Sennheiser PXC 550 Wireless Bluetooth Headphone - Reviews
Pros: Wireless, Comfortable, Good Sound
Cons: Upper Midrange and Lower Treble might not be for everyone, While ANC is turned off they sound a bit muddy
Hello and Welcome to my review of the pxc 550. Beware that I will alter things as time goes by. I will also say to the heads up point as of the 20-03-17. That the headphones come with club mode put on a standard as I have had 2 sets of these headphones that came with it on. So remember to turn off the EQ when you get them
Heads Up:
 
When I first put mine on the EQ was on by default and it sounded terrible and when I turned it off I felt like the headphones still sounded terrible even with ANC on but
my ears just had to adjust to them and after a few hour of listening to them i started to notice how much I actually loved them.
 
 
Comfortability 10/10
 
When I first put them on my head the sliders made it nice and easy for me to adjust it for my big sized head the headband is barely noticeable and the padding used for the earcups are
amazingly soft like a pillow.If I had to have complaint about something, it would be that the headband might have felt better if there was a bit more padding but that's just a nitpicky thing, I barely notice them when
I have them on
 
Sound 7/10
 
Bluetooth:
These sound absolutely amazing when listening to them the lows on these are punchy and accurate without ever being boomy or muddy.
When going into the lower midrange it's clear that there isn't much more emphasis on it and it tries to stay kind of natural and on no point does the lows drown them out which makes for a very nice harmony between the different tones.
But when you start to hit the upper midrange and lower treble it is clear that there is some sparkle to it and it may be so bad for some that it is earpiercing,can cause fatigue, headache or similar things.
 
Wired
Almost the same as the above but both the mids and highs shine through more making classical music a lot more appealing to listen to.
 
Build Quality and Design:
The designe of them is black with black earcups black pads, black everything and while everything feels good on your head in feels and looks a bit plastic. They feel like they could fall apart any moment, ofc I have tested this theory and found it to not be true, but it definetly feels that way. The headband and padding are made of some kind of alcantara and looks kinda big but not fancy nor bad.
I understand their reasoning for this design but I don't agree with it. On the buttom of the right earcup there is a small button for it's build in eq, a slider for ANC being ANC On, in the middle ANC off and behind the middle ANC hybrid. I found that the ANC on and off sound quality is mixed in hybrid, but it isn't as bad as when ANC is off. On the side of the right ear cup you have a touch interface for volume up down play pause fast forward/backwards skip track and return to last track. While the volume up and down is placed perfectly the track controls sometimes interfere and you skip tracks intentionally. It could just be that I am not used to it, but for further headphones they might want to fix this.
 
Noise Cancellation 9/10:
 
The Noise Cancellation or NoiseGuard as Sennheiser call it is amazing. It blocks out deep consisten tones very well and brighter tones definetly got reduced as well, you can still hear talk but as soon as you put music on it's not noticeable at all. Good job Sennheiser. Compared to Sony MDR-1000x which I also have tried a lot and Bose QC35 these are definetly the best sounding of the 3 but the 2 others reduce a bit more noise
 
Conclusion:
 
I'd definetly recommend this to a friend and also want to buy these for myself as a set to keep once I get the actual money for it, even though I have had them in less than a day they sound amazing
but if you have a hard time with high notes and your ears start to hurt don't go for these go for something warmer with less emphasis on the upper midrange and treble as these will hurt some ears.
 
Also these seem to be a bit more expensive in Europe than The US but oh well if you love music and are traveling much these are amazing
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Pros: Mostly balanced signature that is detailed and vibrant
Cons: Upper midrange and lower treble emphasis might be to much for some, may not be loud enough for those that like to crank the volume
To start, I want to thank Sennheiser for graciously loaning the PXC 550 for a review. I contacted them a couple of months ago about possibly being able to review the headphone as I have been very interested in Active Noise cancelling headphones over the past year. At the time I was told the product was not available in Canada yet so I would have to wait. Several months passed and I got busy with other products and actually ended up buying the Sony MDR-100ABN used from another Head-fi member. So I was pleasantly surprised when I was contacted by Sennheiser and asked if I was still interested in reviewing the PXC 550. The good news is that this has allowed me to have a couple of high end ANC products to compared to (did I forget to mention I also have the Bose Quiet Control 30 on hand :wink: ) to add in pertinent active noise cancelling comparisons.
 
