Sennheiser is without a doubt one of the most renowned names in the headphone business. The manufacturer, based near Hanover, Germany, caters to the professional, audiophile and consumer sectors of the market. Since the end of 2016, the PXC 550 over-ear model has been enjoying great popularity with consumers, and now a follow-up model is finally available.
The design of these ear-enclosing headphones largely remains the same, except that now they are completely black. The workmanship is just as impressive. With padding on the adjustable headband and the hinged and rotating ear cups, the headphones can to be stored in the space saving carrying pouch, which is supplied. The headphones fit comfortably and securely, at least on my ears, even over longer periods of time. The artificial leather padding feels pleasant, but can become a little sweaty when used in higher temperatures.
The battery life is between 20 and 30 hours, depending on use of the noise cancelling option, with three hours charging time (there is a charge level indicator on the device). This is a useful feature for longer journeys where the PXC 550-II can also be used for pure noise cancelling.
The headphones we tested were equipped with Bluetooth 5 and supported audio codecs SBC, AAC, aptX as well as aptX LL for improved lip-sync while watching movies and cable connection is also available. There are three microphones which, in addition to their noise cancelling function, also guarantee good speech intelligibility during telephone calls and when addressing different speech assistants, including Alexa.
As well as being comfortable to wear, the new PXC are straightforward to use. A convenient feature of these headphones is automatic pause of music playback when putting them on and taking them off. There is no on/off switch at all – you just turn an ear cup through 90 degrees. But this isn’t always practical; for example if you just want to wear the headphones around your neck or fold them up in some other way.
All buttons and switches are located on the right ear cup. Button 1 calls up voice control and Bluetooth pairing (it is possible to connect with two phones). Above this, a three-step button can be used to select noise-cancelling mode. A further button is rather awkwardly hidden on the other side of the ear cup; with this you can deactivate the Bluetooth function. The headphones can still be used with noise cancelling.
The touch-sensitive outer surface of the right ear cup has a crucial function: Here you can start and stop playback by tapping, as well as make and receive phone calls. By stroking horizontally you can jump between the tracks, rewind and fast-forward. Vertical movements control the volume. Finally, double-clicking the outer surface activates the transparent hearing mode. Music playback is lowered and the ambient sound is transmitted to the ears via the microphones – communication is therefore possible without having to pick up the phone.
A free Smart Control App for iOS and Android is also available. Here, you will find a percentage battery level display as well as the general settings for voice announcements and the smart pause function. Noise cancelling can also be switched on here, but unfortunately it can’t be controlled in a more precise way. In contrast, the equalizer is more successful, offering four fixed settings and, in the Director version, selectable frequency emphasis, stereo widening, and room simulation. Dynamic volume adjustment between different tracks can also be switched on. This works quite well and allows you to quickly create appropriate sound adjustments. Nevertheless, I would have appreciated the provision of a regular equalizer with adjustable frequency bands.
The range of the wireless link is realistic, but its stability is open to criticism; there were repeated failures, particularly when it went below 40 percent of the remaining battery life. Hopefully a firmware update will help (we tested version 1.00).
As well as providing reasonable passive attenuation of external noise, the PXC 550-II offer active reduction of ambient noise, which does not disturb people sitting next to you. In my opinion, this does not have a negative effect on the sound quality, but improves the signal-to-noise ratio.
Full noise reduction is achieved in “on” mode; the effect is pleasantly efficient and intensive, without feeling like you’re being kept in isolation. With or without music, you can create a pleasant space for relaxation, taking you out of the noise of everyday life. Low-frequency noise recedes far into the background, as do static noise levels and vehicle noise. Irregular ambient noises such as speech or traffic noise are also noticeably reduced. Sensitivity to wind can actually be effectively reduced in the appropriate setting, so that one can also move about outside undisturbed in two ways. The alternative to the above-mentioned modes is called “adaptive” and, according to Sennheiser, adapts dynamically to outside noise or movement patterns. Unfortunately, it’s not clear what exactly happens here. As a result, this mode does not feel particularly dynamic, but it works reasonably well, even if less intensively than the maximum setting.
With these headphones Sennheiser is still at the top of the league in noise cancelling, although they don’t quite reach the same levels of configurability and depth achieved by Sony’s WH-1000XM3 .
The Sennheiser PXC 550-II also sounds convincing away from the built-in electronics. This can be easily verified in quieter cable operation. Due to the lack of an off switch, the headphones can only be used passively when the battery is empty. In accordance with the design concept, we focused our attention on the Bluetooth range (AAC with iPhone 8) – with an equally convincing result.
The closed construction with its dynamic 32 mm drivers simply sounds good, powerful and balanced over the entire listening range. This starts with a securely contoured bass that goes to the deepest levels without humming – not even when using the equalizer. The PXC 550-II also delivers the necessary tonality and dynamics in the bass.
The mids are richly reproduced in detail, providing the listener with the necessary richness from music in the rock genre, at the same time essential details like voices and solo instruments are highlighted when listening to other styles. The treble image is equally well resolved, which avoids harshness but does not embellish. The stereo stage design, the traceability of panning movements and the general dynamics are pleasing, so that jazz and classical music can also be enjoyed. As with most closed systems, the depth of the room is less pronounced. You might miss the fine transparency and faster response of more expensive open construction headphones, but the PXC 550-II is not intended to be an audiophile product, but a high-quality headphone for mobile use. The focus is therefore on function, effective noise cancelling and a balanced, powerful sound with a fun factor. The PXC 550-II fulfils this task completely, but it’s a shame that headphones in this price range omit to include the best codecs aptX HD and LDAC.
Sennheiser is upgrading the PXC-500 and reducing the price by 50 Euros. We were convinced by the functionality as well as the handling and the sound, which makes these all-round high-quality over-ear headphones great for everyday mobile and office use.
Measurement ResultsMore measurement results
- Ear couplingOver-ear
- Transducer principledynamic
- Frequency response (headphones)17 - 23.000 Hz
- Impedanceactive: 490 Ohm / passive: 46 ohms
- Pressure averaged from big and small head495,5 g
- Weight with cable247 g
- Weight without cable234 g
- Cable length135 cm
What's in the box
- Mini jack cable
- Airplane adapter
- USB charging cable
- Carrying pouch
- BT codecs: SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX LL
- BT version: 5.0
- BT profiles: A2DP, AVRCP, HSP, HFP
- Charging time: approx. 3 hours