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Choosing an AKG headphone (K490NC, K495NC compared with K550, K701 or others)

  1. hiki08
    Hi all, new here but have been searching/reading a few older threads on noise cancelling headphones and the 490NC here already. Many seem to have greats words about the 490NC though I've also read somewhere that they're offloading the 490NC for the newer Sony 1RNC.
    I have an AKG K28NC (pic in my dp!) bought a number of years ago which I believe was AKG's first iteration of noise cancelling headphones. It was also my first pair of 'expensive' headphones. The sound is beautiful and the noise cancelling works great. I find the NC to be very handy when travelling and so am inclined to purchase another noise cancelling headphone. That said, I haven't decided whether that is definitely the case and so I write to seek the help of the community :)  
    My dilemma in summary: whether to get a pair of NC headphones again, OR will the sound quality of a similarly priced non-NC headphone be so much better that I would rather enjoy the better sound at home with non-NC headphones and resign to listening to aircraft engine noise with the stock standard airplane headphones when travelling. (I only travel maybe 3 or 4 times a year but in the past have found the K27NC to be a huge benefit on the plane)
    So being a happy customer of AKG I'm eager to get another pair again. There are so many great comments about the 490NC and that it being a better proposition than the 495NC. Just from reading reviews, it's the 495NC's travel case which makes the 495NC seem so attractive. People seem to say 490NC even outperforms 495NC when NC is turned on? Unfortunately I haven't been able to find any shop to test out either these AKGs. In fact, I've been finding it hard to find stores that stock AKG nowadays.. (I'm in Hong Kong).
    Also, online reviews tend to review the NC headphones to NC headphones, so I'm wondering how the sound quality of a pair of NC headphones compare with a similarly priced non-NC headphones? I know the purpose of the headphones would be a bit different (travelling/home), but for example WhatHifi says that the K550 and K701 are both very good in sound, and their price is around similar to the 495NC. Is the sound detail significantly better? (I note they would need an amp, which I do not currently have). If they are so much better then I might consider losing out on the alternative proposition of listening to music/watching movies quietly on the plane. 
    If it helps, I enjoy listening to a range of pop music, as well as a splash of orchestral (I pretty much like any stringed instrument, especially violin, cello and some non-electric guitar) and a little bit of piano
  2. flatmap
    hiki08, have you considered IEMs?  I ask because these perform wonderfully and provide terrific isolation.  Of course they are ultimately portable.
    However, because they insert into the ear canal, not everyone finds them sufficiently comfortable.
    At home I most often go for the sound of my AKG K-702 and I like the accuracy and clean voicing of the Etymotic brand IEMs.  In any case there are many high performing, portable IEMs in all price ranges.  Typically no amp required but needed in some cases.
  3. hiki08
    Thanks for the reply. I have considered IEMs and have put that idea aside as I have a pair of Harmon Kardon 720s which I understand are considered to be IEMs. (http://www.head-fi.org/products/harman-kardon-720-noise-isolating-earphones-black) The feeling of them when placed into ears was very uncomfortable and I have barely used them at all since I got them 2 or 3 years ago.. kind of a waste so I don't want to try IEMs for now. 
    I've also come across another thread which suggests to post there and not start a new thread for advice.. silly me [​IMG]
  4. flatmap
    Completely understand about the comfort of IEMs.  They aren't for everyone.
    Yes, you'll get more eyes on your question by posting in the big thread; that's a good idea.
    I don't have much experience with noise canceling headphones, so I can't help with your primary
    question.  I would note that headphones with good isolation (but  without noise cancelation technology) often have a pretty fair clamping forces against the head or ear.  So on average the NC approach may allow a more comfortable fit.  Generally speaking.  
    The thing is, when you're listening at home in your quiet space, you may notice things that aren't apparent when traveling on planes, trains, etc.  And I guess that's why many of us have more than one pair. :)
  5. bestuser
    I'm new to head-fi and actually joined because I saw your post.
    I have the AKG K495 NC headphones as well as Senn 650, 598 and PX100-II.
    Where I live (Sweden) the HD650 cost exactly the same as the K495 NC.
