Sennheiser PXC550 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphone Review
Sennheiser has certainly established itself within the wireless and noise cancellation markets in recent years with it’s ‘MM’ series and earlier models in the ‘PXC’ line, but the Sennheiser PXC550 promises to make things a little more swish with its swipeable control.
Since so many executives are zipping from airport to airport without even the chance to shave, the easy and intuitive operation of the PXC550 gives control of volume and a track skip feature too, freeing up time for more champers and hampers at 30,000 feet. So will Sennheiser eclipse the success of Bose and their popular models such as the QC35 in this field? The evidence is plane.
- Great build quality
- Effective noise cancellation
- Fully featured ‘swipeable’ controls
- Cable included for wired/passive listening
- Cannot be used when turned off (unless battery is empty)
- User needs to remember to fold down earcups to turn off
- Wearing around the neck is not that comfortable
Design and Appearance
The Sennheiser PXC550 is quite smart looking but not too flashy though; the PXC 550 means decorum, not decoration. This reviewer can be a little self-conscious when sporting such things in public, but the PXC 550 should feel right on any shrinking violet’s bonce. Bowers & Wilkins has had great success with its portable range such as with the P5 and the wireless P7, and the PXC 550 is similar in looks with its black and silver motif.
They’ve done away with the power button and the simple act of unfolding the earcups turns the PXC 550 on. Fold them down again to turn it off. It may be possible to wear the headphones around the neck between uses, but blood flow to the head may be restricted. If you’re in the habit of just removing headphones and putting them down, you’ll have a few flat battery moments until you lose that habit.
Functions are announced by a British female voice; Sennheiser has settled on one that’s not too prissy, but you get the feeling she won’t stand for too much nonsense so don’t press too many of the wrong buttons.
Durability and Build quality
The PXC550 is mainly constructed of high quality plastic with a metal-reinforced headband and some other brushed metal flourishes; the construction is what’s to be expected from Sennheiser at this price point. It’s very nice indeed. There is a cable for use with the headphones when the battery is empty but this could have been better implemented (we’ll come back to this).
The Sennheiser PXC 550 sits nicely on the head and there’s no problem with fit, although the earcups are quite snug. Those with large ears may find an issue with this. They may be fine for mooching around in airport lounges and the like, but anything too active may lead to a bit of sweat being shed. This is a problem with any closed-back isolating model of course.
Suitability for intended application
The PXC 550 is a fully featured model; the manual runs to 50 pages and there’s all sorts of little things Sennheiser has thought of. For instance, the PA systems on flights may cut in if you’re listening to the aeroplane’s audio and sometimes this PA audio is a lot louder. The Sennheiser PXC550 knows about this and reduces the volume.
However, given the ‘fold-out’ method of turning the headphones on, there is no clear way of using the cable in order to conserve battery life. If you’re wearing the headphones, then they’re turned on.
Impressions are of the PXC550 in ‘active’ mode; a decent listen in passive mode will require the battery to be drained fully.
Overall, we have the typical Sennheiser sound but with perhaps a little more upper midrange presence; not a problem but vocals and some instruments can be a bit shouty at times.
The effect of the noise cancellation feature does mute the detail just a little bit when compared to when this feature is turned off, but it has its own benefits of course. The noise cancellation is actually very good indeed and should be quite adequate in many situations.
Bass starts nice and low; it gives a very deep and wide sense of space if called upon, but stays out of the picture with genres which don’t need it so much. It’s well controlled and stays put; there’s good definition where it meets the midrange and these higher frequencies are unaffected by any bass bleed.
Mids are slightly recessed against the bass, but again this is of no concern as the midrange is clear and uncluttered. However there is a little more presence in the high-mid area, which may give fricatives such as ‘s’ sounds a little more energetic when compared to some of Sennheiser’s wired models.
Vocals are clear and textured, with backing vocals being very good too; there’s a sense of a few singers spaced out nicely during parts with backing vocals.
The Sennheiser PXC550 is not an especially airy or crisp-sounding model; but for a wireless closed-back headphone it does OK.
Treble stays faithful to the Sennheiser tradition; it doesn’t draw undue attention to itself but instead appears as an extension of the midrange. There is a seamless transition between the two making quite a neutral sound within the upper part of the PXC 550’s frequency range.
If you like to listen to saxophones but prefer not to hear every bit of spittle within the mouthpiece, then the PXC 550 may be for you.
- Soundstage and Separation
The sound of the Sennheiser PXC550 is good and wide from the rumble of certain bass notes right up to the lustre of hi-hats. It surrounds the listener very well. Instruments and voices are very clear and can be pictured within a 3D space quite plainly; this is one of those things that is affected by the noise cancellation however, but it’s par for the course.
Music genres good for and why
While all types of music will be acceptable the PXC550, it probably suits genres such as pop, rock, r&b; the commercial genres generally.
The Sennheiser PXC550 is excellent at noise cancellation; watch out Bose! Also the build quality is what we’d expect of a premium Sennheiser product; it’s light but solid. If you can get past the ‘fold-down’ means of turning the unit off, the PXC 550 is definitely a player in the contest for the ultimate wireless/noise cancellation model. It’s a great companion for long and short flights, and certainly beats solo air travel.