Sennheiser Momentum On-ear Review – A basshead’s Delight!

Sennheiser Momentum Onear boxshotThe explosion in portable entertainment gadgets have created a thriving market for suitable accessories to go with. The classic “white earphone & cable” is still a style statement for most iPod owners (though at the cost of sound quality!). The headphone market has lately been going towards this “Signature style” with either celebrity endorsements or distinctive styling. Sennheiser, not long ago released it’s Momentum, a premium circumaural headphone for on-the-go use and has made a follow-up with the Momentum On ear version. I tried out the Momentum On ear during my daily commute and used it as my primary headphone for listening to music (Spotify premium, Google Music etc.) over a fast broadband connection and my impressions follow.

Design & Comfort:

              If you have already seen the Momentum over-ear model, you know what to expect. A very tastefully done design, goes great with casual and formal wardrobe ;-). The sliding earpieces are nice but I always have the nagging feeling that they tend to move from their optimal position during the regular handling of the headphone. General disclaimer : I have never had a good experience with On-ear headphones!

The Momentum on-ear comes with a plush earpads made of Alcantara – a soft breathable material. The stainless steel headband running across the drivers provide the frame with good grip and a nice look as well. The cable is detachable (a comfort for portable headphones) and  remote for the microphone seems to be made of metal as well. There is an additional regular headphone cable with no microphone provided as well. The amount of detail that has gone into the design is once again reflected in the audio jacks as well, though they are not the wonderful self adjusting Momentum circumaural type, these look like works of art. The colorful hologram on the jack is an eyecandy in itself 😉 – this is the best designed headphone in my opinion – “drool-worthy” .

The comfort of the Momentum on-ear is good but nothing to write home about. The general comfort levels of On-ear models depend on the clamping force as well as earpad material on the headphone. Considering this is a mobile accessory, noise cancellation has to be a priority as well – the clamping pressure was on the stronger side for me and at about the half an hour mark I had to remove them (would have been worse without the Alcantara earpads I suppose!). I have to say that passive noise cancellation could have been better but I believe Sennheiser allowed the tuning of the headphones to do the rest. The robust low frequency presentation actually helps cut down on some noise that I experienced – traveling in trams, trains and generally in other public spaces. Though On-ear headphones have never been my thing (guess I’m sensitive to pressure on the ear lobes ;-)) due to comfort issues – the Momentum On-ear is the least uncomfortable on-ear I have tried.

Sound:

 This isn’t anything like it’s elder brother, the full size Momentum.The Momentum on-ear is a departure from Sennheiser’s house sound and is definitely aimed at audience who would otherwise be gravitating towards say, the Vmoda M100, Beyer Custom one Pro, Bose, Beats, AKG Tiesto and so on. All competitors of the On-ear Momentum pay special attention to the needs of the “bass minded” and genres such as Hip-hop, electronic, pop & EDM (Electronic Dance Music) and good looks ofcourse. I believe this introduction is necessary to put in perspective the tonality of the On-ear Momentums.

Sennheiser Onear MomentumI have to start with the BASS! of the On-ear Momentum, which is the most prominent aspect of it’s presentation. The lower frequencies are very strong (and overwhelming!) for such a small driver unit. The bass is actually quite good in tracks where it is reigned in, everywhere else there is bass”plosion” – highly unlike Sennheiser! The closed architecture tends to add to the bass tuned driver to push out more than required low end punch with some loss in musicality and fidelity in other parts of the presentation. As a HD650 fan, I can immediately realize the speed of the bass, its fast!  makes this good accompaniment to pacey, fast and bassy music. However, the Momentum On ear seems to have been designed to perform best with regular mp3 quality audio rather than high resolution music. As a portable headphone, I do see the wisdom behind the decision but sorely miss the bliss of playing high resolution or even lossless tracks through the headphone to bring out much subtler nuances in the music.

The mids are the least prominent part of the presentation, recessed and without much say in the overall musicality of the headphone.The highs are well extended and don’t appear too shiny, though pushed forward in the soundstage. The details that the treble presents is really overwhelmed by the pulsing strong low end, so there is nothing to complain about the higher frequencies here. Overall the Momentum On-ear carries good resolution in its presentation, the details are nice and clear, only distraction is the bass.