    To put it bluntly: The AKG K495 NC are in no way worth the price if you are after sound quality.
    I don't know if an open headphone like HD650 are best for you, but I am absolutely convinced that there is a headphone in this price range that sounds much much better than the AKG K 495 NC, unless you are specifically searching for an NC headphone,
    With that said, I do like the K495NC a lot!
    Let me explain further.
    Just a heads up: This is not supposed to be a proper review. It's my experience with the headphones in a specific setting. I am not qualified to compare these headphones against anything on the market, NC headphones in particular.
    Please read the following accordingly.
    I'll start with the good stuff:
    I use the AKG at work in an office room shared with 3-4 other persons. This means lots of talking, lots of keyboard typing, computer fan noises as well as air conditioning noises. My colleagues, well... they talk loudly.
    The total amount of noise is not terrible. I can easily imagine a workplace setting much much worse, but it is just enough to warrant some peace of mind when struggling with buggy excel macros :)
    First of all I really want to comment on something that  these headphones truly shine at: low volume listening.
    With NC turned on even the lowest volume will produce just the same audio quality as a higher volume would.
    This is amazing for me as I prefer lower volume. With many headphones I tend to turn up the volume to be able to hear all frequencies properly. These cans are very nice to my ears even at the lowest possible volume. A huge plus!
    The AKG are excellent at removing the kind of sounds I mentioned. The only thing I hear from external sources are some sounds in the [edit: mid to higher mid] treble range, especially parts of human voices.
    With that said, talk from my colleagues does not bother me. The lows and highs are clearly cut off. What remains of my colleagues chatter is a highly muffled sound of speech. When I'm not listening to anything I hear that they are talking but I would have to focus very much to actually understaind anything they say.
    When I actually listen to something with the headphones I am essentially audibly shielded from any and all "office sounds".
    Comfort is really nice. They are heavy but still not too much to be awkward. But tilt your head forward fast enough and they will start to fall off.
    Now for the not good, but not bad stuff:
    With NC turned on there is audible noise. Like white or pink noise at very low volume.
    I find this noise to be quite pleasant actually. The noise itself does not bother me at all and sometimes when the music stops playing I find myself sitting there listening to noise for a good 10-15 minutes before I change track, without any sort of discomfort.
    This hiss/noise is not audibly present to me while listening to something, only when nothing is playing.
    I just wanted to mentioned that since you seem to be interested in the audio quality of these headphones.
    The 40 hour battery life is in my experience not true, as this would equal to about one work week for me. I haven't measured it but I can definitely say that it's not 40 hours. A wild guess would be 20-25 hours in my experience.
    However, the recharge is super quick! From the USB port of my work computer as well as my home computer they charge fully in less than 1,5 hours. And by "fully" I mean that the red "charging" LED lamp turns off.
    Then they are good to go for another ~22hours. I find this relatively short charge time wonderful. If they run out just before lunch I can plug them in during lunch and when I come back I know I have PLENTY of battery life.
    With NC turned off they sound almost the same but slightly attenuated in the lower frequenzies.
    A big problem I find is that with NC turned off you hear muscle movement. Say you are chewing a bubble gum with NC turned on and then turn it off - instantly you will hear your jaw muscles rumbling and mumbling. It's actually so much that I never use these cans with NC turned off.
    Now the bad stuff:
    Comparing the NC on and off, in my office, I find that the NC mostly cuts off the higher end of lower frequencies. It seems that the closed back and decent seal towards the ear does most of the work at cancelling outside noise.
    They do a good job at cancelling outside noise even with NC turned off. The problem is what I wrote above - you hear your own muscle movement.
    Now if you sit still and rarely move this may not be a problem at all. But I keep hearing this roaring mumble every time I tilt my head or swallow or sigh or take a deep breath.
    With NC turned on they remove all of these "muscle sounds" and the only thing you hear is the hiss/noise mentioned above.
    Is this a bad thing? To me it is, as it gives you a feeling that you are paying a high premium to cancel noise that is generated inside the headphones.
