NOISE-CANCELLING headphones are not just an essential item for travel, they’ve increasingly become an important part of the everyday home audio or gaming experience.
While the top end places in the market are occupied by pricey headsets, there’s an increasing range of quality mid-priced units available – so when the opportunity to test Sennheiser’s HD 450BT headphones came up I was very happy to take a look at them as part of that field.
The headset is an over-the-ear design, available in black or white (I reviewed the black ones) which folds up for storage and appears to be well-aimed at the commuting/semi-frequent traveller crowd, with a price point (they’re available for about AUD$199 now) to match.
Connection is via Bluetooth or 3.5mm audio jack (cable helpfully included), and the internal battery runs for about 30 hours and charges via USB-C. The unit doesn’t need the battery to play from sources with a 3.5mm plug (like a Nintendo Switch, smartphone or in-flight entertainment system) but it does need some charge for the active noise cancelling (ANC) to work. The units fold for storage and also come with a soft carry case that fits the 3.5mm and USB cables too.
I have to say the build quality didn’t impress me as much as I was expecting. Like all Sennheiser’s stuff they’re obviously well-made, but there’s no metal in them anywhere I could see and I just couldn’t quite shake the impression they wouldn’t cope well with being sat on by accident. For everyday use, however, there were no issues and the unit held up just fine while being reviewed.
Under normal circumstances I’d look for a chance to test the ANC abilities by taking them on an actual plane or a train somewhere, but that’s a bit difficult at the moment so I had to do the next best thing, which was stand in the laundry while the washing machine and dryer were going and see how it went.
When just standing there with the noise cancelling on but no music, the results were alright but not great – however, as soon as I started playing music, the effectiveness of the noise cancelling really became apparent and my concerns were quickly dispatched.
The general sound quality is very good, although there’s not a lot of customisation available via the (optional) Sennheiser app; you can fiddle with the EQ but I couldn’t quite get the levels to exactly where I wanted, sadly.
From a gaming perspective, the two most useful applications for the HD 450BTs are for smartphone gaming and use with a Nintendo Switch, and in both applications they performed very well.
Using a 3.5mm connection to the Switch, I was able to happily play several games including Burnout: Paradise Remastered, My Friend Pedro and Star Wars Pinball, while using a Bluetooth connection to my phone, the units worked well for music and video streaming and playing games including World of Warships: Blitz. The range on them was quite impressive too – being able to leave the phone in one room and go to the kitchen and still have music etc playing was quite helpful indeed.
The only two issues I had with the HD 450BTs were the unconventional controls, and the lack of audio pass-through – the latter of which was especially surprising.
The noise cancelling ability of headphones can be a double-edged sword; the drown out background sounds like jet engines or traffic noise really well, but they also make it hard to hear the kids arguing over whose turn it is to pick a TV show or your partner wanting the bins taken out, so having an audio pass through feature which lets you hear what’s going on would be a useful and easy addition.
Even more surprisingly, the feature is already partially present when you use the headset with a phone – there’s a microphone in it and it basically provides the same function to allow you to talk to people on the phone.
The controls were also quite hard for me to get used to, because they’re buttons and switches mounted on the outside edge of the right earpiece, with the volume and “skip track” switches right next to each other.
In the grand scheme of it all these are not deal-breaking issues and I found the Sennheiser HD 450BT headset to generally be a good piece of kit with good sound quality that would be well suited for a regular commuter or a mobile/portable gamer who wants to make sure their audio focus is their game and not their surroundings.
Given these are now under AUD$200, if you are after a decent all-round set of wireless headphones with ANC these should be well worth considering.