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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  • Earfonia

    I want one :D
    Thanks for the review! One question about the bass quantity and quality, how is it compared to Audio Technica M50, Shure SRH840 and Beyerdynamic T1? Not detail comparison, just about which has more or less bass. I would like to get the idea of the bass quantity, compared to other models I’m familiar with. Tx!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I think bass quantity is close to the M-50 but less boomy than the ATH.

      • Earfonia

        Thanks Mike! That’s good! M-50 bass would be sufficient for me :)

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Yes the bass is definitely enough. It’s not thin in anyway. I just want more slam. ;)

    • http://twitter.com/Original_Ken Ken Stuart

      I’d also like to know that, especially in terms of the SRH-1840.

  • James

    So I take it you liked it?

    I’m considering getting this as the D2000 comes to it’s end. Would you say the bass is sufficient for EDM like Dubstep and DnB? I will be getting an amp as well, so I’ll probably go with something like an E10 that has a bass boost.

    Any help would be appreciated!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Can you give me some test tracks to try the K550 with?

      • http://kanai.net/weblog/ Gen Kanai

        I don’t know any dubstep but famous DnB tracks might include:

        LTJ Bukem’s “Demon’s Theme” (1992)

        Nightmares On Wax’s “Aftermath” (1990)

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Thanks, Gen.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=688434417 Brian Hamrick

    great review. I was thinkning of getting ONE more pair of cans, and these look right down my alley. Thanks :)

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      You’re welcome, Brian.

  • Jeff Kong

    Thanks for the review!
    guess i might get these when i move into that price region :3

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      What price region are you at right now? ;)

      • http://twitter.com/Original_Ken Ken Stuart

        Mike, I think that there are quite a few people these days, who have discerning tastes, but not enough $$ in their budget for a $300 pair of headphones. That is why M-50 and 555/558 sell so well.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Yes I agree.. that’s why I love recommending affordable gear.

          • Jeff Kong

            i think what you had mentioned in a previous article was quite on the spot regarding this. Slowly moving up from cheaper entry gear and progressively into mid range etc.

            SO MANY THINGS I WANT TO BUY!!! >.<

      • Jeff Kong

        well i guess ~150-200 so atm, 300 might be my next can :3

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=501152170 Dave Kwan

    Do you think the K550s compliment the HD650s or is it just a tangent of the same phones? You didn’t go in depth of what music preferences you liked with the AKGs. Thanks for a good review overall.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Dave,
      I think it would be an upgrade to the HD650 for some people as the technicalities and the clarity is superior. It’s not exactly similar to the HD650, but I can say that they cover a similar range of music, something moderately laid back, medium pace Rock, Pop, Acoustic, Jazz, Indie, Classical. If you want something punchy and aggressive, I’d still take the HD25-1, Vmoda M80 or Fidelio L1. I’d group the K550 together with the HD600/650/558/598, Shure SRH1440-1840, ATH AD series, ATH A and W series.

    • http://www.facebook.com/mateusz.ludwin.9 Mateusz Ludwin

      The clarity is better but the soundstage on the HD650 paired with decent amplifier is still superior. HQ acoustic records like Jordi Savall sound less precise on the HD650 but also much more real due to open design. Listening to the K550 is like watching a movie on an extremely high resolution LCD screen – you can see every detail but it will never be a live performance.
      HD650 is also much better suited for for rock and metal. I’m currently using K550 as a semi portable gear while staying with the HD650 on a desktop setup. So – yes, the K550 does complement the HD650.

      • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

        I think that’s a good point, yes. The soundstage on the HD650 puts you more in the music, with a high end amplifier that is.

  • Trent_D

    I just got my pair (got them for 169.38 dollars new. I love my job discount) and I really like them. Right now, I am running them with a headstage Dac Cable and a JDS Cmoy. I was thinking, since I do find it a TAD analytical in its sound, of upgrading the dac to a MS2+ and a Asgard. Combine the K550 with a smooth, warm, analogue sound, and the Asgard might help add body to the mids and bass. Seems to me like that would be a good system.

