Sennheiser PXC 250 Review

20 05 2008

Awhile ago I was discussing the merits of noise-cancelling headphones when travelling.  I picked up a pair of Sennheiser PXC 250’s before my last trip home from the US and thought I’d give a review.

They’re pretty damn good.

Oh, you want a longer review?  🙂  The 250’s are lightweight pair of sit-on-your-ear headphones that fold up to a compact package.  The noise-cancelling electronics – and the two AAA batteries that power them – are housed in a tube connected to the middle of the headphone cable.  The tube has a single switch on it that controls whether noise cancellation is on or off and a red LED gives a visual cue.  The LED also flashes when the battery is low, which doesn’t happen often as the batteries last a long time (I’d guess 40+ hours of use?).

A decent-quality soft-shell case is provided as well as two useful converters; 1/4″ and the wacky airline dual-pin plug.  The 250’s sit right in the middle of the Sennheiser range of nose-cancelling headphones.

I paid about US$100 for mine while I was in the US but unfortunately you’ll get stung for over A$300 in most shops out here.  Robbery.  Shopping online is much better, Headphonics have them for $230.

Let’s talk about sound quality, starting with when the noise-cancelling system is off.  In short it’s crappy.  Bass is weak and generally everything is tinny.  We’re talking sound that doesn’t compare very favourably with iPod headphones (not good!).

However, turn on the noise-cancelling system and everything changes.  There’s obviously some amplification going on here as bass is boosted, mid-ranges become apparent, treble has pop.  It’s not exceptionally good sound – they’re certainly not going to replace my (admittedly much larger) Sennheiser 580’s! – but for their size they’re decent. 

And then there’s background noise, or lack thereof. 

Background noise is significantly reduced.  If you’ve got any fans nearby you’ll struggle to hear them.  The sound of air rushing out of air conditioners will almost vanish.  The hum of motors fade away.  At first it’s eerie how all this white noise that you’re used to filtering out just disappears.  I mean, it’s not like the outside world ceases to exist.  One of the compromises with this model is that, for size, they’re an on-ear design and so don’t make a tight seal against your ear which would have blocked external sound even better.  You can still hear voices pretty clearly, you’ll still hear your phone ring, but the lower-frequency repetitive noises are definitely reduced.

On a long haul flight this makes a tremendous difference particularly if you’re watching video or listening to music.  The constant drone of the airplane engines are reduced to a bearable level and you don’t have to have the volume up to 11 to hear anything.  For me at least that translates directly to less stress and headaches. 

You may (I do) feel a mild pressure on your ears after wearing them for a while.  And I understand that a small percentage of people actually can suffer a little disorientation and nausea after long periods of use.  I’d suggest trying them out before buying if at all possible (you’re welcome to give mine a shot!).

However, ear plugs are better for sleeping.  They’re more comfortable, don’t run out of batteries and are even more effective at blocking out noise.  Oh and let’s not forget that they’re approximately 0.007% of the cost.  😉

Even though the 250’s are expensive they’re well worth the money if you’re doing any long haul flights.  I’m certainly glad I had them with me on my last couple of flights.  When you’re spending over 20 hours flying, watching a couple of movies and listening to music on the trip – in comfort – is of genuine benefit.

If you can afford to spend more consider the Sennheiser PXC 350 or 450’s and Bose’s QuietComfort range.  Most of those are the over-the-ear style ‘big cans’ and physically block out more noise.  They’ve also got much better drivers for exceptional sound reproduction.  However you do lose out in portability.

Me, I’m happy with my 250’s and can recommend them to anyone in the market for decent noise-cancelling headphones in a portable package.




2 responses

21 05 2008

I too have Sennheiser noise cancelling earphones for flights, but I think they are the earlier model than yours (e.g. they don’t have the foam at the top, only on the earpieces).

They are really good, and I often wonder during the flight whether they are doing anything; after turning them off and on again my question is quickly answered 🙂

My only gripe is the size of the *ahem* dildo that controls it all – it’s just a bit big! I don’t know why they couldn’t have integrated this into the headset (with smaller batteries of course), or at least made it a bit smaller. Ahh well, it least it has a clip on it.

23 05 2008

@ Jiggy: I agree that the ‘dildo’ is a little big and cumbersome. It also contributes to making it challenging to get the headphones in and out of the case in a hurry as the cables inevitably get tangled up. I’m sure they’ll make it smaller as they improve the electronics (and the need to have two AAA’s). Still, it’s not completely unmanageable…

And yeah, it’s kinda shocking when, during a flight, you take the headphones off after having them on for awhile!

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