The Sennheiser headphone giant has not just one, but two top models in active noise reduction (ANC) headphones, and both have now come in new generations: Momentum 3 Wireless for “nice” use in the office and PXC 550-II for commuting and travel use.
The Sennheiser PXC 550-II is a discreet and relatively compact over-ear model. The earbuds in matt black plastic are oval, and the headband is lined with artificial leather. Since the headphones are intended for use when traveling, the earphones can be folded, as we are used to on similar models.
The PXC 550-II is primarily intended for wireless use, but it comes with an analog cable that allows them to be used on the flight. And also an aircraft adapter in case you should end up on an aircraft that is so old that the double jack connector is still in use.
Several degrees of noise reduction are offered, which has become common today. This is one of the differences from its predecessor. At Sennheiser, you can choose between full noise reduction, variable noise reduction or none at all. If you choose the variable, you get the choice between automatic adaptation to the noise in the surroundings or a «wind noise reduction». It is not possible to choose the degree of variable reduction yourself. Fortunately, this is not particularly problematic, since the strongest reduction is relatively gentle with the music.
The Sennheiser Smart Control app is necessary if you want to set the noise reduction or change the sound profile. In addition to “neutral” – which is just that – there are the settings “club” which gives plenty of bass and a withdrawn midrange, while “movie” gives impressive bass to the film. If you want a penetrating midrange that emphasizes the vocals, it is also an option.
On the other hand, the app gets a high rating when it comes to stability and user-friendliness. If the headphones have been switched off, they must be paired with the mobile phone again, allegedly for safety reasons. And it often fails – even if they are recognized on Bluetooth.
Some manufacturers swear by touch control of the headphones, while others believe that buttons provide the best control. Sennheiser has chosen both, but without using the best of both worlds. Music track playback, phone calls and volume control are handled with no less than eleven (!) Different finger movements, while ANC is activated using a tiny slider with three positions: off, variable ANC and max ANC. The positive thing about it is that you can be sure not to change function in the event of a mistake. On the other hand, it is almost impossible to find the button without removing the headphones.
The voice control button at the bottom behind the earlobe is operated with the right thumb. There is also a microscopic Bluetooth switch, but fortunately you do not have to touch it unless you are on a plane with a ban on radio transmitters. At this point, I must humbly and honestly admit that I myself do not turn off Bluetooth on flights – and it has still not led to the plane crashing.
The sound quality
The Sennheiser Smart Control app makes it possible to set the sound to your own taste, but the test is done with the setting «neutral». Here you get a pleasant and warm sound that works well for most types of music. The bass is clear, without being dominant (you can easily make it stay in the app). The midrange is clear, and voices sound natural and quite free. And the noise reduction does not change this. The treble is a bit muted, which makes the overtones of, for example, hi-hat sound a bit tame. Not directly dark, but just not that engaging. The impression is the same with and without the ANC.
All in all, these are noise-canceling headphones that can actually be used to listen to music in noisy environments. This brings the PXC 550-II to the sound-wise best part of the field for noise-canceling headphones. In line with the Sony WH-1000 XM3 and Bose NC 700. They are not as open and hi-fi-like as the DALI IO-6, but in return have better noise reduction.
Sennheiser PXC 550-II is a natural development of its predecessor, and both are fairly well-functioning ANC headphones in the premium class. They have all the features that will be on headphones in this class by 2020, including variable noise reduction and voice control.
The new functions in the operation do not seem completely well thought out, and they have to fight for space in the user interface.
Fortunately – and more importantly – Sennheiser has retained the good sound, which means that the music escapes virtually undamaged through the effective noise reduction. In terms of price, Sennheiser still faces tough and direct competition with the latest models from Bose, Sony, B&W, and others.
But if you like the sober design, and can live with the staff, you get a comfortable travel companion that does not take up much space in your hand luggage.