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Sennheiser MM550 review

Sennheiser MM550 14We scored a hands-on, or perhaps that’s an ‘ears-on’, with the Sennheiser MM550 stereo Bluetooth noise-canceling headphones last month.   That quick listen got our eardrums all excited, and Sennheiser was kind enough to loan us an MM550 so that we could get better acquainted. For the specs and general info, check out our earlier hands-on with the MM550.  In this review we’ll dive into more detail on the physical, technical and sonic aspects of the MM550.

First impressions of the Sennheiser MM550

The MM550 is marketed and priced as an ultra-premium headset, so we were expecting something special when opening the brown FedEx box that arrived at theONbutton HQ. We were greeted by a smart looking store-friendly retail package, which was easy to open without a knife (yay!). Hiding inside was the MM550 itself and a soft pouch containing Sennheiser MM550 5a USB cable, headphone cable and charger with several international adaptors; Sennheiser really is expecting some serious jetsetters to buy this headset. Given the pricing of the MM550 and it’s billing as a do-everything set of cans, it’s good to see that Sennheiser included a good range of travel accessories.

The MM550 feels good to hold; for a closed back set of headphones the MM550 is light but evidently well made. The fitting mechanism on the headband is smooth and the headband itself has a decent amount of flex, giving the impression that it will be easy to get the MM550 to sit comfortably on the head. The ear arms fold inwards to make the MM550 more portable. The ear pads have a very soft cushion that closes around the ear helping to reduce ambient noise and making the MM550 handy in the cold, windy New York winter climate. The closed back design of course also allows for larger drivers to be placed within the ear pads.

The right ear pad houses all of the MM550’s controls; power/play/pause, track skip, volume, noise canceling, Bluetooth and the SRS WOW HD enhancer are all controlled from here. On the left ear pad a Sennheiser logo takes pride of place, presumably enclosing the MM550’s rechargeable battery. The micro-USB charging port is also on this ear pad.

Using the Sennheiser MM550

The MM550 paired without issue with the Samsung Epic 4G and BlackBerry Bold 9700.  Both of these smartphones support A2DP (stereo audio streaming over Bluetooth) and AVRCP (remote playback control over Bluetooth), so they were ideal candidates for testing the MM550.  In both cases, the MM550 technically functioned perfectly.  Playback and volume controls worked as expected, and I never needed to re-pair the MM550 during the testing period.

Sennheiser MM550 9Call quality on the MM550 was excellent, and the headset distinguished itself by being the only stereo Bluetooth headset I’ve used outdoors where callers say they can hear me clearly.  Due to the microphone’s placement all the way back at the ear, most stereo headsets have difficulty picking up spoken words.  The one issue I encountered outdoors however was that the microphone did pick up some street noises too prominently; callers still said they could hear me but that the street noises were also very audible in these cases.  Indoor call quality with the MM550 was excellent.  As you would expect, the MM550 interrupts music playback when an incoming call arrives and takes you back to the music when the call is over.

The noise-canceling features of the MM550 has been well thought through by Sennheiser’s engineers.  The MM550’s noise-canceling technology, called ‘NoiseGard 2.0’, does its business without introducing noticeable sound effects into the music.  That’s a bigger complement than it may appear, as many noise-canceling systems introduce hiss or significant coloration but this is not a problem with the MM550.  The MM550s however do not completely block out external sound, but they did a good job of significantly reducing ambient noise on the New York subway and made listening to quiet content such as podcasts much more pleasurable during a typically noisy journey.  The noise-canceling also allows you to hear content better without needing to cranking the music up to 11.

Sennheiser MM550 16One interesting feature of the MM550 is that when the noise-canceling button is pressed, the microphone activates and passes external sound through the headset instead of music playback.  Sennheiser calls this ‘TalkThrough’.  So if you’re listening to music in a store for example and then get to the register, by pressing this button you can have a normal conversation without needing to take off the headset.  The Plantronics BackBeat 903 has a similar feature, and it’s nice to see it being implemented on other headsets.

So how does the MM550 sound with music?  Listening to consumer headphones is often a subjective experience; increasingly people prefer a more bass heavy delivery and consumer headphones have been moving in that direction in recent years.  The MM550 is designed to give a balanced delivery of the music, with the SRS WOW HD enhancer

available to provide some extra sparkle if you want more excitement from your content.  I’m not a fan of adding enhancers to headphones or amplifiers, because from my experience good headphones and amps are able to give a good sound delivery without needing enhancement.  But consumers generally expect some kind of enhancer or bass boost, so these things exist as a result.

With the SRS WOW HD enhancer off, the MM550 does deliver a reasonably balanced sound with a slight accentuation of the upper vocal frequencies at the expense of some of the lower midrange.  The bass is punchy and there are plenty of highs, so this slight lack of lower midrange produces a very open sound that doesn’t suffer from any muddiness.  It also means that some vocals can tend towards thinness, even sounding a little harsh sometimes.  Pop, dance and Jazz Sennheiser MM550 12sounded great in my listening time with the MM550.  The bass in Mylo’s Drop the Pressure drove the track with energy and Uniting Nations’ Ai No Corrida bounced along with real verve.  It was with Country music that the MM550 tended to produce occasionally harsh female vocals and guitars.

Turning on the SRS WOW HD enhancer, the bass became really solid on the MM550.  Dance music powered through the ear pads in a superb way and without sounding muddy.  The enhancer adds significant amounts of midrange boost however, which can sound harsh on some music genres after extended listening.  So while the SRS WOW HD enhancer gives an instant “wow”, as I experienced during my initial hands-on, I tended to enjoy the MM550 for longer periods with it switched off.

