SENNHEISER URBANITE XL REVIEW
Full sized headphones haven't been part of my usage options for quite some time now. I used to own a Sony MDR-1R but despite the excellent comfort and decent sound my interest wavered because I found IEMs to be more practical for my listening habits. Since then I have auditioned a number of headphones from different brands including Sennheiser, Audeze, Soundmagic, Hifiman, V-moda, Philips, Monster, Beats, etc... but none of them motivated me to desire owning one.
Sennheiser released their new Urbanite line-up which according to them delivers a unique style and an intense club sound by serving up massive bass. It’s also said to retain Sennheiser’s uncompromising audio expertise ensuring excellent clarity across all frequencies. This is quite a departure from the sound that Sennheiser is quite known for. Having heard a few HDxxx headphones, none them sounded close to the description of the Urbanite sound. The Momentum full sized headphones may have been closer to the sound preference of the mass market but it's still far off from being a "club sounding" headphone. This makes me wonder if they can pull-off a strong competitor in the Beats dominated headphone segment. Fortunately, Sennheiser is kind enough to lend a review unit giving me the opportunity to review the Urbanite XL as part for the Australian Tour. I’m not sure if this will rekindle my long lost interest in headphones but either way, it’ll be interesting to hear this new Sennheiser “club” sound.
SETUP: FiiO X1 > JDS Labs C5D
iMac 2011 > JDS Labs C5D
Dr. Chesky’s Ultimate Headphone Demonstration Disc
Tool - Lateralus
Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
Avicii - True
Pantera - The Best of
Sia - 1000 Forms of Fear
Lorde - Pure Heroine
The Urbanite series of headphones have various colour schemes and come in two separate categories: the Urbanite is an on-ear portable headphone, while the XL is an over-the-ear headphone. The Urbanite XL is the bigger headphone but retains a striking similarity to the build and construction of the smaller Urbanite. I quite like how these headphones turned out despite the materials not looking as premium as the Momentum models. The headband is covered by a textured denim cloth with premium stitching and a subtle looking cushioning underneath which can be a concern for some because from the looks - it doesn't encourage the ideal comfort. Surprisingly I find the cushioning sufficient enough to relieve pressure from the top of my head. The hinge between the headband and ear cups is a folding mechanism and are made of metal that are very well constructed. The sliding adjustment system is well thought of providing ease in attaining the ideal fit unto one's head. The ear cushions are nice and smooth providing excellent comfort which is very important for long listening sessions. I really think that the Urbanite XL is quite stylish, very robust, and overall an impressive headphone for all-around use.
In terms of comfort, the Urbanite XL is surprisingly comfortable despite the hefty weight. The design manages to distribute the weight around my head without putting too much pressure on certain areas. I was initially concerned about the padded rubber underneath the headband being too thin but it proved me wrong. I can listen to these headphones for hours at a time without any issues. The ear cups fit my ear really well although there's a possibility that elongated large ears can have issues due to the circular shape for the cups.
As for fit, it didn't really sit securely on my head because of the low clamping force. In addition to that, the left ear cup doesn't seem to seal that well on my ear whereas the right cup works perfectly. This could just be an isolated issue due to the contour of my jaw line but I reckon that a slight increase in clamping force could've fixed the issue. I could've tried bending the headband inwards but since this is not my personal pair, I didn't risk damaging the headphone.
The included cable is a bit of a mixed bag for my personal use. I find it quite short especially for desktop usage and really didn’t like the tough rubbery plastic material despite the light-weight advantage. I did find the build to be quite robust especially the twist-to-lock mechanism at the headphone end of the cable. It’s also good for answering a call when paired with a cellphone, thanks to the remote which also contains a microphone, volume rocker, and play/pause button compatible to IOS devices.
Putting the Urbanites XL on I anticipated a bombardment of massive bass slams. To my delight the overall sound signature is quite neutral with a hint of warmth. I didn't expect this after reading Sennheiser's promotional quotes for the new product. The Urbanite XL is still quite predisposed towards delivering bass to satisfy my EDM sessions, but they do it adequately without messing up the balance and dynamics in sound. Unlike most popular "BASS" headphones, the Urbanite XL produces good clarity from end to end of the frequency range and adds texture to the bass making it sound sound fuller at the same time.
BASS has solid slam and impact with a bit of emphasis in the mid-bass. The mild boost in bass is done with subtlety resulting in good bass texture that is quite detailed and doesn’t bleed into the mids. The sub-bass extension is quite good and easily audible even down to 20hz. Unfortunately, the quality is not all that perfect because the decay/speed can be a little bit too slow for complex tracks such as the songs in Tool’s Lateralus album. Please don’t get me wrong, the bass is quite tight and punchy but sometimes the decay just hovers a bit too long for complex tracks. However, when playing the right tracks like the ones from Avicii and Sia the Urbanite XL’s bass performs really well.
MIDRANGE is lush, clear, and detailed which is really not a surprise if you’re familiar with the Sennheiser house sound. Vocals sound smoothened to my ears especially male voices giving an illusion that they’re singing quite far back in relation to the rest of the instruments. This is a good thing when playing modern music because it reduces the harsh edgy texture that is very common nowadays. Guitars sound really pleasant with natural timbre that is quite ideal for rock music. Overall, the midrange is sitting right in the neutral zone… nothing spectacular but no faults to find either.
HIGHS can be an issue for some who are after a natural timbre. There’s an audible graininess in texture when listening to aggressive sounding genres like metal (Pantera) and poorly mastered tracks. Despite this limitation, the added sparkle and treble extension are tuned well, keeping a good balance with the rest of the frequency. Listening to well mastered albums such as Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, the Urbanite XL performs really well. The excellent clarity and detail are greatly appreciated as they provide a good sense of dynamics.
IMAGING AND SOUNDSTAGE: Soundstage is surprisingly wide and expansive projecting an immersive musical presentation. What makes the Urbanite XL more special is the imaging capability; instruments are placed accurately within the soundstage negating any sign of congestion.
COMPARISON: The Urbanite XL can be closely compared to the Sony MDR-1R. Although styled very differently, I find both headphones to be equally great looking. They both utilise materials that work to their advantage may it be for aesthetics or function. Both are built to last although I feel the XL has a slight advantage when taking a beating due to the materials used. Fit and comfort can be equal to some people but in my experience I find the Sony to fit more securely and comfortably. I reckon, it may have been a tie if the Urbanite XL was a bit lighter and had a bit more clamping force. In terms of sound, the Urbanite XL is more mature sounding than the MDR-1R. Bass is bit tighter and faster on the Sennheiser while the Sony has a bit of a roll-off in the sub-bass. Both have equally good mid-range but I seem to prefer the MDR-1R because of its vocal emphasis. Moving up the treble region, the Urbanite XL has a slight edge due to the neutral tuning whereas the Sony can be a bit sibilant at times. Soundstage and imaging are remarkably similar between the two.
CONCLUSION: Sennheiser’s new take on sound with their Urbanite line-up is looking pretty good from my point of view. They have successfully ticked all the boxes that make up a great headphone for the young segment. Beats and Monster paved the way to this niche and it’s only natural for pioneers such as Sennheiser to follow suit. Personally, this new Sennheiser sound is still not what I’m looking for in a headphone but I do believe that the Urbanite XL will impress a lot of people. It can be a perfect companion to those who listen to various genres as long as they stick to well recorded albums.
Special thanks to Sennheiser and @White Lotus for making this review possible.
Edited by d marc0 - 1/30/15 at 2:59pm