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on April 6, 2008
Update 12-3-2014: If you're reading this review now, be advised that it is 6 years old. You should check out this review of the PSB M4U 2 NC headphones:

Original Review:

I compared these headphones side-by-side with five other noise cancelling headphones: Bose QC2 & 3, JVC NC250, Audio Technica ANC7, and Sennheiser PXC-250. I was in the market for a noise cancelling headphone because I travel a lot and I wanted to be able to watch movies or listen to music in relative isolation. With the ipod earbuds, you have to blast your ears in order to compete with the airplane's engines and I want to preserve my hearing. My main criteria were sound qualifty, noise cancelling, and comfort. All three were very important and I didn't really want to compromise on any of those categories. The only headphone that excelled at all three was the PXC-450. I disqualified all but the PXC-450 on the basis of out of the box testing.

The JVC was disqualified right away on the basis of its cheap build quality. It does not fit snugly on your head, it is very loose. The slightest movement of my head and the earphones would slide around on my ears. Because of that these headphones offered zero passive noise cancelling. Sound quality was okay but nothing special. These headphones never really merited serious consideration.

The Audio Techicas are one of the most popular headphones on Amazon. I read the reviews of this headphone extensively, and most people rave about these headphones. The only criticism of them I saw was sound leakage. People complained that when you listen to these headphones, people around you can hear what you're listening to. They were right. It really is a shame because other than that flaw, these are very good headphones. The sound and noise cancelling is amazing considering the price. However, as I was buying this for use in very close quarters (airplane travel), I didn't want to have to worry about bothering people around me.

The PXC-250 sounded amazing. I couldn't believe such small headphones could sound so good. However, the battery wand I felt got in the way a bit and I just didn't think the noise cancelling on these on ear headphones was as good as the other more expensive headphones. The 250s had another odd problem in that very slight movements would cause the earpads to rub slightly on your ear. This rubbing created a noise that would reverberate inside your ear that was very noticable if you were watching a movie or listening to softer music.

When I was testing the Bose and the PXC-450, comparing them to the other headphones I tested, it made me realize that noise cancelling technology must just be expensive which is why if you want a quality noise cancelling headphone, you have to be willing to shell out some cash. The Audio Technicas are by far the best of the cheaper NC headphones, but the Bose (particularly the QC3) and the 450 really stand out from the pack.

The Bose are very good headphones, but they have some issues that I just couldn't get over. First, I don't like the way Bose headphones sound. They push the bass into your face and the mids and highs sound muddy. Most of the reviews of these headphones mention these issues. The QC2 got very warm and I could feel the heat radiating inside on my ears and it was not comfortable.

The QC3s are really amazing. They are on ear headphones, yet they had the best noise cancelling of any of the other headphones I tried. The earpads are made of a material that just kill sound. Without even turning the earphones on, you are immediately immersed in silence. However, in addition to the sound quality issue, there is something about their noise cancelling function that creates a pressure on your eardrum. This pressure bothered me enough that it was hard to ignore. If the PXC-450 did not exist, I would have gone with the QC3 and just sucked it up, but I was glad that I didn't have to.

Finally, the PXC-450. For me, these were the perfect headphone and I just fell in love with them and didn't have to think very hard about which ones to keep.

Bass. I read a lot of reviews and a lot of people complained about a lack of bass on these headphones. When I first put these headphones on, I admit that I was a little let down because it seemed to me like they were very weak. Then I realized that I needed to adjust the volume control on the headphones. I basically turned the volume on the headphones all the way up and just adjust the volume on my ipod. With the volume issue fixed, my concerns about the bass went away. These headphones do not have as much bass as Bose. However, that's because Bose changes the sound from the way it was intended to push the bass forward. If you like a lot of bass, these headphones might not be for you. However, the bass is definitely there. Just listen to Pon de Replay (Rihanna) or Pass that Dutch (Missy Elliot) for a demonstration of how good the bass is on these headphones.

Sound Quality. Moving past the bass to sound quality as a whole, these headphones are in a different league. I mean, I am hearing details in songs I have heard dozens or even hundreds of times and never noticed. Background singers that before were lost with all of the other sounds can be heard clearly on these headphones.

