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Head-Fi Buying Guide (Travel Headphones)

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  1. joe
    Holiday 2017 Edition
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    Introduction Introduction
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    Over-Ear Headphones Over-Ear Headphones
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    I spend more time on airplanes than I do in cars, and I’d find my time in airplanes almost intolerable without effective means of attenuating the racket of flight. When you’re in a vessel hurtling nearly 600 mph through the air, accompanied by all the forces necessary to propel it -- not to mention the hundreds of people within it and the noises they make -- it’s a cacophony I can barely stand for minutes, let alone 13 hours. Active noise canceling (ANC) headphones are more effective than even the tightest sealing passive in-ears, especially where long-wavelength low-frequency noise is concerned (which even the best-isolating ear-plugging passive earphones can’t stop).

    For me, active noise canceling headphones rank just below my passport and clean underwear in terms of packing priority. Here are the best ANC headphones I’ve used:

Sony WH-1000XM2
Almost as reliable as Newton’s laws of motion was the following generally accepted truth in the headphone world: When it came specifically to actively canceling noise, Bose was the best. This had been true for as long as there had been consumer active noise canceling headphones. There were some non-Bose headphones that came close, but Bose had always been able to keep at least one step ahead of its competitors in actively processing out the noise of the world around you -- well, until last year when Sony released their MDR-1000X. Finally. Sony. Wow. Well, Sony continues the push, having recently released the MDR-1000X's successor, the new Sony WH-1000XM2. And picking the new WH-1000XM2 as my top choice for a noise-canceling over-ear was easy, as it tops every criterion I consider -- noise-canceling ability, sound quality, comfort, technology and features. And it's not just my top choice for a noise-canceling over-ear, it's also, in my opinion, one of the most important headphones on the market right now, and I'll explain why shortly.

In terms of canceling noise, the WH-1000XM2 sets a new standard. On several long flights totaling over 100,000 miles, I’ve done head-to-head comparisons between the WH-1000XM2’s predecessor (the Sony MDR-1000X) and the Bose QuietComfort 20, Bose QuietComfort 25, QuietControl 30, and Bose QuietComfort 35, and it's clear to my ears that the Sony cuts down more airplane noise than Bose’s latest and best. I also compared the MDR-1000X and the QC35 in city environments, while walking and train-riding around downtown and, and, again, the Sony also did a better job of keeping bustling city and train noises out. The MDR-1000X also seemed to me to have broader noise attenuation than other ANC headphones, more effective at muting voices and higher frequencies than I'm used to. Again, the MDR-1000X was last year’s model, and the WH-1000XM2 offers incremental improvements that put even more distance between Sony and every other ANC headphone I’ve tried.

To help accomplish its unrivaled level of noise-canceling, Sony uses custom audio signal processing and analyzing technologies they’ve coined "SENSE ENGINE." Part of the WH-1000XM2's SENSE ENGINE implementation is something that Sony calls the “Noise Canceling Optimizer” which plays a set of tones that help SENSE ENGINE analyze the user’s physical characteristics and wearing style -- including hairstyle, whether glasses are being worn or not (which affects the seal) -- and adjusts its noise-canceling accordingly to maximize performance. A new feature that Sony added to the SENSE ENGINE with this latest model is “Atmospheric Pressure Optimizing” which is intended to deliver optimal sound at high altitude -- a feature I can't recall seeing on any other headphone (except Sony's new WI-1000X, also in this Guide).

