The Sennheiser Momentum range represents the company's flagship earphones and headphones for the casual yet discerning consumer. At IFA 2019 - the largest tech show in Europe - the world-renowned audio company launched a new pair of over-ears to the range: the Momentum Wireless 3.

Made from premium materials and with a tonne of smart features crammed inside, this over-ear solution is the manufacturer's answer to the likes of the Sony WH-1000X and Bose 700 headphones. That's the key thing here: the market now has so much competition, so can Sennheiser hold strong?

Stylish looks, sublime comfort

  • Stainless steel arms
  • Genuine sheepskin leather headband
  • Measure 231 x 193 x 104mm (when folded)

One thing that can be said for Sennheiser is that its over-ear headphones are instantly recognisable next to the other big-name premium models on the market. In a market full of headphones made predominantly from plastic, where the arms slide up and down within the headband, Sennheiser's approach is different.

Rather than have arms that slide into the headband, the Momentum Wireless 3's earcups themselves slide up and down the stainless steel arms, which attach directly to the headband. This stainless steel is really sturdy, but also really slim so it doesn't add an enormous amount of weight to the product, and looks like a £300+ headphone should look.

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Doing it this way also means the sheepskin leather-coated headband can be much slimmer than the thick, padded headphones you usually find. Overall, then, this combination of leather, steel and a minimal, slim look makes for an elegant headband that's attractive to look at and doesn't bulk up your head.

Because the earcups slide smoothly up and down the arms, it's really easy to get a fit that feels just right; it's never overly snug or skull-crushing, unlike some competitors. It's a comfortable and close fit, which makes wearing these cans for hours on end a breeze.

This is thanks in part to the generously padded earcups that fit nicely over the ears. We've been testing the Momentum Wireless 3 over a few different journeys: whether a three hour train ride to London, or a two hour flight to the continent, we didn't ever suffer with ear tenderness, and didn't experience much sweatiness either.

As for portability, that's not much of an issue either. The two arms are hinged, so can easily fold inwards to fit them inside a round carrying case. This is made of fabric, which means it's flexible and pretty soft - so while you don't get a lot of protection, like you might from a hard-shell case, it does mean you can stuff it inside a bag more easily. And with the headphones featuring sturdy build and materials, durability is never really a worry.

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We'll get into the headphone smarts a little later, but the addition of a few of the smarter features means the button choices might - on initial appearance - seem lacking. Specifically: there's no power button. It does have just enough controls for all the other features. There's a Bluetooth pairing button, play/pause, volume up and down, plus a button to control the ANC and audio transparency features.

Misplaced smarts?

  • Auto pause and play proximity sensor
  • Three-stage ANC
  • Audio transparency
  • Find with Tile feature

We've seen something of a rise in smart technologies making their way into headphones over recent years. Usually it's features like adaptable active noise-cancellation (ANC), which automatically adjusts to match the noise in the environment, or an auto-pause/play feature that detects when you're wearing the headphones.

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Sennheiser went part of the way there, incorporating its own smarts into the Momentum 3 Wireless. One of those is the auto power-on and power-off. It might throw you to begin with, but, as we've mentioned already, there is no power button. Instead you just unfold the headphones to switch them on, or power them down by closing them up again. It's a sort-of similar approach to the company's other noise-cancelling headphones, the PX550, which use an earcup rotation system.

There's no denying it's convenient. Being able to take these cans out of the case and just plonk them on your head without searching for the power button is definitely quicker and more efficient than trying to remember where the power button is.

As well as auto-on and auto-off, the Sennheiser Momentum 3 also has a proximity-based auto-pause/play feature. As soon as the headphones detect removal from your head, the music pauses, then starts playing again once it detects you've put them back on.

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In theory, it's great. And 90 per cent of the time, it's great in reality too. It can be a little overly aggressive at times, however, sometimes kicking in when we turned our head to the right quickly. Another thing we noticed was that it only seems to be built into the right earcup, so if you're trying to hear something by pulling an earcup away from one ear, it'll only pause if you do it with the right one.

Another smart feature is designed to make that less of a necessity though: audio transparency. As you'll experience with most ANC cans, there's a feature that allows you to hear what's going on around you by passing through a degree of sound - and you can customise this in the app so that it either pauses the music and uses the external mics to let you hear train or airport announcements (for example). Or, you can have the music continue with the audio transparency activated. Either way, more of the external noises around you will be audible than when the ANC is switched on.

Now down to that noise-cancelling, it's not just a plain single filter ANC. Rather than automatically adjusting to the audio types around you, it offers have three stages that you can switch between, depending on just how sealed off from the world you want to be. We used it primarily with the Max mode activated, which for the most part is as good as any other that we've tested.

Use it on a plane or train and it'll virtually kill all the external noise around you, sealing you in to your music. There's still the odd sound it's not good at cancelling, for instance - high pitched screaming, laughing, shouting and so on. However, it virtually cuts out the general drone of train or plane engines, or the droning chatter of lots of people in a cafe or airport lounge. A lot of it depends on the volume of the music, of course, but there's a clear difference in external noise levels when you switch it on.

