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Sennheiser's budget headphones sound surprisingly good to me, but there's one problem

The Sennheiser Accentum headphones are the company's latest, accessibly-priced headphones. But it's not so much a one-size-fits-all affair.
Written by Jada Jones, Associate Editor
The Sennheiser Accentum headphones lying on green leaves
Jada JonesZDNET

ZDNET's key takeaways

  • The Sennheiser Accentum headphones are ideal for people looking for a professional sound for less than $200. They're on sale right now for $150.
  • Sound quality is top-notch and easily outperforms flagship headphones from other brands in this category.
  • An overly tight fit makes them uncomfortable for long-term wear, which is unfortunate given the impressive battery life.

I've worn a few too many headphones this year, ranging in price from $60 to $450, from brands like Sony, Bose, and everything in between. But one thing has remained true: Sennheiser's sound quality is the one to beat for me. 

Sennheiser and I have some history. Earlier this year, I tested the Sennheiser Momentum 4, the company's flagship consumer headphones, and I fell in love with the sound. To me, they're like that one ex you can't get over. I look for the Momentum 4's sound in every pair of headphones I try, and it's yet to be replicated. 

Also: Sennheiser Momentum 4: The best headphones for detail-oriented listeners

In my opinion, Sennheiser competes only with itself in the sound department, so when I saw the company released the Sennheiser Accentum, an affordable twin to its flagship headphones, I was more than happy to get my hands on them.

The Accentum are a stripped-down version of Sennheiser's flagship headphones, offering "much of the most desirable DNA" of the Momentum 4, according to the company. So, a potential buyer's big questions include: Are the Accentum a worthy budget-friendly option, should you save your money for the Momentum 4, or should you look elsewhere? Here's my verdict after two weeks of testing.

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Let's talk about sound first, since Sennheiser focuses heavily on audio performance, and that's the metric I was most interested in, too.

The Accentum's 37mm dynamic drivers deliver tight, full-bodied bass that stays clear and never gets muddy, even after a round of bass boost. When I listened to Player's Baby Come Back, I could hear the bassline and the kick of the drums deep in my ears. The iconic guitar solo at the end of the song was so transparent and vibrant that I had to listen to it over and over again.

Also: Don't overpay for noise-canceling headphones when this $60 pair sounds this amazing

In songs like Michael Jackson's Human Nature, I could hear clearly the layered vocal harmonies and every small detail found in the upper range of the high-pitch tones. Sennheiser's dedication to its highly-detailed signature sound is evident, even in a pair of $150 cans like the Accentum.

However, the Accentum's ear cups are small and shallow, which affects the out-of-the-box sound. If I gently push on the outside of the ear cups, my ears touch the speakers inside the ear cups, which is not ideal.

As a result, listening to more than two songs can feel tiring and unpleasant. After tweaking the EQ settings and decreasing the treble, I finally found the sweet spot. You should probably do that, too.

Also: The best headphones for music

After testing both the Sennheiser Momentum 4 and the Accentum, it's clear that Sennheiser still has some ways to go with its noise-canceling technology. The Accentum boasts hybrid noise canceling, a type of active noise canceling that uses mics on the inside and outside of the ear cups to listen for external noise and help cancel it.

A photo of the Sennheiser Accentum headphones ear cups
Jada Jones/ZDNET

Still, conversational noises can skip past the Accentum's ANC, and only the high-frequency pitches of droning noises, like a washing machine or running refrigerator, are effectively canceled. However, for the Accentum's price point, the ANC isn't bad. Plus, they have a very snug fit that ultimately helps with noise isolation.

Speaking of snug fit, the headphones teeter the line between snug and tight. I wore the headphones for one hour before my ears needed a break, and if you have a larger head, you may find these uncomfortable around the 30-minute mark.

Also: How to choose the best over-ear headphones: ZDNET's buying guide

You'll need to take them off and let your ears recuperate before the battery runs out, as the Accentum can hang for 50 hours. You don't get a headphones jack with these, but the marathon battery makes up for it.

Like Sony's affordable twin to its high-end headphones, Sennheiser ensures you're paying for what's inside the ear cups, instead of what's outside. The Accentum's build is sturdy, and if you close one eye and squint, you might mistake it for the Momentum 4, as their builds are very similar. However, you can find more stylish and comfortable headphones for less money. 

ZDNET's buying advice

Here's the deal: If you want impressive sound quality for under $200, the Sennheiser Accentum are the way to go. Their sound is definitely more detailed than the latest flagship headphones from Sony, Bose, and Apple. 

You'll want the Momentum 4 if you prefer a higher-quality, more refined build with up-to-date software features and even better sound. Still, even the Momentum 4's ANC is nothing to brag about.

If your priority is noise-canceling, Sennheiser can't give it to you. Instead, you could opt for the Sony XM5 over-ears, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra, and -- for a little less money -- the Bose QuietComfort 45. If those are all too expensive, consider the Monoprice BT-600ANC

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