    With what I have right now, my classical sounds very good (although I still would love the enhancements to resolution that the MS2+ will bring) but I had a real eargasm listening to my remastered album of Grateful Dead’s American Beauty. The clarity is amazing. These are a very nice pair of headphones.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      The clarity is amazing indeed.

      • Trent_D

        You agree that the MS2+ and the Asgard would make a worthwhile upgrade?

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Trent,
          It would be a significant upgrade from the Headstage Cable and the Cmoy.

          Especially the DAC section.

  • http://www.facebook.com/SpanksMeister Spankey Meister

    I have had the K550’s for two weeks now and am feeling a little dissappointed with them. I will be selling them but the question I would like to ask is how does the bass compare to the HD700’s?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      On the HD700 that I had reviewed, it has less bass than the K550.

      • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

        And the treble is nicer on the K550 too. It’s less sibilant than the HD700.

        Not saying that the HD700 < K550, since the 700 is still superior on a lot of technical aspects (it also sounds bigger overall), but if you're just asking on bass/treble quantity, then the K550 wins.

      • http://twitter.com/Pickcick Pickcick

        This is interesting.
        I’ve tried the K550 and felt that it has less bass to my personal favor (not saying it has no bass).
        It provides ample of bass but just doesn’t give the “umphhh”.

        Now, it makes me wonder about the bass on HD700 if it has “less” bass than the K550.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Yes that umpph you said, it’s impact and slam on my vocabulary.

  • John Kim

    Thanks for mentioning that it’s not really suitable as a primary can for rock/metal. That’s all I really needed to know, but they’re interesting cans nevertheless…

    • http://www.facebook.com/donunus Don Vittorio Sierra

      I wouldn’t look at it that way though because for me for example, the non-rock/metal oriented cans like the senn hd600s tend to be better than the so-called metal cans like Grados for instance. Its all up to the listener when the preference part comes. It’s the part about the black background, non-aggressive sound yet better upper treble articulation with a planted sound that interests me. This review is making me want to buy a pair :-)

      • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

        Yes I can see where you are coming from, Don. And I do think there is some truth in that..

        The K550. I can’t guarantee you’ll like it, but it’s one of the best new headphone I’ve reviewed and I think it should be on your audition list.

        • http://www.facebook.com/donunus Don Vittorio Sierra

          I forgot to say that I like listening to metal on the hd600s more than any grado anyday. That is what I was saying. I think you got what I meant though. I just wanted to say it for the people that were thinking about metal genre matching.

    • Miguel Garcia-Guzman

      I think the AKG 550 is very good with all types of music and that includes Ross and metal. I just listened to a record from Brand New and it is absolutely breathtaking.

  • phillip sim

    Hey, how does it stand against T70 in your opinion?
    Would like to hear from you guys!
    Thanks!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Phillip,
      I still have yet to listen to the T70. Our T70 review was done by Lieven.

      • phillip sim

        Sure. Fully awaits your comment because ya’ll are doing a great job helping us headphone enthusiasts.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Thanks, Phillip. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/destroysall Chris Allen

    Very nice review, Mike. Is the K550 treble happy or sibilant at all? I’d hope not.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Nope I think treble is done very nicely on the K550.

      • http://www.facebook.com/destroysall Chris Allen

        Sweet, thanks Mike! :)

    • Miguel Garcia-Guzman

      Not sibilant or strident at all. Very well controlled highs, but present and clear.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Julian-Junishev/1525337896 Julian Junishev

    People have to be more careful when talking about K701. I’ve had in my house 3 different K701s and one K702. All sounded VERY different one from another. K701s from different batches may vary much in tonal balance, sounsdtage, harshness, etc. Mine are #3994 (one of the first shipped in Europe) and have the most natural treble I’ve ever experienced with headphone no matter the amp used. Also their tonal balance, especially in low end is much different and richer than the other K701/2. I have Stax SR-007, LCD-2 r.2 and many other flagships before but still think about my K701 as a leader in analog-like presentation of high frequencies.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Interesting point. Three different K701s?

