Sennheiser MOMENTUM Wireless 3 Review: Good here, bad there

Feature-rich, highly intelligent and design-forward, Sennheiser have put a great deal of love into the 2019 iteration of their reputation MOMENTUM Wireless range. The over-ear headphones not only outperform most rivals, but consider the entire sonic experience. This includes Tile technology to address the possibility of misplacing the set.

Although you’ll be paying a premium for the brand. Despite it’s superior performance and slick design, these cans are still expensive for what you get. Especially when considering that similarly priced efforts from Sony sound better, and alternatives from Bose are more comfortable.

Still, it’s going to be hard to ignore what Sennheiser have done with the latest in this range, as you’ll see below.

Design – Rebel Without A Cause

Pearl-blasted stainless steel sliders define the aesthetic here, held in place by round branded buttons designed so you can easily adjust the headphones. The earcups themselves are made from exceptionally comfortable sheepskin leather, keeping them consistent and soft for all-day use, contrasting the plush premium against metallic hardware and the slick black headband.

It’s all rather futuristic looking, although the small cables which link the earcups to the headband are visible which takes a bit from the otherwise seamless form factor. Though this imperfection only adds to how distinctive these cups look when compared to current gens from Sony and Bose.

Much like the new gen expectations dictate, the Momentum Wireless sticks true to its name by focusing on an uninterrupted, on-the-go listening experience. Most pertinent to this is the automatic on/off functionality which immediately reacts according to the headphones placement. Put them over your ears and the music will instantly switch back on; off when you remove them. The problem with this is then ensuring the sensitivity doesn’t work against you, where a slight movement of the headphones can put an abrupt stop to your listening experience.

The right cup features the bulk of control buttons, admirably keeping it traditional rather than rely solely on the companion smartphone app or finnicky touchpads. These include the volume buttons, play/pause (also used to answer calls), one to summon a device’s voice assistant, and one to toggle transparent hearing mode which cuts through the otherwise brilliant noise cancelling to allow ambient noise.

Having all these noticeable buttons may go against the sexier trend of contemporary trends, but given the sometimes unreliable nature of too much technology, the commitment to old-fashioned buttons is welcome.

The carrying case is circular and easily packed into any backpack, with protective fabric nicely designed to offer completely protection to the headphones. It also has a nice and spacious storage compartment for the included USB-C charging cable, a 3.5mm audio cable, and a USB-C to USB-A adaptor.

Features – You Can’t Lose Me

As mentioned above, these cans make smart use of a built-in Tile tracker so you can ‘call’ your headphones via the dedicated Tile app. This is an edge that no other brands have bothered included in their current gen offerings, and I’d love to see it as standard with future releases. The whole process of simply ringing the headphones – which get progressively louder with a simple beep and vibrate – instead of turning your room inside-out looking for them.

17 hours of battery life is decent, but pales to some competing brands. This isn’t a good look for Sennheiser when they’re charging AUD $599. Even the original Momentum Wireless headphones have a longer lasting battery, although that’s a small complaint given if you’re charging these every night you’ll hardly have to worry about them dying in the middle of your very insular listening session.

As far as the Sennheiser Smart Control app goes, it’s a breeze to use and very user friendly. A few more details are included here to help you truly customise the smaller details of the listening experience, from a well thought out EQ profile to three pre-set levels of noise cancellation.

Performance – Good Here, Bad There

The overall profile of the Sennheiser sound should be better at this price, but it’s not. In trying to achieve highly nuanced and intricate dynamics, these cans really depend on the song and type of music chosen. EQ helps adapt, but with a profile that’s biased it only slightly helps.

Surprisingly, while a lot of contemporary music sounds better on a few competing models, the Sennheiser leap ahead when it comes to more complex music with denser soundscapes and deeper production.

A composition like “The Departure Suite” by Max Richter highlight what Sennheiser were trying to do here, and that’s aim to satisfy those who like to get truly technical about their music. The ones that hold their breathe when guitars are lifted away from the other instruments, and shudder with delight when the twinkling of a piano can truly be felt, or a soaring vocal smacks with raw emotion. I’m one of those people, but only sometimes.

Reverb truly resonates, isolation is superb, and treble is crisp, clear and bright. With these headphones, the ability for 42mm transducers to really pick at nuance is key.

Although this won’t sound as good to the average consumer who wants their bass to hurt and their synths to sting. Something like “Ride Around Shining” by Clipse just has more bite to it when I’m listening on the Sony WH-1000XM3s. I don’t need a profile overly concerned with truly showcasing layered production, I need force, and unfortunately the MOMENTUM Wireless 3’s only spring to life when the music is delicate and not as abrasive.

In terms of Bluetooth, I did have a few issues keeping this connected to help with that whole seamless listening experience. Although this is an issue I find with competitors as well, with Bluetooth 5 perhaps not working as well with current devices as it should. Aptx low latency is used to help reduce Bluetooth compression and keep things in sync for smooth content streaming.

Noise Cancellation – Good, Not Great

The now requisite level of noise cancellation is great, it’s just not as good as those aforementioned WH-1000XM3’s or Bose’s 700’s. Given those two competitors are less expensive, this is another problem.

You’ll still be locked into your own private sound sanctum, but the headphones won’t work to keep nearly as much noise out. This is useful for those who don’t really need to block out the world completely, and for the most part those other headphones are usually used with a passive noise mode on.

The most curious NC mode in the app has to with anti-pressure, the benefit of which wasn’t noticeable for me. Apparently this is for those who feel pressure on their ears from NC headphones. Other than that, most people will set this to Transparent Mode, which does an excellent job at allowing just enough outside noise under the music.

Verdict

The MOMENTUM Wireless 3 do enough to justify its position as one of the best high-end headphones on the market, although there are several issues which you may want to consider before shelling out $600. The fact that less expensive brands have better noise cancellation and battery life certainly doesn’t help Sennheiser. Nor does the overworked sound performance which, in attempting to be better than the rest, ends up only offering a superior performance in specific soundscapes. A fairly inconsistent Bluetooth connection (with an iPhone 8 and a Google Pixel 4) isn’t a good look.

Still, it’s really hard to fault what Sennheiser have done to distinguish themselves on this immensely competitive market, one that’s perhaps the strongest it has ever been. Design has treaded a different path and rebelled against current trends, the Tile inclusion works brilliantly and will come in great use for the more forgetful users, and for all its faults, the sound has been engineered exceptionally well to pick apart the more complex profiles.

THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Highlights: exceptionally comfortable around the ears; easily adjustable to suit all users; picks apart complex soundscapes; tile technology.
Lowlights: Overworked sound; auto power on/off can be a bit too sensitive; battery life not as good as cheaper alternatives.
Manufacturer: Sennheiser
Price: $599
Availability: Now

Chris Singh

Chris Singh is the Deputy Editor of the AU review and a freelance travel writer. You can reach him on Instagram by following @chrisdsingh.

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