Whenever a legacy brand get acquired, the online forums run amok with rumors and theories about why the ownership of a storied brand in a strong market decides to sell. There was much speculation when McIntosh Group was recently acquired by a private equity fund in Texas but that had nothing to do with the solvency or revenue of the company; all of the brands under the umbrella are doing extremely well and the new ownership saw an opportunity to take the company to another level. All is good in Binghamton. But the same couldn’t be said about Sennheiser. Can the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 Earbuds reignite the market’s passion for the brand?
Sometimes, if you don’t ask the right questions — you don’t get the correct answers.
Sennheiser has been one of the leading manufacturers of high-performance headphones and microphones since 1945 and many of their best consumer headphones like the HD600, HD650, and HD800 are considered to be benchmarks in sound quality by the Head-Fi community and music listeners around the globe.
If you didn’t know any better, you would have thought that the German manufacturer was a juggernaut in the category and that the high-end headphone revolution of the past decade would have been nothing but a license to print money for a company with its resources.
It certainly didn’t have to worry about the challenge posed by some upstart Chinese and American headphone manufacturers selling $1,000, $2,000, and $3,000 headphones.
And you would have been very wrong to think that.
There are mixed emotions in the headphone community about the acquisition of Sennheiser’s consumer division by Sonovo; when the company started using the phrase “finding a partner” in their press releases — alarm bells starting going off everywhere.
When Axel Grell left the company to start his own brand and launch a very high-end pair of true wireless earbuds, the market knew that something was amiss at Sennheiser; Grell was responsible for many of their award-winning and commercially successful headphones over the past few decades.
Would the new ownership begin to cut costs and deliver inferior headphones in a market that is far more demanding and fickle with so many options in 2022?
Products like the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 Earbuds are meant to reestablish the brand as a leader in a category where it needs to succeed.
I do think the approach that the new owners are taking makes sense; the new models we are now seeing were products in development at the time of the buyout and rather than trying to rethink them, they have let them continue to market without interference.
The CX Plus was a solid release and an improvement over the previous generation and a signal to the market that the forthcoming Momentum models were going to be excellent products.
As much as we liked the CX Plus, they are not the foundation of the Sennheiser lineup and they certainly don’t deliver the kind of sales volume that the Momentum Series has created since its initial launch.
The success of the new generation of Momentum products can’t be looked at any other way; they either cement the brand as a leader in the two very important segments or they stand and watch as other brands leapfrog over them and chase the $27 billion pot of gold.
The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 (MTW3) IEMs share a number of the same stylistic cues as the other members of the CX family; rounded block style body with touch sensor faceplates, and nozzles that exit the lower front corner of the box.
One notable difference is the MTW3 has a notch around the middle of the body that allows for a band to be fitted and the MTW3 ships with 3 different sizes of bands to fit different sized ears.
These bands do help stabilize the earpieces during periods of exercise and do help the MTW3 isolate a bit better than its CX siblings. The earpieces are on the larger side and have more weight to them than you might expect.
Those with small ears may find them a bit cumbersome so I would advise auditioning them before purchase if you have smaller than average ears.
The upside to that size and heft is that they are very solid and there are no durability concerns. Replacement tips and bands are both available from Sennheiser which should also help extend the life of the MTW3.
The charging case shares the build quality of the earpieces with a tweed cloth wrap over the exterior, a prominent Sennheiser logo on the top, and a USB Type-C port and a single LED on the front of the case.
The earpieces are held in the case with a magnetic pairing and the case lid also has a magnetic closure to keep from losing the earpieces in a bag or pack. That is a good thing as the case is large enough that pocket carry is a bit uncomfortable and they are likely to wind up in a purse or knapsack.
Popping the earpieces out of the case begins the pairing process, which is pretty quick and painless with both support for aptX adaptive for Android and AAC for iOS listeners. The user can simply pair the earbuds to a phone or tablet and be ready to go.
The touch controls are all single sided so it takes some practice to learn all of the combinations and get used to the feel of the buttons.
A single tap on the left enables transparency mode, while a single right tap is the play/pause control. Double taps are the previous (left) and next (right) controls. Triple taps enable noise cancelling (left) or voice assistant (right) and press and hold lowers (left) or increases (right) the volume.
All of these can be altered via the app so users may wish to swap the ANC/transparency controls for other features they use more.
One of the biggest selling points of the MTW3 is the Sennheiser Smart Control app which is available for Android and iOS and is a fairly quick download and setup.
I was immediately greeted with a firmware update to the earpieces that delayed getting started by 15 minutes while the update took place but the firmware update was supposed to fix a couple of touch control issues so likely a good investment of time.
In addition to being able to customize the touch controls, the app adds sound sculpting functions with both a bass boost and podcast setting as well as a three band EQ that allows saving several settings; the ability to save multiple EQ settings is something that other brands have failed to include in their own apps.
In addition to the EQ, the app offers a sound check feature. The sound check plays a series of tests and asks the listener to choose from 3 options for each test and sculpts the sound according to their selections.
I found this worked fairly well as it let me save presets for different genres that emphasized different instruments or ranges. It takes a bit of fiddling to get everything perfect, but it does work better than most of the sound sculpting options I’ve tried so far from all of the major manufacturers in the category.
ANC and transparency mode are also controlled through the app with the ability to turn on ANC or anti-wind mode or to enable a voice enhancement mode.
One interesting feature about the app is that it adds sound zones which allow you to set presets for different locations; every time you enter an area ANC can be switched on or off or transparency mode enabled.
This takes a few minutes to add zones and does require that location service be enabled on the host device which uses a bit of battery as part of the feature.
