What is the Sennheiser PXC-550?
Sennheiser has not become one of the biggest names in headphones by ignoring market trends and the PXC-550 seems well placed to keep them in the game. Look a bit closer though and it becomes a little clearer that the PXC-550 is not a 'me too' type of product. It carries a premium price tag, eclipsing the already fairly pricey Bose, and Sennheiser is keen to stress that they've thrown some fairly clever technology at the design and they certainly look quite smart. Does the Sennheiser do enough to be £60 more than the Bose and become the traveller's headphone to aspire to?
In keeping with most rivals in this category, if you want to forgo the cleverness of wireless operation, you can simply connect a 2.5mm jack to 3.5mm jack cable to the PXC-550 and use it like a conventional headphone. Quite encouragingly, Sennheiser has not simply worked on the principle that this will be an option of last resort for people and ensured that the cable they supply for this purpose has an Android and iOS compatible in-line remote control. It is still probably a little on the short side for home use but ideal for reaching to a device in a pocket.
Of course, a major selling point of the PXC-550 is the fitment of Bluetooth and here the news is very good. Unlike the rival Bose, the Sennheiser is bang up-to-date in this regard with Bluetooth 4.2 being fitted and the Sennheiser additionally supports Apt-X transmission. This means that if you use Tidal as your streaming service of choice, the Sennheiser can make full use of those lossless files. NFC touch to pair is also fitted although like almost everything else I've ever tried with this feature, the results are arguably less consistent than just pairing the Sennheiser the old fashioned way.
As a spin off of this adaptive technology being fitted, the Sennheiser is also supposed to be optimised for making and receiving phone calls. Three microphones use the same process as they do with the adaptive noise cancelling to monitor noise levels during a call and filter out unwanted noise both incoming to you and outgoing to the other caller. While on a personal level, I'm vehemently opposed to anything that makes it easier for people to have phone conversations in public, it does seem very clever.
Look closer though and there are some nice touches. The stainless steel Sennheiser splashes on the headband look and feel excellent and the earpads are soft and have a nicely judged level of padding on them. The build quality is excellent and everything feels very well thought out.
The nicest aspect of the design is the control interface. This takes the form of a capacitive pad on the right hand enclosure. Control is achieved either by sliding a finger up and down the pad – which controls volume – or tapping it which starts, stops and skips tracks. This takes a bit of getting used to and the pad is very sensitive so if you scratch your head and go near it, you can inadvertently pause playback but you get used to it quickly and it soon becomes second nature to use.
All of this functionality is backed up with an app and the good news is that it seems as diligently designed as the rest of the package. Where Sennheiser has really worked to make the software worthwhile is that it has the ability to mirror the playback controls in the app itself so you don't have to exit it to actually select what you want to listen to. Additionally, you get feedback on battery status and noise cancelling at a glance. A final area is the ability to tweak the EQ curve of the headphones to your preferences via a surprisingly extensive set of EQ options.
As final bonus, the PXC-550 is comfortable and easy to wear for long periods of time. The pressure applied on the head is well distributed and allows them to stay in place when moving around without digging in. The build quality is generally excellent and the carry case, while visually unexciting, has enough space for the headphones and their supporting accessories without having to cram them in.
How was the PXC-550 tested?
Performance as a wired headphone
This means that listening to Wild Beasts' Boy King is a genuinely enjoyable experience. Hayden Thorpe's vocals are punchy and powerful and the swaggering electronica is well captured. The frequency response seems even and well integrated and Sennheiser has fought the urge to give the PXC-550 that curiously bolstered bass response that I've come to call 'travel bass' where the manufacturer decides that the best way for you to enjoy sound on the move is to give the low end a bit of a goose in order to better function in noisy environments. While it sort of works, it sounds grim in quieter listening spaces.
Performance with noise cancelling
If you want to keep enjoying music or a TV show with the outside world kept at bay, 'NoiseGard' is the superior system, it is only after you listen to the Sennheiser for a while with it running that you realise that the tonality of the performance is utterly unaffected despite extra external noise being blanked out. This means that effectively every comment I've described with the headphones running in passive mode, still applies with the 'NoiseGard' engaged and it goes some way to explaining why Sennheiser hasn't messed about with the bass response.
Performance with Bluetooth
Is it perfect? Not quite. Having nearly achieved a knockout the PXC-550 is slightly let down by a lack of volume used in this way. With most modern recordings, you should have enough headroom to be completely happy but listening to a vinyl rip of Wells Fargo's Watch out recorded at slightly lower levels means that the Sennheiser runs out of go before you really hit the volume that you need. I have also experienced very slight latency issues when using iPlayer and Netflix but pausing and restarting generally seems to clear them and restore everything.
- Clear, accurate and detailed sound
- Excellent Bluetooth implementation
- Comfortable and well built
- Some volume limits
- Noise cancelling less effective used on its own
- Quite Pricey
Sennheiser PXC-550 Wireless Headphones Review
Ease of Use
Design and usability
Value For Money
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.