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Julian-Junishev/1525337896 Julian Junishev

        Yes. And one K702 which is supposed to be the same as K702 but was completely different. And it’s not my opinion only but the owners of the other headphones also made their comparisons.
        It reminds me the FR graph variations of LCD-2 discussed in head-fi.
        You can make your own research about K701’s variations.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Alright, thanks for sharing, Julian.

      • http://www.facebook.com/donunus Don Vittorio Sierra

        just goes to show that one has to be a nut to buy the k701s … unless what you get what you get for the price of three of them gets something better than the flagships that is LOL

  • http://www.facebook.com/aricr1 Aric Ross

    can you compare the AKG K550 with the Phillips Fidelio L1? can’t decide which one I want to pick up. I listen to things like queens of the stone age, tool, ratatat, white stripes, zepplin and i need a closed headphone for work/studies outside of home.

    Thanks!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      That’s a good question.

      Mainly, the L1 is a more aggressive headphone with better bass impact, more forward sound, and better PRaT. The two headphones are similar in that they both have a relatively black background and a clean sound, the AKG of course being more spacious.

      • http://www.facebook.com/aricr1 Aric Ross

        Do you think if I amped the AKG’s with something like the Fiio E17 it would be a more competent set up for rock and metal?

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          I would still go with the Fidelio L1 or the HD25-1. It’s always best to go with the right headphone, rather than trying to fix it with an amp.

          • http://www.facebook.com/aricr1 Aric Ross

            Thanks mike, appreciate the feedback!

          • http://www.facebook.com/aricr1 Aric Ross

            Thanks mike, appreciate the feedback!

  • http://www.theideate.com/ Gorboman

    dang, mike. now i’m no longer shure which one to get… if u know what i mean ;)

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I like the K550’s price, roughly half of the SRH 1840. ;)

  • christopherpuchta

    Great review! I’ll definitely check out the 550 this week…need something to replace my Beyer DT770s :)

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Thanks Christopher.

      If you check two comments up, you’ll find some comparison with the DT770:

      http://www.headfonia.com/akgs-new-reference-the-k550/#comment-540671496

      • christopherpuchta

        Good info…thanks for that! I’ll make sure to do some comparing before i decide on the K550s…your review&info make it sound very compelling, though :)

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          You’re welcome. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=692862021 Nick Tam

    Wow most positive review here! The k550 is $250 here so I’m more or less tempted to get this and the national or uha120 combo rather than that graham solo I was planning on; the k550 is closed back right? so it’s really just a closed back hd650 at the cost of a slightly closed soundstage but much more driveability as a portable setup, so it’s fair to say that it is a compliment to the bass slamming family of cans as you’ve mentioned?

    Thx for the review!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I tried not to make such a big deal of the weak bass impact of the K550, but I did acknowledge that it is one of the things that’s still keeping me loyal to my Senns.

      As it turned out however a lot of the comments do mention that many owners have a problem adjusting to the weak bass punch, and indeed this is a real concern.

      Overall, if we consider the total sound quality, the clean sound, the black background, the K550 is still and incredibly solid headphone, but you just have to be ready to accept the fact that the bass may be lacking.

      When I reviewed the AHA-120 (Lieven did the uHA), it wasn’t a particularly punchy amp. I would go with the National for the K550 mostly to help with the bass punch.

      • Trent_D

        That’s one reason why I thought the Asgard might be a good amp for these. They would add some more body to the bass. That, and they play will with low impedance headphones. Although, a little more body would be nice (and I don’t believe that the Cmoy or the headstage Dac cable are known for their bass either, which is what I am using), I am OK with the bass on the k550. I wanted detail and clarity, and this headphone delivers. Now, just to tweak the sound a bit.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=692862021 Nick Tam

          In a way i find it hard to believe that the hd650 is outmatched by the k550, although its not unbelievable given the age of the senns’ drivers. although ive yet to audition the 550, i really do hope that the hd650 isnt made obsolete other than just being an open back counterpart of the k550 and maintaining a better bass body

          • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

            Nick,
            I don’t think it’s obsolete, the HD650 still sells very well last time I checked with the local Jaben. Again, it’s not always about the technicalities.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cce121 Chow Chi Eng

    Hi Mike,
    how do you think it compares to dt770(whichever model you are familiar with). They seem to have similar sound signature(recessed mid and full bass).

