Premium active noise cancelling (ANC) headphones can rack up quite the bill, but you don’t want to cut too many corners as that’s when quality suffers. We’re looking at some ANC headsets: the Sony WH-CH710N and the Sennheiser PXC 550-II, both of which offer more than their price tags suggest. Let’s see whether Sennheiser or Sony reign as the mid-tier active noise cancelling champion.

Editor’s note: this versus was updated on October 13, 2020, to correct fast charging information for the Sennheiser PXC 550-II, and address price reductions for both headsets during Amazon Prime Day (region-specific).

The Sennheiser PXC 550-II have better build quality and controls

A picture of the Sony WH-CH710N noise cancelling headphones on a wooden balance board and green jacket

The Sony WH-CH710N sound good but have their own set of functionality quirks.

The Sony WH-CH710N are made of a lightweight plastic that doesn’t feel luxurious. To add insult to injury, this specific plastic amplifies sounds. If you bang your head against something while  wearing them, reverberations within the housing will produce an unpleasant pang. The ear cups can’t fold to compact the headphones, but they do swivel 90° to lie flat. One design aspect the Sony WH-CH710N have going for them is that they’re comfortable, because of their memory foam ear pads. The padding isn’t very deep, though, so you might feel the plastic that protects the drivers press against your ears, which can be uncomfortable.

See more: Best active noise cancelling headphones

The Sennheiser PXC 550-II are also made of lightweight plastic, but they are more compact and portable due to their foldable hinges. The sturdy headband is more likely to get uncomfortable because its padding isn’t as plush. Generally though, these are pretty comfortable even with glasses.

Both headsets have tactile buttons, but only the Sennheiser PXC 550-II has a touch pad. Regardless of the technology, you can control media playback, access your phone’s smart assistant, answer calls, and more from either headset. Sennheiser has a dedicated noise cancelling switch, so you can cycle between off, level one, and level two, while Sony’s headset just as an on/off button. For direct voice assistant access on the Sony headphones, you have to hold the multifunction button (between the volume buttons) for two seconds. Sennheiser’s headphones, however, have a dedicated smart assistant button.

Winner: Sennheiser PXC 550-II

The Sennheiser PXC 550-II support more Bluetooth codecs

A photo of the Sennheiser PXC 550-II noise cancelling headphones buttons located on the back of the right ear cup.

The Sennheiser PXC 550-II have several options for Bluetooth codecs, whereas the Sony WH-CH710N only support AAC and SBC.

The Sony WH-CH710N can be paired to Android devices via NFC, but to pair them with any other device you have to do so manually. They only support SBC and AAC, which is pretty strange considering LDAC is Sony’s own codec. This means that Android users are unable to stream consistent high-quality audio from the Sony WH-CH710N, because AAC is difficult for the Android system to process depending on your hardware.

The Sennheiser PXC 550-II, on the other hand, support SBC, aptX, aptX Low Latency, and AAC, so anyone can benefit from high-quality streaming. aptX Low Latency is great for anyone who streams video from their phone, because it does better job of synching up audio-visual transmission.

For high-quality Bluetooth audio on any device, get the Sennheiser PXC 550-II.

Both noise cancelling headphones support Bluetooth multipoint, so you can keep them connected to your phone and laptop at the same time. No matter which headset, only one source device may be usued for media playback while the other may only be used to monitor calls and notifications. Both headsets have Bluetooth 5.0 and allow you to plug in a headphone jack for wired listening.

Winner: Sennheiser PXC 550-II

Sony WH-CH710N vs Sennheiser PXC 550-II: Software features

Shot of the inside of the Sony WH-CH710N earcups on red book with brass pen.

The headband on the Sony WH-CH710N doesn’t fold down due to the lack of hinges, but the ear cups do rotate 90 degrees to lie flat.

The Sony WH-CH710N don’t have any remarkable software features, but that’s because they’re budget noise cancelling headphones. The noise cancelling is the software feature. That’s right, you can’t even adjust the EQ or noise cancelling level. Even still, you can cycle through ANC off, ANC on, and ambient listening—this amplifies external noise so you can remain aware of your surroundings.

If you download the Sennheiser app, however, you can access firmware updates for the PXC 550-II, toggle your noise cancelling settings, and EQ the sound signature of the headphones. There is also a Support by Sony app for the WH-CH710N, but you can only use it for downloading firmware updates.

Winner: Sennheiser PXC 550-II

Noise cancelling on the Sennheiser PXC 550-II is more effective

If you’re in the market for active noise cancelling headphones, chances are you want good quality noise cancelling. Luckily, both the Sony WH-CH710N and Sennheiser PXC 550-II are pretty solid in this department.

An attenuation chart depicting the Sennheiser PXC 550-II noise cancelling performance overlaid atop the passive isolation performance; low-frequency sounds are heavily attenuated and sound 1/2 as loud as they sound sans-ANC.

Low-frequency sounds are heavily attenuated and sound 1/2 as loud as they sound sans-ANC, making the PXC 550-II a great option for air travelers and commuters.

The PXC 550-II are more effective at attenuating noise across the whole frequency spectrum. This includes the low frequencies where engine rumbles fall, making these ‘phones excellent for taking on planes. Midrange frequency reduction makes the PXC 550-II great for drowning out chatter.

Isolation graph showing the active noise cancelling of the Sony WH-CH710N which do a good job cancelling sound under 300Hz.

The Sony WH-CH710N do a solid job attenuating noise that most people should be fine with while commuting or traveling.

