I was thinking of beginning this review with a plug for Sennheiser, a company that has quietly been producing top quality headphones for many years, but rarely seems to grab the limelight. But every review I've ever seen seems to do that, so I won't. Oh, I did already? Never mind.
It's not as if the glowing comments aren't well-deserved. In fact Sennheiser is probably the only name anyone without an unhealthy interest in the headphones market would be able to give you if you asked them to name a company producing high-end headphones.
It's hardly surprising considering that, while the budget end of the headphone market is swamped with companies, Sennheiser's main competitors in the high-end space number only three or four. And most of these are hardly household names – AKG, Grado and Stax are the main ones that come to mind, certainly for on- or over-the-ear headphones.
This is where the firm's latest product unashamedly sits – firmly at the high end of the market – and with a price to match. Its PXC 450 noise-cancelling cans will set you back anything between £180 and £300.
They've certainly got a quality feel to them. As soon as you open up the box with its posh, magnetised flap, you know that you've purchased some serious gear. The headband and circumaural earcups (the kind that sit over and around your ears) are wrapped in luxurious soft leather and are beautifully softly padded. The chunky hinges and headband, underneath their luxurious cladding, are constructed of hard-wearing steel and aluminium. The cable feels thick and hard-wearing and can even be replaced should you ever trap it in a closing car door. The whole set has a pleasing, industrial feel to it, like a pair of luxury, high-tech ear defenders.
It's hard to believe it but Sennheiser is actually marketing these as 'travel' headphones. To this end the cord they come with is relatively short at 165cm (not long enough for hi-fi listening) and there's an aeroplane adaptor included in the box. I suppose the real giveaway is the noise-cancelling facility, aimed at reducing the thrum of aircraft engines and air-conditioning, but despite all this, there's no getting past the fact that these are seriously big headphones and heavy to boot. It's just as well they fold flat – but even then, stowed away in the semi-hard case supplied, they'll take up a fair bit of room in you bag.
Portability issues aside, these headphones work very well in their intended environment. The active noise-cancelling technology is Sennheiser's latest – NoiseGard 2.0 – and works by monitoring exterior sound with microphones and counteracting that with 'anti-sound', or phase-inverted sound. The blurb on the box claims that they are capable of cancelling out up to 90 per cent of exterior sound, though I'd say that's a pretty hopeful claim.