When the PXC 550 arrived I found the packaging well done and sensible without feeling overly designed or wasteful. Many expensive products feel a need to have expensive looking packaging to justify their product. Sennheiser has instead created their typical professional design seen on most of their products. Once I opened the box I found the headphone case with the headphones and accessories inside. The case is a clamshell that is semi hard that has a simple design that helps protect the headphones while not being too bulky. I can easily see the case fitting in a traveller’s luggage without taking up to much space while offering a decent level of protection.
 
Taking the headphones out of the case they had helpful stickers on them to help understand how the headphone worked. There was also the usual basic documentation. But I have to admit I struggled with how to pair them to my phone as I generally don’t use NFC like I should. But after doing a bit of reading I found out I just needed to hold the Effect Mode button for 4 seconds to get prompted for pairing and then search for the device on my phone. I similarly struggled to figure out how to check the battery level (touch and hold your finger on the touch pad until you hear 2 beeps and then a voice will say how much battery is left). In Sennheiser’s defence when you switch away from things like a traditional power button and implement a touch interface it does make some features a bit trickier to implement and less obvious. Having said that, the benefits of their power on model and their extremely well implemented touch interface more than make up for my couple of challenges.
 
Once I got past getting things working I was then able to start to try out the headphones proper and put them through their paces. Having 2 other high end ANC products on hand to compare against might lead you to think I would be underwhelmed by what I have heard and experienced. But I actually found the PXC 550 more than holds its own against both the MDR-100ABN and Quiet Control 30 and has quickly become the portable headphone of choice for me.
 
Let’s get into the review proper:

 
Accessories – Inside the box the headphone has all of the usual bits and pieces needed. The case is semi-hard to add a bit of extra protection soft cases do not offer while not being as bulky and intrusive as a hard shell case. Some will wish the case was harder for that added level of protection but other will appreciate that it takes up less space in their luggage. Inside the case you will find the usual adapters such as the inflight adapter and the old standard ¼” stereo adapter, along with USB cable for charging and an audio cable. One thing I really appreciate is that Sennheiser thought to add a smart phone audio cable something Sony managed to neglect on their cable with the MDR-100ABN.
Score - 5/5
 
Headphone Physical Design and comfort – When I initially started to use the PXC 550 I thought I might have an issue with the ear pad being too small. Circumference wise these are paired down to the smallest size possibly while still being a true over ear design, this means they might be too small for anyone with larger than average ears but for me they are just right. The speakers are also angled so I think most people will not have issue with their ears touching the inner grill. The pads are very soft and cushy which is good because the headphone has a bit more clamp than usual. Initially I thought I might find the clamp bothersome but after a couple hours of use the pads started to soften up the band relaxed just a bit and now are more comfortable than the MDR-100ABN.  The headphone band is thin with soft comfortable padding. The thinness of the band helps keep these truly portable by reducing wait and a bulky look without compromising comfort. The adjusters on the band are a traditional design with a clicking system to help control where they are set and hold their position. I have found they stay where they are set which is nice as I find having to adjust my headphone all the time to be an annoyance with many other brands. I do find that the headphones can get hot when I am working in warmer environments but no more so than most closed headphones. This headphone has a very solid feel to it with ZERO creakiness or plastic groaning. In the past 3 weeks of use the headphone has not started to feel loose at any joints or moving parts maintain the same solid feel as the first day I took it out of the box (The Sony MDR-100ABN comparatively feels loose and wobbly from when I first received it and it groans and creaks when worn). 
Score 4.5/5
 
