True wireless earphones are definitely coming of age. We get more and more customers coming in asking to try a pair, and while True Wireless earphones are definitely convenient, we've often had to advise customers that the technology isn't quite completely mature yet, with connectivity issues and sound quality being notable bugbears. So when Sennheiser threw their hat in the ring with their first true wireless product, the Momentum True Wireless, we sat up and took notice.
So after a few months with the final retail product, and plenty of customer feedback, here are our thoughts on how the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless compares to some of its in-store competition: the Bang & Olufsen Beoplay E8, the Sony WF-1000X, and a new contender, the Audio Technica ATH-CKR7TW.
Now, we sell all of these earphones, but beyond that we don’t really have an agenda - we always hope our customers go home with something they fall in love with. We can honestly say that when we let customers have a demo of all of these true wireless earphones, 90% of the time they end up choosing the Sennheiser. We think there’s a number of good reasons for that.
Firstly, even before we get to sound quality, the Sennheiser has a few aces up its sleeve:
- Bluetooth 5.0
- AptX / AptX Low Latency support for Android devices, AAC support for iOS devices
The two major complaints we get from customers regarding True Wireless earphones are 1) connection stability 2) latency. Drop outs can be frequent with true wireless products, particular in CBD areas where the saturation of wireless devices leads to inteference and interruptions to your music. And if you like to binge Netflix on your phone (a popular pastime I've observed on Sydney trains) bluetooth earphones can have a bit of an issue with latency, resulting in a perceptible lip-sync issues with dialogue in video.
The Sony WF1000X, Bang & Olufsen E8 (and even the Master & Dynamic MW07, which isn't featured in this review but is something we commonly get asked about) all use the older Bluetooth 4.2 standard. The reality is, the bluetooth connection just isn’t as stable with the older 4.2 standard - and in particular we’ve received feedback about the Sony WF-1000X being tempermental in this regard.
As long as you have a newer smartphone or deveice with Bluetooth 5.0 support, the Momentum’s newer bluetooth connectivity has been hard to fault. It works great with iOS devices using AAC transmission, and if you are a user with a modern day Android device that supports Qualcomm AptX Low Latency, you get near imperceptible lag on videos.
In this comparison only the Audio Technica ATH-CKR7TW comes close to matching the Momentum True Wireless' BT spec, but it doesn't have AptX Low Latency support - nor does not match the Sennheiser in terms of sound quality.
And then we get to sound quality, and here is where I think the Momentum True Wireless takes it home.
Out of the box, the Momentum True Wireless has a V shaped sound signature, which is somewhat unusual for Sennheiser - but it delivers deep bass with a real sense of scale, and some dry treble texture and detail without sounding overly brittle and harsh. And despite this V-shaped signature, there’s no unusual peaks and valleys to the sound, which keeps the Momentum sounding natural with vocals and instruments.
The Momentum True Wireless shares driver technology with the IE800, and while the Momentum True Wireless does not sound quite as clean as the IE800 and IE800S, it’s comparable with many other midrange wired earphones. In the True Wireless space though, I think it really doesn’t have much compeition.
The Beoplay E8 has a relatively natural and balanced sound, and I think it’s the second best in this roundup - but it has some brittle high frequency treble that tends to get a bit hissy and harsh on a fair number of tracks. You can try to EQ this out with the app, but at the end of the day I think the Momentum True Wireless delivers the same level of detail without this kind of harshness, and I think it also has tighter bass. Still, if every dollar counts, the E8 currently retails for a cheaper price and was our first recommendation until Sennheiser came onto the scene.
The Audio Technica CKR7TW is even more extreme, with a pretty classic Audio Technica tuning - somewhat warm mid-bass and an upper midrange emphasis. But even though I’m a big fan of Audio Technica's typical vocal forward tuning, even I will say that the upper mids on the CKR7TW are too forward, and as a result the earphone sounds incredibly harsh and raw - with no smartphone app provided to EQ this like with the Sennheiser or B&O. It’s a bit of a shame, because this is the earphone in the roundup with the longest battery life and comparable Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity to the Momentum, but I just don’t find the CKR7TW very pleasant to listen to. Still, some customers have been fans of the sound.
Unlike the E8 and the CKR7TW, the WF-1000X isn’t too harsh, but the 1000X has Sony’s current signature house sound with very thick bass and mid bass, and a big shimmery treble spike in the extreme high frequencies that, while it doesn’t sound harsh in the same way that the E8 or CRK7TW does, doesn't sound very natural either. If you are a fan of electronic and pop music, the Sony can still be a lot of fun, but it just doesn’t sound right with vocals or a lot of acoustic instruments.
The one big thing that the WF-1000X has going for it is that it supports Active Noise Cancelling, while all these other earphones rely on passive noise isolation without electronics. The ANC on this earphone might be a good bonus if you are a commuter, but remember that many airlines will NOT allow you to use true wireless earphones, because, well, they are wireless. For a wireless earphone that supports a wired mode as a fall back, we like to recommend the WI-1000X, which in my opinion sounds a bit cleaner than the WF-1000X as well.
So out of all these true wireless earphones, we think the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless achieves the best out of the box sound. Yes, there's a fair bit of bass and treble, but it’s all well controlled with some impressive slam and it doesn’t have as many unnatural peaks in the sound as its competitors.
Now, both the E8 and Momentum True Wireless have an app that allow you to adjust the sound to your liking, but to be honest I feel like the stock sound on the Momentum True Wireless is already very good, and you only need to nudge the bass and treble down a notch to get what I would personally prefer. You’d have to really wrestle with the E8 and Sony to make them sound right, and you still won’t end up with an earphone with the same kind of tight bass, and the Bluetooth connection still won’t be as stable.
Sennheiser had taken a bit more time to develop their own contender, but it seems that once again that slow and steady has won the race. Customers have voted with their wallets, and the Momentum True Wireless was easily our most popular true wireless earphone product during the 2018 Christmas sales period - despite being the most expensive offering.
In such a subjective and personal field like audio, its rare that you get a product that outperforms its comeptitors by such a wide margin. But the Momentum True Wireless is one of these products, and that points to rapid pace of development in the wireless audio category - and it makes us very excited about things to come in the future.