I have a ton of AKG cans in the cannery behind the desk here from the K5XX to the K812 and had plenty been and gone including the K7XX series years ago. AKG can do a mean set of cans when they put their minds to it even on a budget level with the K518DJ being a fine example of a limpet like headphone with bass thundering qualities. For those who are not aware, AKG headphones fall into either their Pro Line and their “Lifestyle” or consumer line. The majority of the good ones lay solidly in the Pro line such as the K812, the new K872, the classic K7XX series and the very popular K553. These are not cheap headphones by the way however AKG is not averse to keeping the Pro line budget friendly so sub $100 units such as the K72 and K92, their new budget lines start at a very friendly $60 and upwards.
What’s the Pitch?
Of course you would be right to point out that AKG has a ton of monitoring headphones in their range already, 19 at the current time of writing with a single IEM, the IP2, so the addition of the K182 might not make the biggest of headlines and naturally you would be wondering why another one. Their new K182 though falls into that newish budget category at just $99.99 making it a tempting proposition in the Pro Line for those looking for a closed back circumaural headphone for studio use.
The K182 also seems to be a replacement in the range for the now discontinued and gaudier looking K181DJ headphone with its switchable bass boost setting. The K181DJ cans have been floating around for years at the sub-$100 level with much love and if you put the two side by side there are a lot of design similarities with the K182 looking the more muted but more mature in appearance.
The K182 is pitched primarily as a studio monitoring headphone, (rather than a DJ headphone), particularly for those who are mixing using e-drums and keyboards. Packing a set of 50mm drivers, rated at 32 ohms and offering pretty sensitive 112db, the K182 shouldn’t require a whole lot of effort to drive comfortably on just about any source. It is also very much in the portable category with a foldable design and a small carry pouch that comes along with it. It is also the only closed monitoring headphone sub $100 from AKG that could be considered purposefully portable since the cheaper K52 and K92 are much bigger and far less portable (like a budget version of the K7XX series) with no folding capability.
These are slim margins of distinction at times knowing audiophile complete negation of the term ‘small and portable’ and having no effect on the size of a headphone being carried around but for a studio engineer it may well be a difference maker.
The K182 is a large portable closed headphone around the same dimensions as the Sony MA900 or the TMA-1 Studio. Two things driving that size for me. First those 50mm drivers inside and second the purposed circumaural design by AKG to maximize the sealing potential which on-ear headphones rarely achieve to satisfactory levels.
Thankfully AKG have saw fit to include what they term as a 3-D Axis design into the K182 allowing you to be able to fold the headphone in towards the headband and thus reducing the overall size to something far more portable that fits neatly into the supplied drawstring cloth pouch. It is the same mechanics as the K181DJ and truth be told they do operate in a very similar fashion with both being able to fold flat and inwards for portability. To a large extent the design harmonizes the older K181DJ aesthetics with the rest of the proline with the AKG letters on the matte black cups, the large white L and R on the inside of the cups as well as the mini-XLR detachable cable connector you find on higher end units.
Of course at $99 there are some compromises. The build is mainly hardened and rigid plastic with only a slither of aluminum on the rings giving it a noisy flex when handling it and the cushioned padding on the inside is relatively short in length so not all of your head will be bathed in soft comfort. The pads are pleather instead of leather so in hot climes these are likely to get a bit sweaty after prolonged use. That being said it does feel relatively solid just not TMA solid or as pliant. Gone also is the bass boost feature of the K181DJ but then again gone also is the $279 MSRP of the K181DJ. Personally that felt like a gimmick; a bit overblown and certainly for monitoring completely unnecessary.
Fit & Seal
The fit and seal is solid with a firm clamp on the sides and a little pressure point on the top but nothing hugely distracting. The pads do a decent job of keeping their seal and are large enough to avoid any discomforting pressure slipping onto the sides or lobes of my ears. The pads slightly larger and more cushioned radius also bests the AKG K181DJ’s flatter pads in terms of long listening comfort.
The K182 also clamps harder than the old TMA-1 and the larger TMA-1 Studio edition but pressure points are more focused on the side of the head than the top down. These are more on the level of the type of clamping you would find on the HD25-1 II but a whole lot more comfortable than the very tight on ear AKG K518DJ. The good news is the pads are indeed replaceable much like the older K181DJ. If you can find Ethiopian Lambskin pads to fit then knock yourself out.
