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AKG K 550

Posted

Pros: Open Stage, No Congestion at High Volumes, Quality Built, Reference Response Curve, Comfort

Cons: Artificial Treble (can be improved with burn in & DAC/amplifier), Earcups Maybe Too Large For Some

Introduction

I got these headphones around the national holiday. These came out about 2 years after I had got my K701. I was first attracted by its classy design and colour. I thought I would never get another pair of AKG headphones since K701 has been my favorite all the time. I finally decided to purchase a pair due to the discounted price of $180 USD including shipping in my country; and most importantly, I needed a closed can(s) to enjoy music at night without disturbing others. In this review, I will skip all the con(s) about these headphones and straightly elaborate on the sound quality and cozy build structure of these headphones. The reason is that at this price point, there are really no con(s).

 

Design & Build Quality

The build quality and design is simple but sturdy, is black/grey but classy, is far from top notch but flawless. I believe the design is better than my K701 because K550 has more grainy metals to withstand any abuse. The headphones are consisting of 3 major parts – the ear-cups, the joint, and the headband padded with synthetic leather. The ear-cups are able to rotate from the joint (by a little), and the joint can also rotate from the headband for approximately 90 degrees. This clean and versatile design allows me to store the headphones in my hobo handbags. Nothing feels flimsy or sticking out which will cause a problem. The headband adjustment is locked by a click. The numbering system on the headband will allow you to adjust the headband length to your most desirable positions. This helps a lot because getting a good seal on this K550 may be tricky because of its size.
  

Comfort

The leather on the ear-cups and the headband are so comfortable that I actually enjoy wearing them once in a while. Although I would prefer the alcantara material (like on the K701) for the hot summer, the seal and comfort is better with the leather or leather-like material.
 

Sound

To begin, I was feeling a little disappointed coming from K701 when I was listening to these cans for first few hours. After 60-100 hours of burning in, the bass opened up and the artificial treble (which seemed like plastic spark) smoothed out. As several master reviewers had mentioned, there seemed to be a very slight disjointness between the bass and sub-bass area (of course, they have heard headphones around $1K mark). However, in term of the fullness and tightness of the bass is on par with my K701. Master reviewers would obviously magnified the disadvantages of these headphones, but they should consider there are very few competitions at this price point with this kind of sound quality in a closed full-size headphones. The T5p is triple the price, the build quality on the SRH840 or 940 may not be as good, the M50X may have a smaller soundstage. Nothing is perfect in this world especially with closed headphones. It is easy to make an open headphone sounds good, but it is harder to tune closed headphones. The K550 produced a full and tight bass with good and not-too-forward mid(s), and a nice sparkle treble without any harshness. The vocals are accurate and shine on these headphones.

 

Overall

The overall sound quality is impressive on these closed headphones considering they were at $180 USD when I purchased them. For people who prefer a reference sound signature with price-to-value ratio in mind and an amazing soundstage in closed nicely built comfortable headphones, you will not be mistaken by this K550. Just remember to give it a little time to burn-in and find a good warm source (like my Audioquest Dragonfly) to match the lean signature of this headphone.

Posted

Pros: Looks, Build Quality, Decent tonality and fairly flat FR from midrange down to bass, no treble emphasis, decent soundstage for a closed headphone

Cons: Serious peak and resonance in one spot in the upper mids ruins an otherwise decent headphone

 

First Impression

 

When I first listened to these headphones, my initial two thoughts in this order were:


1. Wow these sound pretty fast and also fairly even


- 15 seconds later -


2. Wow something is wrong with the upper mids
 

 

Packaging

who cares

 

Build Quality/Aesthetics

These headphones feel very well built.  I can't speak to their longevity or durability, but they are nice to hold, feel sturdy, the movements are tensioned well and feel solid, there's no creaking of cheap plastic.  The finish feels durable and well made.  One of the better headphones out there IMO for it's apparent build quality and finish. 

 

They look very nice when sitting on your desk, and in pictures.  A good design, but they are one of those headphones whose looks don't entirely translate to looking good when worn.  They have all the right shapes and dimensions relative to each of the parts, but the whole thing is just too big to look very good.  For their size, I'd say they don't look too bad as they are slim, so they don't stick out horizontally very much and give you the alien mind probe look that grados and many closed headphones do.  The headband is slim too since it comes together at the top of the cups, so it doesn't have that gigantic and unnatractive arc that the older AKG's have like the K240.  The headband hugs the sides of your head well.  Still, the cups are huge even on my big noggin.

 

Comfort

Very good except that the earpads just aren't thick/deep enough.  Huge design flaw IMO because everything else was done very well for an extremely comfortable headphone.  The cups swivel in a really nice way since they have a good amount of friction in the movement, so you can place them at the right angle for your head, and they stay there.  Headband is comfy and is the right shape.  But the earpads aren't thick enough to keep the grill over the drivers from hitting your ears.  With such huge, soft earpads this is a pretty big fail IMO.  I tried putting the foam donut shaped inserts that Hifiman has in their earpads into the K550 earpads, increasing the thickness, and it had no effect on the sound and made them supremely comfortable by simply increasing pad thickness.  So as long as you don't have huge ears they should be fine.  Or if you don't mind a little pressure from the grills.  it doesn't hurt too bad on my big ears, but it just would have been so easy to avoid this situation.  I get the feeling they didn't do much real world testing on these and got carried away with computer modeling. 

