|Sennheiser PXC-300 headphones|
Headphones are all around us. They are perhaps one of the most ubiquitous audio device we see, and much of it has to do with the proliferation of iPods and free headsets that aren't worth a dime. Many music listeners would struggle without a good pair of headphones, and anyone who has owned a music device (or notebook) that came with a free pair of earbuds or headphones knows how terrible the sound quality is. Good sound equipment is generally paired with high price, and that means getting a good pair of headphones may cost as much as the music player itself.
The affordable Sennheiser PXC-300 over the ear headphones were on the top three list for me. My alternatives were the new Bose QuietComfort 3 (QC3) and the Sony MDR-NC11. I was only seriously considering a set with noise-canceling technology because I already have wonderful sound system for home listening. I knew that I couldn't get audiophile quality sound from a noise-canceling set, but I would rather not hear the people at the next desk chatting: in other words, I needed something that would be of use to me at the University library. I had experience with noise canceling in-ear headphones, but they never really worked for my ears. I was forced to throw away a pair of Phillips HNC-60 headphones since they just stopped working after a year. My choice had come down to the Bose QC3 and the Sennheisers, since I didn't want an in-ear set anymore – so the Sony was out. I found the Bose QC3 to be a bit too colored for my taste, as much of the mid-range was squashed out to accommodate for the superb bass levels it has. Plus, the Bose was well over twice the price of the Sennheiser.
I purchased this set on Amazon.com last December for $110 + free shipping through Amazon's Super Saver Shipping Policy. Competing offers online and in specialty stores were in the $150-200 range.
Included zippered hard case (view large image)
It's a bit unfair to compare the in-ear Sony headset to the other two over the ear headphones. The Sony is not in the same class as the Bose and Sennheiser, due to the fact that it blocks sound just by entering the ear canal. Here are the PXC300, the Bose QC3, and Sony NC11 compared.
|Sony MDR-NC11||Bose QuietComfort 3||Sennheiser PXC-300|
|Cable Length||5.0 ft.||5.0 ft.||4.5 ft.|
|Battery||AAA (1)||Proprietary Li-Ion Pack||AAA (2)|
|Battery Life (Theoretical)||40 hrs||20 hrs||80 hrs (50 hrs real)|
|Response Frequency||10 - 22000 Hz||N/A||10 - 21000 Hz|
|Impedance||16 Ohms||N/A||300 Ohms|
|Weight||1.7 oz||5.6 oz||2.3 oz|
|Price||79 $USD||349 $USD||110 $USD|
As you can see, Bose keeps a lot of their technical data to themselves. It's also worth noting that prices are really variable for all brands, except Bose. For those who do not know about the technical information about audio equipment, here is a bit of explanation. Frequency response is simply the range of sounds the equipment can produce. Keep in mind that the human ear, on average, can only hear in the 20 – 20,000 Hz range. Impedance for audio equipment (for our purposes) explains, in technical terms, how much amplification the sound will have: the lower the impedance, the more likely you will be able to really crank up the music to high volume. This explains why the PXC-300's cannot have tremendously high volume, and why (as you will see below), the bass is fairly weak.
Sennheiser makes lower end models of the same PXC series. The PXC-250 is the older model, and has a soft-case instead of a hard-one. It is largely the same technologically as the 300's, although some reports say that the 300's have less of a noise-canceling background hiss. The PXC-150 costs much less.
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The PXC-300's are made well. They are very light compared to the Bose. Moreover, they fold easily and get tucked into the provided, sturdy case with ease. The headphones are also fairly comfortable over the ear. They will take a few days to break in, since the band is made of metal.
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Unfortunately, the 300's do not have an in-line volume control. This is a feature I should have looked into before purchasing, because I realized only later how important it was for me on the go. I listen to a variety of music, and the volume levels need constant changing. My workaround for this was to buy a third-party in-line volume control.
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The Sennheisers are very light because the noise canceling apparatus is located separately from the headphone-speaker portion. The PXC-300s have a five inch box on the cord that tags along annoyingly. The one sour point of the Sennheisers is that the box is cumbersome and odd looking. Luckily the included belt strap is adjustable for those who may have a use for it. The batteries are housed inside the box.
One great feature of the Sennheiser is that the headphone folds up flat to be stored away in the included zipper case. This is great for traveling, since the whole thing takes up much less space than one might expect.
The box features a status light for noise canceling. It blinks when the battery is low and needs replacing. According to Sennheiser, the battery life of the two AAA batteries (your first pair included) is around 80 hours. I find that a more reasonable number is around 50 hours.
