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Over-Ear item created by dweaver, Nov 1, 2013
Pros - Portable, Microphone, Removable cable, Sturdy headband
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.
Pros - Expansive Soundstage for closed backs, rich warm sound, accurate sound signature, detachable cables!
Cons - Personal Fit Issues
Background: While at college, I needed a high quality closed back set to drown out all of the ambient noise in college dorms. I have been using Sennheiser's exclusively for the past three years but the Momentum's did not interest me. I like a more industrial look for headphones and I wanted to progress into a more neutral signature to lift that Sennheiser veil. I was down to the Nad HP50's and the K545's and decided on the K545's (I thought the HP50's were ugly).
Packaging: I do not know why people care about packaging.... As long as I receive my cans here safely, I'm good. For those that do care, it was no frills basic packaging. It is not as fancy as the HP50's or Momentum's.
Build: I bought the all black one's.They are absolutely gorgeous. Classy and refined while retaining bold quality to it. I always thought Beat's were the best looking headphones (wish the sound quality matched their price tag) but these easily outshine them. I used to get stares at my HD439's to get regularly complimented by the K545's. Made of a mix of metal and plastics, it's quality absolutely holds up to the $250 price tag. They should have come with a case at this price point, though.
Comfort: By far my biggest con. The cups are a high quality leather and are extremely soft. It almost feels like a memory foam type material underneath. It has a pretty strong clamping force out of the box but it has subsided a bit with use. Although I have big ears, they within the diameter of the cups. However, The depth of the pads are far too shallow for me, leaving my ears rubbing on the driver. This results into discomfort after about 2 hours worth of continuous wear. I am in the process of buying replacement pads to resolve this! The Brainwavz HM5 Pads are deeper and bigger and fit the K545's. I am hoping these pads will resolve the fit issues.
Update: With the clamping force subsiding, my ears do not rub as terribly as before. I will provide more updates on the new pads when they arrive.
Sound: I have my set plugged into my E10 DAC/Amp with 320Kbps files from Spotify. The sound truly is a wonderful experience. I would say this set's sound signature is neutral with a slight emphasis in bass. The bass shines and extends well and I definitely feel the impact on songs that call for it. Voices and instruments hold weight and have a rich quality to them. The sound is spacious with clear and articulate separation. I would best describe them as a more articulate/adept Shure SE215. The bass is more controlled and is better behaved than the SE215's, allowing the mid's and treble to come through. The mids on the K545's are perfect. Everything is clean and clear, providing a very smooth presentation. Treble was something I had to get used to coming from Sennheiser's recessed treble, "dark sound." However, they reveal subtleties within the music I have never experienced and for that, I enjoy the attention to detail without having that tinny, sibilance vibe.
I feel they handle all genre's pretty well but fair better with more simplistic music. EDM/Dubstep bass wobbles and handles the abstract noises well. Jazz is silky smooth while rock remain raw and powerful. Classical shows how articulate the K545's are in instrument separation. On acoustic, they are just such an amazing experience. Every nuance is revealed providing an engaging and detailed account of the music playing. I caught myself getting lost in songs I have heard 100's of times. You can feel the emotion of artist's voice while feeling the vibrations of acoustic guitars slapping on the neck. Sometimes I am in awe by the clarity this set can reveal within the music. Little nuances like hearing feet tapping and minute ambient echo/reverb amount to an entirely new listening experience that made me fall in love with acoustic music all over again. This all results in a very natural, beautiful experience. It makes you forget about all the technology, advertisements, etc. and lets you focus and get lost in the music. It takes the tech our of the technology to focus on your music. What more can you want from a set?
Final remarks: I 100% recommend them to anyone looking for a quality closed back set of headphones. These have become my go to set over my HD 439's and HD 558's. Fit issues aside, they have easily become my standard to compare other sets by. Get them, lose yourself in the music.
Pros - Engaging Sound, Soundstage, Looks, Build, Price & Value.
Cons - Potential QC Issues, Bulky, May need an amp.
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…
Pros - excellent full bass response with comfortable yet portable size plus almost all of the K550's sound!
Cons - The cables are a bit short and the thinner pads are a bit less isolating.
AKG K545 K550’s little brother isn’t so little! First off I want to give a huge thanks to RazerDog Audio! I inquired about buying the K545 and they were kind enough to contact AKG about my interest in reviewing this headphone, they are a class act and great example of Online retailing done RIGHT! I also want to thank AKG for giving me this opportunity to review their FLAGSHIP Portable! (It’s a flagship portable in my mind anyway). This pair is a reviewers pair that did not have all the pieces as noted through out the review and is on LOAN (these were gifted to me about a week after writing up the review, Thank you AKG)
I am going to do this review initially on the headphone by itself then I have included a section on comparisons against other head phones I have owned including an extensive comparison against the K550 near the end.
Since this is a portable I have decided to use two different portable devices (iPad Mini and Nokia 920 smart phone) with no additional amplification or external DAC’s etc. playing 256KB MP3 files. This is to address the most common user of the headphone versus the Head-fi hard core user. Then I will have a section where I am using an Audioengine D1 DAC/AMP with my computer from FLAC files with a smaller set of notes where I use a small Indeed Tube amp.
