A Great Headphone for the Kids: The Sennheiser Urbanite

Sennheiser Urbanite ($199)
Seems like nobody can talk about the new Urbanite and Urbanite XL without concluding it's Sennheiser's response to Beats. I don't quite buy it. Sure, Sennheiser is aware of Beats' colossal market share....who isn't? But Beats' share is so huge you might as well equate chasing Beats to chasing the entire market.

Beating Beats means you've got to get the attention of all market segments—teens, millennials, hipsters, urban youth, yuppies, aging hippies, baby-boomers, you name it. You're not going to do that by looking at what Beats did—I reckon Beats waking up the popular consciousness to the world to headphones was a one-time deal.

It seems to me the biggest vulnerability Beats has is its one-size-fits-all product line—Beats has six headphones and five earphone models; a quick and incomplete count shows Sennheiser having 37 over-ear, 25 on-ear, and 26 in-ear models. Beats may own the lion's share of the market, but they don't make models specifically for the various demographic segments. It seems to me, beating Beats means producing models designed specifically for each market segment and winning over one or two at a time...and then doing it over and over again. To my eyes, and ears, that's exactly what Sennheiser is doing.

Sennheiser's Momentum line is pretty obviously meant to attract a rather more up-scale and sophisticated audience than what we think of as the typical Beats buyer, and they've done quite well in the effort. Now, it seems, with the Urbanite, Sennheiser has set its sights squarely on Beats traditional stronghold: Millenials (born 1982-2000). Though it's far too soon to know if they'll succeed I will make this initial observation: The Sennheiser Urbanite headphones are much more comfortable when worn around my neck than the new Beats Solo2. I suppose that's a good start, but, of course, there's much more to the story.

Sennheiser_Urbanite_Photo_Disassembled

Physical Description
The Sennheiser Urbanite is an on-ear, sealed headphone. With the exception of the fabric headband cover, stainless steel hinges, and aluminum slider arms, remaining parts are high-quality plastics and synthetic materials of various types. Most parts have a satin finish that resists fingerprints nicely.

Much is made of the Urbanite's durability in Sennheiser's marketing materials for the product, and while it's a very difficult thing to test for with surety, the Urbanites do indeed apear to be built like a tank. I've been to the materials analysis lab at Sennheiser's headquarters, and can tell you I walked away extremely impressed with their command of the field.

The headband is fairly wide and has a fabric outer cover. The cushion on the inside of the headband appears to be a molded silicon rubber part covering the entire inner surface of the headband. I can't tell by feel whether or not there is any foam beneath it, but I think not. The shape of the headband cushion does does bulge out and provide enough give for a cushiony action.

Sennheiser_Urbanite_Photo_HingeDisassembled

Sennheiser_Urbanite_Photo_HingeDetailThe Urbanite arm ends fold inward to make them smaller for storage and transport. Hinges of the Urbanite are stainless steel and seem almost overkill for a pair of headphones. The aluminum slider arms rotate inward on a pivot pin press-fit into the top end of the arm. A second pin is also press-fit through the arm and acts as part of the detent locking the arm in place when fully open. A small plastic block mounted in the injection molded metal headband end-piece provides just enough give for the detent pin to gently click into place. These hinges are nice and beefy, for sure.

In the Solo2 literature, Beats made an effort to point out that the screws were no longer visible on their hinges. Personally, I think a headphone with visible screws that make it obvious how to take it apart is a plus. An even bigger plus is when it's so well built that taking it apart and putting it back together doesn't need three hands or cause damage to the headphones. (One disclaimer here: I really don't recommend that people take things apart just out of curiosity. The majority of screws in most headphones thread into plastic bosses, and the threads in the plastic will suffer to some degree in the process of assembly and disassembly, and will eventually strip out.)

I've taken a lot of headphones apart in my career as a professional headphone geek. Without doubt the Urbanite is among the best constructed headphones I've experienced at anywhere near this price range. V-Moda headphones are the other stand-out manufacturer in this regard.

Ear cushions on the Urbanite are a particularly nice velour material and cover a moderately dense memory foam. I found them to be very comfortable for an on-ear headphone, and my ears and measurements show that isolation is excellent.

Somewhat large silicon rubber cable housings exit from the headband and enter the top of the ear capsules through openings. As the capsules slide up and down during adjustment, the cable housings are allowed to remain stationary as the capsules move around them. This is a novel and pretty slick idea.

The rear of the capsules are attached to a ball joint joining them with the slider assemblies. The slider assemblies clamp to the beveled inside edge of the aluminum slider arms, and ride on small pads that looked like nylon to me. The movement is smooth and without detents, but with enough friction to remain nicely secure when worn.

