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 reigns as the mid-tier active noise cancelling champion.
Editor’s note: this versus was updated on August 16, 2021, to match style with SoundGuys’ current standards.
The Sennheiser PXC 550-II has better build quality and controls
The Sony WH-CH710N is 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 has going for it is that it’s comfortable, because of its 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 is also made of lightweight plastic, but is more compact and portable due to its foldable hinges. The sturdy headband is more likely to get uncomfortable because its padding isn’t as plush. Generally though, it is 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 has 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.
The Sennheiser PXC 550-II supports more Bluetooth codecs
The Sony WH-CH710N can be paired to Android devices via NFC, but to pair it with any other device you have to do so manually. It only supports 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.
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The Sennheiser PXC 550-II, on the other hand, supports 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 used 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.
Sony WH-CH710N vs Sennheiser PXC 550-II: Software features
The Sony WH-CH710N doesn’t have any remarkable software features, but that’s because it’s a budget pair of 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.
Related: Sony WF-1000XM4 review
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.
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.
The PXC 550-II is more effective at attenuating noise across the whole frequency spectrum. This includes the low frequencies where engine rumbles fall, making this headset excellent for taking on planes. Midrange frequency reduction makes the PXC 550-II great for drowning out chatter.
The Sony WH-CH710N still has 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 is 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 takes the cake for ANC.
The Sony WH-CH710N has monster battery life
The Sony WH-CH710N charges via USB-C and lasts 41 hours, 35 minutes on a single charge with ANC enabled, which is pretty insane. It also supports quick charging, and 10 minutes of charging affords one hour of playback.
The Sennheiser PXC 550-II lasts 21 hours, 58 minutes with ANC enabled. This isn’t bad, quite the contrary, it’s just nothing close to the Sony headset. It supports 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.
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 can tell you which sound fits which standard the best, your subjective taste may prefer the other.
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.
Sony also typically has pretty good sound quality, but the Sony WH-CH710N sound signature is a little wacky. It has 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 better by our metrics.
Unfortunately you can’t EQ the WH-CH710N sound signature, so you get what you get.
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:
Which should you buy, the Sony WH-CH710N or the Sennheiser PXC 550-II?
The Sennheiser PXC 550-II is a more portable set of headphones, offers more Bluetooth codecs, has more software features, better noise cancelling, better sound quality, and better microphone quality. That’s a lot of pros! 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
If you’re let down by the Sony WH-CH710N, check out the Sony WH-1000XM4. The Sony WH-1000XM4 is some of the best active noise cancelling headphones on the market. It offers 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. It also has 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, it is worth it for the long-term.
Read next: Sony WH-1000XM4 vs Sennheiser PXC 550-II
Frequently Asked Questions
If you're looking for a budget pair of noise cancelling headphones, definitely no. The new Apple AirPods Max retail at $549. That being said, if you're looking for the best active noise cancelling in the industry and excellent sound quality, the AirPods Max will provide. They also have Apple's H1 chip integration, memory foam ear pads, 40mm dynamic drivers, Spatial Audio, Adaptive EQ, Transparency Mode, and a few other creature comforts. If these are features that intrigue you, it may be worth saving up for these pricier headphones. However, if you're not partial to the Apple universe, you should check out the Sony WH-1000XM4—they're an excellent pair of ANC headphones and cost about $200 less.