Product in Review: AKG K545
· 50mm drivers
· 2D Axis folding function
· 99.99% oxygen-free cables
· 10Hz - 25kHz frequency response
· 97dB/mW sensitivity / 32 ohms impedance
· 1.2m Cable with + 1.2m w/o remote
· 281.5 g (9.9 oz) g
Comparisons to previous headphones:
In my search for portable headphones I have always found myself yearning for more. Recently, I had the privilege of owning and extensively hearing the NAD Viso HP50, Sennheiser Momentum and V-Moda M-100. They were all great sounding headphones that essentially had a determined flavor that set them apart. The HP50’s sound was the most neutral and refined, while the V-Moda M-100’s were the most fun and engaging. However, the drawbacks of either cans settled in with their inability to invoke enjoyment into my listening session when a song from a genre they were weaker in came along. Essentially, if I were listening to the HP50’s: Jazz, Rock and vocal Trance were excellently rendered and full of clarity and refinement. However, since I usually set my entire library on shuffle, various genres tend to pop up. When Drum&Bass or Dubstep came along, the HP50; though accurate in its presentation, was simply lacking engagement in those bass centric genres where the M-100’s shined. Same could be said for the M-100 when acoustic based genres popped up.
The Sennheiser Momentum was my middle ground headphone that sort of had some of what made the HP50 and M-100 shine; but not necessarily all of it. It quickly became my all a rounder headphone that didn’t excel in any particular genre, but didn’t really lack in any genre either. It had a rather wide band bass boost that occasionally resulted in a layer of bass protruding into the midrange ever so slightly and masking subtle details. The midrange of the Momentums was my favorite in presentation in terms of tonality and richness while the HP50 had exceptional separation and projection in the midrange. I always felt the HP50 had subtle honky characteristics to the vocals (midrange dip) that sort of played a major role to the RoomFeel technology creating a speaker like listening experience. That ultimately lead to my preferring the Momentums more fuller and vibrant midrange presentation. However, where the Momentum’s lacked was its treble. It was very smooth and with any peaks or sibilance, but lacked sufficient presence and extension. This hurt its ability to project an airy soundstage where the entire presentation can breathe. This lead to this being the most congested sounding headphone In this comparison.
My search continued for an all-around headphone that incorporated an enjoyable sound signature (not ruler accurate) while still having exceptional levels of refinement…
AKG K545 (QC issues):
After extensively reading the large thread on the AKG K545 on Head-Fi I began to grow a large interest for this headphone. It seemed to check all of my boxes and fall into a very affordable price bracket. I took the plunge and purchased a pair. Horror was in the near future… Initially, I purchased an orange pair; however, it was defective right out of the box. The left channel was noticeably lower in volume and had an enclosure rattle whenever large quantities of bass were played back. I immediately sent those back for an exchange. My replacement arrived defective out of the box. This time, there was driver flexing in the left channel whenever a seal was formed and I would adjust the cup on the side of my head. Also, the left channel was noticeably lower in volume and would distort on bass notes. Contemplating on whether or not to just get a refund and buy a different headphone I eventually thought: “Why don’t I just buy a black pair from BestBuy and see if I run into bad luck with this horrible QC again from AKG”.
The black pair I purchased from BestBuy was working out of the box. The channels were balanced with no distortion on bass frequency sweeps. Finally, I was able to experience the reputation these headphones have built online. My first impressions were exceedingly positive. They in summary managed to take the M-100 and HP50 and create a sound that incorporated their strengths.
Build Quality and Accessories:
The packaging of the AKG K545 was incredibly lackluster. Opening the box and untying the headphone from the plastic enclosure felt like I was removing a $30 headphone from its packaging. In comparison to the packaging of the Momentum and HP50, the K545 was nearly insulting. Within the packaging you received warranty documentation, a ¼” jack and 2 cables (Android & iOS). The K545s themselves are absolutely beautiful and robust in their appearance. Constructed in a hybrid of plastic and aluminum, they are very sturdy and light though appearing large and heavy. The cables however are functional and kudos to AKG for supplying a cable to satisfy both the iOS and Android user. Personally, I felt the cables were simply too thin and raised concern on their long term durability.
The AKG K545’s are probably a new era in terms of AKG’s traditional design of headphones. Usually people associate AKG with a very neutral or bright sound. With the introduction of the AKG K712 which takes the K701’s sound and adds more bass and warmth, AKG seems to be taking feedback from the consumers on what generally is the preferred sound signature. The AKG K545 in comparison to the AKG K550/1 is essentially what the AKG K712 is to the AKG K701. People complained about the AKG K550 being too thin and not have much warmth and emphasis down low which resulted in a very analytical and strict sound that I would never enjoy. So seeing AKG take the same speaker from the K550, reduce the size of the enclosure and increase the bass and lower midrange presence to spawn the K545 confirms that AKG is listening.
