Sennheiser PXC 550 Headphones — Review

How do they compare to the competition? Are they audiophile worthy? Let's examine how Sennheiser's unit aimed at the business commuter and traveler fares.

Background

After a few talks to my fellow semi-audiophile friends and trying out a friend's Bose QSC 35 pair during a trip we did together to Berlin last December, I was convinced I could solve my problem by buying a Bluetooth Noise Cancelling pair of cans.

Over the course of two weeks I have evaluated 4 different pairs of headphones: Sennheiser PXC 550 (this review), Sony WH-1000XM2, Bose QSC 35 II and the Bowers & Wilkins PX. I will use these along with the DT770 as a wired fallback to compare the sound of the PXC 550.

Build

The provided case is nice but bulky, so I prefer to just carry them loose inside my backpack. Their build leaves me without a single worry that they would break or that something bad could happen to them without their protective case.

Accessories

  • A nylon covered carrying case lined with felt on the inside. It's shaped like one of those old CD carrying bags, like the letter D.
  • USB to micro USB charging cable
  • 1/8 inch cable to connect the PXC 550 to a non-bluetooth source

Bluetooth implementation

It supports the AAC and aptX codecs, which supposedly sound better. I can vouch to the sound quality being better when playing FLAC format audio files from my laptop and using the aptX than when using other codecs from my Moto G5 Plus phone.

Controls

I found myself accidentally activating the touchpad quite frequently, either when moving my hair out of the way with the hands, scratching my head, adjusting the headphones around the head, or (as it would seem) my weird habit of tapping to the beat of some tunes on the ear cups which I never noticed I have. Your mileage may vary.

App

The app also offers a music player, and only when using the built-in player can you adjust the equalizer using the app. It does not support Spotify, Apple Music or Deezer, nor does it support FLAC encoded tracks, so you probably won’t be using it much unless you carry around a large collection of high quality AAC or MP3 tracks in your phone. This seems to me such a missed opportunity, as the EQ could’ve easily been built into the firmware of the bluetooth DAC same way the "fx" were.

Noise cancelling

Usually noise cancelling leaves you with a sort of “pressure” feeling, and I feel this is less the case with the PXC 550 than with the other noise cancelling headphones I have tested.

In comparison to the other pairs, I found the PXC 550 to probably be the least effective in keeping out noise at the office, but okay for the train, and probably for a long flight.

Sound leaking

Sound

Soundstage

Using the Director fx setting in the app and choosing the Medium or High reverb settings will make the soundstage even wider and deeper, at the expense of transients and attack. Certainly a delight when listening to piano ballads, acoustic guitar driven songs and classical music.

Detail

Dynamics

Sound signature

  • Bass: Definitely audible. The bass on these cans is not overwhelming, nor clouding of the other frequences. It is punchy and present, and the standard setting is definitely enough for me. People who enjoy more bass should go to the app and turn on “Thump” boost mode for more upper bass frequencies, or “Rumble” for that punch in the gut low bass hit. More than enough bass for anyone with all these options.
  • Upper bass and low mids: The upper bass is the closest to flat I’ve heard when trying all the bluetooth headphones. It’s there, it does the job, it’s not recessed, nor is it presented upfront. Guitars have a good weight to them, you can definitely tell the notes being played by the bass and discern bass and kick drum perfectly. Male voices are well represented and never sound thin.
  • Midrange: The midrange is definitely a bit heavy on the 3–4 Khz which might not be most people’s preference, but is what gives this the typical Sennheiser sound signature. It is not such a bump that guitars become fizzy though, and it’s not too disconnected from the 1–2 Khz range that would give you an impression of disconnection between the body and snap of a snare or between the low end and mids of a guitar. It does favour female vocals over male vocals, giving them breath and sharpness that other pairs I’ve tested fall short of. Male vocals are well represented, but don’t benefit as much from these headphones’ sound signature.
  • Highs: Here is where the Sennheiser eats the competition alive. The highs are pleasing to the ear and never show any signs of sibilance. Acoustic guitars and cymbals come alive in these headphones like no other I tested. That, coupled with the incredible soundstage they have, makes for a very pleasing sonic experience listening to any music that has lots of detail in the high end. What it also does is show every single flaw in the source material, so all those pesky 128kbps MP3 files and low quality youtube videos are going to sound pretty bad in comparison with good sources.

All in all I’d say these are definitely the most audiophile-like bluetooth headphones I’ve tried on. I liked this one so much I got curious about what I’m missing with the HD1 / Moment wireless, so I will be getting that to compare. Some reviewers seem to think the HD1 sounds even better, is better built and is more comfortable, so I look forward to reviewing them.

Comfort

Other headphones grip my glasses and push them down into my nose, the PXC 550 don't do that. They don't get uncomfortably hot on the ears, although they are also not as comfortable as the Bose QSC 35 II which remain cool for a whole day, despite having their ear pads made o cheaper material.

The ear opening is not big, but I have slightly bigger than average ears and they still fit me quite okay without becoming on-ears rather than over ears. I imagine someone with really large ears could find them uncomfortable.

I find myself readjusting the headband every now and then, as they do put some pressure on your head if you haven't stretched them properly when putting the headphones on.

Conclusion

That said, the truth is, all of the wireless headphones I tried around the $300-$400 price range sound like sub $100 wired headphones. When comparing them to my Beyer Dynamic DT 770, Grado SR80 or Sennheiser HD 595 and HD 559, I’d say it’s closest to the HD 559 in terms of sound quality.

Co-Founder & CEO of elisebot.ai