REVIEW: SENNHEISER HD 4.50 WIRELESS HEADPHONES
Have Sennheiser used their decades of R&D to crack the code to making high quality, yet affordable noise-cancelling headphones? Or were a few too many corners cut just to bring the price down this low? Let’s dig deeper in our review.
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Wireless Over Ear Headphones
Being the resident headphone nerd amongst my friends and family, I am often the “go to” for headphone recommendations. Whenever noise-cancelling headphones are discussed, my advice is always to immediately look at the two titans of the genre: The Sennheiser PXC 550, and their arch nemesis, the Bose QC 35.
These two are the unrivalled heavyweights in the noise-cancelling game, and they are priced accordingly. Understandably, not every budget can allow for the top-of-the-range option.
When I’m asked for my opinion on a cheaper noise-cancelling solution, I often found myself a little lost for words. At least, until now.
At CES 2017, Sennheiser launched a new entry-level wireless range – the HD 4 series, comprising the HD 4.40, and the HD 4.50. Both are over-ear wireless headphones with 32mm drivers, Bluetooth aptX support, NFC pairing, and “up to 25 hours of battery life”.
We’re taking a closer look at the HD 4.50 for this review, which has the bonus of Sennheiser’s NoiseGuard active noise cancellation technology.
It seems that Sennheiser have their sights aimed firmly at the budget market with these headphones. With an RRP of only $329.95, the HD 4.50 are in direct competition with the likes of the Sony MDR ZX770BN ($299.95), and the Bose Soundlink Wireless II ($329).
Have Sennheiser used their decades of R&D to crack the code to making high quality, yet affordable noise-cancelling headphones? Or were a few too many corners cut just to bring the price down this low? Let’s dig deeper.
Once removing the headphones from their plastic packaging, I was presented with a very solid, neatly folded pair of headphones.
Despite being mostly lightweight plastic and without the familiar luxurious trimmings found in Sennheiser’s PXC 550 flagship, the HD 4.50 still feels like a durable product in the hand.
Weighing in at around 230 grams, it isn’t light enough to feel “cheap and cheerful”, but also isn’t a heavy headphone, either.
The cups don’t swivel much further than 40 degrees, but they do fold inward to create a very snug and bag-friendly package. They come with a soft bag as well, which fits them perfectly (as well as both the charging cable, and the included 3.5mm cable).
There are rigid and sturdy buttons on the cup for track skipping, volume, play/pause and for toggling noise-cancellation.
As mentioned earlier, there are some surprisingly small 32mm size drivers inside these cups. Many over-ear headphones have at least a 40-45mm driver, and it’s uncommon to see drivers this small.
Frequency response is rated at 18-20,000Hz across both the HD 4.40 and HD 5.50 headphones – and they also share an impedance of 18 Ohms. This low impedance may make them potentially fussy with high output impedance devices (in cabled mode), so keep that in mind.
Pairing is easily done with included NFC and during my review, I didn’t have any issues with connectivity, dropouts, range, or any other tell-tale sign of low budget Bluetooth implementation.
The battery is a hefty 600 mAh and is not user replaceable. However, Sennheiser claim it will last for 25 hours (19 hours with noise cancelling switched on). In headphone terms, this is basically a lifetime!
I haven’t been able to run them flat since I removed them from the box and charged them nearly three weeks ago. Very impressive.
The HD 4.50 is the only headphone in the range to include Noise Cancelling, and has an extra two microphones to assist it in doing so. For voice calls, there are dual omnidirectional microphones.
Using the headphones
There is minimal, but sufficient padding along the headband, and the earpads have a familiar firmness to them which is common for this category and budget.
Comfort is relatively good here. You’ll be able to wear these on flights and public transport for a decent amount of time, without having to shift them around too much. Much like other noise cancelling headphones, however, I experienced some heat build-up underneath the pads over time – but your mileage may vary.
When Bluetooth isn’t an option, Sennheiser have included a 3.5mm cable for passive listening. As this feature was missing on the recent Sennheiser Momentum In-Ear release, this is a welcome addition here.
Noise cancelling is very effective on these headphones for lower frequencies. Much like the PXC 550, it is comparable to its Bose counterpart. Neither of these headphones are blowing each other out of the water here, it’s fairly neck-and-neck.
The buttons work well for the most part. The controls for playback and volume control are intuitive and make sense, with one exception. To toggle the NoiseGuard feature on or off requires a very precise press of the very middle of the volume button. It took me a good few days of use to be able to do it accurately each time, but it wasn’t too bad once I got the hang of it.
Upon hitting play, the very first thing I noticed was the bass-heavy signature. The sub bass is especially prominent here, as demonstrated when having your ears assaulted by the rumblings of Square Feet by Noisia.
There is more than enough rumble and thump around the 60hz to 135Hz with this track, and despite having seemingly miniscule 32mm drivers, the HD4.50 reproduced these lower notes with admirable confidence.
In a quiet listening environment, the bass takes priority over the rest of the spectrum. However, when out-and-about with plenty of other noises going on, the signature flattens itself out a little more and produces a more balanced overall signature. It almost feels like Sennheiser purposefully engineered this sound signature to be listened to in noisy environments.
Evidence of this can be found when listening to Nobody Speak by DJ Shadow. When in a quiet environment with NoiseGuard switched off, the lower mids can feel a little bit muffled by the forward sub bass. With the noise cancellation switched on, the upper mids poke through a little more, and the vocals protrude a little further out of the mix.
Still, the repeating bass and crisp kick drums remain the stars of the show here and really demonstrate how fun these headphones are to listen to.
Being so warm and bass emphasised, the Sennheiser HD 4.50 are a little less suited for songs such as Masters of War by Bob Dylan. Whilst there is plenty of body within the lower registers of the vocals, there just isn’t quite enough bite in the highs to get that pinpoint detail like the flagship Sennheiser PXC 550 is so good at.
There was plenty of headroom with volume and listening at 75% was ear-blasting with my source (Google Pixel XL via Bluetooth).
The Sennheiser HD 4.50 is a capable all-rounder in the sound department but probably lends itself a little more to bass-heavy electronic music, rather than acoustic or classical pieces.
With a fun, bassy signature, sturdy aesthetics, excellent battery life and strong noise cancelling performance, I would recommend it for anyone looking for a good travel companion.
If you’re looking for a budget noise-cancelling headphone, this is the one to get.
For more information visit the Sennheiser brand page.
Constantly keeping himself busy, Matthew is a production manager, Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt, Head-Fi fanatic, coffee enthusiast and all-round cool Dad.
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