 

 

SOUND QUALITY

 

They overall have a flat, balanced sound from bass to midrange with good tonality, and with a treble presence that is in balance with that part of the spectrum, which is very rare for headphones.  But there is a serious problem spot in the upper mids that ruins this headphone.  A resonant peak in a small part of the upper mids.  I would describe their overall sound as a slight rainbow shape FR, though leaning upwards towards the upper mids for enhanced sense of clarity.  They also can sound kind of fast for a closed dynamic.  Not ortho or stat fast by any means, and not Grado fast, but maybe 6/10 for speed.  Not bad. 

 

Bass

Good not great.  It extends down plenty low, it seems flat, there's no apparent midbass hump, bass does not bleed into the midrange or vocals in the slightest but is also well integrated with the midrange.  There's no "bass + mids"  or subwoofer effect where the midrange and bass feel separated by gaps in the spectrum.  They have a cohesive transition from bass to mids, likely from a fairly flat FR.  But bass is a bit low in quantity despite what the FR measurements suggest.  The bass is in the background on these phones, with emphasis on the midrange.  Not for bassheads at all.  Bass is not bad quality, but it sounds kind of dry and a bit soft, whereas better headphones have more definition and dynamics and detail in the bass.  Not bothersome, especially since it's in the background.  I'd describe the bass as being just enough to provide a foundation and not sound too lite, but too low to sound totally neutral- it keeps your attention on the midrange.  It gets out of the way so to speak, for better or worse.

 

Treble

I'd say the treble on these is very similar to the bass.  Good not great.  There's no emphasis in the cymbal range as far as I can tell.  If anything it sounds a bit recessed in the upper treble.  Nothing sticks out at you here or is glaringly bad.  But the treble is not that clean or precise sounding.  It is a bit rough/textured or papery sounding.  Like the bass, I'd say it's a backdrop for the mids.  Not a treblehead headphone either.  Yet despite this lack of apparent brightness, these phones have a strong sense of clarity about them.  I think this is what people like in this phone.  They don't sound dull or rolled off or warm at all.  Likely because of the slight lowering of bass volume, along with the emphasis in the upper midrange, the "clarity" range in the FR.

 

Midrange

Here's the problem.  Both the bass and treble on these are both presented as a backdrop for the midrange but there's a serious problem in this area, so these phones wind up failling short for bassheads, and treble heads, and then have issues in the midrange.  First the good part.

 

The heart of the midrange and the lower midrange is done pretty well.  Vocals have both the proper richness for a male voice like Tom Waits or Chis Isaak, which is surprisingly rare- they don't make vocals sound thin despite the lack of bass emphasis.  They also don't sound overly rich at all.  Chris Isaak's voice sounds very good.  Vocals also give the proper air and breadth to female vocals like Emmylou Harris or the Audiophile favorite Allision Krauss.  But sometimes vocals reach up into the problem spot and sound off. 

 

Upper Midrange Issues
There is a spot in the upper midrange that has a pretty bothersome resonant peak.  I kept wanting to call it "glare".  The upper midrange glare isn't the most peircing or painful I've heard in a headphone but it is very bothersome and might be described as severely "jarring".  It doesn't seem to cause me to reach for the volume knob as feverishly as some phones have, but it does keep me from turning them up and leaves me in a state of fear wondering when something is going to hit this problematic range and if it is going to hurt, since it seems to be right on the threshold.  Any instrument in that range sticks out way too loud, and looses proper tonality as the sound in that range gets mangled by resonance and takes on a plastic tonality. You can clearly hear the coloration being added to what should be the original signal.  This is partly because it's such a specific problem spot.  You can sometimes hear an instrument or voice go up in the range and suddenly jab at you by suddenly increasing in volume while taking on this plasticky resonant glare.  The decency of the lower part of the spectrum gives it a "surprise attack" quality which is what generates the fear and hesitancy when listening.  If there was an instrument that existed only in this range, I am doubtful you would be able to hear what instrument it was.  Some recordings play well with this problem spot and it's not grossly apparent because of the frequencies being excited by that recording and the particular balance of the recording (if the recording has a peak in that spot too, it's clearly going to be worse).  But even on these recordings, this spot gives the whole spectrum a cheap plastic headphone feel kind of layed over the sound, as if you are listening to some very good throw away headphones.  I kept thinking of them as the best airline headphones ever.  Much better extension, tonality, more flat, but still plastick-y. 

 

Soundstage

Overall good size for a closed headpone, has a spaciousness about it, but there's something strange about it as well.  It's almost like there are 2 soundstages happening at once, the lower part of the spectrum sounds more spacious to me than the upper mids/treble, which sounds more constricted.  This gives them a lack of coherency, or a kind of bad crossover effect, where the sound is a bit disjointed.  I think this is because the resonance artifact in the upper mids destroys soundstage by getting in the way of the "trick" the headphones are playing on your perception.  Soundstage is also destroyed by a "driver dildo" that was installed on the back of the driver creating a tiny chamber behind the driver rather than the comparatively larger size of the earcup.  I'm guessing it was placed there in an ill conceived attempt to control the bass, but I have modded a pair of these by removing this dongle, and correctly damping the cups, and the soundstage becomes more coherent. 

 

Conclusion

Good looking, sturdy closed headphone that is fairly comfortable and has a mostly well balanced, even sound except for a very problematic part of the upper mids that sticks out sorely and ruins them. However, this part may not bother everyone.  If it doesn't bother you ie if you're not sensitive to resonance or FR irregularities, and you are looking for a well balanced headphone erring on the side of being a bit basslite for the sake of clarity, and you want good soundstage these may be a good choice for you.  If you are not bothered by Grados you may not be bothered by this resonant peak.  however, Grados have much more natural tonality, for example vocals sound more life like.  I recently had an MS1 here and despite their colored signature they sound better than the K550 in every way except may soundstage width.  There's no plastic tonality in the MS1's signature. 

