You heard it here first: Sennheiser is on a roll, and serving up some of the best headphones in this class. The semi-affordable class, that is.
SENNHEISER REALLY HIT the nail on the head with the hugely impressive Momentum headphones (reviewed here), so getting the smaller and less expensive Momentum On-Ear version was something of a priority. After all, we wanted to make sure that Sennheiser truly was on a roll. The full size Momentums are a special set of ‘phones, extremely fashionable yet very focused in sonic terms, but at $649, they’ll be too expensive for many punters. At $399 however, the Momentum On-Ear’s are in much more palatable territory for those looking for a high-quality and good looking set of stylish, street orientated ‘phones.
When it comes to the Momentum range of ‘phones, they certainly are both high quality and good looking. Like their bigger siblings, the Momentum On-Ear’s are beautifully built using top-notch materials, and they’re most certainly lovely to look at.
In fact, when it comes down to it, the On-Ear’s are effectively the Momentum headband with a set of Momentum earcups that have been shrunk in the wash, and there’s absolutely no sign of the reduced price to be seen. The construction in particular is rugged enough to indicate a long service life.
Two 1.4m long cables are supplied, a standard type and one with an Apple mic/remote, but where the Momentum’s have that brilliant adjustable metal 3.5mm jack and the lovely little metal mic/remote, the On-Ear’s use a plastic mic/remote and a sturdy, yet tiny, low-profile plastic 3.5mm jack. There’s no real issue with this because the quality is still excellent and in keeping with the price. The cables plug into the left earcup via a discrete locking jack.
Unlike most fashion ‘phones, the On-Ear’s don’t fold, but once the earcups are pushed as far up into the headband as possible, the package is reasonably compact and portable. An attractive black neoprene carry case is supplied; it’s not a patch on the unit that’s in the box with the Momentum’s, but it’s still pretty sexy and will protect the ‘phones to a degree, bearing in mind that it’s not a hard case. A soft carry bag is also thrown in for those who just want something simple to guard the ‘phones from scratches.
Despite their smaller earcups and on-ear design, the On-Ear’s make for a comfortable, long-term partner. The clamping force is just enough to keep the ‘phones stable without exerting any major degree of crushing on the ears, and while the padding on the headband is sparse, the fit is such that you don’t need an inch of soft foam on the top of your head. The earpads are covered with a soft suede-like Alcantra leather, apparently sourced from Milan no less, with two types of foam underneath. The On-Ear’s are lightweight, which means that they practically disappear on the head, particularly after they’ve been carefully adjusted for best fit. The earcups can be finely positioned in the vertical slots and then carefully angled thanks to the ball-joints, which further accentuates the comfort. It’s also easy to get a seal, which is critical for bass response, and once the ‘phones are in place, they don’t shift around much without severe provocation.
The review On-Ears were supplied in a light green finish, which initially looked a little strange but quickly grew on me, and seemed to be widely admired. The subtle metallic finish on the earcups looks classy but it’s worth noting that the light shade of textured leather on the earpads and headband is prone to picking up oils from the skin and hair and starts to discolour quite quickly – the darker shades of leather will be less affected by this, instead developing a well worn patina over time just like an old belt or pair of dark shoes. This makes the lighter colours in the range less than ideal for running or gym use but fortunately, the earpads are replaceable, so when they get too grungy, they can just be swapped out.
The two ‘phones look eerily similar and a quick look at the relevant audio specifications shows that they’re very close, so it’s not a huge shock that they sound much alike. As expected, the bigger model offers a slightly more spacious sound, with a wider and less closed-in soundstage. The same excellent treble and midrange clarity is very much in place, along with very good levels of detail at the price.
The Momentum’s do sound somewhat more neutral because there’s more bass to be had from the On-Ears. They’re not tuned in the Extra-Bass style commonly found in many modern fashion ‘phones but they definitely have more heft down low. Nothing too dramatic though, and compared to Sony’s XB-920’s (reviewed here) they’re virtually linear in their response (although nowhere near as accurate as Sony’s lovely little XBA-4 in-ear monitors reviewed here.) Like the bigger model, the On-Ear’s bass is tight and fast, just graced with extra extension that some punters will definitely prefer. They also sound more dynamic than the bigger version thanks to that increased bass. Sonically, they’re way ahead of the plethora of $200 models out there and not far (if at all) behind units in the $500 to $600 range.
The On-Ear’s are a touch more forgiving than the Momentum’s, and better able to flatter bright recordings, which suits the mobile landscape very well indeed, but there’s enough sonic ability on offer here that they still sound really good on the end of a headphone amp and a good source. They’d be ideal plugged into a high-quality desktop DAC, and then they’d be well-suited for the train or bus home, bearing in mind that they don’t block out anywhere near as much outside noise as the over ear versions. But then again, you wouldn’t really expect them to.
You can get more detail and sheer resolution from a good set on in-ear monitors but those little things are too discrete for some punters and not comfortable for many other. If headphones are your scene, and you’ve got around $400 to spend, then these should be at the top of your list to try.
Like the more expensive Momentum model, it’s hard to find fault with the Momentum On-Ears. They’re well put together, terrific to look at and available in some of the funkiest colour combinations on today’s streets. More importantly, they’re comfortable and sound excellent. At the price, they’re the frontrunners in the class in this writer’s humble opinion, carrying more innate pride of ownership than many of the competition. Very highly recommended. ASHLEY KRAMER