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Are These the Best “Budget” Noise-Canceling Headphones?

How do Sennheiser’s new affordable noise-canceling headphones stand up to the company’s flagship Momentum Wireless 3?

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Chandler Bondurant

Brand: Sennheiser
Product: Sennheiser HD 450BT Noise-Canceling Headphones
Release Date: mid-February
Price: $200
From: sennheiser.com

The Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 3 are the company’s flagship noise-canceling headphones. Released this past fall, they’re comfortable, look cool and, most importantly, they sound fantastic. The problem is that at $400, they’re more expensive than the extremely popular Sony WH-1000XM3 and Bose QuietComfort 35 II headphones. Basically, unless you love the industrial design or you have strong brand loyalty to Sennheiser, the Momentum Wireless 3 is a tough sell.

That’s where the Sennheiser HD 450BT comes in. These noise-canceling headphones cost $200, which is half as expensive as the Momentum Wireless 3, plus they offer many of the same sound qualities and features. They also mark the first time that Sennheiser has released a pair of so-called “budget” noise-canceling headphones — which is exciting. Yes, there are some definite tradeoffs and you can still buy decent noise-canceling headphones for cheaper, but none have the sound qualities and noise-canceling skills of the Sennheiser HD 450BT. These are the best “cheap” noise-canceling headphones I’ve tested.

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The sound quality and noise-canceling abilities are almost premium.

The whole idea with the HD 450BT is that Sennheiser wanted to bring its superior sound quality down into something more affordable — and they’ve essentially done just that. The HD 450 BT headphones have a generally warm sound that’s clear on the high end, and the bass gives a punch as well. They don’t have quite the same quality of drivers as the Momentum Wireless 3, admittedly, and so you don’t the same full-range sound. The Momentum Wireless 3 have noticeably better bass. Both headphones use the Sennheiser Smart Control app so you can adjust the EQ of the audio if you like.

As far as active noise-cancellation, the HD 450BT performed pretty well. I wore them on my flight back from Vegas to New York and they successfully blocked out the person sitting in front of me complain for ten minutes about the ridiculousness of having to pay extra for wired headphones. The downside is that their noise-canceling abilities aren’t as versatile as other headphones. For instance, there are only two different modes — ANC on and off — that you can switch between. On the Momentum Wireless 3, there are three different modes plus a transparency mode.

The price feels right.

There’s a new breed of wireless headphones with active noise-cancellation that aren’t designed to compete with the premium cans made by the Sony’s, Bose’s and Sennheiser’s of the audio world. Basically, they don’t cost over $300. The brand-new Sennheiser HD 450BT headphones fit in that category, obviously, but they’re the best of the bench; their blend of sound quality, noise-cancellation and modern features (like USB-C charging) make them superior, in my opinion, than the likes of Anker’s Soundcore Space NC or Audio-Technica’s ATH-ANC9. Granted, at $200, the Sennheiser HD 450BT are priced at the high-end of the new breed of headphones.

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There are some definite compromises.

The hardware is where you’ll see the biggest tradeoffs. The Sennheiser HD 450BT headphones are obviously not as pretty as the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 3 — which are one of the prettiest noise-canceling headphones, in my opinion — and they don’t feel nearly as premium. There’s less leather and metal and way more plastic on the HD 450BT headphones.

The HD 450BT headphones don’t have the same optical sensors as Sennheiser’s Momentum Wireless 3, so they don’t play/pause music when you put on and take off your ears. And the headphones don’t automatically turn off in the same way when you fold them up — you have to really make sure to hold the power down so that you actually turn them off, which just isn’t quite as convenient.

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Sennheiser provided this product for review.


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