For almost a decade, we have been able to associate Sennheiser’s Momentum wireless over-ear headphones range with not only superb sonic substance but also classy, sleek style: their grainy leather headband, pearlescent or matte-finished oval ear cups and distinct metal slider carrying over from one generation to another in an admirable refusal to look ordinary next to the competition. That particular batten is dropped by the Momentum 4 Wireless, which opt for a plainer – dare we say ‘safe’ – design language more akin to that adopted by their rivals. It’s a bit like a wonderfully eccentric kid at school deciding to dial it down to fit in with their classmates, and while we aren’t anti-minimalism by any means, we have to say we are a little disappointed by the move.
However, this is what comes before the theatrical ‘but’ from a judge delivering a positive verdict in a Hollywood court drama. Because that first-impression dissatisfaction is thankfully made up for by everything else these new Sennheiser headphones are and do.
The Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless are priced as we might have expected given the line’s price history – right slap bang in the premium territory of noise-cancelling headphones. Their launch price of £300 / $349.95 / AU$549.95 is more or less aligned with Bose’s QuietComfort 45 and (older) Noise Cancelling 700, and sits them between the (old but still available) Sony WH-1000XM4 and the (newer and pricier) Sony WH-1000XM5. They undercut the Apple AirPods Max and that burgeoning crop of even more premium wireless headphones by a significant margin, too.
The Momentum 4 Wireless actually launch at a cheaper price than their 2019-released predecessors – just as the recently launched Momentum True Wireless 3 earbuds did compared to the model they supplanted – and that illustrates how Sennheiser is trying to be as competitive as possible here.
Another illustration of this is how many headlines Sennheiser has packed into the Momentum 4 Wireless’s spec sheet. It’s difficult to look past the claimed 60-hour battery life, which isn’t only possible when the user is listening wired and at barely audible volume levels, but actually when Bluetooth and active noise cancellation are engaged. This impressive figure is twice that of many rivals, with the Sony XM4 and XM5 offering 30 hours and the two pairs of Boses between 24 and 30 hours.
How has Sennheiser managed to deliver such endurance (which does reasonably translate from paper to practice, by the way)? By cleverly implementing the amplifiers, apparently. It’s not often we are only required to charge a pair of headphones once during testing, and such longevity will surely be a blessing to those who use their wireless headphones frequently.
It helps, too, that an automatic function powers down the headphones once they have been inactive for 15 minutes, with a touch able to wake them up. Still, if you are ever caught short by a low battery, it’s good to know they can be listened to wired without needing it – either through the supplied 2.5mm to 3.5mm audio cable or a USB-C to USB-C one (not supplied). A USB-C charging lead joins the single audio cable in the box, as does a good ol’ airplane adapter and a rather nice fabric hardshell case.
Battery life 60 hours
Codecs aptX Adaptive, aptX, SBC, AAC
Then there’s support for aptX Adaptive, one of the highest-quality Bluetooth codecs around, and which is backwards-compatible with aptX if you don’t own one of the handfuls of devices supporting the newer Adaptive codec. The new Momentums are also Bluetooth 5.2-compliant, meaning, among other things, that they can simultaneously connect to multiple Bluetooth devices and switch between them more easily.
You can manage device connections in the Sennheiser Smart Control app, which is also the gateway to experimenting with EQ, adjusting ANC (Active Noise Cancelling) settings and performing a ‘Sound Check’. Just as it does for Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless 3 earbuds, Sound Check takes any intimidation out of EQ adjustment, simply asking you to choose your preferred sound – A, B or C – in three instances while a song is playing to gauge your preferred balance. The result is your desired ‘profile’.
You can also create ‘Sound Zones’ – essentially profiles characterised by specific EQ and noise isolation levels – that will automatically activate or deactivate when you and the headphones enter or leave a specific radius. Want ANC to kick in when you leave the house or midrange levels to be more prominent when you enter the workplace? Your wish is Sound Zones’ command.
What the app doesn’t offer is customisation of the touch controls on the right ear cup’s touch pad, which can be tapped once for playback/pause, swiped right/left for track skipping or up/down for volume adjustment, and ‘pinched’ (think how you zoom into something on your phone) for intensifying or abating ANC. The touchpad is sensibly large and flat to accommodate this, and considering the number of actions it has to be sensitive to, it’s surprisingly accurate. Our most haphazard presses and swipes are sometimes mistaken but ultimately it’s well implemented.
