back to article Hold my Bose, we can do premium: Sennheiser chucks pricey wireless cans at travellers

In airports and train stations, it's not unusual to encounter weary corporate warriors sporting headphones that cost upwards of £300. This premium segment of the audio market is largely dominated by two players: Bose's QuietComfort II cans, and the Sony WH-1000XM3. Could their time at the top be coming to an end? Sennheiser …

  1. DrBobK

    Wired or wireless?

    Do these need a wire to connect to a sound source? Despite being a bit of Senn fan (HD25 and HD26Pro are fantastic indestructible headphones) I have just sent back a pair of Sennheiser Momentum 3 wireless noise cancelling headphones because, although the sound quality, noise cancellation, and comfort, were great, the bluetooth performance was terrible - in an aeroplane where lots of other people were using wireless headphones, they kept cutting out horribly. I got a pair of sony wh1000-mx3 (such a romantic name) instead.

    1. Hans 1 Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Wired or wireless?

      Actully is wireless and wired, comes with a 3.5mm jack.

      https://assets.sennheiser.com/global-downloads/file/12612/PXC550-II_QuickGuide_0919.pdf

      Bit late for crimble, though :-(

    2. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

      Re: Wired or wireless?

      Don't know if you're of the fruity persuasion but if so the AirPods Pro are for me the only true wireless buds that maintain a solid connection on a plane; I spend half my life in aircraft and what you describe has been a major dealbreaker for me a number of times. I've also had about 5 Bluetooth transmitter/receivers at various times for plugging into the seat ICE, all have been rubbish except the one I have now which is also the cheapest by far - cheap Chinese, cost $8 from Banggood. Brand is iMars, looks like a little creditcard powerbank, has Bluetooth 5.0 and the signal is indestructible.

      1. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

        Re: Wired or wireless?

        I also do a lot of flying and I've not had any issues with my Sony WI-1000X headphones.

        1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

          Re: Wired or wireless?

          "I also do a lot of flying and I've not had any issues with my Sony WI-1000X headphones."

          Doesn't the neckband drive you nuts? Asking because my QC30s were good on paper but the neckband kept slipping round.

          1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

            Re: Wired or wireless?

            Not a problem with mine - happy, very regular user, albeit a train warrior most of the time.

      2. Dave K Silver badge

        Re: Wired or wireless?

        I've used my Sony WH1000-MX3s dozens of times on flights - never had any issues with Bluetooth connectivity to them, they just work fine. I do also like that they support wired as well as wireless modes. Hence even if the battery is completely dead, you can plug them in via a jack and still listen to music (without the noise cancelling of course).

        1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

          Re: Wired or wireless?

          "I've used my Sony WH1000-MX3s dozens of times on flights - never had any issues with Bluetooth connectivity"

          I'm sure you haven't - but full closed-back wireless headphones aren't a fair comparison against wireless earbuds. Bigger battery (so more power) and bigger antenna mean a much stronger connection and therefore far fewer technical challenges.

    3. Timmy B Silver badge

      Re: Wired or wireless?

      " I got a pair of sony wh1000-mx3 (such a romantic name) instead."

      I have a pair of those sat under the tree waiting for me...

    4. The Man Who Fell To Earth
      FAIL

      Rechargable? No thanks.

      I rack up a lot of miles per year, and I want disposable batteries not an internal (non-replacable) rechargeable. I've had noise canceling headphones since the early 2000's for use on planes, my first pair were the original "NoiseBusters". If you have a set with non-replacable rechargeable batteries, they will eventually fail to hold a charge and then you are hosed. If they run on AAA or AA batteries, they last forever or until you can't find replacement ear pads. I now use a Bose QC25, but still have my two decade old NoiseBusters which still work but I can't find replacement ear pads that fit them.

      1. AdamWill

        Re: Rechargable? No thanks.

        I still use QC25s as well (don't fix it if it ain't broke). I used to think Bose would be the sort of company that would replace worn-out non-user-replaceable batteries (they certainly make enough margin for it), but nope, apparently the Bose answer to 'my QC35 batteries wore out' is 'send us $250 plus shipping and we'll send you another pair', or in other words, "fuck off":

        https://community.bose.com/t5/Around-On-Ear-Headphones/Bose-QC35-I-Battery-shut-down/m-p/185027#M34378

        For what it's worth, Sony at least vaguely nods at the possibility of replacement:

        "If the usage hours of the built-in rechargeable battery decreases significantly, the battery should be replaced. Consult with your nearest Sony dealer to replace the rechargeable battery."

        https://helpguide.sony.net/mdr/wh1000xm3/v1/en/contents/TP0001703138.html

      2. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

        Re: Rechargable? No thanks.