The sound of the AKG K545 is very enjoyable. I always catch myself simply dazing out and enjoying the music toe or finger tapping while bopping my head spontaneously as times flies by. This is what I have always wanted in a pair of headphones. I couldn’t care less about how fast the transient response is or what ub3r technology was placed into the speaker construction. If I didn’t forget where I was while listening to music, the headphone failed to impress me. This is what I find in a lot of expensive flagship headphones. They are incredibly technically proficient; however are boring to listen to and don’t move me one bit. The K545’s have a very seductive bass emphasis around 50-60 Hz which creates a visceral presentation of the bass when your music calls for it. I have always been a fan of sub bass emphasis over mid bass or upper bass which could potentially intrude into the midrange. The level of articulation and control in the bass allows the K545 to simultaneously introduce you to the sensation of your music while not disregarding the refinement and clarity. The V-Moda M-100’s had a very enjoyable bass presentation; however, it was too prominent in relation to the presence of the lower midrange resulting in a sort of recessed presentation that reduced my level of enjoyment when the proportion and placement of instruments were just blatantly off.
The K545’s are not as ruthlessly bass heavy, but manage to capture the right amount of bass while still delivering a very lively and balanced midrange presentation and boy do these things deliver a midrange. It is exceptionally clear, full and capturing the weight in the vocals and the subtle harmonics which ultimately creates a connection between you and the music beyond “just listening”. I still think the Sennheiser Momentum’s midrange is a tad bit less grainy sounding, but the K545’s separation and soundstage allows its vocals to sound more in front of you as opposed them being right on your face with the Momentum. Tonality wise, the Momentum and the K545 are about equal or maybe I slightly prefer the Momentum, it’s really a tossup. The HP50, is also exceptional in its ability to place the singer’s in different spots in the soundstage, but the slight midrange dip takes away points and ultimately makes it take a step behind the other two headphones.
I always have hated treble that oversteps its boundaries. One prime example was the Ferrari by Logic3 T350 headphone. The treble was too strident and grainy creating an artificial sounding signature that only worked with synthesized music. Any music that had any reference of realism such as instruments or vocals made those headphones sound insultingly wrong. The K545’s treble is probably equal to the HP50 in terms of presence and extension and level resolution. It’s a smooth treble that is delicate and rarely aggressive in its approach. It’s mostly very inoffensive and plays well with all the genres that I take interest in. The Momentum’s flaws began here where the K545’s seemed to keep chugging along and not losing momentum (no pun intended) in its ability to be versatile. In relation to the K550/1, the K545 has less treble presence; however I prefer a warmer sound over a neutral or bright signature because it’s easy to listen for extended periods of time. Also, when you go outside, the warm signature slightly transitions seamlessly into a more neutral signature due to ambient noise.
The K545’s soundstage rivals the HP50 which is a highly regarded thing to say. When I first heard the HP50, I was shocked by how non-closed it sounded. It reminded me of the Sennheiser HD650’s soundstage. The K545 at first glance appears less expansive but that is because of the larger emphasis in bass and lower midrange that creates the effect that you are closer to the performance. When you listen closely, you realize the K545 is no slouch in terms of soundstage capabilities and easily amazes me with the layer presentation that I experience. The ability for the K545 to place instruments in the sound scape is also great and really allows the music to breathe and unleash subtle textures and nuances. I would give the instrument separation crown to the HP50 primarily because of its more neutral sound allowing everything to come through evenly. Also, what amazed me about the M-100’s was its ability project an expansive soundstage and place sounds distinctively despite the heavy emphasis on bass. The Momentum is obviously the worse out of all of these headphones in this category and sounded more on the side of congested in direct comparison but it wasn’t unbearable, but just more on the average side. Some might prefer the Momentum’s soundstage and feel it is more intimate.
One thing I want to point out is the sensitivity of the K545’s. Even though it is 32ohms, I feel that out of a phone or standard DAp, it just doesn’t sound as robust and full. This headphone really scales with an amplifier which does take away from its portability factor; however, I just use my FiiO X3 when out and about. The X3 drives these wonderfully with volume to spare.
So, I think I have found my go to portable headphones for the time being as I don’t desire to search for another pair. I have auditioned the B&W P7, B&O H6 and various other top recommendations in this category and prefer the overall sound and package of the K545. I highly recommend these headphones to someone who is looking for a warm, rich and expansive sounding headphone; however, do keep in mind that there might be some DOA units still floating around. Besides that, for the affordable price of about $250, these headphones are a killer value…
Edited by SonusAudio - 1/25/14 at 12:45am