Good noise cancelling headphones can cost a small fortune, but the Sennheiser HD 450BT disrupt that model. These headphones afford active noise cancelling (ANC) and great sound quality for just $150. The battery life is enough to power you through plenty of roundtrip commutes, which is no small feat when ANC is involved. Even still, the HD 450BT is a budget noise cancelling headset, so let’s see if the price pardons its shortcomings.
Editor’s note: this review was updated on October 12, 2020, to update the pros and cons.
Who should get the Sennheiser HD 450BT?
- Commuters will appreciate the HD 450BT active noise cancelling (ANC) headphones. While the ANC isn’t the best on the market, it audibly reduces background noise.
- Remote workers can also take advantage of the noise cancelling and excellent battery life. There’s even a microphone for conference calls, though its quality is only okay.
- General consumers should consider this well-rounded headset that offers a bit of everything for a reasonable price.
Using the Sennheiser HD 450BT
Sennheiser headphones never struck me as intuitive, and the HD 450BT fall in line with that schema. The cluster of onboard controls are overwhelming at first glance, and it took me a moment to realize the front-most button, between the USB-C input and microphone, controlled power status. Once I got used to the haphazard layout, it operating the headset was fine.
The oval ear cups have an ergonomic shape, but there isn’t much room for average to above-average ears to fit comfortably. Some users have even reported that these headphones fit more like on-ears than over-ears. While this is annoying, it makes the headset more portable than the bulky Shure AONIC 50. You can always replace the ear pads, though, which is good news for tinkerers or anyone who wants an upgrade from synthetic leather.
When I first wore the headset, I thought the fit was borderline painful because of the clamping force and how a hotspot formed at the top of my head. After a week of continuous use, the headset loosened and I’ve since been able to wear it for hours at a time—this is severely shortened when wearing glasses though.
Ear cup rotation is minimal, which doesn’t affect comfort but does limit transport options. Some headsets give you the option to stow headphones flat and balled up, but your only option with the HD 450BT is to fold the ear cups toward the headband. This works well with the provided case, but I missed the option to just flatten the headphones and slide them into my bag.
How to use the onboard controls
Here’s a quick list of controls so you don’t fumble around as much as I did.
- Tap and hold the power button for two seconds to turn the headset on/off.
- Press the power button once to toggle noise cancelling on/off.
- Press the voice assistant button (closest to the headphone yoke) to talk to your virtual assistant.
- Slide the switch back (located just below the voice assistant button) to skip back a track.
- Slide the switch forward to skip to the next track.
- Press the switch like a button to pause or resume playback.
- Press the volume rocker up or down to adjust media output.
For calls you have two options:
- Depress the switch button once to answer or end a call.
- Press and hold the switch button for two seconds to place a call on hold.
Is the noise cancelling good?
The Sennheiser HD 450BT is a mid-tier active noise cancelling headset: low-frequency noises are slightly attenuated and sound only about half as loud with ANC enabled than when the feature is disabled. While this change is audible, you can absolutely get better performance with other headsets that cost just a bit more like the Sennheiser PXC 550-II. When using the headset to work on my porch, wind noise was less pronounced as passing cars, but both sounds remained distinctly audible with the headset on.
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Passive isolation performance does a great deal of heavy lifting as far as blocking the midrange and treble frequencies. This is because it’s very hard for ANC to block out unpredictable sounds like speech and your run-of-the-mill clangs and pangs, which often fall above 1kHz. To get the most out of the noise cancelling technology, you should make sure the headphones are snug and don’t leave any gaps between your head and the ear pads.
What Bluetooth codecs are supported?
The Sennheiser HD 450BT headphones use Bluetooth 5.0 and support plenty of high-quality of Bluetooth codecs: AAC, aptX, and aptX Low Latency. Whether you’re an iPhone or Android user, you’ll be able to stream consistent audio to the headphones. If you subscribe to a streaming service like Tidal or Amazon Music HD and want to take advantage of FLAC files, you can always use the included 2.5mm to 3.5mm cable.
I never experienced any lag when streaming videos from my Samsung Galaxy S10e or MacBook Pro. Bluetooth multipoint is supported, so you can connect two devices to the headset at any given moment. This is great, but I experienced similar issues with this Bluetooth multipoint as I did when using the Sennheiser PXC 550-II. Both my laptop and smartphone were connected to the HD 450BT, but text and email notifications weren’t pushed from the secondary source device to my headset. The only event that notified the headset was an incoming call.
How long does the battery last?
We enabled Bluetooth and noise cancelling while subjecting the headset to a constant 75dB(SPL) output, and the battery lasted 27 hours, 2 minutes. This falls slightly short of the listed 30-hour battery life, but is still exceptional and more than necessary for the typical listener. Once the battery is drained, they’re easy to top up via the included USB-C cable. Fast charging is absent, so you’ll need to set aside two hours to fully charge the headphones.
How do the Sennheiser HD 450BT sound?
Sound quality is Sennheiser’s strong suit whether its releasing over-ear headphones or true wireless earbuds; you can always trust Sennheiser to, at the very least, make a product that sounds great with all genres of music. Sennheiser kept to its accurate roots with some minor deviations to make for a more engaging but still accurate sound. The slight bump from 20-100Hz makes bass notes a tinge louder than mids, but not so much louder that vocals are hard to discern. Another emphasized range occurs from 450Hz-3kHz, which is where most important instrumental notes fall.
