There was a time when headphones used to be about, well, sound. Actually phones used to be about that as well (but that is another story). Today, however, they are more about all the accompanying bells and whistles. A headphone’s spec sheet can at times be every bit as detailed as that of a smartphone. So let me get this clear right away – if you are looking for a lot of add-on features, you should perhaps stop reading this review. Like, right now.
Sound for everything and everyone
For, notwithstanding its array of features, the Sennheiser HD 458BT is mainly about its sound quality. It delivers the clear, warm sound that is a Sennheiser trademark. There is slight stress on the bass but never do the beats and other instruments overwhelm the vocals and other instruments. We would call it somewhere between the very warm and carefully tuned sound of Bose and the slightly more bass-heavy sound of Sony – and that is a very good place to be.
In simple terms, the Sennheiser HD 458BT are excellent for those who like to hear pretty much every genre of music. Bassheads might find the bass a little weak for their tastes. Those who love crystal clear stringed instruments and higher pitches will find these a little on the flat side, but yes, if what you want are good vocals, beats with just a little bit of thump and decent other instrumentation, these are superb. There is also a “Smart Control: an app that lets you tune them and stress different frequencies – in a rather unusual manner in a 3D like space, but then UI is not the forte of these headphones, as we will discover. We would advocate sticking with the out of the box signature which works just fine for everything, without being outstanding in any particular zone.
These are the headphones that you pick up to listen to…well, just about anything. Be it music, a show, a podcast or even the odd session of not too serious gaming, you will love the sound that you hear. And that really is what makes them special. Yes, we would have liked a wider sound stage (which enables you to feel as if the sound is coming from a particular direction) but that is kind of rare at this price point. Some might also find the volume a little on the lower side, especially when compared with the extra loud offerings from the likes of JBL, but we prefer a slightly lower sound for the sake of our ears. For the tech lovers out there, the headphones come with support for SBC, AAC, AptX, and AptX Low Latency.
But if just sound quality is your priority (and you are not a “let everything be flatter than the earth was supposed to be in times medieval” audiophile), then this has got to be one of the best headphones out there for under Rs 10,000. When it is below Rs 10,000. Oh yes, more on that later.
Very good design
The design of the HD 458BT is very similar to the HD 450BT (it is a slightly enhanced version of the same) and broadly similar to the older HD 4.50BT. You get large cups that cover your ears very comprehensively and are comfortable to wear for long durations. The band connecting the two cups is not heavily padded at the top and while it can be extended to fit your head, the material used is mostly plastic. The cups themselves follow a slightly minimalist design. And they fold inwards nicely, allowing you to grip the headphones in one hand or put them inside the rather basic canvas carrying case, which is convenient but does not offer much in terms of protection.
Of course, there are red accents that make the 458BT stand out from the 450BT, which add a and there is the Sennheiser logo just above each cup, but by and large, these are quietly classy rather than head turners.
Very quirky UI
Things, however, get a little muddled, when it comes to interface. For, all the controls are on the right earcup and are in the form of buttons and rockers and seem designed for confusion as much as control. Unlike Skullcandy and ATH which go with large, well-defined buttons, Sennheiser has kept its buttons on the smaller side, which means you have to scrabble around a bit before you find them. And even when you find them, you have to deal with a fair bit. There are volume buttons, a slider to move to the next and previous track (and also pause music with a quick press), a button for your AI assistant (Siri and Google worked just fine), and power on and off button that also switches ANC on and off.
That is far too many buttons on one side, and their being small does not help. Using them is also not really the easiest thing – a slightly long press on the power button switches the headphones off or on, a quick press however switches ANC on or off. In the case of ANC, there is a very subtle change in the sound that lets you know it has been activated or switched off as the case may be – there is no voice alert or any other indication (as there is in other devices) – odd because there are voice prompts that let you know that the headphones are in pairing mode. Also while moving a slider ahead or back to move a track forward or to the previous one is natural, pressing it down to pause is odd. That’s not all – you use the same slider “button” to accept or reject a call or place it on hold. And pressing the volume rocker once in the middle will give you the amount of battery left in terms of hours. This is button multi-tasking gone mad.