Also take note: I am a low to medium volume listener of music and all my review is done at what I consider a medium volume level. For me this is a level that is enjoyable but I don’t feel like my ears are strained when I remove my headphones, even after extended listening sessions. I will state now the K545 starts to be a bit dull sounding at my lower listening levels (background music while doing heavy concentration or going to sleep) to too harsh at medium loud levels (levels where I find everything getting too loud, fun for a song or two but too uncomfortable for extended listening, I might feel a bit of fatigue after a couple of songs at this volume level).
OK lets deal with the physical stuff first. AKG has taken the K550 design and made the ear-pads thinner which has reduced the diameter of the cups by 3/8 of an inch which makes these lighter and much more portable oriented. The K550 always felt a bit to “Princess Leah” to me, the K545 on the other hand simply disappear from mind when I wear them and look darn good according to people around me. The thinner pad does make these less isolating though, good but not great in this department. One neat thing about the thinner pad is that they seal easier while only losing comfort by a very small margin. I believe the increase pressure per square inch of the pad surface accounts for the easier seal. In this area I think AKG has NAILED it in regards to making a portable headphone!
In regards to the cables, I think AKG may have erred slightly on portability as I thought the cable could have been maybe 6 inches longer. I also found the cables to be slightly too springy but still very serviceable. When I did have a chance to compare the K545 to the K550 I did find myself wishing I could have an “audiophile” straight that was longer for at home though and do hope AKG (or all the cable makers out there) will consider offering one as a purchasable accessory. While I am being critical in this area I want to stress only the extremely demanding audiophile members will feel slighted by the cables offered, for the average or new user, or those of us who enjoy portability at the expense of more premium feeling or exotically made cables will be “just fine”. Finally AKG has chosen to use an I shaped jack versus an L shaped one. I personally prefer L jacks but again am not too wrapped up my preference to be too worried about this. I do like the matching color aluminum ends though. NOTE: I only have the iPhone cable with my reviewer pair so have to assume the android cable will have the same jacks, material, and cable length.
My demo pair never had the case so I cannot comment on this accessory at this time but will update this section when I have a chance to see and use the case.
OK so let’s get into the important part, the sound!
All of my testing has been done using the following play list:
· Loreena McKennitt – Lullaby
· Patricia Barber – Miss Otis Regrets
· Diana Krall – Walk on By
· Nat King Cole – Forgive my Heart
· Pink Floyd – High Hopes
· Pink Floyd – Money
· Eagles – Hotel California
· AC/DC – Let There be Rock
· Supertramp – Lord is it Mine
· Heart – Magic Man
· Led Zeppelin – Dazed and Confused
· Led Zeppelin – In the Evening
· Greg Keelor – When I See You
· Wiener Philharmoniker, Karl Böhm, Hans Haselböck, Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor & Norbert Balatsch - Requiem in D Minor, K. 626 - Compl. By Franz Xaver Süssmayer: III. Sequentia: Dies Irae
· 2Cellos (Sulic and Hauser) – Smells Like Teen Spirit
· Giuliano Carmignola, Venice Baroque Orchestra & Andrea Marcon - Concerto for Violin, Strings and Harpsichord in G Minor, R. 331: I. Allegro
I will not critique each song individually as this review would go on forever. But I will comment on specific songs when relevant as I describe the various areas of sound being reviewed. The list is more to give everyone an idea of what music types I listened to while reviewing these. You can see I don’t have every genre of music listed as I don’t listen to everything and do not want to comment on genre’s I don’t like or understand as my comments might be completely off the mark for fans of those genres.
Bass – The bass of the K545 is full and impact-full when used with my portable devices and become even fuller to the point of being to much when I use my Audioengine D1 DAC or Tube amp. This is the area with the most change from the K550 and to my ears it is an improvement in most cases with only the odd song in my collection that comes across as to bass heavy and only when using a headphone amp. The level of sub-bass in “When I See you” for example is just sublime while songs like “Magic Man” and “Dazed and Confused” sound full and complete without going over the edge. Cello’s also come across with lots of timbre and resonance. AKG has managed to add the bass without negatively impacting the midrange or treble, no small feat.
Score – 90%
Midrange – The mid-range is slightly warm giving vocals a nice full body without making them to smooth or laid back. Guitars likewise don’t come across as thin or too harsh except for songs with heavy electic guitar riffs, out my song list “Let There be Rock” occasionally drifted into the harsh zone for me but this may also be as much about my changing song preferences as well. I have heard midranges that have more emotion and transparency but usually at the cost of potential sibilance or thinness. The K545 plays it a bit safe but not so much as to make these feel boring.
Score – 95%
Treble – The treble is the one area that is very reminiscent of the K550 for good or bad. Out of my playlist this added treble was sublime with all of the Jazz and occasionally steps over the line into harsh with harder rock tracks from Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. In my opinion the treble never reflected anything more or less than what was in the track though. The level of detail is high while never sounding artificial to my ears.
