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Sony WH-1000XM4 vs Sennheiser PXC 550-II
Sony and Sennheiser are two companies whose brands are synonymous with great audio products. In recent years both companies have introduced some of the best active noise canceling headphones around, but let’s zoom in on the Sony WH-1000XM4 and the Sennheiser PXC 550-II. Both were highly anticipated and offer superb active noise canceling, but which one is right for you?
Editor’s note: this versus article was updated on May 30, 2022, to reflect the fact that the Sennheiser PXC 550-II has been discontinued, posit the Sony WH-1000XM4 as the preferred alternative, and include links to articles comparing the newer Sony WH-1000XM5 to the Sony WH-1000XM4 and the Apple AirPods Max.
Do Sony or Sennheiser’s headphones have better features?
In typical Sennheiser fashion, the PXC 550-II focuses less on flashy bells and whistles and more on nailing the basics. It isn’t absent of features, though: you can enjoy bells and whistles in the Sennheiser Smart Control app (available on iOS and Google Play). You can assign either Amazon Alexa or the Google Assistant to the dedicated voice assistant button, enable call enhancement, or toggle smart pause functionality. Smart pause automatically pauses and resumes media playback when the headphones are removed or worn. You’re also able to control the basics and can EQ your music and tweak your noise canceling preferences, but I’ll dig deeper into those features in their appropriate sections below.
The Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones offer most of the same features as the Sennheiser PXC 550-II, and then some. Aside from also having a voice assistant button, an option to EQ your music in the Sony Headphones Connect app, and an auto-pause feature when you remove the headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM4 also has a speak-to-chat feature. When this is enabled, music automatically pauses if the mic detects your voice. In my full review, I found this to be more of a gimmick as it was too sensitive for my liking. Simply chuckling while listening to a podcast caused playback to automatically pause.
The WH-1000XM4 also supports passthrough mode, which lowers the volume of your music and allows external noise in when you cup your hand to the left ear cup. This is helpful if you’re commuting or on a plane and need to hear an announcement. One cool feature that you’ll only find on the Sony cans is Sony’s 360 Reality Audio compatibility. This is similar to Dolby Atmos, and each channel is re-engineered as an audio object that may move freely around you in 3D space. The end result is a more immersive experience. Keep in mind that you need to be subscribed to a high-quality streaming service like Tidal or Deezer to take advantage of it.
Both pairs of headphones use a combination of buttons and touch gestures for playback control, which requires some getting used to. Once you get the controls down, you shouldn’t have too many issues or accidental pauses.
Does the Sony WH-1000XM4 or Sennheiser PXC 550-II have better Bluetooth codec support?
While both headphones offer many of the latest specs, the Sennheiser PXC 550-II has a slight lead when it comes to overall connectivity. Not only is it rocking Bluetooth 5.0, but it also supports more high-quality Bluetooth codecs than the Sony headphones. If you pick up the PXC 550-II you can expect SBC, aptX, aptX low latency, and AAC support. The Sennheiser PXC 550-II also has Bluetooth multipoint which lets you connect to two devices simultaneously. While it generally works, Lily experienced hiccups while switching between her computer and mobile phone during her full review.
The Sony WH-1000XM4 also uses Bluetooth 5.0, and supports SBC and AAC, but they ditch aptX in favor of Sonys’ own LDAC codec. While LDAC offers a technically higher bitrate than aptX, it does so at the cost of connection stability. You’ll also get multipoint support if you go with the WH-1000XM4, but it only works if you use the AAC codec.
It’s worth mentioning here that in our testing AAC doesn’t play well with Android. Meanwhile, iOS devices are only compatible with AAC and SBC. If you plan on using an iOS device this might not matter to you, because both headphones support AAC. Android users, however, should take into consideration which Bluetooth codecs they prefer, and whether or not said codec provides the experience you’re after. On the bright side, both pairs of headphones have a headphone jack so you can plug in a standard 3.5mm audio cable.
Does the Sony WH-1000XM4 have better noise canceling than the PXC 550-II?
If you’re looking for top-tier active noise canceling (ANC) then the Sony WH-1000XM4 should be your pick. The previous version, the WH-1000XM3, was already the king of active noise canceling headsets and the new WH-1000XM4 is even better.
Looking at the graph above gives a good idea of what to expect from this pair of headphones. The blue line represents the noise canceling performance, and the higher it is, the more noise is cancelled at the corresponding frequency. For the Sony WH-1000XM4, that line is best in class. You can see a large peak between 200-500Hz, which is where most humming sounds lie; these sounds are dramatically quieted by the time they reach your ears. It even does a great job at removing sounds below 100Hz, and outperforms other headphones in this space.
Both headphones offer the option to tweak noise canceling intensity via their respective apps. The Sennheiser PXC 550-II and the Sony WH-1000XM4 offer adaptive noise canceling, which automatically adjusts the strength of the ANC depending on your environment. They each also offer a unique noise canceling feature that can only be accessed in their respective apps. In the Sony Headphones Connect app you can calibrate the noise canceling to your environment which can be helpful if you find yourself on a plane. Meanwhile, in the Sennheiser Smart Control app you can select the anti-wind ANC mode for when you find yourself outdoors.