Lows, mids, and highs
In Domic Fike’s song Babydoll, the electric guitar riff repeats throughout the intro until 0:32. Clarity is unchanged when the drums kick in at 0:11, which is good news for anyone who values instrumental detail beyond percussive sounds. Fike’s vocals are a little difficult to hear toward the end of the song when he’s singing the lyrics, “I can’t move on babydoll, waiting on calls…” As he says the words “move on,” the kick drum slams down and makes it difficult to perceive the consonant sounds of -v and -n.
Cymbal hits recur through the song and are easy to distinguish from the rest of the instrumentation. It sounds a little quieter than I’m accustomed to hearing, especially when Fike is singing concurrently, but that was only noticeable because of my great familiarity with the song. Most all listeners will enjoy how the headphones sound, and if you want to make minor adjustments, you can within the Sennheiser app.
Can I use the Sennheiser HD 450BT for phone calls?
You can use this headset for phone calls in the same way you can use a spoon to dig holes: it gets the job done, but most would grab a shovel if given the chance.
Oddly enough, the dual beamforming microphones amplify bass notes which deviates from typical headset microphones. This bass emphasis results in the proximity effect, which is when bass notes are amplified and distorted as a speaker gets too close to the microphone. Most headphones go the opposite route and apply a high-pass filter to the microphone system to combat this effect. Take a listen and judge for yourself.
Sennheiser HD 450BT microphone demo:
Sennheiser PXC 550-II vs Sennheiser HD 450BT
Let’s not waste time: the Sennheiser PXC 550-II is better than the HD 450BT in virtually every way, save for the price. Even then, the extra $50 affords superior noise cancelling, a great microphone array, and more comfortable, spacious ear cups. Battery life is excellent, and we recorded just under 22 hours of playback on a single charge. Charging the PXC 550-II is the worst part of the experience, because it has a microUSB input instead of USB-C. It doesn’t support fast charging, so you’ll need to set aside a couple of hours for a complete top-up.
The Sennheiser PXC 550-II combines tactile button controls with touch gestures for comprehensive control. This hybrid system is much easier to use than the crowded buttons and sliders found on the HD 450BT.
Both headsets use Bluetooth 5.0 firmware and support the same Bluetooth codecs for high-quality streaming. If the battery dies on either headset, you can always revert back to wired listening; each pair of Sennheiser headphones has a 2.5mm headphone jack. Another similarity is that they each have a dedicated button for smart assistant access.
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Unless you need the modern comfort of a USB-C charging input, the Sennheiser PXC 550-II is the better value.
Should you buy the Sennheiser HD 450BT?
The Sennheiser HD 450BT are very good headphones for the price, noise cancelling is good and sound quality is great—very rare at this price point. Like any product, these headphones aren’t without their faults and may even be hard to justify when the Sennheiser PXC 550-II cost just a bit more. The PXC 550-II are much more comfortable, have a better mic, and offer more effective ANC that can be adjusted within the app. If someone in your life has below-average to average sized ears, though, the Sennheiser HD 450BT could be the perfect gift.
Flex your budget with the Sony WH-1000XM4
The Sony WH-1000XM4 cost more than double the Sennheiser HD 450BT, but are worth considering if you’re in it for the long haul. Sony’s headphones use AI technology and are the best noise cancelling headphones available. Battery life, while shorter than the Sennheiser HD 450BT, is very good and fast charging is supported. There may be fewer Bluetooth codecs supported by Sony’s headset, but it has LDAC which, when consistent, streams at a higher rate than aptX.
If you want to listen comfortably, the Sony WH-1000XM4 are great and second only to the Shure AONIC 50. Sound quality is very good and more neutral-leaning than its predecessor. Like the HD 450BT, the sound signature can be adjusted in the respective mobile app. Listeners who want their headsets to last for years to come should save up and throw down for the WH-1000XM4.
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Frequently Asked Questions
While the AKG N60NC Wireless are a really good pair of on-ears, they're still a pair of on-ears. This means that they rest on your ears instead of completely covering them. While we didn't mind this in our full review it's definitely something that you want to keep in mind as not everyone enjoys the way on-ears feel on the head.
Noise cancelling performance is very similar between the Sennheiser HD 450BT and Sony WH-CH700N, but the Sennheiser headphones do a slightly better job of cancelling out low-frequency noise. The default frequency response varies between the two headsets: Sony de-emphasizes bass, while Sennheiser amplifies low-bass and upper-midrange notes. Both mobile apps allow you to EQ the sound to your liking. Both headsets have completely plastic exteriors, though the Sennheiser HD 450BT seems a tad more durable. Ultimately, the headsets are very similar. If you prefer mic quality get the Sony WH-CH700N, and if you value ANC performance, get the Sennheiser HD 450BT. Alternatively, you may also want to consider the Sony WH-CH710N, which feature modern comforts like USB-C charging and a sleeker design.
Unfortunately, with some Bluetooth headphones, you can hear electrical interference from the integrated amplifier. This shouldn't be audible during music playback. While our purchased unit did not have this latent "hissing" sound, users have reported it. To remedy the issue, reset your headphones. If all else fails, contact Sennheiser support.