Sennheiser has been one of the biggest names in audio for quite some time now, and this spring, they’re releasing not one but two new Bluetooth headphones: the HD350BT, and the subject of this review, the HD450BT.
To be honest, I’m never particularly excited to do reviews of Bluetooth headphones. It’s a market that’s packed with mediocre, samey products that usually aren’t particularly interesting no matter how good their sound quality is. That’s why I was surprised by the HD350BT when I first heard it yesterday – its sound was unique, though not for everyone; and its soundstage was incredible for a closed-back Bluetooth headphone at its price.
So I was hoping I would be assigned the Sennheiser HD450BT, and today, my dream came true. To an extent, the HD450BT possesses many of the same strengths as the 350BT, without some of the corresponding weaknesses. But it’s time to stop comparing the two and evaluate the HD450BT on its own strengths.
IN the BOX
The HD450BT possesses a fairly standard stable of accessories. My only gripe is that the included pouch could’ve been swapped for a hard case of some kind.
– USB-A to USB-C charger cable
– 3.5mm to 2.5mm cable (to run without Bluetooth)
– carrying pouch
– quick guide and safety guide
FIT and BUILD and FUNCTIONALITY
The Sennheiser HD450BT essentially looks identical to Sennheiser’s previous Bluetooth headphones, with some changes in coloration. The materials aren’t super high-quality, mostly plastic and rubber, but the headphones seem well-built and robust enough to survive being tossed around a little bit (though I wouldn’t recommend overdoing it…). I very slightly prefer the look of the white ones over the black ones, but whether you’ll agree, well… that’s up to you!
When it comes to fit, we run into an issue. The earcups of the HD450BT are rather small – not quite small enough to be on-ear, but small enough not to accept the entirety of my ears into the opening. The result is that they exist in a territory somewhere between on-ear and around-ear, which makes them rather uncomfortable for me. (Exacerbating the issue is the fact that my ears are slightly asymmetrical – I don’t want to be reminded of my aesthetic deficiencies!)
The headband is quite thin and lacking in padding, which improves portability. But it means that the headphones don’t envelop my skull, instead touching down on a specific spot. It’s not uncomfortable per se, but it does mean that the headphones never feel weightless – it’s always a slight distraction.
I noted that the HD350BT had some issues with sound changing in response to seal. I didn’t hear those issues as much here, thankfully.
The HD450BT also comes with active noise cancellation (ANC). While the ANC does work, it’s not very powerful – to the extent that I didn’t notice it upon first reviewing the headphones.
For years, Sennheiser has been releasing products that possess characteristics that will appeal to both audiophiles and less serious consumers. It’s a balancing act they’ve managed quite well, and it’s one that they continue to manage well with the HD450BT. This is a very carefully-tuned headphone that avoids many of the pitfalls of “audiophile tuning” (brightness, harshness, dryness) while retaining many of its benefits (detail, a natural character, good soundstage).
Although it does lack some of the distinctive characteristics that made the HD350BT such a fun headphone to review, this is undoubtedly a better-sounding headphone. But let’s get into the specifics.
A note: the HD450BT doesn’t get crazy loud, and for my tastes was a bit quiet for some of my classical music. Isolation, on the other hand, is pretty decent, though it doesn’t block out the world entirely.
The HD450BT’s bass hits hard when asked to, and fits in well with the rest of the sound signature. There is a little bit of bloat, as is to be expected, but no audible distortion. Overall, I can’t find much to say about the bass – it doesn’t possess any glaring flaws, and it’s overall well-executed and impactful.
The HD450BT’s mids are well-tuned and pretty close to neutral, with some deviations. First, they’re a little warm, and second, they’re a little laid-back. Most listeners, I imagine, will see both of these as positives. The downside? A little bit of clarity is lost – but not much: as I said, these are pretty neutrally-tuned headphones.
As with the cheaper HD350BT, the peak in the mids here seems to happen between 2 and 3kHz instead of the typical 4kHz, which may account for its laid-back nature. Shout was mercifully almost completely absent; these are never difficult to listen to the way even some of my best headphones can be.
Compared to the mids, I found the treble pretty muted. For some brighter genres, this is good, but when listening to classical music, I found myself looking for a sense of air and detail that the HD450BT refused to give me. It’s not that I was expecting amazing detail resolution here, but even so, I would’ve liked to hear a little bit more “air” in the sound.
However, this is easy enough to fix via equalization, and the treble is certainly capable of delivering detail once given a little kick in the pants.
Like the HD350BT, the HD450BT packs quite a nice soundstage for an open-back Bluetooth headphone. While there’s no exaggerated sense of distance, things sound quite accurately-placed around my head. Again, though, this is a closed-back headphone with some of the problems associated with closed-back headphones – there’s very slight ringing in the mids, so imaging is a little blurred at times.
Still, I think the HD450BT offers one of the better soundstages I’ve heard from a headphone of its type.
PROS and CONS
Pros: Natural tuning, wide soundstage, warmth, active noise cancellation
Cons: Recessed treble, small earcups, ANC isn’t that great
All is well over at Sennheiser, it seems. With the HD450BT, they’ve delivered another well-balanced, well-thought-out product. The HD450BT carries a tuning that will be quite appealing to most music listeners, especially those looking for a little more detail and spatial accuracy than can be offered by products from less audiophile-oriented companies.
Do I recommend the Sennheiser HD450BT? If you don’t mind a little warmth, and you have a spare $200, I’d certainly recommend checking them out.