Sennheiser doesn’t need any ‘third time lucky’ well wishes for its third-generation Momentum Wireless noise-cancelling headphones. Both the originals and second versions were instant knockouts when they arrived, the latter winning a What Hi-Fi? Award just months after it came off the production line.
The flagship pairs in the now-iconic Momentum line have, alongside their extensive family of wired, over-ear, one-ear, in-ear and true wireless siblings, reflected the range’s ‘momentum’ moniker perfectly. Physics may tell you that momentum relies upon mass and velocity, but here it is maintained by a consistently strong and reliable reputation for great-value sound.
And the Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless (which we’ve had the exclusive pleasure of testing in the UK ahead of the global announcement) are among the best wireless headphones we've tested in recent months.
Sennheiser has decided not to drastically overhaul the aesthetics, with the Momentum 3 Wireless design still revolving around oval-shaped earcups, sheepskin leather earpads and stainless steel sliders.
Currently, the Sennheisers are only available in the all-black guise of our review sample. However, a ‘sandy white’ finish will be available from November.
Acknowledging the need for premium wireless headphones to be as convenient as possible, Sennheiser has matured the Momentum Wireless’s feature set past simply Bluetooth and active noise-cancelling.
Now you don’t have to re-pair the headphones before every use, and there’s no fumbling around for your phone’s pause button when someone interrupts your music. When unfolded, the Momentums automatically power up and pair with a recognised source. And when they detect being removed from or put on a head, they automatically pause or resume playback as appropriate.
Bluetooth aptX Yes
Battery life 17 hours
Control app Sennheiser Smart Control
A firmware update via the Sennheiser Smart Control app will include Amazon Alexa support for hands-free voice commands, but for now, a press of the bottom button on the right ear cup activates your chosen voice assistant on the connected phone, whether that’s Google Assistant or Siri.
Through the app, you can control EQ adjustment and view information such as battery life. But most importantly, you can switch between three noise-cancelling modes: the full-blown ‘Max’, ‘Anti-Wind’ (which allows some surrounding noise in) and ‘Anti-Pressure’, the least intensive.
Also accessible from the app is a transparent hearing mode, an increasingly popular feature in premium noise-cancellers that amplifies your surroundings so you can hear train announcements or a conversation in the office.
In addition to aptX, AAC and SBC Bluetooth, the Sennheisers support aptX Low Latency, which aims to improve the synchronicity of audio (through the headphones) and video content (on your source’s screen) during, say, gaming or a Netflix binge.
Last but not least is an integrated Bluetooth tracker and support for Tile – which means you can locate the whereabouts of your misplaced Sennheisers, anywhere, anytime, via the third-party Tile app. Naturally, these features take a toll on battery life, which is 17 hours – reasonably modest compared to the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700’s 20 hours and Sony WH-1000XM3’s 30 hours.
The other result of these features is an increase in earcup size. They collapse inwards to fit comfortably into a coat pocket or sit inside the supplied grey fabric case. Despite being heavier, they’re still comfortably cushioning with just the right amount of clamp and are amply supported by the well-lined headband.
Perhaps the biggest change to the Momentums’ design is in the on-cup controls. The volume toggle has been replaced by two volume buttons sandwiching a play/pause button that can also skip forward and back, end calls and, when held down, read out battery status. The ridges between the trio of rubber buttons isn’t quite as telling as we’d like, often making us feel twice for the correct one.
Elsewhere, the toggle remains, controlling the noise-cancelling functions – push up to turn off, push down for transparent hearing.
The thick leather earpads provide some isolation in themselves, which is handy if you’re trying to preserve battery by turning the noise cancelling off. However, activating the noise-cancelling feature will allow you some real alone time with your playlist.
Traffic and office noise is almost entirely eradicated, as is the roar of planes flying above. It’s not as sophisticated or flexible as the multi-step system inside the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, but it’s natural and effective in its own right.
The silence makes it even easier to appreciate the Sennheiser’s performance as we fire up Robert Wyatt’s Shipbuilding. The brief shimmer of cymbals that introduces the track is enough to hint at the subtlety of the headphones, and that’s confirmed as the rattle of drums and mournful double bass, piano and accented vocal come into play.
Each is textured – the bass wholesome and multi-noted, the piano keys consistently dynamic, and Wyatt’s lamentation heartfelt. It's all presented coherently, in a timely manner and on a well-organised soundstage.
Sennheiser’s full-bodiedness is evident here, but a portion of that familiar richness is offset by a stark clarity (especially in the midrange) that has us questioning whether we’ve heard a rival that’s as insightful. The tonal balance is all the better for it, with these Momentums offering a huge improvement over their predecessors where detail, bass depth and rhythmic cohesiveness are concerned.
Caravan Palace’s Supersonics offers a more lively listen, and the Momentums catch the infectious energy of the French ensemble’s jazz-inclined electro-swing. They eat up every element of the giddy melody and drive it forward in a dynamic yet disciplined way, leaving you no choice but to be entertained.
This is an extraordinary effort by Sennheiser’s engineering team. It’s almost as if they’ve taken the class-leading clarity of the Sony WH-1000MX3s and the rhythmic aptitude of the B&W PXs, thrown both into a cauldron and muttered a few magic words before out popped the Momentum Wirelesses.
Sennheiser is no stranger to five-star reviews, nor indeed What Hi-Fi? Awards. The Momentum 3 Wireless now have the former under their belt and they're serious contenders for the latter.
- Sound 5
- Comfort 5
- Build 5
Best noise-cancelling headphones 2020
Read our Sony WH-1000XM3 review
Read our Bowers & Wilkins PX review