AKG’s New Reference: The K550

akg_k550_12

To be honest I was never a big fan of AKG headphones. The K240 “Sextett”, the K340 Hybrid Electrostatic, to the legendary K1000. Before the K550, the K701/K702/Q701 was the latest model to represent the top-of-the-line AKG, and I was never extremely impressed with it, even when it was still one of the three hottest headphones in the market. All of that have changed with the K550. I think AKG has succeeded in creating the new benchmark of $300 headphones. You can even take the K550 and compare it to the likes of the  Sony ‘sZ1000, Shure’s SRH1840, or Audio Technica’s W1000X and still the K550 would be very competitive.

Sound Impressions

The new K550 from AKG sounds quite different from all the other previous AKGs released to the market. It doesn’t quite share the same signature as AKG’s Studio models (K240, K271 and variants), the mostly discontinued full size Hi-Fi headphones (K301-401-501-601-701), or any of their unique full size models of the past (K340, K1000). Aside from the slight housing reverb, I would say that the K550 is superior to the K701 in almost every aspect. The sound is very well balanced for music listening yet remaining quite linear and without too much coloration. Noise floor level is very low, resulting in a relatively black background and a good distinct instrument separation.

One of the first impressions I have with the K550 is that it sounds extremely clean, almost electrostats-like (sans the transients). It’s definitely cleaner than the K701’s, and without the so called “plastic” timbre of the K701. I also feel the K550’s tonal balance to be better, having a more proper low end weight compared to the K701. The overall sound is quite laid back and I don’t think it plays well with fast-paced music, but the pace is not nearly as slow as the HD650.

It’s not a perfect headphone and I do think that the midrange on the K550, though quite clear and smooth, needs some additional body. I understand that adding some body to the midrange would compromise the otherwise excellent sense of clarity, and it may not go well with the overall voicing of the K550. Another thing that I would like to be added is a slightly heavier low end body. I don’t think the K550 lacks bass, but it would be nice to feel a stronger slam. I don’t really complain about the pace of the headphone. It’s not as relaxed as Senn’s HD650/800, or Shure’s SRH1840, but still moderately relaxed. It fits the pace of most of my music, but I won’t recommend it as a main headphone if you listen to extremely fast Rock & Metal stuff.

Despite these critiques, I do believe that it’s going to be very hard for most people to not to be satisfied with the new headphone from AKG.

Comparison to the K701

The K701 has always been a very clean sounding headphone from the first time I listened to it.  Next to the K550, however, it’s not even subtle how much grainier the K701 becomes. The K550 also has a much blacker background compared to the K701. The combination of zero grain and the black background puts the K550 so far ahead to the K701 that the K701 sounds very fuzzy in comparison. It’s a very stark difference, and I’ve personally never thought that I would use the word “fuzzy” to describe the K701. I think the 701 still remains a very respectable headphone, but this just goes to show how much work AKG has put into the K550.

One of the things that I criticize the K701 for is that the soundstage, though wide and spacious, is not too accurate in its presentation. The soundstage image is vague on the K701, and the center image weak. Again in this area the K550 has improved on the 701’s performance, though not quite as open sounding as the K701. The soundstage performance is solid, possessing a good amount of width and depth. It’s slightly narrower in width than the K701’s but with a much deeper depth. The imaging is accurate, and with a good center image and left-right soundstage coherence. The K550 may sound more closed in due to the closed-back design, but inside the soundstage performance is really an improvement from the K701.

Aside from the technicalities talk, the K550 has also improved on the tonal balance, resulting in a much better balance and musical sound. The K550 has a much better low end body, and the sound feels well planted with enough lows, where in comparison the K701 feels rather ambivalent mainly due to the lack of low end weight. Vocals are slightly recessed on the K550, but the vocals are smoother and are much better separated from the rest of the instruments. The lack of grain in the sound also contributes for a smoother vocals, where the K701 sounds more glaring and unrefined though more forward.

Finally, on the high frequencies, the K550 was much more relaxed than the K701’s relatively forward highs. The black background however, and perhaps also the better driver resolution of the K550 enables me to hear the top end treble better on the K550. It really is the best of both worlds: less glaring treble yet better extension.

