When a company has been making headphones as long as Sennheiser has, you begin to expect certain things from it. In this case, that list includes class-leading sound quality and a comfy fit. What I don’t usually expect is jaw-dropping battery life and conveniences that typically only Sony manages to offer.
With the Momentum 4 ($350), Sennheiser has completely redesigned its flagship headphones, ditching trademark elements of the line for a more generic look. However, the company has also overhauled its active noise cancellation (ANC) and tossed in a few new features to make your life easier. On top of that, Sennheiser achieves a whopping 60 hours of listening time with ANC enabled, easily doubling what you’d get from competing sets.
- Impressive 60-hour battery life
- Improved comfort
- Better ANC performance
- Great sound quality
- Standout design is gone
- Auto on/off needs work
- Pinch gesture feels unnecessary
For the Momentum 4, Sennheiser completely abandoned the design it consistently used since the first model. I’m not handing the company a design award, but the metal sliding mechanism to adjust the fit gave these products a unique appearance whereas a lot of headphones tend to look the same. Now, Sennheiser has adopted an aesthetic that blends in with much of the competition.
Indeed, the mostly plastic Momentum 4 now has earcups that rotate flat for both storage and wearing them around your neck. The headphones no longer fold in on themselves before you dock them in their carrying case. The earpads are still a softer leather material with plenty of cushion, and the outside of the headband is wrapped in a woven fabric. The rest of the Momentum 4, though, is a lot of plastic. Meaning, it lacks the premium look of the previous models.
One thing I do like about the new design is the arc of the headband. A lot of headphones have a flatter curve, so they have a wide look. For someone like me with a big head, the straight-on appearance is a bit weird, and it reinforces that I have a huge noggin. That arc is slightly rounder on the Momentum 4, and the headband attaches to the top of the earcups rather than the outside. It’s probably not a massively important thing for most people, but this is one of the few headphone models where I noticed the difference in how they look when they’re worn.
Another big design change for the Momentum 4 are the on-board controls. Up through the Momentum 3, Sennheiser offered reliable physical controls that saved you from the awkward feeling of having to repeat a touch gesture in public. This time around, the company went with touch controls on the outside of the right ear cup. The standard options are all here: play/pause (single tap), skipping tracks in both directions (swipe forwards/backwards) and volume control (swipe up/down). You can also alternate between ANC and transparency mode with a double tap. As frustrating as touch controls can be on headphones, these work well and I don’t recall any instances where I looked silly swiping or tapping over and over.
There’s one additional gesture – a pinch – that’s used to adjust the level between noise cancellation and ambient sound. Instead of going from 100 percent of one to all out on the other, this pinch or reverse pinch transitions at certain intervals, so you get a bit of both. For me, this is unnecessary because I’m all or nothing when it comes to those two settings. I never want some of both. Either I want to hear what's going on around me or I don’t, so going from one straight to the other is no problem. I can appreciate the inclusion by Sennheiser, I just wonder how many people will use it – or remember it’s even there.
The lone physical button on the back edge of the right ear cup primarily summons your preferred voice assistant. It’s also the Bluetooth pairing and the manual power control. I specify manual here because the Momentum 4 will turn on when you take them out of the case or pick them up. They’ll also turn off automatically after sitting idle, if you have that feature enabled in the app.
Those auto power controls sound handy on paper, but I’d discover the headphones turn on when I moved them from one room to another, even if I didn’t put them on my head. There’s also this weird thing where if the headphones have automatically turned off, when I wake my MacBook Pro, they turn back on and reconnect just sitting on my desk. These frequent occurrences make what should be a handy feature rather annoying.
Between the lone physical button and the USB-C charging port, five white LEDs show battery level. When you get down to one lone red light, it’s time to find an outlet. They also pulse in sequence when the Momentum 4 is in pairing mode.
Software and features
Similar to other recent Sennheiser audio gear, the company’s Smart Control app offers access to all of the settings on the Momentum 4. Here, you can customize the sound with dedicated EQ sliders for bass, mid and treble and save anything you like as a preset. There are also pre-tuned Bass Boost and Podcast sound modes. For ANC, there’s a slider so you can decide on a mix of noise cancellation and ambient sound, or 100 percent of either one. You can also disable Sennheiser’s Adaptive ANC, a feature that automatically adjusts to environmental noise. There’s access to more granular features like Wind Noise Reduction level or setting the headphones to automatically pause when you activate transparency mode.
For calls, Sennheiser offers a tool called Sidetone. It’s a slider that gives you the ability to hear some of your voice so you end up yelling during conversations. You can set it between 0 and 100 percent, so it isn’t an all or nothing setting. Sidetone works much better than transparency mode alone, making calls much more enjoyable when you’re wearing headphones or earbuds.
Two of Sennheiser’s more advanced features require you to create an account in order to use them. I’m not a fan of companies doing this for headphone features, but I can also understand the need to do so when you’re dealing with things like location settings. First, Sound Zones will automatically adjust audio settings based on where you are. You can create up to 20 different ones, so when you arrive at the office or return home, the Momentum 4 changes to your preferred settings. Sony has been doing something similar for a while now, but Sennheiser debuted its take on it in March.