The first thing to say about these headphones is that they are capable of incredible clarity. The sense of detail you get from wearing these headphones is nothing short of stunning. You can almost hear Peter Nordahl’s fingers on the keys of his piano as he accompanies Lisa Ekdahl singing Stranger On Earth. The attack on Pat Metheny’s guitar in Map of the World creates a delicate yet punchy sound and here you can hear his fingers sliding up and down the strings. With vocals, the performance is just as accomplished. Close your eyes and you can imagine Cerys Matthews belting out Streets of New York right in front of you.
But don’t expect the bass to rattle the teeth out of your head. Though the PXC 450’s frequency response goes right down to an astonishing 8Hz – that’s lower than most high-end hi-fi subwoofers – it isn’t overemphasised and can seem quite lean at times. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of well-defined, realistic-sounding bass here (just the way I like it), it’s just that it doesn’t get up and smack you in the face. This is particularly noticeable on action film soundtracks, where gut-rumbling explosions are more often than not the order of the day.
I took the time to break the phones in, leaving them connected to a music source on looped playback for a couple of nights overnight, and the bass did fill out. But it didn’t get to the level that some music and movie fans will be looking for. Switch on the noise cancelling and sound becomes even leaner. Those closed back earcups, though quite effective at reducing sound leakage, also contribute to a sound that occasionally comes across as a bit boxy and enclosed, in a way that open back and ear canal phones just don’t.
Finally, it’s worth commenting on the fact that these headphones aren’t particularly easy to drive, and this is an important consideration if you plan to use them mainly with an MP3 player. In order to make them compatible with aircraft audio systems the PXC headphones are set at a relatively high 150 ohms (with the noise cancelling switched on the impedance is higher at 750 ohms). They’re set this high to ensure compatibility with aircraft systems, but this does mean that they won’t go as loud as a pair of standard heaphones. And despite a sound pressure rating of 108dB per milliwatt, which is more than my Shure E2C noise isolation phones are rated at, in practice they simply didn’t generate the same volume levels.
Sennheiser’s PXC 450 is, without doubt, a first-class pair of headphones. They’re supremely comfortable, the noise-cancelling works extremely well, the clarity, detail and frequency response are simply superb, and the talk-through function is a really useful bonus. Not only that, but the build quality is second to none.
But as with all expensive audio gear, it comes down to a case of personal preference in the end. And though there’s nothing wrong with these headphones, the lack of meaty bass coupled with relatively high impedance and their sheer bulk means that they won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.
Score in detail