The Sony WH-1000XM4 may be best in class, but the noise canceling in the Sennheiser PXC 550-II is still decent. While the noise canceling isn’t as strong in the 200-500Hz range as the WH-1000XM4 is, it’s still great at blocking out annoying hums lower than around 100Hz. In her full review, Lily noted that the ANC isn’t strong enough to completely isolate against construction noises but performs admirably when it came to the drill that was being used to install her apartment doors.
Does the Sennheiser PXC 550-II has better battery life than the Sony WH-1000XM4?
Testing battery life is about as easy as it gets, and the Sennheiser PXC 550-II technically comes out on top. Sennheiser claims that you’ll get about 20 hours on a single charge with ANC turned on, but in our testing, it lasted exactly 21 hours, 58 minutes. The PXC 550-II isn’t perfect and comes with its own sets of issues. It charges via microUSB which is an issue, but at least it supports fast charging: 10 minutes of connection supplies 90 minutes of playback. While this pair of headphones is less expensive than the WH-1000XM4, it still isn’t cheap. The fact that it doesn’t come with a more modern USB-C charging input is a drawback.
On the other hand, the Sony WH-1000XM4 has both a USB-C input for charging and a quick charge feature that gives five hours of playtime after just 10 minutes. In our testing the WH-1000XM4 headphones last exactly 19 hours, 59 minutes. To test both of these headphones we made sure to max out ANC and play music at a constant output of 75dB. It’s worth mentioning that while 20 hours is still an impressive number, the WH-1000XM4 technically doesn’t perform as well as the Sennheiser PXC 550-II. This is even more surprising when you consider that the previous WH-1000XM4 tallied an impressive 24 hours of constant playback.
Does the Sennheiser or Sony headset sound better?
Picking between these two headphones based on sound quality is tough, because they both sound excellent. Bassheads won’t be too happy as both headphones have a neutral-leaning frequency response. This means audio reproduction is accurate, which can be off-putting to listeners accustomed to cheap headsets that greatly exaggerated low frequencies.
The good thing about headphones with a relatively flat frequency response is that it’s great for EQ tinkering. You don’t need to know how to equalize music to take advantage of this because both apps have a few presets you can choose from. While you can read the sound quality sections of the full reviews if you want to dig deeper into the details of sound quality, you really can’t go wrong with either one of these headphones.
Is the Sony WH-1000XM4 better for phone calls than the Sennheiser PXC 550-II?
Microphone quality is an important aspect of wireless headphones that often gets overlooked. We like to make this section simple and present you with two microphone samples, one from each headset. Let us know which one you think sounds best!
Sony WH-1000XM4 microphone sample (Ideal):
Sennheiser PXC 550-II microphone sample (Old):
Which do you think sounds better?
Should you buy the Sony WH-1000XM4 or Sennheiser PXC 550-II?
The Sennheiser PXC 550-II has been discontinued, so the Sony WH-1000XM4 is the only model currently available. It still boasts LDAC Bluetooth codec support and excellent ANC capabilities. Plus, now that the Sony WH-1000XM5 is here, the previous model is likely to be on sale.
That leaves the comparison between the new and old Sony cans. When it comes to these two flagship models, things get quite close. If you want the latest and greatest in noise canceling, then the WH-1000XM5 is it, but be aware you’ll spend a pretty penny. You’ll also get a quite improved microphone and a sleeker, more modern design. For an in-depth look at these headsets, check out our full comparison.
Apple is hitting the ground running with its first pair of over-ear headphones: the AirPods Max. The company’s latest flagship audio accessory touts a slew of features that aim to compete with the likes of Sony and Sennheiser. The AirPods Max includes similar hybrid noise cancellation technologies that were originally introduced with the AirPods Pro, and the AirPods Max has the best raw noise canceling performance we’ve seen in headphones. Three outward-facing microphones are used to detect and attenuate ambient noise, while a single inwards-facing microphone monitors the sound reaching your ears, helping eliminate inner-ear resonances.
Other features that make the AirPods Max a contender in the noise canceling headphones market include its unique design, Adaptive EQ, Spatial Audio, Transparency Mode, fast charging, and a 20-hour battery life. That’s not to mention its sound quality is truly pristine. Of course, all these premium features come at a premium price tag, with the AirPods Max retailing at $549 USD.
Frequently asked questions about the Sony WH-1000XM4 vs Sennheiser PXC 550-II
The Sennheiser PXC 550-II has been discontinued. You might find it on clearance somewhere, but it’s not longer offered by major retailers or from Sennheiser.
While comfort is a subjective metric, we would say the Sony WH-1000XM4 and Sennheiser PXC 550-II are roughly on par with one another. The Sony WH-1000XM4 is slightly heavier than the Sennheiser PXC 550-II and Adam reported a bit of discomfort at the crown of his head when wearing the Sony cans for long periods of time. However, Lily reported a similar phenomenon when wearing the Sennheiser cans for too long a period. That isn’t to say that these are uncomfortable headphones—you will likely only experience discomfort if you wear them for several hours at a time.
The Sony WH-1000XM4 have superior noise canceling compared to the Sony WF-1000XM3 true wireless earbuds, but the WF-1000XM3 are still very good. These earbuds give the Apple AirPods Pro a run for their money, and the same granular EQ module used for Sony’s flagship headphones. Even if you aren’t a big fan of how in-ears fit, there’s a good chance you’ll find comfort with the WF-1000XM3 because Sony provides an array of ear tips, all of which vary in size and material. If you don’t have enough space in your bag for headphones, the Sony WF-1000XM3 are a great pair of noise canceling earbuds with few compromises.