        "If they run on AAA or AA batteries, they last forever or until you can't find replacement ear pads. "

        True, but given the pace of technology you might not want them to last forever. I loved my QC15s back in 2012 but compared to modern noise cancelling they don't even come close; even wireless earbuds with NC are better now.

  2. JetSetJim Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    > That's because the headphones automatically turn on and off when you rotate the cups.

    > ... it guarantees I never leave my headphones connected to my smartphone without realising.

    You say this is great, but what does this actually mean? If I'm wearing them and just take them off, does it disconnect & power off, or do I need to also remember to twist the ear-cups (as opposed to needing to remember to push a power button). Your explanation isn't quite clear enough to sell this point as a USP (but then I don't own *any* noise cancelling headphones)

    1. Gordon 10 Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Agreed. What happens if I just put them down on the table/desk?

      1. Kientha

        They will stay on and connected. There's an optional (by default off) smart pause feature that will pause music if you take the headphones off which works fine when you're sat down but not great if you're moving quickly. To actually turn the headphones off, you need to rotate the cups.

        1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

          So, it I understand, you can’t forget to turn them off, because you need to turn them off.....

  3. Cederic Silver badge

    oh no!

    Not micro-USB! The horror!

    Sorry, I may be struggling to see this as a terribly material issue.

    1. AIBailey Silver badge

      Re: oh no!

      Considering the number of reviews that seem to focus on this nowadays, Micro-USB is surely still more prevalent. In the drawer of cables at home, there are only 3 USB-C's , plus a couple of extra in the car, but at least 10 Micro-USB.

      USB-C is more convenient by far, but I certainly wouldn't write off a product just because it's using a cable that's been an established standard for well over a decade.

      1. Halfmad Silver badge

        Re: oh no!

        USB C isn't just more convenient it's better in almost every way tbh!

        1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

          You are right, but that in itself is not a reason to write off a product. MicroUSB works.

          The reason I'm not interested in these headphones is because it is once again something that needs my phone to work, because of its price and because I just don't need that kind of functionality.

          I'm not a road warrior, just a keyboard warrior, and I cannot bring a pair of headphones like that on client site. It would send a very wrong message.

          1. stevebp

            MicroUSB is dreadful. My Kindles use them and the cables regularly fail because the connection is actually quite unsupported. I also hate fiddling around trying to get them plugged in the right way round. Any device using a different power connector gets my upvote!

    2. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

      Re: oh no!

      "Not micro-USB! The horror!"

      Must admit I thought this was a classic first-world problem as well, but I've started to realise just how damn 'easy' USB-C is; just being able to plug and go. With MicroUSB you have on paper a 50:50 chance of plugging it in the right way; in reality this means getting it wrong 90% of the time. Followed by turning on the light, inspecting it and trying to plug it in again, before realising you had it right the first time just angled wrong.

      USB-C is worth it in lowered blood pressure alone.

      1. Natalie Gritpants Jr

        Re: oh no!

        I have a LG-G5 phone with USB-C and it is bollocks, it is now so loose it falls out when it's on the car dashboard. It is very fiddly to get it in properly. Never had those problems with Micro-USB. Stick your finger on the cable end and you can feel which way round it is, then pop it in and it locks.

        1. Nick

          Re: oh no!

          I think that it might be the G5's socket that's bollocks, not the USB-C specification

      2. Someone Else Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        @Lord Elpuss -- Re: oh no!

        With MicroUSB you have on paper a 50:50 chance of plugging it in the right way; in reality this means getting it wrong 90% of the time.

        Upvote for another who understands the "50/50/90 Rule"

        1. vir

          Re: @Lord Elpuss -- oh no!

          The MicroUSB cables I have at home and in the car both have a mark or sticker of some kind on the side that faces me when it's oriented correctly for my phone. For the cable at the office, I just scribbled on it with a marker.

          1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

            Re: @Lord Elpuss -- oh no!

            This. I draw an approximation of the USB fork symbol on the "face up" side (for e.g. laptop USB A ports), as on the plug also, pointing into the socket. I may label the opposite side of a plug or socket with a black dot.

