It’s a well known fact that Sennheiser has, for years, made some of the very best headphones on the market. From the company’s entry-level earbuds to its more professional-level products, there’s been a bit of something for everyone. But this year at CES the German company is taking on somewhat of a new vertical for itself by releasing headphones that are specifically designed for mobile listening.
OK, in fairness it’s easy to say that almost every headphone is portable, and in-ear models certainly top that list. But more often than not there’s very little thought given to anything other than how they sound and how well they can sell. Sennheiser’s difference here is in the details, and those are what really make a difference.
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Somewhere in the middle portion of 2012, Sennheiser released a pair of headphones called Momentum. They’re a circumaural (around the ear) set of full sized headphones that sound positively amazing. But the complaint that I heard from a person or two was that they were only available in a rich brown color. At CES Unveiled on Sunday, the company showed off a black pair of Momentum headphones, with red contrast stitching.
So what’s the big deal? As I said, it’s a matter of details. When you plug in the Momentum headphones you’ll notice that it’s not just a straight mini-stereo plug. Instead, Sennheiser opted for a pivoting mechanism in order to guard against shorting out your wires if they were frequently in a kinked position.
The next bit of detail is one that you woulnd’t know about unless they told you, but we’ll pass on the information anyway. Typically speaking, higher quality headphones tend to have higher resistance drivers to accomodate for integrated headphone amplification. But on mobile devices, that amplification is a bit weaker and so Sennheiser has decided to compensate by dropping the impedence of the drivers in the Momentum down to 17 ohms in order to allow for great volume control from mobile devices.
Of course, with the designed-for-mobile philosophy, there’s an included iPhone-compatible cord with volume and play/pause controls. If you so choose, you can detach it and opt for a straight cord instead.
The sound? It’s spectacular. And you’d expect it to be for a pair of headphones that retail at the $350 mark. The passive noise cancellation from the ultra-comfortable ear cups is second to none and the overall light weight of the Momentum makes them a joy to wear for extended periods of time.
But what if you want to go smaller? For years I’ve touted Shure’s SE35 as the in-ear monitors to beat. After what I experienced with Sennheiser’s newly-released IE 800 monitors, I believe it’s time to crown a new king.
Sennheiser took some unique approaches with the IE 800s. They’re a ceramic enclosure, so they’re slightly heavier than what you might be used to, but they’re not so heavy as to be uncomfortable. Six sets of included ear tips provide you a great variety of fit choices. But what’s most interesting to me is the semi-open rear design of the 800s.
The sound for the 800s comes from a 7 millimeter version of its already-famous Extra Wide Band driver. With a driver of that size, and an extraordinarily high sound pressure level (SPL) it’s quite possible for distortion to become a factor. The dual ports, positioned directly behind the magnets of the driver, allow for venting from the enclosure and help to drive total harmonic distortion (THD) to a stated 0.06 percent.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the IE 800s represent the very best in-ear headphones that you can buy without resorting to custom-molded options. Of course, with great quality comes a formidable price tag. At a $1,000 street cost, the decision to make this jump is absolutely not one to be taken lightly.
The focus on mobile is not a seismic shift for Sennheiser, but rather just a logical vertical for a company whose products are already being used at the gym, on the train and while walking down the street. There are, however, very few companies that do truly high end sound for the way that we live today. While nothing will beat the unadulterated quality of a pristine headphone amplifier and a quality set of cans, music today comes from your hip pocket or your lap. It is high time that this fact is given its due attention and Sennheiser has done so flawlessly.