light, light to the point it feels a bit flimsy.  The 185 feels considerably more substantive.

Cable:  Woo hoo, no cable!!!   So what about the wireless connection that replaces it?  The old RS series used Kleer and the new use something in house from Senn.  It’s been a while since I used my old 180 lots but it never ever dropped unless I was far away.  The new one has a couple of times.  I put that down to there being 400 wifi points all trying to use 2.4GHz.  It literally happened a just a couple of times for a split second so nothing to worry about.  Still I’d have been happier if the pretty empty 5GHz band had been used instead.

Build:  These feel really quite sturdy and solidly constructed.  You know, because as we all know expensive German products always feel like cheap crap don’t they J  Given their increased weight these feel considerably more sturdy than their predecessors.

Microphonics:  See Cable. Yey!  Feel free to dance round your living room with them on if you like.

Amped/Unamped:  Not really applicable.  They are their own DAC and amp which is something to keep in mind when we get to the price.  You aren’t just getting a headphone.

Isolation:  Erm, pretty much zero.  Do not think you can use these in a room with someone else and not piss them off.

Accessories:  Well what do you count as being an accessory?  You could argue I suppose the DAC is an “accessory” to the headphone.  Then so must be the power cable and the optical cable.

Value:  Remember when I said before to keep in mind that these are not just headphones?  Yeah this is where that matters.  These being new are still going for full RRP, that’s £300, 350 euro or US$400.  So it’s not what you might call cheap.  Given that the RS180 goes for about £180 that’s a big jump up.  The difference is that the 180 has no DAC, so you need to feed it a decent source.  That you can plug this into an optical connection and let the base station do the thinking is for many a good thing.  Plus they are wireless and are therefore their own amp so you get hell of a good quality sound for your £300.  It buys you the whole shebang.  If you want to start beating its sound quality in wired form you must think about each component individually and of course use wires.  In an age where simplicity is at times favoured over any absolute, the package that is the RS185 is superb.  You slap in a little optical cable from out the back of your TV or from your computer and you have an instant audiophile grade headphone set up.  It is that simple, the RS185 is everything in one and you get the not insignificant bonus of it being wireless to boot.  If you are starting from scratch or you just like the idea of no wires these do sound better than you would think any “wireless” headphone has any right to.  The convenience it offers is wonderful, I can put these on and go clean the house with music of an exceedingly high quality wherever I go.  You have to pay for that.

Conclusion:  I love the RS185, it is a technological marvel that shows just what Sennheiser and every engineer that Germany can muster are capableof when they put their minds to it.  It is nothing short of a miracle that you can have so high an audio quality level out of something wireless, powered by a couple of itty bitty AAA batteries.  If you are completely new to audio or you just want to massively simplify your set up you could chuck everything out, plug this into your computer and you will have a first rate set up that is good enough to be all you’ll ever need.  Yes it is that good.  However………

Nothing in life is ever that simple is it?

Having spent many hours going back and forth between the RS185 and the RS180 that is hooked up to my Auzentech’s HDA X-Plosion 7.1 sound card.  Card I changed the opamps in.  I can’t remember what the hell to though.  I remember it being one that was rather middy and a bit creamy in its presentation.  So as a result I have found myself often liking the RS180 better.  Yes I know I could plug the RS185 into an analogue input but I can’t.  I just can’t do it.  No, you buy the 185 because you get everything you need all in one, that’s the whole point of it.  You aren’t supposed to be using a sound card that you can roll the opamps and fine tune.  That’s crazy audio people behaviour, the kind of weirdos who want a separate DAC, a separate amp and then hooked up to a headphone.  That’s not even thinking about opamps and cables.  The tinkerer in me wants to tinker.  The RS185 isn’t a tinkerer headphone.  So while the RS185 is declaratively the better of the two, its technical abilities are just plain better than the 180.  Sometimes I liked the 180 more.

If you are the chap or chappett who has a home that looks like a catalogue, all open spaces and beautifully minimalistic then the RS185 is so the headphone for you.  Its beautiful open sound is wonderful and that it’s the whole package in one, DAC, amp and headphone is so staggeringly minimalist.  It’s all so effortless.  This is the reason you buy it, or the reason you don’t.

The RS185 is a world entire unto itself.  You buy it because it’s the beginning, the end and everything in-between of your headphone journey.  You buy it because you want its unsurpassable simplicity.  You have it, a digital outputting source and you’re done, not a wire to get in the way of anything, hell it even charges its own damn batteries so you don’t even need a separate charger.  It is everything, everything you need.  Everything wrapped in one beyond minimalist bundle.

So the RS185 is pretty amazeballs. No ifs no buts its audio quality is awesome.  But…. When I pull out my old faithful HD600 (circa £200,) plug it into the Solo Linear Ultra (circa £670,) running of a Majestic DAC (circa £1700) and then the RS185 gets a thorough spanking from its “cheaper” brother.  Yes the £200 HD600 bests the £300 RS185 with ease.  That of course ignores everything behind it.  This is why I’m finding it so hard to judge the 185.  In the Head-fi world if you already have all that back ground stuff then you are paying a lot just to lose a cable.

All of that said, the final arbiter of so much is, could I live with it as my only headphone. (obv I’d need something in ears for outside.)  I find myself thinking yes I could.  Its audio quality is excellent, there are no two ways about that.  It’s a pretty middling sound signature so I can’t see anyone hating it.  It’s good enough at absolutely everything and then you add in the lack of wires.  If it wasn’t for wireless headphones I might never clean the flat again!  The RS185 is never going to be the love of my life, I could settle down and live with it.

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