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I think the main difference is that the DT770 250Ω and 600Ω still feel more hollow on the mids, and also thinner and dryer overall. The background is not as black as on the AKG hence you get a less distinct instruments. The Beyers also have a little bit of grain in their sound, as opposed to the clean and smooth sound of the new AKG.

      With the 80Ω version, you get more bass (both punch and body) on the Beyer than compared to the AKG. There is still a little hollowness in the mids though.

      • http://www.facebook.com/cce121 Chow Chi Eng

        wow..It sounds like k550 is really good technically.
        Thanks for the comparison Mike!

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          You’re welcome!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rūdolfs-Putniņš/100001284307683 Rūdolfs Putniņš

    AKG K550, Philips L1 and V-Moda M80 are the trends I like seeing in new personal audio era. Great design combined with a sound to match.

    I hope I’ll never have to regret investing in the HD25/650 combo.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      The Senns are grainy (especially the HD25) in comparison to the K550, L1, and M80, but other than that they are still great headphones and still very competitive even today.

    • Miguel Garcia-Guzman

      I have both the V-Moda M80 and the AKG 550. Both are great but the AKG is at a different league. Can’t compare both in clarity and resolving power or soundstage. But I agree that both define a high quality/price ratio that others will have to match.

  • Greg Johnson

    Mike, I’ve had a pair for a couple of weeks (wanted a pair of sealed headphones to stream Pandora at work) but have been disappointed with the bass response of the K550’s (probably have grown too accustomed to my Super.fi 5 pro’s). Can you recommend a couple of amps at different price points (do not need to be portable) that will help bring the low end forward and provide more bass impact/presence? Perhaps one that includes a bass boost option that nicely augments the bass/sub-bass without muddying the overall sound or one that is inherently dark and punchy. I know this is not the best approach, but do you think there are any solid workably options? Thanks!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Greg,
      I understand what you’re saying. Especially next to the super-punchy Super.fi 5 pros.

      I’ve tried it with a few amps and the best one to improve the bass impact is the ALO Rx MK3B. And even then it still doesn’t punch like a Super.Fi 5. I just don’t think that they designed the headphone to be punchy like that. I don’t want you to spend all that money trying different amps only to find marginal improvements in bass. After all, it’s very hard to change the basic character of a headphone, and it’s very rare that an amplifier can change a headphone into something that it wasn’t.

      I think you’d be better off with headphones like the HD25-1 or the Fidelio L1, if you want a Super.Fi 5 like bass punch. They are not incredibly bassy headphone, but they have strong and solid punch.

      • Greg Johnson

        Thanks, Mike. Would the Ultrasone Pro 900’s fall into this category? I’m looking for something with good isolation.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          The Pro 900 would give you the isolation, and yes better bass punch than the K550. You just have to try if the Ultrasone sound signature fits your music. A lot of people find the S-logic presentation and the hollow mids bothersome.

  • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

    Alright, thanks James.

    I’ve tried the K550 with all four tracks and while not bad, I’d give it a 7/10 for those music. On the slower ambient passages, the K550 did really well and it really puts you into the mood of the music. 9/10. Then when the pace picks up, and the bass gets busy, I felt that the K550 got lost in the tempo. Each bass notes weren’t articulated properly, the overhang was too slow, the punch not enough to gets you toe-tapping. Also the wide soundstage diffuses the energy of the music and I didn’t get the emotion at all. It was a 5.5/10 presentation for the busy passages.

    A much better headphone for these is the Fidelio L1. On the slower ambient passages, the L1 was not as wide as the K550, but it was still spacious and had a better depth than the K550. So I’d give the L1 an 8.5/10 for the slower ambient passages. On the faster, busy passages, the L1 totally rocked. Fast bass, well articulated, all the PRaT is happening with the L1. 9/10 for the faster passages.

