Over the past couple of years, I’ve had the good fortune to review some great audio gear for Part-Time Audiophile, including amplifiers by Luxman, Vinnie Rossi and Pass Laboratories and, most recently, the stunning Spatial M3 Sapphire open baffle loudspeakers.
Reviewing for PTA is a great gig. I get to spend time with top-notch audio gear that’s often far pricier than I can afford, I get to write for a much larger audience than this blog (currently) attracts, and I actually get paid for my efforts.
On the other hand, writing for an established, high-end audio review website entails adhering to certain boundaries. The review has to meet your editor’s requirements for length and style, so you forfeit the final say on what makes it into print. Furthermore, the stakes regarding accuracy and journalistic credibility are considerably higher when you are reviewing a manufacturer-submitted $12,000 integrated amplifier or $5000 pair of loudspeakers for a large readership, rather than discussing a $100 Bluetooth receiver for your personal blog. In the former case, your words may influence someone’s investment in a very expensive item. They may also attract or repel sales for a small, high-end manufacturer, perhaps even driving away sales that they can ill afford to lose. All of this can turn listening into a high-stakes assignment at the expense of musical enjoyment.
In this review, however, I want to tell you about a pair of wireless earbuds that I love and purchased with my own funds, suggesting that if you’re in the market for “true wireless,” Bluetooth ear buds, you should strongly consider the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2’s. This review is just between friends, i.e., you and me.
From Apple to Sennheiser
Before purchasing the Sennheiser’s, I’d picked up a pair of Apple AirPods Pro’s on Amazon.com at a discounted price, using some points I’d saved up on my Amazon credit card. I’d previously owned and enjoyed a pair of the 2.0 version of the standard AirPods, but I lost them, which is a potential downside to their inconspicuous little charging case!
I thought my shiny new AirPod Pro’s were quite good. They sounded more than “fine” and their noise canceling was much better than I had anticipated, considering that, even with the included silicone tips in several sizes, they don’t form a particularly tight seal with my ear canal. Of course, their interoperability with Apple branded products like my iPhone was stellar.
Why, then, did I end up returning them to Amazon.com?
While I found the older, 2.0 AirPods comfortable (albeit a bit odd, dangling a little too precariously from each ear) they were comfortable enough to wear for extended periods of time. Unfortunately, something in the revised, bulbous shape of the AirPods Pro’s pressed against the cartilage of my right ear. After thirty or forty-five minutes of wear, that ear began to hurt and I had to take them out. (Searching online forums confirmed that others complained of the same issue.) Experimenting with adjusting their position (angling the stem of each earbud slightly forward) only helped a bit. Even buying a pair of Dekoni’s memory foam, replacement tips didn’t make them any more comfortable. So, back they went to Jeff Bezos & Company.
This led me to give the Sennheiser’s a try. Honestly, they cost more than I had wanted to spend on a pair of Bluetooth earbuds, $299, to be exact. (Note that the Sennheiser has since dropped the direct MSRP to $269 with free shipping.) But I had read some positive reviews about their sound quality, including claims that they were the best sounding wireless earbuds out there. And since, for me, the way my music sounds trumps all other considerations (except for painful ears), I took the plunge.
The Momentum TW 2’s
The number “2” in “Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2” refers to the fact that this is, indeed, the second iteration of these earbuds. The first version was plagued with a number of problems, most seriously, an intermittent failure to disconnect from the Bluetooth source, or to power down and charge in the charging case. This resulted in terrible battery life, as well as unnerving experiences like hearing phantom music emanating from the charging case in your backpack . Online reviews suggested, though, that this new version had solved this problem and made other improvements.
Designed by Sennheiser in Germany and manufactured to their specifications in China, the build quality of the Momentum True Wireless 2’s is excellent. Notice that I did not say “luxurious” or “swanky.” Indeed, the styling on these things won’t attract a lot of attention (unless someone thinks they make you look funny… More on that below…) The body itself is constructed of a very sturdy plastic, save for the metallic touch control plate on the side of each earbud, featuring the Sennheiser logo in black. Originally produced only in matte black, the TW 2’s are now also available in white and grey, along with a more expensive, black “Anniversary Edition.” The box includes the earbuds and charging case, four sizes of ear tips, an instruction manual and a (very short) USB-C charging cable.
Okay, so let’s get that one “style” thing out of the way. These do protrude from one’s ears, not to a ridiculous degree, and yet, someone looking at your face head on will notice a couple of slightly chunky things sticking about three quarters of an inch out of your ears. This doesn’t bother me at all, but it’s worth mentioning that these are not as visually discrete as their Apple counterparts.
