“We didn’t underestimate them, they were just a lot better than we thought,” spoke England manager Bobby Robson after the Three Lions laboured to a 3-2 victory in extra time against Cameroon at the 1990 World Cup. To see Sennheiser playing in the ultra-affordable wireless headphones league with an on-ear pair is no less of a surprise, but it would be just as wrong of us to dismiss the Sennheiser HD 250BT as no-hopers.
Still, this is Sennheiser, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the price quoted at the top of this review was missing a ‘1’, ‘2’ or even a ‘3’ on the front, given the firm’s selection of excellent true wireless earbuds and over-ears alike sitting pretty at the top of more premium markets. So, can the audio giant’s new Sennheiser HD 250BT reveal themselves as tough competition at a much more modest level?
The spec-sheet boasts strength in depth: Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX Low Latency, a 25-hour battery life, app support and Sennheiser’s beloved-of-DJs transducer tech. And lest we forget, Cameroon had already beaten defending champions Argentina en route to the quarter-final, so evidence of greatness existed. Perhaps the England boss should simply have said, “We were wrong to underestimate them.” With this in mind, let’s get to testing.
Although the Sennheiser HD 250BT arrived in the UK, US and Australia in January 2021 at £60 ($70, AU$130) respectively (having launched in India in late 2020), deals can already be found. At this price, competition is scarce, especially from known and respected audio specialists. We might point you towards the four-star Lindy BNX-80 as the nearest option, but these very decent wireless on-ears come with noise-cancellation (the Sennheiser HD 250BT do not) and, at the time of writing, a double-the-price asking fee.
Build and features
Sennheiser designs are rarely noted for lavish visual flourishes even in their usual position much further up the food chain, and the HD 250BT are no different. The build is a black plastic affair, but it is functional and solid and features the firm’s traditional S-in-a-rectangle white branding on each ear cup. Said ear cups are nicely padded, and although the headband is not, the sensible clamping force and lightness of the design (at 125g, these headphones weigh about the same as an adult hamster) means we do not feel the need for extra cushioning.
The cups slide along the headband itself, which means a wire protrudes from the band on either side and attaches to the top of each driver housing. Although this could signify potential weak points, since the slackness of the wire will depend on the size of your head, Sennheiser is noted for this solution – it is used in Sennheiser's iconic 1988-released HD 25 wired on-ears beloved by DJs, after all. In the name of research (and after our testing proper), we find even a fairly strong yank on the connection points won’t dislodge the cables. We also find it impossible to slide the ear cups off the headband entirely – they’re nicely anchored on – but of course, given this design, the cups cannot lie flat for storage, nor can they fold up into the headband for easy transportation.
One minor gripe is that when sliding the ear cups along the headband they’ll click quite loudly, but once you’ve adjusted them to fit, we found the HD 250BT stayed put and remained comfortable, noise-free and cool – even after several hours of listening.
Inside the closed-back ear cups, you’re getting 32mm dynamic drivers and a single omni-directional mic for voice pickup during calls. The right earpiece is where you’ll find a USB-C port for charging (which takes a maximum of three hours) plus the now-traditional strip of three physical buttons. These handle power, pairing, play/pause, track skipping (both forwards and back) and volume adjustment, as well as answering, ending or rejecting a phone call with efficiency and ease. Calls come through nicely using the HD 250BT’s onboard mic. There’s also a small LED light here, next to the button-strip, which flashes blue when powering on and pairing, glows red when charging, or flashes red when you’re low on juice.
Finishes x1 (black)
Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX Low Latency
Battery life 25 hours
Charging time Up to 3 hours
App Sennheiser Smart Control app (iOS and Android)
Design Closed-back on-ear wireless
Drivers 32mm transducer
Pairing is a breeze (aided by calm vocal prompts) and the Bluetooth connection remains rock-solid across the course of our listening. Yes, it should always be this way, but you’d be amazed at how often it isn’t – even with models at three times the price.
The main feature of the Sennheiser Smart Control app, aside from firmware updates and battery life notifications, is its Equaliser tab. Although ‘neutral’ and ‘movie’ are the given EQ presets (with aptX Low Latency onboard, synchronisation between your audio and video content should be a given) you can create your own tailored profile on two different staves – one a traditional three-band EQ stave for bass, midrange and treble, the other inviting you to drag a pointer across your device’s screen to create a wavy line that prioritises certain frequencies and eases off on others. This last method is particularly fun and offers easy, interesting tweaks to the sound on offer. Find something you like for certain genres of music or podcasts? Save it, deploy it later. At this budget level, it certainly adds value.
That said, don’t expect a protective travel case or adapters here. You will get a USB-C cable and a quick-start guide in the box, but that’s it; function over finesse is the name of the game. If you want extra ear pads, metallic accents, auto-off wearer detection, access to your chosen voice assistant, noise cancellation, mic-muting and the like, you’ll need to look elsewhere. At this wallet-friendly price point, though, it really would be churlish to expect such things.
Cueing up Here We Are Juggernaut by Coheed and Cambria on Tidal, we are almost immediately made aware that the HD 250BT are energetic performers. There’s a pleasingly open and spacious mix, neutral tonality and a three-dimensional, human quality to Claudio Sanchez’s central vocal gymnastics. As the track builds to a near cacophony of drums, guitars and the belted chorus, the HD 250BT never succumb to confusion or rhythmic inaccuracy either, picking out sonic details (reverb, backing vocals, meandering musical passages through the treble) the likes of which we didn’t think could be gleaned at this level.
The bass weight isn’t overstated, and fans of grime and hip-hop may want to take note of this fact, but that is not to do the HD 250BT down; the low-end is sensible and present, allowing music across the genres to tick along nicely and with an admirable sense of musicality.
Stream Hole Hearted by Extreme and Nuno Bettencourt’s rhythm guitar sounds remarkably realistic for the level. In terms of dynamic rise and fall, the building urgency within his vocal isn’t quite as wide-ranging as it could be, particularly when Gary Cherone also takes up a microphone for the tougher harmony lines, but at this level it is a minor gripe in an otherwise clear and cohesive mix.
The track draws to a close with a thunderstorm and a quiet but jubilant exclamation of ‘Yee-haw!’, and the HD 250BT celebrate each sonic article, even giving us a truly realistic representation of rainfall – no mean feat for any set of headphones. We have to hand it to Sennheiser: the company has played a blinder here.
Has Sennheiser heralded the final word in sonic brilliance with the HD 250BT? Not quite – that would be an unfair ask. If the firm just cracked that particular code at this nominal price level, we could all go home. We caveat this emphatic five-star verdict with the advice that there are sonic gains to be had – including slightly more expressive dynamics and an extra ounce of bass weight – should you be willing to spend more.
But underestimate these headphones at your peril. Sennheiser’s ultra-affordable and durable headphones do not disappoint sonically for the price. Indeed, the company has done a top job, offering a gateway product that will get early adopters hooked. The HD 250BT sound a good deal more musically detailed, agile and rhythmically gifted across the frequencies than we had predicted – the kind of headphones we might buy for a younger family member this Christmas, then ‘borrow’ for extended periods in the New Year. They're undoubtedly some of the best cheap wireless headphones on the market.
Ultimately, the HD 250BT headphones point with very little subtlety towards what this company is capable of at a higher level, should your budget ever stretch to its more premium offerings.
- Sound 5
- Build 5
- Features 5
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