The last six weeks have not been easy for people who, like me, were used to working in silence. Since mid-March, I've been home with my wife and 20-month-old daughter trying to eke out a few hours of uninterrupted work a day, and the truth is that it's not easy. I know this, you know this.
That's why noise-cancelling headphones, a category of product I used to wear mainly out of the house, have become my secret weapon for fighting distraction. And Sennheiser, a company that is known better for its fidelity than its technology, has risen to the occasion.
Before the pandemic, I was reviewing the Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless headphones; now I'm using them, and the distinction is important. They went from being a product I'm evaluating to a tool I'm counting on to get work done (yes, I have other options, but indulge me this point). And that means connecting them to phones and laptops alike, wearing them sometimes for eight to 10 hours at a time, and treating them with perhaps less cordiality than I otherwise would.
And they've held up — well, in fact. But I'm also the proud owner of two other pairs of headphones that many people looking into buying these may consider first: the Bose NC 700 and the Sony WH-1000XM3. Here's what I'll say up-front: these sound better in most situations, with a wider soundstage, deep but not boomy bass, a pleasantly recessed midrange, and highs that are as smooth as a baby's bottom (having a toddler will do that to your similes).
Now down to $349 at most retailers from its original price of $399, they're also much better value than they were when they debuted last September.
At a glance
Bottom line: The Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless combine a classic design with some of the best sound you'll find in the over-the-ear Bluetooth headphone space. Sennheiser has finally overcome its awkward transition from an analog headphone company into a digital one, and the Momentum 3 competes on the same level as the best from Sony and Bose.
- Really nice, balanced sound
- Effective but not overbearing ANC
- Good codec options
- Folds up small for easy storage and travel
- Can connect to two devices at once
- Some occasional connectivity problems
- ANC not as good as latest from Bose or Sony
Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless Review
The first pair of high-quality headphones I bought, all the way back in 2002, was from Sennheiser, and since then I've spent in the neighborhood of $5000 on hi-fi headphones from the company, including most recently a pair of slightly modified HD600s from the heralded modding group, Drop (formerly Massdrop). I used to spend an equal amount on headphone amplifiers and other accoutrements, too, but like many people in my situation, I traded efficacy for convenience in the transition to Bluetooth.
Like many headphone companies, Sennheiser had an awkward transition to Bluetooth, but it's come out nicely on the other side.
I feel like Sennheiser went through a similarly wrenching shift, being forced by tech companies to acknowledge that if it wanted to maintain its brand in the 2010s it needed to embrace the limitations of Bluetooth. And the Momentum 3 Wireless represent the best the company has done to date at finding that balance.
It starts with an attractive retro design that feels very in-line with Sennheiser's recent attempts at bridging the generations of its wireless headphones. A comfortable headband, covered in premium leather, meets an exposed metal frame that holds the oversized ear cups in place. The pads fit easily over my ears and despite hours of listening have yet to feel fatiguing — I can't say the same about the headband, though, which pinches after a couple of hours.
I love the metal railing and overall retro styling of these over Sony's utiliarian-looking WH-1000XM3s.
The Momentum 3 Wireless also have a trick up their sleeve: hinges on the frame that allow the cups to fold into a relatively travel-friendly orientation, the process of which also turns the headphones on and off. It's not the most elegant solution, since there's no auto-off when you inevitably leave the headphones open after using them, thus killing the battery before you mean to, but if you remember to do it, it's fine.
I far prefer the look of these to any recently-released ANC headphones, including the Bose NC 700 and the Sony WH-1000XM3, both of which steal much-needed market awareness away from cans like these. And that's a problem, because pound for pound, these perform just as well in almost every category.
Actually, that's not quite true: the active noise cancellation isn't as effective, or as customizable, as those two headphones. But it's good, cutting out a considerable amount of the low-end hum that makes up the externalities of modern life — plane motors, bus wheel turns, and the low drum of coffee shop conversation. At home during quarantine, it's also been effective at keeping me on-task while my daughter runs around causing trouble.
The headphones themselves also sport an array of physical buttons — one for pairing, two for volume, a multi-function key for play/pause/accept call, and a switch for enabling noise cancelation or transparency mode — which can be overwhelming if you're trying to find the right one while wearing them, but convenient once you learn them. I'm a big fan of physical buttons on headphones, as I find gestures largely unreliable, even on large surfaces like the Sony WH-1000XM3.
There's also a USB-C port for charging which, while status quo, is appreciated coming from previous Sennheiser headphones, and the battery consistently lasted around 20 hours before needing to be recharged during my testing, which is more than enough for most use cases. As I said earlier, though, just try to remember to fold them up or you may wake up with a dead battery.