Noise Cancelling. These headphones have a tight fit, which gives them a lot of passive noise cancelling. They are not so tight, however, to become uncomfortable. Combined with the active noise cancelling, and these headphones are *almost* as good as the QC3s. I feel like the QC3s were a little better at cancelling the higher frequencies, but I think that is why they have the pressure on the eardrum problem. I didn't feel any pressure with the 450. The slight advantage the QC3s have on noice cancelling is more than outweighed by the 450s superiority in sound quality and comfort.

Comfort. Despite being snug, the 450s are very comfortable. The material that the earpads are made of is very soft and I quickly forgot I was wearing them on my flight. The headphones are very big--much larger than the on ear QC3s. However, because they are snug they don't slide around and they really do melt into your head after a while. Also, they don't get hot like the QC2s did.

Portability. Because they are bigger, they are slightly more difficult to manage than the Bose. However, they fold up quite nicely and their case, though larger than both of the Bose cases, is still rather small (and light!).

In the end, once I tried the 450s, there was really no way I could settle for any of the other headphones I tried. All of the other headphones had too many flaws and the 450s were near perfect. Oh, I should mention that I listened for the "ticking sound" that other reviewers complained about in the right earpiece and there was absolutely nothing. Either those reviewers had defective units or Sennheiser has fixed the problem.

Update 3/31/11:

I can't believe it's been three years since I bought these headphones. They still work great and I have no plans to replace them. I only use them when I travel, so they're not getting wear and tear every day, but I was travelling A LOT when I first got these. I have not tried the Bose QC15s, so I can't compare the 450 to those.

Someone in the comments suggested that I work for Sennheiser -- I do not.

I didn't mention the Talkthrough feature in my review. After a lot of use, I have found this feature to be very handy. It's nice when the flight attendant comes by to be able to just press the button and talk to them without having to take the headphones off.
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on September 3, 2015
These are great headphones if you realize what they are and how they work best. These are considered high end headphones and have an input impedance of 150 or 750 ohms depending on whether or not the noise cancellation is turned on. Most cell phones and tablets are designed to work best with headphones that have a 16 - 32 ohm impedance. Given that, when you plug these into one of the those devices, the sound can leave you rather unimpressed because it will be thin and not have very much power. In order to realize the full potential of these headphones when using them with a phone or tablet, you need to use them with a headphone preamp, then they will sound fantastic. You can use them without a preamp if you are connecting them to a receiver or something along that line.
As for the noise reduction, they are on par with Bose and pretty much anyone else. A misgiving that most people have is that noise reducing headphones are supposed remove all external noise and that's simply not true. From a physics of sound point of view and how noise reduction works, if you designed them to reduce all noise across the full sound spectrum, the frequency response inside the headphone would be affected adversely also. That is why they target a narrow frequency spectrum that includes things like jet engines, car motors and other lower frequency sounds.
The reason I didn't give them 5 stars is that I also had the issue with the low frequency hum when noise reduction was turned on. This is caused by feedback between the external microphone used for sampling the ambient sounds and the speaker within the headphone itself. I was able to stop the hum by adjusting the headband in such a way that the acoustic seal of the ear cups was much better.
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on December 13, 2014
Way too expensive, but really fantastic product. The complete OVER the ear makes it possible to leave my hearing aids in without squealing, to get the full richness of the music. The single battery lasts for at least 10 hours on a rechargeable AAA eneloop. The plastic construction really bothered me at first, especially for the price and the swivels and hinges seems flimsy, but have proved to be no problem at all and work flawlessly for several years now. They are nice and light weight and the carrying case works great for the phones and several extra things, like extra batteries, adapters, cords, etc. The carrying case is nicely padded for a backpack and has a handle that is useful on planes. The noise suppression has made flying a pleasure again. The cord completely detaches if needed so the phones can be just for noise suppression. The green on light and red off light are useful indicators, but tell the stewards you have an electronic device on. The talk through button is very useful in ordering drinks in noisy plane environments. The bypass lets you use the headphones as just headphones even if the battery is not in or discharged. Ear fatigue is minimal, even with glasses and above the ear hearing aids on.
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on April 29, 2016
I'm a frequent flyer to Asia. A good pair of headphones is essential on those long hauls. I upgraded to these from Sennheiser PXC 350 after much deliberation and soul searching. I was happy with the 350, but all indications were that 450 has better noise canceling. Are the new ones going to be that much better? Is it worth having both headphones? Is it worth the $$?

