Customer Review

102 of 105 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning well balanced studio sound!, 26 Dec 2012
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This review is from: AKG K550 High-Performance Closed-Back Reference Class Headphones - Black (Electronics)
I received these, by request, as a gift this Christmas, bought from Amazon as they are probably the most competitive price on these headphones in the UK. Over the moon at getting what I asked for I immediately opened the classy box to try them on. Greeted by a fowl stench of artificial leather, please note there is no way the ear pads are real leather after that smell! The headphones feel heavy in a solid way to pick up, they look stunning and feel well built, and I am convinced they are. The whole design is a work of art.

First impressions plugged directly into my laptop playing apple lossless files, with the EQ disabled (flat). They sounded so good that I almost started to well up at rehearing my old favourites in all their well deserved detail, they really blew me away that much!

After having 3 days of use out of them I felt I was ready to give my full opinion. I guess they have had less than 10 hours use so far, so are not fully 'broken in' or 'burnt in', regardless of whether you believe in that. However my ears have had time to adjust and get used to them, and I have noticed their traits, and what they are good at / what they are not so good at. So, onto how they sound...

Bass:
The sound is INCREDIBLY balanced, as in there is very little volume difference between different frequencies, with one slight exception in the high end. Starting at the bottom, the bass is the most well controlled bass I have ever heard! On a frequency sweep from 100Hz - 20Hz there is very little volume change at all, apart from the natural roll off towards the sub bass frequencies. However these headphones do reproduce with ease frequencies right down to 10Hz. This gives an amazingly tight bass that is never out of control and never boomy. However this has a downside, and that is no frequencies in the low end jump out at you, so the bass is smoother and flatter, but much less engaging. There is no large spike around 60Hz that so many speakers tend to suffer from, instead it is completely smooth, so if you are an absolute bass freak then I suggest you go and buy some Monster Beats as they have tons of uncontrolled and unrefined boomy bass. This means there is next to no EQ'ing required for the K550's to achieve a balanced sound. But this does give the effect of a 'calmer' and dare I say it 'quieter' low end. But a studio engineers dream for mixing bass instruments with! By giving all the low frequencies room to be heard bass instruments sound much more detailed then you could ever imagine, as they are not being masked by dominance in one particular area.

Mid range:
The mis are very smooth throughout with little difference in level from 200Hz - 3.5KHz. It is incredibly detailed and has a brilliant wide sound stage, allowing instruments room to 'breath' within the song. It really allows vocals to shine through, and lead guitar work sounds more detailed and fluid than ever.

Treble:
The downside of the K550's is the presence boost at around 6-9KHz. It is noticeable, and at high volumes can come across as a tad 'harsh' and 'grating' on the ears. However at low-normal listening levels it is much less accentuated and adds to the tremendous level of detail in the sound. From 10KHz onwards the treble is much flatter and smoother, and maintains incredible levels of detail without sound harsh to the ears. Due to this peak in the high mids and low treble ranges it generates the effect of there being a slight lack of low mids. I also particularly favour a healthy amount of low mids in my sound, so it is something I would want to boost slightly on an EQ. Although it is not a necessity for most music.

Summary:
Listening to "Sultans of Swing" by Dire Straits the guitar instantly sounds very smooth but also very detailed throughout the song. The slight boost of high mids favours this style of guitar sound, mainly clean, with a hint of break up. The hi-hat and ride cymbal sound crisp and detailed with the slightest bit of decay being audible ringing on throughout the song. The bass guitar and kick drum are also present from the beginning of the track and are perfectly in balance with both them selves, and the rest of the instruments. The kick is really really deep and tight, with little dominance of the high bass. This is where the bass guitar shines, it is very flat in response, so ever note is equally loud, the way it should be heard, with no quiet or boomy spots. This style of music sounds absolutely brilliant on these headphones, and only increase with detail as you turn it up. I also find acoustic guitar sounds really very impressive on the K550's.

Contemporary metal doesn't fare quiet so well. Killswitch Engage's - "My Curse" holds the same high level of detail and wide spatial stereo image, however the detuned heavily distorted guitar thrives of tons of low mids. I felt the K550's let too much of the high mid range to shine through losing some of the 'dark' and 'thick' quality this style of metal is meant to sound like. The bass was still as tight as ever throughout the song, however on the hole could be more dominant.

"Dreaming of You" by indie rock band The Coral starts with a 'raw' uncompressed sounding bass guitar. However despite this it is very smooth and flat throughout the track. No matter what you through at these headphones the bass they deliver is tight and smooth and true down to the last detail. The headphones accentuate the stereo imaging and panning from the main guitar, and other instruments such as sax and keys are much more noticeable than I ever remembered. The drum kit is mixed very quiet and that is where it stays. These headphones produce the sound as the studio engineer intended you to hear it, not how Dr. Dre wants you to hear everything.

Listen to "When We Stand Together" off Nickelbacks latest album at 75% volume, the song starts with a heavily processed but absolutely THUNDERING rumbling bass, you can hear every last rumble the strings would be producing whilst it still being very tight and powerful. This is followed by an nice contrast of an acoustic guitar which is given tremendous detail due to the presence push these headphones seem to have. This leaves a nice hole in the mid range to be filled out by a perfectly smooth vocals. This was the first song I listened to when I tried on these headphones and it still blows me away how good it makes it sound.

Comfort / fit:
These headphones are huge, and I have a very small head. I wear them on the shortest setting, number 1, but they still fit me fine. People say the struggle to get a good seal from the cups which can result in reduced bass response, but they seal perfectly for me and the pads are lovely and soft! In fact, if I push gently on the outside of the cups I can feel the pressure being exerted on my ear drum, not leaking out.

The headband has a very thin layer of padding, I would have thought they could have made it slightly thicker, but saying that it is not uncomfortable at all. In fact I find these headphones incredibly comfy to wear, and after 30 minutes of sitting listening I actually forget they are on my head until I go to move! That is how nicely they sit. Plus the huge cups keep your ears nice and warm!

Practicality:
Well the 3m long cable isn't ideal, I would have much preferred a detachable one but you can't have everything. I braided my cable to shorten its length and it did the job fine. They fold flat to put in a case, however there is particular case designed for them so you will have to find a generic one which fits which isn't ideal either. Despite them being large cans they grip my small head firmly and I can't see them being any issue wearing them out and about, and being closed back they leak very little sound even at high volumes.

I enclose a link to some frequency response graphs and sound test graphs of these headphones if you care to know more about the technical stuff: [...]

Overall I am very pleased with these headphones for the price, and I'm sure I will grow to like them more and more, and they will break in more with time and smooth out a bit more of the presence boost. I highly recommend these headphones to anyone wanting a very balanced and detailed sound, wanting to hear the music how it is meant to be heard, not how you want to hear it (an EQ does that bit!).
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 14 Jan 2013 21:33:45 GMT
Thanks for a great review. I recently bought the 451's for portability but want something (even) better for home use. I can relate to everything you said, so if I end up with the same experience as you, I will be very happy :-)

Posted on 22 Apr 2013 16:12:36 BDT
chas.telson1 says:
I've recently taken delivery of my K550's and found them a little over bright out of the box but let them run for 48 hrs non-stop and already the edges have been knocked off. In fact I'm enjoying them more than my £700 Grado RS2i's! I expect the K550's will continue to improve with further use.
Listening to them as I work through my Colorfly C4 Pro uber DAP which I thoroughly recommend. Getting plenty of lower bass as I listen to Angus & Julia Stone's album
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