 

Here is a picture of the inside of the K550's cups.  The lack of damping here contributes to the resonant peak, but after spending time with my modded pair which has damped cups, I have found that it is also being caused by the driver itself.  Damping the cups helps, but doesn't fix the problem.  The small rubber thing in the middle of the light gray circle around the driver, is the "driver condom".  This seals around the driver and makes a small enclosure size behind it.  The light gray area are vents, though they seem to be closed off with solid plastic.

 

AKG K550 inside the earcups- stock. The small rubber thing in the middle of the light gray area around the driver, is the "driver dildo". The light gray area are vents, though they seem to be closed off with solid plastic.

Posted

Pros: Excellent bass extension & mid-range clarity. Smooth & grain-free treble. Spacious soundstage.

Cons: Treble rolls off a bit early. Lower-treble a bit too forward. Mid-range and bass could both use some additional body. Sound imaging a bit indistinct.

Comparison Review: ATH-A900X, AKG K550

 

Two years ago, when I was looking to upgrade my aging ATH-A9X, I came across the AKG K550 and the ATH-A900X, both then newly-released, with several head-fiers reporting that they are tonally-similar headphones. Unable to decide which one to get, I bought both to do a comparison. I ended up keeping the K550 for myself and giving the A900X to my wife (who still uses it and loves it).

 

Below are my thoughts regarding how these two cans compare.

 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Craftsmanship & Comfort

 

Audio-Technica ATH-A900X

  • The A900X isn't a bad-looking headphone, but lacks K550's elegance. That said, comfort level is excellent and I in fact prefer it over the K550 in this department. The AT "winged" headband design makes putting them on and taking them off a breeze, and the angled drivers do not press against my ears even after my prolonged use (whereas the K550 causes discomfort).
  • One particular thing another reviewer complained about was the "poor quality" of the wings on the A900X. I looked into this issue, and did not personally find this to be true (relative to previous models). Below are my observations:
    • On the old model A9X/7X/5X, the wings only pivot in one direction (let's call it the Y-axis), which is up and down.
    • On the A900, AT implemented the "3D Wings" which pivot in two directions (X- and Y-). The way they achieved this is by making the wings themselves into a 2-piece design - there's an "outer rim" that pivots around the Y-axis (like the old wings), and an "inner piece" that pivots back and forth (X-axis).  This is actually a fairly intricate design and I imagine, harder to manufacture.
    • On the A900X, AT simplified the "3D Wings" to ease manufacturing process while still retain pivots in both directions. The wings themselves are now back to a 1-piece design and pivots up and down (like the old wings on A9X), but the T-shaped joint where the wings are clipped onto the arms now pivots back and forth (in the older models, this joint is fixed). The joint on the new system makes the wings feel loose, giving the appearance of flimsiness, but having owned this headphone for two years I can attest that the construction quality on the wings are solid.
  • Material quality on the A900X is decent but not great. It's a step up from the A900 (which had the cheapest pleather possible and several plastic bits just look like sub-$100 headphones), but it's not at the same level as its older cousin, the A9X (which had supple protein leather earpads and wings). The earpads on the A900X is a durable-looking pleather that feels a bit on the hard side, and the wings remain fabric-covered like on the A900.
  • One nitpick: The stereo plug on the A900X is the exact same one AT has been using since the mid-90's (starting with the old ATH-AX series). It might have looked ok in the 90's, but looks a bit gaudy by today's more understated aesthetics.

ATH-A900X

 

AKG K550

  • The K550 is simply one of the most tastefully-designed headphone I've seen. The construction, materials, and appearance are all superb (my photos don't do them justice).
  • Comfort level is good but there are some nitpicks here... The earpads could be a bit deeper. The top of my ears do press against the drivers because the foam used in the earpads are extremely soft. The earcups are a bit stiff when it comes to pivoting, so they may not conform to the shape of your head without manual adjustment. The clamping force of the headband feels a bit loose, especially if you have small heads (and this is a headphone that already has sealing issues)
  • The plastic used for the signal cord, while fairly high-quality, is still more prone to tangle and deform in comparison to Audio-Technica's fabric-wrapped cords, which retain their shape better. I personally prefer AT's implementation.
  • One material nitpick... The headband padding is pasted onto the headband using basically a double-sided tape. Unfortunately the adhesive becomes a black goop as it ages and, in my case, actually started oozing out from the headband and making a mess on whatever surface I leave the headphone on. I ended up tearing out the padding, cleaned off all the adhesive, then glued it back using a glue gun.

 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Sound Quality 

 

Several Head-Fiers have claimed that the A900X and K550 are tonally similar, which was the reason I was interested in these two cans to begin with. They turned out to be very different-sounding cans, heh.

