Review - Sennheiser HD 4.5 BTNC (Bluetooth / Noise-cancelling) Headphones
This review of the Sennheiser HD 4.5 BTNC was done over a 30 day period with office, air travel and walking involved (not that much walking if we're honest...).
Sennheiser are not new to the wireless Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphones scene. Their early models like the PXC 250 (and then PXC 250-II) are legendary and the PXC 550 sit at the higher end of their wireless ANC offering. Now they enter with a very aggressive take at the Noise-cancelling headphones market. The Sennheiser HD 4.5 BTNC wireless headphones surprised everyone when they entered the market at well under $300. So how do they perform, and how to they sound?
To start with performance and sound quality it's hard not to answer the question on everyone's lips - how do they compare to the Bose QC35? As an owner of the QC35 headphones, it's easy for me to make some obvious comparisons. I tried both these units on a recent flight to Southeast Asia. 11 hours in the air so let me get these comparisons out of the way early:
Sennheiser HD 4.5 BTNC vs Bose QC35
- Battery - can't complain about either of them.
- Comfort - 35's are lighter and fit lighter/wider around the head. The HD 4.5's sit tighter on the ears and don't feel fully circumaural as they don't quite accommodate my typical, and below average sized ears (The HD 4.5 are closed circumaural ear cups).
- Accessories - the Bose hard case and inbuilt slot for an aeroplane adapter plug are a step up...but is it worth $150 step up? Not really. You can get a cheap hard case online for the Sennheisers.
- Sound quality - honestly...the Sennheiser just feel more musical and the bass is more enjoyable (tighter) for me. The Bose have a wider, more spacious sound but not as punchy. It's not that I don't like the Bose, I just like the Sennheiser better.
- Noise-cancelling - QC35's win on this one. The Sennheiser with NoiseGard™ is good - just not as good as the QC35s. See below for more about the noise-cancelling qualities as this isn't the be-all that ends-all.
- Build Quality - the Sennheiser are really nice. The QC25's I had broke and I always worry the QC35's will also - they haven't yet but they are so light it's almost uncomfortable sometimes. The HD 4.5 BTNC feel really nice and give me more confidence in their ability to last the distance.
- Did we miss anything?
To be honest - if you travel only occasionally and spend a lot of time listening to music on the bus, in the office or just getting places, then the HD 4.5's are just awesome.
We mentioned above the Noise-cancelling on the HD 4.5 is not as good as the Bose QC35. The point we need to make here is that is really only a big deal if you are a travelling aeroplane warrior. If you travel on planes from time to time then the ANC on these things is plenty. And if you are listening in the office etc they are perfect. The QC35 have an ability to create a kind of passive nausea when you enable the ANC, like entering an audio vacuum chamber. The HD 4.5's are much less severe but still create a really nice escape from the noise around you. It's comfortable and effective.
The HD 4.5 come with all the expected on-ear cup controls. There is the power on button (which doubles as the enter pairing mode button), the volume up down button, and the track forward skip - pause - back skip button. The right ear cup has the controls on it and also includes the audio cable plug and USB charging port.
Phone Calls and Controls
You can use the HD 4.5 to receive and make phone calls. If you have an office or home environment where talking out loud with headphones on is realistic then have at it, but for most people, this just isn't realistic so we think the world has a way to go with Bluetooth headphones before they are really great for phone calls in the wild. In private these work just fine.
The buttons on the ear cup allow you adjust volume, answer calls and hang up on calls with ease. You can redial and reject calls and if you want to you can activate your voice controls dependent on your phone type.
Connecting the HD 4.5
- Pairing via Bluetooth was easy and worked every time. These include aptX of course.
- You can also use NFC to pair if you have an NFC device.
- If Bluetooth is unavailable then you can use the included audio cable (2.5mm to 3.5mm) to connect the old fashioned way. The headphones power down when you plug in which saves you all the power.
We used these up to about 4 hours in single sessions. If you have a big head or big ears then it's possible you might find these a little uncomfortable after many hours of use. We expected these to be more uncomfortable than they were but found even after long periods it wasn't too bad. I don't think we would enjoy 10 hours+ use comfortably but for >5 hours you'll be great.
These headphones are a great size. Without the big heavy case you can slip them in your bag really easlily which is very attractive. They also feel really nice sitting around the neck which is something we normally dislike - with these we wanted to walk around with them on our neck when getting more latte's or wandering around trying to look busy and important.
There is no doubt you lose a little quality in the ANC, but that is true for any unit boasting ANC. We walked through most of the typical playlists we enjoy testing with - from Heavy Screamo to Jazz, R&B, Hip Hop and Pop. These performed admirably with everything except heavy, heavy screamo/metal. The reason for this is the headphones bring a lot of the sound tight together so the guitars and multi layered sounds on similar frequencies blend together a little bit and you lose some crunch in the guitars - lacks a little edge you want in a distorted guitar. It's not to say it's unpleasant, just less enjoyable than passive Cans you might have. If you are commuting and hard core is your vibe then these are still a good choice; you can keep the volume down and still enjoy your dark heavy recessive riffing. 🤘
With all other genres, we really felt these did a good job. Nice, tight, impactful bass that will please the masses (but not bass-heads). The mids are very balanced with the highs so nothing stands out of place but rather sits nicely on a flat line together. We never felt any fatigue listening, even for 4-5 hour sessions. They were pleasant to continually listen to.
Bottom line - if you're not an audiophile then you'll have little to complain about.
In the Box
The headphones come in the retail box with a soft zip up case, headphone audio cable (for non-Bluetooth use with a good old-fashioned cable), charging cable, instruction manual.
They boast 25 hours and while we plan to test them on a 17 hour flight later this month, we expect they will be true to that claim. And even if they don't quite make 25 hours - it's not a big deal. If you can't find a few minutes to charge your headphones within 25 hours of use then you are an extremely rare case user.
Conclusion on the Sennheiser HD 4.5 BTNC Headphones
Here is who we think the perfect customer for the HD 4.5 BTNC is. If you have less than $350 (these punch above their price (>$270) for sure - build quality and audio quality alone warrant more than the price tag), if you listen in the office, gaming, commuting or when wandering the streets and sucking back latte's at coffee shops and you are looking for a great set of headphones. If you want Cans that are a great quality of build, that are not bass shy (nor heavy), that are fun to listen to and include the big fat bonus of Active Noise-cancellation then these are for you. 100% these are a headphone for everybody who wants Sennheiser ANC quality but can't afford the high end of options. If you're wanting to get Cans you'll have for a few years and enjoy all the way - these are them.
Sennheiser have done a superb job of meeting the 'just-affordable' end of the ANC headphone market with the HD 4.5's and we'd happily recommend them. You might lose a little audio joy in the ANC but the benefits of the ANC is worth it for the typical user.
View more photos and info of the HD 4.5 BTNC from Sennheiser.