Headphone Controls – Sennheiser really came up with some innovative ideas for this part of the headphone. Instead of having an on/off button if you simply fold the headphone flat it will turn off. Once I started to get used to this feature I really started to appreciate its simplicity and efficiency. You just have to glance at the headphone to determine if you forgot to turn it off, consequently I almost never forget to turn the PXC 550 off. This is the 2nd Bluetooth I have owned that uses a touch pad and the PXC 550 controls are intuitive and well thought out. A simply swipe up or down controls volume and forward back controls skipping, replaying and going backwards to a past song. I particularly love the double tap feature! A double tap stops the music and turns on one of the mics partially allowing in outside sound allowing you to have a conversation with someone without taking the headphones off. The Sony 1000X offers a similar feature but I really appreciate NOT having to hold my hand to my ear during a conversation… As I mentioned above these features have made a couple of things a bit trickier or hidden as compared to older button based headphones but the benefits far outweigh the negatives. There is also the effect button which allows for 3 preset effects, Club, Movie, and Speech. I find the effects somewhat usefull but have to be honest and say I generally just leave them turned off.
Score 4.5/5
 
Bluetooth implementation – Sennheiser used Bluetooth 4.2 and has wisely adopted aptX to help improve the sound quality of the headphone. They have also incorporated the ability to have 2 devices simultaneously connected to the headphone which is an awesome feature for those of us who might be using a smartphone and laptop/tablet at the same time.
Score 5/5
 
Active Noise Cancelling – OK this is probably what everyone is waiting for since this is an active noise cancelling headphone and all . I have owned 3 different high end ANC products (Bose QC20, QC30, and Sony MDR-100ABN) plus I have tested the Bose QC25/35 headphones extensively. So while not an expert in the field of ANC technology I feel I can give an informed opinion on the subject of active noise cancellation. ANC is a tricky technology in that the stronger you implement it the more it affects the quality of your music so each company works to find the best balance between ANC and music quality. The Bose QC20 for example has extremely good ANC but it affected the music quality enough that I ended up selling them because I just wasn’t enjoying my music enough to want to use them. Out of the 3 products in terms of pure ANC effectiveness I would rank them QC30, MDR-100ABN, PXC 550 with the 550 only being marginally behind the 100ABN. This would on the surface be an indictment against the PXC 550 but like I said ANC is a tricky technology. The QC30 while having the strongest ANC is only marginally better than the QC20 audio wise so is by far the weakest product overall unless ANC is your primary concern. The difference in ANC between the 100ABN and PXC 550 on the other is very small allowing for other consideration to come into play. Musically speaking they both offer slightly different signatures while offering comparable levels of quality when in ANC mode, but if you turn off the ANC the PXC 550 is much better musically because the signature is almost unchanged as compared to a hollowness that happens to the 100ABN. In fact the PXC 550 is the only ANC product I have tried that is only minimally impacted when the ANC is turned off or down! In daily use I find the PXC 550 works extremely well in the office and adequately when walking downtown or riding on the train. I find I hear voices when music is really low or stopped but they go away once the music starts. More importantly the hum of the world around me disappears which is what I appreciate ANC the most for. One issue ANC has is a sense of pressure when turned on, the PXC 550 has managed to almost completely avoid this issue unlike Bose and to a slightly lesser degree Sony. Hiss is also an issue with most ANC headphones but once against the PXC 550 has very little of this issue being lower than Sony and Bose. Finally my one PET PEVE with all ANC headphones is wind noise in the microphones. I wish I could say the PXC 550 was the first to eliminate this issue but sadly this is not the case. But the PXC 550 has a much better handle on this issue than the 100ABN and the QC30 with the 100ABN being almost unusable without modification in wind.
Score 4.25/5
 
Bass – This headphone has an elevated bass presence but not one that is onerous or overwhelming. I actually find the bass just about perfect with most of the genres I listen to. It is not quite as hard hitting as the 100ABN but it has slightly better texture and nuance. I find instruments like double bass, cello’s, and kettle drums all have excellent heft and presence. Whether I am listening to Jazz, classical, classic rock and everything in between I find the PXC 550 handles them all with ease never sounding out of place or off.
Score 4.5/5

