(Pocket-lint) - Think of noise cancelling headphones and you'll likely be picturing a pair of Bose or Sony as the main players. And you'd be right to. But others exist, and with Sennheiser's latest pair of mid-range cans, the company has proved that you can offer a pleasing all-round experience and performance without spending £300 or more. Or at least, that's the promise.
The latest Sennheiser HD 450BT is the upgrade to the 4.50 you're likely to see on offer on Amazon every Black Friday or Prime Day, and it ups the ante, offering long battery life and good audio, plus noise cancelling.
Comfy, practical and portable
- All plastic build
- 238 grams
- Lots of buttons
- Foldable and portable
With a price point just over the £150, there were always going to be some compromises with the HD 450BT, and some of that shows up when looking at the design and materials used. There's a lot of plastic, and all quite basic, non fussy plastic with a matte finish. There's no premium soft-touch smooth finish like the premium headphones from Beats or Bose. But that doesn't impact the feel of wearing or even using the headphones.
Sitting on the head, they're comfortable and lightweight giving you a relatively secure fit that doesn't feel too snug or loose. It strikes a good balance and means we could wear it for hours without any soreness or sensitive pressure points on the ears or the top of the scalp.
On our first listen we wore them for the entirety of a three hour train ride and then a subsequent 30 minute walk home, with no ill effects and no need to adjust the headband. That's about as good as you can expect a fit to be in any headphones.
The headband itself is easy to adjust, and will fit any number of head sizes. Saying that, the band does have that ratchet-like mechanism which clicks as you move it up or down. You don't get the smooth gliding motion of the Bose 700s or Solo Pro. It's also made from plastic, there's no smattering of aluminium anywhere to be seen. Similarly, the plastic arms fold inwards for easy stowing in the include low budget zipper pouch.
Practical? Absolutely. Premium? Nope. Not really.
We have no serious complaints about the design of the headphones though. There was no expectation we'd find high end materials or trim on a pair of headphones that's half the price of the market leaders. However, there was one issue we feel could and should be addressed in the next iteration: button placement.
We don't bemoan the presence of physical buttons. In fact, we welcome them. It's much easier to blindly control your music and noise cancelling when you have a set of practically placed buttons that are easy to figure out and use. Sennheiser's headphones have many physical buttons, but practically placed they are not.
There are a total of four different buttons and switches, but they're all placed on along the same strip around the edge of the right ear cup. Plus, they're joined by the USB-C port and 2.5mm input, and all are quite closely clustered together. That means feeling for the button you're looking for can be a bit frustrating. And that's if you can figure out which button does what. Without the instructions/quick start guide, we'd almost be lost in that regard.
The power button is also the Bluetooth pairing button, and is also the ANC activating button. You press and hold for two seconds to switch it on, four seconds for pairing. Right up at the top there's a tiny button for launching your choice of assistant (basically whatever's installed by default on your phone).
Beneath that, there's a confusing multi-purpose springy switch which you push upwards to skip forwards, pull down to skip back and press inwards to play/pause. This particular action feels counter intuitive on this kind of switch.
Once you become accustomed to the buttons, it's not so much a problem, as you'll largely only use the volume rocker and the play/pause/skip control, but it's a learning curve that should be much more simple and user friendly.
Noise cancelling and performance
- ANC equipped
- Bluetooth 5.0 and aptX
- Up to 30 hours playback with ANC
As we mentioned, you can choose whether you want to have the ANC switched on or turned off, and - once you're familiar with the button layout - doing so is pretty simple. You just have to quickly press the power button once. It's effective too.
If you're on a train, plane or you have a noisy spinning washing machine nearby, the headphones do a great job of cutting out a lot of the loud, low droning. Even without music playing the difference is noticeable, but with music on, you'll struggle to hear anything other than what tune is belting out of the drivers.
Again, because these aren't the most high end of headphones, you don't get fancy constantly adapting noise cancelling and processing like you get from the Studio 3 and Solo Pro from Beats, but its effective enough for the basic requirements.
With its Bluetooth 5 and aptX support, the wireless connection with the source is as solid as it comes. We didn't experience any drop outs, and the range was good too. We were comfortably able to go to the next room without the music cutting out, even with a wall between the device and the headphones.
For those who prefer a wired connection, you do have the option of using a 3.5m jack to 2.5mm jack audio cable.
As for the battery life, it's a strong performing pair. Sennheiser says you can listen to up to 30 hours of music before needing to recharge, and in our time with the headphones so far, it's been very strong. With that said, we found the battery indicator in the accompanying app and the Today View widget in iOS didn't seem to show an accurate representation of battery life. After more than five hours of listening, it still showed 100% battery.
Enjoyable, customisable sound
- 18 Hz to 22,000 Hz frequency response
- EQ and firmware updates
You might not get the brilliantly clear and high impact trebles of more expensive headphones, or as tightly controlled bass, but it's really not far off. The detail, warmth, bass and detail are all better than we expected in a pair that's easily half what it costs to get a premium pair.
Whether we focussed on the lows of the double bass or the highs of acoustic slide guitar in Jack Johnson's 'I Got You', we weren't disappointed, and the vocals were prominent and clear too. And there doesn't seem to be much muddying either. Good bass doesn't impact the other frequencies, so the separation remains intact, giving you a great overall sound profile.
Even when you switch to Hip Hop and to tracks with some really low impactful bass and bass drum elements that really need a rib-shaking subwoofer, the headphones hold themselves well. The lows don't fall of a cliff or get too boomy.
It's customisable as well, but sadly uses Sennheiser's unusual graphic-based equaliser system. You don't get individual frequency channels to change manually. Instead, you get a floating button on a screen and you drag it around until you get the balance you want. It works fairly well, and makes it quick and easy to change the profile of the sound, but it's not for those who want fine tuned sound.
If you have a limited budget and want an all-round great pair of over ear headphones with noise cancelling, the Sennheiser HD 450BT is a truly compelling option. There are elements of compromise, but it's a great product for its price point.
The sound - as is often the case with Sennheiser products - is really good. You get decent volume, plenty of bass and a good amount of clarity and detail in the upper and mid levels. What's more, the battery lasts for ages and the fit is comfortable. Oh, and the noise cancelling's not bad either.
All-round it's a product that's hard to find too many flaws in. Yes, we'd like a more reliable battery level indicator and far more sensible button layout, but those are minor issues in a headphone that won't let you down and may even surprise you.
Alternatives to consider
JBL Live 650BTNC
The aim for the JBL is similar to Sennheiser's approach: make a good pair of headphones with ANC, but don't charge the earth. This is a very capable wireless ANCE set of cans for the budget.
If you're okay without noise cancelling, you'll struggle to find a pair of cans that sound as good as Audio-Technica's for the money. They're comfy, cushy and deliver brilliant audio.