Prior to the Sony MDR-1000X (again, the WH-1000XM2's predecessor), I'd occasionally sacrifice some noise-canceling ability for better musicality by sometimes choosing Sennheiser's MOMENTUM Wireless over Bose's headphones. With the WH-1000XM2, choosing between noise-canceling over-ear headphones is no longer necessary, as I find the WH-1000XM2 one of the best sounding Bluetooth headphones I've yet heard. The WH-1000XM2's bass is meaty and controlled, and then nicely balanced from the midband through the highs. It’s a tonal balance that plays well with both music and movies, and can be customized by the user (which I’ll cover in just a minute). If you use one of its higher-bitrate wireless options (LDAC or apt-X HD, covered below), the WH-1000XM2 resolves more detail to my ears than any other Bluetooth headphones we have here, except the Audio-Technica ATH-DSR9BT and beyerdynamic Xelento Wireless (both of which are non-ANC models). Also, even though it's obviously a closed-back headphone with good passive and active isolation, its digital signal processing seems to add some spaciousness beyond what I'd expect from a headphone that can so effectively shut-out the outside world. The WH-1000XM2 is a headphone I enjoy listening to not just for a wireless headphone, but for general listening in its active mode, wired or wireless. In its wired passive mode, the tonal balance and imaging take a noticeable hit -- it's enough to get you by when you run the battery down, but that's the only time I'd recommend using it in this mode. It's rather obvious the WH-1000XM2 was really made to be used with its electronics on (which you can also use in wired mode).

While we're on the subject of battery life, one of the improvements Sony made to the WH-1000XM2 is extending battery life to a maximum of 30 hours with ANC on (compared to 20 hours with ANC on with the MDR-1000X) and up to 38 hours with ANC off (compared to 22 hours). In other words, they took already-outstanding battery life and made it even better! They also added an emergency charge mode that will give you 70 minutes of play time with just 10 minutes of charging. In terms of battery life for this class of headphone, then, Sony sets a new standard. It'll get me around the world without worrying about charging, and that's a big deal for a travel headphone.

For wireless, the predecessor MDR-1000X was quite complete, supporting both aptX and AAC, and also Sony's wireless technology called LDAC with around three times the data throughput of standard Bluetooth. In exciting news earlier this year, it was announced that LDAC (previously only available on Sony's Walkman models and Xperia phones) would be available as part of Android 8.0 Oreo! In addition to all of that, the WH-1000XM2 adds aptX-HD to the list! To the best of my knowledge, then, Sony is the only company offering headphones that support both LDAC and aptX-HD. So if you have a current Walkman model or Xperia phone (and soon some Android phones), you can experience the highest bitrate Bluetooth currently available with LDAC. With Astell&Kern's current line of digital players and several later-model Android phones (and also now Sony's latest Walkman and Xperia models) aptX-HD is on tap.

The Sony WH-1000XM2 is also equipped with extremely useful situationally adjustable noise-canceling. Of course, there's the full-on, Personal-NC-Optimized noise-canceling that provides the most noise cancellation, but there are a few other modes. The first (and often the most handy) mode is called "Quick Attention" which is enabled by touching three fingers to the capacitive touch surface on the right earpiece. Activating Quick Attention mode quickly turns the music (or movie sound) way down and concurrently activates the outside microphones to feed ambient sounds into the headphone -- again, very helpful.

For this latest wave of wireless ANC headphones (three models, the other two being the WI-1000X and the WF-1000X), Sony created a mobile app (called "Sony Headphones Connect APP") that allows access to several new DSP features and customizations in the WH-1000XM2. Some of the new features include virtual surround modes (outdoor stages, clubs, halls, and arenas). The app also allows you to adjust imaging through something Sony calls "Sound Position Control," which allows you to choose the direction you want sound to come from. When it comes to this feature, I only use the front location on occasion for news and other content that’s mostly talking (though the other settings are fun to play with). There’s now an equalizer in the app which is very nice to have as an option, and the settings stay in the headphone until you change them or change connected devices. Most importantly for me, though, is the app-access to the ANC settings, which allow you to customize ANC to suit your needs, and to define your ambient mix settings for the headphone. I make ample use of the ambient mode with voice focus when I'm traveling, so that I can hear gate announcements at the airport, and stop announcements on the train. (You can also cycle between your ambient setting, full ANC, and ambient/ANC off using a button on the headphone.)

Another nice feature addition with the Sony WH-1000XM2 is automatically-adjusting adaptive ANC (called "Adaptive Sound Control") that detects your activity (traveling, walking, or waiting) and adjusts ambient sound settings accordingly, with customizations available in-app. The traveling mode shuts off ambient; walking mode favors a full ambient mix; and waiting has voice-focused ambient mixed in.

