Top positive review
Tradeoffs between Sennheiser PXC 550 and Bose QC 35
August 9, 2016
Headphones used in this comparison: Sennheiser PXC 550, Sennheiser MM 550, Bose QC35, Bose QC20 (in-ear).
Sound Quality - I'm shocked that some think the QC35 is on par with the PXC 550. The PXC 550 is definitely a step up, though it's not so much better that I would advise not getting the QC 35 for this reason alone. The QC 20 is not going to be able to produce the same level of depth of sounds because of the in-ear format. I would rank SQ as 1) PXC 550, 2) MM 550, 3) QC35, 4) QC20.
Noise Cancelling - Again, shocked that some think the PXC 550 is on par with the Bose QC35. In this case, the QC 35 is a step up. In my view it's not so much better that I would not get the PXC 550 for this reason alone. However, for some, ANC is the overriding factor and in that case Bose wins. I actually like the QC 20 (and soon to be coming QC 30) over the QC 35 because the in-ear format blocks more noise passively. However, I find the in-ear format less comfortable for me. Loved the portability of the QC 20, but the lower 10 hour battery life is a drawback that bugged me as well. The PXC 550 is a huge leap forward for ANC compared to the MX 550, which had problems with loud noises and wind. With the QC 35, there is an audible white hiss noise that I think helps further mask outside noise - this hiss is less present in the PXC 550. Often complained about the QC 35 is that you can't turn ANC off when you're in Bluetooth mode. If I'm not on a plane/train/bus, I tend to not want ANC on as the effect when you're moving about is unnatural and almost disorienting for me. The passive noise cancelling on the PXC 550 is much better than the QC 35. To me, the headphones form a much better seal to the ear and use higher end materials, so with ANC off on both headphones, there is much less noise with the PXC 550 just by putting them on your head. The downside to this is that if you want to hear your surroundings with the PXC 550 on and ANC off, not that much noise gets through. Also, since the seal is better for me with the PXC 550, there are less sound intrusions when you move your head around. For example, if you open your mouth from a yawn, the QC 35 will lose its seal for me and let sound through. The PXC 550 will lose some of it seal as well, but not nearly as much. I would rank ANC as 1) QC 20, 2) QC 35, 3) PXC 550, 4) MM 550.
Comfort - Several have noted that the cups for the PXC 550 are smaller than the QC 35. I would agree with that and I felt that my ears almost had too much room to move around in the QC 35. With all of the over ear headphones, I felt that the ears would get hot over time and sometimes get sweaty. However, that is preferable to me over having in-ear headphones. Comfort here is very subjective, but for me at least, I would rank them as 1) PXC 550, 2) MM 550, 3) QC 35, 4) QC 20.
Build Quality/Style - The look and feel of every Bose product I've used with the exception of the Bose Mini Soundlink, is that they are cheap relative to the cost that they are charging. The QC 35 and QC 20 are no exception. The MM 550s were hideous headphones. The PXC 550s look incredibly classy and elegant, with top notch materials. I am not a fan of the alcantara used on the QC 35 as alcantara will eventually pill and look terrible over time in my experience. Also, the hinge quality seems to be somewhat fragile as there is just so much plastic on the QC 35. I think the QC 35s look great, but they certainly don't look like $350 headphones. 1) PXC 550, 2) QC 20, 3) QC 35, 4) MM 550 (just so ugly)
Carrying case - The semi-hard carrying case on the QC 35 is much better than the PXC 550 and seems like it will protect the headphones better. The square shape is also much more stylish than the semi-circle look on the PXC 550. The PXC 550 case lacks the structure and the material is not as thick or protective. The zippered side is also soft instead of hard. The one thing I do like about the PXC 550 case is that there is a fabric flap that goes between the cups so that they don't bang around and scratch each other. Both are relatively large so they will take up quite a bit of space in your bag. The QC 35s look to fold smaller, but the carrying case size negates that ultimately.
Usability - While both have apps, I don't find much value in either. It's nice to have the different effect modes with the PXC 550, but I probably won't use them most of the time. Both look to be able to connect to two devices simultaneously - something I read was proprietary to Bose, but clearly is not. The QC 35 will state the name of the devices it's connected to, but will butcher the name. The PXC 550 will just say Phone 1 and Phone 2. I like the PXC 550 ability to turn on/off by unfolding/folding the cups, and the touch interface works great. It is easier to use than to feel around for the buttons on the QC 35 which are in a less natural position. The talkthrough feature on the PXC 550 is missing as far as I'm aware from the QC 35. If you want to talk to someone in person, you pretty much have to take the headphones off. At an airport, this is crucial if you want to stay on top of any public address messages. 1) PXC 550, 2) QC 35, 3) MM 550, 4) QC 20
Call Quality - Both the QC 35 and PXC 550 had great call quality to me. I think the incoming voice quality sounded a little better to me on the PXC 550, but honestly both were great for voice calls. I didn't have any issues on range with either and I liked that the QC 35 would pick up outside sound so you can hear your own voice (which you would otherwise not with ANC always on).
Overall - I ultimately returned the QC 35 and am sticking with the PXC 550. I will sacrifice the lower quality ANC for better build and sound quality, but that is me. With any of these headphones, there will be some give and take so you will have to decide for yourself which features are more important.