The AKG K550 – A New Era?
After getting my sweaty palms on the K3003 earlier last year and having owned and enjoyed the often polarized but popular K702 for a long period, the arrival of the K550, I admit, got me kind of excited to say the least. Certainly the industry buzz would suggest AKG might have a hit on their hands with the K550 and the price at $299 places it right in the heart of the mid-fi competition giving it a more than accessible market to play with.
The K550 to me sounds like AKG got a new direction and perspective on headphone development and perhaps a shot in the arm given the really stiff competition these days in the mid-fi headphone market. It does not run away totally from the house sound of upper-tier AKG cans but it does point to a stiffened resolve not to loose their relevancy given their previous fine legacy.
Build and packaging
The K550 doesn’t stop with the evolution in sound, the whole package including build and quality is a marked step up in class and build concept and comfort. This is without doubt the most leathery smelling pleather headphone I have ever held and man that smell is awesome and reassuringly expensive to the nostrils. Given the new approach they do indeed feel much better built then previous AKG cans. They are very light for their size also even with the metal infused construct. The leather-like quality of the pads is very high indeed giving better than average level of comfort on your head that you would be hard pressed to find in similar price headphones.
The cups themselves swing flat for great portability though they are a full sized closed headphone so the degree of portability is relative to your sense of adventure I guess and whether a full sized headphone is right for you for daily commute or moving around in general. They do seem less fragile than previous incarnations so I suspect they can take the odd knock or two on the move. The drive for greater portability is also very evident in the ease of driving these headphones. The sound drop dead gorgeous out of a Burson or an ALO Audio RX3 but does not sound too shabby at all out of a regular DAP either. For those with K701/2′s will know that although rated with low ohms that were beasts to drive properly so great to see the K550 address that out of the box. Considering they boast 50mm drivers that rate at 114d/vb that is some feat to be honest for a modern full-sized can.
Isolation wise it is above average but not clamp like isolation found on other ‘commuter friendly’ headphones. They did a good job once the music was on full blast but this is built for comfort rather than pure stickability on your head. They are though incredibly comfortable on the head with no obvious pressure points getting in the way and can be worn for hours without any discomfort. The cups have funky large L and R on the inside of the cups which helps a lot over those with so subtle L/R’s you need a search time to figure out where they are.
I sill would have loved them to come in some sort of display case of sorts like the Ultrasones if portability was high on the mind. The fold flat design does give it possibilities for a flat albeit a wide casing and sadly the K550 comes pretty bare. The cable itself is terminated with a 3.5mm and screw on 1/4 jack with some nice branding on the jack. Its a single entry on the cups which aids portability.
Sound wise the K550 was a revelation to me. I put them on expecting the same jittery high end articulation, thinned out mids and shallow bass of the K series but what I got was a far more balanced headphone with admirable bass performance, a refined tonality and fantastic accuracy for a closed headphone that actually in no way really sounds like a typical closed headphone.
The sound stage of these headphones is a worthy or standout mention. Simply put there is no closed headphone in its class that is can come close to the open and airy feeling created by the K550 with its expansive sound stage. They really do sound like an open headphone with above average imaging and a very detailed presentation. Just for pure size the K7 series has the edge but in terms of accuracy and tonality but the K550 has the overall enjoyment factor. Comparing this to similar class closed headphones it beats out the claustrophobic ATH M50 by a country mile, had a truck load of upper clarity compared to the dark TMA-1 and far more refined than the energetic if slightly crass HD25-1 II.
Tonality wise this is one heck of a balanced headphone with superb mids making the K550 a headphone of choice for vocal fans. The tight coherence in the full spectrum combined with wonderful clarity allows vocals to really take center stage which is often found to be the opposite in most other closed headphones. Whereas the M50 goes for top end and bass leaving much to be desired in the mids, the K550 really allows the mids to shine and breathe in an effortless manner.
The balanced nature of the K550 also trumps over the K series with a much more coherent bass signature that’s neither booms nor disappointingly shallow. The K series was often criticized for being too bass light and lacking in tonality control but with the K550 here we have a headphone that addresses that fault with a solid bass response called for when needed. I dont agree with some assessments that it is the most versatile headphone but it is certainly more musical and adept with bass orientated tracks than the K series and not as in your face as the K518DJ LE. Tonality wise AKG have got this spot on with a bass response designed to enhance rather than command attention.
This is one very clean, balanced and detailed headphone and a pure winner from AKG. The price is nuts to be honest. If they slapped another $100 on this we would still be talking of punching above its price range. The build quality is a marked evolution in terms of aesthetics and durability. It’s a seriously easy to drive headphone working perfectly well out of a good DAP and even better with amping without being too picky. Those with acoustics, classical and orchestral leanings will adore it’s balanced and spacious approach despite being a closed headphone but those who thirst for a more modern beats orientated music will not be left wanting either.