More Comparisons

Moving from the typical Sennheiser HD650/600 to the K550, it’s mind blowing how much more clean the sound of the K550 is in comparison to the very grainy sound of the Senns. I’ve been spoilt by the bass slam of the HD600/650 and it’s hard to adjust to something less than that (even my complaint with the HD700/HD800 is the same: more bass slam), but this is a matter of personal preference, and technically the K550 is just ahead of the Senn HD600/650 in so many aspects.

If Shure can charge $700 for their grainy sounding SRH1840, the K550 is a clear steal for $300. The Shure does sound more organic and more musical to my ears, especially with the K550’s midrange making the AKG sound a tad flat at times. But when we’re talking clarity and technical aspects, I would give the upper hand to the AKG.

You can take something like the HE-500 planar to try to match the K550’s technicalities, but even then the AKG K550 would still be better on many aspects. The background is still blacker on the K550, the sound cleaner, and the soundstage imaging, accuracy, depth, and coherence all being superior on the K550. Not to mention that the K550 runs fine straight out of a Fiio E10. The HE-500 is still the more musical sounding of the two, in my opinion, but given the price difference, easy to drive factor, and the K550’s mostly superior technicalities, it’s a hard battle for the Hifiman. AKG really has struck gold with the K550.

Continue to the next page…

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  • lumberjake

    Dang, I read really good reviews on these but one thing that worries me is the mixed responces regarding bass. While not a bass head I really like bass impact and to feelmit when its meant to be, otherwise the headphone is just not engaging. Some say the bass is better than the Denon 2000 regarding quality and less in quantity yet not lacking at all then I read it has no punch? I assume this has to do with the seal. Another issue that bothers me is some say it has incredible detail but some complain of harshness which I dislike. I have read somecgreat stuff aboutvthe new Soundmagic hp100 but its very rare. I would love to read some more reviews or even better a comparison of these closed cans.

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  • SixFlags

    From my long journey of finding a closed headphone, I finally found my perfect headphone. This is my most expensive Headphone I have ever owned (coming from the Portra Pro), so the search was not that easy. My Idea was to get a headphone, which lets you experience the old songs in a new way, by discovering new details, especially in classical recordings. It had to be closed however since I was planning to use it for trainrides home and take it with me on travels. After browsing the forums, I tried out the Beyerdynamic DT 660. Classical music sounded great on it, but the bass was basically non-existent for me.. so I had to return it. After this I tried out the beautiful Phillips L1, but somehow the sound didn’t gave me that wow effect I was longing for… so I listened to the Ultrasone HFI 780 afterwards, which unfortunately had very detailed but piercing highs, but was otherwise a nice headphone (The bass sounded awesome on it). Then I discovered this website and the nice photographs drew me to the AKG K550 Review. After reading the review, I was sure that it meets my most important needs for a headphone. So here I am writing this while listening to my K550’s, which are exactly what I searched for the past months! (Though they are quite borderline for a good fit on my relatively small head) During this journey I learnt that neutral Headphones seem to sound the best to me. Long story, short: Thank you very much for the review!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Thank you SixFlags! I hope you are rediscovering your music with the new headphone!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.yeung3 Jonathan Yeung

    i got a chance to listen to the k550 last saturday, at that time, i havent read your review or any other review. i was so amazed, especially at the clarity. immediately i thought its a really solid 300 bucks headphone though honestly i havent listened to that many headphones. i preferred the k550 than the denon d600 next to it which costed more.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Thanks, Jonathan.

      I think everyone agree that the clarity is amazing

      • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.yeung3 Jonathan Yeung

        mike do you know what is the difference between the k550 and the k551? even though im not really in need of closed full sized headphone, i may still pick it up sometimes in the future because it sounds amazing.

        • Trent_D

          The K551 has an inline mic for using with an iphone, or something like that. I don’t believe any changes have been made to the headphone part.

          • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.yeung3 Jonathan Yeung

            i see, thanks

  • coverguy88

    what do you mean by “The overall sound is quite laid back and I don’t think it plays well with fast-paced music” ? im sorry but im a noob in this field :D

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Fast paced music is like Rock
      Slow paced is like slow jazz

      • coverguy88

        thats not the problem here :D -i mean, why isn’t this go well with faster musics? and what do you mean by “sound is quite laid back”

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          That’s not so easy to explain at the moment, and I’m at my mobile phone.

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  • vick_85

    @headfonia:disqus

    K550 vs the sennheiser momentum, which is better??

    I want to buy one and will be using them exclusively with the audioquest dragonfly. The headphone will be a part of my desktop setup & will be used for listening pretty much everything from music to youtube vids.

    P.S. what is your take on the audioquest dragonfly??

    Thanks

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      The K550 and Momentum are so very different. Read both reviews and go with your preference in sound. We haven’t reviewed the dragonfly yet, sorry.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      That’s really hard to say. Both are good headphones. The AKG is more technical and naturally more technically impressive, the Momentum more musical.

  • GrizzlybEast

    I have a powerful amp on the way. A budget speaker amp that is known to drive the hard to drive headphones Emotiva. I bought it to pair with the he-500. You were saying that the akg k550 is technically superior to the he-500. So that means I would be able to hear more transients and detail. But this had made me reconsider because I already have the amp on the way and wanted a technical can since I have the momentums for a musical can.

    In short…what ways are the he-500 better than the k550. This made me seriously reconsider saving up for them because you said the k550 responds to amping very well.

  • Ryan

    Do the AKG K550’s have more bass impact than the Shure 940s?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      The Shure has more.

  • Eric Thompson

    Did you guys not notice the “tizzy” treble that tyll on inner fidelity mentioned? I tried these next to the D600’s and Momentums and I liked these being more forward sounding and cleaner but I also immediately noticed the “tizzy” treble it’s like metallic and shiny sounding like buzz or something.

    Still deciding what to get, I like the momentum’s bass but it is a little laid back for me.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Treble can be metallic but if it’s a literal buzz I haven’t heard it.

      • Eric Thompson

        It’s not literally a buzz but it sounds like a buzz, kind of like the guitarist has some fret buzz going on while playing or something.

        I was just wondering because I had never heard a word made up to describe a sound of headphones so perfectly, like I said as soon as I tried them on I knew exactly what tyll was talking about, and you don’t seem to mention anything about it in your review about the treble sounding off, but he also likes the UE6000/9000’s better than the 550 which I couldn’t demo back to back but the UE6000’s just sound like a regular headphones to me, sort of congested sounding like cheap sony’s or skullcandys, don’t get me wrong they are better than those but the mid’s have the same fuzzy congested sound.

        I like the Momentum’s the best but I listen to a lot of rock and metal and I’m not sure if they are the best for that.

  • Gos

    So I purchased a pair of these about one month ago and have really like them. My first impression when placed on my head was that the band was too big for my head. I still feel that way but they do not shift on my head so I can’t complain. I wore them for THREE hours and did not feel fatigued in any way which really surprised me. The sound is still being analyzed by my mind and will take some time but so far, paired with my Fiio E11 amplifier they are worth the price paid. Fiio EQ set at “1” is perfect for that initial lack of bass which truly depends on the engineer that mixed.

    • Dave Ulrich

      I’m glad you liked the K550. I liked this headphone as well.

      • George Lai

        The only issue I had with these headphones was that for such a large ear pad, the ear cavity was relatively small. The driver housing at 110 mm diameter was larger than the usual and more common 100 mm headphones so alternative ear pads were rare. Eventually I found that the LCD2/LCD3 ear pads were a perfect fit so the AKG K550 stays in my collection.

        • Gos

          Really? If you don’t mind my asking where did you purchase the ear pads from? Also do the pads change the sound of the cans in any way?

          • George Lai

            Hi, you can buy the ear pads direct from Audeze’s website. To me I can’t discern any significance change in the sounds since I don’t have golden ears. It was the larger ear pad cavity that attracted me. Now the K550 is a lot more comfortable. At least to me.

            • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

              You can only buy the LCD2 pads, right?

              • George Lai

                That was the old policy. You can now also buy the LCD3 pads. That’s how I had to do something with my LCD2 pads.

                • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

                  Do you know if you can get the LCD3 headband too George?

                  • George Lai

                    Hi, I just looked at their website and previously the headband was not there. Now it is so I don’t see why they won’t sell to you. Audeze shipping rates for the ear pads to Singapore was USD6 which was reasonable if you compare with, say, MrSpeakers or Lawton Audio who wanted USD14 for their ear pads. In addition, Audeze’s customer support was very fast when I first asked them whether an LCD2 owner could buy LCD3 ear pads.

                    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

                      This is great information George. So now everyone can buy LCD-3 padS?

                    • George Lai

                      Yes that would seem to be the case. Better get some before they change their policy ;-)

                • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

                  Nice!

  • Khloe85

    @headfonia:disqus
    @headfonia_lieven:disqus

    Hi
    How does the AKG k550/551 compare to the HD598 if we keep the open & closed thing out of the picture??.

    I want to buy one.
    Which one works better with modern music especially rock, classic rock, electronica, pop & hip hop.
    It should do bass well.

    Source:PC
    Music Player: JRiver media center 19
    Dac/Amp: audioquest dragonfly.

    • Dave Ulrich

      Neither of those headphones are known for bass. Maybe the X1? What say you Mike and L?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Ah, don’t go with either.

      Try the Vmoda M100

  • Day deSIANG

    Personally, I prefer K240 Sextett (I owned both EP, MP) over K550..

    K550 may sound better than many AKG (when come to balance sound).. but again it still not natural sounding.. this headphone reminds me of Sennheiser HD250 with weaker bass.. the treble just too ‘much’ and sharp like a sword.. it just kill the whole music experience..

    but again most AKG headphones are create for studio use..

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I thought that the 240 Sextett is nothing more than the average vintage headphone with limited frequency extension and smooth warm mids.
      It got a strong following definitely, maybe because of the Sextett name.
      Sound signature differences aside, the K550 is leaps ahead in terms of technicalities, obviously being the newer headphone.

      • Day deSIANG

        when come to technicalities, yes i agree the newer headphones is a huge leap ahead.. but at here when comparing AKGs I personally would take one aspect into consideration is the overall sounding and the music sensation..

        i bought an AKG K550 from Austria dealer for euro130.. never regret it (cheap and gave to my brother who loves it) but is just an opinion that the overall sound of the this headphone – grainy sound and sharp treble that kills the music..

        and mayb i have alot of vintage headphones which makes me sounds like im bias towards vintage headphones.. but here im just address the issue of overall listening sensation of k550 compare to Sextett (ya i agree its a strong name)..

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Yes I notice that people who’s into vintage headphones are sort of tuned in to the vintage headphone sound.. They do sound nice

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  • David Clarke

    Thank you for the great review Mike!

    I just picked this up nice and cheap, will burn in tomorrow. I mainly listen to Electric Blues, do you have any thoughts on whether these will be a good match for my music taste?

    Thank you in advance.

  • http://www.david-clarke.id.au/ David Clarke

    My comments keep getting removed? Weird!

    Thanks for the great review Mike.

    I have these, got them cheap, am going to burn in tomorrow. I listen mainly to Electric Blues, how do you think these will match up?

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      David, I can’t see any of your comments were deleted. Must be something else

      • http://www.david-clarke.id.au/ David Clarke

        Sorry, should have clarified, I don’t think it is a site/moderation issue, just Disqus being weird :P

        Thanks!

  • Vaibhav Pisal

    Hello,
    I currently own a sennheiser hd518. drive it using audinst hud
    mini. i really enjoy its warm, smooth sound. i was planning to upgrade
    to something with a bit more treble. i zeroed on akg k550. will it be a
    good match with hud mini. I don’t want a system with too much treble
    energy. just a bit over hd518.