    If you only intend to use them with NC turned on, like I do, then this is of course irrelevant.
    As for sound quality it gets interesting. I'm really diversed in my opinion when I think of these cans in terms of quality audio.
    Sometimes I find them quite balanced and accurate, sometimes I find them bloated in bass response and highly attenuated in mids and highs.
    I have tried them from several different outputs. Xperia Sola cell phone, computer>Fubar IV DAC>O2 amp, computer headphone out,  nexus 7 tablet...
    I just can't pinpoint what is wrong. Actually, I can't even say if there is something wrong.
    It's just that sometimes I find the cans to sound very dark and "sloppily bassy", and just as I am about to mentally describe them as such I put on a different track and I change my mind almost instantly.
    It's very weird for me. I can't dwelve any further into this since I haven't got the skills or time to do so.
    Soundstage is not much to talk of even though there is some of it, being a closed can that is.
    Bass is... all over the place. It's not terribly bassy, there is very little definition in the base frequencies but instead the bass is wide and big.
    Like I wrote initially: If you are after high fidelity audio you are guaranteed to find something in this price range that is miles better.
    Whether the K495 NC are good for you as a noise cancelling headphone... well I can't say. If this description helped you in any way then I'm happy!
    hiki08 likes this.
  6. flatmap
    Very informative post, bestuser!
  7. hiki08
    Thank you so much for the informative opinion! Got caught up the last few days so only just had the chance to read it in detail and respond. You've definitely shared more practical insight about the K495NC than I've read anywhere else! 
    I do own a K28NC and I think I know what you're talking about when it comes to the hiss noise and the muscle noise. They don't bother me too much either.
    I don't think I'd be using it in the office, mainly at home or on the plane. After further reading elsewhere I do think I might be better off spending the money on a non-NC pair of headphones though.. I find the ability to turn the volume very low while on an airplane to be spectacular, but I am hoping the passive sealing of other closed headphones can provide a decent seal even when on the plane.. (if anyone would have any comment on experience of closed back headphones on the plane? I've only ever used the K28NC and the stock standard airplane headphones while on the plane).
    You mentioned the HD650.. which I did come across with many good reviews, but I don't think would suit me given that it's open back. I also don't have any amplifier gear. Otherwise I have also been tempted by the K701/702, being quite a lot cheaper on Amazon US. I have however come across the K550 and Momentum which I'm thinking of trying out at a store, both of which are cheaper than the K495NC.. I'm hoping their closed back passive sealing would be sufficient for the plane?  
  8. hiki08
    just to report back, funny how I started this thread focused on AKG, but I finally settled on the Sennheiser Momentum. I only had a chance to test out the AKG K550 at one store, where the headphones seemed pretty worn out, the swivelling ear piece felt almost falling apart despite with closer inspection the metal hinge was holding it well. It was the overall outward impression of the AKG which let me down. Looking at each part of it was very encouraging, a lot of metal parts and despite feeling it was about to fall apart, it was probably only a false impression as the parts were held together tightly with nothing loose. The earpads were large as I have already read, but they felt very loose on the head, the pads not being as plush as the Momentum which I had earlier tried on. 
    That said, I liked the AKG sound more than the Sennheiser sound when I tested the 2 at the store. Sennheiser seemed more detailed with each note, but maybe i'm not used to the sound, so I felt the AKG to have a more comfortable and 'fuller' sound. (e.g. the violins had more depth on the AKG and I felt more immersed). But given so many people saying the Sennheiser should be better than AKG for orchestral music, and since I found a shop with a pretty decent deal on the Sennheiser, plus the fact that I liked the Sennheiser build more than the AKG, I ended up getting the Sennheisier.. [​IMG]
    Sound quality out of the box it felt pretty average.. I've listened to it for around 2 or 3 hrs now and it already seems to have improved with a fuller and warmer sound. Looking forward to enjoying these headphones as they burn in more [​IMG]
  9. flatmap
    Thanks for reporting back.  The momentums are nice enough and sufficiently comfortable
    so you'll be motivated to listen at home. And of course, terrifically portable with decent isolation
    when you're out and about.

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