FR Graph of ATH-A900X (Left) & AKG K550 (Right)

 

Audio-Technica ATH-A900X

  • Treble: The A900X has a fairly clear and resolving treble. It appears to be tuned to offer sparkle without being offensive or sibilant (there's a dip at 7K which, I suspect, was intentionally introduced to reduce sibilance). Extension is absolutely brilliant, going full up to 20KHz. The only complaint I have is that it's noticeably grainy-sounding compared to the K550, whose treble is simply silky-smooth in texture.
  • Mid-Range: The A900X's mid-range is thicker, fuller, and more engaging than the K550. It is definitely a more engaging presentation (more "musical" if you will), but clarity suffers a bit here. The K550 in comparison is more clean-sounding.
  • Bass: The bass is my biggest gripe with the A900X - there's quite a bit of mid-bass bloat and the control isn't particularly tight. Bass extension isn't very good either - the rolloff starts at 50Hz, which means there's not much sub-bass compared to the excellent extension of the K550. Without any earpad mod, the A900X has a bit of a consumer sound to its lower end (I personally found that swapping the pads for the oval-shaped ones from the A1000X helps dial the bass down a bit)
  • Soundstage: The A900X has a very wide sound stage, likely owing to its excellently-resolving treble. Imaging is likewise excellent - I feel this is one area where it has a definite upper hand against the K550, whose soundstage - while large - feels a bit indistinct.

 

 

AKG K550

  • Treble: The treble is a bit of a problem area for the K550. Many users have complained about it being "peaky" or "sibilant". I don't find this to be the case, though the lower-treble is definitely too forward, causing the slightly unnatural treble presentation noted by many reviewers (a problem compounded by the thin-sounding mid-range. Both issues were addressed in the K553). I also wish there were less roll-off in the higher octaves, as the K550 could benefit from better extension (it's rolled off from 1.5KHz onward). Complaints aside, clarity is good and treble texture is superb - there is absolutely no grain on the K550.
  • Mid-Range: The mid-range on the K550 has excellent clarity, which I really love. However it is sometimes dominated by the lower-treble, which as I mentioned, is too forward. Additionally it could use some additional body - the overall presentation does sound a bit bright & thin.
  • Bass: The bass on K550 has excellent tightness and extension, however it could likewise benefit from some additional body. I personally do find K550's bass to be thin-sounding due to the lack of mid-bass. There's ample amount of sub-bass and upper-bass, but the mid-bass is intentionally recessed. A 2-3dB boost in the mid-bass would provide a more balanced bass presentation (exactly what the K553 did).
  • Soundstage: The K550 is well-known for its spacious soundstage, and I do agree it feels very wide and airy. However, I feel the imaging is a bit fuzzy and indistinct. Watching movies and playing games, it's much easier to tell where a sound is coming from on the A900X.

 

 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Final Thoughts 

The A900X and K550 are both good headphones with distinct personalities. Neither are perfect, though. I would say the A900X is the more balanced-sounding of the two and more versatile when it comes to musical genres and other usage (games & movies).

 

The K550 offers better clarity and may be more desirable for analytical listening and editing tasks, but it's not as musical as the A900X and many will find its treble presentation to be problematic.

Posted

Pros: Clear high band, acceptable mid tone

Cons: Absolute lack of bass

Well, the infamous K550 was there. Big, comfort at an incredible price. I had to wait for one week before I got mine so I put it on.

Absolutely better than K701 I had a while ago. However, the overall quality is killed by zero presence of the bass. Where have they gone?

Posted

Pros: Spacious - for closed back. Non-fatiguing, easy going sound. Work surprisingly well with iPhone.

Cons: No better than a reasonable £30 pair of open back 'phones.

I tried these with a Benchmark DAC1, a Fiio X3, a Fiio X1+E17 and various lesser devices including an iPhone. They seem pretty easy to drive. Music was a mixture of classical and Jazz - both CD quality and HiRes. 

 

My value rating is based on the £107 I actually paid from Amazon. I am having to keep reminding myself how cheap they now are in order to give them much praise though. I guess the heavy discounting of these should have told me that they were not that special.I would certainly have been pretty pis**d if I had paid full price.

 

Their best attribute is a surprisingly spacious presentation - about as good as a cheapish pair of open 'phones. To me they didn't sound any better than my £30 Jays-vJAYS except, for some reason with an iPhone. There seems to be some sort of synergy going on with the iPhone and they made it sound better than I have ever heard it. IF the iPhone was my sound source I would have been very pleased with the K550's but it isn't, so I'm not. They have a pretty laid-back relaxed presentation without any intrusive exaggeration but also without clearly presenting the fine nuances that you can always hear in real life (musicians breathing, fingers sliding on strings, valves clacking, scores being tuned, chairs squeaking etc). IF you can get them comfortable, they would probably be OK for long-term, relaxing listening but if you are trying to listen carefully, they just don't deliver.

 

Although huge, they don't actually look too silly when on your head. It is difficult not to think of Dr Who and the Cyber-men though.  They feel fairly robust and appear well made but I don't find them comfortable. I have no problem with head-squeezing or seal - that's all works just fine for my head. My problem is that the padding on the top of my head just doesn't protect me. After a few minutes I am uncomfortably aware of the weight pressing  down on the top of my skull. Easily cured with a bit of foam padding but do you really want to do that..........

 

For £107 they are pretty good value for CLOSED 'phones but in no way exceptional - unless you use an iPhone.

Posted

Pros: Balanced response, Versatile, Closed-back with an open sound, Build quality

Cons: Lack-luster with classical, ears touch drivers, take a while to break in, lose some personality with time

            When I purchased my AKG K550, I was in the market for a closed-back headphone that gave me the best open-back sound while containing the noise so I could use them in a dorm room. The AKG K550 does that and much more.

