The Sennheiser PXC 550-II Wireless are quality headphones with premium features. You’ll love the compact and user-friendly design. Sennheiser’s legendary sound quality and high-end ANC complete the package.
- Brand: Sennheiser
- Battery Life: up to 30 hours
- Material: plastic with steel bow and hinges
- Bluetooth: 5.0
- Noise Cancellation: ANC, adaptive, and anti wind
- Superior sound
- High-end ANC
- Excellent battery life
- Smart features
- Compact and clever design
- 24-month warranty
- Micro-USB charging
- No fast-charging option
- Passive noise cancellation is weak
- Unreliable smart pause feature
The new Sennheiser PXC 550-II Wireless are packed with smart features. In addition to active noise-cancellation (ANC), touch controls, and great battery life, these travel headphones will treat you to auto on/off, a triple microphone array, and smart pause.
Are the PXC 500-II Wireless a German engineering masterpiece, or a hot mess? We’ll tune you in.
What’s in the Box
The Sennheiser PXC 550-II Wireless come with the following accessories:
- Flat carry case
- Micro USB charging cable
- Audio cable (3.5mm to 2.5mm)
- In-flight adapter
- Quick guide and safety guide
- Design: over-ear headphones
- Color: black
- Noise Reduction: ANC with NoiseGard
- Drivers: dynamic, 32 mm
- Speaker Frequency Range: 17 – 23,000 Hz
- Impedance: 490 Ohm (active), 46 Ohm (passive)
- Sensitivity: 110 dbSPL (passive: 1 kHh/1V RMS)
- Microphone: MEMS
- Microphone Frequency Response: 50 – 10,000 Hz
- Microphone Sensitivity: -34 dBV/Pa
- Pick-up Pattern: 3 mic beam forming
- Audio Codecs: SBC, AAC, APTX, APTX LL
- Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0, micro USB, 2.5 mm audio and DC jack
- Bluetooth Profiles: A2DP
- Operating Range: not specified
- Weight: 8 ounces (227 grams)
- Battery Life: 20 hours (ANC + A2DP), 30 hours (ANC + wired)
- Charging time: 3 hours
- Price: $350 (currently 43% off on Amazon)
Operating the PXC 550-II Wireless
Sennheiser, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, didn’t skimp on these travel headphones. You can tell that a design team touched every single element. It starts with a flat carry case that neatly packs the compact headphones, continues with earcups that tilt and swivel in almost any direction, and extends to smart controls and features that anticipate your every move.
The right ear cup is where you’ll find all the controls, the triple microphone array, and the audio and charging ports.
What you won’t find is an on/off button. Instead, the headphones will automatically turn on or off when you rotate the right ear cup. A red dot on the hinge of the right ear cup indicates the off status.
What if you don’t want your headphones to switch on automatically? Your best bet is to turn off Bluetooth and ANC. Sennheiser placed the Bluetooth on/off switch opposite to all other buttons on the right ear cup, possibly to prevent accidental mix-up with the ANC slider. It also disappears under the hoop holding the right ear cup.
The ANC slider has three settings: off, Smart Control, and max. When set to Smart Control, you can use the app of the same name to choose between adaptive (standard) or anti-wind ANC mode.
The slider eliminates a nuisance associated with pushing buttons, i.e. the acoustic feedback that interrupts your audio playback to announce the current setting. We love that Sennheiser enabled a seamless transition from one ANC setting to the next.
The button next to the ANC slider doubles up as a voice assistant trigger (Siri, Google, Alexa, Baidu, and Cortana; single click) and Bluetooth pairing button (4-second press-and-hold). Next to this button are four tiny LEDs that indicate pairing and battery charging status.
To control playback and call functions, Sennheiser outfitted the PXC 550-II Wireless with a touchpad on the right ear cup. In addition to the usual controls, you can toggle transparent mode by double-tapping the touchpad. But first, you’ll have to pause audio playback.
Even though the transparent mode lets you hear and speak to people, you might find it impolite to keep your headphones on. When you take the PXC 550-II Wireless off while listening to an audio track, sensors in the ear cup will register the “lost connection” to your ear and automatically pause playback. When you put the headphones back on, playback will resume.
Sound Quality and ANC
To test the sound quality and ANC, we subjected the PXC 550-II Wireless to our standard set of tests, which you can replicate at home, and compared them to a pair of Sony WH-1000XM2 ANC headphones. We used AudioCheck’s Ultimate Headphones Test to evaluate performance and everything sounded fine. To test the ANC, we played an airplane cabin noise track in the background, while wearing either the Sony or the Sennheiser headphones.
