If you are not serious about wanting to own possibly the
best over-the-ear, active noise cancelling, audiophile-grade headphones STOP
READING NOW. We are talking about the Sennheiser Momentum 3 and at $599
they are going to rattle the soundscape.
Sennheiser Momentum 3 Bluetooth over-the-ear headphones are a
premium product, yet not so much more in cost than its competitors that you should
not aspire to them.
The Sennheiser Momentum 3 has one problem – if I may be so bold as to tell a 74-year old company – that Joe and Jane Average see Sennheiser as somehow superior, exclusive and reserved (überlegen, exklusiv und zurückhaltend) for those who want the best. Sure, that perception is factual, but in 2019 it is all about volume sales that Sony, Bose et al., do so well.
To segue, I remember my first pair of Sennheiser headphones back in the late 80s (that is the last century!)
They cost me over $800, and I had difficulty sleeping, let alone telling my ex-wife that I had outlaid enough in those days to buy her five fancy meals at five-star restaurants. BTW $800 then is now worth $1570.36 or a 96.3% increase.
Yet my wealthy ‘wannabe’ top 200 associates all had
Sennheiser- it was infra Dig (beneath socially acceptable)
to use anything else. Bottom line, I have been a Sennheiser devotee since.
My original cabled Sennheiser’s lasted over 20 years, and you could still get replacement earpads! I stopped using them in 2013 when the French brand Parrot started making gorgeous, boldly coloured, noise-cancelling, leather-clad, BT headphones. And I started writing for IT publications and testing many more.
These days I use Sennheiser PXC-550 BT/NC (new model coming here) for my train commute and Sony WH-1000XM3 for hi-res audio pleasure and air travel.
That is a critical point. Why do you buy brand X over brand Y? It may be brand snobbery, price, style, or influential salespeople’s recommendations. I suspect it is not often about superior ANC or sound performance, app utility etc. In the end, it is up to us to identify those USPs (unique selling propositions) and try to educate those who want to be.
Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless over-the-ear headphones. Model M3AEBTXL
I think the Momentum design is distinct and perfect in a Germanic, post-war, industrial way.
First, you know it is Sennheiser by the badges of honour on the tension screws on each ear-cup. These are immensly practical.
Second, everything is for a precise function. You want good noise cancelling – you need deep sheepskin ear pads. You want comfort – you need infinitely adjustable stainless-steel headbands and, a real sheepskin leather, wide padded headband strap. And true to Sennheiser tradition, spare parts are no problem.
You want control? Eschew those gimpy touch-sensitive controls for five real buttons – no accidental swipes here. And you can have any colour you want – as long as it is black. I could go on, but I think you get my drift – as a techie bloke these are an exceptionally well-designed and uber-desirable set of cans!
Closed-back, circum-aural, deep-padded ear cups (best for ANC)
42mm transducers 6Hz-22kHz (best I have heard on BT)
The only problem is that the second you take them off the music
pauses so we could not use a frequency response or decibel metre to measure.
Well, not quite. We discovered that you can disable Smart Pause in the app so see the frequency graph later.
But first, let me tell you about some of the tracks I use to
test headphones and speakers.
The Blue Brothers Peter Gunn Theme
Those magnificent trumpets over a deep, bass, backbeat – Just the facts mam! I could listen to Blues Brother Jazz all day long.
These cans have a 6-22kHz frequency response (excellent). I felt the bass coming on strongly from about 40Hz – that is as good as a dedicated sub-woofer will do. I felt the trumpets hit previously unheard-of treble levels with pin-point clarity.
Note that I used the term ‘felt’ – you do not listen to Sennheiser, it immerses you. And with the greatest respect to Bose’s new 700 and Sony’s WH-1000XM3 – well, audiophiles, this is the best BT/NC I have heard.
Next track is the Beach Boys Fun, Fun, Fun that is a vocal
track with electric guitars and synthesiser behind it.
On most headphones, it tends to be a little muddy as it
favours high trebles. The Sennheiser Momentum 3 brings this track to life – it sparkles.
