Traditional audio brands are often the slowest to adapt to trends, and we're only now starting to see super-fashionable headphones in the same vein as the now-ubiquitous Beats By Dre. But those brands bring with them years and years of audio experience, and there are few companies with the history behind them of Sennheiser. The German audio powerhouse's new Urbanite XL headphones are taking the fight to Beats, Bose and the rest of the young, hip over-the-ear headphone crowd.
What Is It?
- Bluetooth: No
- Noise Cancelling: No
- Frequency Response: 16-22,000Hz
- Drivers: Dynamic, Closed
- Controls: In-Line Microphone, Play/Pause, Volume (iOS)
- Inputs: 3.5mm
The $399 Sennheiser Urbanite XL is a closed, over-the-ear pair of headphones; that same tried-and-tested formula that has produced some excellent 'cans in the past. Headphones that are closed and seal around the edge of your ears provide the best isolation from the outside world available without going for invasive in-ear monitors or for energy-draining active noise cancelling models, and Sennheiser has designed the Urbanite XL to that effect.
Despite being a proper, full-size pair of headphones with thick headband and sizeable earpads to match, the Urbanite XL is relatively portable. Each of those earcups swings up and out of the way to meet the centre of the headband, with a lateral hinge in the headband hidden behind the brushed metal-finish Sennheiser logo. The earcups move up and down on an individual basis, too, so there's a lot of adjustability available (albeit no swivelling on the earcups beyond a bit of movement) without sacrificing portability.
The Urbanite XL is finished in a range of different materials -- no samey single-piece Beats plastic here. The earcups are a painted olive plastic, as are the telescoping and folding carriers for those earcups -- that's where you'll find an oversized Sennheiser logo, too. Moving further up is the aforementioned metal hinge, and then a relatively thin and stiff headband wrapped in rubberised plastic and a black olive-trimmed denim.
Stylish Headphones: Noise Cancelling And Other Specs That Matter
The Urbanite XL's cable bears mentioning, too. It's an inline-mic and volume-control-toting 1.3-metre flat cable, but it's the connector at the headphone end that is the most interesting part; once you plug it in, twist for a solid connection and the cable is locked into place. No more accidentally pulling out the cable as it snags on something while you're walking. (Although that does beg the question, will your smartphone come flying out of your pocket instead?)
What's It Good At?
Sound quality is something you'd expect Sennheiser to be good at, and of course the Urbanite XL delivers in spades. These are loud headphones, even if you're driving them off a smartphone or tablet -- efficient drivers means simultaneously high maximum volume and powerful bass and crisp treble response. At the same time, these aren't headphones that you would really use to listen critically to music -- there are more balanced and more neutral headphones available from competitors like AKG and Audio Technica.
What the Urbanite XL is good at is making music of a wide variety of genres sound fun. Bass response isn't Beats-level powerful or boomy and slow to decay -- instead it's strong, but punchy and tight, and there's enough of it to make beat-driven music sound involving. You won't blow your ears off, and there's not quite enough to shake the Urbanite XL at full volume, but unless you're comparing the bass to excessively powerful headphones you won't be at all disappointed.
Treble is similarly strong but not excessive, and there's a goodly amount of mid-range detail even if it is slightly recessed compared to the upper and lower registers throughout the Urbanite XL's wide and versatile 16-22,000Hz frequency range. These are musically capable headphones, even though they might not look it with their fashionable design.
That design, too, is worth making mention of. The Urbanite XL headphones are very well constructed; they're genuinely sturdy, which isn't really something you can say of many headphones that aren't constructed from metal. The headband isn't exactly compliant, and it has some less than ergonomic sharp outer edges, but everything is solidly constructed and I'm confident the Urbanite XL will stand the test of time. Little things like the locking mechanism of the audio cable point to the thought and effort gone into these headphones' design.
What's It Not Good At?
The Sennheiser Urbanite XL is a very attractive pair of headphones and a very impressive sounding pair of headphones, but they're not especially comfortable for extended listening sessions. The earpads' soft felt covering isn't the culprit, and neither is the memory foam (although that's a little stiff as well) -- the issue is the thin layer of foam, nearly nonexistant, under the headband, and the way that band actually has quite distinctly square edges where it touches your head, digging in and starting to hurt after a while. If you wear your hair close-cropped like me, the issue becomes even more apparent.
The Urbanite XL is expensive. Sennheiser has always been an expensive brand, but these headphones compete directly with Bose over-the-ear headphones not only in style and utility but also in price. When you're not getting Bluetooth, nor active noise cancellation, it becomes a little more difficult to justify paying nearly $400 -- despite that excellent build quality and all-round nice sound.
By the way, despite being portable, they're only slightly so -- the soft carry bag that is the Sennheiser Urbanite XL's only accessory means that the folded headphones and cable inside are lumpy and misshapen; if the earcups swiveled flat and folded up it'd be simultaneously more compact and more easy to pack when travelling. They're alright, but there are more portable over-the-ear models out there like the Bose QuietComfort 25.
Should You Buy It?
The Urbanite XL headphones from Sennheiser are not especially cheap; you'll be up for a full $399 if you buy them at RRP. If you can save money by finding them on special, they become better value. But just as the Urbanites are Beats competitors in design and in feature-set, they're also competitors when it comes to price. You're paying a bit of a premium for that Sennheiser brand name anyway, and it's especially true for the Urbanite XL.
Despite that premium price tag, the Urbanite XL remains a good pair of headphones with excellent sound quality -- superior to Beats and on par with the best of Bose, as well as more distinguished audio brands like Audio-Technica. Comfort isn't the Urbanite XL's strongest suit, but for shorter listening sessions they're perfectly capable headphones and you won't be disappointed with the audio that you're listening to.
A little bit more plush padding would have been nice, but apart from that that hallmark Sennheiser build quality is very much in evidence with the Urbanite XL. Fabric-wrapped headbands seem to be in vogue at the moment, as do coloured plastic earcups, and the XLs have both in spades. The olive, black and white colour scheme toes that fine line between professional and playful -- these are headphones that you could wear to, from, and inside your office job.
If brand and design are only slightly less important to you than audio quality, then the Sennheiser Urbanite XL is well worth investigating. For a wide variety of genres they sound pretty damn good, and their overall sound signature is musical without being excessively bassy and fatiguing -- as long as you're not listening for extended periods of time.