The Sony WH-CH710N still have good active noise cancelling, but more unwanted sound is going to leak in. Passive isolation, isn’t nearly as good with the WH-CH710N as it is with the Sennheiser PXC 550-II, which of huge importance: good isolation is key for top-notch ANC. The better the passive isolation performance is, the less work has to be done by the noise cancelling processor.

For the same price as the Sony headphones, the Sennheiser PXC 550-II definitely take the cake for ANC.

Winner: Sennheiser PXC 550-II

The Sony WH-CH710N have monster battery life

Man holding Sony WH-CH710N in hand with focus on the inputs on the left earcup with a green jack in the background

The left ear cup of the WH-CH710N houses a USB-C input for charging, while the PXC 550-II uses microUSB.

The Sony WH-CH710N charge via USB-C and last 41 hours, 35 minutes on a single charge with ANC enabled, which is pretty insane. They also support quick charging, and 10 minutes of charging  affords one hour of playback.

The Sennheiser PXC 550-II last 21 hours, 58 minutes with ANC enabled. This isn’t bad, quite the contrary, it’s just nothing close to the Sony headset. They support fast charging via the microUSB cable: 10 minutes of connection supplies 90 minutes of listening. If you listen with the wire and ANC enabled, you’re afforded 30 hours of playback.

Winner: Sony WH-CH710N

Sony WH-CH710N vs Sennheiser PXC 550-II: Sound quality

We wouldn’t be doing consumer audio justice if we forgot to talk about sound quality. Sony and Sennheiser have a different approach to sound between these two headsets, and while we’ll tell you which is objectively better, your subjective taste may prefer the other.

A chart depicting the Sennheiser PXC 550-II frequency response which is neutral-leaning across the bass and midrange spectrum.

Sound reproduction tightly follows the line of platonic ideal up until upper-midrange frequencies, making this a great headset for traveling audiophiles.

Sennheiser is known for its high-fidelity sound, and that holds true with the PXC 550-II. The frequency response is neutral up until the 2kHz mark. The 32mm dynamic drivers  reproduce bass and midrange frequency with great accuracy, so you can enjoy any genre of music and it will sound good.

If you’re someone who really craves bass emphasis, you can EQ the sound signature in the Sennheiser app. Taking your personal adjustments too far can introduce auditory masking or even harmonic distortion into your music, though. For raw sound quality, get the Sennheiser PXC 550-II.

Frequency response graph of the Sony WH-CH710N showing slight emphasis in the low end along with an underemphasis of the mids and highs above 1000Hz

The frequency response sounds fine but doesn’t do any justice to vocals or any instruments that reside in the highs like cymbals and hi-hats.

Sony also typically has pretty good sound quality, but the Sony WH-CH710N sound signature is a little wacky. They have that consumer-friendly bass boost, but the dip in the mid-high frequencies causes a bit of a reduction in vocal clarity and intelligibility, especially during instrumentally busy moments. This shouldn’t be too much of an issue, especially for listeners coming from cheaper headphones, but the Sennheiser headphones sound objectively better.

Unfortunately you can’t EQ the WH-CH710N sound signature, so you get what you get.

Winner: Sennheiser PXC 550-II

The Sennheiser PXC 550-II has a great microphone

The Sennheiser PXC 550-II microphone has noise cancelling built in, and it does a really good job of reducing ambient noise. In the voice demo below, Lily has the fan on and it’s hardly audible as she stands just a meter or so away. The quality in general is also pretty good and your voice won’t come out sounding compressed or muffled.

The Sony WH-CH710N, on the other hand, compresses your voice a bit more, and you can definitely tell the difference between the section Adam recorded with the AC on and without. Check out the two microphone samples here to listen to what each headset’s mic sounds like with and without background noise.

Sony WH-CH710N microphone demo:

Sennheiser PXC 550-II microphone demo:

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Winner: Sennheiser PXC 550-II

Which should you buy, the Sony WH-CH710N or the Sennheiser PXC 550-II?

A photo of the Sennheiser PXC 550-II noise cancelling headphones hanging in front of a fence and plants.

The Sennheiser PXC 550-II are stellar for the price.

The Sennheiser PXC 550-II are a more portable set of headphones, offer more Bluetooth codecs, have more software features, better noise cancelling, better sound quality, and better microphone quality. That’s a lot of pros!

As of October 13, 2020, the Sennheiser PXC 550-II feature a temporarily reduced price of $219 USD, which is a very good deal. however, the Sony WH-CH710N can be had for just $88 USD during Prime Day. If you don’t want to stretch your budget, Sony’s headphones are very good, but Sennheiser’s are great.

The affordable ANC headphones market has come far in the past few years. Ultimately, you’ll be happy with either headset.

If you have a little more to spend, get the Sony WH-1000XM4

Man holding Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones in front of green plants

The Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones opt for a slightly thinner headband than the previous model.

If you’re let down by the Sony WH-CH710N, check out the Sony WH-1000XM4. The Sony WH-1000XM4 are some of the best active noise cancelling headphones on the market. They offer a slew of features including Bluetooth multipoint, automatic ear detection, ambient noise mode which can be activated by cupping the ear cup, and speak-to-chat functionality. They also have excellent sound quality that can be equalized in the Sony Headphones Connect app.

If you’re willing to stretch your budget quite a bit more, these are worth it for the long-term.

Read next: Sony WH-1000XM4 vs Sennheiser PXC 550-II

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