Finally, Manhattan Transfer Twilight Zone that also mixes voice
and heavy bass as well as using the complete directional sound stage. Here is a
432Hz version (almost high-res).
The Sennheiser Momentum 3 aces this with the sound coming from a wide, no huge, sound stage.
Let’s just say that on a scale of 1-10 it’s a 12!
OK, back to the sound signature tests.
Maximum volume was more than 90dB on BT and 100dB on 3.5mm cable depending on content and the source device. That is a good 10dB more than the Sony or Bose but you dont need that much volume anyway.
The cable connection is superior to Bluetooth and better
than the Sony or Bose in sound quality and volume.
Sound signature was – whatever you want it to be! We tested with the flat EQ and
Deep Bass: 20-40Hz – none
Middle Bass: 40-100Hz – building and quite
High Bass: 100 to 200Hz – flat (that means good)
Low-mids: 200-400Hz – flat
Mids: 400-1000Hz – flat
High-mids: 1-2kHz – flat
Low-treble: 2-4kHz – flat
Treble:4-6kHz – flat
High Treble: 6-10kHz – a slight decline*
Dog whistle: 10-20 – peak and decline after 18kHz
*The decline from 6-10kHz is deliberate to remove the harshness
or harmonic resonance that occurs in that band – very well done.
This means it neither adds nor subtracts from the source content and you can boost the bass, mid or treble accordingly. The Bose 700 sound signature is very similar, but its treble is not as strong.
So, it verges on warm and sweet (flat EQ) and can change to Bass, Mid or Bright vocal – very flexible and very listenable!
The App – Sennheiser Momentum 3 Smart Control
You don’t need the app to pair or use the device. But it adds a few extra features like an Equaliser (EQ) and for the occasional firmware updates.
This is not an obtrusive app – it does not ask for age, gender, address, bank account… It just needs BT access and optionally location.
The EQ is interesting. It defaults to flat, and you simply
drag the curve up or down. It suggests that you play your favourite track and see
if you can improve on it. While I may like the preciseness of Sony’s +/-10dB adjustment
scales this is a fresh way of enhancing the sound. It turns out that flat is
But if you are hearing impaired, you can match the curve to your
hearing test, and that is wonderful if you have lost high, mid or low-frequency
sensitivity. The settings remain on the headphones until you change or cancel them.
Ease of use
While I have grown to like touch-sensitive controls, many
people prefer buttons. These are straightforward and logical
Answer/reject call or pause music
Voice assistants (Google, Alexa and Siri) and
BT 5.0 – amazing
BT 5.0 puts earlier versions to shame for fidelity and range. Fidelity in that it can handle 2Mbps data stream allowing for HD or Hi-Res music streams at distances of up to 240 metres from the BT source (in practice 100m). With BT 4.2 the maximum (in theory) is 60 metres, but I find 20-25m is tops.
It also has NFC pairing (straightforward) and supports SBC,
aptX, aptX Low Latency and AAC (so Apple users will love it). It can pair to up
to eight devices.
If you have a BT 5.0 source, it will connect reliably and blazingly fast .
It has four ANC mics and two additional beamforming voice mics. That is like the Bose 700 (4 x ANC and 2 x beamforming) and it is very effective.
My favourite test uses an old clackety SteelSeries mechanical keyboard at 30cm from my head. The clackety keys reach 75dB at 100wpm touch typing – the same level as busy streets or alarm clocks. The ANC setting (off/ANC/transparent hearing) completely blankets the keys.
Another test is to have my wife talk to me from about 5 metres away. I cannot hear her at normal conversation levels and can barely hear her on the rare occasion she is shouting.
In another test under windy conditions, it did a creditable job of reducing wind noise during a hands-free call – although not quite as good as the Bose 700. The app allows for Anti-wind and Anti-pressure ANC settings (when you are in low ambient noise environments).
Transparent mode is good and allows for normal levels of conversation
or listing to announcements. The app allows you to set a default for music
on/off in this mode.
Alas, I could not test them on a long-haul, business class flight but if Sennheiser is listening – Vielleicht könnten Sie eine Werksbesichtigung arrangieren.
