You’ve probably heard us stress over and over again how important surround sound is to your HDTV and home theater experience. Without surround sound, it’s really just surveillance, not home theater. But we are regular guys too, and we leave in the real world. We know that sometimes you have to make sacrifices and compromises. You aren’t the only one in the house, or the building or the neighborhood.
Sometimes that compromise means using a sound bar. Other times it may mean throwing on some headphones so you can still enjoy HDTV when the volume may otherwise disrupt the delicate balance of your ecosystem. Like many of you, Braden has young children. He has many of them, in fact. Sometimes it’s nice to let them sleep a little at night and headphones can come in quite handy for that.
You have a couple major decisions to make when buying headphones for your home theater, the most important is how well they sound. But beyond that, there are some logistics questions, the main one being: wired or wireless? Wired have reliable quality, and no need to recharge batteries. But they have long cables that need to be stored, if the cable isn’t long enough, they can be uncomfortable, and so on. Wireless headphones are much more convenient and, provided you buy the right ones, can sound just as good.
Sony MDRRF985RK Wireless RF Headphone
Sony makes some of our all time favorite studio monitor headphones, the MDR7506 Professional Large Diaphragm Headphones that go for $102. They may not be the best headphones around anymore, but they are a tried and true classic, and still quite good. If you’re in the market for wired headphones, they’re worth checking out. But, for this round-up, we aren’t interested in wired, we’re going wireless. It may have been our sentimentality that pushed us to them, but the Sony MDRRF985RK are the first pair of headphones on the list.
These phones from Sony give you the freedom to travel up to 150 feet from your sound source while delivering stereo quality sound. Hopefully your couch isn’t 150 feet away from your TV, but just in case it is, you’re all set. They run on the 900MHz RF wireless band, which is fine, but not the best choice. They have a 40mm driver for decent bass performance, and claim frequency response from 20 Hz to 20 kHz. They have an auto tuning feature that conveniently scans up and down the band to automatically tune in channels.
And like most units on our list, they are rechargeable. They include Ni-MH rechargeable batteries with a max run time of 25 hours. You’ll probably pass out before they do. All-in-all a solid performer at a decent price. They won’t blow you away with their quality, but they will be reliable and that also won’t blow away your whole checking account.
JVC HAW600RF 900MHZ Wireless Headphones
These headphones from JVC are feature for feature nearly identical the the prior model from Sony. They run on the same 900 MHz RF frequency, but boast a slightly larger effective distance of 164 feet. They too have the auto tuning feature to hopefully provide the best quality sound at all times. Couple that with a 40mm driver for full-bodied sound and you’ve got a pair of headphones that are tough to distinguish from the Sony pair.
The JVC HAW600RF does offer a convenient paging or voice call function that allows for voice communication from the base station to the headset user. So if someone wanders off wearing the headphones, or you simply want to play practical jokes on someone to annoy them, you’ve got that going for you. But what really got us to put these above the Sony is the price. They’re close to half the cost of the Sony model.
In the bang-for-the-buck category, the RS120 may take the cake. It is a lightweight RF wireless headphone system with Open-Aire Supra-Aural design for hi-fidelity audio reproduction. They feature a transparent, well-balanced sound with solid bass reproduction, and are a great choice for both hi-fi and TV use. The transmitter has an “easy recharge” function for conveniently recharging the included headphone batteries.
The RS120 headphones run on the 926 MHz frequency, which is still in the 900 MHz band, but for some reason they don’t seem to suffer the same interference issues that others on the 900 MHz band struggle with. And somehow this allows them to claim a 328 foot reception distance, even though walls and ceilings. Unlike other units on the list, however, these Sennheisers don’t have the auto-tuning functionality, but instead provide three user-selectable channels.
If you want a pair of really good headphones without spending too much money, the Sennheiser RS120 would be our first pick in the under $100 category.
If you’d like to step up from a solid performer to a stand out, you’ll want to look at the Sennheiser RS170 headphones. They aren’t the top of the line Sennheiser model, but they’re close enough that you still get superior sound quality without over-paying for it. The RS180 for $240 or the even more expensive RS220 for $495 are fighting for supremacy in the Sennheiser wireless headphone showdown. But in the real world, cost is a factor in deciding what to buy, and at under $200, the RS170 headphones are ideal.
The RS170 utilizes KLEER’s lossless digital wireless audio transmission for audiophile-grade sound and reception. They claim KLEER technology will not interfere with wireless networks or other 2.4GHz devices. Up to 4 compatible Sennheiser KLEER headphones can be paired with the same transmitter for private listening for multiple individuals. Which, at that point, begs the question – can’t all four of you just take off the headphones and use the speakers instead?
