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!

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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)!

Must have Mobile Accessories

Though most of today’s mobile phones are powerhouses that allow one to carry one’s work and entertainment along they always fall short in realizing the full potential of the device. The mobile phone accessory industry has grown up to solve this “last mile” performance problem. As most the modern day phones as smart devices, meaning they offer much in the way of connectivity and processing power they can always be improved upon using accessories to get better performance out of them. Here are my favorite cell phone accessories that have allowed me to realize the complete potential of my Smartphone.

Extended Battery:

The increase in processing power and the transition of phones into complete portable entertainment and connectivity devices has brought about a need for extended battery lives. Though mobile phone manufacturers are making constant improvements in increasing battery capacity they almost always seem to fall short of consumer expectations. Third party power packs or additional batteries with extended power capacities are way to go for increasing the working time of mobile phones and other mobile devices.

I use the Just Mobile Pro Portable Battery pack which gets the job done for my iPod, Smartphone and portable router!

Ergonomics and comfort:

Most of the modern day mobile devices always to seem to fall short on the ergonomics front which seems to be the last priority for manufacturers. A modern day Smartphone is capable of delivering a full length TV program or movie for that matter and still does not come with a setup that would allow the device to lay on a tabletop for comfortable viewing. There are some manufacturers like Archos which seem to provide built-in stands for the purpose but most others don’t bother. The availability of compact stands and mounts has however solved this issue at a very nominal price. A dock or a stand is available for almost every Smartphone that allows the user better comfort and flexibility in enjoying a portable device. Also docks that combine a music player, clock serve as a wonderful music system, but you can always go for the classical small dock that just lets you stick the phone in and get charged and synced with your computer.

I use a iHome iP9, which is one of my favorite gadgets for music, alarm clock and charging my iPod. A Walimex iPhone/iPod Touch stand lets me watch my favorite videos and podcasts when on the go.

Speakers/headphones & Keyboards:

Just about every Smartphone or internet tablet today comes with a standard pair of headphones. The problem is that these add-ons are usually not best at what they do. The iPhone, iPod, iPad or for that matter most media consumption devices provide better quality audio which can never be completely appreciated with the bundled headphone/mic combination. One does not have to be an audiophile to notice the difference that a good third party headphone can bring to a Smartphone or tablet. Some recent Smartphones and tablets now offer the capability of using external wireless keyboards that provide a better interface for type input. If you are a writer or do serious word processing, trust me, a physical keyboard always beats the onscreen one easily! There is something about touching physical keys and the ergonomic comfort that it offers which so far haven’t been matched by virtual keyboards (and probably will never be). Lastly if you’re the outdoor type of person, pick up one of the portable speakers available and enjoy music through the speakers meant for music rather than the puny ones on your device. Portable speaker technology has seen great improvements and there are wonderful portable wireless speakers available that are just fabulous for use at a picnic, barbecue and at any other outdoor activity.

I use, a Logitech Mini Boombox as a portable speaker (over Bluetooth) and Ultimate Ears Triple Fi 10 vi for the headphone/mic solution.

This post was sponsored by OLX.