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When it comes to headphones, there are just so, so many options to consumers right now; this market blew up a few years ago and there’s seemingly no slowing. For me, that’s an OK thing—I love trying out new stuff—but if you’re that guy who wants to buy something and keep it as long as you can, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to wade through the hundreds of options available at all different prices.
Yet sometimes, there’s a secondary result of this ‘over saturation’ of options: good headphones are becoming more ubiquitous, regardless of their price. Recently, I tested a pair of sub-$100 headphones that had phenomenal sound quality, and if you can get past the silly design choices that manufacturer made (or if you actually like those choices), getting ‘into the game’ is less likely to break the bank now than it was even a year or two ago.
I love high-quality headphones, and I’m willing to pay for them. But big brands like Bose and Sony spend so much on advertising that the price of these headphones is often higher than similarly performing headphones at lower price points. Don’t get me wrong—some $300+ headphones are well worth the price in my mind, but I guess what I’m trying to say is, dishing out that much money for a pair of decent headphones, for most people, just isn’t necessary.
Sennheiser is a long-time player in the consumer audio space (not to mention, ‘prosumer’ and professional spaces), so they know their way around a pair of headphones. One of my top 3 favorite pair of headphones (598SE) is made by Sennheiser, so when given the opportunity to offer feedback on the HD 450BT, a pair of noise-cancelling bluetooth headphones, I jumped at the chance.
Getting into the box was what I would consider a ‘run-of-the-mill’ experience—super simple packaging, not overly fancy. The box itself opens from the bottom, which I thought was weird, but only barely weird enough to mention in a review. The headphones are presented folded, which undoubtedly minimizes the size of the box, along with a soft carrying pouch. The 450BT headphones are entirely plastic, yet despite that, the hinges and size-adjustment slide mechanism feels sturdy and solid.
Overall construction is good; there is nothing ‘cheap-looking’ about these headphones, although I immediately noticed that the thick cushioning on the ear cups is not consistent with the crown padding, which is almost non-existent. I kind of prefer the look of the minimal padding on the crown, although I was concerned that this would have an impact on wear comfort over time. The crown itself flexes well with minimal plastic creaking.’
The folding style employed on these headphones is one of ‘inward’ folding; the ear cups themselves don’t rotate much, although they do rotate enough to accommodate different head shapes and sizes. The case that is included with these headphones is, well, probably the cheapest part of the product: it is made of what I would call ‘duffel bag’ material and is not much to look at. It is not a hardshell case and doesn’t have any sort of soft liner, so its functionality is limited to storage more than protection. It does offer plenty of space for extra cables and possibly a small charging brick, so that’s at least something. And yes—these Bluetooth headphones are also wired-capable headphones, and the included cable locks into place in the headphones thanks to a small notch on the headphone port.
Another pretty immediate observation upon unboxing these headphones is the sheer number of buttons on the right ear cup, and the total lack of buttons on the left. After some use, it’s easy to get used to the layout, but it still seems a bit excessive. There is a dedicated voice assistant button, a slider for skip/search, a volume rocker and a combo button that controls power (when pushed and held) and noise cancellation adjustments. There is also a USB-C charging port on the right ear cup, alongside the 3.5 mm headphone port. To reiterate: the left ear cup is oddly vacant of any controls or ports.
From a comfort perspective, I found the HD 450BT headphones to be relatively comfortable with only a couple of exceptions. The ear cushions are very thick and plush, but not particularly large: the profile of the cushions inside is such that the edges of the cups are regularly in contact with your ears (and keep in mind, I by no means have big ears). This may not be a big deal to most, but it is something I noticed—and impacted the ‘adjusting’ that I had to do when putting them on. In some ways, these are the closest thing to ‘on-ear’ as you can get while still being technically ‘over-ear,’ although I found it interesting that Sennheiser refers to these on their website as ‘around-ear,’ which is a much more fitting description. The cushions, by the way, are removable, but putting them back on is pretty annoying.
