Last year, I fell in love with the Sennheiser HD650 with the Apogee groove amplifier. It broke my heart when I had to hand them back, but I have never forgotten them and I pine for them often. They forever changed the way I look at quality headphones. *sniff*
Now though, there is a new potential love interest in the form of the Sennheiser PXC 480 – a £259.99, noise cancelling, folding, closed back set of cans that are designed for portability without compromising on sound quality. Plus, they have active speakers and a 50-hour battery life. Well, colour me intrigued!
The headphones are chunky without being overly bulky and are nicely padded with soft leather along the headband and the earpieces. They are pretty light too, weighing in at only 235g. Usually, folding headphones can feel flimsy, but I have to say, that these certainly do not fall into that category. They feel solid, despite the weight (or lack thereof!) and I like the fact that they are very nicely styled without looking too ostentatious.
The PXC 480s come in a rather natty little case that reminds me of the old CD wallet that used to live in the glove compartment of my car. The case is very nicely made and offers a good amount of protection without adding too much weight or bulk. As with the headphones themselves, it is simple and understated, so I have no qualms about throwing it in my bag or hand luggage. In the “hinge” part of the inside of the case is a small pouch where you can store the micro USB charging cable and the two provided adapters – a 2 prong 3.5mm jack and a 6.3 mm jack. Nice touch. The earpieces of the headphones rotate and fold to allow for neat storage in the case so they can be easily packed. The headphones use a double ended 3.5mm jack cable, so you can remove or replace it if you ever need to. I thought this was a great idea and it means that if you need a longer cable for use in the house etc and a shorter one for day to day use, it’s not a problem. Whilst wireless headphones are all the rage these days, it’s worth bearing in mind that Bluetooth is still outlawed on many airlines, so good old fashioned wires on this type of headset is clearly the way to go.
When wearing them, I found the 480s to be superbly comfortable with plenty of padding and enough clamping force to hold them in place, but not so much as it limits the blood flow you your brain. I’m used to in-ear headphones, so over or on ear ones can feel a little odd to me, but I have to admit, the Sennheisers really didn’t give me the feeling that I’d just strapped saddle bags to my head. They did make my ears quite warm, but unfortunately, this is just the nature of these types of headphones. It certainly wasn’t as bad as others I have tried though and I found I could wear them for long periods of time without having to stop to cool off my lugs. There isn’t a lot of real estate inside the earpiece, but I found that my ears fitted very nicely inside them, allowing for a good seal. I did notice that in order to fit comfortably, I had to extend both arms of the headphones to their maximum length and it was just about enough. If you have a particularly big head, this could possibly be an issue for you.
As for the sound quality…..well, they’re Sennheisers….what do you think?
To be fair, it did take a few days to properly them burn in. Out of the box, they sound a bit compressed and muddy, but once burned in, the detail is outstanding and you can really pick out the various layers of the track. They have Sennheisers’ characteristic neutral sound that I personally like, plenty of bass, but not thumping and overpowered, the excellent definition in the mids and highs so you don’t lose the vocals in the mix and plenty of separation to give you a wonderfully wide soundstage. I honestly didn’t think they would compare to the HD650s I reviewed, given that those were studio monitor style headphones and these are aimed at daily use, and of course, they don’t reach the same heady heights of audiophile quality, but there really wasn’t as much in it as I thought. I have been using these a lot to listen to music from my iPhone 7 and have been genuinely impressed with the quality and you don’t have to crank the volume to full to get gorgeous sound either.
The PXC 480s can be used either actively or passively and there is a physical 3 stage switch at the bottom of the right-hand earpiece. I found this a little tricky to find when you have them on, but it’s not a function you are using all the time. The active speakers broaden and deepen the sound in a subtle but noticeable way, although the quality of the speakers in passive mode is also very good, so if you ever ran out of power, you are not up a creek. I actually preferred the passive mode for watching youtube videos where it was just someone talking and you really don’t need (or want) extra oomph. There is a small unobtrusive panel with LEDS beside the switch that shows the battery charge level and in my testing, I did find they easily lasted several days of use, however, you have to remember to physically switch them off after use, which takes a little getting used to. It’s unclear if they go into any kind of standby or auto power off mode if left in the on position over time, simply because the battery life is so good.
Moving the power switch past to the “power on” position activates the built-in microphones and cuts off the audio feed. This is useful when the air stewardess is asking which beverage you’d prefer with your pretzels. You have to hold the rather small switch in this position as it automatically reverts to active speaker mode when released, which is a little fiddly. This brings up the subject of the noise cancellation. It’s phenomenal! I was listening to some music at a reasonable mid-level volume in my office in my house when my wife tapped me on the shoulder and scared the bejesus out of me. Not only had she been talking to me without me having the slightest idea she was there, she had been hoovering right at the door and I didn’t hear a thing! I am going to Canada shortly and am looking forward to not hearing the rest of the passengers on the plane. These would be essential if you commute on a bus or train.
The 480s are also capable of taking phone calls and there is a small unit on the cable with a single button that allows you to receive and end a call along with a play/pause function for music. Calling it a remote would be a tad generous. It functions fine, but it feels like a bit of an afterthought. I would have liked to have seen a volume rocker or something similar to give it a bit more functionality.
I loved the HD650’s. They sounded amazing, but they weren’t close to practical for day to day use. If the 650 is the fiery holiday romance, the PXC 480s is the one you marry and settle down with. They may not have all the flamboyant superstar audio, but they still sound fantastic, you can wear them all day in any setting and take them with you wherever you go. These are fantastic all round headphones and I have no qualms about recommending them to anyone. At £260, they certainly aren’t cheap, but at this end of the market, you’ll spend a whole lot more to get a little bit better.