As I have been reviewing more and more audio equipment one thing has become clear to me: you get what you pay for in the sound department. True, every now and then a lower-end audio product may surprise you but, as a general rule, the more you pay the more features and audio-quality you are going to find. Sure, this holds true in most areas, but I tend to find it is more apparent in the audio department than in other places.
That noted, I never imagine I would lust after a pair of headphones that cost just south of $600. Yes, the Sennheiser MM450 headphones have an MSRP of $589.95. Before we get into the review lets put that into perspective. The Bose QuietComfort 15 noise-cancelling headphones have an MSRP of $299.95. The company’s QuietComfort 3 headphones are $349.95. The thing is that I’ve tried both and am not a fan of either. They sound good enough, but the noise cancellation puts an unpleasant pressure on my ears that annoys the daylights out of me after just a few minutes. Instead, I have used a pair of old wired Sennheiser headphones that have an early form of noise-cancellation built-in. They sound and work well-enough, but I have always wanted something more. Ideally the headphones that would replace them would be usable wired OR wireless, have a microphone built-in and sound awesome. In other words, the headphones I was looking for are Sennheiser’s MM450 Travel headphones. In fact, that’s exactly what the company has to say on their website:
The MM 450 is the travel headset you have been waiting for.
I hate being predictable. But as previously noted, the MM 450s have an MSRP of $589.95 and that’s just insane right?
The MM450s cover a lot of ground. They function as both wired and wireless headphones, have active noise cancellation that removes 90% of ambient noise, include a microphone so they can let you place or take a phone call, and they let you chat with the people next to you without your having to remove them. As the company explains,
With the MM 450 you can switch between calls and music — delivered in superb stereo sound. NoiseGard 2.0 eliminates up to 90% of background noise for your most peaceful flight yet. A convenient TalkThrough function lets you carry a conversation with a seatmate at the push of a button.
The invisible high-performance microphone ensures that conversations are clear, making this headset the perfect all-in-one sound solution for the hottest digital device in your pocket.
Using a closed, on-the-ear design to block ambient noise, the MM 450 is an ideal companion for the frequent flier. Advanced DuoFol transducers provide the kind of detail and frequency response you would expect out of hi-fidelity audiophile speakers. The easy-to-use control panel is intuitive and simple enough to operate with your eyes closed– a common way of enjoying Sennheiser’s world-famous sound quality.
The MM 450 folds up for the ultimate in portability. The replaceable battery charges via USB or a wall adapter. For situations where Bluetooth is not permitted, you can use the included audio cable for a direct connection- making the MM 450 at home in any situation where a super quality headphone is required.
What’s in the Box:
The MM 450 headset
An audio cable with in-flight adapter (3.5mm double mono adapter)
A USB cable for charging
A wall charging adapter for charging
A carrying case
The MM450s are designed as travel headsets. For that reason they fold up quite nicely into a small package that is easy to carry and protects the hinges — the most vulnerable part of the unit. The included carrying case is quite nice and actually looks similar to the one I have from my wired pair, even those are years old.
Flipping the headphones over you will quickly see that they have a good degree of padding on both the earpieces and along the band that sits on your head. These are on-ear headphones and, as such, they need sufficient padding lest the be unbearably uncomfortable within a few minutes of use. Sennheiser did a great job here, as I find them quite comfortable for extended use, and since they arrived I have used them extensively.
The MM450s fold out for use within seconds. It is great to have a pair of travel headphones that are just as easy to stow as they are to pull out and start using.
On the left earpiece you’ll find the microUSB charging port hidden behind a small “door” of flexible rubber. A great feature of the MM450s is that you don’t NEED to charge them if you plan to use them with the included cord and don’t need the noise-cancellation. More on that shortly.
The battery is replaceable, which is great since it means that on a long flight you can keep a second battery handy and have noise-cancellation for the duration of the time you are in the air.
The right earpiece is where you’ll find the controls. In the center is a small input jack that lets you use the MM450s as a pair of wired headphones. The volume is lower when you do this since it is only using the amplifier on the attached device but it does sound quite good. One benefit of using the included cord is that you bypass some of the ongoing issues that exist with Bluetooth technology. For example, on their website Sennheiser actually includes this disclaimer:
Due to the nature of Bluetooth technology, users may experience a slight audio latency when watching video on a portable device. The headphones are working fine. This is a characteristic of all Bluetooth headsets. Latency is not an issue for audio-only use, OR when using the included detachable headphone cable for a wired audio connection when watching video.
Of course you also avoid having the flight attendant yell at you for using wireless headphones in flight. That, of course, is a “no-no”.
The Bluetooth button turns the Bluetooth on and off. This is important since BT tends to use battery life at a fairly aggressive rate. The button also serves as a control for the Voice Control built into many devices. It works perfectly with Apple’s Voice Control despite the current state of Apple’s offering in this area being horrid. It also glows when active.