            For reasons, I put USB thumbdrives into a socket cable lurking under my desk, and I just got around to fitting the new black cable labelled black on a black background with orange tape round the socket, then a white adhesive "this side up" label drawn as described, then Scotch tape over the label since it seems to be not sticking. That tape seems eventually to eat ballpoint ink, or maybe it fades naturally. Something to watch, either way.

            I have a nice white pocketable "powerbank" where I just drew on the case then taped over it. Like most of them up to now, there's micro USB socket in to charge the powerbank, and USB A socket to draw from the battery. In terms of the icon on plugs, the sockets are facing opposite ways.

    3. iron Silver badge

      Re: oh no!

      I have 1 device with USB-C - my phone. Charging it anywhere except in the bedroom (where my charger usually lives) requires finding a cable or going to get the charger. I also find I still need to look at the socket to plug it in.

      Whereas with microUSB I have several chargers and cables plugged in and ready to go in the living room and at work so the device can be plugged in immediately, making it much easier and less hassle to charge my microUSB devices tbh. I actually see microUSB as a minor positive.

      1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

        Re: oh no!

        There are fun cables now with a micro USB plug and then one or two caps tied to the end for alternate fittings, and these are starting to appear with USB C although there's a risk that this may be not truly compatible with USB C and charging rate control -USB C being more than just a wire. But it works. There's also plugs with a selection of short cables attached. You probably should use those with one device at a time.

        I bought a cheap cable that ingeniously fits in micro USB both ways round and USB A likewise, but the little DAB radio I was charging with it has had its charge socket come adrift so I'm not recommending that product.

    4. Mark192

      Re: oh no!

      "Not micro-USB! The horror!

      Sorry, I may be struggling to see this as a terribly material issue."

      Micro-USB is not particularly durable. I've spent a fortune on replacement cables (and replaced the connector on both a tablet and phone). It's particularly frustrating when cables work with some devices but not others, or work intermittently.

      USB type C should be more durable.

      As a bonus, type C can handle faster charging, faster data and are more easily plugged in.

      I wouldn't spend that amount of money on something with a proven - to - be - unreliable connector, but maybe they've calculated they'll get extra sales from those that wish to remain with microUSB.

      Happy to read the replies from people that haven't had a problem with either their micro USB devices or their Whirlpool washing machines.

      1. ThatOne Silver badge

        Re: oh no!

        > Micro-USB is not particularly durable

        YMMV: I might have been lucky, but I actually never had any microUSB cable die on me, including the unfortunate one living in my car's glove box for almost 10 years. All of them are cheap no-brand cables.

        I did have a period where my phone's USB plug failed for some reason though (charged fine, but no data), but that settled after a while all on its own. Never understood what caused it, but since it fixed itself after a couple months I don't really care. Dirt I guess.

      2. elaar

        Re: oh no!

        "proven - to - be - unreliable connector,"

        It's not unreliable at all. The recepticles on the market are typically rated for 10k cycles.

        If you buy £1 cables, or fill the connector with crud then that's not the fault of the standard/connector.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Does the noise-cancelling work without a source?

    Can you run these just as noise-cancelling headphones without connecting them to a source?

    I ask as I often want the sound of blessed silence on a flight (or in the office) without having to have music playing. I (very briefly) owned a set of Sony 'phones which switched off (and stopped noise-cancelling) unless I was actually listening to music. The concept that some people buy these just to get some peace and quiet had somehow escaped them.

    1. Timmy B Silver badge

      Re: Does the noise-cancelling work without a source?

      "Can you run these just as noise-cancelling headphones without connecting them to a source?"

      Earplugs?

    2. Natalie Gritpants Jr

      Re: Does the noise-cancelling work without a source?

      Maybe play some music and turn the volume down to zero.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: Does the noise-cancelling work without a source?

        With Sony WH XM Whatever, you hear the words "Bluetooth Connected" then you are transported instantaneously into a weird silent world. No need to play music, but do need to connect to a device.

        1. Timmy B Silver badge

          Re: Does the noise-cancelling work without a source?

          "With Sony WH XM Whatever, you hear the words "Bluetooth Connected" then you are transported instantaneously into a weird silent world"

          We have keyboards in my office that I'll bet beat that....

          1. Jon Massey

            Re: Does the noise-cancelling work without a source?

            My colleague's WH-1000XM3s are the only thing stopping her from beating me to death with my Cherry MX Blue-equipped keyboard

            1. This post has been deleted by its author

        2. Dave K Silver badge

          Re: Does the noise-cancelling work without a source?

