Cons - Thin cables with high memory, Disintegrating earpads, 2.5mm cable jack, Weak clamp
The sound signature is relatively neutral with a moderate bass preference. I didn't use it all that much, but after around three years the earpads started to disintegrate. Another thing to note is that the metal strain relief broke off on one of the supplied cables meaning it could slide freely along the entire cable. Due to it's low clamping force, and by extension weak isolation, I wouldn't recommend it for travelers.
Pros - Clean details, airy soundstage, good instrument separation, decently extended bass albeit not that visceral. Good build quality and portability.
Cons - The treble peak puts a "bright filter" on everything. This may be tiresome to some.
AKG K545 Review
I was on the search for closed, portable circumaural headphones that would be driven easily by weak sources like smartphones - I commute often by train, and as much as I love my Koss Porta Pros, the lack of isolation forced me to look for something else. I've owned Etymotic in the past, but IEM-type phones just don't work for me. After some research, I decided to give the K545 a try - I have a pair of K240 Sextetts that are my favourite headphones in many regards, so AKG brand loyalty may have played a role in my decision.
A bit about me
Joined Head-fi at the start in 2001. I'm a professional violinist and I listen to mainly classical and jazz, with a good amount of eclectic everything. Just so you have an idea where I'm coming from, I've owned Sennheiser HD600, Sony MDR-V6, Etymotic ER-4S, Koss Porta Pro (and derivatives), and my current main headphones are the AKG K240 mid-production Sextett. I used to build and sell headphone amps here on the forums. All I've got now is a pretty basic self-made CMoy.
BUILD and LOOKS
I got the white version, just because there was a sale on Amazon. I'm not too fussed, but the fact that they match my Moto X white version was a neat bonus I guess. The build quality seems solid - not the indestructable tanks that my old Sony V6's were, the build really seems quite good. The joint in the headband where the earcups rotate 90 degrees (to allow lying them flat in a bag or whatever) doesn't seem super strong, so I wouldn't be too rough with them. Also the rotating cups and the single entry cable means the cable to the right earcup travels through the whole headband, transversing two of these rotating joints. I can imagine this will be a common point of failure with these cans. But then again, they've been doing single-sided cabled headphones for decades, so perhaps they have this down pretty good and I'm worrying for nothing. Speaking of the folding design, they get flat enough to fit easily into my shoulder bag for when I'm on the go, so they’re definitely portable enough. They look ... well like headphones. I don't know what to say. The metal plates on the earcups kind of are reminiscent of the styling of older AKG studio headphones, including the Sextett, which I of course appreciated.
They're comfortable, even though my big ears don't totally fit in the earcups. My lower earlobe gets caught by the pad, but nonetheless I can wear these without my ears feeling hot or cramped, and the weight distribution on the head is good.
They isolate pretty well, but lots of ambient noise tends to accentuate the headphone's sound character, perhaps to a fault. I describe a real-world usage scenario at the bottom of the sound section, so check that out.
BONUS FEATURE: HEADSET
As an added bonus for smartphone users like me, the headphones come with 2 cables, one for iPhones and another for Android phones. They have a build in microphone to turn them into a headset so you can take calls with a push of the built in button. Definitely useful so that you don't have to take off your headphones in order to answer your phone.
I guess a lot of you skipped all that text I wrote so far to get to this section. Before I start, I guess I'll open with a general observation: closed, consumer-grade headphones have come a long way since 2001. Back then, your choices were limited to things like a Sony MDR-7506 (MDR-V6) or a Sennheiser HD-25, or Etymotic IEMs, all of which were designed first and foremost as professional tools of the trade, and not primarily for private music enjoyment. And all of these shared something in common, that is - they were like taking a magnifying glass and examining your favourite albums up close - often too close, as you ended up seeing more than you wanted to, like individual untrimmed hairs and clogged pores. Since that time, portable listening habits of society has changed so much that there evidently is enough demand for manufacturers to cater to the travelling audiophile more than ever before. Good news for people like me.
So before I could start evaluating the sound, it took quite a bit to figure out how to position the drivers in order to get the optimal sound quality and seal. After a LOT of trial and error, I discovered that the most intuitive position, that is, as circumaural as possible and ears placed fairly centrally, ended up producing the sound that these headphones were designed to produce. Pushing the earcups against my head so that the earcups kind of self-align themselves to my head was the method I ended up sticking with, for finding the right amount of earcup tilt in both axes.
