Upgrades that aren’t worth the extra cost

Less than four months after debuting its mid-range Accentum headphones, Sennheiser revealed another version at CES that remains more affordable than its flagship Momentum set. Dubbed the Accentum Plus, this more-expensive model swaps the physical buttons for touch controls while offering revised active noise cancellation (ANC), wear-detection and other conveniences the first version didn’t. All of the additions come at a price, though, as the Plus ($230) costs $50 more than the regular Accentum. For a set of headphones that mostly looks the same, are internal updates enough to justify a bigger investment?

Design

It’s difficult to tell the Accentum Plus and Accentum apart at first glance. That lack of physical controls on the older model is what primarily distinguishes the two. The Plus version still has one button which manages power, pairing and voice assistants, but all of the audio and call controls are touch-based and located on the outside of the right ear cup. They work well, from taps for playback to swipes for volume, but depending on your preferences, ditching the physical controls for touch may be a turn off. The other difference is that the Plus has a 3.5mm aux jack along with a USB-C connection whereas the first Accentum only has the latter.

Sennheiser

Despite changes to ANC and a few new features, the Accentum Plus isn’t a significant upgrade over the regular Accentum that debuted last year.

Pros

  • Better-than-expected battery life
  • Trademark Sennheiser sound at louder volumes
  • Multipoint Bluetooth
  • Wear detection
Cons

  • Cheap-looking design
  • Adaptive ANC isn’t a huge difference
  • Sound suffers at lower volumes

$224 at Amazon

A nearly identical design means Sennheiser didn’t address my key criticism of the first Accentum. The headphones remain almost entirely made out of plastic, which gives them a cheap look and feel. Plus, it doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in the build quality for a set of $230 headphones. The company introduced its new design style on the Momentum 4 in 2022, which it continued with the overall look on the Accentum line. But, the latest Momentums are a bit more polished than these two more recent models.

Software and features

For the most part, the Sennheiser Smart Control App offers the same features for the Accentum Plus as it does for the Accentum. Almost everything you’d need is on the main screen, with battery percentage at the top. Below that sit connection management for multipoint Bluetooth and My Sound audio customization. There, you can adjust a five-band EQ, select a prebuilt sound preset or make your own. The company also offers Sound Personalization that calibrates the audio based on your responses to a few samples in the app.

Sennheiser’s Sound Zones are here as well, giving you the ability to configure specific audio settings based on your location. You can create up to 20 of these for places like home, work, gym and more. Of course, you have to give the app permission to track your location, which could be a nonstarter for some users.

The last item on the main interface of the app is ANC control. Here, you can disable the automatic “adaptive” adjustment to the Accentum Plus’ noise cancellation and leave “regular” noise cancellation on. There’s a slider to blend of ANC and transparency as you see fit. You can cycle between ANC and transparency mode with a double tap on the right ear cup, but that action doesn’t allow you to activate any preferred blends. Instead, it only turns on full ANC or complete transparency.

Sound quality

Sennheiser Accentum Plus headphones from the side, laid flat on two books.

Photo by Billy Steele/Engadget

Sennheiser’s flagship earbuds and headphones have consistently offered the best sound quality among all of the products I’ve tested. The company has a knack for a well-tuned audio profile that’s dynamic, but not overbearing, and that offers plenty of fine detail thanks to excellent clarity across the EQ. That trademark crispness returns on the Accentum Plus, but it’s at its best at around 65-75 percent volume. Knock that level down to around 50 percent and sound quality begins to suffer.

There’s a pleasant airy, atmospheric quality to tracks on Fever Ray’s Radical Romantics on the Accentum Plus, enveloping you the way the sound on more expensive headphones would. However, when you decrease the volume to about 50 percent, bass begins to overpower some of the details and the audio profile begins to muddy. The clarity that makes Sennheiser’s headphones so good is gone at this point, which is a bummer for those of us who don’t always desire louder listening.

While there’s ample bass that’s offset by crisp highs throughout most genres, more chaotic styles like metal can be a mixed bag. Boomy bass is still there on Texas In July’s Without Reason and Better Lovers’ God Made Me An Animal, but finer details in guitars and drum textures start to get lost. The overall performance is a bit flat with all of the instruments coming across compressed compared to other sets. Switch over to something more mellow like Charles Wesley Godwin’s Live From Echo Mountain and it’s like you put on different headphones. It feels much more like you’re in the room where this was recorded.

ANC performance

Sennheiser says the Accentum Plus has hybrid adaptive ANC where the Accentum just has hybrid ANC. This means that the Plus model adjusts to changes in environmental noise while the regular model has just one level of blocking ability. During my tests, I struggled to tell a big difference between the two, even when switching quickly from one set to the other. The overall ANC performance is solid in most circumstances, but it’s far from what you’d get on the best that Bose, Sony and even Sennheiser have to offer. And since the Plus version is more expensive, I expected an obvious improvement.

Call quality

Sennheiser Accentum Plus headphones power button, USB-C port and 3.5-mm jack.

Photo by Billy Steele/Engadget

Like most over-ear headphones, the Accentum Plus is just fine for calls. The audio quality isn’t pristine, but it’s certainly passable for most uses. That includes work calls, although I’d suggest something with a better mic if you’re actually leading the presentation. Overall, the voice quality comes across compressed and a bit tinny. It’s not the worst, but it’s also probably not what you want when how you sound really matters. You can choose to have the headphones automatically switch to transparency mode when you take a call. However, the Accentum Plus doesn’t pipe in your voice, so the overall audio isn’t as natural as more-expensive options like the AirPods Max.

Battery life

The Plus’ battery life remains unchanged from the regular Accentum at 50 hours. That’s definitely not a bad thing. In fact, I exceeded that figure during my tests, notching 57 hours of use with ANC enabled. This included a mix of listening and calls, and during the latter I switched to transparency mode instead of noise cancellation. There were also a few days in between sessions where the headphones sat unused. When you do find yourself out of juice, you can get five hours of listening time after plugging in for only 10 minutes.

The competition

Given that the upgrades on the Plus are marginal, it’s hard to recommend them over the cheaper Accentum. Both carry Sennheiser’s crisp, clear sound that performs well most of the time. The ANC improvements aren’t enough to justify spending more and the only thing you may truly benefit from is automatic pausing that wear-detection brings. The company’s Momentum 4 would definitely be an upgrade over either Accentum, but that costs around $300. Plus, Sennheiser’s flagship headphones still have its newer, more-boring design – albeit with a few refinements.

If you’re in the market for affordable noise-canceling headphones that don’t cut too many corners, consider the Sony’s WH-CH720N. Currently available for $105, this budget option won’t win any design awards as it’s also all-plastic, but it’s more comfortable and has great audio for the price. Noise cancellation is just okay, though Adaptive Sound Control allows you to automate audio settings based on activity or location and there’s support for Sony’s 360 Reality Audio.

Wrap-up

Sennheiser’s attempt to improve on its initial mid-range Accentum offering is a mixed bag. For all of its updates, the Accentum Plus isn’t the massive improvement you’d expect with its higher price. Sure, the sound is great at times and the ANC will get the job done, but the best thing about this Plus version is the better-than-expected battery life. However, you can get that same play time on the regular Accentum for $50 less. Some small design refinements and a more-obvious step up in terms of audio quality and ANC performance would’ve made a larger impact. But, as it stands, the Accentum Plus isn’t a significant upgrade over last year’s model.

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