Customer Review

94 of 110 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Burn baby, burn..!, 6 Nov 2012
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This review is from: AKG K451 High-Performance Foldable Mini Headset with In-Line Remote and Mic - Black (Electronics)
I thought that I would add my tuppenny worth seeing as there are so few reviews for this product. I was a bit hesitant about buying these because of the lack of reviews but as they seem to be a newer version of the K450's which are very highly rated, I took the plunge.

I specified Superfi as the supplier because the default supplier when you click BUY on Amazon (caraudiosecurityuk) seems to have supplied some fake K450's according to some Amazon reviews.

My review is very subjective because I have not compared them to anything except freebies and the original Sennheiser PX200's which I was never happy with after buying them based on a What HI-FI review about 7 years ago... Golden Rule No. 1 - if you are serious about it, always, always, always listen to audio equipment before you buy! However, that is not practical where I live so I took a chance. Over the years I have spent a lot of money on hi-fi so consider myself a bit of an audiophile but these have been bought for travel/portability so I won't judge them based on home use.

They look good and build quality seems fine while they come with a substantial (if rather large) traveling case. Using the alternative iPhone cord with my HTC smart phone, the mic works and I can pause/play but not change the volume remotely. They seem slightly heavy for their size which adds to the quality feel.

I have had a quick listen with different types of music including classical and soundwise, plugged into my portable devices at home, they are much better than my PX200's. There is definitely too much bass lift but this will probably be beneficial on the plane and can be taken out with an equaliser. Otherwise, the sound without equalisation is fairly smooth. I would say the sound is good, rather than excellent. I am not, "..hearing instruments that I never heard before." but would expect to be spending 100-150 on some bigger phones to be happy at home. The sound may improve after a few hours burn-in so I will try to remember to report back. Also, as they sit on your ear, positioning is important for sound quality and comfort. The most comfortable position may not be the best for sound. There is quite a lot of pressure from the headband to keep them in place which is less comfortable for me on one ear.

Summing up: Look good, nice build quality, no good for jogging, they press quite hard on the ears, not 'flat' sounding but for on the move and with personal equalisation, should do a good job.

Headphones are a very personal choice but I would recommend these.

UPDATE *** UPDATE *** UPDATE

Ok, it's now 2 weeks after I received these and my first reiew. I have a lot more things to add...

My first review was written within minutes of opening the box and I hadn't given these a sufficient audition and... I nearly sent them back! I should say that I am a critical listener, my current hi-fi having set me back about 10 grand. I like realism and a natural sound. I want to close my eyes and be in the studio with the musicians. I know that you cannot achieve anything close to audiophile performance for under 100 but as What Hifi's headphones of the year, they should be fairly good. I bought these as a 'cheap' travel pair although I still have not tried them on the move, resulting in a more critical evaluation at home.

I set the equalisation to flat on my high-end laptop and flicked thru a bunch of mp3s (ripped at 192 VBR using Exact Audio Copy)) on iTunes - mostly rock, blues and accoustic. The sound was extremely bass heavy and muddy in the higher ranges. So for 2 weeks I have been burning them in for 10 hrs a day with a variety of music plus the jslabaudio.com/burn utility (white/pink noise plus frequency sweeps) and I am relieved to say that they have now redeemed themselves. I guess that I am out of touch with 'consumer' headphones which seemed to be aimed at sounding good for non-critical listeners rather than audiophiles. Bass extension seems to be all that matters.

Rummaging through my drawers I discovered that I had more portable earphones than I thought... 12 year old Koss PortaPros (one earpiece detached but still functioning), Sennheiser PX200's , the original Bose In-Ears, Sennheiser in-ears (not sure which). To summarise in ascending order of sound merit:

PX200 - Just awful. These had a What Hifi award too and I have hardly used them
Bose In-Ear - just ok, but not really hi-fi
Sennheiser in ear - better but not outstanding
Koss PortaPro - Great value for money with a better, more refined and open sound but with an extended bass which doesn't go as low as the AKGs due to open-back design
AKG501 - best of the bunch but only after 2 weeks burn in...

