Soundcheck: Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2, Sony WF-SP800N, Creative Outlier Air review
In this age of cord-cutting and comfort and convenience-seeking, it’s no surprise that true wireless earphones are all the rage. The sheer freedom of not having to deal with tangled cables is compelling, and no longer do they represent a serious compromise in audio quality as they once used to. This week, I take a look at three new true wireless earbuds across three widely different price points – the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2, Sony’s WF-SP800N and the Creative Outlier Air. Let’s do a sound check, shall we?
Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2
Price: Rs 24,990
What it is: The successor to the original category-defining Momentum True Wireless earphones, the second gen pair from Sennheiser adds in active noise cancellation, better battery life and improved comfort to the already great sound quality I saw on the original. The True Wireless 2 are priced to go against the AirPods Pro and do well to justify the price and earn a solid recommendation if you’re an Android user.
Pros: The True Wireless 2 inherits the premium design of its predecessor, including the nicest looking fabric-wrapped charging case, but the earbuds themselves have cut the flab and look a lot more streamlined. They’re still on the largish side though, so they will definitely protrude out of your ears, and while they may look bulky and sizeable, they don’t feel that way even after hours of use. Once in, they stay in place snugly thanks to the silicon ear adapters (XS, S, M and L sizes in the box) and can weather the elements a fair bit with the IPX4 splash resistance.
But really, the real reason you should be considering the True Wireless 2 is sound quality, and Sennheiser has managed to one-up itself this time. There’s the headlining addition of active noise cancellation, which works in conjunction with the passive noise isolation from the earphones fitting snugly in your ears. What this allows you to do is to focus on the music, which quite honestly, is nothing short of glorious. Packing in 7mm audiophile grade drivers, the True Wireless 2 deliver punchier (though impressively reined in) bass levels, details levels are impressive, and the sound is clean across the spectrum. Rock, jazz, Bollywood – I tried the True Wireless 2 with a variety of music and came away impressed. Across each track, the sound stage is spatial, with good stereo separation, and mids and highs weren’t being overpowered by the pleasing bass. Support for AAC, SBC and in particular the aptX codec let these perform really well with high-resolution tracks. Battery life is improved from the previous generation, with a little less than 6 hours of use with noise cancellation turned on, and you can go for another three full charges with the charging case.
Cons: The charging case lacks wireless charging, which is expected at this price point. The outer metallic surface of the buds acts as a touch panel which is extremely sensitive to the touch, which can mean inadvertent presses. Fortunately, all these control gestures can be customized to perform with the Smart Control app (iOS/Android), which also lets you change equalizer settings and switch between hearing modes (noise cancellation/transparent hearing). You can use just the right earbud to listen to music or take a call, but you can’t use the left one all by itself, which is a bit limiting. And yes, these are undeniably pricey, so they’ll only really cater to a niche who’s ready to pay this much for their true wireless experience to be this bloody good.
Price: Rs 18,990
What it is: After taking its time entering the market, Sony’s ramping up the action in the true wireless space, with the WF-XB700I reviewed recently and now the WF-SP800N sports-oriented true wireless earphones. The WF-SP800N delivers punchy sound, active noise cancellation and the ability to handle a bit of dust and water and still keep on going, all while undercutting Apple and Sennheiser on pricing.
Pros: Rated at an IP55 level for dust and water resistance, the WF-SP800N are good to accompany you to the gym or a morning jog, and sweat or some amount of grime will not pose any issues. You connect to these earbuds with the Sony Headphones Connect app (iOS/Android) and can control what the touch zones on each earbud should control, how to invoke your voice assistant, equalizer settings and the like. I’m a big fan of Sony’s signature “Quick Attention” mode, where you can tap and hold your finger down on the left earbud to temporarily allow outside sounds to flow in (to say respond to someone asking you something), and I’m glad it’s here on the WF-SP800N as well. You can even have the earphones run on an adaptive sound control mode, which customizes your noise cancellation/ ambient sound modes based on the ambient sound and what you’re doing… or even where you’re visiting (the gym, for instance).
Sound is pretty much in line with a lot of Sony headphones I’ve seen off late, even though this set doesn’t specifically carry the ‘Extra Bass’ branding. Audio is tuned for a strong, pronounced bass, with the mids remaining neutral and the treble a tad underemphasized. It’s in line with a lot of workout music, but it’s not in the same performance category as the Sennheiser and another stellar Sony earphones I’m testing, so that’s something to keep in mind. Active noise cancellation is good, with the earphones cutting out the regular, drone-like noises like fans and vehicle engines on the road, but you may want to consider spending a little bit more if audio quality and noise cancellation are your primary factors for purchase.
Cons: If you like living life king-size, the WF-800N will appeal to you. They’re massive by wireless earphone standards, which necessitates the ear hooks for a secure fit. Sony’s use of plastic keeps them light and comfortable, though. The charging case is also significantly larger than anything one has seen on the competition, and lacks the sleekness (and easy to pocket appeal) you’ve come to expect at this price point. Not to mention, it only delivers one full charge to the earphones, which is more a function of the insane battery life on the earphones – I got around 10 hours of use with active noise cancellation on, which is phenomenal! Lacks support for aptX and LDAC Bluetooth codecs for high resolution streaming.
Creative Outlier Air
Price: Rs 7,999
What it is: Creative is a name synonymous with computer audio for the last couple of decades, so when the brand made the cross-over to personal audio with the Outlier Air true wireless earbuds, they had me intrigued. With its IPX5 build and respectable audio quality, these are good mid-range options for those stepping up from a basic entry-level TWS set.
Pros: The Outlier Air make a strong first impression, with lightweight design on the buds with the added bonus of an IPX5 rating and LEDs on the outer edges of the earbuds to indicate when they’re charging. The Bluetooth 5.0 earbuds support both aptX and AAC high-quality codecs, which perform better than the standard SBC codec. Battery life is decent, with about 7-8 hours per charge and the case adding a little more than two charges.
In use, these earphones are likely to appeal to a large section of the audience due to their bass-heavy sonic signature, and bass notes clearly overpower the midrange and highs. The sound stage and stereo separation is pretty impressive for its price point. Unlike some buds, you can use either of the earbuds individually just by placing either of the buds back in the case.
Cons: While the design of the case and the buds themselves is compact and lightweight, the case doesn’t inspire confidence in day-to-day use, both from the rough sliding mechanism and the slight amount of difficulty in retrieving the buds from the case each time. Noise isolation levels while wearing these buds are poor. Priced at Rs. 8,000, these don’t earn an automatic recommendation, and you should look at compelling options from 1More and Sony before you pick one of these up.
Tushar Kanwar is a tech columnist and commentator, and tweets @2shar