The Sennheiser HD 450SE headphones are the beginning of a hopeful mid-range redemption story. While Sennheiser is known for making some of the best headphones, including the highly-rated Momentum 3, some of its less expensive lineup has been lacking against tough competition. Take a look at the CX True Wireless earbuds, as an example.
That’s where the HD450SE come in, an over-ear pair hoping to buck this trend by adding Amazon Alexa to the popular HD 450BT for an additional ten bucks, along with delivering a signature Sennheiser sound and Bluetooth 5.0 — all in a rather affordable package.
Do these headphones provide good value for money? Let’s find out.
Sennheiser HD 450SE: Availability and price
The headphones are available in a slick black finish (more about that in the next section) for $199 (£169). This pricing puts them on the upper mid-tier price category, which also features the impressive Soundcore Life Q35 ($129) and Cleer Enduro ANC ($149).
You can pick up a pair directly from Sennheiser right now.
Sennheiser HD 450SE: Design and comfort
“Restrained and stylish” would be the words I’d use to describe my initial impressions of the Sennheiser HD 450SE’s design.
No flash. No pomp and circumstance. Just a nice-looking pair of headphones with premium portability built-in with a smart folding design and plastics that don’t feel cheap. Sure, they are identical to the HD 450BT, but that’s not a bad thing when they look this classy.
At 7.8 x 2.8 x 6.1 inches with a weight of 8.4 ounces, these are smaller and significantly lighter than the Cleer Enduro ANC (9 ounces) and Soundcore Life Q35 (7.8 x 7.1 x 3.1 inches, 9.6 ounces). That makes them easier to carry around, but things aren’t as comfy when you put the HD 450 SEs on your head.
The clamping force is too tight for even average-size noggins like my own and the cushioning of the cups isn’t wide enough to be a truly over-ear pair of headphones. These are more of a hybrid between on-ear and over-ear headphones. They push down on the cartilage of your ears, making for an uncomfortable listening over longer sessions. What a shame it is given how nice these look.
Sennheiser HD 450SE: Controls and digital assistant
Amazon Alexa and the smart assistant on your phone make these ideal for on-the-go voice commands. The on-board microphones had no trouble picking up my requests throughout my testing.
However, controlling these headphones is not so easy. The buttons are responsive, but the layout is weird.
On the likes of the Soundcore Life Q35, buttons are dispersed across both cups, which makes them easier to find given the extra space. Turning to these Sennheisers and all the buttons are crammed onto a small surface area on the right cup.
The arrangement is busy, making it easy to forget which button does what outside of the easy-to-identify volume rocker.
Sennheiser HD 450SE: Audio quality
The classic Sennheiser sound is here and produces a lovely listening experience when pumped out of the 32mm drivers, which deliver a frequency range of 18Hz to 22kHz.
Starting on the angrier side of the musical spectrum with Four Year Strong’s “Get out of my head,” this simple, but loud composition was handled with ease on the Sennheiser HD 450SE — distorted guitars had bite and the bass kick had a satisfying boom to them.
Making a hard turn into classic R&B bangers with “Millionaire” by Kelis proves these work well across any genre. The more subtle mid-tones continue to have great representation amidst the bass punch. But the hi hats can sound harsh when the composition gets busy.
And, of course, it wouldn’t be one of my reviews if I didn’t put them through my go-to song: “A Day in The Life” by The Beatles. The cacophony of the orchestral uprising section is always a good test, as many headphones and earbuds fail to provide definition to each of the 50+ instruments and instead turn them into a washy mess.
The HD 450 SE, however, did not succumb to this problem, with the flatter profile of Sennheiser’s audio tuning giving everything room to breathe, allowing you to easily identify each instrument.
Sennheiser HD 450SE: Active noise cancellation and ambient listening
All of this is kept immersive with particularly powerful active noise cancellation. It does a great job at identifying and eliminating background noise — even when put under the more difficult testing like a loud, long train journey.
Unfortunately, there is no transparency mode on the HD 450SE, which when paired with the naturally strong noise isolation of over-ear headphones makes these slightly inconvenient for being able to hear someone calling for you, like what happened much to the frustration of my partner who spent five minutes shouting for me to come through to the living room.
Sennheiser HD 450SE: App
Like any of our previous Sennheiser reviews, the free Smart Control companion app (available on iOS and Android) is laid out nicely and offers you a decent level of customization, such as the fully editable EQ and a noise cancellation switch. Extra props for the rapid firmware update, which is delivered faster than anything I’ve tried in the past.
However, the continual lack of “find my headphones” across all of Sennheiser’s products is disappointing. This is more of a problem with true wireless earbuds, but is a default feature across most headphones at this price (and cheaper).
Sennheiser HD 450SE: Battery life
Sennheiser promises 30-hour battery life for the HD 450SE, which I hit in my own testing (give or take 20 minutes depending on how loud I had them). Charging is nice and fast too, with the ability to juice them to 80% in around 30 minutes, and fill them up to 100% in just under an hour.
But for all the fast charging abilities, the listening time of these is underwhelming, with Soundcore’s Life Q35 hitting 40 hours and the Cleer Enduro ANCs enduring for 60 hours. Sennheiser opted for lighter headphones than the competition, but the weight reduction compromises battery life.
Sennheiser HD 450SE: Call quality and connectivity
Call quality is great on the Sennheiser HD 450SE, with the microphones and noise cancellation highlighting my voice and ensuring I’m heard in most situations. And, since they are over/on-ear headphones, I heard the other end of the call clearly with the cups delivering decent isolation.
Like most audio products, the HD 450SE fell victim to the strong winds when I walked near a local river, but they did a decent job in these extreme conditions regardless — It mayhave sounded as though I were underwater but people could still hear me.
And the Bluetooth 5.0 connection remained strong and unbroken up to 25 feet away from my iPhone 12 Pro, Realme GT and M1 MacBook Pro. Itwould’ve been nice to see a later iteration of this codec in Bluetooth 5.1 this won’t make a difference in everyday use.
Sennheiser HD 450SE: Verdict
I really want to love these cans. They offer Sennheiser’s renowned sound profile, strong ANC and decent microphones for picking up voices during calls.
But the battery life falls behind its competition, the app lacks certain key features, and the uncomfortable fit makes these difficult to wear over longer periods.
And as far as the feature set and capabilities go, the HD 450 SE fell behind the Soundcore Life Q35 and Cleer Enduro ANC headphones — both of which are cheaper than Sennheiser’s option. All things considered, we wouldn’t recommend the Sennheiser HD 450SE over its competitors.