One thing I'm still not fond of with the WH-1000XM2 is its capacitive touch panel (on the right earpiece). While it responds quickly and consistently to the three-finger touch for Quick Attention mode, it's still not something I always get right (and I'll own up to my own ham-fisted ways, so maybe it's this particular user, too). Occasionally (and mostly while watching movies on my iPad), gesture controls on the WH-1000XM2's capacitive touch panel result in incorrect actions. The only ones I get right 100% of the time are the double-tap play/pause/answer/hang-up functions and the three-finger actuation of "Quick Attention" mode. Sometimes when I swipe to turn the volume up or down, I unintentionally change music tracks. What would I prefer? Buttons, like on the Beats Studio3 Wireless. I understand old-school buttons aren't as esoteric as a capacitive touch panel, but they work every dang time. As for other headphones with capacitive touch panels: The Sennheiser PXC550's capacitive touch controls are far more responsive, reliable, and well-executed than Sony's, in my opinion.

Also, as a wireless headset for phone calls (in terms of outgoing voice quality), I'd have to give the advantage to the Sennheiser PXC550 and the Bose QC35, based on the feedback from people I've talked to on all of them. The Sony works well enough as a headset, but the people I've spoken to with these headphones give the edge in outgoing voice clarity and overall outgoing sound quality to the Sennheiser and Bose, so this is one area this Sony isn't taking the crown. This is somewhat surprising to me given how outstanding the outgoing voice quality was with the older (and now discontinued) non-ANC Sony MDR-1RBT Bluetooth headphone.

With any headphone -- especially one you may end up wearing for hours at a stretch -- assessing comfort is a very individual thing, with our various ear sizes and shapes, and head sizes and shapes. For me, the Sony WH-1000XM2 is the most comfortable of the travel over-ears we have on hand. On a recent from Tokyo, I wore the WH-1000XM2 for the bulk of the approximately 18-hours span from my Tokyo hotel room back to my house in Metro Detroit. The only times I removed the WH-1000XM2 from my head during that time was for the occasional human interaction, and to compare it to a couple of other active noise-cancelers for this Guide. For me, hours-long comfort is what's most important -- I say this because the Bose QC35 and Sennheiser PXC550 feel initially more comfortable to me, more pillowy. After hours of use, though, both the Bose and Sennheiser, while still comfortable, cause more hotspots on/around my ears, and on the top of my head, than the Sony.

The WH-1000XM2's build quality feels excellent to me, with extensive use of metal throughout. (I've used the predecessor MDR-1000X for well over 100,000 miles of flying, and it's held up exceedingly well.) Perhaps the metal also contributes to its sturdy weight, which at around 275 grams is a bit heavier than the Sennheiser PXC550 and the Bose offerings, and about equal to the Parrot Zik 3. However, as I mentioned earlier, it's still the most comfortable of the bunch for me, so what little extra mass it's burdened with is very well distributed atop my head and ears.

The WH-1000XM2 comes with a very nice, compact, zip-up hard-side carrying case, is available in black or beige, and is priced at $349.99, down from the $399.99 they were charging for the MDR-1000X, and now exactly the same price as Bose's best, which is a great place for Sony to be with it. Sony's latest is better at noise-canceling, sounds better with music, and (on my head) is more comfortable, making it my very top pick right now for the best travel over-ear headphone.

I also think the Sony WH-1000XM2 is a very important headphone, as its noise-canceling prowess and sound quality are easy to demonstrate and easy to appreciate, so the potential for its appeal in the broader market parallels Bose. This is potentially of outsize importance, as the Sony WH-1000XM2 can be an effective gateway drug for the mass market to high-quality audio the way they’ve been wanting it —- wirelessly and with ANC —- with the very best of the current Bluetooth technologies (aptX-HD and LDAC) in one headphone.

Given that Bose's QC35 and the QC30 are still quite new, I think it'll be a while before the team from Massachusetts can reclaim the title from the team in Japan. Sony rewrote the rules and upended the order with their MDR-1000X last year, and again with the WH-1000XM2 this year.

Sony WI-1000X

If everything you just read (above) about the remarkable new Sony WH-1000XM2 intrigues you, but you need something more compact, and/or you strongly favor the in-ear form factor, then Sony has what is essentially the WH-1000XM2 in a neckband style in-ear headphone. The WI-1000X is equipped with all of the technologies that its over-ear sibling has, but in a size that will fit in even the smallest messenger bags or purses -- or even your jacket pocket.

