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Taron & Andrew Lissimore
Noise canceling, wireless, Bluetooth, smartphone-compatible, portable headphones suitable for serious music audiophiles might seem like a total mash-up of incompatible terms - until you get your ears around the Sennheiser PXC-550.
Our Headphone.com review opinion is the PXC 550 unifies the best combination of sound quality and noise cancellation (NC) performance into a singular high-end travel headphone.
Designed to compete directly with the ubiquitous Bose noise-canceling headphones seen everywhere on trains, planes, and treadmills, the feature-loaded Sennheiser PXC-550 employs lossless AptX technology and updated 4.2 Bluetooth wireless transmission to dial up the sound quality over the competition in this extremely popular headphone category.
A SWEET TOUCH OF DELIGHT
On the PXC 550, all headphone operations are controlled via a gentle touch on the right earcup which acts as a touch-sensitive surface similar to a laptop touchpad. The touch design is totally intuitive and eliminates the all-too-common problem of hitting the wrong tiny recessed button at the wrong time in the dark of night or while otherwise occupied. It's actually a bit of a lifesaver for all us fat-fingered types.
Just tap once on the outside of the earcup to play or pause your music. Tap twice to activate the 'Talk-Thru' feature which pauses the sound, disables the noise cancellation and engages an external mic so you can listen to your surroundings or have a quick conversation without having to remove the headphones from your head. A finger swipe up or down controls the volume setting. Swipe across left or right to skip tracks or go forward & reverse (i.e., play next/previous track).
Unfolding the collapsible Sennheiser PXC 550 headphones automatically turns them on, meaning there's no need for a power switch. Once activated, the PXC 550 immediately searches for Bluetooth wireless signals from any previously paired device and connects without further user action required. NFC pairing was fast and painless for both Apple and Android devices.
When you receive phone calls on the Sennheiser PXC-550, you can tap and hold the earcup touchpad for 2-3 seconds to transfer the call back to the smartphone from the PXC 550 headphones. This feature allows listeners to remove the headphones and continue a conversation on the smartphone without disconnecting from Bluetooth.
Tap and hold the touchpad for 3-4 seconds to get a PXC-550 battery charge/status percentage softly whispered in your ear. The phrase, "your power is 100%" never sounded so sexy. You can also swipe backward on the touchpad and hold for 2 seconds. For Android smartphones, this feature activates 'Google Now' hands-free. For Apple iPhone users, it will summon your Siri servant.
THE CAPTUNE APP
Sennheiser's free downloadable app called 'CapTune' makes these headphones even more feature-rich. You can switch between the three EQ presets directly via the app or create and save your own custom EQ setting. Most appealingly, listeners can completely control the noise-canceling feature from the app, so you can turn off the NC, set it to 50% or dial it in as needed for different listening environments. You can also check the battery status, play/pause the audio, skip forward/reverse and control the volume too.
The upscale PXC 550 feature set provides three preset EQ modes with native effects settings for each: Club; Movies; or Speech. For audiobooks or podcasts, the 'Speech' mode is recommended. The 'Movies' mode provides a vague surround sound-type simulacrum. For general music listening, listeners can employ the bass-powered 'Club' mode or you can create your own custom EQ curve. You can also completely turn off the EQ if desired. And unlike some other Bluetooth headphones, we were able to get plenty loud volume levels from an array of smartphones and tablets, something that's not always the case with other more volume-limited wireless headphones
The Sennheiser CapTune app also includes another feature called 'SoundCheck' that allows you to adjust the EQ by continuously selecting one of two choices (either 'A' or 'B') as you listen, which actively refines your sound preferences as you play your music. This allows you to create a totally personalized musical presentation based on your precisely desired amount of bass, treble and midrange tone shaping. Cool stuff!
STELLAR SOUND QUALITY
We think the Sennheiser PXC 550 could be the best-sounding, most advanced headphone in this category. Compared against all similar wireless noise-canceling headphones, discerning audiophiles and music lovers seeking the best overall combination of performance, comfortable ergonomics, professional looks and excellent environmental ambient noise attenuation have hit the top of the ridge.
The PXC-550 out-competes most other noise-canceling headphones in dynamic extension (it actually has some), in soundstage imaging depth and in smoothness of tone - it manages to completely avoid the crunchy flatness typical of lower-tier Bluetooth cans. Instead, we hear the musical presentation as being almost in league with the sister-model Sennheiser HD1 Bluetooth NC headphones, which has a slightly clearer tone but lower noise-canceling ability and a completely different 'street' style.
Check out our upcoming Headphone.com blog post for a head-to-head comparison shootout of the best wireless noise-canceling headphones including the flagship Bose and Sennheiser models.
WHEN TO FOLD 'EM AND WHEN TO HOLD 'EM
As mentioned, the PXC-550 headphones collapse and fold neatly into a provided travel case. The PXC 550 can also be used in wired mode with an included headphone cable which automatically turns off the wireless Bluetooth transmission when connected to conserve battery life. The Sennheiser PXC-550 has updated AptX codec compatibility ensuring you'll hear the best available 'lossless' Bluetooth 4.2 sound quality sound from your AptX-enabled smartphone, laptop or tablet.
The Sennheiser PXC-550 battery quickly charges from empty to full status in 4 hours and lasts for 20 hrs [30 hrs in 'wired' mode] of constant play time with the noise-canceling fully engaged at 100%. The box includes the sweet black travel case, a short headphone cable for wired use, a micro USB-to-USB charging cable, an airline audio plug adapter and a 'mini' 1/8"-to-1/4" stereo plug adapter.
For discerning travelers and frequent flyers demanding flexibility of use along with the best combo of acoustic and NC performance, your new Sennheiser PXC 550 noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphones beckon.