Since I am reviewing some of the best active noise cancelling headphones in 2016 like the Bose QC35 and Sony MDR-1000X, one model keeps appearing as comparison – Sennheiser PXC 550 Wireless. I then contacted Sennheiser Singapore to request for a loan unit to complete my ANC comparison, and they are so supportive of my request, the rep sent me a unit the very day she returned to work after the holidays.
The PXC 550 has a lightweight build frame with sufficient quality styling to make it look premium, like the accented metal branding, silicone coating around the earcups, leather around the headband.
The operation controls are different from other headphones. First, there is no on-off button, just twist the earpads outwards and it will power up. There are 3 buttons and switches: the Bluetooth on-off button, the effects button, and the NoiseGard noise cancelling mode. There are 5- LED indicator to let you know the remaining battery.
When the Sennheiser CapTune app is installed, I can manually adjust EQ or select a preset, adjust the intensity of its adaptive noise cancellation, select the effect modes (Club, Movie, Speech, Director), adjust volume. It also has a built-in music player which also integrates with Tidal streaming service.
The app also lets me select audio prompt language, enable call enhancement, and smart pause, which auto pauses music when I remove the headphones from my ears, just like the Plantronics BackBeat PRO 2.
The left earpad is NFC chip for ease of pairing, while the right earpad offer touch controls. Sliding the fingers up and down will adjust volume in multiple steps depending on how much I slide. This is better than many headphones requiring multiple slide actions. Sliding front and back will adjust track. Tapping once will play and pause the track, and tapping twice will enable ambient mode to listen to the surrounding as the music pauses. The ambient mode amplifies the higher frequencies to let the wearer hear conversations or PA announcements easily.
Moving on to the noise cancelling, I find the ANC is not as aggressive as Bose QC35 and Sony MDR-1000X. The low humming ambient sounds and conversations are neatly neutralised, but the high-sounding din remain unmoved, achieving merely an equivalent of passive noise cancelling at these high frequencies. Suffice to say, wearing it does not give my ears the claustrophobic feel.
But the PXC 550 makes up for the audio quality. The treble is bright and airy, with sizzling sibilance that electrifies the vocals and acoustic instruments. The bass is neutral, not exaggerated. The sound staging is wide, which means I had to turn up the volume more to hear better. The lack of aggressive ANC does not help in delivering small details effectively, but definitely better than without ANC.
The audio quality is definitely improved when listening with wired. The treble sounds less compressed and narrow, while the bass is more extended. Or perhaps it is the magic of the LG V20 which I used to review. The enclosed cable comes with in-line mic, and the connector at the headphones is the smaller 2.5mm.
The Sennheiser PXC 550 Wireless is an audio first, noise cancelling second headphones. Among the ANC headphones I have reviewed so far, I would rank it the highest for its audiophile excellence with pristine treble delivery. The ANC is also among the best, but I still find Bose QuietComfort series much more formidable.
Retail price in Singapore for the headphones is S$599. Visit the official product website for more details.