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REVIEWS

 

WIRELESS WONDERS

 

INTRO

Don’t let cables cramp your style, move as you groove with some cordless cans...

 

COPY

Cordless headphones have never been regarded as serious audio components, but maybe that’s missing the point. They’re just the job for a spot of private listening, without the hassle of trailing leads, you can move around and sound quality can be quite good, as this round up of recent models suggests.

 

REVIEWS

 

Innovations Cordless Headphones, £29.95

Well, they are very cheap... The design is fairly conventional, with an upright base unit that can be used to stow the phones when they’re not in use. Power for the headphones comes from a pair of AA batteries and the outfit includes a full set of adaptor leads.

 

The headphones are tight and they can get a little uncomfortable; the padded ear cushions didn’t sit squarely on the ears. The sound is rather thin, with very little bass. Range is adequate but they’re quite directional and they pick up a fair amount of interference, from both light sources and RF from other pieces of electronic equipment. Well, they are very cheap...

 

Innovations Cordless Headphones, £29.95

Features            LED indicators on phones and base module

Range             8 metres

 

Sound quality            **

Comfort                      **

Immunity                    **

Value for money **

 

Innovations, telephone (01793) 431441

 

 

Philips SBC 3955, £99.99 (SBC 3945 £84.99)

The 3955’s are Philips current top-end phones, and the most expensive in this roundup. A version that runs on disposable batteries (SBC 3945) is also available. The IR sender is a compact design, but there’s nowhere to hang the phones. Volume is controlled by a novel rollerball control. The ear cushions are generously padded, they cover the whole ear and are very comfortable.

 

Sound is modulated onto high-frequency carriers (2.3/2.8mhz) so audio quality is rather good. There’s plenty of bass with an even middle and upper frequency response. Noise levels are low and it copes well with interference. Range is good, the IR emitter puts out a strong signal so there’s few dead spots. Pricey, but they sound great.

 

Philips SBC 3955, £99.99

Features            re-chargeable batteries, auto switch-off, noise suppression, roller-ball volume control

Range             8 metres

 

Sound quality            ****

Comfort                      ****

Immunity                    ****

Value for money ***

Philips Consumer Electronics, telephone  0181-689 4444

 

 

Philips SBC HC120, £49.99

Very smooth! Hot off the line with up to the minute styling. The swept back ear pads are a good fit and the flexible head band is very comfy. A pair of AAA sized  re-chargeable batteries last for up to 15 hours. Features include auto shut-off and auto-mute, which cuts out noise when the phones loose lock on the signal.

 

Sound quality is excellent; evenly balanced, with a solid bass and sparkling treble. In common with other Philips models this one uses a high-frequency carrier that helps reduce interference. Directionality is better than average, the IR signal bounces off walls and other reflective surfaces, allowing a good degree of movement within the listening area. Recommended.

 

Philips SBC HC120, £49.99

Features            re-chargeable batteries for up to 15 hours running time, auto mute, auto switch off, auto level control

Range             7 metres

 

Sound quality            ****

Comfort                      ****

Immunity                    ****

Value for money ****

Philips Consumer Electronics, telephone  0181-689 4444

 

 

Philips SBC HC380, £64.99

This one is closely related to the HC120’s, though the cosmetics of the headphones and sender are quite different. The upright transmitter module can be pitched backwards and forwards, to improve reception. Headphone styling is more conventional, with larger, more deeply cushioned ear pads. Key features are 15 hours running time between charges, auto mute and auto switch-off.

 

The headband is very comfortable, though they’re a little tighter than the HC120’s.  Bass response is slightly better, treble and midrange are much the same. Directionality and noise suppression are similar to the HC120s. They’re good, but we’d be happy to stick with the slightly cheaper model.

 

Philips SBC HC380, £64.99

Features            re-chargeable batteries for up to 15 hours running time, auto mute, auto switch off, auto level control, reversible input lead

Range             7 metres

Weight           

 

Sound quality            ****

Comfort                      ****

Immunity                    ****

Value for money ***

Philips Consumer Electronics, telephone  0181-689 4444

 

 

Ross RIR 4200, £34.95

Outwardly the headphones supplied with this model look identical to the ones from Innovations. Doubtless they originate from the same factory, they suffer from the same seating difficulty, though they’re not as tight. The IR sender is different though. This one has both phono and minijack input sockets, and it’s not as tall, so it can’t be used to park the phones.

 

Although this model operates on a fairly low modulation frequency (210 and 355kHz) it doesn’t suffer too badly from interference or noise. Sound quality is not too bad either, considering the price. Bass response is a little restrained, and treble is muted but the mid-range is quite detailed and there’s plenty of volume on tap.

 

Ross RIR 4200, £34.95

Features            phono and minijack inputs, mono adaptor plug

Range             10 metres            

Ross Consumer Products, telephone (01204) 862026

 

Sound quality            ***

Comfort                      ***

Immunity                    ***

Value for money ***

 

Select SLR-100, £49.99

The upright IR transmitter unit on this model serves as a stand for the phones, and a charging station for the AA rechargeable cells, they last for around 6 hours. The phones are moderately comfortable, with a good range of headband adjustment. Independent right and left channel volume controls are a good idea, especially if you’re a bit mutton in one ear.