The charging case is lovely. It is covered in a grey fabric that feels good to the touch and has proven to be very durable. Case in point: our German-Shepherd-mix puppy likes chewing on things. (You can tell where this is going, can’t you?) Indeed, he has snacked on and destroyed five Samsung television remote controls, and replacing those costs about forty bucks a pop.
So one day when I was sitting at my desk, I heard the unmistakable sound of Theo chewing on something that didn’t sound like one of his toys. I confronted him, sternly shouting “Drop it!” gasping (and probably swearing) as the Sennheiser charging case fell out of his mouth. Here’s the amazing thing: the charging case (slightly damp with dog saliva at the time) took no damage whatsoever from those sharp puppy teeth! None. Nada. Zip. That’s some very impressive build quality.
The lid of the case snaps shut with satisfying, magnetized solidity. The earbuds themselves also magnetically snap into place in the charging case.
Sennheiser doesn’t go out of their way to camouflage their hardware’s underlying tech (as Apple’s designs tend to do, for better and sometimes for worse). So on the underside of the ear buds as they sit in the case, you’ll notice a number of recessed but exposed metallic contact points that correspond to contacts within the charging case. You will also see a tiny LED light on each earbud. When the LED glows red, it is powered on. When it changes to blue, it has connected to the source (on the right side) or to the other earbud (left side). There is also a tiny, translucent circle housing an infrared proximity sensor that lets the Momentum’s know when they are inserted and removed from your ears, causing them to play and pause your music automatically. Speaking of which, a vaguely British sounding, synthesized voice will tell you when the devices are “powered on,” “powered off,” “pairing” and “connected.”
Also “under the hood” is, of course, the actual driver technology. In this case, Sennheiser has opted for a 7mm custom dynamic driver. I was glad to hear this because I’ve generally found well designed and executed single dynamic driver IEM’s to have a coherence and tonal trueness that’s hard to beat.
The touch sensors on each earbud work very well, providing track skipping forward and backward, play/pause, phone call answering and hang-up, activation of your OS’s voice assistant, telling the earbuds to admit outside sounds when you want to hear what’s going on around you, and so on. The touch control surfaces are not overly sensitive (see an upcoming review of Nura’s Nuraloop for more on that) to a degree that results in unintended commands. I also like the soft beeps that confirm that your tap has registered, and the fact that double and triple taps register each tap in successively higher tones, again, telling you that your gesture has executed properly.
Sennheiser’s smartphone app for both iOS and Android lets you configure the functionality of all those single, double and triple-taps and press-and-holds to your liking. The Sennheiser app also handles notification and installation of firmware updates.
In fact, the app notified me just as I started writing this review that a firmware update had been released. The killer feature included in this update is a fix for my only substantive irritation with the Momentum TW 2’s, namely, their inability to easily switch between previously paired Bluetooth devices.
Before the update, when I removed the Momentum TW 2’s from the charging case, they would remember and automatically connect to the last Bluetooth device they’d been paired with (my iPhone, for example, if it was in range) but if I later wanted to connect them to my iPad, merely selecting them from Bluetooth Preferences on the iPad wouldn’t get them to change devices. Instead, I had to first disconnect the from the iPhone via its Bluetooth menu, or tap and hold both earbuds for about 6 seconds until I hard the “pairing” prompt, and only then use the Bluetooth menu on the iPad to connect them. It just shouldn’t be this clumsy.
The firmware update finally allows you to switch between previously paired devices by merely choosing them in the device’s Bluetooth settings. In my experience, this works great when switching between iOS sources, but is a hit-miss proposition when connecting to and disconnecting from my MacBook Pro. (To be fair, even Apple’s own AirPods and AirPods Pro’s had the same issue with Mac OS devices.) Fortunately, the Sennheiser Smart Control app for iOS and Android now lists all your previously connected devices and lets you switch reliably among them.
I’ll get to the sound of the Momentum TW 2’s in a moment, but first let’s cover a few general performance parameters.
FIT — As for fit and other ergonomic considerations, I am quite pleased with the comfort of the Momentum TW 2’s. Fit is a very personal thing (unlike me, my wife finds her AirPod Pro’s super comfortable), so I’d always recommend purchasing any IEM’s or even full-size headphones from a dealer with a generous return policy. I find the Sennheiser’s to be almost forget-you’re-wearing-them comfortable, with a smooth inner surface devoid of sharp edges that might irritate the ear. Furthermore, at a mere 6 gm per side, the TW 2’s are among the lighter IEM’s out there.
BATTERY LIFE — The TW 2’s are currently my daily, go-to earbuds, and I don’t think I’ve ever received a low battery warning. Sennheiser claims 7 hours of continuous battery life, extendable to 28 hours with the battery case’s reserves. Additionally, the USB-C charging port on the case makes quick work of topping off the battery.
