Headphones have become one of the greatest tech successes in recent years. Many more people are willing to splash out for proper headphones like the AKG K550, rather than cheapo pairs. However, AKG hasn’t traditionally been all that great at getting its name out to the masses.
It’s a shame because the K550 are fantastic headphones that give you the sound characteristics of an at-home pair with the portability benefits of a closed. If it wasn’t for the odd design decision or two, they’d be nigh-on perfect.
Their closed-back design should make the AKG K550 headphones perfect for use out and about, but the sheer size of these cans tells a different story. They’re pretty funky-looking, with a two-tone black/grey look and brushed metal circles on the back of each earpiece, but these things are quite massive. They will dominate your head like a sort of headphone facehugger, demanding no small degree of confidence if you want to wear them on the tube.
The pay-off is that they’re pretty darn comfortable. To match the giant earcups, the AKG K550 use super-chunky leather-topped foam pads that do a fantastic job of buffering the mid-level pressure they exert on your head. The padding on the headband is much less luxurious, requiring a few minutes of bedding-in before feeling quite right, but after this they feel great.
The inside of each earcup is fabric rather than leather too, ensuring they don’t head up your ears too much.
Noise isolation is solid too, another argument for their use as an everyday pair of commuter cans. However, the AKG K550’s portable power is all spoilt a bit by the cable.
The AKG K550 use a non-removable rubber-topped cable. At this price, we’d ideally like to see a removable cable used. It’s not so much a durability issue here though, as the cable is studio-grade thick. It’s once again a portability thing.
At 3m long, the AKG K550 cable is far too long to be used conveniently on-the-go. This is a cable designed for use at home. Sure, they already look like non-portable headphones, but when one of the key benefits of a closed design is isolation and low sound leakage, this unnecessary limiting design choice is a shame. Making a cable longer is easy – plug in an extension. Making it shorter is not.
The problematic cable ends in a threaded 3.5mm jack, and you get a 6.3mm converter in the box. There’s no case or bag included, though, further supporting the idea that these aren’t really portable cans. When the frame uses rotating earcups and the frame is easily solid enough for outdoors use, it feels as though the AKG K550 is pumping out some mixed messages.
It may seem like we’re beginning to complain endlessly that these headphones aren’t really as portable as they should be, but it’s all because their sound is so good we don’t like leaving them at home.
We’ve seen headphone makers spout endless nonsense about their products in the past, often including claims that just don’t ring true when you listen to the things. But, for once, we can’t do any better than the AKG K550’s maker. AKG says they meld “the noise-isolating qualities of closed-back headphones and the spacious, dimensional sound of an open-back design.”
Bang on the money.
The AKG K550 sound is wonderfully spaceous, exceptionally so for sensibly-priced closed headphones. A wide and open sound stage makes for a very engaging listening experience. It’s this that we don’t want to leave at home.
This focus on creating an expansive sound also helps the AKG K550 side-step some of the potential problems of the tone they opt for. Next to highly-regarded AKG headphones like the Quincy Jones-branded AKG Q701, the K550 are significantly warmer, and easier-going. Often lauded for its highly critical, revealing treble, AKG has taken a more relaxed approach with the K550. They allow for a little more bass than their higher-end siblings.
As a result, many will find them more enjoyable, and certainly more relaxing. The treble trade-off is minor too, with solid treble extension and clarity. There is a little thickness to the sound, which comes with allowing a fuller mid-range, that makes them slightly less effective as critical headphones and less incisive than the higher-end open AKGs. But there’s nowhere near the sort of muddling you’d hear in a heavy-bass style headphone. And you’d pay significantly more for a set like that too.
However, where their presentation is wide, it’s also a little flat. They may deliver a decent bass punch, but they’re not the most exciting, dynamic-sounding headphones around. They do well with content that makes the use of its soundstage – movies, orchestral music, acoustic tracks and so on – and not so well with beat-based genres like electro and the more excitable dance sub-genres. This may make the AKG K550 sound like they’re made for old fogies – they’re not – but you need to make sure your sonic priorities are vaguely in-line with its ones.
At their RRP of £249.99, the AKG K550 represent solid value for money. For portable use, we’d still go for the Sennheiser Momentum, but they would hold their own in a scrap. Of course, these days The K550 don’t sell anywhere near their RRP. You can grab the AKG K550 for just £140, and at that price they are quite excellent.
Of course, some of the AKG K550’s problems don’t go away. The 3m cable is too long, and really a bit too thick, for on-the-go use, significantly limiting their versatility. However, their remarkable open sound is really worth experiencing. Unless you listen exclusively to hip-hop or harder dance music.
The claim that the AKG K550 are closed headphones that sound like open ones is right on the money. If wonderfully open and wide sound is among your top priorities, you won’t find a better closed pair at the price for the job. We just wish they were more portable-friendly - a thick 3m cable is just the ticket while you’re at home, but will leave you with a pocket full of wire on the train.