Sennheiser Momentum On-Ear (1st Generation)

Sennheiser’s Momentum range has been around for ages now it seems, but really were introduced in 2013 so they’re only 2 and a bit years old – it’s just that Sennheiser keep releasing new models which make the older ones feel older. First there were the HD-25s which seemed to stand alone for ages with various updates and editions, but not alternate models. After the HD-25s came the Momentums in 2013 and then, just a couple of years later came the Urbanites which seem to be a new model that will live alongside the Momentums rather than replace them. There is now a 2.0G (2nd Generation version of the Momentums too). So, should you buy 1st generation Momentums when there are obvious and newer competitors from the same company, let alone other brands? Let’s find out…

Overview

Senn Momentum-0747 The Momentum On Ears are a moderately-priced option in the portable headphone market, going for around $200 in most cases, but sometimes available for about $100 during loss-leading specials. They come in a variety of colours, too and the colours are all tasteful and attractive – I chose the blue ones.

Specifications

  • Frequency response:  16 – 22,000 Hz
  • Impedance:  18 ohms
  • Sensitivity:  112 dB (1kHz / 1Vrms)
  • Cables:  2 x 1.4m cables (one with mic and controls for iPhone) with 2.5mm locking plug (headphone end) and straight 3.5mm plug (player end)

On paper, there’s nothing spectacular about the Momentums, but that doesn’t mean much as we’ve seen before – it’s the subtleties that make a good product, not the specs.

Design & Comfort

Senn Momentum-0738The Momentums are a beautiful mixture of metal and Alcantara that creates a very classy and quality looking product that also feels robust and luxurious to the touch. As I mentioned above, all the colour choices look great so the majority of people will find an option that suits their tastes.

Ear Cup Size

As on-ear style headphones, the ear cups on the Momentum On Ears are roughly the same size as the average ear. I find that the front edge of the soft and comfortable ear pads sits just in front of my ear while the back edge of the pad sits on or just behind the back edge of my ears. My ears are fairly average size, but they actually seem to fit just inside the opening of the Momentum On Ears while curling slightly to fit. This might sound like the On Ears would be uncomfortable because my ear isn’t completely flat, but I think it actually helps comfort because the headphones aren’t pressing on the surface of the ear itself. Actually, I’d go so far as saying that the Momentums are the most comfortable on-ear style headphone I’ve tried so far, even for long sessions. Sure, after more than an hour, I start to feel a bit of discomfort, but less so than my other on-ears.

Materials & Design

As I’ve already touched on, the Momentums are a fantastic combination of high quality materials – lots of metal, soft fabrics, and Alcantara (synthetic suede-style material). Everything about them screams quality and attention to detail.

The headband is all metal with a split, padded Alcantara section at the top. The ear cups are also metal, but are painted in the same colour as the headband. Attached to the ear cups are the soft and padded ear pads in a colour scheme matching the rest of the headphone (grey in the blue Momentums, but in a matching colour in some other schemes).

The ear cups attach to the headband with a simple, but ingenious slider that moves up and down through a groove cut in the metal headband, but also allows the easy spherical adjustments of a ball-joint style connection to the ear cup. The same style of ball-joint adjustment was used on the newer Urbanite headphones so it’s obviously proven to be a good design and I’m certainly a fan.

Senn Momentum-0739One final design element that I like is the apparent use of rivets or similar such fastener where the headband padding ends and the metal headband is revealed. This is also where the cabling of the Momentums runs so it’s nice to see that Sennheiser have paid attention to creating a sturdy, hard-wearing and good-looking solution to securing the cabling. Of course, the rivets might be purely cosmetic stick-ons, but I’m hopeful that’s not the case.

Accessories

The On Ears come with 2 cables, both 1.4m long. One cable is a simple stereo cable while the other includes a smart remote and microphone for iPhones and iPads. This is a nice option allowing for cable replacement (or upgrades if you can find a suitable locking 2.5mm plug), but more importantly allowing for i-device users to use the Momentums with their iPhone / iPad without forcing non i-device users to have to put up with a remote that is useless to their device.

The cables themselves are nothing special, but they’re fine – good quality, thick, but not too thick, and a good, practical length.

In addition to the cables, the On Ears are packaged with a soft pouch and soft, but slightly structured carry-case. The pouch offers no protection beyond maybe preventing mild scratches and dust, but the carry case is really nice. It’s finished in black Alcantara and includes an elasticised internal pouch that could hold a small player or a spare cable.