The RS170 wasn’t built for the average listener, they were built with the audiophile in mind, the transducer systems’ neodymium magnets deliver clear and detailed audio reproduction. The sealed, private earcups prevent sound leakage and make sure you can hear everything you’re supposed to. They also feature selectable Dynamic Bass Boost for deeper bass and selectable Surround Sound simulation for a more immersive pseudo-home theater experience.
This pair of headphones run on a different frequency that the others, using 2.4 – 2.8 GHz, with built-in auto selecting technology. They have a range of up to 260 feet. The wireless headphones operate on 2 AAA NiMH rechargeable batteries, which are included and should get you around 24 hours of listening time. The transmitter also acts as a charging stand for the headphones when not in use, and can fully recharge depleted headphone batteries in about 16 hours.
Speaking of over-paying, the Sony MDR-DS7500 clock in at an impressive $429. But before you freak out about how you can buy an entire surround sound receiver for that, consider what you’re getting. First, and perhaps most importantly, these headphones were developed in cooperation with Sony Pictures Entertainment, a place near and dear to the HT Guys’ hearts. But beyond that, if you want to build something for the home theater, it makes sense to work with the experts in cinema sound.
What did that joint development produce? The outcome was Sony’s new “New Cinema mode” which was designed around analyzing the measured data for movie production in real movie theaters and sound stages. By combining Sony’s VPT (Virtualphones Technology) this “New Cinema mode” is said to reproduce the sound of an ideal movie theater.
The MDR-DS7500 comes with a newly developed chipset for 3D audio as well as Dolby NR professional Logic II z decoder supporting audio signals up to 7.1Ch. DMI inputs on the processor enables the new DS7500 to decode HD audio such as Dolby TrueHD. Also supports multi-channel linear PCM as well as Bravia HDMI CEC. Three HDMI inputs with 1 line HDMI output allows you to connect to your devices freely.
The MDR-DS7500 has a dynamic reproduction range of 5 Hz to 25 kHz and the full list of codecs it supports is: Dolby NR TrueHD, Dolby Digital plus, Dolby Digital, Dolby NR professional logic II z, Dolby NR professional logic. x, DTS-HD mastering audio, DTS-HD high-resolution audio, DTS 96/24, DTS-ES, DTS, Neo:6, MPEG-2 AAC, and linear PCM 7.1ch/5.1ch. The headphones operate on the 2Ghz spectrum and the built-in rechargeable batteries provide up to 18 hours of continuous playback.
Some Amazon reviews mentioned getting a Japanese instruction manual; obviously not helpful for most of us. But luckily they reported that some strategic googling led them to an English version that got the job done. Who reads the instructions anyways
There are also a handful of surround sound gaming headsets out there like the Skullcandy PLYR1 7.1 Surround Sound Wireless Gaming Headset for $130 or the Turtle Beach Ear Force X42 Wireless Dolby Surround Sound Gaming Headset for $123. If you’re into gaming and can get a pair like this, they may be able to double for you as a solid home theater solution as well. There isn’t a huge advantage in price, and connectivity may be more challenging since they’re intended to be connected to a gaming console. But buying one pair of headphones that can serve dual purpose might make sense for some.
There are plenty of approaches available today to listen to all the booming explosions and dynamic action you want from your home theater without disturbing anyone else. There are also cases where people with hearing impairments or who have experienced a loss of hearing could benefit from their own headphones, even if they’re listening to the same thing as everyone else. Whatever your requirements, there’s sure to be a set of headphones for you that will meet your needs and keep the finance committee happy.
Posted by The HT Guys, February 6, 2014 11:37 PM
About The HT GuysThe HT Guys, Ara Derderian and Braden Russell, are Engineers who formerly worked for the Advanced Digital Systems Group (ADSG) of Sony Pictures Entertainment. ADSG was the R&D unit of the sound department producing products for movie theaters and movie studios.
Two of the products they worked on include the DCP-1000 and DADR-5000. The DCP is a digital cinema processor used in movie theaters around the world. The DADR-5000 is a disk-based audio dubber used on Hollywood sound stages.
ADSG was awarded a Technical Academy Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2000 for the development of the DADR-5000. Ara holds three patents for his development work in Digital Cinema and Digital Audio Recording.
Every week they put together a podcast about High Definition TV and Home Theater. Each episode brings news from the A/V world, helpful product reviews and insights and help in demystifying and simplifying HDTV and home theater.