“NoiseGuard Noise Canceling Circuitry – Block up to 75% Unwanted Noise”
The key here is “up-to.” That's the key to all noise canceling ads, including the Bose models. While much of constant and annoying sound is blocked, don't expect anything phenomenal. Your imagination of noise canceling will not do justice to the current state of the technology. However, it is a boon to have this on-flight, where noise becomes exceedingly annoying. I have found that the PXC-300's could be great just to shut off the sound and go to sleep.
“80 Hours of Battery Life”
Once again, it's really wishful thinking. A more accurate estimate here is around 50 hours, as I mentioned before. Luckily, the Sennheisers will work as great headphones even when the batter is exhausted, or if the noise canceling circuit fails.
Sound Quality Analysis Opinion
Like most noise canceling headphones, there will be an ambient hiss when music isn't playing and the noise canceling circuit is on. All tests were done with noise canceling circuitry on, and on Ogg Vorbis files encoded at 192 kbps.
The next portion is completely subjective, and may be skipped for those who just want factual information about the PXC-300. Here, I test various musical genres and discuss the sound. I primarily listen to the first three genres, so the Rock & Pop section may be a bit unsatisfying.
This is my standard fare, and is tremendously useful for testing new audio equipment. Western classical music tends to cover the entire musical gamut, and this is especially true of orchestral works. I used Beethoven's “Eroica” Symphony #3 (the Collegium Aureum recording from the 80's) to test the sound quality, and usually that's all I need to know if a speaker or headphone is worth buying. The initial chords in the first two bars of the work were sharp and delightful. Enjoyment continued through the entrance of the string section and horns...and to the end.
If one isn't an audiophile, and wants to know if a pair of headphones (or speakers) are “good,” then listening to Glenn Gould's piano works by Bach or Liszt is an easy litmus test. If you can hear Gould humming the melody in the background, you know that the sound reproduction is very loyal – also known as high fidelity. The Sennheisers passed gloriously.
Although I could go on, suffice it to say that the Sennheisers fared very well for classical music.
It becomes a bit more difficult to assess stereo equipment using jazz, since the genre has gone through an umpteen number of transformations. I mostly listen to jazz from the 1940s-1970's, so the stuff I am writing about is bop and post-bop.
I first wanted to hear John Coltrane. I played Giant Steps, cliched as it is, to hear how the Sennheisers deal with rapid changes in sound and arpeggios. Coltrane and Rollins sounded great, and so did Clifford Brown. Both the lead and rhythm sections were clearly distinguishable on the Sennheisers.
This isn't a musical genre. I just made it up in order to bunch up a lot of music I listen to, most of which is purely acoustic. Keep in mind that this is a huge category, and much of what most people listen to has some acoustic aspect to it. By acoustic, I mean there isn't any help from electricity to make the music by the players and/or singers.
Without going to into many details, I tried out traditional aboriginal music of Australia (some vocal), folk music of Europe, West African drumming, and classical Indian music (also some vocal). The reproduction was expectedly decent, although bass was severely lackluster.
This genre works well with the Sennheisers. Although it is fairly bass oriented, it was not enough to ruin the experience. Listening to pieces by Ray Charles and Taj Mahal was a wonderful experience, for example.
The Sennheisers are arguably weak in this area. I chose to play some pieces that were strong in bass – such as AC/DC's “Givin The Dog a Bone,” or Herbie Hancock's “Beat Wise.” These pieces are strong in bass, and were tolerable when played, but they didn't have the power that one might feel on the Bose QC3.
Unfortunately, I am not qualified to judge sound reproduction of genres such as rap, reggae, hip-hop and mainstream popular music. I hear that these genres rely heavily on bass, and therefore may (possibly) be in line with my notes on Rock music.
Noise canceling headphones are NOT audiophile quality, nor will they be in the near future. The audio purist will need a pair of good non-canceling headphones. Sennheiser makes high end audio equipment for just this reason. Noise canceling works really well for low-range, constant sounds. These might include the thrum of a refrigerator or the noise of a jet engine. Many people mistakenly think that noise canceling headphones will block out sudden sounds, and they don't. The portability and convenience of noise-canceling will be of use for those on the go; especially travelers who are in a plane or train for their commute.
The Sennheisers are superb for people who listen to classical, acoustic music, vocal, and other genres focused on mid and high ranges. This is why I purchased them. It is probably not suitable for those who listen to rap, hip-hop, and mainstream pop music where bass is of primary importance.
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