ANC Summary: The Sennheiser has ANC on/off/transparent mode where others offer more adaptive modes. Subjectively the Sony is a tad better for altitude compensation and the Bose 700 for overall adaptive (10 levels of conditional) noise cancellation.
Press the speaker button once, and you have complete access to
OK Google, Siri or Alexa (need a phone connection).
Responsiveness is excellent – there is no lag (on BT 5.0) after you hear the tone. Like the rest it, however, you do not get any voice feedback (foldback) inside the earphones when speaking.
If you are in the habit of misplacing your $599 cans, then
worry no more. It has Tile
integration that allows location by Bluetooth or via the wider Tile community.
You need to create a Tile account, and it will nag you to upgrade from free to
premium to get wider use.
The 700mAh battery life is 17 hours (BT/ANC) – I have yet to test that fully. At this stage, after about three hours use it is sitting at 85% left, so 17 hours sounds fair.
You can use any USB charger from 5V/.333mA (takes longer to charge) to USB-C PD 2.0 from 5-18W (3-hours to charge) – it will not damage the device. It also supports USB-C quick charge – 10 minutes gives 1.5 hours use.
Of course, the Sony WH-1000XM3 (at 30 hrs) and Bose 700 (at 20 hrs) beat this, but Sennheiser has a secret weapon that blows almost all others out of the water. You can listen and charge via USB at the same time.
Clever Sennheiser has a USB DAC (digital analogue converter) that presents to Windows, Android, macOS, iOS and more devices as a USB headphone/speaker. Apart from Sennheiser, very few ‘cans’ do this, and we think it is a glaring omission. On that basis alone it gets our recommendation (as do other Sennheiser model headphones).
I left this to last as it weigh 305g against the Sony at 280g and Bose at 260g. The sheepskin headband and covered ear cups are larger and plusher than the Bose Alcantara/Pleather (synthetic) and Sony (Pleather).
Bear in mind that this comment is after two x 1.5 hours use
and not a 16-hour, trans-Atlantic flight.
I think Sennheiser is on a winner with sheepskin – it is a natural material (poor sheep), breathes beautifully and the wide headband and infinitely adjustable side bands make it perfect for travel comfort. Subjectively the extra weight does not mater with a good fit, and the earcups are not hot.
And I wear glasses. The larger and plusher pads accommodate
these better with less pressure on the arms.
Look at how deep the Sennheiser pads are in comparison to the
Sony and Bose.
But the headset does not fold flat (it folds in) and the soft, zippered, carry case is tall and round like a tubular hatbox so its less convenietn to carry
GadgetGuy’s take – Sennheiser Momentum 3 at $599 are a conundrum
I really like both the Bose 700 and the Sony WH-100XM3 –
these are premium headphones in the same class, and the latter is available for
$388 or less. The Bose 700 is $595.
On a value basis, Sony is outstanding and has excellent ANC and music. It only lacks the killer feature of USB-DAC charging and music at the same time.
On a poseur/fashion/snob value basis the Bose 700 make a statement, has excellent ANC but is not quite to the music standard with BT/SBC support only. Ditto to USB-DAC
And on a precise German-made device that will last 20 years
(or more) with the best sound, I have ever heard then spend $599 and be joyous.
It rates 5-out-of-5 for me.
But wait, GadgetGirl has her say on Sennheiser Momentum 3
The Sennheiser Momentum 3 are too ‘manly’ for me – larger, heavier, thicker and that precision engineering feel means I would overlook them at JB’s.
The Sony WH-1000XM3 are light, stylish and comfortable but look a little bland. They interest me and at $388 would be hard to pass up.
But I love the simplicity and style of the Bose 700, and that is what I would pick. No, I am not shallow – I married a very complex indivudual – Ray!
I then asked her to listen to the same musci track on each. “I see what you mean – Sennheiser is ahead, Sony next and Bose is clean but not quite as deep. Using your rating system, it is close to perfect.”
Value for money
Ease of Use
The best BT music yet
Huge, wide sound stage
BT 5 for fast and reliable auto-connect (if you have a BT 5.0 source)