The convenience of wireless Bluetooth transmission for headphones is undeniable — it ‘cuts the cord’ between your device and the headphones themselves, imparting freedom and the general disentanglement that is of particular use when on the move. Instead of squeezing your smartphone in your pocket or at the top of your bag, with a cable to get caught here and there, you have hassle-free headphones and your usual untethered smart device. As the Scots would say, ‘Freedom!’.
Of course, as the Scots realised when they ducked devolution, freedom has consequences. If you’re going cable-free, you need to be sure that the Bluetooth connection will be stable, even under the pressure of a daily commute. There is much to be said for the simple reliability of a cable connection, still the best guarantee of quality in passing the analogue signal from your smart device straight to the headphones. In contrast Bluetooth transmission will potentially involve your smart device re-encoding your digital audio files on the fly, most likely degrading them to a lower quality to fit them through Bluetooth’s relatively low bit-rates, then throwing them through the air to your headphones, which must receive them reliably and then convert them using the headphones’ own DACs. Bluetooth audio specs haven’t improved much in 20 years; they are a definite limitation,
All the more kudos to the Momentum Wireless, then, because this is a design that simply doesn’t sound like a Bluetooth headphone. And of course it’s a fabulous looker, with a touch of aviator to the stainless steel sliders, plus the luxury of leather for the earcups and headband.
The technology is extensive. The Bluetooth connection includes NFC pairing, and offers the higher-quality aptX codec, if your Android device supports it. There’s a Voicemax microphone in there, so you can use these to make and receive calls. They charge via a common microUSB socket, so you’re unlikely ever to be at a loss for a handy cable. Plus there’s one thing that took us by surprise — they also include active noise-cancelling, and not selectable, but always on.
The Momentum Wireless headphones consistently paired quickly and painlessly with our devices of choice; at home we used them paired to Yamaha’s MusicCast system, and on the road with our iPod touch and an Oppo Android phone. Their sound is open and airy, with a lovely balance across the frequency range, a nice touch of bass emphasis and delivering rich and real vocals. It simply doesn’t sound like a Bluetooth headphone. When Sennheiser tried this trick with its Urbanite XL, the Bluetooth version exaggerated the original softness and bass emphasis for a result that was, to our ears, too woofy to enjoy. With the Momentum, none of that — this was a highly enjoyable and high quality listen.
Available level can often be an issue with Bluetooth headphones, and here the Momentum’s noise cancelling comes to the rescue, providing a quieter background over which music can be easily heard even when assaulted by external traffic or plane rumble. We might have wanted a tad more level for some quiet recordings, but the quiet background meant we were always able to hear things fully. Voice alerts tell you when volume is maxed out, when in pairing mode and so on.
Our only operational issue was a certain sensitivity to vibration — in the back of a bus, jolts and shudder could cause pops and judder to the sound, mainly in the treble, so that vocal notes and cymbal shimmers could receive a temporary wobbling. It was enough to preclude a recommendation of these headphones for a bus commute — but trains and planes will be fine, while use at home was a great pleasure. We also sweat-testerd the earpads by enjoying their Bluetooth output while doing garden shredding on a hot Spring day; the leather darkened, but they dried out just fine.
As a high-quality high-tech and relatively high-end design, the Momentum Wireless headphones are not cheap, but they are a great success, especially in showing how the limitations of Bluetooth can be beaten.
Sennheiser Momentum Wireless headphones
+ Great sound from Bluetooth or cable
+ Continuous noise-cancellation
+ Attractive luxurious aesthetic
– Some sensitivity to vibration
Design: Closed-back circumaural, noise-cancelling, Bluetooth (cable also provided)
Impedance: 28Ω passive, 480Ω active
Quoted battery life: 22 hours
Product page: www.sennheiser.com.au