The MM550 can also work as a regular set of cabled noise-canceling headphones.  In this mode the MM550 sound almost identical to when they’re connected over Bluetooth.  The sound is perhaps slightly clearly, but the difference is almost imperceptible.  The MM550 ship with a regular stereo cable rather than a three ring hands-free cable, so they can only be used as a hands-free cellphone headset when connected over Bluetooth.

The MM550 has one noise-canceling quirk, whereby the noise-canceling circuit momentarily disengages when switching from one music track when you’re listening to a playlist.  It’s not a big issue, but is just a little odd because the silence breaks for a split second while you’re in a break between tracks.

Sennheiser MM550 15Sennheiser quotes 8 hours of stereo Bluetooth music playback with noise-canceling for the MM550.  Although I did not track my exact listening time with the MM550, I only needed to charge the headset once during my testing and I listened to it extensively.  It felt like Sennheiser’s battery claim is ballpark accurate.  Various factors will impact battery life with wireless products, so it’s difficult to really assess claims.  For example a headset will have to work harder to maintain a connection if the device it’s talking to is at the limit of its reception range.  Also, switching a headset on and off uses proportionately more battery life because the headset has to expend significant energy searching for a connection.  When a stable connection is secured, the power usage reduces.

Can the Sennheiser MM550 justify its premium price?

Overall the Sennheiser MM550 is an excellent headset.  That does need to be put into the perspective of its extremely high MSRP of $649, which currently translates to around $499 on various online retailers.  If you can live with the MM550 as your only headset for noise-canceling, stereo Bluetooth streaming and cabled duties then you might be able to justify its premium over other closed back designs.  It does pretty much everything very well, but whether it does it hundreds of dollars better than the competition is a difficult call.

Neil Berman


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Dec 12, 2010 - Posted by | Audio, Mobile | , , , , , , , , ,

9 Comments »

  1. […] Sennheiser MM550 review […]

    Pingback by Hands-on with Sennheiser’s MM550 stereo Bluetooth headphones « theONbutton | Dec 14, 2010 | Reply

  2. Hey Neil

    thanks for this complete review! Just ordered mine :-)

    Rainer

    Comment by Rainer | Dec 14, 2010 | Reply

  3. Hi Neil,

    I’m considering buying a pair of these headphones for regular use with an iPhone4, and I have a question. Did you test the delay of the audio with these headphones? I want to be able to use them to watch videos, and I have read that previous models (MM400) are no good for video, as they create a noticeable delay between the audio and the video.

    Thanks for your help.

    Sam

    Comment by Sam | Dec 27, 2010 | Reply

  4. I have tested this headphone in the morning, My friend just got it. It is not worth over 200 pound. The low part is very bad. I connected it to the computer using wire. I was shocked, it has the noise, which i think is produced by current. And it is not low. Also, it is not suitable for iphone or other portable musice device. It is hard to drive. It has 107db, which is low for mp3 and iphone.

    Comment by Liang | Jan 16, 2011 | Reply

  5. Good review Neil, thanks.
    I have 1 question if you don’t mind?

    You mention it comes with only a 2 ring stereo cable so no hands-free talking when using the wire.
    I don’t suppose you tried connecting a 3 ring cable to see if the hardware is capable?
    Being able to use as a wired headset as well as wireless would seal the deal for me. :D

    Comment by Snow_blind | Mar 28, 2011 | Reply

  6. Hello, I was wandering if you could tell us about the audio quality compared to the now old Sony DRBT50. I owned those headphones back 3 years ago and I sold them because of the charger which was not universal (for traveling).
    The headphones where quite good and I’m still searching for something at least that good. Thank you

    Comment by altares | Apr 18, 2011 | Reply

  7. Hi, I’m a Nokia BH-905i owner and at the time I bought it it was the best blue tooth headset.

    How does it perform vs this Senheiser one ?

    Comment by hehe2 | Apr 29, 2011 | Reply

  8. Nice review – Might have to take the plunge and buy this bad boy!

    Comment by Chris | Jun 10, 2011 | Reply

  9. Hi Guys, Here is some thoughts on my Sennheiser MM550’s

    It works as advertised. It can make calls, It can play A2DP bluetooth, and pair and perform all the advertised functions flawlessly. iPhone4, iPad2, Wired, Wireless, no problems, all seems good.

    Except if you like good sound, that is.

    Volume levels with the iPhone4 and iPad2 is pathetic, Switch on the Noiseguard, and there goes your bass as well.
    I’m a huge Sennheiser fan, don’t get me wrong. I’ve owned and enjoyed and relished a set of HD540 Reference II’s for 18 years now, and I have a great Sennheiser aviation set as well.

    Then I wasted money on this nonsense. I’m serious guys, I’ve never been so exited to get a box, en never more dissapointed.
    I cannot actually believe the reviews. Objectively, I own $20 plugs that not only sounds better, but actually has better sound Quality! On loslless files the mid tones are exagurated, no bass, tinny sound and the SRS is a waste of time.
    Now here is the kicker… the only way to get half decent sound, is to take out the battery, and pug it in with a wire.

    Back to the drawing board guys, its NOT worth the money! The tech does not make up for the very very poor Audio!
    What happened to the Sennheiser I trust and love?

    Comment by Maxx | Aug 12, 2011 | Reply


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