Sennheiser_Urbanite_Photo_Driver

Urbanite driver assembly. Notice that the rear view (right) shows that the driver has an internal housing. The two flat spots to the right and left of the rear are holes covered with small damping cloth patches.

I've read a number of comments on Head-Fi from people wondering if there's any commonality between the HD 25 Aluminum and the Urbanite as their capsules are about the same size. I did partially take apart my HD 25 Aluminum and found very little in common.

The Urbanite's driver and acoustic design seems somewhat unusual to me. The capsule housing has a large opening at the top through which the cable guide enters that creates a significant air leak. I wondered about that at first, but upon opening the Urbanite and removing the driver I noticed that there's an internal cover for the back of the driver. There are to vents covered with damping cloth on this rear cover.

Sennheiser_Urbanite_Photo_InsideCapsule

Inside the capsule housing.
The Amperior had a little acoustic damping foam in the capsule housing, the Urbanite does not. This doesn't bother me much because I would assume all the magic is in the driver housing. While there's a large opening to the outside around the cable guide at the top of the housing, measurements show very good isolation for the Urbanite. Again, most of the acoustic control must be in the driver housing.

Sennheiser_Urbanite_Photo_Colors

Styling
For iOS device users, the Urbanite is available in the above five colors. Urbanite models with cables for Android and other smartphone users can only select Black and Denim colors (first two at left).

I would say these headphones look a little better in person than in the pictures, though the headband does seem slightly too wide for the ear pieces. There is another model coming soon, the around-the-ear Urbanite XL, that uses the exact same headband. Its larger ear cups look better in proportion to the wide headband. Personally, I like the look. It's a bit utilitarian, but since one of the major goals of the product was extreme durability it seems perfectly acceptable to have a chunky, solid appearance.

Cable and Accessories
The Urbanite cable is 48" long and flat in cross-section. Insulation is black and seems to be a silicon rubber compound. The headphone end of the cable terminates in a TRRS 2.5mm plug, which plugs into a recessed jack on the left earpiece. There is a locking mechanism. Aftermarket cables will be difficult to refit. A 3.5mm 90 degree angled plug terminates the player end of the cable. This connector has very little space before the angled part and I did find it interfering with my Otterbox Defender case around my Samsung Galaxy S3. On wrong move in my pocket and the plug would slightly ease out of the jack and the phone would go into pause.

I had the iOS version of the cable with three button remote. The remote is rather high on the cable making it a bit hard to see next to your cheek, but the remote is rather large and buttons easy to access by hand feel alone. I had no problems using the remote.

Accessories include...one very thin fabric drawstring bag. This is one area that could have been significantly improved upon; the bag is pretty cheap. 'Course it could be that Sennheiser put so much money into the headphones (they are very nicely built and will take a beating) that they couldn't budget for a nicer bag.

Physical Summary
The Urbanite hits on all cylinders. The headband rests at the top of your head, but the headband cushion is very soft and the contact patch large enough to disperse the modest weight of the headphones. Earpads are ample and nicely cushioned, and the velour coverings are very comfortable and cool against the ears. These hang very nicely around the neck. The Urbanite is a very comfortable on-ear headphone.

The Urbanite is built to last, I've seen very few headphones at this price point with any where near this quality of construction and durability. (V-Moda headphones also come to mind.) I'd feel very comfortable putting these into the hands of a shredding skateboarder; if there's any headphone that will survive a faceplant in the skatepark, the Urbanite would be it.

Personally, I like the looks of bicycles, pianos, and sailboats—they all have a strong "form follows function" design, something I quite enjoy. The Urbanite is first and foremost a comfortable and durable headphone...and it looks the part.

Now, about the sound...

COMPANY INFO
Sennheiser USA
1 Enterprise Dr.
Old Lyme, CT 06371
(860) 434-9190
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Claritas's picture

How would you say they compare against the B&W P5, and have you heard anything about the P5 Series 2? Thanks much.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Good question. Haven't heard the new one, but have requested a sample. From memory alone I would think they're somewhat similar to the original P5, but didn't do the comparison.
bernardperu's picture

Nice review, Tyll.

Did you have a chance to listen to the Urbanites over-ear? How was the sound?

By the way, the Momentums over-ear are awesome. I use them for walking and they are light, discrete, comfortable, and sound great! Much better choice for walking that the Visos or the Focal Classics over ear, which I also own.

bronson's picture

Yeah, I've those three cans also and definitely agree that the Momentum over ears are awesome and definitely give a very svelte classy subtle look, but I prefer the sound of the solo2 over them.

The Viso's squared off headband make them a no-no for me to wear out and about, plus I feel,that they really do require the benefit of an amp which also drops their portability over others already mentioned which sound good directly plugged into source DAP.

