These on-ear cans are ultra-comfortable, but some may find their battery usage to be a hassle.
Wearing the PXC 450s almost feels as if you’re wearing nothing at all. In all seriousness though, because these cans are super-light for their size—and they cup your cranium ever so softly—you’ll quickly forget they’re there. It’s incredible how comfortable these are. They especially are forgiving to those of us with larger noggins, as the band accommodates re-sizing much better than most.
As far as connectivity features go, the Sennheiser PXC 450s have a standard, milquetoast 1/8th inch plug, with a 1/4th inch adapter and an airplane adapter. Though it won’t let you interface with every piece of electronics ever made, you’ll certainly be able to duck renting those foul airline headphones for the in-flight movie, or plug into a home entertainment center no sweat.
One drawback to most noise-cancelling headphones is their battery requirement. The 450s need a AAA battery to operate their noise cancelling. It can get to be a hassle carrying around those little metal cylinders everywhere—and don't even get me started on having to continuously buy more of them. Additionally, because they require a bit more juice than most cans, it might not be a bad idea to pick up a cheapo amp if you want to squeeze every last performance drop out of them.
Quirky frequency response and some minor tracking issues are balanced out by excellent isolation.
Typically, noise-cancelling headphones will display disparate frequency response depending on whether their noise-cancelling feature is enabled or not. The PXC 450s were unique, in that their noise-cancellation simply amplified the extremity of their frequency-based quirks. The basic frequency response boosts the lower basses, but seems to flatten out until the mid notes (where the highest notes on a piano live), where it peaks, then almost mutes your music, though it's not much of an issue at that range.
With the active noise cancelling turned on, the bass frequencies are boosted (albeit more uniformly), but the swings in frequency response become more dramatic, peaking higher and falling lower at about the same places. You can expect, then, that any dampening or boosting of pitch ranges you hear in your music will be slightly increased while noise-cancelling is active.
Overall, the Sennheiser PXC 450s isolate a bunch of sound for being over-ears. They block a surprising amount of sound even without engaging the excellent noise-cancellation. These seem to be an ideal choice for long airplane flights, or bus rides with long, loud noise in the low end.
At the end of the day, the PXC 450s are a decent set of cans.
The Sennheiser PXC 450s (MSRP $449.95) are an all-around, decent set of active noise-cancelers that don’t sacrifice much performance in order to block out unwanted noise—and that's rarer than you'd think. In addition to their extremely comfortable wear, they performed fairly well in many of our tests. That isn’t to say that they’re perfect, as they do have some issues with frequency response and distortion, but then again, most active-noise canceling headphones do. Overall, though, not a bad product for the price.
We have a few expectations to field when testing noise-cancelling headphones. Testing typically reveals that enabling noise-cancelling causes a pair of cans to alter their frequency response to a pattern that's altogether different from when NC is disabled, but that wasn't the case with these Sennheisers.
Their noise-cancellation simply increased the extremity of whatever frequency response anomalies they displayed while it was disabled. Here's what that means for you.
The Sennheiser PXC 450s displayed some bizarre frequency behavior, though nothing terrible.
Our frequency response test determines how well—or how poorly—a set of headphones represents the spectrum of pitches available to the human ear. Ideally, we want to see a flat curve through the majority of the spectrum, meaning that whatever music you listen to will be accurately produced by the headphones at hand.
The Sennheiser PXC 450s displayed a tendency to boost their low-end (bass) frequencies whether or not noise cancellation was enabled, and yet they boost these frequencies more with noise cancellation enabled than with it disabled. They also had some trouble keeping an ideal line between 2.5KHz and 6KHz, peaking out and boosting the volume of those pitches. With noise-cancellation enabled, this disparity is more noticeable.
Isolation is the name of the game for noise-cancelling cans, and these Sennheisers get the job done.
Even without their noise-cancellation enabled, the PXC 450s are well-suited to naturally block out a large spectrum of ambient noise, which is doubly rare considering that they're of a comfortable, over-ear bent. What this means is that most quiet sound will be effectively blocked even without noise-cancellation. While enabled, their noise-cancellation feature blocks out almost 20dB of noise across most of the range of audible frequencies.
What this means for you is that they're solid isolators. You can leave the noise cancellation unit off most of the time, and expect a decent majority of low-volume ambient noise not to interrupt your listening. If things get overtly noisy, you can turn on the cancellation feature and expect silence—minus your music, that is. This is a much better alternative than continuously turning up music in order to drown out sound, and much safer for your hearing in the long run.
Despite the high sensitivity of 108dB, the s also have a very high impedance for mobile headphones, which will put the brakes on an ideal performance with an iPod or smartphone. Generally, you're looking for headphones with an impedance between 30-50Ohms for those devices, and if you're using headphones with a higher impedance than that, you may notice that it's tough to get a good volume, there's high distortion, or your music sounds crappy.
To this end, we suggest picking up a cheapie portable amplifier for best results. It may be a pain, but it will make a markedly audible difference in your audio quality.
Meet the testers
Staff Writer, Imaging@cthomas8888
A seasoned writer and professional photographer, Chris reviews cameras, headphones, smartphones, laptops, and lenses. Educated in Political Science and Linguistics, Chris can often be found building a robot army, snowboarding, or getting ink.See all of Chris Thomas's reviews
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