REVIEW: SENNHEISER URBANITE XL
For testing purposes: Nexus 5, iPad mini Retina and Sansa Clip Zip (with rockbox firmware) utilised. Music selection: 2NE1 – The First Album, 2NE1 –Mini Album Vol. 2, Prince – 1999, Prince – Around The World In A Day, Prince – Purple Rain, The Prodigy – The Fat of the Land, Clara C – The Art In My Heart, Daft Punk – Random Access Memories, Nicholas Payton – Bam! Live at Bohemian Caverns.
Fancier sources were available but there was a conscious intention to replicate the listening context for 99% of consumers (although others have found the Clip Zip with Rockbox to measure well).
Unboxing and Packaging
This is Sennheiser: what you get is reassuring consistency and this begins as early as the product packaging. The light blue band – check, stencilled font – check, smart device compatibility label – check and rounding it off, the standard Sennheiser 2-years manufacturer warranty.
What is a surprise is seeing the URBANITE XL in person. The marketing photography is not quite flattering in my humble opinion (although the video adverts have to be seen for their sheer silliness). The ear cups were made to appear like plasticky early concept art for Cyclops of the X-Men.
In person the design does not completely convince but the headphone looks so much nicer in the flesh, particular in this shade of dark blue, which Sennheiser designates as “denim” (full colour choices being black, denim, olive, sand and nation). Please refer to your preferred search engine to translate that naming scheme into practical meaning!
A carry pouch and 1x removable smartphone cable is included. That is it. Some competitors bundle a spare second cable so perhaps Sennheiser really put all the money into the headphone and the margins did not justify any further accessories. Not a deal-breaker but it does mean Sennheiser starts off on the back foot and has points to make up for before you have even got going exploring.
Again the XL does look more attractive and prettier when seen with your own eyes. The matching fabric / canvas headband is fetching. The stainless steel hinges and aluminium sliders give this real reassurance, although watch you do not catch your fingertips on the folding hinge! The headphone is overwhelmingly plastic build but it is done solidly well. No creaking or weakness evident and it feels like it will take some rough handling (of course I could not stress-test the unit so cannot comment on the actual rigours of long-term ownership).
The cable is a flat-ribbon type that was perfect during use. No microphonics. No tangling. Did not misbehave. Feels nice too and built to a decent standard. The cable is single-sided and the locking mechanism on the left ear cup is proprietary, or probably more effort than it would be worth employing a cable manufacturer versus buying a spare official Sennheiser cable.
The ear pads are velour, which for me personally means it heats up faster than leather and retains more warmth too. My ears fitted perfectly inside the ear pad. Ear pad comfort was absolutely supreme. Light pressure and yet sealing. Environmental noise was reduced to an acceptable background level that you are ‘aware’ of without being distracted by. During album sessions the headphone never got fatiguing or ‘heavy’ to wear.
The headband has a touch of cushioning built-in, although 45-to-60 minutes into a session you may seek to adjust the headband position. Not quite on the same keel as my comfort-reference Sony MDR-1R mk2. The usual disclaimer applies: personal demonstration to verify comfort is key (as well as sound). We are all different and rock different hat sizes. Finally, the XL do appear rather large during wear but whether that matters is for the individual.
The marketing strap-line is “Massive bass without compromising clarity”.
That probably requires clarification. There is no introductory slap to the face. Neither are you shaken inside. But persevere, get to know one another and yes there are big thick bass notes.
Descriptive terms are only relative to context. Against the B&W P5 Series 2 that was also in the house the XL bass was more impactful, had more quantity, texture and detail. Compared to my bigger and badder B&W P7, the XL bass is tighter and leaner. The P7 bass has a touch more quantity. That is not to say the XL is bass-light. It is worth reiterating: the XL has plenty of bass but merely adopts a more precise approach. Also the XL does not quite have the deepest sub-bass extension or quantity although for my personal preference it was not bothersome. In truth, the P7 can even be made to appear a bit boomy by the XL.
Clarity: Sennheiser nailed it; that is to say the midrange shines here. Vocals sound great, with fullness and natural tonality that is better than on either B&W. Treble is also more assured than on either B&W. A little flat though, even though it sounds nice. Sennehiser chose the safer route as the treble does not ‘pop’ as on say some Ultrasone or Beyerdynamic models. It is unlikely even those with extra sensitivity would find the XL ‘bright’. This cautious treble presumably is deliberate to factor in the demographic Sennheiser are chasing will be using lower bitrate files or streaming YouTube.
Details are accurate without being over-done. Soundstage seems medium and acceptable in a portable headphone. The extra degree of clarity and sealing nature of the headphone does assist in pulling you into the music. Something to share about the XL: time and again I would be nodding along to the two B&W’s or my Sony MDR-1R mk2 and would reach back for the XL. There is a hypnotic rhythm to the coherency of the XL. This is especially so in the bass – midrange transition. This headphone sounds awesome.
The Momentum line is meant to be a higher tier and certainly the Momentum family styling would be easier to pick on first impressions. But it is worth noting that as the XL is foldable, it is more practical for storage and commuting. It may be worth for me to revisit the XL against the smaller URBANITE and the two Momentums.
Good sound for £200 makes this an enticing proposition. Bassy but also thoughtfulness towards the midrange and treble. The build quality seems to be very high for this price-point. If this model had come out earlier in the year I would have had a very difficulty buying decision.