BLUETOOTH RANGE is excellent. I can leave my Bluetooth source in one room and and walk all over our two-story house (and even out onto the front porch) and rarely will the sound drop out or stutter. This is very impressive.
PHONE CALLS — I’ve found the Momentum TW 2’s to function reliably for making and receiving telephone calls, and I’ve never had a caller complain that my voice wasn’t coming through clearly on their end of the conversation. That said, I haven’t usually enjoyed taking calls on most wired or wireless earbuds or headphones because of the “stuffy head” sensation that makes it difficult to hear your own voice while you speak. The TW 2’s are supposed to alleviate this sensation through a feature Sennheiser calls Side Tone, which mixes the microphone input into the earbuds’ output. Unfortunately, unless I’m doing something wrong, I haven’t found Side Tone to create that open, natural sounding phone call experience. If my aural memory serves, the AirPod Pro’s did the best job of making phone calls sound relaxed and natural.
BLUETOOTH LATENCY, that is, the time lag inherent in Bluetooth transmission, is largely dependent on the codec (compression/decompression scheme) and hardware implementation of the transmitting and receiving devices. It’s not an issue with music files alone, but when video is involved, as in smart phone and computer games or movies and streaming videos, too much latency will result in a very irritating lack of synchronization between audio and video, causing sound effects and dialogue to lag behind the on-screen action. In the case of the Momentum TW 2, whether watching YouTube videos or playing a video game, I have found Bluetooth latency to be so minuscule as to be nearly imperceptible.
ACTIVE NOISE CANCELLATION is, frankly, slightly disappointing. Right now the Momentum TW 2’s are in my ears. I can hear the sound of my keyboard clicking as I type, but the “whooshing” of the central heat in my room is almost entirely deadened. I was also able to listen to music with our Roomba robot sweeper grinding away in the kitchen while doing the dishes with much of the noise of the Roomba muffled. On the other hand, the masking of other people’s conversations in line at Starbucks or construction noises in my neighborhood while I’m walking is only so-so. I fortunately did have the chance to use my TW 2’s on a commercial flight (yes, I was properly masked and socially distanced from other passengers) some months ago. Again, they did a decent job subduing jet engine and other noises during the flight, so that I didn’t have to crank the volume dangerously loud in order to hear my music over the drone of the engines, but you’re not going to get the kind of isolation that you’d experience with a pair of full-size, noise-cancelling headphones like my Sony WH 1000XM3.
This is where the Sennheiser Momentum TW 2’s really shine. I am regularly startled by just how refined, lively and resolving they are. Listening, for example, to dense vocal harmonies, whether it’s Crosby Stills and Nash’s Helplessly Hoping or Billie Eilish’s Party Favor, nothing is smeared or obscured; pick out any vocal line you choose and it’s easy to follow. Indeed, well-recorded voices in general sound completely fleshed out and human.
The upper midrange and treble, too, are sweet and clear. By “sweet” I don’t mean rolled off or muffled, but rather that the Momentum TW 2’s don’t add any obnoxious emphasis (masquerading as “detail”) to the upper mids and highs. Cymbals and vocalists’ “s” sounds don’t feel like torture, unless the track was recorded with a synthetic, hard, vocal emphasis. (Lamentably, this is now par for the course in too many pop recordings, but at least the TW 2’s won’t add their own ugly edge to that bright, thin, studio equalization.)
The low end is pretty close to my ideal. The TW 2’s will dig very deep when that’s called for (the bass lines in the opening bars of Donald Fagen’s Morph The Cat come to mind) but the low end is well controlled and the default sound signature overall isn’t “dark” or “veiled” by the omnipresent mid-bass “hump” that plagues too many consumer oriented headphones and IEM’s. So yes, the TW 2’s will do justice to EDM and other genres that showcase fat synth bass lines.
Finally, the imaging and soundstage width and layering of the Momentum TW 2’s is shockingly good. Live albums like James Taylor’s classic Live 2-CD set put you in the theater, surrounded by happy, whooping JT fans. Well recorded pop albums like Sade’s Promise will thrill you with a nearly surround sound presentation, as in the organ/synth chords near the beginning of War of the Hearts.
As noted earlier, the Sennheiser Momentum TW 2 Bluetoot IEM’s aren’t perfect: noise cancellation could be better, phone calls still have a somewhat “congested” feel, and they’re not the prettiest earbuds ever created, but for sheer musical pleasure, they’re a great pair of in-ear monitors. Sennheiser is a long-established, serious provider of professional and consumer microphones and headphones, and that lineage is amply manifested in the Momentum TW 2 IEM’s. Highly recommended.
That’s it for this post, everyone. See you next time… and in the meantime, be kind to others, stay safe, mask up, and enjoy your music!