Portability

Senn Momentum-0742The Momentum On Ears don’t collapse or fold. This means that their case is quite bulky and that they’ll consume almost 50% of an average messenger bag or a big chunk of a backpack. I personally can’t justify carrying the Momentums anywhere with me in my bag because they are just too space-hungry, especially in that beautiful carry case, but I wouldn’t want to pack them in a bag without the case for fear of significant pressures and bumps damaging the nicely finished ear cups or metal headband. There’s no doubt that the On Ears are sturdy, but case-less transportation sturdy? I’m not sure. I don’t like to carry any of my gear around unprotected unless it’s on my head or occasionally around my neck.

Sound

So we have here a great looking, well-designed headphone that’s a bit too big to carry in a bag, but is designed as a portable headphone. That’s not the most compelling argument so far, so does the sound make it worth the bulky carry case or having to have it always on your head or around your neck? Let’s start by looking at the On Ears in isolation and then I’ll share some selected comparisons.

Bass

The bass from the On Ears is really enjoyable. It’s not class-leading in any way, but it offers a nice mid-bass thump while staying well controlled and extending deep enough to feel fully capable of everything you can throw at it. During this review I threw all kinds of music at the Momentums and found the bass to be perfectly balanced between engaging and fun (important for a portable headphone), and detailed and controlled.

Kick drums have a satisfying impact from the Momentums while bass guitars have texture and clarity so it’s a great balance. The bass sounds to me like it’s got a slight boost in the mid-bass area, but it’s a subtle boost and really well done to create engagement and excitement in the music.

Mid-Range

Senn Momentum-0734Mids from the Momentum On Ears are clean and detailed, but sit slightly behind the bass. Having just read that the bass bump is really well-balanced, you might be thinking I’m contradicting myself now, but I still maintain that the bass is perfectly tuned for this type of headphone and the unavoidable result is a slightly warm and smooth sounding mid-range, but don’t fret! The mids from the On Ears are still good, they’re just not the prime focus of the headphone’s overall presentation.

Vocals and instruments are clean and clearly presented, but those of you who crave crystal clear transparency will probably find other headphones more appealing. The mid-range from the On Ears is relaxed and smooth first and foremost rather than lifelike and transparent. It feels to me like there’s a hint of clarity missing that’s probably the result of a dip in the upper mid-range response, but that also makes for a relaxed and easy listening experience so it’s ‘horses for courses’ as they say.

Treble

The treble from the On Ears is clean and polite. These aren’t revealing headphones, but they’re also not veiled or dark. The treble is non-fatiguing and with good extension, but it’s not the star of the show.

Cymbals and similar treble-centric sounds are natural and clearly presented, but there’s not a lot of air and sparkle to be had. I’d suggest that the Momentums would be a great option with brighter and cleaner sources rather than very warm / dark ones, but this slightly rolled-off treble sound means that they are completely non-fatiguing and will sound good with anything because they won’t shred your ears with poor recordings or poor sources. With the growing popularity of streaming music sources like Spotify and Pandora, headphones like the Momentums are perfect because they won’t shine a bright, stark spotlight on the flaws of lossy streaming formats.

I’m going to leave the direct observations there and jump into some comparisons to provide further clarity on the sound of the Momentums and to address factors like imaging and staging.

Comparisons

All of these comparisons are made using the outstanding HUM Pervasion as the source.

Momentum On Ear vs ThinkSound On1

Thinksound On1The first thing that hit me when I switched from the Momentums to the On1s was the sense of space and the quality of the treble. The On1s are just instantly more enjoyable than the Momentums, but they also do cost more than the Momentums by anywhere from about $150-250 depending on the specials available on the Momentums.

Listening to the Momentums is still thoroughly enjoyable, but they remind me that I’m listening to a recording in large part because of their slightly too-smooth presentation and reduced treble energy when compared to the On1s. Where the Momentums present like a really good copy of a beautiful painting, the On1s are like looking at the photo itself (perhaps behind a sheet of glass, but still closer to the real thing).

The On1s show the Momentums to sound a little flat and non-descript in terms of staging. Generally speaking, sounds are well-placed in the stage from the Momentums, but there’s still a vagueness that prevents the sound from ever approaching “wow” territory.