The crown cushion, as I said before, is essentially non-existent; the crown is coated in a rubber-like material that I assume helps keep the headphones in place while wearing them. This looks great, but I wasn’t particularly blown away by the comfort it provided. Straight out of the box, the jaw pressure/pinch of the headphones was in that ‘Goldilocks’ range of being not too tight and not too loose, although I gather they will loosen over time. If you’re the type who is sensitive to this pinch on headphones, I think you’ll notice it (and it may even cause you some discomfort), but otherwise this offers a secure fit, and to be honest, I have a kind of a big head.
Performance on these headphones is also good, offering a slightly accentuated bass profile without any customization. Lows, mids and highs were all clear and crisp, even at higher volumes, and this is what I was getting at early in the review when I was talking about ‘good’ headphones being ubiquitous at all different price points…it’s a nice thing to see. And, while these headphones don’t get drastically loud, they are plenty loud enough at max volume without sacrificing sound quality at any frequency.
The onboard microphones are likewise acceptable, but they are nothing to write home about. I always encourage people to not buy a pair of good headphones with the expectation that the onboard microphone is going to be great because in most cases, this is a bit of a white whale. There are plenty of headphones available that offer a good microphone experience for those on the other end, whether it be taking calls or attending video conferences—but very few things will beat dedicated microphones near your mouth. In my testing, folks on the receiving end of my audio said the call quality was ‘totally fine,’ although pointed out that a significant amount of background noise, such as other voices, typing, etc., was captured and played through to them. That said, I would suggest using these for calls only in a relatively quiet environment, but the microphones are totally functional here.
Noise isolation on these headphones is aided by the relatively tight fit along the jaw, and I’d say the noise cancellation is not nearly as good as the noise isolation is. For starters, the ANC is not tunable—I could not find a way to manually adjust how much noise is being canceled versus passed through, although there is a pass through mode that is turned on when the voice assistant is activated. In general, the ANC is most noticeably blocking out lower-frequencies (clothes dryer, car engine, etc) and less good for blocking higher frequencies like voices, clock ticking and entertainment audio from other speakers or televisions. The power/ANC button allows you to turn ANC on or off, and I really like that when cycling this there are no voice prompts to tell you it’s happening, which can be kind of annoying on other headphones.
Sennheiser’s app experience is (what I would consider) as a unique experience, not in line with most audio companion apps I’ve used. It is simple, and has basically one feature: to provide an equalizer to the user. It’s not a particularly complicated equalizer, either, just three levels and no fine-tuned control within those levels. Sennheiser also doesn’t make an iPad specific app (nor does the app support rotation), so if you plan to use these with an iPad be prepared for a small bit of annoyance. The app is perfectly functional, regardless of device/platform, just not very feature rich. In many ways I like this, and I definitely prefer it to a more feature-rich over-engineered companion application.
I mentioned Goldilocks earlier and have eluded many times to the HD 450BT headphones having good (but perhaps, not great) performance in several areas. This, I think, is the crux of the review when it comes to my overall impression: it’s just right. The look is simple, run-of-the-mill headphone stuff, but perfectly functional. There’s nothing exciting about the design, but the design also doesn’t impede on comfort (except, maybe, the padding on the crown). While the ear cups could be wider, they’re still functional and you do eventually adjust to them. From a sound perspective, these are everything they need to be; nothing more, nothing less. Sound performance, much like the ANC, wasn’t crazy awesome, but it does the job and won’t leave you dissatisfied. The app is nothing more than what it’s meant to be, and does a good job being what it is. And the price, at $195, is about what I’d expect it to be given that summary.
And, re-reading that paragraph, I think it may reflect negatively on the headphones…but it shouldn’t. I fully believe Sennheiser knew exactly what they were doing when they designed these headphones: they are intentional.
This product was provided by Best Buy and Sennheiser in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. The opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author and have not been reviewed or approved by any sponsors prior to posting.