There are probably just a few headphones that can be on the shopping list with the Momentum on-ear. The fabulous Vmoda M80, rugged style and build with a very well balanced presentation and comes customizable accessories as well. For stronger bass the Vmoda M100, again has all of the above but with a presentation that leans to bass (more than I would like). The Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro has an adjustable bass control – design is much more industrial. It is safe to say if you enjoy a reasonably balanced musical presentation go for the Momentum (Circumaural) – love thumping beats and bass, Momentum On-ears could be your best company!

Conclusion:

Sennheiser has probably taken into consideration the tastes of the Vox Populi and fans of Rap,Hip-hop, EDM etc, for whom the On-ear Momentums may be a great choice. If you are a basshead as well, I highly recommend trying them – but I prefer a bit of balance in my basshead can as well!. The On-ear Momentum is a great headphone for audience looking towards the likes of the Vmoda M100, AKG Tiesto, Beats & Bose but would prefer a more sophisticated design sense.

Here is a video review from a fellow head-fi’er

Now available in additional colors!

Sennheiser Momentum Onear new colors!

Related articles

The Talented Noontec Zoro – Review

Noontec Zoro Headphones

The portable headphone market is a rapidly growing branch of consumer electronics and audio. The Noontec Zoro is a new headphone in the market and  with a price that makes it immensely appealing and with an attractive styling to suit. Soundwise, Noontec has also decided to take a balanced presentation, opting out of the “boomy bass” approach of several of its counterparts. Most headphones that are designed for audiophiles generally try to maintain a reasonably neutral presentation, which is tweaked to tilt slightly on either sides of the sound spectrum (from treble to bass) to add some personality to the product.

Design & Comfort

The build is very respectable for a budget headphone. The Zoro feels good when you hold it your hands, though the folding hinges seem a little under-built in my opinion. The headphone is very light and may not be able to take too much of a beating. The headphone competes strongly in the looks department and there is no missing the “semblance” to another popular brand! 😉 Though I believe this was done for its marketing potential it also tends to mislead the consumer in a good or bad way.

 The detachable cable is very convenient, considering a portable headphone usually experiences a lot of stress on the cables. The flat cable is not unique but is catchy and helps with avoiding cable tangle. The headphone can be adjusted to fit different head sizes; the extension mechanism makes a satisfying click and has clear markings. The Zoro folds up conveniently and can be carried around in the provided pouch which actually keeps the fingerprint prone glossy plastic cleaner. Comes in three colors (red, black & White), of which I prefer the white – shows less finger smudges. The provided carrying pouch is handy to carry the headphones in, when folded. The folding setup makes it more convenient to carry and adds to it’s appeal.

The earpads are on the smaller side from my perspective and I had to experiment with the fit. The headphones had no problem holding onto my slightly larger than average head. After about an hour of continuously wearing the Zoro, I did feel a distinct pain developing in my ear lobes. I had to take a break! I have also heard instances of similar experiences from some other Zoro users on the HeadFi forum. After several days of using the headphone I was able to narrow down the problem to the way one places the earpads on the ear. The problem only affects users with slightly larger than average ear lobes, though the best way to judge this is to just buy it from a seller that accepts returns!

Sound

Let me start by saying that I am able to forgive what little disadvantages the Zoro has for the lovely sound it pleasantly surprised me with! The Noontec Zoro has a very neutral presentation but yet manages to keep the music pleasurable. Ideally I would be saying these words about much higher end headphones with suitable prices to match. I keep reminding myself that this is an entry level model priced as such!

The bass is tight and well-fleshed with a satisfying texture. In fact the the Noontec Zoro has one of the best bass for the price. The Creative Aurvana Live! (CAL) comes close, the Zoro edges out the CAL with slightly better definition in my opinion.It is also without doubt the best bass presentation I have ever heard at this price point! bass response is very precise and tight with good texture and doesn’t get overbearing at all. So is this a bass head’s headphone? if you are looking for the presentation I have described above, then sure! but don’t expect the bass to be bloated and flowing into the mids and generally creating a “boomy” signature as most budget basshead phones do.

