One of the most natural sounding noise-cancellation experiences in a pair of headphones, with touch controls, smart features, and a forward sound, the PXC 550’s are near the top of the ANC list, egg-shaped earcups and all.
Hey everyone, Jimmy with Jim’s Review Room. Active Noise Cancelling headphones are getting a lot of traction. We have the best of the best that I’ve personally tested so far, that’s the Bose QC35, we have the Sony Hear.On’s 100ABN, and today, I’m testing the Sennheiser PXC550’s, that several of you asked me to review. Retail wise, the Sennheiser’s are slightly more expensive at the time of this review, but I’ll leave my personal links above, click on my links, and they give you the most up to date prices in real-time.
These do feel very premium. The leather headband is soft and supple, and it’s cool to the touch. When we look at the extendable arms, they’re reinforced metal to keep the headphones intact, but one area I was a bit concerned were the plastic hinges that Sennheiser decided to use. Doing my standard stress test – I’m aware it’s a bit extreme – but at least you’ll know how well these hold up. Not even a creak was made. I did notice though the headphones do stretch; though, thankfully, they can bend back quite easily. Sennheiser does market these as travel headphones, just like the Bose QC25 and 35’s, the earcups do fold inward, and the earcups do collapse for compact stowing.
Moving onto the earcups themselves, this is where Sennheiser shows off its uniqueness. To turn on the headphones, turn the earcups to their natural position. You’ll hear and feel the earcups click into place, signifying they’re on. I wasn’t too fond on this since I have to be mindful each time I place them down, or else they’ll remain on.
TOUCH CONTROLS & SMART PAUSE
For the right earcup, there are touch-sensitive controls, and they have to be the most responsive touch controls I’ve experienced on any pair of headphones so far. A gentle swipe up and down raises and lowers the volume, gentle swipes left and right skips and goes back on songs. Tapping pauses and plays with a long hold, giving you battery remaining levels. Another great feature that I’ve would like to see on more headphones, Sennheiser calls it Smart Pause – when you pull one side of the earcups or take the headphones off altogether to hear your surroundings, the audio stops, and once you put them back on, the music continues. Just make sure you turn it on in the app as Smart Pause is off by default from the factory. There’s also this nifty feature: double tap on the right ear cup and your music stops, and the microphones will pick up your environment, and somewhat amplify your hearing. I would imagine this is useful when you’re at a conference or listening to a speaker, or if you want to eavesdrop on someone near you. Last of the hidden features available, this one is pretty straightforward. NFC is offered, just tap the left earcup with your NFC-enabled phone and both devices will be paired with each other; a little faster than going into your Bluetooth settings.
BUTTONS, CONNECTIONS & BATTERY LIFE
But let’s take a look at the buttons here. On the right earcup, the Bluetooth switch is pretty much hidden by one of ear cup arms. Moving slightly down, the first button is to turn on and off the hybrid active noise cancellation, which I’ll detail right before I get into the audio test. The next button cycles through different sound profiles, to change the audio-characteristics while you listen to your music, movies, or podcasts. To the bottom of that is the Micro-USB port for charging your headphones. And since we’re on the subject of batteries, Sennheiser is claiming up to 30 hours of use. If you do keep Active Noise Cancelling on, Sennheiser claims up to 20 hours – I was able to get 21 hours and 17 minutes.
Without Active Noise Cancelling on, my battery test showed 30 hours and 42 minutes. Compared to the competition, it’s on par with other headphones on the market. Recharging did take about 3 hours to complete from a dead battery. But back to that Micro-USB port for a quick second, one of the perks, you can connect this to your laptop or desktop, and you can listen to audio through the supplied USB cable, and at the same time, the headphones will charge while you’re using them – perfect for those in the office if you don’t mind a wired connection. And for the very last port, they went with a 2.5mm jack if you would like to connect this traditionally. Now, the only gripe that I personally had physically: when in use, it’s somewhat hard to find these buttons since they’re not as pronounced or protruding as other headphones. Aesthetically, it looks great, it looks clean, but in practice, it’s hard to recognize when you need to adjust those settings.
