A Headset for Everyone: The Sennheiser Momentum On-Ear Page 2


Sound Quality
On-ear, sealed headphones, as a category, are second only to ear-buds as a poor sounding headphones. Generally speaking, on-ear sealed cans tend to sound congested and uneven, so in addition to listening to the Momentum On-Ear in isolation I also spent quite a bit of time comparing these cans to other good performers in this class. Listening tests included the: B&W P5; V-Moda M80; Sennheiser HD 25 Aluminum and Amperior; Noontech Zoro HD; Logitec UE4000; and Beyerdynamic DT1350. Let's start with the MOE in isolation first.

The Momentum On-Ear has a somewhat accentuated bass and mid-treble giving it a modestly "V-shaped" frequency response. The bass is fairly strong and well extended, but can be rather over-bearing and thick sounding with some music. This is the weakest point of these cans, in my view, as it can be disturbing at times. On the other hand, good bass extension can be hard to come by with sealed on-ear headphones, and many listeners will welcome this strong bass response—especially when out and about when environmental noise might interfere with good listening.

While not well extended to the upper treble octave and missing that last bit of air, the upper frequency response of the MOE is remarkably smooth and refined. In some of the threads I read about people's impressions of the Momentum On-Ear, some listeners claimed the treble was "splashy" sounding. I didn't hear this at all. However, because the mid-range on the MOE is slightly withdrawn, the mid-treble can be slightly more emphatic than it would be otherwise perceived if the mids were a bit more elevated and neutral.

After listening to the MOE and finding them less than idea, I decided to refresh my memory of a variety of on-ear, sealed headphones to see where the Momentum On-Ear stood against the other outstanding headphones in this category. The Logitec UE4000, B&W P5, Beyer DT1350, and Noontec Zoro HD all failed to be as clean and articulate in the highs as the Momentum On-Ear—the Noontec Zoro HD did quite an impressive job otherwise, and at around $100 seems like a really good headphone—so I pretty quickly came to the conclusion that I preferred the MOE over these cans.

The Amperior and HD 25 Aluminum were a closer call, both did about as well in the treble, and both had a similar slightly withdrawn mid-range as the MOE. It seemed the bass was the main differentiating point here: The Amperior didn't have the punch or extension of the MOE, and the HD 25 Aluminum seemed to be even more bloated than the MOE in the mid-bass while not having as good extension into the lowest octave. It did seem to me that the HD 25 Aluminum was a bit cleaner sounding, though. I could delve into these comparisons a bit more, but the Amperior and HD 25 Aluminum are DJ headphones and really not as well suited for a general purpose, every day headphone, so I think they lose out quickly to the Momentum On-Ear for its intended purpose.

That leaves the V-Moda M80 as the real competitor to the MOE, in my opinion. Both are good looking headphones—though the M80 will be a bit more narrow in its appeal with its black stealthy look. The MOE seemed to be a bit more comfortable with its plush Alcantara era-pads and increased ability to rotate the ear-capsules. Both have nice cables and carry case, though I'd say the M80 gets the nod there.

In terms of sound quality, I found both the V-Moda M80 and Momentum On-Ear quite pleasing...but different. The M80 seemed to have a more coherent transition from upper bass to low treble. Vocal tambour was clearly better with the M80's flatter response through the mids. But the mid-treble response was somewhat courser than the MOE, getting slightly strident at time, while on the same passages the MOE was clean and articulate without any harshness. The bass extension of the MOE was better, but the somewhat thick and overbearing character of the lows notes tended to distract more often than the omissions of the M80. Choosing between the two is a tough call, both had their faults and advantages. If I had to choose, I'd probably pick the Momentum On-Ear because I suspect its sound signature would be better in the moderately noisy environments in which they would likely be used, and the modest improvements in comfort and styling. On the other hand, it appears the V-Moda M80 may be at the end of its life cycle and, at the time of this writing, are being deeply discounted. That big price difference would likely sway me in the direction of the M80.

Isolation on the Momentum On-Ear is fairly modest; if you're looking for a headphone to really shut out outside noise these are probably not the headphone for you. However, when walking around in urban environments it's a very good idea to have some ability to hear environmental noises to warn you of dangers from traffic and the like. It seems to me the MOE does a good job of balancing this need for awareness with a good acoustic seal for good bass response. In fact, I'm quite surprised at the bass extension given the modest acoustic seal from outside noise.

The Sennheiser Momentum On-Ear strikes a remarkably excellent balance between sound quality, isolation, styling, comfort, and build quality for a headphone of this type...heck, in terms of a well balanced headphone, the MOE may be the most balanced build I've ever experienced. A somewhat overbearing and thick bass, and a slightly withdrawn mid-range hamper the sound quality of the MOE, but comparisons with other outstanding cans in this class clearly point out both the difficulty of making great sounding sealed, on-ear headphones. I found the Momentum On-Ear easily on-par with the best of this class.

Yep, the Momentum On-Ear is "Wall of Fame" bound as the best $200-$300 portable, on-ear headset. It handily beats most headphones in this category in sound, styling, and comfort, and equals the V-Moda M80—though each have their strengths and weaknesses. While the M80 is available cheap at the moment (go get some if you're in the market), it's also rumored to be close to end-of-life, which will leave the Momentum On-Ear to rule the roost for the time being. Strongly recommended...pick a color and go for it!

Sennheiser USA home page and Momentum On-Ear page.
Head-Fi.org threads here.

Sennheiser USA
1 Enterprise Drive
Old Lyme, CT 06371
(860) 434-9190