Short summary of the sound:
Clean, clear, with great imaging - but maybe a bit too bright. Mostly neutral, detailed character, with deep bass, albeit not in a viscerally present way, transparent mids on the drier side, and treble sparkle which gives air and space at the best of times, on the other hand overly brilliant and fatiguing at the worst of times.
There’s enough bass, and it extends pretty deep too... but why does it feel somewhat "disconnected" on some intimate tracks? Looking at goldenears.net's frequency response graph, you see a bit of dip at 200-300hz. I'm not a sound engineer, but apparently this is the area they like to boost to give cellos and bass clarity, whereas too much of it risks making muddy messes in the midrange. This is pretty consistent with what I'm hearing, as the mids are so incredibly transparent, but stuff like upright bass when listening to jazz somehow feels a bit glossed over and lacking in texture. On the other hand, I have a feeling the reserved upper bass gives complex symphonic music a chance to breathe and achieve an incredibly transparency.
Midrange clarity is superb, and mid and upper registers of piano or string instruments are pretty natural, as in their tonalities aren’t getting messed up by weird peakiness in the midrange. There's some extra sprinkle of spice in the treble adding a bit of brightness that makes trumpet or violin sound more brilliant than it probably ought to be. As a professional violinist working in an orchestra, I am probably more picky about accurate string sounds than most people. Looking back at the frequency response measurements, the peak in the 8k-10k region is probably responsible for the brilliant disposition. Sibilance is gracefully avoided despite this, and I’m pleased to report that S’s and Z’s didn’t cause my ears any discomfort.
If I were being picky, I would say I would prefer a bit more presence in jazz vocals. Unfortunately, the midrange to beat in my house is the mid-production Sextett, which has the lushest, most present, engaging, lively midrange I've had the pleasure of experiencing. So, the K545 isn't quite that. But it's still a very solid performance. After all, lush and romantic can also get in the way sometimes. The Sextett, when confronted with a full symphony orchestra, can struggle a bit to present all the instruments clearly. It's like this: when listening to Ella Fitzgerald on the Sextett, it's like she dropped by to perform in your living room. Listen to the Berlin Phil on the Sextett... and sometimes it feels a bit like there's a whole damn symphony orchestra in your living room. Well, I should say my living room, which isn’t that spacious.
Which brings me to the great strength I discovered in these headphones - the slightly more matter-of-fact midrange (compared to the Sextett) and extra treble sparkle gives orchestral music excellent instrument separation and imaging. In the most complex of passages, I can pick out individual instrumental lines easily because of this. Unfortunately this extra clarity is very much a double-edged blade. It can bring out some great sense of space and air, but on the other hand, particularly if the mix is on the bright side, my ears felt a bit blinded by the extra treble glare.
I took them for a whirl on my regular 2 hour train journey between Hannover and Berlin, Germany. The amount of isolation you get in this scenario is quite adequate. People chatting in the seats behind you are reduced an indistinct murmur so that you can't really understand what they're saying even with music not playing. Loud announcements are still perceivable in that you realise that maybe you should take off the headphones and listen up, which I like from a safety standpoint. The rumbling of the train itself is blocked fairly well.
One very broad observation though: when you’re riding the train, or any other vehicle for that matter, the sounds that are blocked most by closed headphones is in the treble region, gradually decreasing in effectiveness as you move to the lower frequencies. As I mentioned, these headphones are on the brilliant side of neutral already - try droning out the bass and lower mids with engine noise, and all you’re really left hearing clearly is the treble. For me, in this situation, the listening experience was not satisfactory, and has me looking into warm headphones with rolled-off treble as an alternative.
I can understand exactly what AKG engineers were going for here - the feeling of a spacious, clean, clear sound in a closed headphone, in a world where closed headphones typically sound muddy, bassy, honky, and well… closed. And in that respect they have succeeded. You get a soundstage and instrument separation that you normally associate with open-backed designs, in a relatively compact, portable package that provides decent isolation.