  • George Lai

    After one and a half years, the rubberized coating on the outside half of the ear cups (the part you put your hands on, the other side being your ears?) started getting gummy, attracting lint etc and they couldn’t be cleaned. I called the local distributor (Singapore) and they replaced it with a brand new pair. Apparently the latest ones have a less gummy (or not) rubberized coating. Good service from AKG.

  • xenig

    I agree with the review,I did buy this headphone in november 2013 and it’s really an amazing gem! Did someone try to compare the AKG k550 with the sennheiser hd650? Woult it be a fair match? The reviewer said it is better the AKG. Any suggestion?

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      If I remember well this has been discussed here before :)

  • Andrew Makous

    Would you be able to help me out with something? I bought these headphones (well, I bought the k551) a while ago, and while I am very pleased with them, I have one major complaint that is pretty much a deal-breaker. I find them to be extremely uncomfortable after even a relatively short period of time, sometimes under an hour. My ears are pretty large, and because of this they press into the driver and are pressed into by the top of the pads. Not only that, but because of the pleather, it feels as though my ears cannot “breathe,” and so I often take breaks and sometimes don’t even bother listening to them at all. This is extremely unfortunate because I actually really like the sound and they fit my needs virtually perfectly.

    So my question would be: is it worth buying $80 dollar replacement LCD-2/3 ear pads, or instead upgrading to something $80 more expensive than the k550? If the ear pads were just a bit deeper and an oval shape, these headphones would be pretty much perfect. However, $80 is a pretty hefty price, and I figure I might as well upgrade instead.

    • sk1n5

      You could try what I did. Take out the foam rounds and stuff the pleather with teddy bear stuffing. I get a much better seal and the drivers are farther away from my ears.

      • Andrew Makous

        Hey thanks for the reply, although when I initially left this comment I was hoping for a response before the return deadline, which was the tenth of April, I think haha. However, I ended up keeping them after doing something somewhat similar to what you did. The ‘mod’ (I’m hesitant to assign such a lavel to something so crude) was merely taking a paper towel sheet (yes, a paper towel), folding it into a thin strip sort of thing, then wrapping the length of the towel on the inside of the cup.
        This extra one or one half centimeter actually made a very strong difference. It wasn’t painful to wear anymore, and while I still sometimes have to take “breathing breaks,” they are very comfortable for extended periods of time.
        Recently, I finally decided to replace my paper towels with a hairband kind of thing, and so it’s a bit less noticeable although I have to say that it might be a bit hotter. With your modification, do you feel like the heat has increased significantly? I may opt for your technique, if that is not the case.

        • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

          Sometimes we miss a question and we cant answer everything ourselves. sorry

  • Jp Carlos

    What would you guys recommend as a complement headphone to the k550? I’m thinking of getting my 2nd headphone and try something different from what the k550 has to offer. Something I can use when I want to switch moods :)

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      Open? Closed? Music? Budget? Preferred sound?

      • Dave Ulrich

        Blond? Brunette? Tall? Short?

      • John123John

        Safe guess, a Grado (LOL)

      • Jp Carlos

        I guess its better to try Open, since the k550s are closed.
        My music preference is diverse, mostly rock/alternative/jazz with the occassional hiphop and rap.
        budget is around 200usd(although here in the Philippines, price trends of headphones are very different from the(US/Europe)
        Thanks :)

        • dalethorn

          Open for $200 USD you won’t find anything besides Grado. Better idea for great sound and better bass may be Yamaha MT220, Sennheiser HD380 Pro, or Beyer DT770 or Custom One Pro.

          • Jp Carlos

            Thanks man!

  • Vaibhav Pisal

    thanks for great review guys. just got akg k550. with Audinst hud mini it makes a musical pairing while remaining detailed. good stuff.

    so obligatory question : if you have tried, does it scale well with further improvement in chain? Is it transparent enough to make difference if I add a tube amp like pan am? Please suggest good pairing without going deep into diminishing returns curve.

    thanks.

  • joms

    What would be the best desktop amp for the K550 that is around $300?

    • Vaibhav Pisal

      i am also looking for answer to this. i am using audinst hud mini. it pairs very well right now but I think I can do better.

      k550 does not require much power though. it does require good dac and quality amplification.

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