Review: Sennheiser PXC 550 Wireless Headphones

Sennheiser1I had put the Sennheiser PXC 550 Wireless headphones in my Amazon Wishlist a in early January after doing some research of various over the ear headphones. I wanted wireless headphones as my current iPhone X doesn’t have a standard audio jack and in ear headphones are rarely the best fits for me. I wanted headphones that were noise cancelling and most of all were comfortable.

 

I subscribe to Unbox Therapy and along came the episode where Lew declares that the Sennheiser PXC 550 Wireless “The Best Wireless Headphones You Can Buy Right Now”

 

After viewing Lew’s video I was sold. The headphones list for $399.00. The day of the Unbox Therapy Video debut they had slipped to $329 on Amazon. By the end of the day they were up to $369.00. I decided to wait and this past Monday February 12, 2018 the were down to $299.00.

The Good

The PXC 550 arrive in a nice package.  The carrying case is well thought out, which includes a pouch for the audio jack cord, USB charging cord and additional headphone jack adapters.  Additionally the case includes a stamp showing how the headphones fit into the case.

Setup was fairly simple.  Once you set the headphones to listen mode they turn on and begin trying to pair.  I simply had to launch the BlueTooth settings on my iPhone X and the headphones paired.

A companion application is available for both iOS and Android.  A QR code is included in the set up instructions sending one to their needed App Store.  The App CapTune for iOS request access to the iPhone’s Music Library.  From within the App Music is available via the interface along with a few other options. which include the following:

  • Sound effects:  Club, Movie, Speech and Director.  Director gives further options of Boost, Spatial, Reverb and DLC.  From these options the choice of OFF, THUMP RUBLE & VOICE are available for Boost, OFF, NEAR, MEDIUM & FAR are available for Spatial, OFF, LOW, MEDIUM & HIGH are available for Reverb and filing OFF or ON for DLC.
  • Adaptive NoiseGard active noise cancellation (ANC):  From the headphones the option of off, half and full noice cancellation is available.  Within the App fine tuning is available via a slider.
  • Finally there various EQ settings that include Flat, Loudness, Pop, Rock, Hip Hop, Electro, Jazz, Classical, Voice and Custom.

The headphones also include touch controls for the volume, pause/play, next, back, fast-forward and rewind.  Additional buttons on the headphones include Sound Effects, and Adaptive NoiseGard.

Sennheiser3The headphones are allow for accepting calls and talking as the headphones include 3 microphones.

“VoiceMax technology utilizing 3 built-in microphones for voice communication to emphasize speech quality and attenuate external noise”

Included is a Call Enhancement mode that can be activated prior to the call or during the call.
I personally made a few calls to test this feature out.  Those on the other end of the call were able to hear me just fine.  On my side I could hear the other end very well.  I also was able to hear other noises around me.  During one of the calls I could hear my nephew talking in the background.

The last nice feature TalkThrough is one of those features that allows communication with others without the need of removing the headphones.

“The TalkThrough function on the PXC 550 Wireless allows you to communicate with other people without having to remove the headphones. When TalkThrough is activated, professional quality microphones mounted on the outside of the headphones pick up acoustic signals in the immediate vicinity, allowing the voice of the other person to pass through the headphones.”

The actual sound of the headphones is very clear and crisp. I played a wide variety of songs from my Music Library and was impressed. Watching video with other BlueTooth headphones has not always been a great experience as the sound is always behind the video. With the PXC 550’s I yet to experience any sound and video out of sync.

There is a 2-year warranty included.  For the price I would expect some sort of warranty. Hopefully I don’t need to use this warranty.  I highly recommend registering any product with the manufacture at the time of purchase as you have the receipt and original packaging.

The Bad

The max volume in wireless mode was less than what I expected.  Maybe its because my ears are not what they used to be or I just like to turn the dial past “11” I didn’t feel like it was loud enough.  This was fixed as I plugged them into an audio jack and went retro.

Like most over ear headphones they can get warm over your ears.  I don’t think I would ever use these to work out.  I did take a Saturday afternoon and do some chores around the house.  After a few hours of use the sweat had build up and I need to wipe things down.

The touch controls are not as reactive as I would like.  In the instruction manual it states to check the battery level to press and hold the control for 4 seconds to view the LED power indicator.  As of this post I haven’t been able to engage that feature.

The TalkThrough feature will be nice when on a plane getting inflight instructs, but I still fill like I was yelling when speaking to others with the headphones on.  The VoiceMax call enhancement was nice for hearing and talking during calls, but it was distracting as I could hear every movement I made and others in other rooms within my home. People on the other end could hear this as well.

Overall

I am very impress with theses headphones.  They lived up the reviews I have seen and are a better choice for my needs.  I chose to spend a little extra on these headphones to get a nice set.  I felt for me this was a better choice than getting another set of earbuds and are in the same price range of Beats, Bose and Sony headphones that I have seen in the stores.  Most of all it was a better choice than Apple’s HomePod.  Best of all I saved $100 by keeping a close eye on price changes.  I would recommend these headphones at this time, but reserve the right to see how things look.

iPhone 7 Bluetooth Audio Stutter Problem

In September 2016, I purchased and iPhone 7 plus. Originally, I had purchased an iPhone 7 as the iPhone 7 plus was out of stock. I have iPhone 7 launch story, one that taught me that I would not waste any more time pre ordering an iPhone. That, however, is not the reason I write this today. My reasons for writing today are related to the Bluetooth “audio stutter” issue I have experienced since day one of ownership.

bluetoothThe Problem

I own a 2012 Ford Fusion that is equipped with a basic Sync system. All my prior iPhones have connected and played audio via Bluetooth since owning the car. The only problem I have experienced previously was sometimes the Ford Sync refuse to pair to the phone via Bluetooth. The fix required turning off Bluetooth on the iPhone and turning it back on. I took part in the iOS 10 Public Beta test over this past summer. During that time, I felt like my iPhone 6s performed the best it ever had in regards to Bluetooth.

