Audiophile Mobility - My Carry-On Gear

I am wrapping up a business trip as I write this with a layover at JFK Airport in New York. The idea to write this quick article on what I end up taking with me when I travel really stemmed from my putting off reviewing the Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro 2, and also me acquiring the Sennheiser Momentum 4 prior to this recent trip. And so I will discuss these two primarily, along with a couple other items they replaced and other gear I may take with me.

I try to travel pretty lightly. If I am going on a business trip, I leave my personal laptop at home, and bring my iPad Mini instead, but for music, I use a mix of my mobile phone, and my digital audio player. In this case, its the iBasso DX240, which I have reviewed prior. On a long flight, like the one I took over to Europe, I was able to use it without a problem. It should last the entire haul on its battery, but I also had the ability to charge in-flight, so no problems here. 

I used the DX240 primarily as the main source for both Bluetooth and for wired. Yes, I do try to take a couple wired gear with me. Usually its one or two IEMs I have in my review queue (this trip it was the Hidition T1), and I normally also take along a CIEM. 

Custom In-Ears: Hidition Viento (B)

The Custom IEMs are wonderful. They are molded to your ear, and they block out everything. They are noticeably better at blocking out noise than active noise canceling headphones, and they are lightweight and portable. Of course, they are wired, and it can be a little annoying for walking around the terminal with, but not such a big problem for using while in your seat. It also works well for using with in-flight entertainment.

But not everyone has CIEMs nor want to shell out the extra money for that. And some just don't want to be bothered by wires when traveling. I know I prefer using Bluetooth too. And so I always bring with me a pair of true wireless in-ears for walking around the terminal, and a pair of over-ears which I tend to use in-flight more, although that is changing.

True-Wireless In-Ears: Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro 2

A few years ago, true wireless with noise canceling was available but not very good. I have had various Samsungs, Bose, and Sonys and despite the Sony true wireless being the "best" for noise canceling, they were not that great during flight. The Samsung Galaxy Buds were even worse. 

But fast forward a couple years, and the latest Galaxy Buds Pro 2 worked quite well in my 2 legs over to Spain last week. I was surprised that they blocked just as well as my over-ear ANC headphones.

On top of that, the Galaxy Buds Pro 2 sound quite good. Tonally balanced and extremely comfortable, I have no issues or qualms about using these as the only gear to bring along with me. These are my favorite of the wonderful Galaxy Buds series, where each iteration has been very well-tuned, and functionally great. I would be happy with pretty much any of this line of wireless in-ears, including the crazy-looking Live model, which I actually do use fairly often at home.

Now that said, I had a long trip from Seattle to Madrid, so having the in-ears can be a bit discomforting after several hours in your ears. And with that, I do like to have over-ear headphones with me...

Over-Ear Headphones: Sennheiser Momentum 4

I haven't truly liked that many Bluetooth ANC headphones, but there have been a couple that have been deemed worthy of purchase from me. I really like the Sony H.Ear On 2 from a few years back. It had a decent frequency response that wasn't the muddy mid-bass that most have on the market, and a generally decent treble range. It did not do much for technical performance, but it was adequate enough, and its ANC was comparable to many things out there, though not at the same level as their flagship 1000X series.

Then I bought the AKG N700NCM2. This was a Harman-tuning profile with wireless and bluetooth! It perhaps had a little too much sub-bass and a little too shrilly in the upper-mids, but it was one of the best sounding ANC headphones at the time of its released. It wasn't a great looking headphone, and it was not super comfortable either as it had somewhat small cups, and a lot of clamp, but it was a trade-off I took for the audiophile in me who wanted good tonality.

And then last week, I decided to test the market and take a blind purchase on the Sennheiser Momentum 4. Its frequency response measured by Crinacle looks a bit crazy, with a ton of bass boost, but the mid-range and treble looked nearly perfect for my tastes. 

After receiving it, I quickly affirmed the graph with the crazy bass, but solid mid-range and treble. Luckily, the Sennheiser app has a simple EQ feature and taking 3 steps off of the default bass level made this headphone sound quite good. I actually enjoyed listening to this headphone throughout my trip.

With the bass EQ change, I found the tonal balance to be quite in-line with what I would prefer. The one thing this headphone does that my other ANC headphones I've had in the past don't is that I actually have a sense of depth and soundstage width. Perhaps the "no-rise" in the 1KHz region, ala Hifiman, is responsible for this, but I really like this as it gives vocals and piano a not-so-forward sound, and balances out the staging for me. Technical performance is decent for a headphone, let alone a bluetooth one. I do wish it had LDAC capability though. But this is definitely a headphone I'd recommend at least demoing if you're in the market for an ANC headphone.

Oh, one of its critiques is that it's ANC performance is quite a bit lower than the TOTL Bose and Sony competitors. That's probably true, but I did not find any issues using this on a crowded jumbo jet at any time. I am not a great fan of its pass-through ambient mode, as I think it enhances/increases volume too much in general and becomes more distracting than natural, but it works in quieter areas, just not something I'd like to use in a crowded airport. But then again, in those places, I may just want to enable noise cancellation anyway.

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