Nit I'm eager to hear these new urbanites for myself and look forward to Tyll's no doubt upcoming review of the XL variant.

bernardperu's picture

Solo2 superior to Momentum over-ear? Don't the Solos have smaller drivers? Size of drivers makes a big difference.

I think I am also lucky to have small ears, as my ears tend to be great fits for all kind of over the ear headphones.

bronson's picture

I don't know about the solo2 being "superior" to Momentum over ears, but the solo2 sound signature is more preferable to me personally, but that's just because I appreciate more at the low end.

The Momentum oe are more neutral sounding/balanced than the solo2 and are built with more luxury materials and maybe have a more classic svelte look about them over the solo2, but both are very good IMO.

Why not just get both? (lol)

bronson's picture

Well, well, well, the Urb is a winner and I think that's great news for the consumer no matter what age buys into these cans, though I expect they will do best with their intended "millennial" target audience, complete with hilarious advertising campaign - I love their quirky videos and think this is exactly the right approach required to make the Urb's stand out in an already crowded sector of the market.

I've got to say though that I'm disappointed with Sennheiser's marketing spiel that claimed "massive bass" - from what you describe, this isn't the case and is kind of contradictory of their ad campaign which message is of a better but not louder sound, so bassheads may or may not be interested - that depends maybe on how well the Urb's EQ I guess.

It's looking still very crowded up there on your WOF with no clear winner with the caveat that there's very good choices within the portable closed back headphone category - so it's kind of a win - win in my eyes anyway.

I wonder if you've had opportunity to check the Thinksound On1 Monitor as of yet, as I still believe that that particular headphone could still knock off everything current of clutter and be your singular class leader, with the rub that the On1 is the most expensive out of all, so I guess they should be the better sounding for that reason alone.

I might have missed this, but what size are the drivers in these on ear urbanites - 40mm?

I'd be very grateful if you could add driver sizes to your already detailed and excellent reviews for sure.

Many thanks for making this urbanite review - I really enjoyed reading through it!

tony's picture

It does seem to be about Style , doesn't it ? , a nice pair of "In Ear" would be more practical unless having that "Look" is important enough to overcome all the added stuff to carry around , "darn I forgot my headphones or did I leave the headphones by mistake , have to go back , darn it , darn it , darn it " . Little tiny things fit in a shirt pocket or bag , soooooo easy , why bother with big Cans ?

But , I'm in my 7 Decade & not tempted to wear headphones out on a business trip , seems a silly concept . I like the Presidential Guard ( or Stage Performer ) look of IEMs vs. the Bubblegum look of Beats .

Tony in Michigan

Ps. nice Red shirt , wifey says it's a bit loud , I'd wear the shirt instead of the headphones !! , the shirt says I'm confident in myself and not at all afraid , trying to fit in , trying too hard to be cool .

bronson's picture

Personally I prefer on or over ear headphones rather than in ear buds - I just don't like the feel of having something in my ears.

I wonder what the sales ratio is between in ear buds compared to on/over ear cans within the same price bracket?

Maybe Tyll knows - be interesting to know for sure.

With regards Tyll's shirt - maybe he's gone for the Urbanite look for this review - though he should have gone more swag when he did his solo2 review methinks - lol ;)

tony's picture

Thanks for writing ,

Something in my ears is a must , noisy environments of Air Travel , busy streets , noisy stores , horribly noisy restaurants , how else can one find peace ? If nothing else , I'll be wearing those yellow ear protectors ( 30db of quieting ) , I'll keep a few pair in every travel kit !!! The Etymotics are super for quieting the outside racket one must try to cope with everywhere one goes nowadays .

When someone tries to talk to me I can just point to one of my ears and shake my head , they seem to understand that I'm deaf which simplifies all public nonsense discourse , a God-Send for a public person like me .

Impulse's picture

I love my Etys, in ears are nice and all when you want all that isolation... But I don't always need or want that degree of isolation.

I wear my on ear M-80 when I'm gonna be walking across traffic a lot, or taking them off to talk to others, or when I want to be aware of what's going on without hearing EVERYTHING around me (like about to board a flight), or when my ears are just tired of in ears...

So yeah, there's plenty of reasons for on ear portables if you think outside of your personal bubble. I particularly like the collapsing design of the XS since it makes them smaller than just about anything else.

tony's picture

Hello Impulse ,

Thank You for writing back ,

I suppose that I'd have to agree , there are plenty of reasons for headphones , I don't know the M-80 product ( I will research them ) , I have read our Tyll's comments about noise canceling phones and promised myself a try-out , I already travel with tons of technical stuff so a portable headphone may have a place in my travel kits , what's one more item in this ever-increasingly complex world . Back in the Day I just brought a book and the little yellow noise suppression ear protectors . No going back now !!

