By Josh Emmons
Sennheiser‘s HD 600s have been nothing short of a gateway drug for me. They have lifted me up from my prosperous, uncomplicated life of plugging earbuds directly into laptop phono ports, and now — one year, a DAC, two amps, and three headphones later — have deposited me here, on the shores of AXPONA 2015.
So it is no accident that Sennheiser’s is the first table I visit in the Ear Gear Expo. I’m greeted by a full complement of second-generation Momentum headphones arranged across the table like so many ivory-colored shells left by the receding tide. While beyond, just over the horizon, I glimpse the HDs, gray sentinels standing watch over the high-end.
I can never quite make up my mind about the Momentum line. On one hand, they have very elegant touches like detachable cables, leather embellishments, and luxurious-feeling pads. On the other, that thin metal headband feels more “late 80s hair accessory” than “high-end audio”.
The second generation addresses at least part of this complaint by making the headband hinged. This not only makes the Momentum line more portable, but also gives the band a slightly more “designed” feel that softens its cheapness.
The M2 over-ears sound fun and punchy. Their profile is distinctly V-shaped, but nowhere near the extremes of the Beats headphones they hope to compete with. Their cups are slightly small for my taste, but the whole rig is so incredibly (again, almost shoddily) light, I don’t see comfort being a problem.
The M2 On-Ear, on the other hand, exhibits everything I dislike about on-ears. They’re small, tight, uncomfortable, and tinny-sounding. I hope people who buy on-ears do it because they actively enjoy the form factor, and not to save money. Because personally? I’m hard pressed to think of another class of product where an additional $100 buys you so much more bang for your buck.
The real surprise of the table for me is the Momentum Wireless. This is an active noise canceling bluetooth headset — wait, where are you going?
I usually have much the same reaction and am shocked to say Sennheizer’s ANC technology sounds good. Great, even, with none of the muffled bass I’m used to hearing with ANC. And while bluetooth is always a finicky mistress, I find pairing the Momentum to my iPhone 6 a breeze.
But what about support for the bleeding edge, like the Apple Watch? Not only is pairing effortless, the bluetooth lag I so often experience when using wireless headphones is incredibly small — perhaps even small enough to enjoy video by (depending on your tolerances for watching video on your wrist).
The Momentum Wireless packs a 22 hour battery in its small, M2-like frame that can be charged via USB in around 3 hours. It has the same hinged-headband design as its M2 sibling, and is of roughly equal weight. Given its performance (and the new use cases offered up by bluetooth-enabled wearables), I’m strongly considering the Wireless as my next headphone purchase.
The HDs 600, 650, 700, and 800
Before I leave I want to say hello to my old friend the HD 600 and hear firsthand how it stacks up against its high-end cousins. The 650. The 700. The 800! Mythical beasts that heretofore I’ve only glimpsed in the slick, glossy print of promotional material.
I’m happy to say it comports itself quite well in this company. The 650’s porridge is too wooly. The 700’s too grating. The 600, to my ears, is still just right. Smooth, balanced, maybe a tad too forgiving in places, but all in the service of an effortless listening experience I can sink into for hours at a time.
Then the 800. Oh, the 800. The very helpful Sennheiser rep at the table explains to me that each new model, as I ascend the numerical HD ladder, brings with it more clarity and accuracy than the one before. So I’ve been told. But the 800 is the first to make me believe it.
Sennheizer’s HD 800 sounds flat-out amazing through the HDVD 800 solid-state DAC/amp provided for my listening pleasure. I’m finding details buried in familiar tunes, to be sure. But more impressive is the sense of space the 800 is able to impart.
Impressive, yes — but not, perhaps, unexpected. The cups on the 800 are downright cavernous. The sense is not so much one of wearing headphones as it is of etherial loudspeakers magically floating off to either side of one’s head. I’m reminded of my first experience with open-backed cans (“Are these really plugged in, or am I blasting the room with my laptop?”) multiplied by 10.
But I wouldn’t quite call the overall experience comfortable. To be sure, hunched over here at a noisy table in the Ear Gear hall isn’t what one might call “ideal listening conditions”. Even so, I wouldn’t say the details exposed by the 800 are always “musical”, per se. And between its wide soundstage and the way its vast cups grip my jaw and cheekbones instead of locales more immediately in the vicinity of my ear, it never really feels stable or solid on my head.
The long and the short of it? The remarkable, affordable HD 600 will continue to dominate my recreational listening routine. But should I ever find myself with the need (and the means) for a first class set of reference cans, Sennheizer’s HD 800 is the new top of my list.
- Momentum M2OE: $229.95
- Momentum M2: $349.95
- Momentum Wireless: $499.95
- HD 600: $399.95 MSRP
- HD 650: $499.95 MSRP
- HD 700: $749.95
- HD 800: $1599.95
- HDVD 800: $2199.95