If there is one thing I know a lot about it is travelling. Airports, ports, trains. I seem to spend a great deal of my life on them and frankly, if it wasn’t for portable entertainment, I might just find it all a tad tedious. So, it goes without saying that finding a comfortable pair of headphones is an almost mandatory piece of equipment for a travel writer.
Putting aside the in-ear or on-ear debate (I have tried both) the bottom line for me is sound quality, battery life, ease of stowing, an inflight adapter, efficient wireless performance and intuitive controls. And I’m pleased to say the Sennheiser PXC 550-II headphones tick every one of these.
Sennheiser is a premium player with a well-respected brand but this is a very crowded market and the competition is fierce, so having a strong selling hook is critical. Designing a pair of headphones specifically for travellers makes sound sense providing the design stands up to the rigorous demands of being on the go.
The PXC 550-IIs fold away flat into a protective carry case weighing under 300g and turn on as soon as you open them up. Perfect for travelling. At first glance, they look very understated for a premium set of phones; a simple matt black finish with soft leatherette fabric around the ear-shaped cups. But the right cup hides a complex array of controls that are accessed through intuitively smart finger swipes and presses.
A single press to the middle of the right cup pauses or plays music. A swipe forward or back skips a track and sliding up or down adjusts the volume. So far so easy then.
Another single tap answers and ends a phone call while a double-tap puts it on hold, or a long press rejects it. You can also mute the mic on a call with a forward or back swipe. For me though, the most thoughtful aspect of this intuitive system is the transparent hearing mode. Imagine you’re on a plane watching a movie and cabin crew are bringing the bar or meal service to your seat. Switching on transparent hearing allows you to hear ambient noise or have a conversation without having to remove the headphones. Another perfect travel perk.
A discreet three-way slider on the right cup initiates the adaptive noise cancelling system. Off and on plus a maximum setting which is for cancelling out wind noise. The system works really well, easily dampening out aircraft drone, or the beat clatter of bad earbuds from a noisy neighbour; a proper bonus on long-haul.
Talking of sound quality, the PXC 550-IIs are right up there for me. Each cup houses a 32mm driver delivering rich tones, particularly at the bottom end which, as a former bass player, does it for me. The battery life seems to be satisfyingly long; Sennheiser expects it to be 30 hours with noise cancellation taking it down to 20. There’s a smart app available where you can switch the noise cancelling in or out and play with the EQ settings in a limited fashion. You could tailor a specific playlist for your journey with it too, but I found myself just using my finger controls most of the time.
The phones also use Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity with aptx low latency to help with synching when you’re watching a movie for example. For those of you addicted to digital voice control, Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant are all compatible companions if you need some digital companionship on your travels.
Sennheiser also has the Momentum Wireless; a fancier, more expensive product that might offer a few more bells and whistles than the PXC 55O-II, but that remains to be seen in a future test. For me, sitting here halfway through a six hour flight, I couldn’t be happier. Then again, I can see the meal service approaching.
Tell me more about the Sennheiser PXC 55O-II Wireless headphones
Sennheiser PXC 55O-II Wireless headphones