          If you install the app onto your phone for the Sony cans, you can configure the auto-off feature and can disable it altogether if you like. They'll then work in noise cancelling mode for as long as you like without further Bluetooth connectivity.

    3. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

      Re: Does the noise-cancelling work without a source?

      Judging by 450 which I own, my guess is "yes, this should work". Would be nice to have actual confirmation.

    4. Kientha

      Re: Does the noise-cancelling work without a source?

      Yes. Some noise will still get through but they make things significantly quieter without needing to be connected to a source. There's a switch on the back of the cup that can be set to Off, Device Controlled or On for the noise cancelling. Device Controlled will set it to whatever you set the noise cancelling to in software the last time it was connected to a phone and On will just have the noise cancelling on full whenever the headphones are turned on

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Does the noise-cancelling work without a source?

        Original AC here. Thanks for the confirmation. As Werdsmith said above, not all noise-cancelling headphones work the same, and for £300 it's nice to have the option to use them exactly how I want.

    5. spold Silver badge

      Re: Does the noise-cancelling work without a source?

      ...indeed on (very) long haul flights when I'm trying to sleep I run my QC-25s with nothing plugged into them - eliminates all the aircraft noise (*). Something that shut off the noise cancelling with no sound input would be a deal breaker for me.

      No, ear plugs, or cheese from the business class selection does not cut it (hint if you must try avoid blue cheeses, and ripe Brie, you can shape a nice piece of parmesan).

      (*) look if the plane is crashing then this is going to make bugger-all difference, at least you won't hear people screaming and can go out peacefully.

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Re: at least you won't hear people screaming

        Um, if I'm not mistaken noise cancellation allows you to clearly hear people screaming.

        If you want actual silence, what you need is more akin to industrial earmuffs - they cancel everything, to a point.

        Edit : After checking the web site, I found that the app has a setting called Transparent Hearing. If that is activated, you can hear people talking to you. That means that, if it is not activated, you can't hear them. So your point stands, in the right conditions. Of course, if you're wearing these on a plane, I don't see why you would activate it.

  5. Kubla Cant Silver badge

    Noise cancelling

    their noise-cancelling technology, which effectively drones out external noises like cars and aeroplane engines

    So they replace the drone of the engine with a drone of their own? No thanks.

    Seriously, though, cancelling engine noise seems to be the easy task for noise-cancelling headphones. I want some that can cancel out speech.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Noise cancelling

      But they do cancel out most of speech. They can't deal with what is transmitted through the bones of your cranium, that's a short cut to your ear. If you speak to someone whilst wearing them, you use a touch to switch off the cancelling and the voice comes through the speakers, there is a big difference.

    2. Dr_N Silver badge
      Gimp

      Re: Noise cancelling

      >I want some that can cancel out speech

      Duct tape works great.

      1. Crypto Monad

        Re: Noise cancelling

        Hand them one of these.

        (We live in a world where it's impossible to tell if this is a spoof or not - despite being on indiegogo)

  6. Orwell

    Or you can get the Sennheiser HD4.50 look almost the same but considerably cheaper at £99. Bluetooth, noise cancelling, phone functions, cable for wired connection (3.5mm jack). And yes, they have the micro USB connector which matches all my other devices - so very happy!

    1. Kientha

      Having used both, these are significantly better than the HD4.50. The noise cancelling works better, the microphone is actually usable for calls (I have a fairly soft voice and the HD4.50 mic just didn't work for me for business calls), they are a lot more comfortable and one of the features I make use of is that when plugged in via USB, these headphones act as their own sound card which makes work calls a lot simpler

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        The trouble with the Bose QuietComfort II 35, Sony WH-1000XM3 and Sennheiser PXC 550-II is that they all have Amazon Alexa "built in" (according to amazon.co.uk anyway).

        How much extra can I pay to get them *without* this?

        1. Kientha

          Get the original PXC 550. They're very similar, still very good and can be found for half the price. The II only has very minor changes and Alexa added

  7. Wibble

    Bowers and Wilkins

    How do these compare with the Bowers and Wilkins products. Most of the ones mentioned are very plasticy, compared with the B&W equivalents. Also, IMHO, the B&Ws sound better.

  8. Dr_N Silver badge
    Coat

    Too big 'n' bulky

    For something that I'll use twice on a trip (flight out & flight back) I'd prefer something that doen't take up precious space in a bag for the next 1-2 weeks.