    The L1 is just a much better headphone for these tracks.

    • James

      Thanks a ton Mike, I’ll be sure to come to you for help in the future.

      • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

        You’re welcome.

  • antonius wijaya

    Nice review mike. Btw what’s the difference between bass slam and bass punch? You said K550 lack bass slam but how about the bass punch?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      The bass punch is not that impressive as well. It’s there, but I can use a little bit more punch.

  • P. J.

    I heard some good stuff about these headphones but if its true what you say that they are similar to HE-500 then I am sold as I need a closed counterpart to the HE-500. How well do they isolate out and in Mike?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      P.J. ,
      They isolate very well, though I wouldn’t expect them to block subway noise (I don’t think they are meant for those).
      I don’t really mean that they are similar to the HE-500.. I think you read it the wrong way.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dentonnn Denton Chen

    i have to say that is a stunning picture of the K550s on the wrong page. =)

    • http://www.facebook.com/dentonnn Denton Chen

      Front*

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Thanks, Denton. :)

  • TheMiddleSky

    Glad finally you could love AKG’s things Mike :D

    Base on “common” people who come to my place, seems most of them also appreciate K550 very well. Some of them are still say that the sound still typical as K70X which is “not enough body” though.

    • derbii

      Q701’s are solution for those who think K701’s are thin. :P

  • derbii

    Having owned this headphone for about 2 months now, as well as owning the K702 for about a year, I have to say this review sound a bit “too positive”. Not that K550 are bad headphones, and it comes at half the price of K702 in my country, but I would not say that it is superior, and I would especially not agree that there is a stark difference between the two in any area. I also own the Sennheiser HD650, which I feel are superior to both AKG’s in every single way. But that’s another story. About K550 vs. K702. I feel the ONLY advantage of K550 when well powered and used with a good source is the soundstage. K702 and K701 indeed do have a pretty bad imaging and absolutely no central image or soundstage depth. The soundstage feels 2D, it’s only very wide, too wide sometimes. With K550’s soundstage is not as wide, but it is taller and deeper, with clearer central image. It is closer to that of Ultrasone HFi2400, which still is the king of imaging compared to all the headphones that I own, but K550 comes very close.
    Other than soundstage /imaging, I feel that K550’s and K702’s sound extremely alike. Almost like an opened and closed version of the same headphone. I feel highs on K550’s are not as smooth, they’re crisper and sharper, which may contribute to feeling of clarity, but I think they’re a bit overly sparkly and sharp sometimes. Bass of K550’s does extend deeper than K702, but the level of bass punch is so low that sometimes it’s almost disappointing to listen to K550’s. That’s with Musical Fidelity M1DAC and Bellari HA540 tube amp, a DAC way more expensive than the headphones, and a tube amp with power to run 5 K550’s at the same time if they could all be connected to it. But still, any music that requires bass slam, is not good on these headphones. Perfect music for these, or in other words, album that I find sounds best with these is the Eric Clapton – Unplugged 1992 live album. It just sounds mind-blowing on K550’s. Better than K701, HD650 or Ultrasone HFi-2400. So, if you’re into such types of music, acoustic guitar, some bass guitar, some piano, live, then K550’s might be for you. But when moving on to something like Dire Straits, you already feel the lack of body and bass slam is holding these headphones back.

    But now, on to the biggest issue. These headphones, in my opinion have very poor ergonomics, which would we fine if it only affected comfort, but it affects sound. Lots of people aren’t able to get a proper seal on their head, which ruins the sound. No.1 – Headband is too damn springy. It has by far the least clamping force of any headphone I’ve ever owned. K702 is like a torture device compared to these in terms of pressure. There’s just not enough force to make a good seal.
    No.2 – Since the ear pads are so big in diameter, if your ears are too far back on your head, or if your head starts to curve a lot behind your ears, you will not get a proper seal behind your ears. What AKG should have done, is make the ear pads thicker in the rear, and thinner in the front. So that the pads will follow the natural curvature of the head. The same as they have done with K701/2 pads. Or they should simply make the headphones clamp more. You can’t have flat ear pads and no clamping force. Those two don’t go together. You either need strong clamping force, or you need a curved ear pad.
    Also, padding on top of the headband is very thin. I have no clue why AKG fails to make a headphone with a comfortable headband, you’d imagine that’s the easier part of headphone to make. Padding up there is literally only a few millimeters thick, and since headphones don’t grip your head with ear pads, almost all the force from the weight pressed on the top.

