Rich, detailed midrange
Bass can be slightly fuzzy
The Momentum Wireless Headphones (MSRP: $499.95) stick to the tried-and-true blueprint, but combine top-of-the-line active noise cancellation and, as you can likely guess, wireless connectivity via Bluetooth 4.0 and NFC. They aren't cheap, but Sennheiser is hoping the luxury design, modern convenience, and premium sound will propel the Momentums to even greater heights.
But $500 is a little steep for a lot of buyers, especially when you can get the older, wired Momentums for under $200. While well-designed, there are also some performance hitches that give us pause with the Wireless Momentums. And with the new Sony MDR-1ABT including slightly better performance and touch controls for $100 less, these Sennheisers may be stopped in their tracks.
Update: After posting this review we've seen various reports about interference with the bluetooth capability of these headphones, which may or may not be universal. We're in the process of reaching out to Sennheiser about this issue and we'll update once we know more.
The Sennheiser Momentum Wireless headphones look great and certainly add some more functionality by cutting the cable and giving you the chance for a wireless listening experience. The frequency response is relatively simple, with one major flaw, while the included NoiseGard technology paints an interesting picture for isolation and noise cancellation.
Plush, luxury comfort that’s very portable
Sennheiser didn’t sacrifice any good looks to fit Bluetooth and NFC into these cans. The price tag is hefty, but the headphones themselves remain lightweight and immediately lend a sense of quality. It helps that they have a nice, solid construction that won't weight you down. If you’re constantly on the go, the Momentum Wireless makes it easy for you to bring the best of your music with you.
By far our favorite design element is the pair of big, ear-hugging earcups. It’s hard to convey just how great they feel. Each one has memory foam core that’s wrapped in high quality, supple leather. They rest over your ears like two clouds, but can still pump out some serious tunes. The inside depth doesn’t extend in as far as we’d like, though; I noticed that my ears actually pressed against the thin covering of the speaker drivers, which caused some minor discomfort after using them for a few hours. For long rides on the plane or train, though, you shouldn't have too much trouble.
The band is covered in the same premium leather as the earcups and has detailed stitching in a color that’ll complement the leather, which in our case was bright gold stitching against the black band. Unfortunately, the amount of padding on the band is more comparable to a pair of cheaper headphones. It’s barely any thicker than the plain metal bands that extend down either side. Though more padding would've meant a little more weight, we think Sennheiser's gone a little too conservative here.
Overall the construction of the Momentum Wireless headphones is sturdy and was obviously designed with great care. The metal hinges on either side are strong, snapping into place when in use and collapsing to allow the headphones to shrink down to a compact semicircle when on the go. It’s still fairly large though, so you’ll want to take advantage of either the thin, silky bag or the more durable carrying case.
It’s common for high-end headphone manufacturers to pack as many accessories as possible into the box to give you the most bang for your buck. With the added functionality built into the Momentum Wireless headphones, however, Sennheiser didn’t include a lot of extra components this time around. You’ll get the aforementioned carrying cases, a two-pronged inflight adapter, a USB charging cable, and a 4.5–foot audio cable in case you feel the need to go wired.
The biggest selling point for the Momentum Wireless headphones is right there in the name. First, you can use NFC-pairing to connect to compatible smartphones and devices—making this a truly cord-free experience. Once that’s taken care of, Bluetooth 4.0 will wirelessly transmit your audio up to a range of about 30 feet before you notice your music start to fall out.
When we test frequency response we feed in a parent signal of 78dB and measure what kind of output a particular pair of headphones has. Due to a particular tricky way the Momentum Wireless headphones handle audio at our test frequency, we bumped that up to 82dB to get a better sense of how they work in a real world scenario.
Generally, the Momentum Wireless headphones have a fairly flat response, sticking close to 75dB, except for some notable drops in the higher frequencies. This is great news for anyone looking to equalize their own music, especially if you've got lots of lows and mids to worry about.
Bass sounds—everything up to 300Hz—stay close to 70dB for the entire stretch. If you’re a big fan of deep, thumping bass sounds you’ll have to keep looking, though, as the Momentum Wireless headphones won’t deliver there. When the frequencies reach the midrange—300Hz to 2kHz—the decibel output recovers from a small dip before remaining steady at about 77dB. But, at 2kHz the frequency response starts to take a sharp dive until it reaches a low of 55dB.
With a drop of up to 20dB compared to other, lower frequencies, these higher frequency sounds are going to be extremely hard to hear. They’ll actually come through as sounding a full quarter quieter than those other frequencies. We're a bit puzzled why this happened, but it's the main performance our tests uncovered.
As far as distortion goes, the Momentum Wireless feature some of the typical problems we see with most headphones. Up until about 80Hz, the distortion levels fluctuate only slightly, with the highest percentage reaching about 9%. Now, while everything above 3% should be audible to human ears, the sub bass range of sounds is the most difficult area to pick up distortion. So, unless your hearing is particularly sensitive, this shouldn’t pose too much of a problem.
After the frequency response gets higher than 100Hz the percentage of distortion drops to a level closer to 2%. Like I mentioned before, this is below the threshold of what the average person will be able to pick up, so it's not a huge concern. If you're a robot or something, though, this will probably drive you nuts.
They sound as good as they look.
The two big additions to the Momentum line come in the form of Bluetooth 4.0 for wireless capability and active noise cancellation, both of which play a part in how you’re going to experience your music. Nothing to worry about, though: Sennheiser went to the trouble of including a built-in helper to guide you. Her calm British accent will let you know when you’ve connected to a device, if your battery is running low, or when you’ve maxed out the volume.
