- Very clear treble
- Intricate mids
- Punchy low bass
- Sub-bass can be distracting
- Review Price: £109.00
- 7mm dynamic driver
- Android and iOS-compatible remote
- Aluminium earpiece shells
- Bass port
- 12-24kHz frequency response
What are the AKG N20U?
The AKG N20U are basic earphones: there’s no active noise cancellation, no wireless and no sport-centric features.
However, given these earphones cost £109, you can expect true high-end sound. They’ll make the Apple AirPods sound like basic buds.
AKG N20U – Design and Features
On first looking at the AKG N20U, I was under the impression that they were dual-driver earphones. The earpieces are slightly bulbous, and £110 is around the price where fitting two drivers doesn’t require a miracle.
They’re not dual-driver earphones, however. The AKG N20U use 7mm dynamic drivers, which are tiny.
It leaves you wondering why the earpieces aren’t smaller. The clue is in the little silver hole on the back of each bud, though.
The AKG N20U have large bass ports, used to make up for the tiny diameter of the drivers. Don’t underestimate units of such a size, though. Such drivers are behind a number of the best mid-priced earphones.
The rounded rear of each earpiece is a single piece of aluminium, and contributes those shiny bevelled edges that stop the AKG N20U from being all-black blobs; although a silver finished version is available, too. A plate of plastic sits on this aluminium shell, which has the AKG logo on it.
AKG uses a similar mixed metal/plastic style for the remote, which is a three-button unit. Its body is plastic, with an inverse plate of aluminium on the back.
This remote is one of the neatest parts of the AKG N20U. On the rear, a little switch toggles between iOS and Android compatibility. With a normal iOS remote, only the play/pause central button works with Android devices, which can be a source of frustration.
The AKG N20Us come with the standard small/medium/large selection of silicone tips, and as long as you pick the right one, comfort is pretty good. They don’t work their way out of your ears too readily, and neither do they dig into your ear canals.
These earphones don’t have a removable cable, though. The AKG N20Us aren’t quite expensive enough to make this a huge issue. At this size, an earphone would need to use an MMCX or custom two-pin connector, and getting this right would probably push up the cost significantly.
AKG N20U – Sound Quality
AKG says the N20U earphones aim for reference-grade sound. Expecting that at £100 is a tall order, but they exhibit some characteristics that you won’t hear in models in the £50 to £80 bracket.
The AKG N20U display a super-clear, detailed treble. This gives them a slightly bright sound, so consider looking elsewhere if your preference is for a moodier and darker sound.
More impressive, the mids also have an intricacy you won’t hear in, for example, the Sennheiser Momentum in-ear. This makes vocals sound that bit more realistic. The mids aren’t super-sweet sounding, however – as is the case with the treble, they’re out to reveal rather than indulge your ears with a lush, non-taxing tone.
I like this approach; anything that gets you closer to true high-end sound is worth listening to. However, it also makes the AKG N20U less of an easy listen than others you’ll find at the price. Ask yourself whether you’re going to actually actively listen to music, or are after something to keep you entertained while at the gym or on your way to work. These earphones are better for the former.
What’s goes on in the AKG N20U bass is quite interesting too. “Normal” bass and the kind of frequencies that tie the bass to the mid-range are reasonably reserved. However, the bass port gives these earphones surprising power in the low-frequency, sub-bass range of 20-60Hz.
Sub-bass is what makes a good bass drop so exhilarating, and is the low-end you feel as much as hear. However, on occasion it does feel a little “bolted on”. The mids and treble are delicate: not brittle, but not rich and thick either. And at times, the sub-bass does pull focus away from the mid-range detail, which seems a shame.
No earphone is perfect, though, and these are some of the better-sounding units at the price.
Should I buy the AKG N20U?
The AKG N20U are interesting earphones that blend the treble precision and mid-range detail of a great small-diameter dynamic driver with an unusually powerful low-bass response. These two parts of the N20U’s personality don’t always sit together perfectly, but it’s an enjoyable combo regardless.
Most importantly, they offer greater fidelity than most £80 earphones, justifying their price. Being able to switch between iOS and Android remote modes is very handy, too.
Of course, if you’ve just bought an iPhone 7 then you might not be interested in a 3.5mm earphone at all. But we’ll leave that to the Apple fans to decide.
Mixing serious detail with sub-bass power, the AKG N20U are an unusual but interesting sonic combo.
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