 

            After a few days of pink noise break in and heavy music listening, they really showed their true high-performance colors. The highs were balanced and resolving, the mids forward as in any AKG headphone, and the lows are rich and placed perfectly within the frequency spectrum. I was initially blown away by the response of these headphones for being closed back, as they offered a very distinct open-back like sound, while being a convenient closed back headphone. The isolation on these headphones is beyond excellent if you can find the right seal and headband adjustment. Many people have had issues with fit, but with a little tweaking they are easy to seal and will accommodate any head size.  I’ve had these headphones for a few months now, and sadly they have become a bit more dull and less dynamic with time, but not to the point where they aren’t fun to listen to anymore.

 

            The build quality of the K550s is fantastic. The top headband is made of brushed aluminum with the AKG logo laser-etched into the top. You can bend and shape the headband in anyway if you do it sensibly (don’t fold it or snap it…). The hinge where the band is connected to the ear-cups is a high-quality soft-touch plastic. I sometimes find it difficult to gauge what some people mean by high-quality plastic, so for comparison purposes, the plastic used is like what you would come across in the interior of a car’s dashboard; solid and sturdy, but lightweight and soft to the touch (if that helps at all). The lower part of the hinge is a textured aluminum that is also soft to the touch and feels like it will last for ages. The hinge and ear-cups are held on by a solid aluminum bolt, which looks mighty-fancy, and screams quality and durability. The back of the driver encasings are aluminum with the AKG logo again laser-etched into the metal, and the outer ear-cups are the same soft touch plastic used for the hinges. The leather for the ear-cups is very-high quality, although I think it is a pleather material as opposed to a genuine leather material. I like to compare it to that of the Bowers&Wilkins P7. The cable could be considered a bit long for portable use. I’m not sure why they made it so lengthy as these were marketed as a portable headphone. There are easy remedies for this though, I used a suggestion from the K550 appreciation thread and tied a Chain Sinnet (monkey braid) knot with the cable (I’ll post the link to how to tie this at the end of the review). Although these headphones are designed in Austria and made in China, AKG did not skimp out on anything on the quality side of things. I can tell they will be in good condition for a good amount of time. Also, I’m not really sure what brands are trying to go for when they state, “Designed in ________.” It doesn’t mean anything different to me. It seems to me as if they are trying to say something designed in Austria is better than something designed in China, and without stating this, a consumer would be turned away by the “Made in China” decal. Don’t let this influence your purchase when dealing with any headphone.

 

            I’ve seen some occasions where people have had issues with the comfort of these headphones, but for me that was not the case. Once you break the leather in, it becomes soft and cool. At first, the ear cups made my ears a bit sweaty after a few hours of listening, but with time, the leather has worn in and become a bit cooler for long listening sessions. My one complaint would be that my ears do touch the drivers and become a bit sore after a while. If I shuffle them around on my head a bit it takes care of the problem and I can go on until I need to repeat the readjustment. If that’s something that bothers you, these may not be for you, although there are some mods that can take care of the issue. Many people also complain about the lack of padding on the headband, but I find it to be adequate and haven’t noticed any issues with comfort on the top of my head. If you find the right fit and seal, these headphones are very comfortable, just note that the drivers aren’t to deep inside the ear-pads, which is not ideal for most people.

 

            I listen to a wide variety of music, and I believe that it is important to include a descriptive listening evaluation in these reviews so I can convey to you how they sound throughout the spectrum of music because everyone has a different taste and wants something different when they are trying to decide which headphones to purchase (the broader the review, the better). Before I go into a listening analysis, as stated, I’ll just again say that these headphones are my favorite closed back cans that have the capability to be portable, are extremely durable, and still sound incredible. Remember that they wont be as detailed and honest as an open backed counterpart, but they’ll come close to performing as an open backed headphone with the benefit of not having sound leakage and having good isolation. As compared to many of the closed-back headphones around this price range, they are some of the best, and I HIGHLY recommend giving them a listen and if you’re in the market, considering to purchasing this product. You will not be disappointed.

 

Test Songs (all FLAC files)

 

1. Pop (female vocal): ZZ Ward – Put the Gun Down

           

            ZZ’s vocals sound a bit recessed but resolving. A bit of distortion when the snare is on top of her voice. The drums sound harsh, a bit trebly, but nothing unbearable. The kick drum is supposed to be “decayish” on this song, so I’m disregarding the thickness of the low end drum response. Guitars sound detailed but a bit laid back. Bass is full and round, not too forward, there’s enough there to be honest to the mix. Overall a great sounding track on the K550s. There just seems like there’s something missing dynamically.

 

2. Pop (male vocal): John Mayer – Paper Doll

 

            John’s vocals sound exquisite. When the harmonies come in they sound separated and lush. The guitar is panned but doesn’t lose ANY tone. It’s a full and dynamic guitar sound. This is my favorite part of listening to this song on the K550s. The bass is full, maybe a little light. Sean Hurley, John Mayer’s bassist uses a fender jazz bass on this recording though, so it is very true to the sound of his instrument. The synth effect at the end has a “middy” push. It is very clear and harmonic. The K550 handles male vocals exquisitely. This is a great example of what this headphone can pull off.

 

3. R&B (female vocal): Beyonce – Listen

 

            Again I find that Beyonce’s voice is a bit recessed, but resolving. This seems to be how the K550 handles female vocals. Nothing too noticeable, but if you are listening for it, you will definitely notice. The strings sound fantastic. The balance between the instruments is breathtaking. The background vocals are very deep and full, maybe a bit back in the mix. The peak of the song sounds great. Everything is separated. It sounds very theatrical (this was in the musical and movie Dreamgirls, so that might be where the theatrics come from). Bass sounds a little light for my taste; it sits right in the frequency range where this headphone has a bit of a struggle. The piano is very clean and precise, this headphone loves acoustic instruments.