All is not lost for the Momentums, however, as they win hands-down on comfort when compared to the On1s which, although comfortable in isolation, are not as comfy in the long-run as the Momentums. It’s enough that I do often reach for the Momentums rather than the On1s, especially if it’s for a movie or YouTube video rather than music so keep that in mind depending on how you plan to use the headphones.

Momentum On Ear vs JVC HA-S500

THe JVC HA-S500 is much cheaperSenn Momentum-0743 than the Momentum On Ears and it shows in the build quality where the JVCs are creaky and plastic, but they do have multiple ways to compress into a very compact package that’s highly portable. At easily <$100 can the S500s compete on sound?

In a word, no – not even close. If the Momentums were like a photocopy to the On1’s original painting then the S500s are like an attempted reproduction of the original painting. They still sound good, but they aren’t anywhere near as accurate and natural as the Momentums. Now it’s the Momentums that sound spacious and open with the S500s feeling incredibly claustrophobic in comparison.

The treble from the S500s also seems metallic and unnatural against the Momentums’ natural and lifelike (but slightly subdued) treble. Bass on the other hand is a closer contest with both headphones presenting excellent bass. It’s impossible to declare a winner on bass reproduction, but there’s no doubt that the overall sound contest is an easy win to the Momentums, as is comfort and build quality.

The only thing I found better on the S500s compared to the Momentums was the mid-range quality and weight. Although the unnatural treble from the S500s ruined the overall experience, the Momentums are equally sabotaged at times by their recessed mid-range, but it’s very track dependent and therefore may also be quite source dependent.

Overall, if you have the extra cash, go for the Sennheisers – it’s a no-brainer. I’m picking faults when I find issue with their mid-range compared to the S500s and if you had to live with just one, I guarantee that most people would choose the Momentums every time (I know I do).

Momentum On Ear vs Beyerdynamic DT-1350

Senn Momentum-0746Once again, this battle involves the Momentums punching above their weight with the DT-1350s which demand a retail price of $369 here in Australia, but the street prices are not always that high and the DT-1350s are getting a bit long in the tooth now with newer models available from Beyerdynamic.

The first point of comparison to make here is about fit – the DT-1350s are quite picky about how they sit on your ears and the sound quality – particularly the bass – can be significantly impacted by the fit. In contrast, the Momentums are easy to fit correctly and always sound consistent as a result.

When I first changed from the Momentums to the DT-1350s, the DT-1350s sounded completely unnatural with a tinny mid-range that seemed somehow boxed-in, but with a few moments of listening and a couple of placement adjustments, that same mid-range soon revealed tonnes of detail and clarity in the music that the Momentums can’t match. That said, returning to the Momentums brought a welcome sense of warmth as I felt the music envelope me more than with the DT-1350s.

These two headphones are a study in contrasts. The DT-1350s are neutral and perhaps a little lean sounding thanks to an enhanced upper mid-range / lower treble. They are saved by having outstanding bass extension, power and clarity, but for many people the DT-1350s will sound too lean up to for their tastes. On the other hand, the Momentums are smooth and noticeably warm in comparison to the DT-1350s. In comparison, the Momentums clearly lack extension and sparkle in the treble, but make up the difference with their punchy and engaging bass performance.

Both headphones are comparable in terms of staging with both sounding fairly narrow in terms of stage depth, but with fairly good left / right separation and size.

Summary

Senn Momentum-0735For their price, the Momentum On Ear (First Generation) are a solid performer that’s perfectly tuned for wearing when you’re out and about and need a bit of extra warmth and bass to overcome the noises of the world around you. In their price range and for an on-ear design they are one of the better options available, especially when you take into account their build quality, materials quality, and the great carry case and i-device control options they provide, but if you can find an extra $100-150 there are better-sounding options like the Thinksound On1. Alternatively, you can get something a bit bulkier for similar money, like the Audio Technica M50. Given that the Momentums don’t collapse or fold, there’s not a lot of benefit going with the smaller ear-cups because it makes minimal difference in your bag, but a big difference to comfort on your head.

If you ever see these at a crazy special price like $99, pick up a pair – you won’t be disappointed, but if you’re shopping at normal retail prices there might be better bang-for-buck for your hard-earned funds.

Lachlan Fennen Written by:

Facilitator, training design consultant, blogger / writer and amateur photographer

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