Does it use Sony's most advanced ANC technologies? Yes, it has Sense Engine, including Adaptive Sound Control, Atmospheric Pressure Optimizing, and the variable ambient mix (including voice focus). aptX, aptX-HD, LDAC, SBC, AAC? Yes to all. Again, it's all in packed in. Does it cancel as much noise as the WH-1000XM2? No, but it also doesn't have cups that completely surround your ears. It does, however, cancel at least as much (and probably more) noise than Bose's QuietComfort 20 and QuietControl 30 in-ears. (Just make sure you have a good seal, and run the Noise Canceling Optimizer once you do.)

Also, versus the QuietComfort 20, the WI-1000X is wireless (the QuietComfort 20 is wired only). And the QuietControl 30 (also a neckband type of in-ear) does not have any means of connecting wired, which means not being able to use it with airplane entertainment systems -- the QuietControl 30 is Bluetooth only. In terms of in-ear comfort, though, the advantage goes to Bose, with Bose's super-supple shallow-insertion silicone eartips being perhaps the most comfortable IEM tips, period. That said, the WI-1000X has a more standard IEM earpiece form factor, and the variety of tips should allow most to find a comfortable fit. Even though Bose's in-ears are more comfortable, I still find the WI-1000X very comfortable, and I haven't had any issues wearing it for hours.

As a wireless headset for phone calls, the WI-1000X has a nice neckband vibration feature for incoming call alerts, and its microphone(s) for outgoing voice work quite well, with the parties on the other side of the calls telling me I sound good.

In terms of sound quality with music and movies, to my ears the WI-1000X trumps Bose's ANC in-ear offerings once again. With its high bitrate Bluetooth options and more audiophile-friendly tuning and clarity, Sony's flagship ANC in-ear sounds like a travel headphone developed by a team of music lovers and audio enthusiasts with one heck of an R&D lab -- because it was. By default it has a tastefully executed bass-emphasized signature, but there is an equalizer option available in the mobile app that lets you customize its signature.

In terms of ANC headphones, this is just Sony's year, with our friends from Tokyo finally catching Bose on its back foot, and stealing the Massachusettsan's lunch money. I imagine it's just a matter of time before Bose hits back with a fusillade of its own, but I think it may be a while given the product cycles of both companies.

Once again, Sony, kudos to your team for setting new standards in ANC headphones.

Bose Quiet Comfort 25 and Quiet Comfort 35
By Jude Mansilla

I've decided to group these two Bose headphones together, as I find their performance, in terms of sound quality and noise canceling ability, to be somewhat similar. While there are other minor differences, the obvious differentiator between the two is that the QuietComfort 25 is a wired-only headphone, whereas the QuietComfort 35 is essentially a Bluetooth wireless version of the former. The QC35 has received some nice refinements where sound quality is concerned, which I'll get to in a minute.

Despite the Sony MDR-1000X's (see above) emergence to take our top pick for best travel headphone, there are still occasions I'd recommend these Bose headphones over the Sony. First of all, there's price, with the Sony, Parrot Zik 3 (see below) and Sennheiser PXC550 (see below) being priced $50 more than the QC35 and $100 more than the QC25. Secondly, there's simplicity, and this is a crucial point for some customers. Some people do not want to mess with a plethora of settings and tweaks, which the Sony and Parrot are loaded with, and the new Sennheiser is virtually overwhelmed with. There a lot of people who just want to think about nothing more than simply turning the headphone on, and to not be burdened by a variety of buttons, ANC modes, DSP settings, companion apps (which the Bose QC35 does have, but isn't necessary for its use), etc. For people like this, the Bose QC25 and QC35 remain the best choice for travel over-ears.

