You might be thinking, “gee Daniel, that’s a bold claim, especially considering how much of a gadget-person you are” but I stand by this claim. I suppose only time will tell if they really are as good as I think they are at the moment. Just to give you an idea, other gadgets which I would rank amongst my “best ever” include my first Walkman (once upon a time, portable music was a big deal, and I had a Walkman which was only slightly bigger than a cassette), my first MiniDisc player (those things were amazing), my playstation portable, my iPhone, my GPS watch, and my Ti-83 graphics calculator.
For me, a good gadget isn’t just one with the most features, or does the coolest things. I’ve owned and operated many many gadgets in my life and the ones which I value the most are the ones which have the greatest (positive) impact on my life. Gadgets for gadget’s sakes are a waste of time. A good gadget should bring something new to the table, it should do something new and useful, it should do something already being done but better, or it should combine many things into one. It shouldn’t just be about doing stuff, but it should be about doing stuff that actually needs to be done. For example, laser pointers are cool gadgets, but they’re not terribly useful outside the context of giving presentations or making amusing YouTube videos involving cats.
The sennheiser MM450s are a set of headphones. When I lived in New York, I came to the realization that even though I owned a set of very high quality headphones (sennheiser HD280 studio monitors, which I still use), the vast majority of my “headphone time” was spent with a shitty set of monster headphones which were designed to house an iPod shuffle as part of the headphone structure. These were simple, foldable, and had no wires to untangle. I could have them in my pocket all day, pull them out when I walked out of class, press one button and I would be listening to music. Simplicity.
So most of my headphone time was spent with bad headphones and an iPod shuffle. The rest of my headphone time was spent with those shitty white headphones that come with your iPhone. Why? Because they also double as a hands-free kit. Keep in mind that this was 2007, and the first generation iPhone had only just been released. Hands-free kits for phones were still very clumsy things back then, and this seemed like a good compromise (it’s also worth noting that I don’t generally spend a lot of time on the phone). So one day in 2011, when I had just moved to Denmark, I decided that I needed some better quality headphones to serve my needs.
I started out like all geeks do by making a list, in order of importance. First and foremost, the audio quality had to be good. Perhaps not exceptional, but they had to be very good. Second, they had to be wireless. I realized that the reason I used the monster/shuffle combination so much was because they lacked a tangly mess of wires to deal with every time you wanted to listen to music. Thirdly, they had to work with my phone – I should be able to answer, hang up, and adjust the volume of a call from the headphones. Fourth, they should be noise-cancelling – not necessarily actively – large over-the-ear headphones, and in-ear headphones count as noise-cancelling. Fifth, if they do require battery power, they should still work when that power runs out. Sixth, they should be a reasonably large, global brand. Since I travel so much, I need to be able to get them replaced or repaired from anywhere in the world.
Surprisingly enough, very few headphones exist which satisfy all of those criteria. Nokia and Sennheiser were the only two manufacturers I could find with satisfactory products. The Nokia headphones arguably had better noise-cancelling and phone functionality, but were not as good in audio quality and build quality (not one of my criteria, but also important). Sennheiser makes two similar models, the MM450, and the MM550. The 550s are bigger and fit over the ears, while the 450s are smaller and fit on top of the ears. Functionality-wise, they are identical. I originally favoured the 550s, but when I saw them up close, I found that the battery was the same in both, so I saw no advantage in the larger set. The 450s also fold smaller, which is an important consideration for traveling.
Wireless functionality is achieved with bluetooth. This, I believe is the limiting factor in audio quality. It is still very good, but obviously not as good as my studio monitors for example. The “official” frequency response is about the same, but in real life, you get short-changed in the very low frequencies, especially with quieter music (my eclectic musical tastes include a lot of classical). They talk to my iPhone just fine, and they also talk to my laptop (and theoretically any Bluetooth device). In addition to the phone functions I enumerated in my criteria, the headphones also allow you to play, pause, skip forward, or skip back a song. The noise cancelling function works well, and is simple to use. I often sit on planes with no music on, but with the noise cancelling function turned on, occasionally removing them to talk to someone and then realizing just how incredibly loud the background noise of jet engines really is.
One of the nicest things about these headphones is that they are charged via USB cable. Even better is that the cable is a standard mini USB-b cable, so if I lose the one that came with them, it is easy to replace. They also come with a cord, in case you come across a device that doesn’t speak Bluetooth… like an aeroplane. If you start up the device with the cord plugged in (even if it isn’t connected at the other end), it will disable Bluetooth (Bluetooth is enabled by default). The headphones also come with various adapters for the different headphone jacks that you will often find on planes. If the battery runs out, you can also just use the cord the old-fashioned way with no noise cancelling or phone functionality.
Overall, a great gadget. Does exactly what I want it to do, no more and no less, and does it very well. I use these a LOT. I’m only surprised that more manufacturers don’t get into this. Though even if they did, these would be very hard to beat. The only areas I would want improvement in are with the audio quality, and possibly integrating the noise cancelling function with the phone function (especially the microphone, so whoever it is you are talking to doesn’t hear the noise that is there, but is not audible to you).