Review: Sennheiser PXC 550-II Wireless Headphones
I’ve listened to an awful lot of music this year. That’s a fact, Spotify Wrapped showed me. 109,378 minutes to be precise. That’s a solid 76 days of my playlist ‘songs that I like’ being sent from my phone to my ears via headphones, speakers and earbuds. For the past week or so I’ve been using Sennheiser PXC 550-IIs and my playlist has never sounded better. I didn’t know what I’d been missing for 109,378 minutes of my life in 2019. I now do.
The PXC 550-IIs are Sennheiser’s noise-cancelling high-end wireless headphones, aimed towards people who do a lot of travelling. At £299 they are fairly pricey, but for that money you are getting a very well-made, very comfortable, and most importantly, very impressive sounding pair of Bluetooth headphones. The build quality is second to none. They’re extremely light, and by extension, extremely portable. They’re slightly lighter than their main competitors, the Sony 1000XM3s and the Bose QC35iis, but this lightness does not come at the expense of build quality.
These PXC 550-IIs are every bit as well made and premium-feeling as those other pairs of headphones. Where they slightly pull ahead though is in comfort. They are the most comfortable wireless headphones I have ever used. The cups are super soft, very light around the ear, and easy to interchange. The PXC 550-IIs are built for people who spend most of their lives on buses or on planes with headphones on, and it shows. For the past few days at work I’ve had them on my head for at least seven hours a day and I literally do not have a single comfort complaint.
The first slight criticism I have of the PXC 550-IIs is that rather than charging using USB-C, Sennheiser decided to go with Micro-USB. While this is not a deal-breaker, USB-C is almost universal in 2019 and would have been preferred. After all, there are plenty of companies that do still opt for Micro-USB. This slight complaint aside, the battery life on these headphones is great! Sennheiser says they last for around 30 hours on a single charge. While I can’t back that exact statistic up, they haven’t died on me once during periods of very heavy use.
The headphones are controlled using a fantastic touch pad on the right earcup. One light tap pauses your music, a swipe up or down changes the volume, and a swipe left or right changes the song. It’s all very simple, very well done, and very accurate. A feature I personally love is Sennheiser’s transparent hearing. Double-tapping the right earcup will funnel the sound of the outside world through the mics on the headphones directly into your ears. This means you can hear everything around you with absolute clarity. You can buy your lunch without needing to take them off!
On the right earcup you’ll find the switch to control the Sennheiser PXC 550-II’s Active Noise-Cancelling (ANC). This is a great feature that has massively improved my life. If you’ve never used ANC before, it uses mics outside of the headphones to pick up the noise from the outside world. It then uses some magic to reverse the frequency of the sounds it hears and cancels them out. Just like that, all you can hear is whatever song or podcast you may be listening to. This feature on the PXC 550-IIs is stellar. With a flick of the switch, you can set the noise-cancelling to full and block out near enough everything. Alternatively, you can turn on adaptive noise-cancelling, which reacts and adjusts dynamically to your surroundings. Both modes work well. It has transformed my commute to work on a noisy bus and my experience working in a noisy office. I don’t think I could live without it. If you spend a lot of your life on planes, I can’t recommend getting a pair of noise-cancelling headphones highly enough.
Add to this support for all the main AI assistants, auto pause when you take the headphones off, and a super-cool modern design. But this stuff really isn’t that important if they don’t sound good. Thankfully, as I alluded to before, the Sennheiser PXC 550-IIs sound fantastic. Using the PXC 550-IIs, I’m hearing little touches in songs I’ve heard more than 100 times that I’ve never heard before. Vocals I’ve never noticed before and tiny flourishes deep in a track’s mix are all laid completely bare. The clarity and accuracy of both instruments and voices makes for an enlightening experience. The bass and mid-range frequencies sound particularly good. Both are very deep and fleshed out, with the capability of being punchy if you’ve got the right song playing.
One thing I have noticed is that the volume scale is a little bit lower than other headphones I’ve used. The highest volume they’ll reach isn’t quite as high as some. This doesn’t take away from the quality of the headphones, it’s more of an observation. If you like your music loud these headphones are great, but if you like your music ear-splitting, borderline deadly, they don’t quite reach that level. But it’s fair to say that I’m very impressed with what I’ve heard so far.
If you’re in the market for a pair of high-quality wireless noise-cancelling headphones, I recommend the Sennheiser PXC 550-IIs. I don’t think you will be disappointed dropping £299 on these because they live up to that premium price tag in almost every area. They look great, they are almost impossibly comfortable, the noise-cancelling technology works flawlessly, and most importantly, they sound phenomenal. It’s a shame they don’t use USB-C for charging, but when I’m jamming out to Can’t Stop by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and it sounds as good as this, you’ll forgive me for forgetting.