In an era where celebrity-themed headphones and mobile devices reign supreme, Sennheiser has had to figure out where it fits in. As a company already in audiophiles’ good books, there is an opportunity to show they can play the style and substance game better than their flashy competitors.
This is where the Momentum over-ear headphones come in. Sophisticated, elegant and made with stainless steel and leather, you won’t confuse these with the plastic of Beats by Dr. Dre or Soul by Ludacris. That might help justify the $350 price tag, but the real value comes in performance, where the Momentum is able to take music from any genre and make it sound like it should for headphones in this range.
Not to be confused with the $1,000-plus headphones Sennheiser is known for, the Momentum aim to cater to more than just audiophiles. We happen to love all kinds of music, so we wondered if it could appeal to all music lovers out there. Taking that approach, here’s how it all sounded.
Out of the box
Sennheiser doesn’t do cheap packaging, and anyone who has bought a pricey pair from them will probably attest to that. Cutting the red ribbon to open the box is a little like the ceremonial ribbon-cutting photo ops you see in local papers, only in this case, you actually get to be the beneficiary.
The box opens up like an oversized jewelry box, albeit with another red ribbon at the bottom ensuring that it always stays open on an angle. The neatly padded interior foam is something you’ve seen before, though the manuals packet on the left that says “The Pursuit of Perfect Sound” might attract your attention first. On the right, you see the case you’re expected to keep the Momentum in – a hard shell fabric case accented by red stitching around the edges.
We zipped the case open and there they were; black with red cables (the brown version came to market before the black), and snugly in place. We pulled them out, then removed a Velcro piece to discover an accessories compartment inside. Aside from the standard 3.5mm-to-2.5mm cable with playback controls and microphone, you get a secondary cable with no controls, and a separate ¼-inch gold-plated adapter.
Features and design
Sennheiser clearly wants the Momentum to be a classy headphone, yet fashionable enough to appeal to a broad demographic. The stainless steel headband is covered by neatly-stitched leather, as are the earcups, which have soft, malleable leather pads that feel good when pressed over your ears.
While the level of bass might not be enough for those who love music that revels in it, we didn’t mind so much.
Adjusting for size requires moving the ear cups up or down a slit along the lower end of the headband. Movement is smooth but sturdy, so that there’s no chance of the cups sliding back to an uncomfortable position after prolonged use. This design choice also means there’s no rotating mechanism to allow the Momentum to be folded up for compact carrying or travel.
The left ear cup is home to a 2.5mm jack for the included dual-pronged cables. Rather than making it too obvious to note which is the right or left side, the plug is usually the best indicator, but there are markings for both sides on the inside of the headband.
The red cables leading from the top of the ear cups and into the leather-covered headband may give the Momentum a stylized look and a touch of color, but we aren’t overly fond of that design choice – it just feels like they protrude too much.
The headphones’1.2-meter cable is nicely thought out. When you plug in the 2.5mm side into the left can, a slight turn “locks” it into place, so that it won’t come out accidentally. The 3.5mm plug at the other end has a hinge that lets you plug into your device straight-on in or bend it up to 90-degrees, adding a level of versatility to something we tend to take for granted. And in keeping with the higher-end feel of the headphones, the playback control piece is also metallic with Apple-ready volume buttons and play/pause on the front, along with a microphone on the back for hands-free calls.
Using thin, yet strong stainless steel means the Momentum have a thinner profile than some of the plastic celebrity or DJ-inspired models, and the oval-shaped cups were ergonomic enough not to pinch our ears after listening to a full album. At no point did we feel we were wearing something cheap and fragile.
At 190 grams (6.7 ounces), the Momentum never felt heavy when worn, which is impressive given the materials used to make them. It helped that the desired size we chose never shifted, even after hours or days of repeated use. Though there’s always going to be a level of fatigue after wearing any set for a while, these never felt like a burden.
Upon first listening to music on the Momentum, we were pleasantly surprised – and not because we didn’t think Sennheiser could do it, but because they didn’t come off as a pair of watered-down cans meant for the masses. Where celebrity-infused headphones go heavy on the bass and cut corners on the mids and highs, the Momentum always sounded as if they had been specifically voiced for the track we were listening to.
Still, we were a little surprised at just how much balance and crisp sound came through on our first test. We instantly noted that the bass wasn’t as artificially pumped up as that of Beats or Street by 50 Cent, and that kept the mids and highs coming through with detail and definition. Whether it was listening to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” or “Fire We Make” by Alicia Keys, we never experienced that muddy sound that comes part and parcel with headphones that dial down the treble or oversaturate the bass.
To get a sense for what the Momentum are capable of, we listened to tunes from no less than 10 different genres – hip hop, R&B, classic rock, alternative, house, 80s, 90s Euro dance, smooth jazz, movie soundtracks and little bit of Latin. We also threw in some live tracks to get a feel for how well the Momentum delivered that “you are there” effect. The mix of instruments and arrangements in all of those give them unique sounds, but we were pleased to see that the headphones managed to handle them all without any glaring weaknesses seeping in. While the level of bass might not be enough for those who love music that revels in it, we didn’t mind so much.
Vocals benefit a great deal from the Momentum’s considerate treatment, primarily thanks to their knack for delivering rich and lively tones that are neither artificially enhanced nor buried beneath the melodies. The Momentum don’t deliver a wealth of subtleties or jaw-dropping depth in the same way some of Sennheiser’s more expensive models do, but we still think they excel for their price point. They aren’t really designed for kicking back and listening to uncompressed music files on a high-end system (though you could do that), but they are particularly well suited for carving out the best possible sound from low-powered mobile devices such as phones, tablets and laptop computers.
…the Momentum always sounded as if they had been specifically voiced for the track we were listening to.
The Momentum do offer some decent passive noise isolation, but without active noise cancellation, watching a show or listening to low-level music in a crowded or loud environment was a bit challenging. The good news is that the Momentum hold together well at high volumes, so if noise is a problem, you can always out-muscle it.
Sennheiser’s Momentum mantra is “the symphony of perfection” and “the pursuit of perfect sound”. It would be a stretch to consider them “perfect,” but that’s ok – they’re not targeted at audiophiles, necessarily. But these stylish cans from Sennheiser do make a compelling case for quality sound in a trendy headphone in the increasingly murky world of flashy, celeb-backed headphones. It’s never an easy decision to spend $350 on a set of cans, but if you’re going to, you could do a whole lot worse than the Momentum – we see people do it every day.
- Clear with solid range
- Balanced sound for all genres
- Noise isolation works well
- Thoughtful and elegant design
- Not foldable
- A little pricey