But how well does the ANC work?
The Sony WF-1000XM4 is my benchmark in the category with Bose and Apple trailing behind it. The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 might be the best implementation of ANC so far and while some might select the Sony in the category — I think it is too close to call.
The Momentum True Wireless 3 does an excellent job of cancelling out external noise without throwing a veil over the music or call quality. Music doesn’t lose any of its presence or clarity and that’s a huge win for Sennheiser.
I ran the battery charge test four times and managed to squeeze 5 hours with ANC engaged in moderately noisy public places; that’s a huge improvement and it would appear that Sennheiser may be near the top of the category in that regard as well
The case adds an additional 3 charges for the earpieces before needing to be charged via USB Type-C or with a wireless charging pad.
The Momentum True Wireless 3 certainly deliver on many fronts, but unless the sound quality was on par with the Sony and superior to the Bose and Apple — Sennheiser were definitely not making a big dent in the category with these $250 wireless earbuds.
Did they succeed?
It’s certainly not without a few warts, but the competition definitely needs to be worried about the revised Sennheiser True Wireless 3 Earbuds; there is a consistency to the sound across the board that makes them a very solid option.
Are they exciting to listen to or more subdued in the detail department?
It is very clear to me that Sennheiser went for a “safe” voicing with these and that’s actually not the worst decision that they could have made because too much detail and top end energy can become quite fatiguing during long listening sessions at work or on an airplane.
There is a mild lift to the sub-bass and lower treble that give them a mild “V” sonic signature but it never really gets too extreme at either end.
The bass has solid impact and definition and it never overwhelms the rest of the music in any way; it is certainly delivered with clarity, speed, and more than enough texture.
It certainly begins to roll-off in the 35Hz range and it begins to lose its definition at this point. The mid-bass is well defined but also quite warm sounding and that coloration carries over into the upper bass and lower midrange. This is not a lean sounding pair of wireless earbuds in any capacity.
The lower midrange has excellent resolution and presence and male vocals are delivered with rather accurate timbre and note weight. Guitars have more then sufficient energy and growl and I found them to sound quite realistic across many genres of music.
Some of the more expensive wireless flagships offer up more detail in this range and a bit more clarity, but I can’t imagine that many listeners would find this “smoothing” over of detail in the midrange and treble to be a major sonic issue.
None of these wireless earbuds can decode anything more than 16-bit/44.1kHz via Bluetooth at this point; Bluetooth aptX Lossless is not yet a feature of any of these products so we may only be hearing 75-80% of what these drivers are capable of at this point.
The midrange is nearly flat from the mid-bass all the way to the 4-5kHz range which puts female vocals on the same plane with male voices and makes the MTW3 a good option for duet and choral music. Strings and piano are well rendered but need a little more energy and decay to sound completely accurate or natural.
The lower treble has a push that adds some energy and detail to the mix but Sennheiser has clearly tuned the Momentum True Wireless 3 to avoid any hint of sibilance or harshness.
They are most certainly forgiving of bad recordings with too much top end energy and while that makes them easier to listen to for longer periods of time, it may also encourage some to raise the volume in an attempt to experience more top end energy, airiness, and detail.
I would advise against this with any pair of headphones or IEMs. Preserve your hearing.
Rather than raise the volume, use the EQ and Sound Check options in the app to add back some of that missing top end air and detail; at the expense of some listening fatigue.
The soundstage is not huge but proportional for a closed-back IEM; instrument separation is average for the category and that was probably the weakest part of their sonic presentation. The layering is good but I did notice some compression in the low end as the music gets more complex or demanding.
The $250 Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless Earbuds take a walk on the wild side in the upside down with the Apple AirPods Pro, Sony XM4, and Bose QuietComfort models.
If you do not require sound check, sound zones, or ANC — the less expensive Sennheiser CX and CX Plus might be better options because there are some strong similarities between them. The Momentum 3 might even lose some sales to its less expensive siblings if consumers are looking more for performance and affordability.
From a tonal perspective, the Momentum True Wireless 3 are a more accurate listen than the AirPods Pro or Bose wireless earbuds. I prefer the warmth in the midrange and the overall pacing and resolution.
The Sony WF-1000XM4 puts up a much bigger fight and definitely bests the Momentum True Wireless 3 in the detail, soundstage, and imaging departments. The Sony is a very well designed pair of true wireless earbuds and are worth the money.
The app is where the Sennheiser Momentum 3 True Wireless Earbuds put some distance between themselves and the competition. The EQ and sound check features allowed me to fine tune the tonal balance and presentation and it proved to be quite effective.
The ability to create sound zones with the ANC is a useful feature that I found myself using on a daily basis as I moved from home to the train and into a very busy office. The app learned as I went and the ANC changed as I found myself in different settings. Clever.
Would I consider the Momentum 3 True Wireless to be the category leader?
Apple and Bose can afford to market their products everywhere and that gives them an edge in that regard. Do they deliver a superior product? I’m not convinced that they do.
Sony and Sennheiser are certainly the class of the segment in 2022. A great new start for Sennheiser and they need to take the ball and run with it.
Addendum: On November 2nd 2022, Sennheiser did run with the ball with a major new firmware release that enables several features we had hoped to see when we reviewed it originally. The update takes roughly 22 minutes to install and adds Bluetooth multi-point support, and a high quality sound mode (24/96 support per Sennheiser) using Apt X adaptive technology. Both the Smart control app and the MTWS3 firmware have to be updated to support these new features so be sure to say yes when prompted, it’s well worth the half hour to do so.