The K182 comes with a detachable 3m cable terminated with a mini-XLR connection for the cups and a 3.5mm gold plated straight jack. AKG does include a quarter jack adapter which screws onto the 3.5mm jack much like their other units. Always a fan of the screw type adapters since I tend to lose quite a few in meets over the years. AKG has opted to use a tubular straight cable rather than any sort of coiled version which can sometimes add weight and painfully catch in arm hair if you are not careful.
The cable is relatively memory free and easy to work with but at 3m feels a bit long for purpose. The sensitivity and ohm rating of the K182 suggests a portable closed headphone that is easy to drive out of any source yet a 3m cable suits desktop users primarily. An additional 1m cable would have given a bit more flexibility for those who wanted to out and about with the K182.
The K182 is tonally neutral and clean but with a hint of warmth in the bass response and more than a touch of sparkle in the lower treble. I would hesitate to call this a v-shaped response, more of a u-shape with an elevated mid-bass presentation, a neutral vocal presence and a lower treble peak for percussion and lead synth emphasis. Definitely though the top and bottom end of the K182 are tuned to be a bit more forward. Given that the K182 is tuned with e-drums in mind that might make a bit of sense. For casual listeners this is a musical headphone with heavy emphasis on a fun and providing a more than impactful response for pop, EDM and hip-hop.
Mid-Bass hits hard with the K182 but with a reasonable turn of pace. Certainly it is the most dominant aspect of the K182 signature when called upon but I would not describe it as overpowering. It lacks a bit of texture and body, particularly in sub-bass frequencies so it is not the tightest of responses compared to other monitoring headphones such as the A5-Pro from Philips which is a lot cleaner and more detailed in comparison. That being said there is plenty of rhythm and drive in the K182 bass presentation, certainly enough for EDM. Power house bass tracks such as Party Rock from LMFAO convey a fun musical character which should suit bass heads nicely.
The K182’s mid-remains relatively neutral and while vocals are clear they do fall back just a little compared to the slightly more forward bass and treble response. In the arms of a good source or amp though vocals are well behaved and thankfully lacking in sibilance. At times they can sound quite smooth actually and never got too shouty or cuppy. Lower mid-range on the K182 does feel a touch sucked out so low end guitar work is lacking in a bit of meat. Overall it is not the airiest of mid-range responses but I get a feeling AKG did not have an expansive and spacious mid-range in mind for the K182.
Lower treble is north of neutral, slightly forward and a bit dry with a shortish decay. Beyond that there is not a huge amount of upper treble extension so it does sound a touch compressed and lacking in air. It does though have pretty good control on sibilance and cymbal work doesn’t sound terribly splashy so as a result I didn’t find the treble signature to be that fatiguing in the long run. That is probably as ideal as it gets for anyone monitoring and mixing and taking their cues from the treble performance.
It strikes me that the K182 tuning though is more useful for synth use than piano if this is a headphone targeted to keyboard users. Those used to mixing and layering using synths might appreciate that level of clarity/energy in the lower treble and should help them pick out any offending frequencies if they are using multiple tracks during mixing. Very often synth harshness can kick in around 3-4k with a build-up of frequencies and the offending layer can be difficult to pick out without extensive dissection using EQ and of course a monitoring headphone.
Treble notes on lead synths do seem to be relatively easy to pick out with the K182. A huge portion of my collection has New Romantic works such as Duran Duran, Visage and Howard Jones which has a hell of a lot of swirly lower treble synth attacks and in the hands of bright cans can sound, well awful. This doesn’t seem be the case with the K182.
The K182 is a closed headphone so staging is a little on the intimate side with relatively average imaging. It is not the most spacious or holographic sounding full sized headphone but it not that bad actually for closed cans and certainly pretty good for the sub $100 category. Definitely it has an edge over more attenuated and darker headphones such as the on-ear TMA-1 or the narrower more honky sounding Momentum. Certainly I would not want to be using this for orchestral sweeps though, it doesn’t have that type of range. This one stays very much in the pop and rock category and more suited to a dance hall and mosh pit type of ambiance where it does a pretty good job.