To begin with, the AKGs were extremely bass heavy with muddy mids/highs. Two weeks burn-in seems to have improved everything. Now I would say slightly muddy mids and highs with an over-pronounced, but tight, deep bass resulting in a laid back and entertaining (rather than audiophile) sound if you can throttle back the bass. The damage seems to be at 125Hz. Cutting this by 3 small notches and increasing the 62 Hz by 1 small notch on my laptop equalizer seems to balance this out considerably.

I have also listened with similar results on my Creative Zen, iPod 3G, Sony CD Discman and driving through the headphone socket on a Harman Kardon hi-fi amp using the laptop/Sony Discman as source. With mp3s, a big amp didn't make much much difference so I don't think these a need a portable headphone amp. They seem easy to drive with most devices. I could hear the improvement over mp3 with the CD sources but it wasn't significant enough at this level of headphone.

I would give the AKGs 5 stars at the Amazon price if the sound was anything close to a flat bass response. Not that I use it now, but my Sony CD Discman only has a 3 position bass booster so it would be impossible to use it with these headphones.

If you are a bass-head who doesn't care about getting close to the original sound then these will be a high quality solution. For anyone else, make sure that your device has equalisation facilities.

On the subject of sound leakage. There is not much at normal listening levels although it gets worse if you crank them up. I would wear them on a plane but not sitting next to somebody in a quiet library.

I think that, soundwise, the Koss PortaPros are far, far better value for money at 21 (if they are not the fakes) and it seems that the only difference between the AKG451 and AKG450 (at 41) is an extra cable with contol and mic for an iPhone.

***** FINAL UPDATE *****

What a relief! After 3 weeks of overnight burn-in, the sound has got better and better. It is more integrated and balanced and with less bass exaggeration. I can now listen to some music with the equalisation flat. I have pushed up my rating to 5 stars and my only reservations are that they get a little warm on the ears which is to be expected with this type and the flimsy cables, which have not let me down as yet and can also be replaced. You just wonder how many times you can accidentally jerk or catch it on something which is pretty much unavoidable in normal use.

**** ADDENDUM *****

8-9 months into ownership and with very light use, the pin that connects the left earpiece to the headband broke. It was returned to the supplier, Superfi, who were very quick to send a brand new replacement after assessing the breakage. A big thumbs up to Superfi.
Although it is very subjective, the new phones without burn-in sound as good to me as the pair I sent back. I am wondering if any of the components have changed...
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Showing 21-28 of 28 posts in this discussion
In reply to an earlier post on 3 Jan 2014 00:56:30 GMT
Last edited by the author on 3 Jan 2014 01:06:55 GMT
I'm skeptical of any statements about a huge difference between high-bitrate compressed files and uncompressed ones. Nothing's easier to compare with a blind ABX test than file formats and compressions. I can't hear the difference the between 320kb/s and uncompressed, nor can I hear the difference between a 16 bit/44khz file and a 24 bit/96khz file (playback format, not to be confused with recording format. Most files recorded at 16/44 are pretty bad).

I've particpated in a number of double-blind ABX tests of formats, and have read the results of similar tests conducted by recording and mastering engineers (who are in the A/B test business for a living, when you think about it). People who are confident they will hear the difference don't do better in actual tests than most lay people.

Of the engineers, some of them could hear the difference between the high bitrate compressed files and the uncompressed ones, under very specific circumstances ... like in the decay of a cymbal that's recorded in a particular way. They had to seek out source material that would accentuate the differences and listen over and over to the same section of music. Not exactly pleasure listening.

I can fairly often hear the difference between 256 kbit/sec and uncompressed. But only when I'm trying. It usually manifests as a slightly reduced soundstage.

128 kbit/sec sounds noticeably worse without forcing you to think about it.