Slightly thicker and heavier ear cups helped the Sony headphones outperform the Sennheisers in our passive noise-cancellation comparison. The Sennheisers feature a lighter ear cup build, meaning more noise gets through.
In our simplified ANC test, their passive noise-cancellation gave the Sonys a leg up, and they performed better overall. Using professional testing software, SoundGuys concluded that Sony’s ANC remains best in class. But they also see the PXC 550-II Wireless as the current top contender in its price class.
In the sound department, the Sennheiser PXC 550-II Wireless are our favorite, hands-down. Sennheiser’s Smart Control app lets you customize the headphone’s sound profile. You can either choose one of the four presets (Neutral, Club, Movie, Voice/Speech) or you can create a custom Director setting. For the comparison, we chose the default, aka Neutral, acoustics setting.
We loved the Sennheiser’s well-balanced sound. Guitar riffs come across strong and clear, the bass is audible, but not overwhelmingly deep, and vocals are full and clear. With the Sonys, everything sounded heavy, the bass was deeper, and the vocals were almost muffled. Switching to the Sennheiser’s Club setting improved the sound even further, slightly increasing the bass and adding a spatial dimension to the overall sound.
Notably, the Sennheisers max out at a much lower volume than the Sonys. We bought these headphones in Canada and the Sonys were purchased in the US. While neither country regulates the maximum volume of personal audio equipment, Sennheiser is a German company and EU regulation mandates that headphones max out at 85 dB. This, however, did not distract from our experience as we never felt the need to increase the volume beyond 80%.
Sennheiser PXC 550-II Wireless Troubleshooting
Getting these headphones to cooperate was a piece of work. Out of the box, they worked fine with our Android phone. The problems started when we involved Windows 10.
Power On Power Off Loop
Once paired with Windows, our headphones got stuck in an on/off loop. We tried unpairing, re-pairing, and resetting the headphones. We also turned them off and on again, but nothing worked. We always ended up with a friendly voice repeating “Power On, Power Off, Power On, Power Off…” ad infinitum. This Amazon reviewer had almost the same issue.
When we installed the Smart Control app and paired the headphones, the app immediately prompted us to install a firmware update. After the update, we could finally use the headphones with our Windows computer, and we haven’t had that particular issue since.
Note: Premium brands will frequently improve their products via firmware updates. Our Sony WH-1000XM2 headphones have been receiving regular firmware updates for three years.
We did have some other random Bluetooth issues, even after applying the patch. However, we experienced none more than once. We suspect they were remnants of a faulty pairing. Once we had installed the firmware update and re-paired all devices, the issues didn’t show up again.
Smart Pause and Play Issues
We had mixed results with the smart pause feature. Lifting one ear cup off your ear is enough to trigger it. While the feature works most of the time, occasionally, not even taking the headphones off entirely would pause the audio. To resume playback, we sometimes had to push the ear cups onto our ears to signal that we were all ears again.
We’ve seen this happen on both Android and Windows and with different apps. Unfortunately, we’ve not been able to identify a pattern, nor were we able to find a fix.
As mentioned above, the Sennheisers max out at a lower volume than other headphones in our collection. While that’s fine, we initially felt like they were a bit too quiet.
When we applied a fix described for the previous model, we managed to normalize the volume levels. Briefly, turn down both the source (e.g. Spotify or YouTube) and the system volume, connect the headphones via Bluetooth, then turn up the system volume using the headphones, followed by turning up the source volume.
Our Sennheiser PXC 550-II Wireless Verdict
While we clearly had issues with these headphones, there is a chance that we received a dud. Although we had ordered brand-new headphones, Amazon sent us an item someone else had returned (aka open box). We know this for sure because Amazon had applied a return label to our product box.
With that in mind, we’re torn. Based on features alone, these headphones are amazing. We loved the compact design, the smart button placement, and the interruption-free ANC slider. We could have done with a proper on/off button, but have to acknowledge that tieing the headphone’s power status to the right ear cup’s orientation is clever design.
Sennheiser’s sound quality is legendary and the PXC 550-II Wireless do not disappoint. While their passive noise-cancellation is on the light side, Sennheiser’s ANC comes close to the Sony gold standard. And the battery life exceeds Sony’s current flagship, but with one caveat: Sennheiser went with micro USB charging, which is much slower than USB-C.
All things considered, the PXC 550-II are an impressive set of headphones. And if you still manage to get them at the introductory price of $200, you’ll get an awesome deal. Just make sure all features work the way they should and check for firmware updates. And in case anything does go wrong, keep in mind that your Sennheiser headphones come with a 24-months warranty.
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