 

4. R&B (male vocal): Luther Vandross – Never Too Much

 

            This song sounds spectacular. The bass is so detailed and fun to listen to. The midi instruments sound so true and artificial, but that’s what the track is going for here. The strings again sound fantastic. I cant get over the sound of the strings, it’s bright and lush, but so easy and pleasing to listen to. Guitar sounds a little treble heavy, but that could be what they were going for in the production. Luther’s vocals are simply incredible. I feel like he is singing to me. They are so dynamic and intimate. These headphones pair so very well with his vocal timbre, it impresses me every time I listen to this song. The whole harmonic range is so smooth and it feels as if the K550 just dances around the frequency spectrum with ease.

 

5. Jazz (instrumental): Bob Acri – I Remember Clifford

 

            Wow. That trumpet. The warmth and resonance is so defined and resolving. The bass is deep and detailed; I love how the producer placed it in the mix and how this headphone responds to it. The drums sound so full. This song paired with the K550s is just right. It sounds most like a home theater in the sense that everything sounds so open and responsive.

 

6. Jazz (instrumental… again): John Coltrane – Giant Steps

 

            I chose to do another instrumental jazz tune because the previous one is slower. This contrasts that with a fast saxophone melody and an analog recording style as opposed to the newer Bob Acri recording. Everything just sounds so easy. The saxophone is all in the left channel, which is where its supposed to be because of the old stereo recording style. You can really hear John Coltrane’s real sound on this track. These headphones respond so well to instrumental jazz. It’s a joy to listen to. The piano, bass, drums, and saxophone sound perfectly separated. The honesty of the sound is remarkable for these open-backed headphones. All of John’s notes come out sounding full and dynamic. A lot of other headphones struggle with doing that on this song.

 

7. Jazz (female vocal): Dinah Shore – Then I’ll Be Tired of You

 

            As opposed to the pop and R&B female vocals, female jazz vocals sound very forward and proper in the K550. I was going to listen to a Norah Jones tune, but that is more of a pop production style, older female jazz vocal production is different. This is a true jazz performance and standard. This headphone also loves Dinah Shore’s voice. It’s rich and detailed. Close your eyes and you will feel as if you are there sitting next to her. The band sounds very mid-heavy, which I like, but the bass is thin while the vocals are present. The drums sound great out to me, which is odd because drum production back then wasn’t spectacular by any means. This headphone isn’t at it’s best for female jazz vocals, but it can still handle it remarkably well.

 

8. Jazz (male vocal): Frank Sinatra – Theme from: New York, New York

 

            The horn intro sounds fantastic. Frank’s voice is full and intimate. The horns are spectacular, lush and vivid. There is little distortion and listening on the K550 makes you feel as if you are there in the concert hall this was recorded in. The realism of this track is fantastic. Everything sound “right.”

 

9. Ambient: Grouper – Vital

 

            The accuracy in this song is great, although it sounds a little thin overall. Open-backed headphones do this song justice. This song just sounds normal on the K550s. Ambient music can be very dull if it is not in full detail, and unfortunately that is the case here. The only thing that sounds up-to-par is the acoustic guitar, but with the thinness of the vocals, there is really nothing special here.

 

10. Hip-Hop: Blu – SLNGBNGrs

 

            If you mainly listen to hip-hop and aren’t a bass head (uncommon), these are the headphones for you. This is just magical. The bass and vocals are perfectly mixed in with the synth and the beat. Everything is so rich. When the instruments hit the lower frequencies, it is so rich and punchy as it’s supposed to be with this style of music. I could listen to hip-hop all day with these because its so fun and pleasing.

 

11. Electronic: Squarepusher – The Exploding Psychology

 

            Boy, if you want an accurate headphone for electronic instruments, you can’t go wrong with the K550, simply incredible. Everything is so dynamic and rich; it’s presented in a way in which every nuance can be picked out. The bass is thick and I find these better for listening to electronic than an open backed pair because of the accurate and punchy bass response electronic artists go for. The sound field is fantastic and all the different textures sound perfectly separated. If you purchase these, you will automatically appreciate dynamic electronic music.

 

12. Classical (orchestral): Bela Bartok – Musik fur Saiteninstrumente und Celeste

 

            Hm. Not much here. The soft strings are very unrefined. The louder part of the piece is thicker, but the strings nonetheless sound thin and undetailed. The cello and bass sound ok, there is not to much to say about the lower strings. Although smooth, this is where the K550 struggles a bit. The dynamics sound brittle, maybe a bit loose. It struggles to handle the whole orchestra without distortion. The bass is nice at the louder sections, but the highs are just so bland and relaxed.

 

13. Classical (film score): Hans Zimmer – Time (Incetpion OST)

 

            A bit better than the Bartok symphony, but there is still something missing. The better production quality makes up for the K550’s lack of harmonic response in the strings. Not much distortion as opposed to the previous piece. The electronic instruments in this song sound accurate, and have a nice dynamic effect when paired with the K550s sound stage. Again, the strings sound like they’re just… there.

 

14: Classical (solo piano): Yundi Li – Chopin: Scherzo no. 2 in B Flat minor op. 31

 

            The piano sounds a bit thin. When Yundi hits the lower range of the piano it fills up a bit, nothing to write home about though. The reverb is nice, maybe a bit thin as well. The K550s do not do the piano justice here.