This touch-first design means on-cup buttons are few. In fact, there is only one: the combined power and pairing key features on the right earcup alongside a USB-C socket and five battery LED indicators. We admit that the Momentum 4 Wireless’s design has mostly been well thought out – even if we still wish it had some of the aesthetic pizazz of previous Momentums and, also, their folding earcups for easier storage. The earcups simply swivel flat to fit in the case or sit more comfortably when around a neck, which is practical but not as practical as being able to fold them inwards into a ball and shove them in a coat pocket.
Speaking of comfort, the new design has plenty of it. The fairly wide headband does a good job of distributing pressure across your head so that it doesn’t feel burdened or – worse – sore after hours of wear. And the earcups clamp reassuringly but not too tightly not around your ears. That clamp is able to physically block some extraneous sound getting in, though active noise cancellation needs to be deployed to get that true feeling of isolation from the outside world.
The fourth-generation Momentum Wireless’ ANC is very decent indeed. Walking along a busy road, we find traffic nicely shunned – reduced to being only a visual distraction, not an audible one. The Sonys have the slight edge when it comes to thwarting louder noises, such as trucks passing by, when no low-volume or sparser music is being played, but nine times out of ten both prove just as effective in eliminating noise and keeping you in a music-consumed bubble during playback. The Sennheisers have an ANC Adaptive mode you can select within the app, designed to automatically adjust the noise-cancelling effect in real-time depending on noise fluctuations in your environment, and we find it preferable to keep on most of the time – except for when a sudden loud sound can cause a notable adjustment and distract from the listening.
To their credit, the Momentum 4 Wireless’s presentation is not easy to distract from, being clear and direct in a way that demands your attention. When first playing music through them, we are also struck by their tonal balance, which has shed a layer or two of the richness that has characterised older Momentums, in favour of more neutrality this time round. That’s no bad thing. They sound sharp and sprightly, and that added leanness hasn’t come at the expense of substance across the frequencies: highs are well-honed, mids are pleasingly plump, and lows strike a good balance between being taut and tubby.
Play Waxahatchee’s Oxbow and immediately the cymbals crash over the top of the rightfully booming drum beat and scatty electronica with impact and purpose. As the song settles into its piano- and vocal-led melody, everything in the mix is explicit and precise in a soundstage that’s nicely layered and spacious, never feeling cramped or one-dimensional. There’s a nice feel and flow to the song as, being about the writer Katie Crutchfield finding sobriety, it musically treads a fine line between wistfulness and optimism. We only have to let the next track seep into our ears to be sure of the Sennheisers’ musical talent, which fervently laps up the boppy, country-infused instrumentation.
The Sony XM5 are comparatively richer, with more prominent bass, though their added midrange clarity and transparency is what really pulls them away from the Sennheisers (and other competition at this level) and justifies their greater expense. The gap isn’t huge exactly, but the Sony’s detail-on-tap does make an instrumentally dense and texturally diverse piece like Oneohtrix Point Never’s Long Road Home unarguably more compelling and is able to tug on the heartstrings a little harder when playing an intimate track like Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ grief-laden Girl In Amber. The Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2’s analytical nature surfaces subtleties in a similarly class-leading fashion, though the livelier Sennheisers reply with greater get up and go.
Only the strongest film franchises tend to get a fourth go and, like Toy Story 4, the Momentum 4 Wireless have dutifully honoured the legacy of those that came before it – sonically and feature-wise, if not aesthetically. We are disappointed to see the classy design of Momentums of old giving way to one that’s markedly more non-descript, but the new guise is fit for purpose and we recognise that many might like its low-key discretion.
That their official price undercuts the price tag hanging around the neck of the Sony XM5 by £80 / $50 (there’s no difference in the AU$ price) makes them highly recommendable for those that can’t afford the extra outlay for extra sonic transparency, and perhaps the best alternative if you prefer your music to be more lively than analytical.
- Sound 5
- Features 5
- Build 4
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