COMFORT TEST & EXTRAS
As for comfort, as I’ve mentioned before, anything around the 200 to 240-gram-range is lightweight. The Sennheiser’s here came in at 227 grams. There’s very minimal to no fatigue whatsoever on the crown of the head. The jawline pressure is very comfortable, and these over-ear earpads just ever so slightly caused my ears to sweat, but never felt like they were overheated in indoor environments.
And last, before I touch base on sound quality, these do come with a carrying case. Inside, there is an area to keep all of the supplied cables contained. The cables included are the 2.5 and 3.5mm cable as we discussed earlier, the USB cord, the airplane adaptor for use with in-flight entertainment, and lastly, the adaptor for connecting to your receiver or amp at home, or for use in the studio.
ACTIVE NOISE CANCELLING & NOISEGUARD
So let’s get to the Active Noise Cancelling performance. Sennheiser is claiming to offer a hybrid system, meant to adjust to your environment called “NoiseGuard”. You can turn it on to maximum performance, or you can leave it at 50%, or turn it off altogether. And to be clear or for those who are not too familiar with Active Noise Cancelling headphones, they don’t block out everything; however, they do block out a good amount to offer a more immersive listening experience. From my testing, the PXC550’s do very well. Testing these, they did very well at Starbucks with many people around me talking and moving around. I’ve tested this in the middle of the city during rush hour and blocked out a good bit of noise.
One of the things I noticed from the Bose QC25’s and QC35’s, you don’t experience what I would describe as pressure from turning on the noise cancelling. For some, that airplane cabin pressure feeling is a discomfort and it is experienced on the QC25’s and 35’s, you don’t get in on these, the PXC 550’s. Hands down, these are the best Active Noise Cancelling headphones I’ve experienced however, they still didn’t perform as well as the best-in-class Bose QC25’s and QC35’s. Let me know if you guys are interested in me doing a dedicated Versus or detailed comparison video between these and the Bose in the comments section below. – trying to see if there’s any interest in that. With these Sennheiser’s, you still hear slightly more chatter or city noise around you. They still perform great, but more on-par with the likes of the Sony 100abn’s and Parrot Zik’s in regards to noise cancelling.
First and foremost, let these burn in a little. When you first use them, they sound recessed and not expansive at all. Even a short burn-in, about 30 minutes of using them, I at least noticed a difference. Afterwards, bass was found to be tight and punchy, not overdone. For those who like some bass, the PXC550’s provides that. It provides lean, non-bloated bass. If you want deeper bass, a definite bass boosted signature, the Sennheiser Momentum 2 Wireless I reviewed a while back provides that. The mid’s are good and rich in detail from my experience – very balanced and very easy to listen to.
The high notes I do admit are somewhat bright and possibly the most emphasized out of the all the sound frequencies. It’s not ear ringing, it’s not tinging, it’s not ear piercing, but something you’ll notice. Some may like the higher frequencies, especially those listening to instrumental. Those piano keys, snare drums, cymbal crashes, stands out very much with great detail. For the average consumer, most will enjoy the sound signature, but more analytical listeners may find it not as natural or neutral because of these high notes being pushed somewhat forward. Sennheiser does alleviate this with their CapTune app for both Apple and Android devices, and the app does provide very good EQ adjustments, to change the sound profiles to your liking. As for the soundstage, it’s amazing. Very clear and distinct left and right audio channels, very clear on where the audio direction is coming from. The soundstage is quite expansive.
So overall, I really enjoyed this pair of headphones, despite it having some weird quirks like the earcups needing to lay flat to turn off. And the sound signature isn’t the most accurate, but using the supplied app to EQ does seriously help. Again, in the comments section below, if there are other headphones you want to see compared, let me know and I’ll see if I can compare these with other headphones on the market. Remember to add me on social media if you haven’t and I’ll see you on the next one.
[table id=1 hide_columns=”all” show_columns=”a,b,h,m,n” /] Specs from manufacturer. If incorrect, please contact us.