Score – 95%
Sound Stage – The sound is not as large as some of the other closed headphones I have owned but is above average and never felt artificially large or closed in. I would say it fits well with a portable headphone that might have instances where large would not work out while never making a person feel like they are to limited. Songs like “Lullaby” in particular sound quite expansive during the thunderstorm at the beginning of the song while other songs like “When I See You” have a strong holographic sense to them.
Instrument Separation – This is one area where some of the compromises made by AKG to make these portable does come into play. The headphone never feels congested but also lacks some of the air and space the K550 has. This is most noticeable with classic pieces that have large symphonies.
Isolation – Isolation also suffers in comparison to the K550 and some of the other closed headphones out there but in defense of the K545 all of the good isolators are also larger headphones. In comparison to the Sony MDR1R another portable oriented headphone isolation levels are very comparable.
Comfort – The comfort of this headphone has surprised me as my ears were just small enough to fit the inner diameter of the cup. I do think these are not quite as comfortable as the K550 but I also feel they are as comfortable for me as the Sony MDR1R which is a benchmark headphone for portable comfort in my experience. The 1R does have a larger cup though so will fit more ears than the K545. But I do suspect the softness of the cups make work for people who do have ears that touch the pads.
Source Equipment observations:
During my portable use I noticed quite a bit of difference from my iPad mini and my Nokia 920 phone. They both had about the same amount of power but the iPad was a much warmer/fuller sounding source than the Nokia 920 which has a colder presentation that is a bit thin in the mid-range. So like other headphones I have tried recently the K545 is quite source dependent. I initially disliked my Nokia but started to appreciate the contrast of thinness as it did help make the K545 a bit brighter.
I was very surprised by how well these performed when amped. My original RWAudio Amp1 and Little Dot Dac1 amp combo which is a fairly bright/cold setup worked well with the headphone but suffered a bit from the analytical nature of the setup but I still preferred it to just my portable source. When I hooked up my AudioEngine D1 though, the synergy was magical as it removed some of the harshness from the upper mid-range and treble and really helped the bass become even bigger (to the point of being maybe too thick at times). The sound became even warmer when I hooked up the little Indeed Tube amp to the AudioEngine D1 to the point I was finding it to warm and fluid for my liking. So again these will respond well to different combinations of source equipment and if you’re worried about my review being slightly off in an area your like you can compensate with the right stack.
Thoughts on how I feel the L545 stacks up against the portable competition:
OK so as can be seen by my scores I rate these around a 90% average, but I want to stress I am basing this average on these as a closed portable versus how they compare to every headphone out there especially the larger full size open headphone designs. In the portable market I feel these have more controlled deeper bass than the MDR1R with more extended treble, a larger sound stage and better instrument placement. I think they have slightly looser bass than the DT1350 but with a fuller sounding mid-range and similar levels of treble. The DT1350 has better instrument separation and detail retrieval but at the cost of sounding thin at times, the K545 has a larger sound stage plus added comfort but at the cost of isolation. The new KEF M500 has a more linear sound with similar depths in bass but less body and a thinner more neutral mid-range and a colder sounding treble. The M500 like the DT1350 does have better instrument separation and detail but at the cost of musicality at times. In terms of comfort and security on my noggin the K545 easily wins hands down though.
How do these compare against the K550?
Bass - There was a definite increase in bass in any song I tried that had a solid bass presence. Cello's had more timbre and weight and bass beats and guitars all had more presence. The difference again is not enough to win over bass heads but it was definitely a welcome increase.
Mids - The mid-range is very similar between both headphones with just a smidge more warmth in the K545.
Treble - The treble is very similar between both headphones.
Sound Stage - This area is probably of the most concern for lovers of the K550. The K550 is definitely more spacious and open sounding but not by as much as I thought. The K545 is more intimate putting you a bit closer to the stage but again not by as much as I thought. So the K545 does make compromises in this area to help reduce their size and increase the bass and add some warmth to the headphone. There is a trade off in sound stage but they did a heck of a job minimizing the loss in this area.
Isolation - There is also a bit of isolation loss but aside from heavy transit commuters I suspect many people will still enjoy these while out and about.
Comfort - The K550 is slightly more comfortable but the only just, while the K545 is easier to get a good seal due to slighter more pressure per square inch if the thinner pads.
Cable - The K550 definitely has a more home studio friendly cable that feels more substantial than the included portable cables of the K545. I hope AKG considers offering a cable upgrade to a similar cable as a purchasable accessory for those who want a higher quality long cable for home use.
Pardon my faux pas in the pictures above as in my haste and confusion at the store I put the K550 on backwards for the photo. But this is about the size of each headphone on the head so please accept my apologies
AKG has marketed these as a portable version of the K550 with enhanced bass and more portability and I have to say they have ABSOLUTELY NAILED their description and design on the head. Taking the best aspects of the K550 and keeping or enhancing them in baseball terms they have HIT IT OUT OF THE PARK!. While this is touted as a portable I have found these to be great using them with my full size rig at home. About the only place I won’t be using these at is public transit but this is as much because of my new found love for active noise cancelling under such noisy environments. But for walking around the neighborhood or listening to music at work these were perfect.