Sennheiser Urbanite XL Review
I’ve been a contributing editor for PCMag since 2011. Before that, I was PCMag’s lead audio analyst from 2006 to 2011. Even though I’m a freelancer now, PCMag has been my home for well over a decade, and audio gear reviews are still my primary FOCUS. Prior to my career in reviewing tech, I worked as an audio engineer—my love of recording audio eventually led me to writing about audio gear.
The Bottom Line
The Sennheiser Urbanite XL headphone pair offers a refined audio experience in a stylish design.
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- Crisp, refined audio performance with a clear, distortion-free bass response.
- Extremely comfortable.
- Stylish design.
The Beats revolution has been good for audio fans. Prior to Beats, most people didn’t care about their headphones and now, due to their popularity, several companies have redesigned or introduced entirely new lines to cash in on the craze. Sennheiser, the venerable manufacturer of both affordable and pro-level headphones, has recently begun releasing more fashionable options like its Momentum series. Now we have the Sennheiser Urbanite XL, a 249 over-ear pair that is obviously positioned to compete with Beats. Before the audio purists start shaking their heads in disbelief, let it be known that this is not a booming bass headphone pair. There’s certainly low end, but the most Beats-esque part of the Urbanite XL is its physical design. The sound signature is incredibly crisp, and only reaches for deep lows when they are already in the mix. If the trendy style isn’t a factor for you at all, the Editors’ Choice Sennheiser HD 558 remains one of the best headphone pairs in this category.
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Design Like many pairs on the market lately, the Urbanite XL seems visually like a response to Beats. Unlike so many pairs that actually resemble the Beats brand by using red cables and glossy finishes, though, the Urbanite XL has its own personality. The design for our test unit was all black with crisp white accents, and a touch of brushed aluminum on the headband sporting the Urbanite name. There are five color options in all, ranging from muted neutral tones to a purple-and-black color combination. The resemblance to Beats comes more from the overall shape of the headphones and their chunky, circumaural (over-the-ear) design with a wide headband.
The Urbanite XL has a matte finish, with a classy canvas covering stitched onto the headband. The earpads are incredibly plush and soft, and extend down from the headband in an interesting way: An extremely wide, flat cable connecting to each ear extends or retracts into the headband depending on how much you adjust the fit of the headphones. The earpads are replaceable, but the Urbanite XL doesn’t ship with extra pairs.
The linguini-style black cable attaches to the left earcup, is removable, and includes an inline remote control and microphone intended for use with Apple iOS devices. You can adjust volume, play/pause tracks, answer/end calls, and skip forward or backward through playlists. The Urbanite XL ships with a protective drawstring pouch, and the headphones collapse at hinges on the headband to fit inside. Unlike several options in this price range, the Urbanite XL doesn’t include an extra audio cable. For the price, the accessories seem a bit scarce.
Akai MPC Headphones
Performance On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the Urbanite XL dutifully provides deep lows to the listener, but it’s not a wildly boosted bass experience. In fact, while you get a perfect sense of the sub-bass on this track, it’s the high frequency content that stands out, and the vocals and some of the percussive transients are as likely to catch your attention as anything in the realm of the subwoofer. The low-frequency levels are not very similar at all when compared to most big bass headphone pairs, and Sennheiser has not abandoned it sense of balance and commitment to the mids.
Bill Callahan’s “Drover” further demonstrates the crispness of the Urbanite XL’s mids- and highs-focused sound signature. Callahan’s baritone vocals are delivered with a perfect amount of treble edge to remain well-defined and in front of the mix, and they receive little in the way of bass boosting (which they really don’t need in the first place). The drums on this track also receive little in the way of low-end sculpting, which keeps them from occupying more space in the mix than they should—a common problem with this track when deep lows are painted onto the mix.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the sub-bass synth hits are not delivered with the intense deep bass power you expect from a Beats-like pair. Instead, the FOCUS is once again on mids and highs. While the track doesn’t sound brittle, you notice more of the raspy high-end of the synth hits than the deep lows, and the vocals and the attack of the kick drum loop remain clear and in the spotlight. This isn’t a weak, bass-free sound, but it is more focused on balance than booming lows.
Classical tracks, like the opening scene in John Adams’ “The Gospel According to the Other Mary,” have a decent sense of low end. Lower register strings get a natural resonance, but nothing deep or intense is added to their presence. The overall sound here is crisp and bright, with a pleasant, subtle bass response.
Basically, the Urbanite XL isn’t about big bass—it’s about refined bass. If you’re looking for a whopping amount of deep bass, both the Beats Solo 2 and the V-Moda Crossfade M-100 (293.57 at Amazon) (Opens in a new window) should satisfy you demands. If the balance of the Urbanite XL is what you’re after, but for less money, both the Editors’ Choice Sennheiser HD 558 and the Akai MPC Headphones ( at Amazon) (Opens in a new window) are wonderful-sounding, slightly more affordable options. For 250, the Sennheiser Urbanite XL combines style with a quality audio experience. It’s not our absolute favorite pair from Sennheiser, but we’re talking about a company that doesn’t really deal in mediocrity. If you like the look of these headphones—and you’re not looking for booming low-end—you won’t be disappointed.
These Sennheisers sound so good, they don’t even need an aging rapper on the box
“With bass nearly as booming and far more nuanced highs and mids, Sennheiser rivals the celebrity-endorsed headphones from Dr. Dre and 50 Cent.”
- Great sound quality
- Solid bass balanced with good mids and highs
- Wireless with great battery life
- Comfortable to wear
Wires are slowly but surely disappearing from headphones, with a number of manufacturers now getting into the act, stripping them off and going naked with their cans.
For Sennheiser, the Urbanite XL Wireless are designed to appeal to a wider array of users who like moving around untethered, including the younger set that wants a mix of flair and fidelity leaning on the bass side of the equalizer.