Yes, you do get the hang of it all after a while, but there is a bit of a learning curve here with all those buttons and functions. Sennheiser needs to do some work on that UI. Pairing is relatively simple, though – just long-press the power button, and wait for the headphones to show up on your Bluetooth devices on your phone or computer. Incidentally, you can connect to a PC and a phone at the same time, and the headphones to switch over to whichever source plays sound, which is very convenient. They come with Bluetooth 5.0 and were generally able to hold a connection very well across 5-10 meters very comfortably, and even across the odd wall. Solid performers in this regard.
Great battery, and steady ANC
Battery life is one of the strong points of the HD 458BT. Sennheiser claims they come with thirty hours of battery life, and that is a claim that is broadly true. We often got through a week of reasonably heavy listening on a single charge. Incidentally, the device charges off a USB Type C port and takes about two hours to go from zero to hundred. Even when it runs out of charge, you can connect it via a cable to your device, provided it has a 3.5 mm jack (there is a cable in the box, and there is also a charging cable, but you will have to invest in an adapter).
ANC, however, is a bit of a mixed bag. If you are in not VERY noisy conditions, it will block out a fair bit of the external sound. However, in really crowded places (which are rare now, anyway), external sounds do leak in. We would say these are well below what the (admittedly MUCH more expensive) Bose 700, Sony WH-1000 series, and even what Sennheiser’s own PXC 550 series offers. It is adequate for those working in a cafe, perhaps, but are not going to be super useful for cutting out traffic sound or the sound of really rumbling engines. Fortunately, the very good ear cups are good at keeping a lot of sound out too, so much so that sometimes we did not bother switching on ANC when the sound levels were not too great. Let us put it this way – ANC should not the real reason for buying these. It is a handy add-on, but not much more than that. Call quality is also a little on the mediocre side – we often had people telling us they could not hear us clearly, although we could hear them quite well.
Listen! Forget the ANC, just…listen!
The pricing of the Sennheiser HD 458BT is intriguing – and fluctuates between the rather high and surprisingly affordable. That’s because it keeps changing. Radically.
The official price of the HD 458BT is Rs 14,999, but they have been available at Rs 7,999 on many occasions and in fact, even were launched at that “special” price (at the time this was written, they were again available at a special price of Rs 7,499 on Amazon India – see what we mean?) Now, at Rs 14,999, we are not sure we would recommend them over the likes of the ATH M50x BT or the Sony WH-XB900N, both of which offer better sound (the Sony scores on ANC as well). Some might even advocate spending a little more and going for the Sennheiser PXC 550-II Wireless, which have better sound and ANC. But the moment its price dips to below Rs 10,000, the HD 458BT get into a zone of their own. Yes, their ANC is not exactly substantial, but their sound quality is very much on another level, and we would say among the best in the sub-Rs 10,000 zone. What’s more, unlike many of their competitors, they do not attempt to overwhelmingly favor any frequency. The bass accent is slight and noticeable only when you actually hear out for it. What makes the Sennheiser HD 458BT special is their sound – it blends in with almost anything you are hearing. And does so very beautifully.
They do have their share of bells and whistles, but take our word for it, get them for the sound. Get them when they are on a discount for at that less than Rs 10,000, they are superb value for money. That makes them a sound investment.
Pun intended. Thoroughly.
- Great sound
- Good design
- Comfortable to wear
- Terrific battery life
- ANC not the strongest
- A very cluttered UI
- Price keeps changing
Looking for a very good pair of earphones for under Rs 10,000? The Sennheiser HD 458BT could be perhaps the perfect option for you if you really value sound quality. Yes, they have other features too, like ANC and a very nifty design. But grab them if you seek pleasant sound on a relatively smaller budget. Just remember to wait for the discounts!