Design is high on the agenda as a major influencing factor nowadays for people considering which pair of headphones to opt for. But sometimes consumers forget that a stylish outfit doesn’t always translate into a comfy pair of headphones or have any bearing on audio playback quality either. The Sennheiser Urbanite XL headphones are a good example of carefully styled design throughout, with five colour options. They look magnificent and definitely capture an urban-sophisticated look, and even more pleasingly their design is practical too.
Design, Features & Comfort
The reasonably long cable is flat, so it resists tangling, and the headband exterior is lined with a textured fabric, is durable and adds definition to the headband design. The headband is well padded and has plump removable ear-cups and the rubberised material that rests against the top of the head is soft and a non-irritant. For walking around the home or office these strike the right balance of comfort and looks to wear for seven+ hours with no annoyance to report from the over-ear design. But if you want to go running or engage in an activity that involves a lot of movement, these will fall short, or rather fall off, your head. Different sized heads are catered for as the Sennheiser Urbanite XL ear-cups glide up and down aluminium sliders for adjusted length and the band itself is flexible too. There is also a helpful and tactile 3-button remote on the cable, serving up convenient skipping, pause/play and volume control of the audio coming from the device; in our case iOS devices, but Android devices are supported.
These may look like sophisticated headphones, but they don’t mind being treated roughly. Sennheiser have put together a really durable pair of headphones that can be folded, via the stainless steel hinges, to be compact enough to take with you everywhere you go. We’ve taken our Urbanite XL headphones far and wide, throwing them onto all kinds of different surfaces in the process. We were surprised to note that the paint on the rigid plastic ear-cups hasn’t been scuffed by this everyday type of usage, and although the fabric headband can pick up dirt, the fine weave makes it easy to wipe clean.
Is it all about the bass? Well, the bass is magnified, but the treble isn’t forgotten and neither are the high frequencies, judging from our listening across a sweeping assembly of genres. Emphasis on the bass within the main stream consumer headphones market is common place, with Beats headphones top of the list of this trend. But what we like here is that Sennheiser have made sure the magnified bass is tight and refined, without compromising the other frequency levels. So the mid-range gets a shiny large stage to flow and the highs have room to fly, without feeling the bass is unfairly emphasised or pushing in. Also worth noting is that the Urbanite XL’s soundstage and stereo separation is distinct. The clarity allows us to enjoy individual instruments and vocals, a quality which many headphones in this price range and of the closed back style don’t nail quite well enough for our liking. Closed back headphones can completely ace a massive soundstage, as demonstrated by the Ultrasone Signature Pro headphones we reviewed earlier in the year. The closed back design stops nearly all ambient urban noises coming into your ears whilst playing audio and they do a tremendous job at not leaking audio outwards as well.
So if we listen to something like the live performance of ‘Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay' by ‘Sarah Bareilles’, we can hear a phenomenally realistic reproduction of a juicy mid-high range from the Sennheiser Urbanite XL Headphones, with the raw gutsy voice and charming crisp highs, that are harmonious components of Sarah’s voice, as if we were there watching her. The Urbanite XL’s will go down well with people who love to listen to live music recordings, particularly acoustic styled. But if we throw these headphones into some more produced studio music, like ‘Houdini’ by Foster The People, we have a brilliant example of the Urbanite XL headphones bass-thump. In this track lots of techno digital sound effects are wrapped up with low key notes from a piano and the bass elements take form in digital effects and drums, and contrasting all this busy and fast paced ambience are high vocals and a digital whistle of sorts. When we played this song through the stylised urban designed BiGR Audio Madison Avenue headphones, priced at roughly half that of the Urbanite XL’s, they couldn’t keep up with this broadness of frequencies and sounded quite flat too, whereas the Sennheiser Urbanite XL headphones have no trouble at all keeping up with the pace: the reproduction was great, with balanced frequencies that were allowed to fully breath alongside a thumping bass.
The Urbanite XL headphones leave us with nothing to whinge about. They live up to the urban stance Sennheiser have taken, with a heartily endearing contemporary design that delivers consistent comfort and can be close packed when you want them to be. But the crucial point is they sound marvellous and surpass many other headphones aiming for the same market area, at around the same price.