This is a 32-ohm headphone with a 112db sensitivity rating. It is built for mobility and ideally for those mixing and recording on the go. As such this is a relatively easy headphone to drive even on weak amps such as smartphones. Connected to the BB Passport it got plenty loud at 8/10 and even less so on the more powerful Sony Z Ultra smartphone.
The K182 sounds cleaner and more defined on the FiiO X7 but the AM2 module sounded more energetic and tonally a more fun match than the AM1 module which had slightly less power and a flatter signature. The K182 did show some scaling potential in terms of definition and clarity when hooked also to higher end portable amps. The Mojo in particular was the most resolving of the portable bunch with the best presentation of low end body and resolution.
Premium mid power portable amps such as the Mass Kobo 394 also matched pretty well with the K182’s treble energy bringing a nice element of warmth to the lower treble performance and digging out a little more space in the mid-range than the weaker amps in the BB and Sony smartphones. if the Mojo is the most resolving the Mass Kobo is the most pleasing of the bunch.
Diminutive amps such as the RX from ALO Audio were better at maximizing the soundstage and dynamics of the K182 but at the cost of making the sound a little thinner and leaner, especially the lower treble performance which sounded far too peaky for me. I got a similar peaky and harsh performance from the $99 Ruby amp from Stoner Acoustics paired with the K182. The best performer actually turned out to be the smooth and fluid Cypher Labs Picollo DAC/Amp and the analog version. Treble was energetic but smoother and less grainy sounding with a much improved black background that I couldn’t get from the smartphones and the Ruby.
How much is too much?
That does beg the question does it really need a $350 amp to make a $99 headphone sing loud and proud? Will studio engineers be simply throwing this into their on-board soundcard on their PC and MAC or smartphone and will they get the truly best performance for mixing? It will have no issues with gain, it’s easy as hell to drive but that final 20% in terms of resolution and control seems to be reserved for a bit of quality amping. Perhaps there is a strong case for one of the older and warmer Wolfson driven budget FiiO DAC/Amps such as the E7 which should match very well indeed with the K182. If you are on the go then the FiiO, using a smartphone as a source, combined with the K182 would make a lot of sense.
Five years ago the K182 would not have happened. The headphone budget market was awash with banality and cheap crap lining your local Target shelves and smart phones had not evolved to a level where OTG digital audio was that prevalent. Listening to music on the go was a commuters’ necessity and lossy was dominant. Studio guys were just that, stuck in the studio. Nowadays mixing and recording could be anywhere. Software and laptops are powerful enough to make that happen meaning mixing can happen anywhere and in any setup. The K182 in that respect fits the bill nicely without a massive outlay.
Now you could argue AKG have plenty of sub $100 monitoring headphones and literally added a few even cheaper ones just this year why another one? Well if you look hard enough it’s the only closed portable one from AKG right now at this price category. The target user is pretty niche though – e-drums and keyboards (synths).
I do have quibbles though, even at this price level. I do wish that AKG threw in a slightly shorter 1M cable since they are marketing it as a portable can. The build doesn’t feel all that flexible and it can suffer a bit from a noisy flex. Tonally it can sound a bit peaky in the lower treble if matched poorly and the mids sound a touch thin for rock. Audiophiles might find the K182 overly colored and musical for accurate listening but that’s not the point of the K182. It is supposed to have that elevated bass and treble response and I suspect AKG will make no apology for that. If you want audiophile then grab a K5XX or K7XX or hog out for the K8XX, they do critical listening far better.
Bass heads though should enjoy the AKG K182. It has plenty of mid-bass slam and top end sparkle for EDM in particular non-vocal dance genres and it certainly it looks more mature physically than the older K181DJ for a reasonable price.
AK K182 Specifications
Driver 50 mm
Frequency Range 10 Hz to 28 kHz
Sensitivity 112 dB spl/V
Maximum Input Power 500 mW
Input Impedance 32 ohms
Cable 9.8′ / 3.0 m – 99.99% oxygen-free cable
Connectors 1/8″ / 3.5 mm gold plated jack plug, 1/4″ / 6.35 mm screw-on adapter