Most of the headphones I've tested over the years weren't designed to have a neutral balance of bass, midrange, and treble frequencies. Manufacturers are well aware that most people like bass, and that buyers tend to favor one headphone over another based on how much bass it produces. I think that's obvious, but a recent study cited in Brent Butterworth's blog countered that assumption. "The Relationship between Perception and Measurement of Headphone Sound Quality," a paper by Sean Olive and Todd Welti presented at last October's Audio Engineering Society convention found that a … Read more
Great-sounding headphones have never been more affordable. Even the least expensive headphone model on this list, the Panasonic RP HJE 355 in-ear, has oodles of detail and decent bass punch. For me the most important thing when evaluating headphones is sound balance; no frequency range should call attention to itself, so I don't like overly bassy headphones, or ones that overemphasize treble. Headphones should sound clear, not muffled or fuzzy. I prefer spacious stereo imaging over sound that's stuck inside my head. Headphones that allow music's soft-to-loud dynamics to bloom are better than ones that constrict dynamics. … Read more
Audio-brand awareness in the mainstream is mostly limited to Bose and Beats by Dr. Dre, but now it looks like Harman, the parent company of AKG, Harman Kardon, JBL, Mark Levinson, Lexicon, and Infinity is starting to flex its muscles. I spoke with Chris Dragon, the senior global marketing director of Harman, to learn more about the campaigns.
JBL's "Hear the Truth" ads will feature many of the world's top musical … Read more
Have a peek at AKG's two new pairs of noise-canceling headphones, the $349.95 K 495 NC and $249.95 K 490 NC.
AKG is highlighting that these both are on-ear models that fold flat and have built-in rechargeable batteries that charge via USB. Unlike a lot of noise-canceling models, including those from Bose, these can play sound when the battery dies or if you simply want to turn off the active noise cancellation.
The marketing line on the higher-end K 495 NCs is that they "deliver high-quality audio defined by a clarity of sound across all ranges, from crisp highs to deep lows." They feature brushed-metal parts, leather earcups, and an adjustable leather headband, and ship with a small carrying case, two audio cables, a USB charging adapter, and a flight adapter.… Read more
If you're tired of fiddling with tangled cords, the AKG K830 BT wireless headphones offer a simple solution using Bluetooth technology, if you're willing to shell out $250 and don't mind the plastic band audibly flexing while they're on. We put these headphones to the test, and while it's nice to shop in a supermarket and ride a crowded subway train without worrying about a cord yanking them off your head, we take issue with its delicate build and subpar sound quality.
We can't blame AKG entirely for the latter, since a Bluetooth connection … Read more
Austrian headphone-maker AKG, now owned by Harman International, is getting into the wireless headphones game with two premium new models--one Bluetooth, and one based on Kleer wireless technology--the K 830 BT and AKG K 840 KL. They list for $249.95 and $299.95 respectively.
For its Bluetooth model, AKG is targeted "the constant jetsetter who takes calls on the run yet enjoys listening to tunes on the train." That model is compatible with any device or smartphone that supports stereo Bluetooth audio streaming and has a built-in mic for taking calls. Its rechargeable battery is rated at … Read more
I've known my share of audiophiles who own lots of speakers, amplifiers, etc., but Wayne McManus has 40 high-end headphones. He's slowed adding to the collection, and now mostly concentrates on out-of-production classics--Sennheiser HE90 electrostatics, Sony MDR R-10, Sony Qualia 010, AKG-K1000, Audio Technica L3000, Grado HP-2--because each one has its own distinctive character and feel. McManus thinks speaker-only audiophiles are missing that aspect of the hobby; they're stuck with one sound. For the price of a pair of high-end speakers you can buy a healthy selection of the world's very best headphones. McManus has invested around $50,000 to date.
McManus bought a motor home three years ago, and now spends every April through August exploring the U.S. and Canada. He's semiretired and takes a small selection of headphones with him on the road.
At home he uses a very impressive hi-fi outfitted with MBL 101E speakers, MBL electronics, and a VPI turntable, but headphones have superior detailing. He put it this way: "You may have heard the same album a hundred times over speakers, but you pick up on new stuff over headphones, and when you move up to IEMs [in-ear monitor headphones] you hear even more of that microscopic effect. But you lose the sense of being at a live concert."
So I was hardly surprised to hear that McManus owns a Smyth Realiser A8 processor that makes headphones sound like speakers. He thinks the Realiser A8 makes it almost impossible to distinguish between the sound coming from headphones and speakers. It improves the stereo localization of all of his headphones.… Read more
There are surprisingly few multinational audio companies.
I'm talking about big companies that just make speakers and audio electronics, so that leaves Sony and Panasonic out of the picture. Bose and D & M Holdings (Denon, Marantz, Boston Acoustics, etc) come to mind, but Harman International has a longer reach. Harman owns AKG (headphones, microphones), Harman/Becker Automotive Systems, Crown (professional audio), Harman Kardon (receivers), Infinity (speakers), JBL (speakers), Lexicon (high-end electronics), Mark Levinson (car and high-end audio electronics), Revel (speakers), Soundcraft (professional audio), and Studer (professional audio).
Some brands, like JBL and Lexicon, make consumer and pro gear, and in the case of JBL, speakers for every budget, from entry-level hi-fi and home theater all the way up to recording studios, movie theaters and stadium sound systems.
I was thinking about all that because the Harman Mobile Showroom was in NYC last week for the Architectural Digest Home Design Show. It may soon be in a town near you, or you can take a virtual tour and see and learn more about Harman's Mobile Showroom.
I liked the sound at the Mobile Showroom and chatted with Todd Packer, a technical product and project manager for Harman, about the gear. The company's intention, "To make a strong design statement," came through loud and very clear. … Read more
This was my third Head-Fi "meet," and at each one I've met lots of great people sharing a common passion for hi-fi. I'm not sure why, but Head-Fi members are a lot younger than most audiophiles. You see a lot of under-30 members, and it seems like under-40 Head-Fi-ers are in the majority! The weather outside on Saturday in Queens, NY, was frightful, but inside the vibes were warm and inviting. This event was hosted by my friend, Aaron Kovics (Head-Fi username Immtbiker).
Head-Fi meets gather Internet friends at a place, in this case a hotel, where they can listen to each other's headphones and headphone amplifiers. Some amps are home-built designs, some are commercial units. And unlike regular hi-fi shows, you can listen to what you want, with your own music, as loud as you want.
I met one guy with a set of vintage Grado Signature HP-2 headphones, probably from the early 1990s. They had a very dynamic, bold sound, and a special something I can't quite put my finger on. I'm a big fan of John Grado's current line of headphones (and phono cartridges), and I sold a lot of those early Grados (designed by John's uncle, Joseph Grado) when I worked as a salesman at a high-end audio store.
As I recall the original Grado headphones sold for $400 or $500, but used ones now go for $1,300 to $2,000! That's what I love about the best high-end gear; it sounds amazing, it's built to last, and it goes up in value! Think anybody will want to buy a 30-year-old iPod for a premium price in 2040 to actually listen to? I doubt it. … Read more
MP3 players may be losing market share to music phones, but one thing is certain: portable audio isn't going anywhere. And to enjoy it to the fullest, you need some decent headphones. Of course, not everyone likes pushing earbuds into their ears, which is where the still-compact on-ear headphone comes in. One such set is the AKG K 518 LE headphones, which retail for $139 and offer a sleek design and balanced audio quality.