Outside of the Sony, Bose's ANC is still a cut above the rest of the field, too. Also, both the QC25 and QC35 are at or near the top of the heap in terms of battery life, with up to 35 hours from a single AAA battery for the QC25, and up to 20 hours per charge from the QC35's built-in rechargeable battery. The QC35 also has a last-ditch 15-minute charge mode that buys you 2.5 hours of listening time, which comes in handy if you happen to run its battery down but still have more listening to squeeze in. Build quality for both is solid. While neither feels as substantial as the Sony, they seem to be as well built, with the QuietComfort 25 having accompanied me on hundreds of thousands of miles of travel without any malfunctions or problems (and I most certainly do not baby my gear--I would never buy used gear from me).

Though I find both the QC25 and QC35 to sound rather similar overall, the QC35 has received some welcome refinements in sound quality versus its wired sibling. First of all, bass performance has been improved, with better extension and solidity. In direct comparisons, I find the QC35 to be smoother and more polished through the midrange and treble than the QC25, too. Also, the passive mode on the QC35 is another area where improvements in sound quality have been achieved versus its predecessor. Frankly, the only reason I'd recommend going with the QC25 versus the QC35 is if the $50 price difference is make-or-break for you, if you absolutely require maximum battery life, or if you have a strong preference for the QC25's use of an easily available and replaceable AAA battery, versus the built-in lithium-ion battery in the QC35.

Versus the Sennheiser PXC550 or Parrot Zik 3 in their bone-stock settings, I tend to prefer the sound of the QC35--however, the Sennheiser and Parrot offer so much customizability and equalization that I can adjust them to suit my sonic preferences to a greater degree than the QC35 (or QC25) can achieve for me personally. And, again, for my tastes, the Sony MDR-1000X trumps them all, in terms of its sound with music and movies, and also in terms of the amount of ambient noise canceled.

In terms of comfort, the QC35 has slightly roomier ear cups than the QC25, and so is a bit more comfortable. I also give it the edge in comfort over the Sennheiser; and it's far more comfortable than the Parrot. However, the Sony--for long-haul, multi-hour flights--is more comfortable over my ears and head than even the QC35.

While challengers to their ANC and travel headphone supremacy are banging on their doors, Bose's ANC travel headphone offerings are still among the very best on the market, especially their latest QuietComfort 35, with its sonic refinements and wireless capability. If not for the Sony MDR-1000X, the Bose Quiet Comfort 35 would be my top travel headphone recommendation.

Sony WF-1000X
Photo: Brian Murphy / Head-Fi.org
By Jude Mansilla

The truly wireless earphone form factor is growing in popularity, no doubt the biggest push coming from Apple's AirPod wireless earbuds (which I can't get to fit me, but that Joe can, so he's reviewing the AirPods for this Guide). The truly wireless earphone is a form factor that practically begs for compromises -- compromised sound quality (which several I've tried have had); compromised range (not much antenna room, and essentially placed in your body); compromised battery life (not a lot of room to shoehorn much of a battery inside); and sometimes challenges coordinating the wireless connection of the earpieces to each other.

I believe the WF-1000X is Sony's first truly wireless earphone, and it's a wonderful debut, with Sony addressing some key trade-offs I've come to expect from truly wireless earphones on their very first try. I've used the WF-1000X with both an iPhone 7 Plus and a LG V20, and the wireless range I get is easily better than most of the other truly wireless earphones I've used. Our office is about 1400 square feet, and even with my phone at the opposite end of the office the WF-1000X's connection holds firm (both with the iPhone and the V20). I've noticed some comments on the forums from WF-1000X users who've had some right-side dropouts -- thankfully this is something I have not yet experienced.

In terms of battery life, the Sony WF-1000X isn't setting any standards, rated for only up to three hours of music playback from a full charge -- this isn't impressive, but, for my day-to-day use, it'll do most of the time. The very cleverly designed and well made carrying case also serves as a charger, and its fully charged battery can charge the earphones twice, for a total of nine hours of listening time. When you do run the battery down, a 15 minutes charge is good for an additional 75 minutes of listening time, which is a nice emergency option.

As a Bluetooth headset for phone calling, the WF-1000X is okay. It'll get you by, but it goes into left-ear-only mode with me when I'm on a phone call with it, and the people I've talked to tell me it sounds just so-so on the other end -- that it's a bit room-echoey.