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One feature you're likely to start seeing in more devices going forward is "Find with Tile". The company that made its name from selling Bluetooth location tracking tags launched a program where other manufacturers can incorporate its tech in its own products. If you've ever misplaced a pair of expensive headphones, you won't need telling why that might be a good idea.

The only issue is that the product wasn't officially on the Tile compatibility list before it was announced, so we weren't able to get it up and running. We'll be testing once it's available, then updating this review. 

Reliable consistency

  • Bluetooth 5 & wireless
  • 17 hours music playback
  • Charges via Type-C connector

Sennheiser promises up to 17 hours of playback with ANC switched on, from a full battery. In our testing it wasn't too far off that. While typical use wouldn't regularly subject it to this kind of test, we listened to music through the headphones for eight hours straight at one point, starting with the battery at 100 per cent, and after that extended period the battery indicator within the app was sat at 60 per cent. Good job.

What we will say, however, is that while it does live up to that promise, it's not the longest-lasting battery we've tested. The Beats Studio 3 Wireless from 2017 was capable of lasting more than 25 hours in our testing - and that's a pair of headphones that's far from being among the newest around.

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In reality, battery life to this extent is not something you're going to wish was improved massively. We can't imagine there being many people out there whose listening habits include a full 24 hour stretch of listening. If you commute to work during the week then you could easily afford three hours of listening per weekday and get to the weekend before needing to charge again.

Similarly, the Bluetooth connection between the headphones and our iPhone XS Max was perfect for the entire time we tested it. We didn't experience any lag or connection drop-outs at any time during our testing, and were even able to walk around the house, leaving our phone in the same room without losing connection. So its Bluetooth range is strong as well as reliable.

Boom boom, shake shake the room

  • 42mm drivers
  • Quite boomy bass
  • Sennheiser Smart Control app for adjusting EQ

If you like booming, powerful bass, you're going to love the Sennheiser Momentum headphones. If you're an audio purist, you perhaps won't. Either way, you likely won't forget the way it feels to wear the Momentum and listen to some bass-driven tunes.

At times we found it was a little boomy though. Often times that meant this bass wasn't as tight as what you'd find on a better-balanced pair of headphones. You can definitely hear the details, audio is generally clear, but the bass just had a bit of a slight boomy aftertaste.

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Despite that, we found vocals, mids and highs all nice and clear, ensuring subtle details in the background remained. Whether that be a snare drum stroking with a pair of brushes, or the maybe a gentle string section sitting behind all the more prominent layers.

If we had to try and describe the audio signature, it's like having a really good-quality stereo sound, except you've added a subwoofer to make the bass all brain-shaking. Seriously, the bass is prominent enough that it can be felt. It's like having a subwoofer implanted in your skull, while still delivering clarity and impact in other frequencies.

Sennheiser's accompanying app does have an equaliser (EQ) setting, so you can adapt the sound to match something close to your own preferences. So if you don't want as much bass, you can reduce it. But fine-tuning is tricky, as instead of individual frequency controls, Sennheiser has gone with a supposedly more intuitive EQ where you drag a single point up and down to adjust the overall curve.

Verdict

The Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 3 noise-cancelling wireless headphones come packed with plenty of smarts and high-end features, and look great thanks to being made from high-end materials.

We love the combination of brushed stainless steel and soft sheepskin leather on the headband, and despite the large size of the earcups, the overall design footprint is really portable when folded and stowed inside the soft fabric case. The noise-cancelling works well on busy train journeys and on planes, while the audio transparency setting proving really useful at times too.

These aren't perfect over-ear headphones though. The auto-pausing is a great idea, but it's not perfectly executed, while the sound profile has very boomy bass that won't suit all.

On the whole, the Momentum Wireless 3 is a decent pair of headphones with great tri-level noise-cancelling technology to keep the outside world at bay. Worth considering for the distinctive design alone, but as we said up top the competition is now tougher than ever.

Alternatives to consider

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Bose Headphones 700

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Bose rode the wave of the QC35 as long as it could, but for 2019 it wanted to try something new. Its Noise Cancelling 700 headphones are a completely new design language, replacing the foldable and comparatively clunky headband with a much more sleek and stylish number. The noise-cancelling and audio is great, as you'd expect, putting Bose back at the top of the pile where it belongs. 

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Sony WH-1000XM3

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Sony has updated the 1000X headphones three years in a row, taking an approach as aggressive with product launches as it does with cutting out external noise. Design tweaks add quality and refinement to these headphones, while a new-and-more-powerful chip provides the grunt to cancel out more noise. The results are sensational.

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Bowers & Wilkins PX 

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There's no doubt about it, the PX is one of the nicest looking pairs of headphones around. Combined with the great audio quality and noise-cancelling capabilities, these over-ears are really stunning. While other headphones might sound and perform a little more impressively, there aren't many that compete with this design.