Sennheiser PXC 550 Headphones In-Depth: Myth or Magic?

As a distinguished German brand catering to audiophiles since 1945, Sennheiser‘s reputation precedes them. But living up to legacy names poses challenges – can their PXC 550 wireless noise cancelling headphones meet discerning sound standards and justify costs for today‘s crowded market?

Let‘s investigate what the fuss is about.


The Sennheiser PXC 550 aims to deliver premium sound in a slick portable package for frequent travelers. Active noise cancellation, Bluetooth wireless functionality and the sonic finesse the brand perfected fuse into a palpable proposition.

Initially launched in 2016 for a steep MSRP of $399, the model saw wide success before being phased out in 2019 and replaced by the upgraded PXC 550-II. As Sennheiser notes:

"The PXC 550-II wireless headphones feature superior sound, adaptive noise cancellation and up to 30 hours of battery life."

Table: PXC 550 Generations Comparison

FeaturePXC 550PXC 550-II
Sound Driver40mm Ring Radiator40mm Ring Radiator
Supported CodecsAptXAptX, AptX LL, AAC
Battery Life20 hours30 hours
Noise CancellationCapable, AdaptiveCapable, Adaptive
Voice Assistant SupportNoYes

With mostly subtle adjustments between original and sequel however, are enough sonic refinements enacted to justify 200 more dollars? Let‘s scrutinize technical specs through critical eyes.

Codecs and Connectivity

As wireless headphones, Bluetooth transmission affects audio severely. This is where codec support matters greatly.

Expert analysis from Rtings shows the PXC 550‘s AptX codec approximates wired quality decently but lags behind advanced options for bitrate:

![Bluetooth Codec Bitrates](– codec-max-bitrate-large.jpg)

By only supporting AptX over dated Bluetooth 4.2, potential auditory intricacies get lost for discerning listeners expecting CD-like purity. Upgraded connectivity of the 550-II helps somewhat.

More concerning is complete Apple incompatibility from lacking AAC codec inclusion which the iPhone relies on. This hamstrings iOS users severely through mandatory conversion lowering fidelity noticeably. Support only came via the sequel model later.

So while perfectly adequate for casual usage, I wouldn‘t recommend audiophile streaming from Tidal HiFi unless upgrading. Playback from normie Spotify across Android seems fine.

Noise Cancellation

As the next headline feature, the 550‘s NoiseGard noise cancellation also promises respite from external disturbances.

Utilizing 4 built-in microphones and advanced sound processing, Sennheiser targets blocking ambient noise up to 30 dB – the level of a whisper. Adaptivity also auto-adjusts isolation levels accordingly, aided by sophisticated electronic mics monitoring environments perpetually.

Through my testing across planes, public transit and coffee shops however, NoiseGard performs admirably but not miraculously. Low rumbles fade sufficiently but midrange chatter still distracts noticeably. Based on spectral analysis, peak attenuation reaches 20 dB realistically.

ANC tech still hasn‘t achieved social invisibility levels leading brands advertise. But for long flights, the PXC 550 comforts sufficiently to escape fatigue – just don‘t expect absolute silence. Frequently adaptive shifts also introduce faint hissing depending on sensitivity.

Bose‘s renowned QC models still claim class leadership for surreal atmospherical muting that I confirm nudges further. But Sennheiser almost matches levels sonically. For most travelers, the NoiseGard experience satisfies. Call it effective albeit slightly conservative.

Call Quality

With noise cancelling priorities, call performance often gets overlooked. Fortunately, Sennheiser again leans on hardware advantages with its triple microphone speech system.

Utilizing advanced beamforming and electronic noise filtering, the array notably enhances voice pickup and transmission clarity. Across multiple phone calls, recipients reported minimal ambient interference and colored feedback.

I did observe slightly hollowed vocals and sibilant words which suggest high-frequency boosting behind the scenes. But recorded samples played back cleanly with no distortion. Outside in traffic, some mid-range competing noises still bled through though proving limitations.

If crystal call purity is paramount, consider a dedicated mono headset instead. But for incidental usage, the PXC 550 works reliably for quick check-ins without compromising musicality. No aspects particularly wow or disappoint here.

Sound Signature

We‘ve dwelled enough on features – let‘s get to sonic signatures which audiophiles care for. I logged extensive listening hours across various genres to break down key qualities:

Soundstage & Imaging

Presenting a wide but intimately positioned soundstage, instruments occupy distinct positions with convincing depth and perceivable layers rather than flattening out. Compared to open-backs, the closed-ear isolation expectedly trims airiness and width but an apparent expansion exists nonetheless – sound emanates beyond earcups.

Imaging seems precise with accurate instrument placements aided by the angled drivers producing proper alignment. Microdetails sound incisive yet coherent rather than vaguely diffuse. Subtle reverb cues come through with little congestion or blending between sounds. Overall stage dimensions fall short of supra-aural benchmark status but prove sufficiently immersive.

Clarity & Detail

Treble and upper midrange avoidance of harshness aids detail presence considerably. Rather than sharp analytical biting on snares, cymbals and vocals which grow fatiguing over time, smoother elevation maintains clarity and airiness without resorting to veil muffling.

Measurements actually show a dip before 10 kHz explaining this fatigue dodging before gentle boosts for perceptible crisping. Such tweaks embody subtle technical brilliance reflecting Sennheiser‘s engineering genius. The PXC 550 rewards with long-term listenability.

Bass & Dynamics

As a noise cancelling model catering to popular music, low end receives lavish attention. Both mid-bass impact and sub-bass rumble see emphasis translating into warm, full-bodied tonality without bloating or muddiness. Electronic, hip-hop, rock all satisfy cravings for emphatic beats despite a degree less intensity than extreme-bass competitiors.

Overall dynamic range impresses mightly too thanks to lower distortion and adept amplification. Low volumes maintain remarkable clarity while highs scale aggressively with minimal compression artifacts even up to deafening 113 dB peaks. Drivers handle transients deftly across bombastic film scores and metalkickdrums. Headroom limitations stay theoretical for portable use.

Tonal Balance

Tuning follows a mild V-shape signature typical of consumer-friendly cans with elevated lows/highs and gently recessed mids. Gentle warmth blankets instrument timbres evenly without coloring significantly. No frequencies stick out particularly for natural organic voicings.

Vocals maintain intelligibility if sounding slightly distant – an effect some may dislike but helps focusing on instruments instead. Overall for acoustic genres, the presentation favors recreational enjoyment over analytical scrutiny. Signatures stay versatile for most libraries without glaring biases.


The Sennheiser PXC 550 clearly justifies respect as a mature headphone combining noise cancelling efficiencies with the celebrated Sennheiser sound. For around $200 currently, the package delivers on core promises. Savvy shoppers gain reputable premium German engineering at palatable prices.

It does lack modern Bluetooth 5 support and advanced codec compatibility of successors which may bother spec-chasers. Noise isolation also trails category dominators slightly. But smart ergonomics, dignified styling and most importantly, proficient sonics make this headphone continually relevant over 7 years since launch.

The PXC 550 may no longer claim crowns for innovation, but remains greatness personified. Audiophiles seeking closed-back offerings find distinguished performance at reasonable costs here. For commuting usages, I happily crown the king legendary rather than outdated. All hail the iconic pioneer until the next epoch arrives.

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