Even though the WF-1000X isn't nearly as custom-technology-packed as Sony's other latest-generation wireless models (the WH-1000XM2 and WI-1000X), it does have pretty capable digital active noise cancelling (ANC). Additionally the WF-1000X's ANC can be configured (via use of a mobile app that's available for both Android and iOS) for what Sony Calls Adaptive Sound Control that automatically adjusts the amount of ambient sound allowed into your mix. Again, its noise canceling is effective, but definitely not as trick as the ANC system used in the WH-1000XM2 and WI-1000X.

And even though the WF-1000X doesn't support aptX, aptX-HD, or LDAC like its two latest-gen wireless siblings, it does have the best sound quality I've yet heard from a truly wireless earphone, and supports SBC and AAC. All three of us at the Detroit office were very surprised by the WF-1000X's sonic performance, with its surprisingly rich tone, impactful bass, and very good resolution for its class. For me, its sound quality is its biggest strength, and that's why the Sony WF-1000X is with me just about everywhere I go since its arrival.

Once you've used a truly wireless earphone, you'll find the freedom addicting. For Joe, it's the Apple AirPod. For me, it's the Sony WF-1000X.

Bose QuietComfort 20
By Jude Mansilla

The Bose QuietComfort 20 isn't a Summit-Fi product. It's not the most resolving in-ear I've ever heard--not by a long shot. The QuietComfort 20 (also called the QC20) is not about transparency, speed, timbral accuracy, spatial presentation, and all that other stuff we're usually looking for. No, the Bose QC20 is about peace. It's about creating a cocoon of relative tranquility for you on even the loudest buses, trains and airplanes you're likely to board (unless you're a biplane pilot). Sometimes a product comes along that is so good at what it does--so obviously the product of a tremendous amount of experience and R&D--that you can't help but marvel at the result. The Bose QC20 is one of those products.

In terms of sound quality, it's not difficult (especially for a seasoned Head-Fi'er) to find another headphone that has higher fidelity; but if that headphone is not stamping out the noise around you when listening in noisy environments, all that fidelity's not going to mean much then. So the louder the environment you're in, the more the QC20 shines. On planes and trains, it has become my favorite headphone,by far, making listening to music in the clamor of your commute at reasonable volumes doable; and making dialog in movies easier to understand.

In quiet environments, the QC20 still sounds good, with a safe tuning that doesn't strike me as overemphasized anywhere; but, again, it won't win any awards for its resolving power. In other words, when it's quiet, the Bose QC20 is merely...good. When it's loud out there, though, the Bose QC20 pretty much trumps all current challengers I've tried.

The Bose QC20 also has another important distinction with me: it's the most comfortable in-ear headphone I've got, as it doesn't really gointhe ear, as much as it covers the canal with its super soft silicone bowl eartips. I can wear them all the way to Tokyo with little to no discomfort.

The noise canceling and comfort make you want to keep the Bose QC20 in your ears, and a very cool feature called "Aware Mode" makes that easier. When Aware Mode is activated (with the press of a button), you will hear select sounds from your surrounding environment (fed to you by microphones in the QC20) while still reducing some of the background noise. When I hear an announcement, or when someone is talking to me, I press the button, and the world around me pierces the cone of silence.

The Bose QC20 has a built-in rechargeable battery providing around 16 hours of listening time on a full charge. It has gotten me through 13-hour flights without quitting, including airport time at either end. When the battery does die, the QC20 can be used in passive mode, so the music doesn't have to stop when the battery does. It comes with a few different sets of eartips for a more tailored fit, and a nice, compact carrying case.

When it comes to a headphone for frequent travelers, there's simply no other headphone I recommend right now more than the Bose QC20.

NOTE: There is a version called the Bose QC20i, which includes a three-button iOS-compatible inline remote/mic, which is the version I use.

Sennheiser MOMENTUM Wireless
By Jude Mansilla

The Sennheiser MOMENTUM Wireless Over-Ear remains one of my top choices for wireless Bluetooth headphones, as it still represents a combination of so many of the features and traits I seek that so many other wireless headphones miss. That said, the Bluetooth headphones segment also happens to be one of the most heavily invested-in, most dynamic categories in the industry, so the most recent crop of premium headphones in the category have given the MOMENTUM Wireless formidable competitors (even from within its own Sennheiser family). Even still, the MOMENTUM Wireless stacks up very nicely.