 

15. Folk: Wesley Jensen – Of Life of Love of Tears

 

            This song sounds great. The reverb and accuracy of the instruments is well presented. The acoustic guitar sounds full, rich, and balanced. Vocals sound nice and detailed. You can hear all of the tones coming from the guitar and by this I mean fingers sliding across strings, fret buzz, etc. The main focus of this tune is the vocals, and boy do they sound great.

 

16. Rock: Tom Petty: You Don’t Know How it Feels

 

            Sounds very familiar to the folk example. The vocals are well presented, the drums sound great, acoustic guitar shines as it’s supposed to. Maybe a bit too laid back though, everything could be a bit more forward although just boosting the master makes up for that but can make the K550s get a little messy distortion wise.

 

17. Hard Rock: Iron Maiden – The Number of The Beast

 

            The intro to this song sounds great. The guitars are well presented with good detail. The bass is accurate, maybe a little light when in unison with the guitar. The only complaint here is that it sounds a little treble heavy, a little more low end would do this genre good.

 

18. Metal: Meshuggah – Lethargica

 

            The distortion on the guitars sounds great. The bass and kick drum don’t interfere with the other instruments. Vocals are very detailed; the mids are very apparent and blend well with the rest of the songs dynamic level. The lower register of the eight-string guitar really stands out to me here, great tone, not too “floppy” as lots of other headphones make this song sound.

 

After listening to these pieces and evaluating how they sound with the K550, I’ve come to appreciate this headphone even more than I had before. It’s got such a great sound that is so unique to its closed-back design. Although it does lack a bit of precision and detail for classical music, it is well rounded for the other genres, which have a more forward-sophisticated production style. The bass is deep and refined, the mids forward, and the highs sparkly and detailed. The build quality is phenomenal, the sound is unique and balanced, and if you find the right fit, these headphones will keep you well isolated from outside noise. They used just the right amount of tuning in these cans and it really shows how great the engineers at AKG are. What they’ve created here is a masterpiece. If you get the chance, give them a listen; you will be glad that you tried them out.

 

If you are considering buying these and would like me to listen to anything to tell you how its sounds, I would be more than happy to do so, just message me and I’ll respond shortly after.

 

Here’s the link to the Chain Sinnet (monkey braid) knot for cable management: http://www.animatedknots.com/chainsinnet/index.php?Categ=decorative&LogoImage=LogoGrog.jpg&Website=www.animatedknots.com

Posted

Having owned quite a few closed back headphones I have never experience the open sound these AKGs produce. Yes they may be light on bass but they excel in every other quadrant. Detail, tone and space ooze from these headphones and draw you in. At this price point I would dare to say they are unmatched if you want a truly uncoloured musical listening experience. One snag is people with smaller heads may not get a good seal around the ear cups which will ruin the experience. Try before you buy!

Posted

Pros: Sound, Overall quality, Comfort, Closed-back but they don't sound like it, Bang for the buck

Cons: Non-removable cable, Cable is very long (3m), Can be hard to drive from small devices, not recommended for small heads because of sealing issues

This a review, as well as bit of a comparison to the Focal Spirit One, as those are the last headphones I owned and I absolutely loved them. 

Man, where to start with these; right off the bat let me tell you that I absolutely love them. They are totally different from the Spirit One, and in a very positive way. When I first got the 550's, I was surprised at how heavy the box is. Now to anyone who thinks you get a lot of accessories with the K550's, I have to disappoint you. All you get are the headphones and a quarter inch adapter, the latter of which is gold plated and screws on top of your cable. Everything about the headphones exudes quality, which couldn't be said about my Spirit Ones, as their headband and joints are made only of plastic, and thus cracked under my big head. The 550's cable is not removable and it is 3 meters long. That's definetly something to keep in mind. Alternatively, you could go with K551, which have a detachable cable. Me, I just couldn't justify the hefty price difference between the two.

 

When you put the K550's on your head, there are two things you immediately notice (coming from Spirit Ones): Man, there things are huge! And; Man these things are comfortable! Seriously, comfort is insanely good, which once again can't be said for the S1.
I don't know if I would take these out in the public though, as they are quite big and the cable is looooooong for mobile use. 

 

Enough of the chatter now, and let's get to the sound :)

I listen to music through the following setup: 
-HP Envy 17 Laptop with FLAC's or Spotify- FiiO E07-K Andes USB DAC/amp (To bypass the HORRID beats audio on the laptop, that RUINS anything connected to it)- AKG K550
 

When I first started listening, I noticed that you absolutely need a good seal with these headphones, in order to enjoy them. For me, that's easy. But for anyone with small heads, and/or women, this might be a real issue. Try not to buy them blind like I did, and try them in a store to see if they fit. Once I found the perfect seal, I was amazed at how much bass there was. Compared to the Focal, which are said to have a lot of bass, I was really surprised because the AKG have more of it. The bass is deep and very well extended into the sub-bass range. It also never sounds boomy or muffled, nor is there too much of it. 
Next, I wanna mention the soundstage: WOW, do they sound different than anything I've owned before, even though they are closed as well. They sound very similar to the K701, which I had the pleasure of testing. Instrument separation is excellent, and there is no "overlapping" of treble sounds, like I've noticed in the Focal. Mids are not as warm as the Focals' and overall, the K550 sound more detailed and technical, while the Spirit One are very warm and love vocals. Not to say that the AKG's don't, it's just a different kind of love :) . (The upper mids can sound a little (too) prominent at times)
Now for the highs, as they were the most notable change for me in comparison to the Focal; they are a lot more prominent and not rolled off, especially in the lower to mid-highs. They provide a nice amount of sparkle and excitement in my opinion, but sometimes at a cost: The 550's are kind of "unforgiving" when it comes to older recordings and lower bitrates. They will bring out every imperfection in the sound and can thus produce hissing and siblances. This was notable on older rock/metal recordings or such that weren't perfectly mastered, which is most of them. (Dream Theaters older albums are an example here).

