What the hell? Fashion ‘phones that are just as sonically pleasing as they are easy on the eye. Surely some mistake. (And they’re comfy, too, says Ash Kramer).
IT’S TAKEN SOME time for Sennheiser to get around to releasing a set of high-end designer ‘phones. The term designer in this case is interesting, because I’ve generally referred to this type of product as “fashion ‘phones” but the Momentum over ear headphones owe little to fashion. While they’re certainly a reaction to a trend, that of premium, distinctive headphones intended to grab some of the massive market originally torn open by Beats, the German company has resisted the temptation to go down the bigger, brighter, shinier, whiter, bolder route that some have chosen.
Instead what we have here is a set of carefully considered ‘phones by a manufacturer that plainly knows its stuff, having been in the game for a long, long time. So function goes very much hand in hand with form, but that wasn’t entirely my first impression of the Momentums.
Features & Construction
The Momentums are beautifully presented, arriving in a luxurious zippered carry case, with two cables (one with Apple mic and remote, one without) and a 3.5mm to 6.35mm adapter. From the first instant of their unveiling, there’s little doubt that they’re a premium product. The build quality is fantastic and they feel superb, not to mention looking as classically elegant as any headphones I’ve ever seen.
The design touches are first rate. Consider the hard-wearing leather on the headband (not vegan friendly but that’s only going to freak out a small percentage of the market), the sheer genius of the angle-adjustable metal 3.5mm jack on the Apple mic remote equipped cable, or the tangible quality of the aforementioned metal Apple mic and remote. This is luxury all the way, but is it first-class comfort?
Once I’d gotten over the initial rapture around the look and feel, I realised just how small the earcups of these ‘phones are. Compared to the bigger models in the Beats range or Yamaha’s Pro 500’s, these are truly a tiny set of ‘phones. One of my bugbears is having my ears scrunched up inside the cups of headphones – at best it’s annoying, at worst infuriating – ‘form over function’ was the thought that came to mind.
Having received the ‘phones at work, I plonked them on my head and took them for a walk around Auckland’s CBD, expecting to fight them all the way. After a few minutes, I realised that I’d adjusted them a couple of times and then hadn’t touched them again, yet they were actually…comfortable. What sorcery was this?
The Momentums are rendered exceedingly comfortable through a combination of factors. There’s the ultra soft and smooth covering on the earcups and the equally soft velvety material used on the inside of the earcups. Then there’s a cunning slope to the shape of the inner cups, and the perfect grade of foam cushioning the ‘phones. Add in a headband that can be moved through a huge range of tiny adjustments and it’s possible to place these ‘phones in something close to the ideal orientation for comfort. I’m massively fussy with long-term headphone comfort, generally preferring in-ear monitors, but the Momentums were worn day in and day out for months with equanimity.
As impressive as the build quality and comfort are, these aspects are shaded by the excellence of the Momentum’s sonic presentation. In short, they sound more like high-quality audiophile ‘phones than fashion ‘phones, with none of the big bottom end or boosted mids that have become something of a cause celebre in that part of the market.
Overall, the tuning of these ‘phones is very well balanced, there’s a touch of warmth to be found but this is so finely judged that you never feel as if you’re listening to syrup. Initially, these ‘phones sound bass light, but that’s only when compared to models that have been “enhanced” down below. Listen to the Momentums for a while and it’s plain that there’s enough bass weight to make any kind of music feel right, but this bass is tight and impactful. The boosted bass on my less expensive Skullcandy Navigators (reviewed here) is more exciting and far punchier, as to a lesser extent is the bass on Yamaha’s Pro 500 ‘phones (reviewed here) but there’s no question that when it comes down to accuracy at the bottom end, the Momentums are closer to the truth.
The mids are also quite special: remarkably clear and expansive but the top end is nothing less than a joy. The multi-driver, balanced armature equipped in-ear monitors from Sony and Logitech UE that have been reviewed in recent times are naturally better in this area, but the Momentum’s are perhaps the best I’ve heard on any compact headphones designed to be trundled around town. The treble is lusciously extended and it’s also transparent, majoring on detail presentation, with a strong ability to render the atmospherics and air inherent to the performance. It’s frighteningly easy to get lost in the nuances of an acoustic guitar with these ‘phones. The presentation is quite spacious despite the small size of the enclosures.
It’s worth noting that these ‘phones don’t suffer whatsoever for being so precise from bottom to top. The bass is fulsome enough so you never want more, and dynamics are good. The detail levels are high without being so ruthlessly revealing that poor recordings, compressed files, sibilant vocalists or just generally bright music become fatiguing or annoying.
They’re not cheap but there are plenty of contenders that’ll joyfully free buyers of $500 and more, so the Momentums aren’t even close to being over the top from a pricing perspective.
With that in mind, it’s easy to conclude that Sennheiser has totally nailed this new model. Sonically, these ‘phones are just superb. They’re well suited to mobile use with both low and high quality music files but they’re also entirely happy being plugged into a headphone amplifier and fed from a high-end source, where their positive characteristics are even more apparent. Add in the premium quality, stunning looks, huge range of colours and the unfeasibly good comfort and you’ve got a winner; certainly the best street-orientated ‘phones that have crossed my path thus far. ASHLEY KRAMER