Midrange – There is a bit of an upper midrange emphasis that makes female vocals a bit sweeter than the 100ABN and gives guitars a satisfying bite and crunch without crossing the line into sibilance. The level of detail in the midrange is definitely above average for most Bluetooth and ANC products and is at least as good as the MDR-100ABN. It does not quite reach the level of a true audiophile level product but it is definitely not far behind and more than adequate given where this technology is being used.
Score 4.5/5
 
Treble – There is a continuation of the upper midrange emphasis into the lower treble. This makes cymbals have an added level of sparkle and presence. Personally I have really enjoyed the added presence but do know that this is going to be an area that some will find to strong. The funny thing is I generally prefer a more relaxed sound as well but have really enjoyed the PXC 550.
Score 4.5/5
 
Imaging, Sound stage, and instrument separation – The PXC 550 has what I feel is an intimate sound stage with above average imaging and instrument separation. The accented upper midrange and lower treble bring you closer to front of the stage so to speak but they also help keep everything clear allowing for strong instrument separation. The headphone also has strong dynamics and is fast enough to be able to handle complex pieces without becoming muddy.
Score 4/5
 
Miscellaneous sound facts – This headphone seems best appreciated by people who prefer lower volume levels and is in fact unable to go to extreme volume levels. In my posting I noticed several comments about the volume not being strong enough so just prior to writing this review I did some volume testing and found I could adjust the volume on my phone to the maximum level and the headphones volume to its maximum level and still listen to the headphone, it was at an uncomfortable level but not a painful of damaging level as in instantly damaging. I then tried the same experiment using the audio cable on my computer using my Audioengine D1 DAC and could so the same thing. If you really like your music loud the PXC 550 is probably not going to be loud enough for you. On the opposite end of the scale the upper midrange and lower treble will likely get more shouty as the volume is increased which would make these less enjoyable for any genres that have a strong presence in those areas.
 
Sennheiser has also included a free application called Captune that allows for the ability to customize the EQ of the headphone to an amazing degree. Unfortunately a good portion of my music is not compatible with the application so I did not use it a lot. For users of Tidal this might be a great feature though as it works with that service. If Sennheiser continues to improve the application making it more compatible with high resolution FLAC files it will might be one of the headphones best features.
 

 
So what does this all add up to?
 
I am really glad I was given an extended length of time to test this headphone. I honestly think many of its features would not have been properly appreciated or understood without being able to use them on a daily basis. If I had only a week to test the headphone I would not have had a chance to use the double tap feature in stores or for a quick conversation with someone at work or even at home. Similarly being able to appreciate the comfort and stability of the headphone while being out and about is harder quantify or compare against other products unless you have the ability to switch back forth over several days. Similarly quantifying how effective the ANC is from product to product also takes the same amount of time.
 
So after 3 weeks of use the PXC 550 has slowly but surely become the most used. It is more comfortable than the 100ABN and has far less issues in my climate and has no noise issues such as being creaky. Sound wise it offers the most audiophile like experience I have heard in ANY Bluetooth or ANC product I have heard, it squashes the Bose QC30 in this regard and is a bit more balanced than the 100ABN while offering at least the same level of detail. The closest audiophile level Bluetooth product I have owned would be the B&O H7 and it offered weaker Bluetooth stability, way less intuitive touch controls, and no ANC functionality. All of this combined with the 550’s ability to work in all modes with almost no change in sound quality makes it one of the most complete all round headphones I have heard.
 
I have to admit I am not looking forward to the day I have to send this headphone back to Sennheiser, it will be greatly missed. I am already trying to figure out what I will have to sell and give up to be able to save up the money to buy my own pair since my finances are more strained than usual...
Sennheiser
Sennheiser
Awesome detailed review. Thanks @dweaver
Dmack
Dmack
Thanks @dweaver! I'm currently testing the QC 30s now, and really see the utility of the earbud form factor, but really would like the better (at least advertised) connectivity and stability of the PXC 550/MB 660 (with the UC dongle). Do you think there is any reason to keep the QC 30s if I go with the Sennheiser? Wondering if it will be just as versatile in the larger, over-the-ear form factor....
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