The AKG N5005 is a reference class hybrid 5-driver in-ear monitor and the spiritual successor to the K3003. It is priced at $999.
Disclaimer: The AKG N5005 sent to us is a sample in exchange for our honest opinion. We thank the team at AKG for giving us this opportunity.
To read more about AKG products we reviewed on Headfonics click here.
As an earbud man, I’ve come to love in-ear IEMs of all types and regard universal designs as something that is appealing to the masses of audiophiles.
A while back, AKG and Harman Audio sent me their $999 N5005 IEM’s. I’ve quite a lot to say about them, so let’s not waste any time here beyond saying the IEM comes jam-packed with a lot of features.
The Box and Accessories
Nothing really fancy here to boast over. The physical box itself is cardboard and has soft foam inserts for the IEM’s themselves that feels very posh and plush. Beyond that, there is a slew of extras that come with the N5005 which include: A set of 4 filters for the IEM’s that alter the sound based on bass boost, mid boost, mid-high boost, and high boost.
The IEM’s are detachable and came with 3 different types of cables: a mic enabled standard 3.5mm, a balanced 2.5mm, and a Bluetooth option as well. For all its BT charging needs, AKG have included a USB charging cable.
The set also comes with a cleaning tool and travel adapter, as well as 2 sets of different types of tips: 4 sets of standard tips (XS, S, M, L) and a set of 3 Spinfit tips in S, M, and L.
Bluetooth Battery Life and Play Time
The BT cable takes about 2 hours to charge fully and offers roughly 8 hours of playtime, as per the specs. In my tests, I’ve found that to be accurate. I don’t own any other ultra high-end Bluetooth IEM’s like this. In fact, I don’t know of any off the top of my head with a premium sound offering like this that also allow for a BT connection.
Via BT paired with something like a typical Android aptX offering for a bridge, the experience is lovely, to say the very least. Does that mean it sounds like $999 BT fidelity? Nope. The BT sounds very good though, no doubt there.
These are not the IEM’s you want to work out with or stroll around with often, brandish on a bus or take out to potentially be harmed. I am terrified to take out $999+ gear with me because you are likely also taking out a very expensive portable music player and likely also not interested in only the BT function. Right?
A general consumer probably could be. But, I feel like an audiophile won’t only be using the N5005 with an iPhone SE, or your OnePlus 6T, or perhaps the Samsung S9. You are going to use it in wired mode, most likely.
Bring a portable battery with you, something small is just fine so you can recharge your N5005 and your phone too because 8 hours of Bluetooth is going to drain your phone immensely fast. My OnePlus 6T has a pretty good battery, my phone does not last anywhere near 8 hours of audio usage with Bluetooth active and dies before the N5005 does.
Fit and Build
You win some and you lose some. Sadly, I received a poor fit with this and cannot keep them, for the life of me, on my ears. The cable is not using a strong memory retainer. They simply aren’t stable for me. I have $30 IEM’s that have a hefty mold friendly cap over the looped portion of the IEM cable that slings over your ear. So, I don’t understand why a $999 IEM is lacking one that will keep the shape you tell it to.
Beyond that, the IEM tips themselves refuse to stay in my ears no matter what tips I use. I have to hold them in and just not move. If I go for a walk, they pop out. I don’t have this problem with similar style housings from other companies. I am just not lucky. My ears are just not good for these and I know that some other of my friends had a great fit. I don’t fault them for that. It isn’t AKG’s fault.
The N5005 is also made of aluminum chassis and uses a very nice, twisted cable for the wired 3.5mm and Balanced option. In terms of portable build quality, this is top tier. The IEM isn’t as nice feeling as something like the Sony EX1000, but, for what is there and for this price in the modern market, you are getting a great quality top to bottom.
Wired Unbalanced vs Balanced is a debate I’d rather not get too into right now. But, I will happily share my thoughts on it. Balanced mode gives more power. More power in less efficient monitors equates to a better sound, proper voltage flow and feeding of the drivers. This results in better texture, more oomph factor, and dynamic flair. Even sometimes a larger imaging prowess.
In this case, I hear absolutely nothing but a volume boost between using unbalanced vs balanced in the way of bass response. The texture is relatively flat and very “AKG” in-house sound. Even with the bass filters installed, AKG headphones won’t offer exceptional depth and rumble.
You will get a great sense of fidelity and purity though. And that is the name of the game here with the N5005: purity factor. It is what I would call a low-end moderate in quantity, not something bass light, but lacking quantity. Sadly, even with bass boost via EQ, the headphone simply requires too much to be considered exceptionally responsive and catering to those who desire more down under.
I have a few other IEM’s that are much cheaper that can be altered via a source on the low end, in small incremental nudges on the EQ board, that will result in audible changes in the bass experience. Whereas the N5005 is lacking that great sense of physical response, requiring more dB’s added before subtle changes in quantity are felt.
Sadly, Bluetooth tech still isn’t on a Hifi level enough to justify usage with better source components. But, the N5005 still sounds very good when judging against other BT IEM’s. In fact, I will give it the absolute best Bluetooth IEM award that I’ve ever heard.
The bass experience is immensely flat and what I would call boring in reality. Fidelity factor, for a BT IEM, is superb. Nothing even comes close that I have experienced. However, that flatness factor is overly flat and lacking audible texture and depth in an already bass moderate quantity factor in the wired connection. I am not fond of this BT mode in a subjective manner.
However, objective, it is probably the best BT IEM on the planet. The EQ response is not good and is audibly less responsive to small movements on an EQ dial than the wired connection. Meaning, boost it +3dB and you can hardly hear any change in quantity.