I took these on my recent trip, and they are fabulous. Sound quality is about the same as PXC 350, the natural sound that one associates with any Sennheiser headphones, but the 450 definitely has better noise canceling. The best part is that all the volume up/down and "talk through" features are built into the ear. I liked having a separate volume control that is on the cord on the PXC 350, but I was always fumbling and looking for that. With the PXC 450, they are on the ear, right at the fingertips at all times. Talk through feature works great. Just hit the button every time the flight attendant wanted to talk to me, and it's like the headphones aren't even there.

To me, the most important feature is the comfort. What good is great sound and great noise canceling if you cannot stand to wear them? These fit completely over the ears, and they are very comfortable. After a few moments, I forgot I was wearing them. Only downside is that while the headphones can be used with power off, there's a separate switch that enables this feature, as in, there is no sound with power off unless you flip that switch. Since I only use these on an airplane, no issue for me.

Now, I'm thinking I shoulda bought these as soon as they came out on the market. Maybe whenever Sennheiser introduces the next generation...
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on August 7, 2011
I left my AT ANC7B headphones on a plane in June had to get a new pair of cans before my next trip. I decided since I'm flying around 80K miles a year it was time to step up a notch, throw cost to the wind and invest in a serious pair of Noise Canceling (NC) headphones.

The three candidates were the Bose, the Beats and the Sennheiser PXC 450's. I did tons of research, read tons of reviews and concluded everyone has their subjective opinions on sound quality and I think sound is based upon the musical taste of the reviewer.

There were plenty of augments on what vendor did a better job of NC and I think at the end of the day the three are probably pretty close in reducing outside noise. No NC phones are engineered to completely drown out voice unless you listen at ear splitting volumes.

When reading the objective technical reviewers standpoint the Sennheiser PXC 450s always came out on top from a quality / construction as well as all the other catagories.

After finishing my assessment I landed on the Sennheiser PXC 450s and overall I am very happy with my choice. Before I go any further I want to state that I waited around a month and eight flights which includes larger to smaller jets before writing this. Also want to state the my musical tastes range from Classic Jazz, to Rock, to Punk, to Metal, to Grunge, to Motown, to Classical.

Sound quality is simply freakin' amazing! I have never liked an over tweedy or over boomie sound and these are perfectly flat. I've even heard parts of the music on the PXC 450s being driven my iPod that I have never even heard on my Bower and Wilkins 605 towers being driven by my Adcom 5500.

From a features perspective the volume controls and mute button built in the cans are great. I love the fact that I can hit the mute button and clearly hear the flight attended when speaking with them. The thing that disappoints me is, although the cable is detachable the connector is molded and does not fit a standard car radio AUX jack like my ATs. If you rent a lot of cars and use your iPod in the car like I do you will have to go out buy a cable.

The NC is better than any set of NC phones I've ever owned especially at lower volumes so I'm real happy with this feature.

From a comfort perspective the cans are more comfortable than I originally expected. I will say that my ears do get a little hot after wearing these for a couple of hours, but for me it is worth it for the sound quality.

From a quality perspective I'm all praise and have no complaints these cans are built like a tank.

My only other caution is compared to any other NC headphones I have owned in the past these cans seam to devour batteries so make sure you have a supply of AAAs on hand. I'm estimating that my battery life is about half of my ATs.

At the end of the day my nits are just nits; the sound is what it's all about for me and these sound spectacular!!!

If the cash is secondary, you are not high strung about my discussed nits and a natural sound is number one for you. What are you waiting for, pull the trigger and pickup the Sennheiser PXC 450s you will not be bummed!!

Hope this helps you out.
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on September 4, 2013
I had really high hopes that the Sennheiser would be the cream of the crop but like others have mentioned the bass emphasis is really low. Bass is something you can tweak other ways so I thought I would give it a shot.

