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Sennheiser Urbanite XL review: A Beats competitor with quality bass and good clarity

Sennheiser goes after the Beats audience with a hipper more fashionable full-size headphone that costs less.

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David Carnoy
Steve Guttenberg
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David Carnoy

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Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable e-reader and e-publishing expert. He's also the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks and Nook e-books, as well as audiobooks.

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Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.

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Meet the Urbanite XL, Sennheiser's new, hipper, more fashionable over-ear headphone that retails for $250 (available in the UK for £200) and comes in a few different color options. In Australia, the XL goes on sale in mid-November and will cost AU$399.

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Sennheiser Urbanite XL

The Good

The Sennheiser Urbanite XL is a well-designed, comfortable to wear over-ear headphone that offers exciting, dynamic sound with quality bass. There's an integrated remote/microphone for calls (both an Android and iOS version of the headphone is available).

The Bad

The nylon carry "pouch" is skimpy.

The Bottom Line

The Sennheiser Urbanite XL is a well-designed Beats competitor that costs less and sounds as good or better.

It's a little bit of a departure for Sennheiser, which has staked out more of an audiophile audience in the past. But Beats has had such a profound impact on the market that Sennheiser's decided to come out with a headphone with a little more flair that seems designed to appeal to the Beats audience.

Sennheiser Urbanite XL headphones product photos

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A smaller, on-ear Urbanite retails for $50 less -- $200 (also available for £150 in the UK; AU$299 in Australia) and is appealing for those who don't to wear quite such a full-size headphone, particularly for mobile use.

Both models are comfortable to wear, but this XL model is arguably a bit more comfortable and it does a good job of passively seal out a decent amount of sound without clamping down on your head too firmly. The headphones fold up into a more compact form factor and they come with a carrying pouch, but it's pretty skimpy, which is a little disappointing.

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A smaller on-ear Urbanite is available $50 less. Sennheiser

While the headphones are mostly plastic, they do have metal hinges and seem sturdily built. They're not light for an over-ear model, but they aren't heavy either and are designed for both home and mobile use. A detachable, thick flat cable with an integrated remote and microphone is included and Sennheiser says both iOS- and Android-friendly versions of the headphone will be available (we tested the iOS-friendly version and call quality was decent using the headphones as a headset).

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The Urbanite XL folds up and comes with a skimpy carrying pouch. Sarah Tew/CNET

Performance

No doubt about it: the over-the ear Urbanite XL sounds substantially bigger, clearer and more spacious than the on-ear Urbanite. More often than not, you get a sound advantage with an over-ear model; indeed, Sennheiser's Momentum also outclassed its little brother, the Momentum On-Ear.

The differences between the Urbanite XL and Urbanite are even more obvious than the two Momentums. The Urbanite XL has what some might call the classic Sennheiser sound: it's smooth yet detailed and plays well with all music genres. Meanwhile, the on-ear Urbanite's bass is thicker and more pronounced, and there's less midrange detail.

Comparing the Urbanite XL with the over-ear Sennheiser Momentum, the more expensive Momentum has a sweeter, richer overall balance than the Urbanite XL, which has more treble "bite." Folks with lots of gritty or hashy sounding MP3 files might find the Urbanite XL's zippy treble irritating over the long run (with well-recorded music we enjoyed the Urbanite XL's sound balance).

That said, the on-ear Urbanite takes some of the edge off MP3s, so if that's what you mostly listen to, there's case to be made for buying the Urbanite instead of the Urbanite XL. We know that's sounds strange, but sometimes a superior headphone isn't always the clear winner in a listening test. Your source material has a major impact on sound quality; digital music fans may want to steer clear of a headphone that's so detailed that it exposes the low-fi side of their music collection.

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The inline remote/microphone. Sarah Tew/CNET

As we said, one of the Urbanite XL's biggest strengths is its bass. When A Tribe Called Quest's "The Low End Theory" album's bass plumbs the depths, the Urbanite XL doesn't hold anything back. There's no mud down there, and the Urbanite XL's bass texture, buoyancy and energy are first-rate.

The Urbanite XL unraveled Aphex Twin's spacious electronica sound fields with ease while the Momentum shrank the size down somewhat. The Urbanite XL's bass oomph, dynamics and soundstage agility were impressive, but the Momentum's more relaxed midrange and treble were easier on the ears. The Urbanite XL wins for buyers seeking a higher-energy sound, but the Momentum is more laid-back (warmer) and well-balanced.

Conclusion

The Sennheiser Urbanite is a well-designed Beats competitor that costs less than the $300 Beats Studio . It doesn't have the warmer, more balanced sound profile of the Sennheiser Momentum , but we liked it nevertheless and it's certainly worth considering if you're looking for an exciting, dynamic sounding headphone with quality bass.

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Sennheiser Urbanite XL

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Sound 8Value 7