The Sennheiser Momentum 4: An updated design and improved noise cancellation for the luxury wireless Bluetooth headphone | CNN Underscored

The Momentum 4, the latest version of the Sennheiser Momentum introduced a decade ago, back at the dawn of luxury wireless headphone design, drop their predecessors’ retro ear cups and stainless steel band in favor of a sleek, modern package more in line with its flagship Bluetooth noise-canceling competition.

The Momentum 4 are a serious contender if you’re looking for a do-it-all over-ear wireless headphone. They deliver the great sound Sennheiser is known for, and while their updated look and feel makes it more difficult to distinguish from the competition, their solid across-the-board performance at a price that’s a bit more friendly than the high-end competition makes it worth consideration for discerning listeners who want something full-featured that they won’t have to fuss with much to get good performance.

An updated Bluetooth noise-canceling flagship from the veteran headphone brand

The updated Sennheiser Momentum 4 drop the retro styling of their predecessors for a more vanilla look, but improved ANC, a solid app and great sound make them a compelling choice for headphone aficionados.

The most important thing to know about the new Sennheiser Momentum 4 is that they sound fantastic right out of the box. With a lengthy tradition of headphone design, Sennheiser has been responsible for some of the most loved professional and consumer headphones, and that shows here in the Momentum 4’s careful voicing. Regardless of what material we chose to listen to, we encountered balanced, pleasing performance, with controlled low end and plenty of detail in the mids.

The three-band EQ is effective, and you get a bunch of useful presets tailored to various musical genres. You can also sign up for Sennheiser’s “Sound check” service, which automatically applies presets based on what you’re listening to. We don’t think most people are likely to want this level of optimization for everyday listening, however, and those who want to ride the EQ track by track will probably be inclined to DIY, but it’s a neat option. You don’t get the level of granular control the Sony or Technics apps deliver, or Sony- or Apple-style spatialization and personalization features, but all of the necessary functions are there.

The title track to Soundgarden’s “Superunknown” — balancing Chris Cornell’s soaring vocals, Kim Thayil’s grinding medium-gain guitars and the dominating rhythm section of Matt Cameron and Ben Shepherd, plus a bunch of stereo placement trickery — can sound cluttered on lesser headphones, but even flat it was an enjoyable listen here, with everything in its right place and reproduced with correct tone and texture. Dropping 1.5 to 2 decibels in the EQ’s lowest band tamed lows a bit, but that’s solely a matter of taste.

Acoustic music was equally well reproduced. We checked out Gil Evans’ classic big-band take on Kurt Weill’s “Bilbao Song” from “Out of the Cool,” and even without any EQ applied the Momentum 4 do a great job reproducing Evans’ elegant orchestration, from Ron Carter’s deep bass to Ray Crawford’s proto-skronk guitar.

A shot of the lower surface of the Sennheiser Momentum 4 headphones, showing the connections on the bottom of the earcups.

Call quality is solid, and a nifty “Sidetone” function pipes an adjustable amount of your own voice back into the headset while you’re on calls — if you’re the sort of person who’s a little weirded out by the sound of your own voice, this creates a more natural sound.

Active noise cancellation (ANC) — which wasn’t the strongest suit of the earlier Momentum models — is improved here, and on par with the majority of the competition, though it wasn’t as effective as the leading Bose 700 or the Apple AirPods Max in reducing noise from our air conditioning and kitchen hood exhaust fans. Cancellation actually brought these sorts of steady-state noises to a lower subjective level than the Sony XM5, but the results were a bit less natural-sounding, so they may not be the best choice for using on their own to block out background noise without music or other audio playing. With music playing, all of these headphones reduce background noise to a barely perceptible level unless you’re doing really critical listening, which you wouldn’t be using noise-canceling headphones for in any case.

That said, enabling ANC on the Momentum 4 is pleasantly noninteractive with EQ, so it doesn’t have that much effect on the tonal characteristics of what you’re listening to. You can balance ANC with transparency via a crossfader, or switch on “adaptive” mode, which chooses for you based on microphone input.

If that’s not enough automation for you, “Sound zones” let you use geofencing to change the behavior of the headphones depending on where you are; you can, say, have the headphones automatically enable transparency mode at home and noise cancellation when you’re at the office — though these modes are interesting, their actual utility is a little vague and we preferred just adjusting to our taste on the fly via the app’s controls. It’s meant to provide something along the lines of Sony’s Adaptive Sound Control, though you get more of a say in how it adjusts this way at the expense of some advance planning.

For travel purposes (or if you prefer a hardwired connection), a 2.5mm-to-3.5mm cord is included, along with a two-prong airline adapter. The Momentum 4 work wired without being powered up, which is great if you run out of battery or just want to preserve it if you’re using a legacy device as a source. Inserting the cable even puts the headphones into flight mode and turns Bluetooth off, which is a nice touch for avoiding confusion or ending up on a flight attendant’s bad side.

Like the Technics EAH-A800, these undercut the Sony XM5 (somewhat) and Apple AirPods Max (significantly) on price; it’s a positive trend in our opinion to see the audio specialist brands bringing the pricing down on these feature-packed headphones, even if these newer models don’t quite match the bigger technology firms’ offering on some technical counts, and we hope to see a little more downward pressure on price.

A pair of Sennheiser Momentum 4 headphones on a wooden countertop, showing details of the ear cup interiors and exteriors.

The older Momentum models had a distinct retro look, with a stainless band, leather ear cups, and a bit of a Radar O’Reilly aesthetic. That’s been dropped with the new model in favor of a design that closely resembles the latest models from Sony, Bose and Jabra, with lots of black plastic surfaces and minimalist design cues.

As with those other minimalist headphones, you won’t find much in the way of physical controls on the Momentum 4: A single multipurpose button powers the headphones on, gives you access to voice assistants, provides system information and initiates and manages pairing. Everything else is accomplished via touch controls on both ear cups.

While this sort of arrangement is popular nowadays and we understand its appeal (there’s less to break, functions are upgradeable and touch panels make for a sleek look), this isn’t our favorite arrangement. First off, we really prefer at least a physical volume control for emergency situations — the digital crown on the AirPods Max or buttons on the Bose QC 45 are just so much more intuitive to grab when you’ve switched from listening to speakers without adjusting your computer’s volume controls, or you stumble across a track that’s been mastered far too hot.

While you eventually get accustomed to the locations of different functions, without taking a look it can be hard to find exactly what you want without some practice and easy to accidentally trigger something you don’t want while adjusting fit or putting the headphones on or taking them off. The touch surfaces are also slower to respond to input than physical buttons, and many functions require multiple presses.

The Sennheiser Smart Control app is nicely laid out, but you won’t get as granular control over the sound and performance characteristics as you will from the Technics EAH-A800 (that said, the Momentum 4 sound better out of the box than the EAH-A800, and we imagine many users won’t mind the limited EQ on offer here). Also, a few of the more interesting options are only accessible if you’re logged into a Sennheiser account, which not everyone may want.

With the Momentum 4, Sennheiser has reentered the wireless flagship headphone competition — which the company pioneered with the original Momentum — in a big way, and the brand has succeeded on most counts. While we miss the earlier Momentum’s signature design and think most listeners will be better served with the better ANC available from Sony or Bose or the convenience and stronger interface design of the Apple AirPods Max, the Sennheiser Momentum 4 are a strong overall competitor in the ever-more-crowded Bluetooth flagship headphone arena, and provide great sound without any tinkering required.

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