That’s not to say the noise cancelling is ineffective – far from it. In fact it seems to filter out sound very well, killing off most low frequency rumbles and hums completely, while thinning out all other noises. This means that, while you don’t get the total audio block-out that a pair of ear-canal noise isolating phones will give you, you do get a very pleasant listening environment, even when there’s a right racket going on outside.
I tested it out in the most extreme of environments – on London’s noisiest underground route, the Central Line, roaring through the tunnels between Liverpool Street and Oxford Circus – and I was still able to listen comfortably to quiet classical music without having to crank the volume up to eardrum bursting levels. Standing right next to a six-lane motorway in an attempt to simulate the noise on an aeroplane, and the noise cancelling worked even more effectively, reducing the constant rush and clatter of traffic to a gentle whisper.
As a bonus, the PXC 450 uses its microphones for another handy purpose – and sports a really useful feature called TalkThrough. Hit a button on the right hand earcup, the music is muted and sound from the outside world is piped into your ears, so you don’t have to yank them off to order a drink from the air hostess, or to hear others talking to you. On top of that, you also get volume controls.
As its active, the noise-cancelling also needs power to work properly and this is supplied by a single AAA battery, which slots into a compartment in the right hand earcup and provides about 25 hours of listening. Unlike Bose’s Quiet Comfort 3, however, Sennheiser’s PXC 450 can be used as normal headphones if you happen to run out of juice mid-flight – a big bonus. And the circumaural design of the earcups do a pretty good job in their own right of keeping unwanted extraneous noises at bay, anyway.
Comfort-wise, these headphones are a joy to wear, as you’d expect. The first time you slip them on, it’s like sliding behind the wheel of a luxury car. You feel pampered and at ease, though you do have to position them carefully to prevent the protruding driver inside each earcup from rubbing on your ears. It’s also worth noting that they’re not ideal for extended use in hot temperatures, and can get quite uncomfortable in hot, sweaty air-conditioned environments.
You’d also expect, at this sort of price, stonkingly great performance and to a certain extent this is the case. They’re certainly better than anything you can buy for under a hundred quid, and noticeably so. But as you move beyond that level, the differences are much more difficult to nail down and your personal likes and dislikes will come to the fore. So feel free to take some of the following comments with a grain of salt and go and try a pair for yourself.