For walking around with these headphones, I use 256 kb/s files. Out in the noisy world there aren't any advantages to more. If I were a sit-at-home headphone audiophile I'd use less compression. But I wouldn't use these headphones.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Jan 2014 17:53:34 GMT
Last edited by the author on 3 Jan 2014 17:55:26 GMT
Ah, the old old lossless versus mp3 debate... :-) Good to see this old thread is still alive and I would now concur with P. Raphaelson.
Interestingly, I recently upgraded to a Spotify premium account which affords me a virtually unlimited selection of 320kbs mp3's and I have been wondering is 320kbs good enough on my portable devices.
Despite Santa not bringing me the uber DAP or ATH-M50's that I asked for, he did leave a FIIO E17 DAC/amp for use with my laptop, phone and iPad. Also, Linn (as in turntable) are now known for their selection of high quality digital recordings and they had a 24-bits of Christmas offer which comprised of a free high quality download each day (in FLAC, ALAC and 320kbs).
Surely this was a great opportunity to compare 3 formats on my portable devices and AKG's - with and without DAC/amp. I also found a section on the FIIO website about matching amps to headphones which said that 'timbre' was too complicated and subjective so they had just focussed on power and produced a table for 100+ different headphones based on calculated max voltage and current requirements. The AKG 450 (same spec as 451?) was included and had the lowest figures of all (followed by the Senn MX550) which would suggest the AKGs are a very easy to drive headphone.
So I played various music types using the 4 different Linn and Spotify sources with my iPad and high end laptop thru the FIIO (which gives amp+DAC at 24/96 for the laptop but only amp for the iPad). I also performed the same listening tests without using the FIIO.
Disappointingly, there was very little difference with or without the FIIO suggesting 1) that the AKG's are so efficient that they don't need an amp with a decent portable device and 2) the DACs on my devices are half decent.
Similarly, I didn't actually notice a huge amount of difference between the lossless and mp3 formats. I could only discern it with classical music and, even then, the main difference was that the music was less 'fatiguing' rather than sounding that different. I would imagine that listening to a single cymbal might well highlight the difference but with the cheapish AKGs, regular music sounded pretty much the same. Like vinyl and valves, I believe less fatigue is worth paying for if you if you intend serious and prolonged listening or are using high end equipment.
The other variable in the equation, of course, is my half century old ears which can still detect the difference between various audio components and are trained to seek out the sound that is closest to the live experience.

So, the next step for me is to repeat the experiment with higher quality cans...

In reply to an earlier post on 15 Mar 2014 03:20:50 GMT
What a civilised discussion. I've been reading many reviews and the follow-up comments are, at times, just stupid and insulting - why set finger to keyboard just to pass on abuse?

Anyway, I think I am sold on the 451s as a replacement for my falling-to-bits Sennheiser HD-575s, and a combination of you gentlemen and What Hi-Fi has made my mind up - as has Sennheiser charging 40 for replacement pads, according to my local Hi-Fi shop...

Oh, I'm 52 and probably losing my top few KHz anyway, but I rip my CDs to FLAC just to make sure. And don't get me started on the other curse of modern music, the Loudness Wars...

In reply to an earlier post on 15 Mar 2014 12:04:49 GMT
Welcome, John, couldn't agree more... perhaps some people need somewhere to vent frustration and anger and find this better than taking it out on the cat.

I'm the same age and I can definitely now hear the roll-off in my own treble range, which is where I find the lossy v lossless debate most relevant so now I just ignore all that and see which is the most fatiguing.

My only criticism of the 451s these days is that they sit 'on' the ear rather than around (...or in) the ear which makes the positioning over the aural cavity fairly crucial, and for my shape ears not as comfortable as some over-ear designs. But this is a trade off for portability and (probably because I started off as a kid with a pair of cheap over ear closed-backs) I still prefer these to open-backs that sit on the ear.

I still haven't got round to purchasing the the ATH-M50 studio phones which seems to have universally garnered consensus as the best (i.e. neutral) cans in the 100 bracket, but it's the old story of nowhere to audition in my neck of the woods and I don't feel comfortable with the concept of buying on Amazon on a demo basis which seems to be the course chosen by some. These are definitely a bulkier item for traveling too.

