Occasionally here at Ausdroid, we get our hands on some excellent accessories for your Android devices and the Sennheiser PCS 550 Bluetooth wireless headphones may just be one of the most premium devices I have ever had the pleasure of using. To walk things back a little, the PCS 550s are a set of over-the-ear, Bluetooth-powered (with optional 3.5mm cable), noise cancelling portable headphones and they are nothing short of top shelf. That said their $629.95 AUD RRP price tag is equally as top shelf.
The question is, are the PCX 550s worth the investment? Read on to find out.
The Sennheiser PCX 550 collapsible Bluetooth headphones – which we’ll just call the 550s from here on out – are exquisitely built, whilst some may want all metal construction I like to keep the weight on my ears and noggin to a minimum, and the 550s are perfect for that. The headphones are a mix of soft-touch plastic and metal trims and weigh in at only 227g; I wore them for almost the entire flight to and from San Francisco last month and never had any comfort issues with the weight or pressure.
In the box, you get the headphones, a protective carry case, 3.5mm headphone jack, an aeroplane adapter and a MicroUSB cable for charging. The headphones easily fold down into a convenient size and are very comfortable to wear unless you are in extreme heat or humidity, at which time covering up any of your heads evaporative surface is going to be a problem.
Overall I loved the fit and finish of the 550s, from the softly elongated curves of the ear cups to the extending band the headphones really looks stylish and like they had been crafted, not made. In the end, you wear them on your head but it’s nice to look good doing it.
Ordinarily, we would jump right into the Audio quality however the 550s have some very special features that merit discussion before we discuss the sound. So what are these bad boys packing?
One of the features that makes the 550s just that little bit different, and more fun, is the touch panel controls on the right earcup. Using the touch pad you can access all of the standard audio controls, Play/ Pause, Volume up/ down, Skip forward/ back, answer/ reject calls and of course, voice control.
These are all achieved with a series of gestures which are very easy to learn and soon become second nature. The coolest of all was tap to pause (answer). When someone approached me to talk I just tapped on the panel and you got silence if you double tapped you got silence and the noise cancelling turns off as well, awesome.
Overall, I found the gesture based control very intuitive, and unlike most other headsets where you have to find the exactly right spot to find the button, you simply complete the gesture anywhere on the earcup and your will is enacted. This was not only cool but extremely efficient and enjoyable.
An App? For Headphones? I hear you asking. Yes, and I don’t know how I ever used headphones without an app! I may be gilding the lily a little here but for a set of cans like these having such deep control over the functions and sound just makes the experience so much better.
So what can you do in the app? Think of the app as a dashboard and configuration tool, it can tell you the current state of the headphones, things like battery level, noise cancellation level, set and switch between audio profiles and provide custom control over the EQ.
Now I’m not an audiophile, and if I did mess with the EQ I’d just mess it up, but I did find the pre-programs useful and played around with different settings for different music and for podcasts. Overall the thing I liked the most about the app was the ability to customise the level of noise cancelling to the environment, sometimes excessive noise cancelling can actually make your ears uncomfortable.
Noise cancellation is increasingly becoming a desirable feature, however on several other headphones I’ve used I’ve found the feature a little hit and miss. However, if you’re expecting noise cancellation to provide you with your own personal chamber of solitude then you may need to readjust your pre-conceived ideas.
What does noise cancellation achieve? Firstly it removes a large amount of the low-frequency background noise, it can also lighten much of the higher frequency background noise, but you’re still going to get some bleed through. This isn’t the cone of silence. This allows you to hear your audio content more clearly, and typically at slightly lower volumes.
Even when you’re not listening to content, the 550s in noisy environments like an aeroplane provided a much-reduced ambient noise, and even deadened the engine noise, to a degree. The louder the noise the less effective the cancellation. I wore the 550s on a long flight and can attest to the level of noise reduction they are capable of.
I don’t sleep well in tiny aeroplane seats, however, by reducing the noise stimuli (and extra legroom seats) I was able to get far more rest that I typically could.
I found that I just left the noise cancellation on about 50 – 75% all of the time I was wearing them, even at home they simply melted away distracting sounds, dripping taps, dishwashers, refrigerators, etc and just let me listen to the content.
Sure these are not the first noise cancelling headphones on the market but the are the best ones I have used. The degree of passive and active noise cancellation paired with the fine tuning of the degree of active cancellation via the app made the 550s a superb vehicle to focus in on my content and let the world drift away.
The 550s achieve just an insane amount of battery life for devices that provide such excellent noise cancellation, wireless connectivity and effective noise cancellation. The stated battery life is 30 hours, and I’d be inclined to believe it.
I put the 550s on at about 10am in Australia and took them off at about 7 pm at night in the USA and wore them pretty much the entire time in between and I still wasn’t getting the recharging warning tone. Now, I didn’t play audio the whole time but for the majority of that time, they were powered, connected via Bluetooth and had noise cancellation running.
To run the battery flat I had to use the headphones for a couple of consecutive days of very solid listening. If you’re looking for a set of headphones to last a long time and provide superb audio and excellent noise cancelling then these are the headphones for you.
Bluetooth can be a little bit difficult at times, it doesn’t always connect and pairing can be a pain and range can be an issue. I experienced none of that with the 550s. Connecting to the headphones for most Android phones is as easy as tapping the phone to your left ear.
The inbuilt NFC in the 550s handles all of the pairing with your NFC enabled android device and you’re ready to go. For the few PC’s and tablets, I paired the headphones to it was just as seamless just with a few more user steps.
The range of the 550s was amazing, I had to actually sit on my phone to get Bluetooth signal interruption, or walk an insane way away. This is the advantage of a bigger set of headphones that can have larger antennas incorporated into their design.
With the several phones and laptops, I used with the 550s I never had any issues with connecting or Bluetooth clarity or range / reception.
To be honest, it feels like the Audio quality is almost a secondary feature of the PCX 550 when you look as the entire package, of course without great audio quality the rest of the headphones would be for nothing. Rest assured the headphones deliver great audio.
I’ve already said I’m no audiophile, that said I’ve got headphones in at least half the day most days, so I love good headphones. The sound clarity on the 550s was excellent, with the right content the audio quality was immersive and emotional.
With Noise cancelling turned on low in a domestic environment there is nothing but you and your music, more than once I opened my eyes to my wife staring at me as I was so involved and isolated that I had not heard her calls from a distance, let’s just say my wife’s nickname for the headphones wasn’t as endearing.
The different audio profiles in the Captune app allow you to select between different sound profiles, or if you know what you’re doing you can jump in under the hood and start to mix up and save your own custom profiles.
I would expect the PCX 550 to be compared to a good set of Bose headphones, and I’d expect them to be about equal, that is to say, that the Sennheisers are at the very top of the Bluetooth Headphone selection. I haven’t had the opportunity to compare to a set of Bose but I’m assured they are very similar.
The Sennheiser PCX 550 headphones are an excellent set of premium headphones. The fit and finish, controls, noise cancellation and audio quality were universally the best of any headphones I have ever used, bar none.
There is nothing about the PCX 550 headphones design or function that would give me pause in recommending them to anyone. The only sticking point is the price. It seems the price for a nearly perfect set of Bluetooth over-the-ear headphones is about $629.95 AUD.
I’m not saying they aren’t worth the price, however with the Bose QC35 retailing for almost half that cost I’m not sure many people could afford or justify the cost. If you’re a frequent international traveler and you can either expense or tax deduct these or if $630 for a set of headphones is a price you can pay then get these and love them every time you’re lucky enough to use them.
Unfortunately, for me, I now live in a world where I have used the PCX 550s but can not afford to buy myself a set.