As with so many other electronic systems, the choice of headphones for listening to personal stereos, MP3s, mobile phones, or indeed any other device, seems to become more and more confusing the more you study the range available. If you're entering the field for the first time, choosing wireless headphones can be even more difficult; the absence of a cable means that you need to be absolutely sure that the technology you choose is reliable and can give you a good signal in the headphones, but not only are you faced with a choice of technologies, you're faced with a massive price band ranging from as little as $20 to literally thousands of dollars. In the face of such a vast marketplace, it is our objective to offer you a few basic pointers and guidelines, and recommend one or two headphones in the mid-price range which should serve you well. This is not a definitive guide, but it certainly should be helpful to somebody who is a novice in this area.
First of all, you have two main kinds of wireless headphones to choose from: Infrared wireless headphones, and radio frequency wireless headphones, known respectively as IF and RF wireless headphones. Infrared headphones operate on a line of sight infrared beam, which means that you need to be within sight of the base station for the headphones to operate. Obviously this means that you can't leave the room, so your ability to move around freely is diminished. In addition, the signal range is usually only around 30 feet. The interesting thing about Infrared headphones is that they can be a better option if, for example, you are living in an apartment block and you want to use them for watching the TV without interfering with other people - the reason for this is that you will experience less interference from other wireless signals in nearby apartments. (When you get a wireless headphone system which hisses, it's usually because it's a radio-frequency or RF set and it's picking up other people's signals).
Radio-frequency wireless headphones use a signal to broadcast between the base station and the headphones of between 800 and 926 MHz. This high frequency band means that you can move out of line of sight of the base station. Also, as we mentioned above, the range of wireless headphones is much greater than it is for an infrared headset. If you're uncertain whether to get RF or IF, one of the best ways to decide is to get advice from an assistant at an electronics store.
For many users perhaps the best option is a third choice known as digital RF or Bluetooth. This is the wireless frequency used by smart phones, and although users tend to report that there is no difference in sound quality between digital RF and regular RF, it's certainly true that digital RF is more versatile, in that it's used on more devices, and possibly less subject to interference.
Most wireless headphones have a charging cradle which you plug into the power socket, and an audio cable which you plug into the audio output of the device to which you wish to listen. The signal is then transmitted to the headphones by means of the infrared beam or the radio wave beam.
So, sounds simple doesn't it? And indeed, in theory, it is. But the problem remains that you still have a wide choice of headphones over a vast price range. Obviously, the same equation applies to headphones as to many other goods: namely, you get what you pay for. Paying more money will give you better bass frequency, greater reliability, better sound quality, and possibly a greater range of reproduction. But you may not be inclined to pay over $1000 for your wireless headphones unless you're an audiophile (for those who don't know, that just means an audio enthusiast who wants the best equipment!). The key is to find a set of wireless headphones that combine good quality and reasonable price, and that's basically what we're trying to do here. In this market, it's certainly true that some manufacturer's names stand out repeatedly in reviews as providing good quality. One of those names is Sennheiser. This is a privately owned company which has been around for over 60 years, and has made its reputation on outstanding technical achievement, excellent customer service, and manufacturing in specific countries so it can best meet the exact requirements of those markets: in fact, they have manufacturing facilities in Germany, Ireland, the USA, and Asia. They are also an ethical company who have very high standards of environmental protection and offer great labour conditions in every country in which they operate. Those factors may or may not be relevant to you, but they do give an indication of the philosophy of the company, a philosophy which extends to its products.
So for private audio listening you have a choice of headphones or headsets, where headsets are basically the simpler, lighter, often "in-ear" headphones suitable for use with MP3 players and personal stereos - although of course you can use a more sophisticated set of wireless headphones with these devices if you wish, it's just that they are not as portable. There's also a mid range band of headphones which falls somewhere between the audiophile headphones and the miniature headsets, and these are a useful compromise where lightness and comfort are required. Another twist is that you can buy noise cancelling headphones which are excellent if you happen to be listening or working in a noisy environment - the classic use of noise cancelling headsets is on a plane, where they can eliminate the engine noise and allow you to listen to the audio system with great clarity and comfortable volume. We have a recommendation for noise-cancelling headphones as well.
As Sennheiser put it, for a cable free, tangle free experience, wireless headphones are ideal. Sennheiser's RS range of wireless headphones offers a wide choice of models, but we think their RS 120 headphones are an ideal compromise between price and quality, retailing at around $60-$70 on Amazon.com. They work ideally with both hi-fi and the television, and have a good bass response, which is the weak area for most headphones. Because they are RF sets, you can use them to receive sound signals through walls and ceilings: you don't have to remain in the same room as the base station equipment. The system weighs just over 8 ounces and comes with a two year warranty. The reviews on Amazon.com seem to be very favourable indeed, which bears out our own impression of this particular model. The reviewers state that the bass range is strong, that the mid-range is prominent, and the higher frequencies of sound "crisp" and clear. The batteries last for 10 hours, and the reviewers have commented favorably on the simplicity of operation of the charging system. Another feature that comes up again and again in the reviews on Amazon.com is the elegant ergonomic design of this equipment, a feature on which Sennheiser rightly pride themselves. Overall, these headphones gained a four-star review from Amazon.com users, with just some slight negative whispers around a feature called "automatic gain control": this can cause some minor degree of hissing on music that has a very wide frequency range. However, because of the way most modern music is recorded, this is unlikely to be a feature that bothers you or spoils your listening experience.
One of the systems that stands out as a great compromise on quality and price at the smaller end of the spectrum is the Sennheiser MM 100 noise cancelling headphones system. This has the great advantages of portability and smallness, and lightweight construction, but it doesn't seem to sacrifice any sound quality. Users on Amazon.com speak of the bass range as perhaps not being quite as good as it might be, but all headphones as small as this suffer from a lack of bass. Sennheiser certainly have achieved a high quality product, and the noise cancelling facility makes these headphones very practical, convenient, and easy to use in almost any environment. It's another four star product in our book, and you won't you get better for the price, which is around $150.
So that's our two chosen Sennheiser products. We do however have another recommendation, from another manufacturer: the Sony DR-BT22 wireless headset. This is a ruggedly constructed lightweight headset which offers practical way to remove the cord from your cell phone or MP3 player and still give you the option to enjoy high quality stereo audio sound. It retails for about $60 on Amazon.com and gets a four-star rating from users. We recommend them because they get such positive reviews from their users - people talk about comfort, affordability, and great sound quality in part this might be due to the fact they using an advanced form of Bluetooth, which is only available on certain cellphones with an adapter or special software - so make sure that your device is compatible if you choose these headphones. Users talk of rich and satisfying sound with good balance between low and high frequencies. They also maintain the connection well, which allows a lot of movement while they're in use without breaking connection to the base unit. However, unlike other RF units, they don't seem to work beyond the room in which the base station is located, even the line of sight is not necessary. With your expectations of wireless headphones or low or high, these three models should offer you absolutely the best quality that you can get for the price ranges mentioned. If you are in any doubt about how the devices connect, at best option is to go to an audio hi-fi store and get personal advice from assistant; however, if you're confident that you know what you're doing, then a great option is just simply by the Sennheiser units from Amazon we get the significant discount on the price.
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