The other side of the coin is, the brilliant treble that contains all those spacial cues also puts a “brilliant filter” on instruments, particularly in the upper registers like violins and trumpets. It’s not a shrill, unpleasant sound, but it might be fatiguing for some. I’m a lover of the lush midrange - the Sextett is my current benchmark for that. I also keep coming back to the Koss Porta Pros for their unabashedly warm, fun sound. So for people who fall into that category with me, might find the AKG K545 to be too clinical, dry and bright. I was looking for something for the train, I must say that in this usage scenario, I did not really enjoy my listening experience, and seeing that I’m looking for headphones specifically for that purpose, I unfortunately will not be keeping them in my collection. On the other hand, people who love detail and air, and are looking for a closed, portable package, this might be worth looking at.
Pros - Musical, versatile and satisfying bass, excellent separation, responds well to most genres.
Cons - Can sound a bit bright and harsh at times, shaky seal, problematic with glasses, needs a little juice.
These are my first impressions and not a full review as such. '.
The headphones look very sexy and the build feels quality. Moving parts are stiff and feel robust. Although, the headband feels flimsy compared to the rest of the phones. All in all satisfying enough. The cable with the smartphone controls is embedded in the plastic packaging. I'm trying not to tear the crap out of the packaging in-case I need to return them. Also, cables are short and feel a bit flimsy.
Straight out the box I wasn't initially blown away with the sound. I had to have the iphone nearly maxed to try and get the depth of sound that I was expecting. I moved to my laptop and the on-board soundcard provided enough power to bring the cans to life. I have ordered a portable amp to really get the best out of these when on the move.
I really struggled for the 1[sup]st[/sup] couple of hours trying to get a good seal with glasses on. I eventually bent the headband slightly and this increased the clamp. One thing worth noting is that the ear pad hinges are very stiff but if you move them whilst on your head this helped with the seal – seems obvious but took me a while to realise...........
Soundstage: At first this seemed very claustrophobic but I am not used to closed cans. Once I became used to the lack of openness, to a degree I lost the inside your head feeling. On Gypsy Kings – Hotel California I felt like the band was in a circle and I was sitting in the middle, a very encompassing 360 degree sound. It is quite enclosed feeling but this makes performances feel really intimate, like a concert in your head. Some songs will place the vocals slightly in front and above you and others the singer is right in the middle of your head.
Bass: I love the bass presentation! I feel it’s natural and accurate. On Beck’s - Volcano it produces a satisfying sub bass boom and Daft Punk’s – Around the World was totally slammin’. On Pink Floyd’s – Money it delivers enough punch and presence. It responds faithfully to the source. I did feel that the bass kept itself to itself and didn’t mask the lower mids too much. The atmosphere that the sub bass rumble adds to Pink Floyd’s – When the Tigers Broke Free is breathtaking.
Mids: The mids really shine on guitar bite and guitar/vocals have great full body and presence. Cello’s and violin have great presence and extend down into the upper bass nicely. Trumpets and sax sound full bodied, raspy down below and smooth up top. Some tracks where there was a lot going on the mids sounded slightly recessed making the mix a little squashed.
Treble: Hmmm being on my first listening day I’m sure my opinions will change most here. Acoustic tracks had a lovely air and presence at the top. Orchestral cymbals had sizzle. Highs were rolled off and didn’t fully extend but were very lively. I found the highs could emphasise sibilance in some vocals. Busy cymbal/percussive passages could be a bit shrill/piercing, especially with a poor seal. Throughout the day this has been improving. The sound sig is way brighter than the Sennheiser’s I’ve been using and will take a while to adjust.
Separation: This shines on these phones and really adds to the sound stage. It helps bring out nuances, details and puts a smile on your face. Frank Zappa tracks were an aural treat, bringing out the quality production, stunning.
Isolation: Low clamp, so not amazing but seems sufficient depending on what volume you listen at. I had no issues walking next to a main road.
Overall the headphones are very musical and respond well to most things you throw at them. I found them totally immersive and I got lost in the music, banging my head and pulling guitar faces. I would like them to clamp a bit tighter and have slightly smoother highs but I can live with that. They are super comfortable for me and I have worn them for hours no problem. Still struggling at times when I have glasses on to get a seal but I may order HM5 pads or just sand the legs on my specs as they are cheap. After 1 day I’m loving these, they look well sleek and more importantly I’m totally stoked on the sound, brings music to life.