As a part of its neutral presentation style, the vocals are clear and there is very little to no bleeding of other frequency ranges into the mids. I like presentations where the mids are slightly pushed forward in the soundstage which I believe envelops the listener in music, but the vocals on the Zoro are slightly recessed or rather in line with its neutral nature. This presentation of mids keeps the listener interested in the whole audio spectrum providing a balanced style. There is generally something special about the mids that one gets easily absorbed by that part of the sound spectrum, the Zoro doesn’t add any magic of its own though presents the mids in a satisfying flavour.

The highs are well etched out compared to the other headphones in this price range. The highs retain enough detail to provide good tonality to all genres of music. The Zoro does not have a bright image in the highs and also clearly beats its closest rival, the CAL! At times shiny recordings do tend to bother, but was far and few. My other favorite in this price range the Sennheiser HD448, is easily beaten in bass response and high end clarity by the Zoros. The HD449 seems to have received an appreciable upgrade but I personally have not heard it to compare with the Zoro. The Sennheisers on the other hand, beat the Zoro hands down in comfort! The Zoro shines with just about every source I tried it with, the iPod Classic, iPod Touch, dell laptop (headphones out) & the Sansa Clip+. Feeding it good quality files, an mp3 320 Kbps or a lossless audio file brings out all that the headphone has to offer. Adding an amplifier to the setup did very little to none, the Fiio E11 and the O2 both did not do anything special. Tip: Pickup one of those Vmoda cables that come with a mic and now you can use the Zoro with your smartphone as well!

Comparisons & Conclusion

  The Zoro does not compete with the Vmoda M80, the Sennheiser HD25 1 II & company (but is definitely going to pull some of this crowd) but establishing a niche of its own at a price point that generally does not provide this style of audio presentation and quality. The soundstage is good, nowhere near the Vmoda M80 but for a closed can at this price range, it is very satisfactory.

Noontec Zoro & Meelec HT21The true competitor to the Zoro (in my opinion) is the Creative Aurvana Live!. Both headphones have a similar retail price, are closed portable headphones and aim for a reasonably neutral but sound. As good as the CAL! is, the Zoro seems to edge the CAL! out in terms of base response, clarity and overall neutrality. The laid back style of presentation combined with its neutral tonality does make the Noontec Zoro unlike any other portable headphones I have used.This also affects to some degree the noise isolation which is not great on the Zoro but fair provided it is not too noisy! The Meelec HT21 is decent portable headphone and provides little isolation but does give a quality sound that than most bundled earphones. Priced appropriately lower, it lacks noticeably behind the Zoro in terms of sound quality. If you are planning for the HT21, I suggest to aim a little higher and go with the Zoro.

Noontec Zoro & Superlux HD661 A good ear-seal combined with a weighted boomy and in your-face fun presentation ( the Superlux HD661) generally tends to lower the perception of noise and is preferred for portable headphones, the Zoro being the only defector I know of.The very mature presentation style of the Noontec Zoro may not be for everybody but if you are looking for a headphone with a balanced presentation it is tough to beat at its price! Noontec Zoro is available from Flipkart in India and making use of discount coupons from CupoNation can save you more, making the headphones a bargain not worth missing.

This post was sponsored by CupoNation.

Review Equipment:

iPod Classic – Cambridge Audio DAC Magic- Fiio E11 Amp, O2 Amp

320 Kbps MP3 & Lossless Audio tracks

Superlux HD661, 668B, Meelec HT21, Vmoda M80, Creative Aurvana Live!

Sennheiser HD558 headphones

Sennheiser HD 558 – Review

I am an ardent follower of Sennheiser products, specially their audiophile headphone line. Starting out the CX-300 (as replacement for my iPod ear buds), HD448, PX100, HD600 and currently with the HD650, they have always impressed me with their products. Sennheiser has recently refreshed its audiophile range of with the HD518, 558 & 598 and the fabulous HD600 is almost out leaving just the HD650. This review takes a look at the mid-tier Sennheiser HD 558, which actually turned out to be the best value headphone in the current line-up.

