🎧 Sennheiser wireless noise cancelling headphones sound great, but Bluetooth support is wanting
I picked up a pair of Sennheiser PXC 550-II Wireless headphones last month to add to my collection of pandemic listening (and Zoom call) devices. These replace my old Sennheiser HD280PRO over-ear studio style headphones, which my youngest borrowed for their pandemic university and D&D setup. Given a 20+ hour battery life, good comfort and sound, and workable (even if imperfect) Bluetooth, I recommend the PXC 550-IIs, especially given their 2021 discounted price of $270 CAD ($220 USD).
The PXC 550-IIs are comfortable. They fit snuggly over my ears and are light enough that I forget I’m wearing them. They fold sideways with one arm bent to fit in the case, and tuck away compactly to fit in most laptop bags. The frame is a solid dark plastic, with a slightly higher quality than the HD280PROs. Folding the headphones results in a satisfying click that reinforces both them being turned off and being in the correctly folded position. Note that you need to fold them flat to force them into low power mode, something I didn’t figure out until a few weeks into using them.
The headphones sound significantly better than average, at least as good as what I would expect for the price. They have a fairly neutral sound from bass through the midranges, though they seem biased towards harsh on the upper end (to my aging ears at least). The overall balance seems to work well with the styles of music I listen to (varying from folk, rock, grunge, lofi, jazz, and blues), and are more than adequate for Zoom calls, podcasts, and such. And with the Sennheiser mobile application, you can tune the EQ on the headphones if you want a specific sound profile.
The noise cancelling is pleasant and unobtrusive, though it does reduce battery life significantly. The noise reduction seems similar to the Airpod Pros, though slightly less effective. Given the over-ear fit, however, the overall noise reduction is a much better experience. It feels like sliding into a musical chamber, rather than the more obtrusive pop-in-ear-void of the tighter fitting Airpod Pros. I haven’t tested these headphones on transit yet, but in my pandemic-home-office I can easily work through family conversations and vacuuming.
Bluetooth setup is typical for non-Apple devices and the headphones paired with all of my hardware without issue. The headphones do occasionally struggle to stay connected with macOS Big Sur, especially when there are multiple Apple devices with Bluetooth enabled in range. I found I could minimize disruption by turning off Bluetooth on the devices I wasn’t using, which mostly works for my cases. I suspect some of the issue is related to the new handoff features of Big Sur, though the headphones also are waiting on a firmware update from the manufacturer to improve iOS connectivity.
Controls on the headphones are reasonable. Volume and start/stop are gestures on the right headphone backplate, and other control buttons are dotted around the perimeter of the cup. The side switches are bit awkward to toggle while wearing the headphones, but it does get easier over time. I turned off the voice cues immediately and found the alternative tone confirmations much more pleasant.
Charging disappointingly uses a micro-USB, which can be surprisingly difficult to get the right way the first time. A full charge takes more than a few hours, so I tend to charge these overnight and switch to one of my wireless earbud setups a few times a week as needed.
I find these headphones work well for Zoom and other video calls, though Zoom itself seems struggle to initially use the headphones once connected and enabled. You can work around this by switching to and testing the headphones before starting Zoom, though there are days where only a reboot fixes the issue. I haven’t had the same level of frustration with the AirPods or Airpod Pros in terms of connectivity and Zoom, but I use these headphones more for music than calls. The headphone mics work well enough in the environments I’ve used them in.
These headphones are great for escaping reality, far from the noise of the real world, and to focus on meditation, writing, and other tasks that require otherworldly focus. They’re not perfect, and switching between devices can be frustrating, but that’s not why I wanted these headphones. For headphones that follow you around and work great for calls all day, pick up a pair of Airpod Pros. If you want to disappear for a while, the PXC 550-IIs are great value.