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Sennheiser HD 450SE Review

Verdict

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Sennheiser embraces Alexa for this special edition version of its HD 450 wireless noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphones. They’re light, smooth and surprisingly affordable…

Pros

  • Universal voice assistant support
  • Lightweight, comfortable design
  • 30-hour battery life
  • Balanced, even performance
  • Price

Cons

  • Manual controls are fiddly
  • Noise cancelling isn’t top-notch

Availability

  • UKRRP: £169
  • USAunavailable
  • EuropeRRP: €199
  • CanadaTBC
  • AustraliaRRP: AU$299.95

Key Features

  • Universal voice assistant support Built-in Alexa, and supports Google and Siri
  • Active noise cancellingSupports ANC
  • AptX Low LatencyReduced latency with music and videos

Introduction

The Sennheiser HD 450SE headphones on review are a Special Edition variant of the brand’s HD 450BT wireless cans. They differ in that they add Amazon Alexa support to Siri and Google Assistant, and consequently are exclusively available via Sennheiser’s web store and Amazon.

However, in every other respect the BT and SE editions are a match. Design, features and performance are identical. Battery life at 30 hours on both iterations is formidable, and Bluetooth implementation features aptX Low Latency, for better gaming and movie watching on the go.

They’re also aggressively priced compared to similarly specified rivals. Are these Sennheiser HD 450SE cans the smartest headphones you can buy right now?

Design

  • Lightweight
  • Over-ear style
  • Manual controls

If headphones are intrinsically a fashion item, the HD 450SE are a staple you can wear with anything. Recognisably Sennheiser, they offer the same uncluttered profile and build quality as the brand’s cheaper HD 350BT. The earcups are reasonably padded, and the headband sufficiently cushioned.

They’re also on the right side of light, at 238g. A couple of hours’ use flies by.

Sennheiser HD 450SE in the hand

The design is over-ear and closed back, and they fold down into a nice bundle that’s easy to stow away. This makes them ideal for commuting and general travel.

The HD 450SE also sport a 2.5mm jack for a wired connection, which provides a useful backup for those occasions you’re low on power or need to connect your headphones to an in-flight entertainment system. Power charging is via USB-C and takes about two hours to fully juice them up.

Features

  • Sennheiser Smart Control app
  • Active noise cancelling
  • AptX Low Latency

Using the Sennheiser Smart Control app, you can elect to replace Google or Siri as the smart assistant default with Amazon Alexa. But whichever your voice assistant of choice, there’s more to these cans than AI chit-chat. The headphones use robust Bluetooth 5.0 and support AAC, aptX (be sure to partner with an aptX mobile device for optimum fidelity) and aptX Low Latency, which offers tighter syncing with video material.

One feature missing, though, is touch pad control. Everything you’ll need is accessed via a button, slider or rocker switch on the rim of the right earcup. There’s a dedicated Voice Assistant button as well as the usual power, Bluetooth pairing and transport keys.

Manual controls on Sennheiser HD 450SE

I’m in two minds about this. There are no secret swipes and wipes to learn, but the resulting button fest is a bit inelegant.

The less obvious feature attraction is Sennheiser’s Smart Control app, required to access specific audio presets or the customisable EQ. The app also reveals current battery status.

Battery life is impressive, at 30 hours. I found I could easily manage a couple of days between charges.

Sound Quality

  • Smooth and refined
  • Some loss of treble detail
  • Sound Check EQ mode

If there’s one word that sums up the HD 450SE, it’s balance. With no EQ applied, these Sennheisers present everything with an even hand. They don’t shy away from deep bass, but they never sound overly booming. Dialogue clarity is good, with zero sibilance.

The languid piano, vocals and harmonies of Tears for Fears’ Rivers of Mercy ebb and flow, exhibiting air and rhythm, while Explosions in the Sky’s Wilderness drops deep, confirming a decent bass extension, all without comprising some sharp, synthy jangles.

If there’s an issue, it’s that this sense of equilibrium can result in tracks congealing, and a lack of dynamics and scale. Still, given these headphone’s upper budget price tag, we’ll cut them some slack, and there’s plenty of scope to tweak.

The Sennheiser Smart Control app has presets for Rock, Pop, Dance, Hip Hop, Classical and Movie selectable under an Equalizer banner. There’s also a dedicated Podcast mode.

Sennheiser HD 450SE earpads

Use the Rock preset and there’s a 3dB lift to the mid band; but opt for the Pop preset and there’s a pronounced treble lift. I preferred the latter mode for the riffing pomp of Highway to Oblivion, by DragonForce, but opted for the former to optimise bass to suit the driving beat of Omen by Bullet For My Valentine – so to each their own.

Using Sennheiser’s Sound Check mode, you can even create a personalised listening experience, effectively producing a library of EQ presets for your favourite genres.

The HD 450SE do a good job with small-screen video catch-up. I never felt I was missing out on the cinematic action of Picard (Prime Video, Series 2). When the Borg set out to assimilate the Stargazer, there’s a deep ominous rumble, and the soundtrack has tangible widescreen width.

I have some reservations about the quality of the noise cancellation here, though. It works well enough when it comes to combating general background banter, but it isn’t as sonically isolating as the best ANC, as experienced on the better Sony or Bose headphones. But then Sennheiser is working to a more affordable price. 

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Should you buy it?

If you’re looking for easy-wearing over-ears, with wide voice assistant support, the HD 450SE are something of a steal. Bizarrely, they’re cheaper than their HD 450BT stablemates, which are less well specified.  They fold down neatly for easy stowing and have a prodigious battery life.

They’re not the last word in noise cancellation, though. If you want cans that will isolate you from the clatter of the daily commute, then you might do well to spend a little more on models from Sony or Bose.

Final Thoughts

It’s difficult to fault the HD 450SE when it comes to price and performance: they deliver on both counts, offering a good overall level of musicality at reasonable cost. The middling ANC is best thought of as a bonus at this price point.

The addition of Alexa to the 450’s voice assistant support seems like a no-brainer, although the use of a Voice Assistant button and manual controls strike me as a little clunky.

In terms of design and wearability, these cans also score highly. They’re light and comfortable enough for wearing over protracted periods. 

Overall, we rate the HD 450SE as great value. They offer a solid level of performance, while delivering excellent battery life. If you’re more likely to use them for podcasts, video playback and gaming over music, they warrant an enthusiastic thumbs up.

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How we test

We test every headphones we review thoroughly over an extended period of time. We use industry standard tests to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever, accept money to review a product.

Find out more about how we test in our ethics policy.

Tested over the course of several days

Tested with music and video content

FAQs

What Bluetooth streaming codecs to the HD 450SE support?

The Sennheiser HD 450SE support aptX, aptX LL, AAC, SBC Bluetooth streaming codecs, with aptX LL offering the best performance of the lot.

Full specs

UK RRP
USA RRP
EU RRP
AUD RRP
Manufacturer
IP rating
Battery Hours
Weight
ASIN
Release Date
Model Number
Audio Resolution
Driver (s)
Noise Cancellation?
Connectivity
Colours
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Headphone Type
Voice Assistant

Jargon buster

aptX

Qualcomm’s aptX codec can support higher quality audio than Bluetooth alone.

Bluetooth

Bluetooth - named after 10th-century Danish king Harald Bluetooth who united Denmark’s tribes into a single kingdom - is a method of wireless transmission that allows for the exchange of data between devices over short distances.

ANC

ANC (Active Noise Cancellation) uses an array of microphones in a headphone to detect the frequency of the sound coming at the listener, with the ANC chip creating an inverse wave (i.e. opposing sound) to suppress any unwanted external noises.

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