Friday, April 10, 2015

2015 Headphone Shootout Part 3: The Wireless Models

It’s now time for part 3 of our headphone shootout, the wireless models. We have both in the ear and over the ear models this year. They are from some great manufacturers, being JBL, Kicker, and Sennheiser. MSRPs range from $99 to $499.

We’ll start with the more entry level IEM’s by JBL, the Synchos Reflect BT that have a low MSRP of only $99. Every year I am amazed at just how much bang for the buck we can get. They are designed for the active user, being both wireless and water resistant. And they are a perfect example of bang for the buck.

Features and specs:
Audio Specifications
Frequency Response: 10Hz – 22kHz

Speaker Specifications
Driver: Premium 8.5mm
Control and Connection Specifications
Connector: Bluetooth®
Bluetooth®-enabled wireless connectivity
Built-in 4.0 Bluetooth connectivity gives you freedom from wires and up to 5 hours of your favorite soundtracks. It allows you to monitor volume and easily control tracks even while your smartphone remains safe in your gym bag – up to 40 feet away!
Reflective cord design and retractable tether
Make the play for safety - the Reflect BT's sweatproof cable provides high visibility in low light, perfect for night time runners. A retractable tether allows you to customize cord length.
Ergonomic ear-tips and angled ear pieces
Designed to stay in your ear no matter what you put them through.
Cable management system with serious attraction
Built-in magnets keep your buds on stand-by; when not in use, wrap the buds around your neck and watch them click together. No more loose cables!
iOS or universal remote control/mic
Connectivity. Convenience. Peace-of-mind. Take calls, control tracks and adjust volume with rugged inline controls.
Groundbreaking JBL-quality sound
Dual 8.5mm drivers give you thumping bass and clear vocals for the ultimate pump-you-up track.
They arrived in an attractive box, which had photos and specs of the product. They are mostly made of plastic, with some metal. Quality of materials used were good, as was the fit and finish. They felt well made in hand. Also included was the owner’s manual.  How do they perform?  Let's find out.

Fresh Aire:  Going To Another Place, had crisp string and percussion that was clean and just a tad tinnie. Piano sounded pretty natural. Flute was smooth with air. Drums had nice dynamics.  Steve Miller Band: Swingtown showed nice impact and depth from the drums. Guitar sounded natural. Percussion sounded clean with some resolution. Vocals were natural, smooth, with good texture.  No Doubt: Hella Good, drums had good dynamics and depth. Percussion was crisp and clean. Vocals were natural and sounded only a tad shallow. There’s a lot of energy in this track, and it came through very well.  Eric Bibb: Don't Ever Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down, guitar sounded crisp with good resolution. Piano sounded natural. Vocals were very natural with good texture and resolution.

The JBL Synchos Reflect BT are a great product.  You get a lot of bang for the buck, given the fact that they are also wireless and sweat resistant.  Given this functionality is built-in at the low price, you get a lot.  This functionality takes cost, meaning part of what you are paying for is more than just audio performance.  However, they still managed to perform better than expected at their price point.  I found the Bluetooth functionality to be good for around 10 feet.  It's not very far, but it worked well and was easy to connect, and is far enough to have your phone in your pocket while exercising.

Next up are the Kicker Tabor. Kicker, while fairly new to headphone products, they are not new to great sound. The Kicker Tabor appear to be built on that foundation. They are an over the ear design that are also wireless.  MSRP is an extremely reasonable $180.

Features and specs:
Frequency response, Hz
Sensitivity, dB/1mW
Impedance (Ohms)
Drive Components
Max Output
Input Connections
1/8 in (3.5mm) stereo; Bluetooth A2DP, AVRCP, HFP, aptX
3.7V/600mAh Lithium-ion; 10 hours life; 2.5 hours charge time
5' USB-A to micro USB; 5' 3.5mm stereo cable; 5' 3.5mm stereo cable with microphone; KICKER travel bag

The Kicker Tabor came in a nice looking box that had its features, specs and pictures also printed on the box. They were made mostly of plastic, with some metal. Materials used in the construction were of good quality, as was the fit and finish. They felt like a solid well made product in hand. Also included was the soft carry case.  Let's see how they sound.

Fresh Aire: Going To Another Place, strings and percussion were crisp and clean with good resolution. Piano sounded natural. Drums had really good depth and authority, as I would expect from Kicker sound. Flute was smooth with good air.  Steve Miller Bad: Swingtown, percussion was crisp. Guitar sounded good. Drums played deep with good authority and dynamics. Vocals sounded natural, smooth, with good resolution to reveal the texture.  No Doubt: Hella Good, percussion was very crisp and dynamic. Bass was deep, tons of in your chest impact and authority. Vocals were very natural and smooth, sounding sexier than expected at this price point. All the energy in the track came out well.  Eric Bibb: Don't Ever Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down, guitar sounded natural with good resolution and detail. Bass had nice low end extension and output. Vocals were smooth and natural with good texture. Sound stage was also good as was the imaging.