    Holes inside the ear pads could be a bit bigger as well. Or taller, to be more precise. They’re 5,5 cm in diameter (compared to 6,5 on K701/2), which is exactly too small to fit my ears, and contribute additionally to ear pad seal problems.

    Another negative would be – smelly pleather – seriously, while the pleather is extremely soft and nice to touch, it stinks horribly when these headphone are new. They stank so bad (plasticky/rubbery smell) that I thought I got some fakes and called the dealer when I opened the up for the first time. You wanna leave them outside on fresh air for a few hours after buying them. :P

    I don’t want to sound like I’m trashing these headphones. I just wanted to point out the negatives that become obvious when using these a longer period of time, since Mike’s review makes them seem sort of close to perfect, which they’re certainly not.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003285936491 Antonio Marques

      100% agree in your comments about ergonomics. I own them and find same problems.

      • derbii

        If they had a better fit and a softer headband, they’d be much more complete, this way they feel like they’re not a well thought out design. What is especially irritating is the fact that I don’t use these headphones because I know in advance that before I can start listening, I have to spend a few minutes of fine tuning of the positioning, twisting the cups, pressing the cups, etc. in order to find the perfect position in which they sound best, and then I know that I can’t do any sudden moves with my head, or twist the head left or right, because every movement will break the seal, since headband pressure is incredibly low. I even tried twisting the headband inwards, to make it clamp stronger, but the metal part on the top of the headband is so thin, and so springy there’s no effect. Anyone who wants to buy these should definitely try them on first. Especially if they wear glasses, as they can break the seal as well.

        • http://twitter.com/Original_Ken Ken Stuart

          Actually, this is similar in many ways to my experience of the SRH-1840, which makes the “fit” issue more of a concern simply because they are even more expensive (although the K550 are still expensive enough to merit a “fit” mechanism that works for almost all people).
          In other words, there are fit issues that affect sound, even when they don’t affect comfort.
          So, I’m suggesting that Mike give some attention to this in the future – in other words, the headphones might fit Mike just fine, but he should look at whether they have an adequate mechanism to fit all users, and comment on that in his reviews. Thanks.

          • derbii

            deleted

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003285936491 Antonio Marques

            In fact you can read same view as yours in Tyll´s review:
            http://www.innerfidelity.com/content/wonderfully-competent-akg-k550-sealed-headphone

            BUT … it is still a superb headphone to me. Let´s hope MKII version improves clamping and/or pads. My trick (you can laugh) take the headband of a headlight and help pushing the cups inwards (don´t do it in the office, hehe).

          • dalethorn

            My take on fit, per these examples: Beyer DT48 – don’t even ask. Beyer DT1350 – difficult at best. Senn HD800 – best. Shure 1840 – second best. Philips L1 – OK but a bit crowded, takes a minute to feel comfy. Grado PS500 – good, but needs occasional adjustment. GMP 8.35D – same as L1. vmoda M80 – better than DT1350.

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              I pretty much agree to the ranking on fit too. Just on the PS500, I am not a big fan of the heavy metal cups + grado bowl pads. On my MS-Pro it’s much better since the wood cups are much lighter.

              • dalethorn

                Yeah (heh) if you like the PS500 that much you’d really love the PS1000. You can drown in those.

                • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

                  I didn’t like the PS1000. I thought the fit was horrible and the metal cups again too heavy. I prefer the GS1000. :)

          • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

            Thanks, Ken. I will try to pay attention to that.

            By the way may I know what browser you’re using? I’m trying to pinpoint the cause of all these double posts.