Overall, I'd call the sound open, pleasent and enjoyable. 

 

Should you buy these headphones? -Absolutely. That is, if you can find a good seal, and you don't plan taking these on your commute every morning. The great sound, quality and comfort, as well as the the awesome bang-for-buck ratio are reason enough to buy them. But for small heads, and a closed portable, I'd still favor the Spirit One.

Posted

Pros: Sound, Fit, Style

Cons: Ears Can Get Sore

I've constantly said I wanted to try these.

I've seen the price tag stay at $200, and it's appropriate.

It's big, but has elements.

It's sound is stand out, Class A, $200 Sound.

 

The AKG K550

I've been wanting to try these since I seen the price tag, after searching for an upgrade, looking at the MDR-7506, and seeing these side by side, the MDR-7506 is OK, but has a purpose. It's a Studio Monitor, that's it's justice.

The AKG K550 is an important piece in it's price range, and it reminds us as the why the M50 lost it's reputation.

 

I finally got a chance to borrow these.

 

Let's discuss.

Build Quality:

- To one who can appreciate, is to one who's more likely to fall more in love.

Those are definitely words to live by when looking at this as a beginner headphone. 

It's a big headphone.

- She's built like a brick house.

Not to be confused with the song, but the headphone is heavily proportioned, and has a beautiful slick look, also durable... more durable than most.

 

Easily put, it's a headphone that for it's price, though not a Studio Monitor, it's built to take a beating like one.

 

Sound:

We aren't going to get into Highs, Mids, & Lows, but we'll discuss this sound signature widely.

 

My impression of the sound at first was that it had an artificial sound to it.

 

Be It This Is A Sub-Open Back Design by sound.

The Soundstage is a bit awkward though. I'd compare if to being in a square shaped room, and telling everyone to face their corner and begin to play.

 

This created a mere echo in the vocal signature, quite disturbing, but after some burn in the sound smoothed out, but remained to sound in that pitch.

The Bass is VERY FULL, TIGHT, & COLORFUL, it's full of character. I can't say that there's even a true sound for the Bass. 

 

That said, this headphone will kindly fit any genre, and is polite to Hip Hop, & Rap for a change.

I think after seeing that this didn't budge much with Rap based genres I found my disappointment.

Techno, House, & other Electric genres lacked clear detailing, they weren't as vibrant, and you didn't feel like you were getting to experience the vibrations and clicking that some people find in these genres.

 

 

On my last bit of information, I think with the things this can has to offer, it's the best in it's range if you aren't looking for a Studio Monitor.

It's unique, and I would also argue, if you're not used to Warm, or Cold Sounding signatures, and don't wanna jump into a random experience, this is perfect for the job.

I didn't find a genuine sound fit to this, it never had a too Bright sound, it wasn't ever truthfully relaxed, and the Bass notes, undertones, and playbacks weren't Warm sounding.

It's mixed, almost giving you a hollow type of sound.

Posted

Pros: Comfort, Isolation, Balance, Detail

Cons: Nothing at this price.

Been a while since I bought some new headphones. The HD800's put an end to that for the last couple of years... But I wanted some closed back for certain times and so snapped these up. 

 

The balance of these is very good indeed, as is the tone. The AKG sound in a closed back pretty much. More midcentric than the KXXX with a closer image - slightly warmer but still with plenty of bite at the top. I'm impressed with the isolation as well- wasn't expecting too much - I wear glasses and I still get a very good seal. The comfort of the pads is another plus- very soft. 

 

The mid frequencies are much better on these than the KXXX and this is most welcome. (no nasty peak at 4k)

 

I wouldn't normally recommend any closed back hp for classical music but these sound great. Obviously not as airy as their older open back brothers, but the imaging is very focused and certainly open enough for large scale orchestral works. The detail retrieval is on par with the KXXX imo, only a little more more smeared at the lower end. 

 

I would describe the sound sig as typically AKG - 'dry' apart from the warm bottom end. I've read a few reviews that describe these as sounding more like an open headphone. They do have an ample soundstage for closed but they still sound like a closed headphone.  

 

Yup, an absolute bargain for what they are going for these days!   

AKG K 550
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Description:

With the K 550s, AKG engineers have struck a masterful balance between the noise-isolating qualities of closed-back headphones and the spacious, dimensional sound of an open-back design – creating reference-class headphones ideal for private listening both at home and on the go. 50mm drivers, the largest in our product line, deliver great AKG sound from your hi-fi system or virtually any portable device. The large ear cups and new headband design ensure an amazingly comfortable fit, and the 2D-axis mechanism folds flat to stow or go. Acoustic Seal: Closed Driver Type: Dynamic Ear Coupler Type: Full-Size Coupler Size: Large Cord Type: Straight Left-Side Cord Length: 9.5ft Detachable Cable: No Impedance @ 1kHz: 32 Ohms Isolation: -12dB ~ -18dB Weight: 305 grams w/o cord Connector Type: 1/8 Headphone Type: Full Size Manufacturer Warranty: 2 years Sensitivity: 114 dB

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