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Sennheiser Urbanite XL Wireless review: A dynamic Bluetooth headphone

This Beats Studio Wireless competitor has a lot to like about it, including strong performance, a sturdy design and touch controls.

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David Carnoy
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David Carnoy

Executive Editor / Reviews

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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As part of its 2015 line of headphones, Sennheiser is serving up a few different wireless headphones, many of which are based on earlier wired models. Such is the case for the Urbanite XL Wireless, which follows in the footsteps of last year's wired Urbanite XL and carries a list price of $300 (£250, AU$400). It currently only comes in black, but more color options should arrive in the future.

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7.9

Sennheiser Urbanite XL Wireless

The Good

The Sennheiser Urbanite XL Wireless is a well-designed, comfortable over-ear wireless headphone that offers exciting, dynamic sound with quality bass. Battery life is strong at 25 hours of music playback; features highlights include dual microphones, touch controls and aptX support.

The Bad

The nylon carry "pouch" is skimpy; has a tendency to make songs that have a grittier edge sound harsher.

The Bottom Line

The Sennheiser Urbanite XL is a well-designed, dynamic-sounding Bluetooth headphone that works well with a lot of music -- but not quite everything.

Sennheiser's Urbanite line is designed to have a little more urban flare to it and appeal to the Beats audience. This model looks very similar to the wired Urbanite XL that we liked, but this model gives you the option of going wired or wireless and has touch controls on the right ear cup.

Tap the side of the headphone once and your music pauses or plays (the touch interface is quite sensitive). Tap twice and you advance a track forward. Swipe up and down to control volume.

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The headphone has touch controls on the right ear cup. Sarah Tew/CNET

Some people don't like these types of touch controls because you can end up accidentally touching the side of the headphone and interfering with music playback. But the touch controls worked well for me, even if I did have a few accidental pauses from time to time, particularly when I went to adjust the headphone on my head.

While made mostly of plastic, the Urbanite XL Wireless does have metal hinges, seems sturdily built and folds up into a more compact form factor. They come with a carrying pouch, but it's pretty skimpy, which is a little disappointing.

As far as other extras go, near-field communications (NFC) tap-to-pair technology and aptX, which is supposed to offer enhanced Bluetooth sound with smartphones that support it. The headphone also has dual microphones, so you can hear your voice in the headphone when you're using it as a cell-phone headset.

This model doesn't feature active noise-canceling like the Beats Studio Wireless and Sennheiser's more expensive Momentum Wireless . But sound isolation is decent and the headphones are comfortable to wear.

Battery life is rated at a strong 25 hours of music playback and the headphones come with a 2-year warranty, which is a year more than the warranty that you get with most headphones.

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What you get in the box. Sarah Tew/CNET

Performance

This is one of the better-sounding wireless headphones and may sound even better than the more expensive Momentum Wireless, depending on your audio tastes and the material you like to listen to.

This is a dynamic, exciting headphone with clean sound for Bluetooth and good, tight bass. This bass isn't as huge as Sennheiser says and this is actually a fairly well-balanced headphone with a pretty warm midrange and only a touch of sibilance in the treble.

That said, we found that the headphone's strong performance wasn't entirely consistent. It had a tendency to make songs that had a grittier edge sound harsher. So, this isn't as forgiving headphone as the Beats Studio Wireless, Sennheiser's own Momentum Wireless or Sony's MDR-1ABT, all of which sound a bit smoother and do a better job masking flaws in poorly recorded tracks.

With some material the Urbanite XL sounded great. The Punch Brothers' "The Phosphorescent Blues" album is well articulated through the headphones (you can distinctly hear each instrument) and I found the sound pretty open for a closed-back headphone. It also sounded good with hip-hop, techno, R&B and acoustical material.

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The headphones fold into a more compact form factor. Sarah Tew/CNET

But when we moved on to harder driving material like Fall Out Boy's "Immortals," "Wild Heart " by Bleachers, and Arcade Fire's "Reflektor" album, that brasher side of the headphone's sound emerged while the Beats Studio Wireless took some of the edge off.

As noted, you can use the Urbanite Wireless as a wired headphone with the included cord, which has an inline remote/microphone with volume controls. Wired performance is perhaps a touch better than Bluetooth performance (the touch controls do not work in wired mode). But the difference isn't significant and I only think you'd listen to this as a wired headphone if the battery dies or a flight attendant made you plug the cord in on a plane ride.

Conclusion

While the Urbanite XL Wireless isn't cheap at $300, it's cheaper than other premium Bluetooth headphones and overall I think it's a reasonable value when you factor in its good build-quality, comfort level and strong performance. Its only downside is that it's a revealing headphone that will make grittier music sound brash. But if you don't mind that, it's an excellent Bluetooth headphone.

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7.9

Sennheiser Urbanite XL Wireless

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Sound 7Value 8