Sennheiser HD558

The Sennheiser HD558 maintains the classic headphone look with good styling. I specially mention the “classic headphone” look because with the HD 598 Sennheiser has tried a new look/color which seems to have many complaining. Personally, the HD598 is a refreshing redesign and I have no complaints. Incase you are not the consumer who goes for the European sports car look (of the HD598) then its just one more reason to pickup the HD558. The new audiophile line also sports detachable cables, a welcome feature – as more often than not the cables are more susceptible to usage.The clean curves and bold looks and reasonably good plastic housing makes it worth the price. You can always look up the feature list on  on the HD 558 product page, so let’s get on with things that matter more… (in my opinion).

The classic comfort that one expects from Sennheiser headphones is prominent the HD 558 and one feels it the moment the phones go on the head. The most obvious characteristic that you’ll notice with the 558 is the large soundstage and airy presentation (within this price category). Ofcourse one expects such a presentation from open-headphones in general, however I think that the 558s provide a good dimensional presentation for an entry-level audiophile headphone. I haven’t heard the Grados and Audio Technicas so I can’t compare them but I have heard the Sennheiser HD600 and AKG K550 and know a good presentation when I hear one! I tried out the 558s on both a Matrix Mstage followed by a Burson HA160 and the headphones stepped up their act with better resolution and dynamics.

Sounds like…

 The highs were initially a bit shiny for my tastes but with time they did settle down. In general the highs are crisp and clean (probably my Cambridge DAC Magic rubbed off some of its upper end shine).The mids are lovely and smooth, right there along with both highs and lows. If you enjoy jazz and vocals you’ll appreciate the tone of the mids greatly. It definitely stands up in comparison to my previous Sennheiser HD448 (and it should considering the price difference, and it definitely would be the recommended upgrade from the 448s). Bass is in sufficient quantity for non-bass heads, though it does get slightly boomy when extending further down, all-in-all quite good for the price and I did notice slight betterment with burn-in (I recommend atleast 50 hrs of burn-in). I have been recently listening to a HiFiman HE500 and a Sennheiser HD650, so its very much likely that I have been “spoiled” with regard to the quality of bass that I expect ;-). That said, I would definitely rate the treble performance of the 558’s higher than its bass.The HD558 retains most of the laid-back style house sound of Sennheiser which goes very well with a lot of listeners but if you are a serious rock and electronica nut these may not provide that pace or “zing” that adds a great feeling to such tracks. Though I cannot exactly pin down the flavor in the HD558, I see it as a more “popular” deviation from the previous HD6xx line. The HD558 is not as laid back as the previous generation of Senns, and I don’t see that as a disadvantage – it probably reflects the fact that Sennheiser is updating it’s house style with a bit of popular music listening styles. Overall the HD558 can be described as a very pleasant and slightly colored listening experience. The coloring keeps the 558 from getting cold and yet not too warm. This nature keeps the HD558 suitable for most music genres though hip-hop listeners may notice the lack of strong bass.

Sennheiser mentions that the 558 plays well with most mp3 players and portable media players owing to its higher sensitivity. I found this to be the case as the everything from my iPod Classic, iPhone to the Sandisk Clip could drive the 558 easily to loud volumes, that said the 558 ships with a quarter-inch headphone pin and using the provided 3.5mm adapter is quite “dorky”! Though Sennheiser says the sensitive 50 ohm HD558 is compatible with most portable audio sources, frankly driving it from mp3 players and laptop audio output sources is not a great idea. These headphones are meant to be driven atleast from a home audio receiver but one can also opt for a much more wallet friendly and portable headphone amp like the Fiio E10 and enjoy better sound from the headphones.

 Sennheiser HD558 headphones

in conclusion…

The general pricing difference between the 3 models (HD518, 558 & 598) are roughly 30 bucks (HD518-100, HD558-130 & HD598-160).Remember that there is the HD518 which sits below the 558 coming in just at or under 100 bucks, my advice is to skip it! The price difference between the 518s & 558s is almost negligible…just hunt for good offers on the 558 (online) and you will definitely be coming away with a great value purchase for your money. The next step-up model HD598 is relatively pricier than the 558 in the real world, it goes without saying that if you are getting a good price on the 598s, don’t think twice!