Sennheiser has also made massive improvements to its actual connectivity bona fides over the past couple of generations. For starters, these support Qualcomm's aptX and aptX LL codecs, which improves sound quality and reliability on most Android phones, and there's AAC support for iOS and macOS, which is all you really need.
This isn't the best active noise cancelation you'll find on a pair of Bluetooth headphones, but the superior sound quality makes up for it.
I had absolutely no issues maintaining a connection to whatever device I used, and the Momentums performed brilliantly in my extreme range tests, where I kept them connected to my MacBook Pro and walked downstairs into the kitchen around 35-40 feet away. Most headphones don't make it to the fridge, which is in the corner, but these did, only cutting out at the very edge of the room. Impressive.
Also impressive is how far Sennheiser has come in terms of its app. While the Smart Control app for iOS and Android is basic, it at least makes it easy to alter the few user-configurable settings, from ANC strength to the built-in equalizer. I never felt the need to play with these — the defaults have proven fine — but I'm glad they're there for people who want them.
A quick note on the two additional ANC settings, Anti-Wind and Anti-Pressure: they don't seem to do much, and in spite of their situational-specific claims, I found the default noise canceling to work much better for both wind and pressure moderation. Your ears may vary.
As good as the auxiliary features are, though, the reason I've been wearing these over the Bose or Sony equivalents is sound quality. They sound fantastic, with a perfect balance between thumpy, delicate bass, warm and pleasant mids, and non-fatiguing highs. And while you can definitely equalize these headphones to make them sound less bassy or a bit more forward, you really don't need to.
Everything isn't perfect, however, in the land of Momentum. The cans can theoretically connect to two devices at once, but I found the operation in practice to be extremely unreliable, especially when one of those products is a laptop. I regularly had the Momentums connected to both my laptop and an Android phone, and all would be fine for a while until something would cause it to disconnect from my MacBook Pro, sending the headphones into a pairing loop that would only be resolved by me turning them off entirely and reconnecting to the two sources. I was able to reproduce this on different laptops and phones, and reached out to Sennheiser for advice and was assured it was just my pair. Nonetheless, a warning for anyone who plans on using these with multiple sources.
The good news is that in addition to excellent sound quality, the Momentum 3 Wireless headphones nail the fundamentals like call quality, battery life, and portability.
OK back to the good stuff as we round things out. There's a soft mesh case included with the headphones, and in them is a 3.5mm remote that can be used to plug them in when wireless just isn't an option — say on a plane (remember those?). And while there's no in-line microphone on the wire, the mics inside the headphone pick up your voice well enough to continue a conversation, and do a very good job cutting out street noise for the person on the other side of the call. It's definitely not the best microphone I've heard — Bose and Jabra get the nod here for the NC700 and Elite 85h, respectively — but it's not far behind.
Finally, if you somehow misplace these headphones — or at least think you have — there's integrated Tile support, so you can register with the app and use the headphones' Bluetooth connection to find them. I doubt it'll be the most-used feature of the product, but if you leave them on a plane or bus there's a better chance of getting them back with Tile than without it.
So here's the tough part: at $350, these are a much better deal than they were when they debuted last September at $400, but in reality all the reduction means is that they're right up against the Sony WH-1000XM3 and other high-end ANC headphones. And the ANC here isn't as good as the Sony's, or the Bose NC700's, for that matter.
Now some people prefer the sound profile of the Bower & Wilkins PX7, which were introduced around the same time as these last year, or the lightweight comfort of the Bose NC700. Jabra does phone calls better than any of them with the Elite 85h and, at $200, it's at least $150 cheaper than all of the above.
There are a lot of headphones in this space, including those from Sennheiser, which also makes a pretty good Momentum 3 competitor in the PXC550 II, which has better battery life and better comfort but lacks the high-quality drivers that make these sing.
So yes, while Bluetooth itself may be the bottleneck here, if you're looking for audio quality in the over-ear ANC wireless headphone space, you're not going to do much better than the Momentum 3 Wireless 3 right now.
Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless Should you buy them?
There's nothing I like better than being able to make an unwavering recommendation for a product, especially one that I've used so consistently for so long.
And the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 3 is a great product. It doesn't outclass every one of its competitors, but it nails the core of what a pair of ANC headphones must offer.
Heis and lows
The Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless combine a classic design with some of the best sound you'll find in the over-the-ear Bluetooth headphone space. Sennheiser has finally overcome its awkward transition from an analog headphone company into a digital one, and the Momentum 3 competes on the same level as the best from Sony and Bose.
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