When the Sennheiser PXC 550 (Sennheiser PXC 550 review: Bose QC35 has competition) came out in 2016, the world of noise cancellation was still dominated by Bose. Now, almost four years later, the landscape has changed. Yes, Bose is still around, but the most popular noise cancelling device might well be Apple’s AirPods Pro. And there is competition from Sony, which has become hugely popular in this space in the past couple of years.
But then we still can’t ignore Sennheiser, which has a lot of options aimed at the more discerning customer. So with the new Sennheiser PXC 550-II, the German audio major wants to push the envelope and offer more evolved features.
The Sennheiser PXC 550-II looks and feels a lot like its predecessor. It has nice cushioned ear cups and headband. The headphones fold flat and curl so that you can easily pack it into your backpack as I did for a week on the road.
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But it has also added a feature that was not there in 2016: access to the virtual assistant. You can long-press the button on the right ear cup you summon Siri, Google Assistant or Alexa. Interestingly, on my iPhone, as soon as I paired the headphone, the Alexa app asked if I wanted to connect the two. And I did. After that point every some was a voice command away, along with queries about the weather and other stuff you keep asking Alexa. The same worked for Siri too, seamlessly.
One feature I like about Sennheiser headphones is how seamlessly it connects to two devices — in my case the iPhone and iPad — and switches between the two when needed. On the iPhone you also have the app that lets you control noise cancellation and the audio mode. With the headphone, you can toggle the different noise cancellation levels, even switch it off.
The right ear cup has a touchpad for all your controls. You can swipe to the sides to shuffle songs, up and down to adjust volume, press to stop or take a call. It is as easy as it gets.
The audio quality is what you would expect a Sennheiser headphone to offer. And Sennheiser is usually a neutral audio profile, not bass-heavy like Sony. But you can use the app to switch in case you need a bit more oomph and there is even a director mode where you can play with the equaliser. I really liked the speech mode for clarity and used it to watch a few serious movies on some flights I took last week. This is also great for calls and you clearly hear the other side.
It is the clarity of the Sennheiser PXC 550-II that you will find hard to miss. On the flights, watching movies, the experience was almost like being in a movie theatre. I was at times trying to look over my shoulder to see where the sound came from — you hear everything, the door opening, the footsteps, a cat on the street — even though you are flying in a noisy flight to Mumbai, 35,000 feet over Madhya Pradesh.
And with the music, the neutral aspect of the headphones let you enjoy the composition as it was intended to be heard. There are no extra elements that the headphone itself adds. It is just you and the music — mellow, warm, clear…
On the downside, when it is hot, the ear cups could become a bit stuffy. But that’s the cost we have to pay for being in a place like India.
The battery life can last up to 30 hours on a full charge. But remember to ensure that the headphone is fully folded and powered off when stowing away in your bag after a flight or it will just keep playing the music and draining your battery.
This is one for the purists. If you love your music and will not comprise in any way, go ahead and buy.