The HD 518,558 & 598 all sport the same driver, Sennheiser has worked the difference in sound by adjusting just the shell, which is cool! Anyway, that also allows the possibility of users hacking the headphone for better performance (or not!). The popular mod for the HD558 brings it closer to the HD598 but not without setbacks, always something to try for the enthusiast. The mod itself is simple and worth a try (see this youtube video)!

Eken A90 Tablet Review

The budget tablet market is currently overflowing with several local manufacturers and chinese tablet makers. Needless to say that Tablets are the second coming of Netbooks that have taken off in a  big way! Tablet devices, the current trend in mobile computing, in my opinion will have a longer lifetime than the ill fated netbooks. The only thing that the netbooks and the tablet devices (of the current gen) is their pricing, the tablets add the fun factor of user interaction that well, the classical computer (netbook) could not offer

9 inch IPS Display Android TabletThe Eken A90 going by the hardware specs, seems to be a step-up from the average china made tablet and does offer something to look forward to, but is it a bit too late! (more about that in the concluding paragraphs). The 9.7 inch IPS display with 1024 x 768 resolution, 2 MP rear camera and a 0.3 MP front facing camera,   1 Gb of RAM and the A10 AllWinner Processor are what I would consider the standout specs of the A90. The regular low-end tablets skimp on providing dual cameras, granted the ones on the A90 are not good but decent enough to get through a Skype video call in a well-lit environment and  probably some ok images and video with the front facing camera.

Build:

To start, I never expected great build quality for a tablet of this price (those costs have to be cut some where..) and  Eken did not disappoint. An all plastic shell gives the Eken a good finish but not a good build. The plastic used is cheap and the back gives-in at a finger press! The glass display is good enough but I seriously doubt whether the tablet would survive multiple tumbles, of course a case of some kind would really help if you intend the tablet to be used by kids (or even grownups for that matter). The screen also tends to slightly give way along the edges when pressed or held (in that area), but that seems to be an issue with other branded tablets (nexus 7 review by geekanoids). The display shows a slight but perceptible flicker when the brightness is pushed below say 40%, of course there is no ambient light sensor in the A90 so there is no point in leaving the screen set to Auto for brightness control. Keep in mind, that the general build quality concerns expressed here seem to be uniform across all budget chinese android tablets that I have read about, so these aren’t Eken specific.

The Eken A90 comes with 2 micro-USB ports, HDMI out, 3.5mm headphones  jack and a microSD slot. Connectivity was ont a problem and the provided microSD slot allowed for upto 32 Gb of memory and one of the mini-USB port has host functionality and worked well with most external memory devices, though it did have problems in detecting one of my NTFS portable hard drives. The HDMI out was useful in mirroring the tablet display on a HDTV or other devices and actually was quite useful is sharing videos, photos and slideshows!

Performance:

The A90 is a very competitive product in its own market-position, there is no point in comparing it to regular tablet offerings from the likes of Acer, Samsung etc. and I will refrain from doing so!. I do have to state that I have had little to no experience interacting with the comparative tablets from Ainol, Onda, Odys and the likes.

Out of the box the A90 is definitely going to impress anybody with that gorgeous IPS display for the money you pay! However with time the Android 4.0.1 ICS starts to struggle every now and then for unknown reasons! The browser tends to freeze often while loading web pages and touch screen performance seems to be a tad bit off. Of Course I went about looking for answers on the web and came across newer firmwares and custom firmwares available for the Eken A90. I didn’t want to the go the custom firmware way, at least not yet! so I went for the firmware update available from Eken’s website. Right now my Eken A90 is running the latest firmware available from Eken and I have to say that there is a definite improvement in performance over the stock version of the tablet.

RSS READER

Flipboard, an RSS aggregator app that I was really looking forward to try on Android turned out to be incompatible with the A90 (or the T90A as the Google playstore detects it!). My default aggregator is Feedly on my computer, hence I went with Feedly on the tablet as well. Feedly provided a decent to good experience on the Eken A90, the great display (for the price) and the decent processor makes reading feeds easy. There are the frequent slowdowns here and there,especially when loading linked out content from the RSS feeds but overall the A90 delivers as a solid news reader. Currents is a recently released news aggregator app from Google to  provide an unparalleled reading experience and it delivers well on the A90. I would gladly recommend Google Currents as a worthy content aggregator and its onely a matter of time before it catches up with Flipboard or Feedly.

