Written by Ng Jun Long (@ngjl14) (Tech360.tv Community Creator)

Sennheiser released the upgrade to the PXC 550, the PXC 550-II, during this year’s IFA. What’s new in this pair of ANC headphones is the upgrade to Bluetooth 5.0, and the inclusion of AAC codec for iPhone users which was not present in the original PXC 550 which resulted in audio/video lag for Apple users. aptX and aptX low latency are included 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.

Accessories

The PXC 550-II comes with the same soft carry case as its predecessor and a 3.5mm to 2.5mm cable for wired listening, flight adaptor and USB-A to MicroUSB for charging are included inside. Yes, you read that right, MicroUSB (in 2019). I am not sure why Sennheiser decided to go with MicroUSB when the Momentum 3.0 has the USB-C charging port, which is what most other headphones are using as well. So, this was disappointing for me personally.

Honestly, the carrying case was quite poor as well, it is soft and has a bigger footprint than Sony’s WH-1000XM3 case. As such, I have to exercise caution when putting it into my bag as not only is it big, but the headphones can get squashed if not packed properly since the carrying case is really soft.

Comfort

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.

However, my main gripe is the shape of the earcups. I have big ears and the shape of these cans is long and slightly narrower, compared to the rounder shape earcups that we are accustomed to. I feel that I have to really adjust it to fit my ears and at times, my ears do feel hot from the pressure points due to how it is being squeezed inside the earcups. Other than that, if the earcups fit your ear shape, it is a very comfortable pair of earphones.

Bluetooth Performance

I can only speak for Android users as I do not experience any visual/audio lag from watching YouTube videos on my phone or on other streaming apps.

Disruptions while listening was near to none and I could put my phone a good five metres away and connection was still present.

Sound

For those that have listened to the original PXC 550, the sound of the upgraded version is about the same. One plus point is that the sound quality doesn’t differ much whether you have ANC turned on or off, which means even if the battery is dead, you can still enjoy your music at the same quality albeit without ANC if you have to go wired. 

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.

ANC Performance

Honestly, I feel that not much has improved from the original PXC 550 when it comes to the noise cancellation.  There’s adaptive noise cancellation and anti-wind – not sure if it is applicable for use in Singapore or for travelling (unless you are flying in a World War II open cockpit fighter jet, if not wind should not be the main concern while flying). What’s odd here is that the rumble of the bus engine and MRT track do get through while trying these on my commute. 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% 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, it is fine. However, for people walking down the streets, ambient mode with music playing would be a much-appreciated feature, something that is truly lacking.

Phone calls

The microphone performs well in a quiet environment for phone calls. However, in a noisy environment, the other party on the other end had a hard time listening to me, to the point that I just used my phone to make calls instead.

Battery Life

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. No quick charge features from my knowledge, and it takes about one and a half hour from 0 to full charge.

Smart Connect App

Via the Smart Connect App, one 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.

User Experience

Sennheiser has gone with the swiping of the right earcup for gesture controls, very similar to Sony’s. I have no complains as it is very responsive and so far, it does not have any phantom touches or issues when I need to use it for skipping tracks, adjusting the volume or even accepting phone calls.

Noise cancellation is adjusted using the switch on the right earcup, and also with the quick access button as well. Turning them on was easy, with just a twist of the earcups to the listening position when you unfold it. To turn it off, just twist it back before folding it into the carrying case.

Quite a nifty feature I would say, especially for those who tend to forget to turn off your headphones before keeping it as with this feature, there is no way to not turn it off before putting it into the carrying case. Pairing was also very easy, a long press on the Voice Assistant button puts it in pairing mode and it also has multipoint connection up to two devices.

Summary

Most importantly, what is expressed here is my personal opinion which may differ from yours but to summarize, these are the pros and cons

Pros

  • Bright Sounding
  • Decent noise cancellation
  • Wide soundstage for ANC headphones
  • Usability

Cons

  • Micro USB
  • Soft Carrying case
  • Underwhelming bass
  • Lack of ambient mode

While, honestly, this cannot be compared to Sony’s and Bose’s flagship ANC headphones, it is an unfair comparison in my opinion. Sennheiser has the Momentum 3.0 for their flagship ANC headphones. My verdict is that the PXC 550-II is a good pair of ANC headphones for those that cannot get their hands on the flagship models. However, the price does not reflect the product’s position and that might be something Sennheiser has to look at in the future.