Catching the attention of those users has been the company’s challenge, despite coming to market with products that perform better than those flashier competitors youngsters show off so ubiquitously. The Urbanite XL Wireless isn’t the new kid on the block, since it sports the same look, but it stands out because it belts out great sound without dangling wires anywhere. But can these cans perform?
Out of the box
If you’ve owned a pair of Sennheiser headphones before, you won’t be surprised at the nifty packaging used here. Lifting up the box lid reveals the folded headphones, perfectly nestled into contoured foam. In a slot underneath, we found the microUSB cable, 3.5mm flat headphone cable with playback controls, and a quick start guide. There’s also a thin felt case for covering the headphones, though they offer no real protection.
Otherwise, there isn’t much else to go through. Unlike other headphones the company has released, there is no quarter-inch stereo plug adapter included. The headphones themselves have stickers over the outside where the headband meets the cups indicating the touch-sensitive controls on the right and the NFC tag on the left.
Features and design
This wireless incarnation of the Urbanite XL isn’t a real departure from its wired predecessor. The combination of stitched canvas, synthetic rubber, and plastic doesn’t necessarily sound premium, but these don’t feel cheap or look ugly by any stretch. The earcups can fold inward but not to the side to flatten out, so while they can be reduced in overall size, they’re still a little bulky to throw into a small bag. The cups themselves can slide up along the flat cable for adjustment rather than the headband itself, which was the only way to keep the outside look intact and not affect the hinges.
This wireless incarnation of the Urbanite XL isn’t a real departure from its wired predecessor.
The headphones aren’t particularly heavy, and use a softer material for the cups that borders on something between felt and fake leather. Coupled with the rubber inner headband, we were pleased with how comfortable we felt wearing them, even 45 minutes after we first started playing music.
The right earcup houses the line-in jack for the headphone cable, along with the power button, Bluetooth switch, and microUSB port for charging the onboard battery. Sennheiser rates the battery at 25 hours but that’s taking into account the volume level, which is likely to be higher than usual most of the time. There’s also a small pinhole microphone for taking and making phone calls when connected wirelessly.
In keeping with the wireless FOCUS, turning on the power for the first time also puts the headphones into pairing mode immediately, though tapping the outer left side with an NFC-enabled device is another option to do it quickly. In cases where we wanted to pair with other devices that didn’t have NFC, like the iPhone or iPad, we held the Bluetooth setting button down until we saw a flashing red light, indicating the headphones were discoverable. Once the cable is plugged in to go the wired route, Bluetooth is disabled to conserve battery life.
There is a restraint within the overall performance here that doesn’t take long to ascertain. Of course, gauging audio fidelity is very much a subjective experience, though it’s more obvious here simply because of who is supposed to be buying them.
The bass in these headphones is fairly deep, though it never reaches the depths that Beats and SMS Audio’s 50 Cent headphones generally dive down to.
Stereo separation is usually one of Sennheiser’s strong suits, and while we didn’t feel like we got the same level as what we’ve been accustomed to with the Momentum and DJ lines, we still came away impressed. Clearly, the headphone’s engineers didn’t want to go too far in any direction, so the bass never really swallows up the highs and mids, or vice versa. Bearing in mind that Sennheiser promised “massive bass” when introducing the Urbanite XL Wireless, this is an important point.
The bass in these headphones is fairly deep, though it never reaches the depths to which Beats and SMS Audio’s 50 Cent headphones generally dive. We certainly didn’t mind that, but we have no doubt that some users would prefer to hear more of a pounding. The difference worth considering is the rest of the built-in equalizer settings, however. Vocals and other non-percussion instruments come through crisper and cleaner than they do with comparable headphones from celebrity brands.
In that respect, they follow in the footsteps of their predecessor, which offered solid bass complemented by a great balance across the rest of the spectrum. It didn’t matter if we were listening to lossless tracks or streaming from Spotify, Tidal, or SoundCloud, there wasn’t much to be disappointed with. Considering this type of performance was consistent in both wired and wireless scenarios, it makes the Urbanite XL Wireless a serious contender — these are among the best in this price range.
Incidentally, Sennheiser could’ve spent more time perfecting the touch controls. They lack the grace of those found in other headphones, like Parrot’s Zik line, for instance. On a few occasions, we accidentally paused, played, or fiddled with the volume as we were adjusting them for comfort. In other cases, we tried to raise or lower the volume, only to pause instead. The lack of refinement is perhaps the most surprising element of these headphones. Eventually, we got used to them, but they always required a smidgen of attention to make sure we weren’t hitting something we didn’t mean to.
We did like the battery life, which easily surpassed 20 hours at moderate volume levels. And charging it back up didn’t take as long as we expected, which was a nice bonus.
The DT Accessory Pack
Up your game and the get the most out of your gear with the following extras, hand-picked by our editors:
Given its audiophile legacy, Sennheiser has usually leaned more toward substance over style, though the company tries to fuse those together in the Urbanite XL Wireless. These are every bit the dance party earful any user — not just the young and hip — would be looking for, especially since they don’t discriminate against music genres that don’t rumble the floor.
For those that care about being fashionable, you can’t really go wrong with the looks. Neutral colors go with everything, and the quality of the product from the inside out commands respect. So long as you don’t fiddle too much with the touch controls when eyes are locked on you, you’ll look just as cool as the guy wearing those bright red Beats cans.
Only your tunes will sound much better.
You can buy the Urbanite XL Wireless now at Amazon and other retailers for 300.
- Great sound quality
- Solid bass balanced with good mids and highs
- Wireless with great battery life
- Comfortable to wear
A tech journalism vet, Ted covers has written for a number of publications in Canada and the U.S. Ted loves hockey, history…
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