 

The SLR-100’s produce a mellow, reasonably flat sound with a fair amount of bass, but they are quite noisy. Loud notes occasionally produce a warbling tone in the background. They’re quite directional too, and respond to interference from a variety of sources, including TV screens and fluorescent lights, they even managed to pick up Radio 4 when the IR emitter was switched off; (this was in South London, about a mile from the Crystal Palace transmitter). Tolerable.

 

Select SLR-100, £49.99

Features            rechargeable batteries, individual volume controls

Range             7 metres            

 

Sound quality            ***

Comfort                      ***

Immunity                    **

Value for money **

Philex plc., 0181-202 1717

 

 

Sennheiser IS-360, £69.96

The base unit looks a bit like a case from a portable CD player, and there’s nowhere to park the phones when they’re not being used. The pop-up sender module is a good idea, though, it means it can be wall-mounted, or sat on top of the hi-fi. There’s a handy  balance control on the senders. Powered is supplied by a pair of AA dry batteries.

 

Sound quality and comfort are surprisingly good, thanks to a high frequency FM carrier for the IR signal. Immunity to interference is  better than average as well -- they’re untroubled by TV screens and lights -- directionality and range are fine. Occasionally there’s some slight phasing on high notes but the bass and mid-range are very clean. A detailed, lively sound, worth considering

 

Sennheiser IS-360, £69.96

Features            wall or table top module with pop-up IR sender, balance control, powered by 2 x AA cells, auto mute

Range             8 metres

 

Sound quality            ****

Comfort                      ***

Immunity                    ****

Value for money ***     

Sennheiser, telephone (01494) 551551

 

 

Sony MDR-1F120K £49.99

A characteristically stylish design with smoothly curved lines on both the IR emitter and phones. Both units are very small and light, the headphones weigh just 130 grams. Running time from a single AA cell is claimed to be in the order of 100 hours. Minijack and phono sockets on the transmitter module simplify connections. Auto mute smoothly reduces the volume when the signal is lost.

 

The open-air earphones are quite leaky, but they produce a surprisingly full bodied sound, there’s plenty of volume in reserve. Bass response tails off quite sharply but treble and mid-range are smooth and controlled. Some background hiss is present though it’s only evident during quiet passages. Range and directionality are both good. Worth considering.

 

Sony MDR-IF120K £49.99

Range             7 metres

Features            100 hour battery life, auto mute, compact transmitter, reversible lead

 

Sound quality            ***

Comfort                      ****

Immunity                    ****

Value for money ***

Sony UK, telephone 0181-784 1144

 

Vivanco IR 5700, £49.99

The headphones are virtually identical to the ones on the Select model, the base module is a slightly different design though layout and indicators are much the same. They’re powered by dry cells, and there’s a separate volume control for each earpiece.

 

Like the Select phones there’s a good thumpy bass but at low levels it’s accompanied by an annoying buzz and a fair amount of background hiss. The range is adequate, though noise levels rise quickly more than three metres from the base unit, and they’re quite directional.

 

Vivanco IR 5700, £49.99

Features            flashing level indicator

Range             5-7 metres

 

Sound quality            ***

Comfort                      ***

Immunity                    **

Value for money **

Vivanco UK, telephone  (01442) 231616

 

 

Vivanco IR6500, £89.99

The charger contacts that slot into the top of the base module, hang down below the ear cups, making them look rather awkward, but it greatly simplifies charging and overnight parking. The phones are powered by a pair of rechargeable AAA type batteries that live just below the IR sensors on each side. A pair of thumbwheels control volume for each earphone.   

 

Range and directionality are good, there’s minimal interference from other light sources and the well-padded earphones feel comfortable. They produce a rather bassy sound, with some background hiss. There’s plenty of detail and the mid-range is unusually crisp; turn up the volume and they come alive with a solid, raunchy sound.

 

Vivanco IR6500, £89.99

Features                     plug in charger, in use/charge and sound-level LEDs, auto switch-off, re-chargeable batteries        

Range                         5 - 8 metres

 

Sound quality            ***

Comfort                      ****

Immunity                    ****

Value for money ***

Vivanco UK, telephone  (01442) 231616

 

BOX COPY 1

HOW DO THEY WORK

The cordless phones we’ve been looking at here all use analogue infra-red FM transmission systems. We did try to get hold of some RF wireless phones, however,  none of them turned up in time for this review. There’s some confusion  about the legality of these devices -- not all of them are licensable for use in the UK -- so it’s probably just as well. In the case of the IR units, the line-level sound output from a source component (hi-fi, TV etc.,) , is used to modulate the frequency of invisible infra-red carrier beams, emitted by a row of light emitting diodes, built into the base units. The LEDs on some models also emit a faint red glow in the visible light spectrum, which shows they’re switched on.

 

The modulation frequency on these phones varies from a few tens of kilohertz to a couple of megahertz.  Generally speaking the higher the frequency the better the audio response, noise levels also tend to be lower and there’s a greater immunity to interference from other light sources. Fluorescent lamps and flickering TV screens can be troublesome, bear that in mind if you’re cordless phones with an AV system. The light output from the emitters is important too, higher power levels give better dispersion, that reduces directionality as the beams bounce off walls and other reflective surfaces -- the better models won’t confine you to the sofa, you can get up and boogie, without loosing the signal.

 

The performance of cordless headphones is improving all the time, though noise and interference appear to be proving difficult to eliminate. They’re never going to be as clean as wired phones, at least not until someone comes up with some sort of digital transmission system, watch this space...

 

---end---

Ó R. Maybury 1996 0406

 

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