    I guess pocket size is just not feasible any more.

  9. TeeCee Gold badge
    Meh

    "...the longest of ultra-long-haul flights..."

    I'll just point out that the BA I took from Sydney to Heathrow with a touch-and-go in Bangkok took considerably longer than 17 hours.

    When you're talking about duration, the flight with the longest single flight leg isn't necessarily the longest overall.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A a massive Dali speaker fan I'd be interestedin a review of the new Dali IO-6 headphones and how they stack up.

  11. jeffdyer

    Well expensive.

    I've had Sony noise cancelling earphones for years, the first on a high end ATRAC walkman, which was and is still great. My Xperia Z2 and now XZ2 use a similar technology with the microphones on the earphones and the processing done by the phone. Great for travelling, probably the only was to sleep on a transatlantic flight.

    I'd find it hard to justify £300 though. I will probably look for a pair of XM3s in the sales or when the 4s come out.

  12. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

    "High notes, although solid, are not quite as polished"

    Was this over wireless? How much of this is down to the headphone quality, and how much down to the compression algorithm used in Bluetooth?

    The complaint about cymbals not sounding good sounds a lot like a possible compression artefact.

    1. Tessier-Ashpool

      Re: "High notes, although solid, are not quite as polished"

      I’d like to know what a polished note is!

      Not an audio expert, but can’t earphones be tested objectively by connecting them to the best microphones in the world rather than a human, and measuring what they produce compared with what they produce?

  13. AR2077

    I've tried the MB 660 UC MS which is the Skype certified version of the PXC 500. The pass though feature was annoying for me. Just didn’t cut out the noise as well as Bose does.

    Personally I’ve got a set of QC25s with a btunes flush fit adapter which gives 10 hours wireless playback. The Bose has brilliant NC capability and going wireless made them last longer. As another forum user said its replacement pads I worry about. As I’ve got AAA rechargeable for the NC so that’s that covered.

    Best on the consumer market is the WH1000-mx3 with 30 hours of charge and excellent NC. For over ear skype or teams certified the Poly 8200 UC.

  14. Joseba4242

    Sound Separation?

    I am looking for a noise cancelling headphone with good separation of voice from background noise, to have business calls in less than ideal environments.

    To that end I looked at the usual contenders - Sony WH-1000XM3, Sennheiser Momentum 3, Bose NC700 with "unrivalled four-microphone system" and compared them with my inelegant but trusty £70 Jabra Evolve 40.

    None of them come anywhere near. Where the person at the other end of the line struggled to understand me in a noisy environment with all three of them, they hardly heard any noise on the Jabra.

    I wish this one is better! (that's allowed in this season, isn't it?)

  15. Danny Boyd
    Thumb Up

    I have Sennheiser PXC 550

    Bought it when we were moved to "open space" setting. Awesome cans!

    1. Great noise cancellation, works with or without music input.

    2. Good battery life, lasts the whole working day or two.

    3. Bluetooth plus audio jack (cable included).

    4. Micro USB I use for charging only, and the cable is included, so I frankly see no diff, micro or C.

    5. Sound quality is great.

    6. EXTREMELY comfortable, you might forget you're wearing the headphones.

    7. The price... Well, you don't buy these things every day, and anyway, retaining sanity is worth it.

  16. 89724102172714182892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921 Bronze badge

    "you occasionally encounter moments of harshness"

    Sennheisers will reveal much at the higher end of the sonic spectrum, where MP3 files in particular sound crunchy. I'd say this has more to do with the device and format, no deatils of which are mentioned. Odd omission, for a review.

    Try FLAC.

  17. AdamWill

    'leakage'

    "For business travellers, leakage is a problem on two separate fronts. Firstly, it disturbs those around you. If your cans are constantly leaking noise, you are guaranteed to cause some tutting from fellow passengers in the quiet car. Leakage also allows noise in, which can detract from the overall listening experience, which is crucial for a pair of £300 headphones."

    These are really two somewhat independent properties. You can build headphones that don't let a lot of sound out, but *do* let external sound in; Sony's old Eggo series was intentionally designed this way, allegedly for Japanese train travellers who didn't want to annoy other passengers but did want to hear announcements. I can't think of any which isolate well but leak a lot of sound out off the top of my head, but it's probably possible...

  18. MrMerrymaker

    Audio Technica or bust.

    Yes, still. The wireless Ath-m50x cans are great. As you can still use them wired!

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