I wonder what air travel will be like in the future. Prior to COVID-19, I often found myself on a Southwest plane flying up and down California for work, with the occasional trip back east. Regardless of my destination or reason for travel, headphones were part of my packing list. If space was at a premium, I sometimes opted for earphones, but if at all possible, I selected a pair of noise-cancelling over-ear cans. The two pairs I found myself using the most often were the Bose QC-35 II (reviewed here) and Sennheiser HD1 (reviewed here). When I learned that Sennheiser was releasing the Momentum 3 Wireless, the successor to the HD1 (I know, ignore the incongruities in the naming protocols), I was eager to try them on some business trips. While the business trips are on hold, I was still able to give the Momentum 3 Wireless ($399), M3W for short, a thorough testing, just not in the friendly skies.
Opening the box, I was met with an attractive gray cloth case that reminded me of an old-fashioned hatbox, but with soft sides and firmer top and bottom panels. Opening the case, I was stuck by how much the M3W looks like a slightly larger version of the HD1. Lifting the M3Ws from the box, the build quality was immediately evident. The metal headband has a nice matte finish where is it is not covered by well-padded genuine leather. My review sample had black leather over the headband and the memory foam on the inside of the ear cups, and a matte black finish on the plastic outer panel of the ear cups. The other available color option is white with light gray leather trim. No matter which finish option you select, there are a few common accessories in the case: a 3.5mm audio cable, USB-C cable, USB-C to USB-A adapter, and instruction documents.
The closed-back ear cups are bigger and deeper than the HD1 and provide plenty of room to for the 42-millimeter drivers. The headband has more padding and omits the center slot. The button layout on the right ear cup is similar, but with rubberized soft touch buttons and USB-C replacing the micro USB power port. The power button has been omitted, as the M3W automatically turns on when unfolded and off again when you fold them.
One new feature that I thought might come in handy was built-in Tile capabilities to help you find the headphones if they are misplaced. However, being stuck in the house, they are always in one of two spots.
I already had the Sennheiser Smart Control app on my iPhone, making Bluetooth pairing a snap. The M3Ws are also NFC capable if you have a NFC enabled device. The Smart Control app allows the listener to select one of three levels of Active Noise Cancelling: Anti-pressure (low), Anti-Wind, and Max. The app also allows you to activate "Transparent Hearing" and adjust the equalizer or simply defeat it. Lastly, the app can be used to set up the voice assistant button to work with Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri.
The Momentum 3 Wireless features Bluetooth 5.0 (up from 4.0) and supports SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX LL (low Latency), as well as multi-point connectivity, which really came in handy while working from home. For those of you not familiar with multi-point connectivity, this allows multiple connections at the same time. For example, I was able to listen to music streaming from my laptop but switch to my phone to answer calls. Last, but definitely not least, Sennheiser claims 17 hours of battery life with ANC enabled when listening at moderate volumes.
The ear cups slide up and down, making them easy to adjust for a good fit. The padding and design made for good even pressure around my ear, providing a secure fit without being uncomfortable even while wearing glasses. My only comfort-related gripe is a result of my big head. As with many other headphones I needed to adjust the curvature of the headband a bit. Once this was done, long listening sessions were very comfortable.
Listening to "Deeper" by Pete Belasco (Tidal, Compendia Music Group) the bass notes were full, deep, and well defined. They seemed to be slightly boosted but not bloated. Belasco's vocals and the female backup singers sounded natural and were in their own distinct space. The saxophone was a bit reticent and the cymbals on the dry side. Nothing offensive or irritating with the presentation, but it lacked the immediacy or "liveness" of an audiophile desktop system. I tried listening to this track again with a wired connection to an Astell & Kern SA700. While the overall character stayed the same, there was an increase in detail that was particularly noticeable with the saxophone.
As I was wrapping up this review, Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber released "Stuck With U" (Tidal, Universal Records), a tribute to those you are stuck with during the COVID-19 stay at home orders. When I first heard this song, the strong bass track overwhelmed the vocals, so I was curious about how the Momentum 3 Wireless, with its strong bass profile, would handle it. I found the bass to be prominent, but it did not overwhelm the vocals, which remained clear, detailed, and natural sounding.
I normally do not comment much about telecommunications audio quality, but I used the Momentum 3 Wireless for lots of phone calls and Zoom meetings over the past month or so. While most of the calls were from inside my house, some were while we were out on walks, maintaining proper social distancing, of course. I was skeptical of the ability of the dual beamforming microphones to pick up my voice without any extraneous noise, but was pleasantly surprised as it worked well. Those I was speaking with said my voice was clear and distinct, and while they could tell that I was outside, there was no significant wind or background noise.
As for the ANC, it's more effective with midrange frequencies, which I noticed during my one commuter train ride with the Momentum 3 Wireless. The noise cancellation is similar to that of the Bose QC35II in the mid frequency ranges, and the passive noise isolation does a good job of damping high-frequency noise, but the Bose pulled ahead with eliminating the low frequency rumble.
Competition and Comparison
The Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless is in the upper echelon of wireless ANC headphones. The new Bose Headphones 700 ($399) are said to improve upon the ANC capabilities of the excellent ANC in the QC-35II, so if noise cancellation is your first concern, that may be something to consider.
Sony's WH-1000XM3 ($349) is worth a listen. I briefly listened to them at a trade show in a loud, club-type atmosphere, and they did a pretty good job with isolation but I did not get to listen to them for more than a minute or so.
The Cleer Flow Wireless ($250, reviewed here) is another pair that I was able to briefly listen to at a trade show. For sound quality, I will refer you to Steven Stone's review but I can attest that they comfortably fit my large head.
The Beyerdynamic Aventho ($450, reviewed here) is another luxury option, but in the on-ear as opposed to over-ear cateory. This smaller form factor is preferred by some but usually provides less passive noise isolation.
Lastly, in comparison to Sennheiser's own HD1, I found the Momentum 3 Wireless to provide a larger soundstage, better ANC, and more extended treble. In addition to those sonic attributes, the M3W is more comfortable to wear.
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While I am not excited about getting on a crowded plane anytime soon, the Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless will make the aural portion of the experience enjoyable. In the interim, it's working well as a home headphone that capably handles both music and conference calls.
Sound quality is a step up from the already good HD1, as is the ANC. Purists may lament the bass bump that exists with the out-of-the-box settings, but this can be evened out with the Smart Control app. Most listeners will probably leave the curve, as is as it counteracts the low frequency noise present in most commutes, and does so without muddying up the midrange.
The Momentum 3 Wireless is capable of reproducing music with detail and transient dynamics without ever sounding brittle or harsh. To maximize these capabilities, you should connect to your source by either the audio or USB cable, but even in wireless mode the performance is solid. The microphone capabilities are an even bigger added bonus in today's world of never-ending teleconferences and Zoom meetings. This is an easy headphone to recommend, and even though it is on the pricier end of the spectrum, now that you can use it for all those business calls it is easier to justify.