Sennheiser PXC 550
If the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless are for the style conscious traveller, their cheaper PXC 550 siblings are for those that put functionality first.
They’re a much more Bose-esque proposition – understated in their design, lighter and more compact, with a longer battery life (a whopping 30 hours) than their prettier sibling. They lop £50 off the price too, and throw in responsive touch controls on the earcup to sweeten the deal even further.
Being from the same camp, you might expect the PXC 550s to offer a similar performance to their talented big brother, but there are a surprising number of differences.
While the Momentums go for a popular full-bodied balance, the PXC 550s are a little leaner. There’s still enough bass to make itself known, but it’s not the rich rumble you’ll get with the Momentums.
It makes for a clean, clear and precise sound, with a midrange that’s king. The treble sits on the bright side of neutral but keeps itself reigned in enough that it’s never annoying - if anything, it helps to give the PXC 550s an upfront and enthusiastic tone.
The Momentums do take them for outright expression and subtle detail though, as do the talented Sony MDR-1000Xs. And while the PXC 550s are pretty spacious and dynamically sound, we’d say their topped in this department too. They occasionally lack a little kick when it’s needed.
There are absolutely no grumbles when it comes to comfort – the 550s will cushion your ears for hours without worry – and the noise cancelling on offer here is almost on par with its Bose competition, and better than the Momentums.
The PXC 550s have a few tricks up their sleeve for those that like to tweak too. There’s a button on the right earcup that’ll let you cycle through effect modes for speech, ‘club’ and movie, but download Sennheiser’s CapTune app, and you can tweak the EQ more precisely, and save a number of custom modes for easy switching.
The PXC 550 are talented pair of headphones that really hold their own against their pricier sibling. A critical listen will want for a touch more detail and better dynamics, but pick these as your travel companion and you won't be disappointed.
A solid, feature-packed pair of headphones with great sound quality. Just not the best at their price.
Premium, luxury and a whole lot of style – the H8 headphones from B&O are certainly toeing the family line when it comes to design. But while they might be fit for the flashiest of travel selfies, there’s one thing the company seems to have forgotten. What they’re actually like to use.
At 255g, these headphones are far from heavy. In fact, they’re relatively compact (though annoyingly, they don’t break down for easier travelling), offering smaller on-ear cups rather than the over ears of much of the competition.
Despite this, B&O seems to have weighted them a little off balance. The headband is heavier than the earcups, so bend down to pick something up will see them easily fly off your head. That’s surprising in itself, considering the clamp on your ears is almost uncomfortably snug. An hour or two in these and you’ll definitely be in need of a break.
There’s also the fact that when you walk, every thud of your footsteps is fed back through the headphones. Fine if you’re sat on a plane. Not so good if you’re on a power-walking commute.
For their price, the sound quality is only so-so too. We actually prefer the balance with the noise-cancelling turned off. It’s a little raw and occasionally boomy, but you’ll get better dynamics, more space and improved detail in exchange.
Switch ANC on and the H8s will pull all of that back for a more balanced but dynamically restrained approach. Bass is still the focus here though and there’s a warm rumble to anything with a low-end focus.
This means music always sounds solid, and you’ll have no problems with the treble ever sounding harsh, but the midrange lacks detail, hidden behind the noise-cancellation fog.
That noise cancellation does do a good job considering the H8s are on-ear though, and will give you up to 14 hours of ANC goodness. That’ll drop a bit if you listen loud, but to their credit, the H8s can crank up the volume with no distortion.
At this price, the H8s are swamped by the number of competitors that will do more with your music for cheaper, and it’s an unusual misstep for B&O in the design the department too. Consider looking around before investing.
The B&O H8s have some annoying design flaws and sound that needs to be better for the money.
Parrot Zik 3
On paper, the Parrot Zik 3s seem to have everything we’d ever want in a pair of headphones. They’re wireless, feature active noise cancellation, and they look pretty swish too (although that’ll be a matter of personal taste with the bright green and red pairs they sent us).
They also have a lot of cool stuff that many other headphones don’t, such as a wireless charging dock and fancy touch-sensitive controls on the ear cup.
Unfortunately, our first impressions are somewhat misleading. For a start, as stylish and well-made as the Ziks are (thanks to designer Philippe Starck, no less) they’re just not that comfortable to wear. The earcups fit a bit too snugly, the headband is a little too tight and the cushioning is practically non-existent. You certainly won’t be wanting to wear them for long-haul music sessions.
That’s probably a good thing, because the Ziks’ battery life leaves plenty to be desired too. Battery life only manages around seven hours at best – alright for a trip to Spain and back, but it isn’t going to get you over the Atlantic.
Their noise cancelling skills are pretty good though. Not Bose levels of good, but enough to seriously quieten your surroundings. What’s a shame is that with ANC activated, sound quality suffers.
It’s a solid enough sound either way, but the overall balance is much better with it off. Switched on, you lose some detail through the midrange, the bass sounds vague and indistinct and the clarity of the treble suffers too.
You can mitigate this slightly by downloading the app and using some of the preset EQs, but it’s tiring having to switch up your settings depending on the genre of music you’re listening to.
You could also use the included audio cable to firm up sound quality, but there are much better sounding wired headphones available for a lot less money.
It’s a shame as there are some well thought-out features here. The right ear cup is touch sensitive, for volume and playback commands, while taking the headphones off one ear will automatically pause whatever’s playing, restarting it when you’re ready.
If only these nice-to-haves could be teamed up with a few more of the absolute must-haves, and the Parrot Zik 3s could be on to a winner.
The Parrot Zik 3 headphones score well on style and features, but leave us wanting when it comes to comfort and sound quality.