In reply to an earlier post on 15 Mar 2014 12:52:00 GMT
You've put a bit of a cat amongst my pigeons with your comment about the ATH-M50. I normally just buy Sennheiser - have done since the 80s - but reviews here on Amazon and elsewhere suggest that, while they are very good, I can do better. I'm tempted by the Grados 60s and 80s but apparently they have poor build quality, so as the relatively cheap AKGs receive good reviews from all sorts of directions (plus the occasional - shall we say - misguded review written by someone who is using the headphones wrong (such as open-backed headphones for commuting) or is just plain daft (or has a possible agenda - see the 1-star reviews of the ATH-M50!)) I turned to thoughtful and considered reviews such as yours.

Anyway, with my basic kit (Marantz PM4001 amp and Yamaha CD-S300 player and 30-years-old B&O speakers) my budget of 100 seemed reasonable, judging by the quality of my HD-575s in that I know a reasonable level of sound quality. The main problem is, like you, I don't have access to lots of good demo kit, so have to go by the word of experts (I've been reading hi-fi mags since the late 70s) and try and apply some common sense to it all. A risk, I know, but it helps weed out the real howlers...

A bit of a ramble - sorry - but now I will investigate the ATH-M50s further (What Hi-Fi give them 5 stars but intrestingly not product of the year), and then again there is the AKG K551, according to an advert by Superfi in What Hi-Fi they're now going for a penny under 100 - tempting! - and they're closed-back as well, which will be a bit more socially acceptable, but would you wear such expensive 'phones on the bus?!

Decisions, decisions...

In reply to an earlier post on 15 Mar 2014 13:21:11 GMT
I recently threw out an old pair Sennheiser HD420s - bought in a different century on my student grant. The pads had completely disintegrated and the connection was dodgy in 1 ear. They used to sound quite good with my budget Dual turntable set-up but a quick comparison with the 451s consigned them hastily to the bin. Perhaps the drivers had disintegrated too...

With different head shapes, ears, audio tastes and equipment to be matched up with, buying any form of audio gear is not an exact science so it is no surprise that people love and hate certain brands/models. However, I have not come across any other headphone that has such a large, positive consensus as the ATH-M50. Perhaps the perfect headphone for Mr. Average..? Now, that puts me off a bit!

In reply to an earlier post on 15 Mar 2014 19:59:41 GMT
Well, I'm sure AKG may not be too pleased (in this comments section of a review of their 451s) but you've sold me (as have other reviews) on the ATH-M50s! My Sennheiser 575 are just about holding on for now - I emphasise the 'just' - but when they die (or I have a mad whim - it has been known...) it's the M50s for me. Where to buy though? I've heard of fake AKGs so presumably there are fake M50s out there, so a reliable and honest dealer is needed. OK so Amazon use Inta Audio, and looking at their Storefront (sic) they seem to be serious dealers, so I probably should be OK.

I think the thing putting me off the 451s is the on-ear aspect, rather than the full over-the-ear aspect of the M50s. I'd worry about lining up the drive unit with my ear canal - as you mentioned in an earlier post - and although I occasionally do that with my HD-575s (full over-the-ear) once positioned they stay. I thank you very much for your kind words and help, and hope you get a nice little lottery win to enable you to get the M50s one day.

In reply to an earlier post on 16 Mar 2014 10:59:28 GMT
I wanted decent travel headphones and the 451s come in a fairly compact rigid case, so they fitted the bill. The alignment isn't a big issue so long as you're aware of it. The over-ear M50s are considerably bigger and bulkier which may be a price worth paying and, with hindsight, I probably would have gone for them.

If you dig deeper on Amazon you will see that there is more than one supplier to choose from. You can buy the M50s from IntaAudio for 100 or from Amazon for 104. I know which I would choose...

Also, there is a straight-cable version for about 10 quid more and... a newer model - the ATH-M50X which comes with 3 detachable cables and supposedly more comfortable ear cups for 125. I know which I would choose... and, no, I don't work for the company!
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