            • http://twitter.com/Original_Ken Ken Stuart

              Firefox – The cause of the double posts are that I type the message and
              then click on “post as Ken Stuart” button and sometimes it immediately
              changes and posts the message visually. Other times nothing changes
              visually, but the message appears later. Other times the message never
              appears. I’m learning to wait some minutes before concluding that it
              did not work. :)

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

                Click once and refresh the page ;)

              • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

                I see, thanks for the feedback Ken.

      • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

        Thanks. I personally find the K550 to be extremely comfortable.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I appreciate the impression there, derbii.

      Personally I just can’t go back to the 701 once I’ve listened to the K550. The difference is not even close. Much blacker background, much cleaner sound and this has nothing to do with treble, it’s just a total lack of grain on the K550.

      • http://www.facebook.com/donunus Don Vittorio Sierra

        The recessed upper mids on any headphone do give an impression of a black background though. Its mostly a function of the frequency response. I still want to hear these for myself though.

    • http://www.facebook.com/donunus Don Vittorio Sierra

      Have you compared these with a Q701 Mike?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=542815355 John Clare

      Aside from the headband cushion and the stink you read my mind. Derbii you sound like we have the same ears, though I don’t have your collection of headphones. To me the K550’s upper mid and treble can sound very harsh and fatiguing (JDS Labs c421), and they lack bass impact beyond what I can tolerate and I don’t consider myself a bass head. Switching amps to the National this week really helped relieve the harshness but I think the c421 is a cleaner and wider sounding amp to the National on the K550. And those ear cups make a lousy seal on my huge head, so the bass suffers more, even with Mickey Mouse modifications.

      So derbii, I need to ask you, what should I buy to fix these issues? HD 650? HE-500? Any suggestions at all? I’m starting to lean towards an open headphone because of my sweaty ears!

  • Eugen

    Damn, you make this headphone sound like an improved version of the HD250, which I love … now I have to listen to it. :)

    This is the first review by you that I doubt ….

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Hd250? No kidding.

      • Eugen

        Just kidding. :)

      • Eugen

        Try the HD250, it will rewrite some rules for you … this time I’m not kidding. :)

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          I’ve tried it before.. I’ll try to listen to it again. :)

  • http://www.audioexcursions.com/ Austin Morrow

    I really do like the look of the K550’s and based on several opinions, they would fit perfectly in my collection. What baffles me is why AKG opted for a non-removable cable, which is a deal breaker for me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003285936491 Antonio Marques

    Mike, AKG should contract you for inserting these photos in their leaflet. There are no better pics of this product anywherearound. Faaaaaar better.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Thanks, Antonio. ;)

  • Ehr33

    Hi Mike! How is it compare to Denon D2000 or D5000? Do you consider it as dark sounding? Will it a bad match with the Fostex HP P1? Thanks!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I haven’t tried it with the HP-P1 but I think it should be a good match.

      The Denons have a punchier bass, but in terms of overall sound quality I think the AKG is cleaner, smoother, I think better overall.

  • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

    Hi Robert,
    Definitely go with the K550 for large orchestras. It’s much better than the K702.

  • SoundEskimoo

    wowww! awesome review Mike.

    This headphone indeed really unique, it has very neat sounding from bottom to the top, traditionally AKG has ‘crystal clear’ sound sig compared to darkish sennheiser.

    Actually K701 didn’t perform that bad, just not perfect enough to become mainstream choice. Lack body (mid&bass), too analitical, cold. Q701 & K702 reported “fix” that things a bit, especially they have more bass & Q701 especially smoother sounding than K701.

    For K550 they took the AKG’s new formula & tuned better for mainstream. What different here is that they refined K701 to have more dignity & well behaved. Too well behave I thought, this is the only complain I have, I felt the AKG’s mids sound too polite (thin). But overall this is what K701 sound should be!

    Kudos 300$ AKG, wont drain my wallet CMIIW
    * if they use same driver technology, you should have at least 300hours before unveiled its true potential.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Thanks for sharing your impression, SoundEskimoo! Haven’t seen you post here for a while.

      • SoundEskimoo

        I really like this kind of article , Mike. A lot of new products launched, including from Sennheiser.