REVIEW: Sennheiser PXC 550-II - Compact yet powerful ANC Headphones
Sennheiser released the upgrade to the PXC 550, the PXC 550-II, during last years IFA and included some nice additions while making some notable omissions. What’s new in this pair of ANC headphones is the upgrade to Bluetooth 5.0, the inclusion of AAC codec for iPhone users which was not present in the original PXC 550 and support for the aptX and aptX low latency codecs as well. Also, in the update, voice assistant features have been added with the Quick Access button. Without further ado, let’s just jump straight into the review of the headphones.
The first thing that I noticed when I picked these headphones up was how light it is! It is really light when compared to Sony’s WH-1000XM3 and Bose QC35 II. Due to the weight, it is really comfortable as I do not feel anything on the crown on my head during prolonged usage. The clamping force is just about right as I do not feel any discomfort on my jaws as well.
There are quite a few touch control gestures to remember when using these headphones so here’s a breakdown of the various gestures and action you can use during media playback:
- Rotate the right ear cup to turn the headset on and off.
- Press and hold the voice assistant button for four seconds to initiate pairing mode.
- Tap the touchpad once to play/pause media.
- Swipe horizontally and hold to fast forward and rewind playback.
- Swipe horizontally to skip or go to the previous track.
- Swipe vertically to increase and decrease the volume.
- Slide the ANC slider up one or two clicks to adjust noise cancelling intensity.
Here are a list of gesture controls for when you’re answering or on a call.
- Tap once to accept or end a call.
- Tap and hold to reject an incoming call.
- Double-tap to place a call on hold.
- Swipe horizontally to mute or unmute the microphone.
- Swipe vertically to adjust the volume.
I can only speak for Android users having tested these headphones on my Huawei P40 Pro but I didn’t experience any visual/audio lag from watching YouTube videos or on other streaming apps. Disruptions while listening were also next to none and I could put my phone a good five metres away and connection was still present.
When it comes to ANC on these headphones, there are two settings available, ‘Adaptive Noise Cancellation’ and ‘Anti-wind’. What’s odd here is that the rumble of a bus engine got through while trying the ANC out on a recent trip but speech seems to be cancelled out, better than Sony WH-1000XM3 in my opinion, where usually it tends to be the other way around for ANC headphones.
Listening on 75% volume most of the time, the low noises do get through and I’m not sure how it will handle plane engine noise for frequent fliers. Also, a double-tap on the right earcup allows for ambient mode much like Sony’s quick attention mode. However, there is no option for ambient mode while the music is playing as activating ambient mode would result in the music pausing.
If it is used mainly for flights and commute, you should be okay. However, for people walking down the streets, ambient mode with music playing would be a much-appreciated feature, something that is truly lacking.
Phone Call Quality
As to be expected, the microphone performs well in quiet environment for phone calls but also did an impressive job of capturing my voice when walking in a city centre environment, even on an extremely windy day when I tested them.
First off, the bass – nothing to rave about. It is present but it lacks the oomph, especially if you are listening to Rock or EDM; you just can’t feel the energy coming from the music. But you can adjust it via the Sennheiser App (more on that later) to make the bass more present to make it slightly more enjoyable.
Moving on to the mids – this is where I felt that not much is lost. Vocals are really clean, be it male or females. What I like about the mids here is that it really brings out the guitar in a nice and crisp manner. Listening to acoustic covers was more than pleasant with these headphones. Also, when listening to operas and ballads, I can feel the emotion of the singer (okay I may have exaggerated on this part).
Finally, the highs. I felt that it is really emphasized, the treble on these headphones are sharp and clear, but not too fatiguing to my ears. Hi-hats and cymbals sound bright, and for people who listen to classical music, you can really appreciate the highs in these headphones. Especially on violin and flute concertos, it really makes the experience more enjoyable with the highs presented in this manner.
Soundstage is wide for a pair of closed-back ANC headphones, it definitely does not feel like a band is playing in your head, and instruments spacing and separation is evident and overall, it’s not too bad for a pair of ANC headphones.
Is the sound good or bad? I personally feel that music is really subjective. Bass lovers, you might want to look at other options, but as mentioned, acoustic, ballads, operas and classical music do sound great. I wouldn’t say that the PXC 550-II is fantastic, but they’re not to be scoffed at either.
Smart Control App
Via the Smart Control App, you can adjust the equalizer and download any software updates to the headphones. The only useful feature that I used was adjusting the acoustical settings in director mode and boosting the rumble, which bumped the bass up slightly to make the bass more enjoyable, although it may not be enough for bass heads. You can tinker around with the settings to see what best suits your preference and probably bring out the best of these headphones.
Battery life is listed at 30 hours while using it wired with the ANC on, but nobody will get these to use it wired. In my test, I’m getting closer to 20 hours while using it wirelessly with ANC on at 75% volume with Bluetooth. This can’t quite compete with the likes of Sony’s latest offering but it still pretty respectable, given the Sennheiser PXC 550-II’s lightweight build.
Unfortunately, there’s also no fast charge capability so it takes about one and a half hour from 0 to full charge. Finally, for some strange reason, Sennheiser decided to include a Micro-USB charging port instead of USB Type C, which really doesn’t make sense for such a new pair of wireless headphones.
These are the kind of headphones you can picture yourself wearing on an airplane and tuning out for a long-haul flight. But given the current climate of the world, that might not be an option for a little while. Regardless, I’ve used these for a few weeks now, both in and out of the office, and have found them to be a dream.
You can pick up the Sennheiser PXC-II for €299.99 in Currys PC World