Sennheiser PXC 450 first impressions:
Nice and large, especially with a person that has a big head. Earpads are roomy and don't rub/touch against your ears so you're not dogearred while listening. Battery slot seemed like it would break easily when closing the battery holder but to be fair the Bose QC15 has the same design and I felt the same with it. The Audio-Technica just slid open and I liked that. Packaging seemed a little over the top with the magnets in the box and all. Just not needed for something that you'll likely toss.

Bose QC15 first impressions:
Also nice and large for my big head. Earpads were comfortable and roomy enough. Lightweight... Very light compared to the other two. As mentioned above the battery slot seemed like it could break easily but at least this model uses a AAA battery instead of a proprietary battery pack.

Audio-Technica first impressions:
Was a little small on my head. Lighter than the Sennheiser but not as light as the Bose.

So I've always tested audio systems of any kind with Outkast's - Way You Move because the intro has a very smooth bass loop at the beginning. The following are my notes I took as I went through each set and compared/recompared... I felt these songs were well known and that many would know what it should sound like no matter what sound system you've heard it on in the past.

outkast - way you move
sennheiser - no bass
audio technica - more bass but not as much as i'd like
bose - nice and boomy

jethro tull - bouree
sennheiser - no feel... sort of like being in the next room
audio technica - good bass and crisp cymbals/flute
bose - as good as audio technica

joe satriani - flying in a blue dream (vinyl)
sennheiser - bass is less but strings seem crisper and pluckier
audio technica - good bass but strings aren't as crisp... slighly dull.
bose - good bass and strings but not as sharp as seinheiser

fleetwood mac - never going back again
seinheiser - full sound
audio technica - had to back off volume because of peak clipping on plucking
bose - full sound with a good bass background

fleetwood mac - go your own way
sennheiser - no feel
audio technica - distortion in highs
bose - excellent hearing mick fleetwood hitting the skins

And for a finally, I put in Rush's - La Villa Strangiato from the Time Machine tour:

I didn't run the audio technica's on this last test because I felt the others were good enough... But in the end the bose really made it feel like you were at the concert rather than the sennheiser's making it seem like you were watching it on a 4:3 tv with mono sound.

Final impressions:
The Sennheiser had a few moments but when you're spending this kind of money on a set of headphones, you want them to be special. You want them to make the music come alive. You want to feel like you're in the studio with the artists and they're playing a private concert specifically for you. In this department, the Sennheiser's really let me down. I may try one of their studio grade headphones sometime but I specifically wanted noise-cancellation which both the Sennheiser and Audio-Technica were good but the Bose had a slight edge on them. Probably not enough to matter as my comparison is with an air conditioner next to my desk which I feel is representative of the white noise you'd hear on an airplane.

The Audio-Technica's I might have kept but the size is a deal breaker and some of the clipping/dullness in the strings just put the extra nails in the coffin.

The Bose are the winners in my book and the one's I'll keep. The Audio-Technica's would be my budget suggestion as they are over $150 less than the Bose and over $200 less than the Sennheisers.
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on June 6, 2014
If your employer is jumping onto the 'open concept' or 'high density' office layout with no walls or sound dampening, these headphones are for you. Put them on and turn them on, and your coworkers' voices will disappear. These headphones have far and away the best noise cancellation I've ever tried (AudioTechnica and Bose). You'll be able to get plenty of work done without being distracted by the loud guy an aisle over, and you won't need to deafen yourself with a set of earbuds to do it. Meanwhile, the sound quality is Sennheiser superb.

The "Talk Through" button may seem like a gimmick, but I use it regularly to prairie-dog on conversations without needing to remove the headphones. It is a very convenient feature. The integrated volume control is useful as well.

Overall, the featureset, cost, and bulk of these headphones makes them far better suited to an office environment than an aircraft. IMO they're quite a bit too large and heavy to be lugging onto a flight, unless you are headed to an antipodal location, e.g. New Zealand. And luggage gets dropped, items forgotten. Best to leave your $3-400 'phones out of your travel plans.

Oh, and the build quality? If Mercedes-Benz was to ever build a headphone they would look a lot like this. You pay for it, of course, but: pick them up - heavy, huge. Run your hands along the outside: aluminum, high-quality plastic, stainless steel. And that just might be real leather lining the band and earcups. The headband extends with a smoothly detented 'snick' that is reminiscent of high-grade machine tools or firearms. The earcups articulate smoothly and silently. You put them on and turn them on and the outside world disappears. It's a lot like wearing an E-Class on your head.