On the opposite side of the cord input is the NoiseGuard button. As the company explains:
The NoiseGard active noise compensation system is based on the principle of cancelling out sound using “anti-sound” (phase-inverted sound). Tiny microphones pick up low-frequency ambient noise (up to 1 kHz) near the ear. The NoiseGard electronics use this noise to generate a sound wave which is the exact opposite (IE: at the same level but polarity reversed – 180° out-of-phase), the effect being that the polarity reversed signal cancels most of the outside noise.
The MM450s also feature a functionality that Sennheiser refers to as TalkThrough. As they explain:
The MM 450 headset has a TalkThrough function, which allows you to communicate with other people without having to remove the headset. When TalkThrough is activated, professional quality microphones mounted on the outside of the headset pick up all acoustic signals in the immediate vicinity. Annoying background noise, e.g. from turbine engines, is electronically filtered out, only allowing the voice of the other person to pass through the headset clearly.
To switch the NoiseGuard on you depress and hold the button for two seconds. To turn it off and conserve battery life you repeat the process. To turn the TalkThrough mode on you depress the button and release quickly. Repeating the process turns it off.
I have not flown with the MM450s, but I did try the noise cancellation and TalkThrough functionality out while standing by the dishwasher while it was at its noisiest point in the cycle and both worked quite well. Perhaps most importantly for me, unlike the offerings from Bose the noise cancellation on the MM450s didn’t make me want to throw them out the window after a few minutes.
The main portion of the right earpiece is where you will find all of the controls if you are using the MM450s as a Bluetooth headset to listen to music. Sennheiser did a great job of laying out the controls in an intuitive manner that literally took me three seconds to understand.
Between these controls and the Bluetooth button you can control audio, phone and pretty much anything else that Stereo A2DP Bluetooth supports. (I can only begin to imagine how useful this will be when iOS 5.0 is officially out and, hopefully has Nuance Voice to Speech technology fully baked into it.
Thus far I have discussed the technology behind the MM450s, the Bluetooth capabilities and the noise cancellation functionality. I haven’t discussed the audio quality coming from the headphones and, lets face it, that is where a product like this either makes the grade or falls apart.
So how do they sound? I love them and even my brother-in-law was impressed. Granted there are some immediate limitations to the sound you’ll find with a product like this including the limitations of Bluetooth and the fact that Apple’s devices aren’t known for high-fidelity. As a result, if you are an audiophile these may or may not make the cut for you. For someone like me who loves his music but is happy listening to his iPhone, touch, iPad or streaming music through a Sonos system these are fantastic. They sound rich, full and have plenty of bass and were more than satisfying for me.
Sennheiser NoiseGard™ 2.0 technology provides up to 90% active noise cancellation
TalkThrough function – Communication with seatmates without removing the headphones
Wireless freedom with Stereo A2DP Bluetooth®– hands-free convenience and hi-fi stereo sound
Discrete, invisible microphone is always out of the way
Direct cable option – listen as a wired headphone when Bluetooth is not permitted (note: mobile phone conversations require Bluetooth)
iPhone/iPod/iPad compatible, compatible with all 1/8″ (3.5mm) headphone plugs
Easy-to-use controls are within optimum reach and provide concise “click” feedback
World-famous Sennheiser acoustics from patented DuoFol transducer system
Plush ear cushions seal out ambient noise while maintaining luxurious comfort for hours on-end.
Collapsible headset stores in a compact footprint for convenient portability
Replaceable battery charges via USB port or supplied wall adapter
Connect everywhere – to mobiles, laptops, MP3 players, or in-flight entertainment systems with an all-in-one headset solution
Built-tough with a 2-year international warranty
So the MM450s are comfortable, packed with features and sound great. All that is well and good and, if they were $200-$300 they would be a no-brainer. Thing is, they aren’t in the $200-$300 range. No, the MM450s have an MSRP just south of $600. OUCH! So are they worth $589.95? At first I didn’t think so. In fact, the sticker-shock was so great at first that I didn’t WANT to like them. There are, after all, a loaner unit and I wasn’t in the mood to shell out $600 for headphones right now. $589.95; that’s the bad news. But there is good news. What is it? Simple, while that is the MSRP at Amazon you can get them right now for $379.99 [affiliate link]. That’s a much more reasonable price and, in my opinion worth the slight premium over the Bose QuietComforts.
The MM400s are still available from Amazon for $264.50 and the Sennheiser PSC310 BT (similar to the MM450s but without the microphone) are $302.98 at Amazon [affiliate links].
What I Like: Packed with features; Use corded or wireless; Bluetooth phone functionality; Excellent noise cancellation; Easy to control with excellent eyes-free layout for the controls; Comfortable for extended use; TalkThrough feature for use on airplanes etc; Very good sound; Removable battery
What Needs Improvement: Pricey; Sound very good to me but may leave a true audiophile wanting