Sennheiser's newest headphones are as smart as they look. The company’s latest take on the Momentum Wireless headphones offer a number of new features including Smart Pause and Transparent Hearing functionality in addition to active noise cancelling and digital assistant compatibility. Plus, you get the balanced, precise audio Sennheiser is known for.
The cans are currently available in black for $399. However, a sandy white color variant will launch sometime in September.
Here are some earlier impressions after I had a chance to try the Momentum Wireless headphones at this week's IFA trade show.
If it ain’t broke. Outside of a few tweaks here and there, the Momentum’s design doesn’t change that often nor does it need to. I mean, who’s really going to get mad about stainless steel and genuine sheepskin leather (outside of vegans)? Sennheiser's headphones have a timeless look that’s equal parts retro and futuristic. They’re like Aviator glasses — perfectly unisex and almost impossible to look bad in.
The headband and earpads have extra padding, which means the Momentums should be comfortable during long listening sessions. It’s a point I’m looking forward to testing out when I get my review unit.
Sennheiser is the latest big audio company to embrace smart functionality. It’s taken a little longer than other brands, but I like to think it's the company’s abundance of caution and quality control that’s kept Sennheiser from entering the fray before now. But it’s here now and the Momentums are better for it.
One new feature is Auto On/Off, which powers the headphones on or off depending on whether their being unfolded or folded. Smart Pause relies on embedded proximity sensors to pause whenever the cans are taken off and play when they’re put back on. Unfortunately, Sennheiser has yet to embrace the smart panel technology. Instead you’ll use a trio of buttons to adjust the volume and respond or ignore calls.
There’s also a dedicated button to summon your preferred designated digital assistant. The headphones currently only work with Google Assistant or Siri. However Amazon Alexa will be added via software update in the near future.
In terms of pairing, you can either use a Bluetooth connection or if your device is NFC-enabled, tap it against the headphones for near instantaneous pairing.
I never thought I’d see the day that Sennheiser would get a companion app, but it’s definitely a good thing.
Music lovers like having the ability to tweak the equalizer to create custom audio profiles, and the free Sennheiser Smart Control app (available for both Android and iOS) allows you to do just that; you can also adjust Smart Pause and digital assistant settings. In addition, you can turn to the app to control the Transparency Hearing mode, which determines how much ambient noise is allowed into the soundstage.
ANC and Transparency Hearing
Sometimes you want to block the world out and sometimes you want to let a little of the world in. And then other times, you want to eavesdrop on someone’s conversation (just kidding). But at whatever level you want to engage the world, Sennheiser is hoping to meet you there with its three levels of ANC. Granted, it’s not as deep as the Microsoft Surface headphones and its 20 levels or the Bose Noise Cancelling 700 headphones, but it gets the job done.
I put the Momentums to the test during Sennheiser’s raucous event at IFA starting with Maximum. I noticed an immediate difference as the loud banter and laughs faded into a dull roar. When I switched Anti-Wind, the ambient audio got a bit louder, but not enough to be disconcerting. The final setting is Anti-Pressure, which attempts to deliver ANC but without the pressure experienced from the negative sound waves used to block out noise. In practice, the ANC wasn’t as effective as the other two settings, but I didn’t feel that slight pressure, so it’s a calculated trade-off.
And for those moments where you need to employ a measure of situational awareness, Transparency Hearing mode lets ambient noise filter into the soundstage. It comes in handy when you’re crossing a busy street or passing through a sketchy area.
Sennheiser is known for its clean, balanced sound and the Momentum Wireless don’t disappoint. When I listed the Kanye West’s “Amazing,” the artist autotuned vocal didn’t overpower the track. Even with his distorted warble I clearly heard the sparse piano accompaniment, the bass and the drums.
On Steely Dan’s “Hey Nineteen,” the treble was nice and bright with plenty of room for the guitar and vocal to breathe in the soundstage.
Bluetooth and Battery Life
Sennheiser claims the Momentums have an estimated battery life of 17 hours, which is shorter than the Bose 700 (20 hours). Sennheiser hasn’t disclosed whether or not the Momentums have any Quick Charging technology which could help balance out the shorter battery life.
The Momentums utilize Bluetooth 5.0 which means fewer connection dropouts and lower latency. The headphones also employ a Bluetooth tracker via Tile technology to help find lost cans. Although Bluetooth 5.0 has a listed range of 30 feet, I often go longer distances before the connection starts to sputter. I’m hoping the Momentums will deliver the same type of performance.
The Sennheiser Momentum headphones offer a luxurious, stylish design that doesn’t skimp on comfort. But beyond the cans’ handsomeness, you get a pair of headphones that provide warm, balanced audio while also picking up some new tricks along the way, such as adjustable active noise cancelling and Transparency mode.
It’s a good first attempt for the brand, but Sennheiser is going to have to work on the ANC to ever hope to match the Bose Noise Cancelling 700 headphones. Still the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless are worth a good, long listen.