Stark Insider Lab Test and Review: Sennheiser HD 450BT Bluetooth 5.0 Wireless Headphones with Active Noise Cancellation.
Germany-based Sennheiser is a big name when it comes to sound. They’ve been around a long time (since 1945) and many of us audiophiles know that a Sennheiser-branded product typically means top tier sound and design.
So I was pretty eager to test out the company’s entry level wireless, noise cancelling headphones. No doubt, this is a crowded and ever growing space. Given that more of us are working from home and sheltering-in-place the idea of cancelling out noise and being able to focus while others around you in relatively confined spaces are likely attempting to do the same seems like a compelling value proposition. When I like to dive deep into a creative session with Adobe Lightroom or Illustrator for Stark Insider projects there’s nothing better to motivate me than some (obscure) 80’s new wave from Canada with a pair of noise cancelling phones.
At $149 USD the over-ear Sennheiser 450BT headphones are about entry level/mid-range-ish. In this market you can easily spend over $300 on a premium model. Indeed Sennheiser themselves sell a high end anniversary model (HD 800 S) that lists for $1,699 (!). In some ways at this price point it’s sort of like buying a Lexus RC Coupe and hoping the high end tech found in the flagship LC has trickled down and that you can benefit if partially at a lower cost of entry.
Frequency response (Microphone): 80 Hz to 6,000 Hz (-3 dB)
Transducer principle (Microphone): MEMS
Bluetooth Version: 5.0
Supported Profiles: HSP, HFP, AVRCP, A2DP
Frequency response: 18 Hz to 22,000 Hz (-10 dB)
Sound pressure level (SPL): 108 dB (1 kHz/0 dBFS)
THD, total harmonic distortion: < 0.3 % (1 kHz, 100 dB)
Ear coupling: Around Ear
Transducer principle: Dynamic, closed
Weight: Approx. 238 g
Charging time: Approx. 2 hours
Pick-up pattern: Dual Beamforming
Operating time: 30 hours music playback via Bluetooth with ANC activated
Battery Specification: Built-in Lithium-Polymer rechargeable battery: 3.7 V ⎓, 600 mAh
Transmission frequency: 2,402 MHz to 2,480 MHz
Charging Current: 500 mA max.
Audio codec: SBC, AAC, AptX™, AptX™ Low Latency
Charging voltage: 5 V, DC
Modulation scheme: GFSK, π/4 DQPSK, 8DPSK
App support: EQ and updates via Sennheiser Smart Control
Voice assistant support: Google Assistant, Apple Siri
Retail price: $149 USD (Amazon)
Design, Controls and Bluetooth Pairing
Design-wise one thing that stands out about the 450 BT is the compact design. Compared to, say, the popular Sony WH-H900N noise cancelling headphones, the overall package is somewhat smaller which makes them easier to store, and takes up less space in a travel bag or backpack.
The headband, like we see across similar models, is adjustable and can expand or tighten to help achieve comfortable fit. One thing to point out here is there’s less padding material on the top compared to some of the competition. I didn’t find this to be an issue during our tests. However, many across the web have noted this as a potential problem for longer listening sessions wear the lack of padding contributes to discomfort.
On the right headphone you’ll find the controls and inputs. Front to back they include: power on/off with LED status indicator which is also used to turn active noise cancellation on/off; 2.5mm audio input (for “flight mode”); USB-C charging input; volume control; multifunction slider for music control; and the last button near the back of your ear is used to activate the voice assistant (Siri or Google Assistant).
After easily pairing the Sennheisers to my iPhone via Bluetooth (a simple 4-step process) I tested the controls and found that all worked as expected. Each one is physically different so that you can — hopefully — eventually feel your way using muscle memory along the right headphone when adjusting volume or switching to another music track for instance. In practice, however, I find myself constantly struggling to figure out which button did what. Over time it did get better. Still, I think the overall design here could be better as I don’t recall having this kind of issue on other wireless headphones (especially with the aforementioned WH-H900 ands its expansive touchpad).
While pairing the HD 450BT or powering on/off or performing other functions you will get a voice confirmation. “Pairing on”, “Pairing mode”, etc. I like that compared to non-descript beeps as you know exactly what’s happening. One bit of trivia here: the voice has a British accent. European sophistication at no additional charge.
Sennheiser Smart Control App for iOS and Android
Sennheiser has an app “Smart Control” for both iOS and Android. Unfortunately there’s not much you can really control via the app. In fact, you can only control EQ. It works well enough. You can adjust the bass/mids/treble using one of two methods in the app.
The first is by swiping and sculpting the curve using your finger, which results in a rather cool looking blue wave.
Alternatively you can switch to three traditional sliders and use those to season to taste. This all works well enough. But that’s about it and nothing more to see here. No passthrough settings. No customizations for buttons and other features. So you’re not missing much if you decide not to download the app — though you probably should during setup to at least confirm you’re running the most recent firmware.
Sennhesier HD 450BT Sound Quality
Finally, we’re on to sound quality.
Here the HD 450BT delivers exactly what I’d expect from a Sennheiser audio product. And that is to say: outstanding. As good as a $300 model? Maybe not quite, and most of that has to do with the noise cancelling performance and not the sound quality itself. But otherwise I love the clarity. Good, clean mid-range. Bass is nicely balanced as are the highs. In fact, I didn’t bother to adjust the EQ and simply left the default flat profile as is which proved suitable for a variety of music styles from classical to jazz, and to pop and dance and EDM. Of course my favorite still being (obscure) 80’s Canadian New Wave.
Cushions on the headphones are comfy, and I had no issues getting a perfect seal each time I put them on.
AAC and aptX are supported which help contribute to sound quality.
A single tap of the power button toggles ANC (Active Noise Cancellation) on or off. When off, music continues to play and ambient noise is passed through so you can more aware of your surroundings or even hold a brief conversation as needed. There’s no way to adjust this setting like you see on many other wireless earbuds on noise cancelling headphones so what you get here is what you get. For me, the passthrough worked well enough, but having the flexibility to tweak it as needed seems like a missed opportunity.
Battery life is rated at 30 hours. Though I didn’t quite reach that it in my tests — there’s so many variables to consider including volume level, noise cancellation settings, etc. — but the HD 450BT did come close on several run downs. In any case there’s a lot of juice here and I don’t think there’s a need for concern in this respect, after all when are you taking that next 30-hour flight?
Should you buy the Sennheiser HD 450BT headphones?
It’s not a slam dunk. If you can find them on sale for say $100-$129 USD I think there’s value to be found. At $149 retail it’s a tougher call as often you can find the Sony WH-H900N headphones on sale for that price which I prefer largely thanks to the large touchpad which I find far easier to use than the various assortment of buttons and sliders that run and up and down the right headphone on the HD 450 BT.
Sound-wise the Sennheiser nails it. No question that’s the top talking point with the HD 450BT. Above all else this is likely the critical feature for for most buyers. And if that’s the case for your particular priority and you can find them at the right price they would certainly be worth trying.