The Wireless Momentums can actually be used in one of two ways, wired or wireless. When wired, you should expect slightly better audio quality and can turn the active noise cancellation on or off. Using wireless gives you more freedom to move around, but in this mode you have to have ANC turned on, and your music will sound slightly less rich and full as it's being transmitted via Bluetooth instead of by wire.
For example, this especially stood out to me during the beating drums that open BORNS “Electric Love.” The wireless mode still sounds good, but if you really care about how your music sounds—and if you’re spending this much, why wouldn’t you?—then you should be aware of what you’re getting into.
Update: Since, posting this review we've started seeing reports about interference issues when using the headphones wirelessly. We've reached out to Sennheiser and will update this space once we know more.
The active noise cancellation is handled via Sennheiser's proprietary tech, called NoiseGard. In our testing we found that ambient sounds of about 80 decibels (think the inside of a loud commercial plane) will drop by up to 20 decibels—or a quarter—of their regular volume. The most obvious place you’ll notice it is if you use the Momentum Wireless headphones in an office. You’ve probably grown so used to the constant hum of an HVAC system that you don’t even notice it’s there anymore. Well, as soon as you slip these on you’ll slip into real—almost unsettling—silence as the sound from the HVAC is cut out completely.
High frequency sounds are rendered almost inaudible, and conversations are also toned down considerably. You will still hear people talking around you, but if you play some music at even half volume it will easily drown out your surroundings. Just remember to leave your phone on vibrate if you've got an important call coming through.
The only hangup with the ANC is that it requires battery power. Unlike the Bose QuietComforts, which have an easily replaceable AAA battery, the Momentums have a built-in rechargeable battery. Sennheiser claims it's good for up to 22 hours of life, though, so we doubt you'll have too many trips where you'll need to recharge.
When it comes to actual sound reproduction, Sennheiser delivers a strong everyman’s experience. These are not studio-grade headphones designed for flat reproduction across the spectrum, but these also don't fall into the camp of headphones that just boost bass and call it a day. Instead, we measured a frequency response that was relatively flat, but does justice to both the lows, mids, and most highs.
However, there is a noticeable drop in the high midrange, with sounds such as the highest notes of a piano or bright cymbals dropping by anywhere from 10 to 20 decibels relative to everything else. While this isn’t a big issue if you listen to a lot of bass-heavy music, anything that relies on bright sounds—like classical music—is going to have a few downplayed notes.
We also measured a small amount of distortion—audible crackling or fuzzy sounds that pollute your music—in the low bass frequencies. While the levels were above what we would consider audible, it’s likely that you won’t really notice anything unless you have particularly sensitive hearing.
Not perfect, but a mixture of premium features and sound quality
With the Momentum Wireless headphones, Sennheiser shot to deliver the complete package. These were designed to look great, deliver a premium audio experience, and include high-end features like wireless connectivity and active noise cancellation. Unfortunately, while the looks are handsome and the features are extremely convenient, we can't say the sound quality is worth the $500 price tag.
That's quite a bit to pay for any pair of headphones, and even with the extra features, some issues with high notes and a generally loose frequency response give us pause. That said, in day-to-day usage these headphones hold up well, complementing most types of modern music just fine. They still look great, and the wireless features—while anathema to pure audiophiles—will come in handy for lots of people.
If you want a more pure, customizable soundscape then we heartily recommend something more affordable like the Beyerdynamic Custom One Pros. If you're set on wireless headphones, though, we also have tested the new Sony MDR-1ABT wireless headphones and found them to be slightly better performers, for slightly less money.
And that's unfortunately the rub here. The Momentum Wireless headphones are good all-around cans, with a great design and a high degree of comfort. Of course, we could say almost the exact same thing about the original Momentums, which you can find on Amazon for $180 and under these days. The noise cancellation and wireless functionality are great, but they're simply not worth $300 more.
Sennheiser’s Momentum Wireless headphones come with built-in NoiseGard, which can be used wired or wirelessly but is always active when listening cordless. There’s two parts to this chart that I’ll go over, one that focuses on the passive isolation—when NoiseGard is turned off—and one with it turned on.
The first line to look at will be the green one you see above. This is the plotted data from examining how much ambient noise is blocked when NoiseGard is disabled. The Momentum Wireless headphones do a poor job of blocking ambient sound in the bass and a bit of the midrange frequencies. Unfortunately, this range of sounds makes up the bulk of what you’re likely to encounter in your average day.
They start to do a better job at blocking ambient sound starting around 500Hz. At 800Hz the relative volume drops to about half of what it actually is and then reaches a quarter as loud close to 2 or 3kHz. There’s then a sharp dive that will drop sounds around 5kHz to 1/32 it’s original loudness. That being said, you aren't likely to encounter very many sounds above 2kHz in your normal routine.
Thankfully, if you remembered to charge the Momentum Wireless headphones you’ll get much better ambient noise isolation, which you can see represented in the blue line above. Even deep bass sounds are going to only sound approximately a quarter as loud as they normally do. This is great news for anyone that has to deal with noisy train or bus engines on their commute.
You’ll also notice that in the low midrange frequencies—300 to 700Hz—the relative volume drops close to 1/16th as loud as it would otherwise be. Frequencies that are higher than 700Hz go back to being about a quarter as loud until about 5kHz. After that it doesn't matter whether you have ANC on or off, as these sounds are practically inaudible either way.
Meet the tester
Former Managing Editor@@nschmiedicker
Coming from Buffalo, NY, Nick studied media production and arts journalism. When he’s not writing about tech Nick can be found playing video games and keeping up on the latest in pop culture.
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