Pricey. But you get what you pay for. And if you want to have a choice about hearing your coworker's biology noises or noisy conference calls, you want these headphones.
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on July 21, 2016
These are wonderful headphones. They do an excellent job blocking background noise, especially sources of white noise. I use these while working in a home office with two young noisy children. While they can't block the most piercing of screams, the combined effect of noise cancellation and the over-the-ear cups really help me focus on my work and forget about the distractions. A bit pricey, but you get what you pay for. Build quality is excellent. They are comfortable. The included travel case is a nice touch. I wouldn't use these for audio production but for listening to music, they're a real treat. I routinely listen to several podcasts and since getting these, I'm suddenly hearing background noises I never heard, such as the sound of cars driving by through the window behind the person talking on the podcasts. All sorts of small details jump out of the audio. Very, very impressive.

Don't get these if you expect perfect silence no matter the environment. No noise cancelling headphones at this level can do that, not even the main competitor from Bose.
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on June 12, 2015
These are hands-down the best noise-cancelling headphones I've used. I spent hours at various electronics stores trying out other brands, and none measured up.

These are an around-the-ear headphone, and without the noise-cancelling they block out low-volume noise. Adding in the noise-cancelling, and it makes the aural assault associated with airline travel fade away.

The audio reproduction is fantastic, lows aren't too bassy, highs aren't shrill, and mids come out clear instead of being muddied in the mix. For an audiophile looking for noise-cancelling headphones, I'd suggest these over other offerings. Are these going to be as good in audio reproduction as a $250 studio headphone? Nope, but then again, I'm not recording with these, I want something I can enjoy the quality of my music and drown out my surroundings without going deaf.

The noise-cancellation feature is great, because on their competitor's offerings, I immediately began to suffer a headache when I enabled the competitor's noise-cancellation. These headphones don't suffer from the "vacuum effect" (my terminology), and instead just silence the outside world.
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on December 26, 2013
I've gone through a few different pairs of sound canceling headphones and had yet to find something that I was really happy with. I started with the Sennheiser PXC-250's and found that while the sound canceling was effective, the dangling battery pack on the wire was always getting away. Then I went for a pair of JVC HANC250's and found that while they worked decently, they got to be uncomfortable to wear after a while (I have a big head).

I read some reviews here for the 450's and the only major question I was left with is whether the sound canceling was effective. I saw comparisons to the Bose headphones that suggested the Bose QC's were better at noise cancellation. I decided to go with the 450's though because of reviews of overall sound quality.

I do a fair bit of air travel and I can attest to these headphones doing a good job of noise canceling and the sound quality is superb. So from that perspective they do a great job, and I find that they are comfortable to wear for long periods even if they feel a little tight on my head (like I said, big head).

My favorite feature though is how, unlike every other pair of NC headphones I've seen, you can bypass the sound canceling. First, I can flip a switch to turn off NC entirely, allowing me to use the headphones without a battery. I often found with my other NC headphones that I'd forget to turn them off when using them around the house when NC wasn't necessary, and then have a dead batter next time I needed them. With these I only use NC when I need it and bypass it the rest of the time.

The other part of the NC bypass that's great is that when it is turned on you can press a button on the side which shuts off what's playing in your headphones, and uses the NC microphone as an amplifier. So when you're on a plane and they make an announcement you just tap the button and not only can you hear it, but the headphones amplify it to make it easier to hear. It's actually easier to hear a flight attendant with the headphones on in this mode than with the headphones off your head (though the flight attendants might think you're a jerk for keeping them on :).

Sound is excellent with or without the NC. Battery life appears to be pretty good so far as I've used them quite a bit and I'm still on the first battery I put into them. Best of all if my battery dies I can flip a switch and still use the headphones without the noise cancellation unlike other NC headphones which turn into useless bricks when the battery dies.

Finally, these things are built like a tank. I don't feel at all concerned that I'll damage the cord, break off an ear piece, or anything like that. These feel like I can throw them around as I'm traveling and not have an issue. So while they may be expensive, they should last a good long time.
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