The Kicker Tabor proved to be another great value.  With an MSRP of $180, you again get good bang for your buck.  The large drivers not only gave good detailed sound, they also provided the signature kicker bass that many of us have come to love.  The controls were easy to use, with hard buttons for track, volume, and power on the ear cup.  The wireless performance was good for around 25 feet, which is reduced some when dealing with walls.  And I liked the included tangle free cable for times when you need to go wired.  They also proved to be very comfortable, so you are good to go for those long listening sessions.

Last but not least is the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless. Last year we had the opportunity to review the Sennheiser Momentum. They were standard over the ear in ivory color that was just sexy looking! So when given the opportunity to review the new wireless version, we naturally jumped on it. They are an over the ear design, wireless, and active noise cancelling. They came in matte black that looked simply elegant! MSRP is $499.

Features and specs:
  • Color
ivory, black
  • Impedance
passive: 28 Ω (Article No. 506381)
  • Impedance
active: 480 Ω (Article No. 506381)
  • Frequency response (headphones)
16 Hz – 22000 Hz
  • THD, total harmonic distortion
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  • Contact pressure
Approx. 3.6 N
  • Frequency response (microphone)
Wideband: 100 - 8,000Hz (Article No. 506381)
  • Frequency response (microphone)
Narrowband: 300 - 3,400Hz (Article No. 506381)
  • Pick-up pattern
Dual omni-directional microphone (2 mic beamforming array)
  • Sensitivity as per 121 TR 9-5
-44dB V/Pa (1kHz)
General data
  • Bluetooth Version
Bluetooth 4.0 + EDR
  • Supported Profiles
  • Ear coupling
  • Jack plug
3.5 mm, angled
  • Cable length
1.4 m (Detachable)
  • Transducer principle
Dynamic, Closed
  • Attenuation
Up to 25dB
  • Charging time
Approx. 3 hrs
  • Operating time
22hrs (HFP + ANC)
  • Battery Specification
Rechargeable Lithium-ion Polymer (600mAh)
  • Codecs
  • NoiseGard™ noise compensation
NoiseGard™ Hybrid technology with 4 pick-up microphones

They came shipped in a premium printed color box with photos and specs of the product. Materials used in the construction were metal, leather, and some plastic. Quality of materials used were excellent. The same can be said for the fit and finish. You can see the quality in the details, such as the screws in the metal hinges, for example. They feel like a well made and solid product in hand. Also included were the owner's manual, hard zippered case, cable so you can use through wired if you so choose, charging cable, and airline adapter.  And now for what we have been waiting for:  how they sound.

Fresh Aire: Going To Another Place, strings and percussion was extremely crisp and clean with excellent resolution and dynamics. Drums had huge depth with good impact and authority. Piano sounded very natural. Flute was extremely smooth with excellent air and resolution to hear the tonguing.  Steve Miller Band: Swingtown, percussion was very crisp with excellent resolution. Kick drum had excellent depth, resolution, and impact with authority. Bass guitar also had nice low end extension. Vocals were silky smooth with excellent resolution and texture.  No Doubt: Hella Good, percussion was extremely crisp and clean and extremely dynamic, without losing any of the details. Bass was very deep, in your chest impact, clean and with lots of authority. Vocals were amazing, so natural, smooth, excellent resolution, and just downright sexy!  Eric Bibb: Don't Ever Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down, guitar was very natural with great resolution. Piano sounded very natural. Bass was nice and deep with good authority. Vocals sounded smooth as honey with excellent texture. Maria Muldaur can really wail, and it all came through. Imaging was spot on, and they also threw a large soundstage.

The Sennheiser Momentum Wireless is the real deal.  The $499 price tag is not cheap, but you get what you pay for.  These premium wireless headphones provide a lot of functionality.  Whether it is sound performance, wireless performance, or active noise cancelling, they delivered in spades.  The wireless performance was great.  I was able to go about 40 feet before the connection was lost.  Add walls into the equation and they are good for about 20 feet.  The active noise cancellation also performed well, removing the low end rumble they are designed to do.  And of course I loved the Sennheiser build quality of the metal and real leather, simple design, and elegant look of the matte black.  And with the real leather, they were extremely comfortable to wear, even for long listening periods.

You can't go wrong with either of these models, depending on your budget.  Whether you are looking for in ear, or over the ear, there are products for you.  Based on their design, features, quality, and performance, the JBL Synchos Reflect BT have earned or Value Award.  The Kicker Tabor has earned our Recommended Award.  Last but not least, the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless have earned our Editor's Choice Award.  For more info, check out their website at,, and  This also concludes this year's Headphone Shootout.  We had great products this year, and look forward to what is in store next year.