Tony in Michigan

tom22's picture

Tyll, how do you think they fair against the oldies like the hd25s/ amperiors/ aluminum and the dt1350.

all these recent releases seems to be fighting each other for the same spot on the wall of fame but what about those other ones (the oldies i mean) are any of them threatening to dethrone those guys?

BarbecueGamer's picture

Hello Tyll, fantastic review! I'm about to purchase my first pair of high quality headphones. And I was hoping I could get your advice. I'm wondering if there's anything better out there than the NAD Viso HP50. But something that doesn't require an amp just like the HP50. I have exactly $400 to spend, so do you think there's anything better out there that I could get for that price that wouldn't require an amp? I want something that's well balanced, and will do good with anything I throw at it. That's why I'm pretty much set on the HP50. But I just wanted to ask you really quick if there's anything better I could be getting with my money. Hope to hear from you soon, thanks in advance!

Impulse's picture

I think depending on your needs Tyll might have other viable choices on the WoF, from Focal and Shure in particular... I've been looking for a closed pair for living room use too, the only other headphone I'm looking at besides the NADs are Mrspeaker Mad Dogs, but those benefit even more from a good amp so that's probably of no use to ya.

That Mad Dog Pro/Alpha review still coming Tyll?

Impulse's picture

I wish Senn would stop using these recessed/locking jacks that make it hard or impossible to replace cables with aftermarket options... I guess it's more profitable for them but not very consumer friendly.

It's really nice to be able to freely choose shorter cables for use with clip on DAPs and BT receivers, cables with different remotes or no mic/remote, longer cables for home, coiled cables, etc.

V-Moda deserves some credit for going the opposite route IMO (never mind best collapsing design and case, bar none), so XS it is for me. I rather like the look of the Urbanite line tho, dunno why they're being so stingy with cables as to limit Android users to two only two color choices.

Takato14's picture

Hipster Beats.

snowcat's picture

Hi Tyl,
I am currently looking for a new headphone so I wan to task you wich one of those would you recommend more for all sorts of Metal, Rock and somewhat symphonic music

Chrisknos's picture

Tyll, do you at least have possessions of the XL version of the urbanites? I wonder if the isolation of the XL to be at the very least stellar.

neoterix's picture

Solid review Tyll! I appreciate your reviewing some of the more mainstream-oriented part of the headphone market (in addition to the more expensive, flagship-style equipment). If I can make a recommendation for a future headphone to review, I'd love to see your thoughts on the Samsung Level Over, a fairly new entrant to the high-end Bluetooth (high end is relative, particularly for Bluetooth) headphone market, and would complement headphones you've previously reviewed like the Sony MDR-1RBT, Parrot Zik, and Phiaton Chord MS530. Thanks!

El Capo Ninja's picture

There's a new Samsung over ear headphones call "Level" and they look really good , i was wondering if you're thinking on doing a review on them? Thanks.

veggieboy2001's picture

I really hope Tyll get his hands (ears) on a pair of these...I've heard nothing but good stuff about them....I'd love to hear them myself.

veggieboy2001's picture

I guess you can't edit or delete whats already been posted any more..sorry for the duplication.

veggieboy2001's picture

Right on Bronson!
I really hope Tyll get his hands (ears) on a pair of these...I've heard nothing but good stuff about them....I'd love to hear them myself.

scribbs's picture

Your reviews are a pleasure to read, but this time around the typos were just killing me. :)

I know how they can creep in from time to time, especially when you are burning the midnight oil. Too many without my morning coffee and them's fightin' words. It's a pet peeve of mine, so maybe I should just get over it. Feel free to ignore/flame as you see fit. However, I'm guessing you pride yourself on accuracy, so if you'd like another pair of eyes to proofread your posts before pushing them to the website, I would be happy to help.

That aside, keep up the good fight! :)

guerillaw's picture

"suite its intended audience well"

Yes Tyll, thanks for what you do and put me on the list of potential proof-readers.

thelostMIDrange's picture

for even adults. Sennheiser must be digging at the bottom of its marketing and ethical barrel for this one aimed at teenagers. Thanks for being part of the problem.

TMRaven's picture

Seems like Tyll's giving out wall of fame tags to every headphone he reviews these days. Those fr graphs look horrible.

SkylarGray's picture

Let me fix that for you:

I give you "Normal."
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tmhdOfIEqU

lenbell's picture

i'm mid 40s(so not a kiddo) ..i need ONE portable headphone..beats solo2 or momentum OVER ear.

thanks,

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