(Pocket-lint) - Momentum headphones from Sennheiser are among the most well regarded on-ear and over-ears cans on the market. For 2017, the company has added a whole new take for the range: a neckband-equipped in-ear version.
At £169, the Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear Wireless earphones are roughly the same price as their on-ear counterparts, but the question is whether they can still meet the high expectations already set by the brand.
Has trimming the fat in the name of an in-ear design also trimmed the performance?
- Best in-ear headphones: 10 great wired, wireless and wire-free earphones
- The best Bluetooth headphones 2018: top on/over-ear wireless headphones
Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear Wireless review: Design
- Neckband design
- Soft sheepskin leather
- Controls housed in neckband
There's been a rise of a two new kinds of wireless earphones over the past couple of years: one is the AirPod-like completely wireless kind; the other is the kind that features a neckband.
In this latter category the Momentum In-Ear face serious competition from the likes of the Bose QC30 (despite those being much more expensive and primed for disruption).
Because the Momentum In-Ear earbuds are attached to the collar, with enough slack in the cabling, you can move your head freely without even the slightest feeling of your ears being tugged. There's also the benefit of being able to take them out of your ears and just drop them when you need a pause, knowing they aren't going to fall down the drain anywhere. No need to stuff them in a pocket; and there's no chance of these earphones tangling.
Since all the electronic components - apart from the audio drivers - are housed in the neckband, that means tiny, lightweight earbuds are achievable without any compromise in sound, battery life or connectivity. With the Bluetooth chip sitting lower down at the base of your neck it's closer to your phone and therefore poses less risk of sporadic disconnection.
Them being so slim and light also means you can barely tell you're wearing the Momentum In-Ears, unlike on-ear cans which often restrict head movement when worn around the neck, when you're not listening to them.
The short take-away from the design perspective is that, although unconventional and perhaps visually off-putting, this neckband solves many of those minor nit-picky problems we've had with other in-ear headphone styles.
Of course, there is a compromise: you can't just take them out and put them in your pocket. But as wearing them is so easy, you soon forget about that. When you do need to stow these in-ears away, you can keep them in the slim-profile canvassed hard case that comes with them.
As for the neckband itself, it's predominantly made from a lightweight, hollow and flexible plastic. For the most part, however, it's covered in a soft, sheepskin nappa leather, giving it a more stylish look than other purely plastic options from other manufacturers. The only exposed plastic is at the ends of each side of the collar, with the left side hosting all of the controls.
There's a dimple on the play/pause button, which makes it relatively easy to distinguish between the buttons by touch, although the difference between the surrounding volume buttons isn't pronounced enough to make it a certainty. We found ourselves running our fingers along all of the buttons two or three times, every time we wanted to find the play/pause function. Not ideal.
Another slight negative on the design front is Sennheiser's choice to use standard, small, round silicone eartips. We've seen other manufacturers (JBL and Bose) using wider, more cone-shaped tips which are more comfortable to wear for long periods, and don't feel as invasive.
Sennheiser Momentum In-ear Wireless review: Battery performance
- 170mAh battery (10-hours of use)
- Bluetooth 4.1 (with aptX)
- Microphone for hands-free calls
The battery life in the Momentum Wireless In-Ears is a plus point too. Sennheiser claims that the 170mAh battery inside can last for 10 hours of playback before needing to be plugged in to refuel. That's seemed accurate from our use, with a recharge taking around 90-minutes to full.
Measuring its performance hasn't been the easiest, though. The only visible battery indicator appears as a tiny icon in iPhone or Android status bars. After two to three hours listening to music, the icon still showed a completely full battery. We tried digging through the app to see if there was a more precise indicator of the battery level, but we found nothing. There's not even a voice prompt when you switch the earphones on telling you the battery level.
Alongside the Momentum In-Ears' impressive battery performance is rock solid Bluetooth connectivity. We with an iPhone 7 Plus and LG G6. We were able to walk out of a room some two rooms away and still maintain a connection. This is thanks to the apt-X fused Bluetooth 4.1. There's also NFC for easy pairing with compatible devices. If you have an Android phone with NFC switched on, all you need to do is tap the right end of the neckband on the back of the phone and a pairing request appears on screen.
Sennheiser Momentum In-ear Wireless review: App and sound quality
- Milled steel cones
- 15Hz - 22,000Hz frequency response
There's an associated app which you can create your own custom equaliser (EQ) profiles using either the standard-type controls, or by going through a sound check. Using this sound check, the app goes through several screens, each with two slightly different sound profiles, asking you which sounds best to your ears. Once you've gone through that stage, it creates a custom overall sound for you. The end result is ideal personalised sound.
Another potentially useful feature within the app is the ability to play music directly through it. Although, somewhat confusingly, it only supports locally stored music in your phone's library or Tidal accounts. You can't hook it into any of the more popular streaming apps like Spotify or Google Play. So other than EQ options it offers no real other benefits at all.
Still, that aside, we've been really impressed by the sound quality of the Momentum In-Ears, especially as there's not the physical size of driver compared to their on-ear counterparts.
The sound profile is extremely well balanced sound overall. There's enough bass to fill your ears, without clouding over the mid and treble frequencies. Detail remains explicit over present low-driving bass, such as the high rings of steel guitar strings and the subtle brushing of a snare - all without any obvious weakness.
If you want clear and immersive sound from your in-ears then Sennheiser has it right on the money.
If you're looking for Bluetooth headphones that sound great, last for ages and don't tug on your ears, the Momentum In-Ear Wireless are among the most well-rounded we've tested.
It might take a little while to get around to the idea of the neckband form factor, but once you're wearing them, you'll forget all of that and just enjoy the immersive listening experience.
If on-ears or over-ears aren't for you then the Momentum In-Ears don't compromise on sound for the sake of form factor. Top job.
The alternatives to consider...
There aren't many earphones that offer the insane value for money offered by the Jaybird X3's. They could easily cost the same as the Sennheisers, and we'd still have no real trouble recommending them. Sound profiles are easy to customise, and the headphones are comfy, lightweight and resistant against the elements. What's more, they only cost £110.
Read the full review: Jaybird X3 review: Affordable sports earphones without the compromise
They might be wired, but the Denon's are among some of the best in-ears we've used. At £169, they cost the same as the Sennheisers, and they deliver incredible sound through their well-built drivers. From the moment we put them in our ears fell in love and didn't want to take them out. We love their premium look and finish, their fit and , ultimately, the sound they produce.
Read the full review: Denon AH-C821 review: Big sound in a small package
As mentioned at the top of the review, the QuietControl 30 by Bose is arguably at the pinnacle of this particular kind of earphone. They cost more, but have some incredible active noise cancelling skills, more comfortable ear tips as well as loud, full and detailed sound.
Read the full review: Bose QuietControl 30 review