Review of Sennheiser PXC 550, with comparisons to Bose QC35 and Sony WH-1000XM2 (and MDR-1000X)
I have owned all of these headphones and compared them at the same time. The Bose QC35-2 have not been reviewed, but should be virtually the same as the original QC35s in those factors I’m reviewing.
Comfortable and light
Great battery life
Other modes to customize sound
Ability to connect to two devices at once
Cuts out more than others
Connectivity not as refined as with Bose and its app.
Weaker noise cancelling
Not as good as Bose, but lets in different sound. The Bose have a higher pitched sound on a plane that was less pleasant even though the 550s let in more sound overall. Turn the volume up a little and it’s a wash as far as noise cancelling. The Sonys are far superior in NC to both, though they have a slight, not unpleasant white-noise hiss. They were also clearly better than the MDR-1000X they replaced. I never understood reviews saying either Sony had worse NC the Bose. The 1000X were far better than the Bose. The 550s at 100% are similar to the Sonys when they aren’t even on! I’ve never had the pressure issue some complain about with the Bose. The Sonys have to be connected to a device or have the cord plugged in to use just for noise cancelling. It’s not been an issue to have it connected to an iPhone for hours without it disconnecting, though it makes far more sense for a NC headphone to be able to work without being connected to anything. All 3 tried next to an A/C unit, a dryer running, and on flights. I haven’t noticed any decrease in sound quality on any of the three regardless of NC setting, so I always use them with NC on the strongest setting. For Noise Cancelling:1-Sony, 2-Bose, 3-550s. However, don’t let the 3rd place of the 550s impact your buying decision too much, as all are fine, especially if being actively used with sound.
They do get hot quickly, especially in warm environments. I live in Hawaii so that’s 24/7/365. 550s about as hot as the Sonys. The Bose are probably the best if you plan to sleep in them, due to comfort, weight, and ability to have NC on without being connected to a device, with the 550s a close second. However the 550s are very comfortable for me, incredibly light, and much better than the Sonys in that regard. I have average sized men’s ears, small head, and all fit me quite well. All 3 are comfortable, even for long flights. The weight of the Sonys puts them behind the others. I had recently used the Bose briefly when the battery on my 550s died when left on overnight and was surprised to find that they overall were not as comfortable as I remembered when they were the only NC cans I owned. Still very comfortable, but I’ve gotten used to the lightness of the 550s. The 550s are the only ones that “disappear” for me when watching movies, in that I can forget they’re on my head. 1-550, 2-Bose, 3 Sony.
Connectivity & Bluetooth
I have far more Bluetooth problems with the 550s than either the Sony or Bose, despite them being 4.2. They cut out more and do so frequently when a second device is connected. You can have 2 non-phone devices connected and it will call them phone 1 and 2 and there is no way to tell which is which. Bose has this down. Easy to control by the app, including disconnecting specific devices. Bose announces each device by name. Sony is the worst at this. Only 1 device at a time. Let’s say they were last connected to the laptop that’s now in the overhead bin. You might be on the tarmac for hours without being able to use them with the phone in your hand. Amazing they didn’t improve this with the newest model. While the Bose can connect to 2 devices at once, it handles this better than the 550s. On the 550s, when an alert or other noise comes from one of the two devices, it will pause the other source and actually break up the noise. After that it seems to have interference and sound breaks up. Sometimes I have to disconnect one of the two devices to solve it. On the Bose the same thing is seamless. The 550s & Sonys have aptX (which I use both when connecting to my iMac and Bluetooth transmitter for my AVR). All 3 have some latency issues when doing this to watch TV, but all are acceptable and AVR can be adjusted to improve audio syncing. Only the Bose can get a firmware update. The other two would benefit from having this. All 3 can use a wired connection. This is something I’ve not had a reason to do, but didn’t notice improved sound when I tried briefly. They all have microUSB which I still prefer personally over USB-C. 1-Bose, 2-550, 3-Sony.
Sound. This is where the 550s excel and the main reason they’re my favorite. They sound so much more alive than either the Sony or Bose. I found the sound on the others to be overall dull and muddy, and didn’t realize how mediocre they are until I got the 550s. You also can configure them much more. They really come alive on Club or Director settings, and Movie does seem better for watching TV with them. The Captune app has an equalizer, but that only works when playing music through that app, which I never do. I too thought they weren’t very loud at first, but when I turn up sound on both the device and the headphones themselves, they seem nearly as loud to me at the Sony and Bose. Sonys sound a bit better than the older, highly-rated 1000s, which sounded very muddy and too bassy to me. Sonys overall seem to get the loudest of the three. The Bose are by far the worst in sound quality. Lifeless, muddy, and boring. I was disappointed in the 550s at first, and then loved them once I tinkered with the app. I miss the sound of the 550s when I’m only traveling with the Sonys. 1-550, 2-Sony, 3-Bose.
For turning on and off, the Bose are the clear winner, with an obvious, easy to adjust switch. 550s are next, with no on/off switch. They come on when you put them on, and off when you take them off and turn the cans flat. Forgot to do this once, so was annoyed when I went to use them the next night and they were dead. Sonys are fine, but have a little button. Annoyingly, the Sonys always have at least one light on, which is especially annoying at night on flights.
The 550s I put on the wrong way occasionally, which is easy to do, especially when dark. There is no obvious L or R as with the other two.
As far as looks, I think they all look good, and it comes down to personal preference. The 550s stand out as obviously not the Bose or Sony. I prefer the gun metal two-tone look of the newer Sony over the older.
I’m not really a fan of touch controls on the others, and am fine with the Bose controls. Of the two touch ones, I prefer the 550s. They seem much less likely to be accidentally activated. I’ve NEVER accidentally forwarded or reversed a playing song on the Bose. Something to be said for physical buttons over touch controls.
They all last a long time on a full charge. Anything over 15 hours is enough for me.
I turned the auto-pause feature off on the 550s. Even if it worked perfectly, I am usually fine if they keep playing if I’m just moving one can to itch or put on glasses. They all seem to fit fine for me when wearing glasses.
All 3 are fine for making calls.
For all of these other issues combined, it’s kind of a 3-way tossup, with perhaps a slight edge to the 550s.
The 550s have become my main headphone for home and short trip travels, and movie watching. The Sonys are my long trip choice, because they are just so much better at noise cancelling. The Bose I gave to my husband. I can’t recommend buying the Bose at this point. It’s a tossup overall between the 550s and the Sonys, and comes down to preference of function. Best NC is by far the Sonys, while the 550s are better in nearly every other regard. If I had to pick just one, I’d pick the 550s. For this price, ultimately I want the headphones to sounds amazing, and the 550s are the only ones that do to me. If noise cancellation is your biggest priority, then get the Sonys.
None of the three are perfect. For me the perfect headphones would be as follows--temperature, obvious on/off switch, firmware upgradability, ease of connecting devices via app and naming of devices of Bose, sound, comfort & lightness, sound modes, and 4.2 Bluetooth of 550s, Bluetooth stability and range, noise cancelling and max volume of Sony. Bluetooth 5 has been around for a while, and there’s really no excuse for the newer of these models, which came out a year after the 550s, to not have it. Apt Low Latency should be standard on all 3 and is available on none. All 3 could make it easier to tell which codec is being used.