Since owning the iPhone 7 plus the experience has been quite the opposite. While listening to my music or favorite podcast via the Ford Sync the audio would randomly stutter or more appropriately, it will garble for a few seconds and then resume to normal. The issue happens quite frequently, which makes listening to audio painful. This has been on ongoing issue since September and has yet to be resolved via an iOS 10 update, restoring my iPhone to new, updating my Ford Sync system, resetting the Ford Sync system and so on.

On Saturday November 19, 2016 I made an appointment to visit the local Apple Store. Through the troubleshooting with the Genius I was asked to “Reset Network Settings”. I was also asked to test my Ford Sync system with another device. In this case I used my wife’s iPhone 7. I completed both tasks, my iPhone 7 plus still experienced the audio stutter problem and my wife’s iPhone 7 did not have the audio stutter problems.

On Tuesday November 22, 2016 I again visited my local Apple Store Genius and it was determined at that time to replace my iPhone 7 plus. After setting the device up as new (running the latest iOS software) the phone still experienced the same audio stuttering.

My Research

In my search of the Internet, I came across this Apple’s Committees Discussion Board thread https://discussions.apple.com/message/31146947?ac_cid=tw123456#31146947. Based on the 27 pages of responses I am not alone in my struggle. In this thread, I discovered numerous vehicle types of various years all the way up to 2017 were having issues. Many of the comments noted taking the same steps that I have and the problem persists.

What I have learned from this thread is that I can prevent the audio stuttering by turning off LTE Data. This is done by going into Settings > Cellular > Cellular Data Options > Enable LTE and selecting off.  What I also learned was that for the most part those with the audio stuttering issue are primarily to those who own an iPhone 7 plus on AT&T.

This was profound to me, due to the fact that Apple produced Model A1784 as a GSM only model used in the United States on AT&T. This model of phone is not capable of running on Verizon or Sprint as it does not have the CDMA chipset. In fact Model A1784 sports the new Intel cellular chipset, not the previous Qualcomm chipset found in previous generations of iPhones and Model’s A1660 (iPhone 7) and A1661 (iPhone 7 plus). http://www.apple.com/iphone/LTE/

Is it faulty Hardware?

If the new Intel cellular chipset is to blame for this audio stuttering issue, then I believe Apple has a serious issue on its hands. I have a limited data set to prove this as the issue, but given the Apple Community Discussion thread above and my own personal experience, taking LTE out of the equation solves the issue. It could be something faulty in the chip I don’t know. As of this writing, I am in the process of purchasing a SIM free Model A1661 to test my theory.

Is it iOS 10?

Software could always be an issue. To date no update has resolved the issue. Apple stated in the release notes that iOS 10.2 fixed Bluetooth issues, but the fixe failed to correct my audio stuttering issue. Given the Apple Community Discussion thread above had people noting the same issues on Verizon I am wondering if Apple has yet to identify the issue in iOS 10, but if that were true I believe that I would have seen talk about this issue cropping up with the iPhone 6s or later. However, I believe this is not true given many people in the thread have returned their iPhone 7 plus and downgraded back to the 6s plus and report no problems after doing so. One other note is that I have yet to see anyone commenting from any other carrier outside of AT&T and Verizon.

Hardware on iPhones has had some issues in the news lately, primarily related to the battery shutdown (https://www.apple.com/support/iphone6s-unexpectedshutdown/) and touch disease (https://www.apple.com/support/iphone6plus-multitouch/). This leads me to conclude that Apple is not immune to faulty equipment.

Is it AT&T?

This seems to be the most likely scenario. One common item to both iPhone models I have received is that the SIM card has never changed. I also have not noticed a Carrier Settings update on my iPhone in the whole time I have owned it. Could the iPhone 7 plus models shipped towards the beginning of launch have a faulty SIM? I am not sure, but a run to my local AT&T Store may be in order test my theory.

Parting Thoughts:

My issues are certainly not life or death, more along the line of first world problems. I am impressed with the iPhone 7 plus. It has nice battery life; it takes very good photos and is very fast. What I have a problem with is Apple not addressing the issue. I have a case started with a Senior Apple Tech Advisor and until I alerted him to the above thread he refused to acknowledge that anyone was having an issue. I am, as of Friday December 23, 2016 awaiting a call back. Given the Holiday’s here in the States my expectations are low that this will happen in the near term. If software, a new SIM free Model or new SIM card do not solve my problem I am left with a few options:

  1. Continue to leave LTE off. Okay that’s an option, but certainly not the ideal option.
  2. Hope that Apple or AT&T provide a software fix?
  3. Sell my iPhone 7 plus and downgrade back to a 6s or move to the Android Platform.

If it is a hardware issue, I hope that Apple has the “courage” to own up to its issues as Samsung did with the Note 7 and take the phone off the market. Yes this may be a bit extreme and not an apples to apples (pardon the pun) comparison, but a nearly equally misstep in my humble opinion.

If you are experiencing the above issue, please let me know.