Feedly

E-reader

The tablet form factor is one of the most convenient of computing devices for reading. I am a Kindle user and I am sure that is going to reflect on any reading device that I review. The Eken A90 with its excellent display makes for a wonderful reading experience of web pages and ebooks. I use the Kindle app on the A90 and it performs well, reading experience is good, though one has to get the screen brightness down to avoid eye fatigue. The Google Books experience was also quite good on the tablet, fonts are crisp and it’s a pleasure reading. Page turn animations and reading experience was good to satisfactory. I am a Zinio subscriber and was eagerly looking forward to trying out the magazine experience on the A90. The Zinio app seems to “task” the better priced tablets, on the A90 it is decent. The app does take its time to load, but still very usable. The page turns are well executed but page rendering does have a noticeable delay. The graphics and images on the magazines are a pleasure to see from reasonable angles on the IPS display. The downloading of magazines and the time it takes to load a freshly downloaded magazine is a bit longer than I would like but again at the price range it still feels decent.

Gaming

The gorgeous 9.7 inch display is a tempting invitation to try out some gaming on the Eken A90 and coupled with the Mali 400 graphics processor, it should do fine with most casual games. My installs included Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja and couple of other games. The A90 is good with casual games, though if you are moving up to even slightly better games be prepared to face constant slow downs and drop in frame rates. Does the tablet support some intensive games, yes, but its not an experience that you’ll want to go through! Stick to casual games and this tablet is very good, which actually makes it a great choice for kids.

I have also included a youtube video by Albertuain below showing some gaming sessions with the A90 to give you a better idea

On the connectivity side of things, the A90 does a decent job and as mentioned before only had problem with one of my portable hard drives. The USB host port also allows for connecting portable surfsticks that allow for connectivity via 3G. I tried out a Huawei device and it had no problems, though establishing a connection requires special software or apps. The music listening experience on the Eken A90 is passable, just another check mark on a list of features to be included! The stereo speakers provided on the tablet are decently loud but not clear! The fact that they would be facing away from the user also makes the this problem more pronounced. The mic was fine for skype calls and voice chats.

Battery life:

                   I have been using the A90 in a home setting and had left the WiFi on constantly, my battery estimate with slight to medium usage (email, twitter,RSS and browsing) is about 4 hours max. I haven’t been commuting with the tablet (yet) but if you are then switching off the WiFi wherever possible is definitely going add some more life to the tablet. I should also mention at this point that there is a Eken Advanced A90 model that seems to come with a higher capacity battery (8000 mAh, if I remember right!) but that tablet doesn’t seem to be from Eken or it seems to be an Eken branded product manufactured by a third party. That said, people must have already started hacking the hardware to try and get in a higher capacity battery..if you are the adventurous type go right ahead! I personally don’t see the point….but that shouldn’t stop you 😉


Concluding remarks..

The Eken A90 is a capable tablet for most users, if their tablet requirements are average. For casual email, gaming, feed reading and even browsing the tablet does a good enough job. Prospective users should be prepared for a sluggish performance every now and then with the default firmware from Eken. I cannot comment on how well the custom firmwares work on the A90 but they do seem to enhance the experience a lot, atleast from what I can see.

The release of the Google Nexus 7 tablet at a very appealing price point has now put tablets like the Eken A90 is dire straits. Specs wise the Nexus 7 easily bests the A90 and performance is on a different scale altogether. Ofcourse you might consider the A90 just as a media consumption device but then Amazon has also just released its new Kindle Fire as well as enhanced Fire HD models! The Eken A90 is a tablet that would best suit tweakers or tech enthusiasts who like playing around with gear, trying things out or if you are looking for a cheap tablet that you wouldn’t probably worry too much if the kids break them. The incredible quality that a 8 Gb Nexus offers is going to drive the low end tablet market crazy and the Eken A90 may just survive if the pricing gets competitive!…a good price for the A90 would be around 100 to 120 bucks!

PS: Oh! and lets not forget, you can add  Jelly Bean goodness to the A90 if you put in some work and are the adventurous kind 😉

Thanks to Techdolph! and don’t forget to check out his detailed 3 part video review on Youtube.