With the MOMENTUM Wireless, Sennheiser seems to have assessed many of the gaps left by the competition, and filled them. It is still among the best in build quality of all Bluetooth headphones I've tried, with its ample use of stitched high-grade leather and the wonderful brushed stainless steel carried over from the first MOMENTUM. The fit and finish is simply superb (as would be expected for its highest-in-class price). Also, though it's not immediately evident when you see it, the MOMENTUM Wireless has hidden hinges that allow it to fold without sacrificing the MOMENTUM aesthetic, making it much more compact for carrying.

The second-generation over-ear MOMENTUMs (including this wireless one) also have substantially larger earcups than the first-gen over-ear model. While most seemed to find the first-gen MOMENTUM Over-Ear models comfortable, I think all will agree the larger cups and larger super-plush earpads only make this latest generation substantially more comfortable.

In terms of battery life, the MOMENTUM Wireless is outstanding. Its battery is rated to provide a very generous 22 hours of use in wireless mode, which puts it in the upper range of headphones of this type, and enough that I've not yet run it down completely in normal use. For me, long battery life is critically important, especially for a headphone to be suited for travel, and this headphone meets or exceeds my expectations here. It also charges rather quickly, taking only three hours to top off.

The MOMENTUM Wireless' outgoing voice quality is excellent, too, which is important for someone who's on the phone a lot (which I am). In direct comparisons, I've found it's among the best for this, the equal to its PXC550 sibling and the Bose QC35, and a step above Sony's MDR-1000X. Like the others, it doesn't do much (if anything) to actively cancel noise on outgoing voice, but the clarity of its dual-omni beamforming mic array is very good. Perhaps I'm nitpicking, but as good as its outgoing voice quality is, knowing what Sennheiser is capable of with noise-canceling on outgoing voice as evidenced by their PRESENCE earpiece--which is still, over three years after its launch, the best Bluetooth earpiece I've used--I do wish they'd incorporated all of the PRESENCE's technologies into the MOMENTUM Wireless.

The MOMENTUM Wireless also has active noise-canceling, using something Sennheiser calls hybrid active NoiseGuard. What I find very nice about this headphone's noise canceling circuit is that it is effective at blunting travel noise, yet isn't invasive. (This is no doubt helped by the MOMENTUM Wireless' very good passive noise attenuation.) No, it isn't the crazy noise barriers that are the Sony MDR-1000X's or Bose QC35's circuits, but it does enough to be an effective travel headphone--and it sounds substantially better for music than the Bose. Compared to the Beats Studio Wireless (possibly the most popular >$300 wireless headphone), the MOMENTUM's noise canceling circuit is more effective, but with substantially lower self-noise--and the MOMENTUM also sounds heaps better than the Beats Studio Wireless. Also, compared to most noise cancelers, the MOMENTUM Wireless seems less likely to bother those sensitive to the feeling of pressure that some noise canceling circuits present.

In addition to canceling noise, the MOMENTUM Wireless' version of Sennheiser's NoiseGard also has a sound sculpting effect that I actually like a lot. The bass seems to tighten up nicely when it's on, and the sense of enhanced clarity it imparts overall is very nicely executed. I also prefer the MOMENTUM Wireless' imaging with the circuit on--it's more spacious and airy, and I imagine that's owing to careful application of DSP. I suspect a lot of subjective listening tests and engineering at Sennheiser's HQ were generously employed in crafting this headphone's performance when the active circuit is employed. Simply put, I think most who compare the two modes will prefer the MOMENTUM when it's turned on.

On balance, the Sennheiser MOMENTUM Wireless is still one of the best headphones of its type on the market. It provides the freedom of wireless and long battery life. It allows me to take and make phone calls with excellent outgoing voice quality. It provides very good active noise cancellation. It is comfortable. It is relatively compact. It is a gorgeous headphone, with build quality to match.

All of this excellence comes at a steep price, though, with the Sennheiser MOMENTUM Wireless Over-Ear priced at $499.95. This (along with the similarly priced Bang & Olufsen H8 that I haven't yet heard) is among the most expensive in this class of headphones.


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