Does Sennheiser equate ‘Urban’ to ‘Street’ and is therefore pitching these Urbanites against the now Apple-owned Beats? It certainly leads its marketing with a promise of “massive bass”, though immediately follows up with “without compromised quality”. So don’t write them off just because you’re no Beats fan. They’re far better than that.
For starters, we love the look and the build, with strong stainless-steel hinges and aluminium sliders, comfy velour earpads, and colours of olive, black, ‘denim’, ‘sand’ and a curious model of black, red and blue labelled ‘Nation’ (we might take a punt on this ‘Nation’ combo representing the East Frisian flag, were Sennheiser’s Wedemark German HQ not rather to the south-east of this). The available colours vary depending whether you choose the iOS or Android version. And there is an on-ear non-XL Urbanite if you prefer something smaller, though this we haven’t heard.
The cable on the XL model is flat and quiet, with an inline microphone and controls that are slightly tricky at first, being black-on-black and not quite obvious enough in tactile terms. The Urbanites’ impedance is rated at a travel-friendly 18 ohms, and their response 16Hz to 22,000Hz, no envelope stated.
We enjoyed the Urbanite XLs very much. The sound is certainly more open and integrated than that of their sister Sennheiser Momentum’s sound. Playing Barenaked Ladies’ ‘When You Dream’ and moving between Momentum and Urbanite XL, the new headphone was able to find more detail and clarity in each of the two soundfields at the start, it more clearly separated the third bass note in the repeated phrase from a kick drum behind it, and when the vocal arrived it was very much floating centrally in a three-dimensional soundfield, whereas the Momentum presented it flat on an arc of stereo separation — wide but flat, less front to back, less space.
The Urbanites do have bass emphasis for sure, not so much heading down deep, but with a strong upper bass which, playing in a quiet environment, can get a bit imposing. It rises up around the midrange like reverb in a village hall, not soft or slow, just emphasised. On a bus or train this is more of a merit, compensating for the flooding of lower frequencies by the rumble of the world around you. For some bass-rich material we found it too much even then — the bass on the opening track of Belle & Sebastien’s new album positively resonated through these headphones, limiting the level at which replay was comfortable. But for most material bass is just enjoyably strong, and the merging from this to the midrange and vocals is excellent. Vocals are delightfully delivered — forward and precise for pop, real and three-dimensional in natural recordings.
We rather prefer the Urbanite XL, then, both for this open, large and lively sound balance and because, hey, as tech-loving folk we’d take this cool industrial Urbanite XL over the studied luxury aesthetic of the Momentum, though that’s obviously a personal choice. Sonically, this seems a presentation that should please many, with just a notch more bass than flat-loving purists might request.
ALSO: a wireless version of the Urbanite XL is available with an RRP of $499.95. This supports NFC pairing and receives audio via Bluetooth aptX or SBC codecs; we gather the headphone tech remains the same. We have played with thenm, and thought they pushed the Urbanite XL's loaded bass too far, perhaps as a result of a softening of the treble passing through the SBC (or AAC though it's not listed as an available codec) Bluetooth codec our Apple iPod touch would have used. We much prefer the wired headphone.
Product page: www.sennheiser.com.au