Wired connection and BT connection sound exactly the same in a physical sense. Typical of AKG headphones, especially IEM’s, they offer a relaxed positioning for vocals and thankfully, not a recessive one this time. Moderacy is a good thing, sometimes.
Here in the N5005, the vocal experience is subdued and relatively thin feeling, which, at least on a subjective level to myself, is not so good for intimacy and Jazz recordings. It is suitable for wide field, live music. Or, large venue studio recordings via Classical or similar genres and instrumentals without a focus on vocals.
Having said that, the physicality is severely lacking. This is an issue with some of the AKG over-ear models, where the midrange is lacking a strong sense of body and density factor. AKG simply isn’t known for that and it really shows in this model. I’ve heard thinner monitors, but hardly any were this expensive and that didn’t change much at all for me with tip swapping.
The N5005 is clearly intended for a stress-free, easy going experience no matter what boosted filter you are using. To my ear, the boosted mid filter is bumping the midrange placement ever so slightly forward, but that filter loses bass depth, which essentially feels oddly thin once again to me. I need heft and density at this price range.
I have some custom IEM’s half the price that sound significantly more dense feeling, more realistic in that density fact and that offer exceptional body and weight to the entire spectrum. Here, the N5005 fell very short.
Through the wireless connection, the N5005 takes a hefty dip in fidelity and sounds even flatter and less dynamically interesting. Thinning an already moderately thin feeling sound in the vocal experience is subjectively something I will not ever enjoy. But, I suppose there are quite a few listeners out there who like the AKG house sound, for the most part.
This IEM reminds me a lot of the AKG K1000 bass heavy edition. It is wide feeling, thin overall, but pure and balanced for the most part, but with some added bass heft depending on the filter and connection type. The BT connection midrange loses too much fidelity for me to want to use. But again, at $999? This N50005 is without a doubt still the cleanest sounding Bluetooth IEM I’ve ever heard.
Via a wired connection and filter switching, the treble experience changed the most out of any of the three primary avenues of listening, which are bass, mids and treble.
The top end with the bass filter is still gorgeous and AKG does treble great. Always has, likely always will. Even the treble boost filter sounds wonderfully aired out and exceptionally clean, without going overboard at all.
The treble factor is the IEM’s best trait, without a shadow of a doubt. I am not a treble head and I regard the treble as very clean, very pure but also not bright or annoying. It has a gentle bit to it that is a-typical of AKG house sound and I enjoy it very much.
Interestingly enough, the “reference” filter, which is the purest sounding of the bunch, feels like it is more neutral than the treble boosted one. Meaning, the treble boosted one sounds more musical, engaging, fun and enjoyable to me, with more to offer than the more neutral feeling “reference” filter.
That doesn’t surprise me, really. I just sorta expected the treble boost version to be even purer. Instead, I received more enjoyability and exaggeration in a musical sense. Thankfully, not receiving more treble quantity, which I feared.
The dynamic slam effect of the reference filter is the harshest, but even then, not very. Typically, the cold and neutral AKG upper end can be tamed in some models, like one of my older favorite over ears the Tiesto K267. The N5005 shares a lot in common with that model from yesteryear.
The Bluetooth connection shares the same story as the midrange and bass. Everything dims, feels less engaging and offers less purity overall.
Filter types don’t really matter too much unless you are switching between the bass boost and the high treble filter one after another. I failed reference vs mid-high filter blind tests through Bluetooth setup.
Due to the exceptionally nice treble experience, the entire void sounds very aired out and light. Again, if you are into that type of a light feel to everything, then this is your ticket to the ball game. If not, you might be in trouble and would be better off with a number of other, much cheaper models out there known for the depth of field factor and realism.
Vs Empire Ears Nemesis
Side by side with my custom Empire Ears Nemesis, the difference in imaging is extremely night and day. The Nemesis sounds significantly more realistic in density factor, but lacking the aired out sense of appeal of the N5005. Beyond this, the N5005 feels much more aired out and separated. However, the Nemesis has noticeably better depth of field. To each his own, no monitor does it all right for everyone.
Wider Than Tall
If you like a wider than a tall stereo image that has a relaxed feeling, then the N5005 is for you. Through the BT connection, the treble takes a nosedive in quality and I didn’t want to go too far into it, because it sounds night and day vs the wired connections. BT just isn’t there yet. And because of that, imaging takes a nasty hit with a wireless connection.
I would agree with anyone saying the N5005 is a very good sounding imaging device. As a sound stage lover, one who enjoys the size of the stage more than any other quality in the listening experience, I am still very happy with what it offers.
No amount of extra power does anything for it though, with regard to the 2.5mm balanced connection. I can’t hear any real differences and what very, very minor potentials that exist may be human error in trying to equalize volume on an amplifier when swapping from balanced to 3.5mm unbalanced.
Doing my best to keep them the same, I again failed blind testing between then when referencing very large field recordings in my testing. I simply didn’t hear a difference between balanced and unbalanced cable. However, as soon as I swapped to Bluetooth, the loss of air is very apparent.
For the price of $999, I want more out of this. The bass response even with a bass filter isn’t enough to satisfy a bass head. However, it will satisfy a purist who wants just a bit extra without going into exaggeration.
The midrange is very relaxed and enjoyable, it is easy going and lacking any sense of harshness, even into the upper midrange, which is a blessing when considering the high treble filter helps with musicality and doesn’t totally ruin the purity factor by making it harsh.
If you love AKG’s IEM’s and if you enjoyed the older AKG K3003, you will probably absolutely love this newer N5005. Clearly, it is a modern update to the older K3003, but with some added bonuses and improvements. Due to the 4 sets of filter types that vary the sound a bit here and there, I can safely say that the matchability factor is quite high on this model.