Sound impressions and headphone comparisons
The AK T5p V2 both surprises and impresses right off the bat with a spacious and airy tuning – and not just for a closed-back. Rather than being out-and-out ‘wide’-sounding, the AK T5p V2 forms somewhat of a ‘sphere’ around your head that envelops you in a recording and continually impresses with its spatial definition and first-rate imaging.
Tonally, you quickly realised that you’re up for more of a ‘fun’ voicing than a traditional ‘audiophile’ tuning, with an unashamed emphasis on the low-end. Bass dominates the proceedings and it doesn’t let go – it has a rounded, boomy character that overstays its welcome into the mid-range and tends to overshadow instrumental and vocal detail. I am taking into consideration the fact that these are intended for portable use, and so an extra serving of bottom-end can help to provide cut-through and character when you find yourself in less-than-silent ambient conditions, such as in the workplace or on public transport.
While bass lovers might rejoice in the lashings of bass quantity that the AK T5p V2 can impart, it’s not particularly fleet-of-foot in that department. Whereas the planar drivers of the Audeze Mobius or Dan Clark Aeon 2 (or most planars, for that matter) will happily dispatch bass notes without a hint of delay nor bloat, the AK T5p does tend to hang onto them a fraction too long (in the mid-bass, in particular). As a result, it over-shadows the nicely textured but somewhat recessed mid-range. The electric bass in Black Mountain’s ‘Future Shade’ is simply too much, and it begins to grate after only a few bars at medium listening levels.
There’s a bit of extra resonance at times in the mid-range that continually reminded me that I was listening to a pair of closed-back headphone, rather than the more realistic decay and transparency that you’ll experience from either a pair of open-back headphones (or, very well-damped closed-backed ones). In Beck’s ‘Guess I’m Doing Fine’, acoustic guitar plucks and snare hits linger around a little longer than they should, giving somewhat of a ‘cuppy resonance’ – you can’t beat physics, I guess. This does, however, give quite a nice ethereal effect to music that is deliberately mixed with reverb, or a ‘concert-hall’ type effect. My favourite Led Zeppelin song, ‘Ten Years Gone’ is a genuine treat on the AK T5p V2, with Jimmy Page’s opening guitar part meandering nicely with Robert Plant’s vocals. Ramping things up even further in the reverb stakes, ‘Third of May / Ōdaigahara’ by Fleet Foxes is rendered in such a way that you feel like you’re inside your very own marble-coated concert-hall.
While somewhat recessed, the AK T5p V2’s mid-range has a rather lovely lush texture, giving a slightly ‘wet’ sound to both instruments in the lower mid-range. The guitar tracks in QOTSA’s ‘Little Sister’ have a nice, tactile body to them, but at the same time are also somewhat laid-back. The wood-block percussion and backing vocals in the same track have an extremely enjoyable and impressive ‘out-of-head’ effect.
Macrodynamics are on the whole fairly impressive – those 45mm tesla drivers create a decent amount of slam and punch when called upon. Bass drum hits in Pink Floyd’s ‘Fearless’ land with a nice, visceral whump into your ears. However, I curiously found myself experiencing the same feeling every time I listened to the AK T5p V2 – I always felt like I needed to keep turning up the volume. I continually felt like I was wanting more from them in terms of dynamics, and I really wanted to extract a bit more drama from them but they never quite got there.
The AK T5p V2 is generally quite resolving and has an airy and bright-ish feel with regards to the highest octave. Despite its Beyerdyamic heritage it’s definitely not overbearing with regards to levels of treble and is neither hot nor sibilant. However, I must remark that the AK T5p V2 isn’t the last word when it comes to presenting a hyper-transparent insight into a recording – its bass-rich tuning ultimately holds it back from delivering a neutral, realistic rendering of a recording. Take for example Alice in Chains’ MTV Unplugged album – perhaps one of the best-recorded and realistic-sounding live albums in memory. Listening to track #3, ‘No Excuses’ over the AK T5p you’re still reminded that you’re listening to a recording of it, whereas more revealing and transparent headphones will make you forgot that you’re not actually there in the third row of the audience. Don’t get me wrong, the AK T5p V2 is certainly no slouch in the detail stakes, but seeing as it costs $1,119, it certainly warrants some scrutiny with regards to the competitive space that it occupies.
My T1’s were out on loan at the time of this review, so I didn’t have the chance to try the AK T5p V2 with their sheepskin pads swapped-out for the traditional Beyerdynamic velour. I have a feeling that this may actually work quite well with the AK T5p V2, and may tame the bass somewhat while adding a little more extension up top. If any readers have the chance to give this a try I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments section.
Vs Meze 99 Classics
Despite nearly an $800 price-gap, these two headphones are quite similar in terms of form-factor and intended use-case. They’re both over-ear, non-foldable full-sized headphones designed for portable use, and both feature dynamic drivers and detachable cables. Aesthetically, of course, they’re very different creatures coming from companies who are at polar opposites in terms of design philosophy.
The Meze 99 Classics are even more sensitive than the AK T5p when it comes to power requirements, and are louder by a few dB when played from the dual 6.3mm outputs on my reference Questyle CMA600i amplifier. The 99 really does reveal the scoop in the AK T5p V2’s upper mid-range, which adds to the much wider sense of head-stage that they have over the Mezes.
The AK T5p V2 is a more articulate headphone with a sharper and more resolving upper end, and with slightly less bass quantity than the 99 Classic’s generous lower end. The AK T5p V2 also keeps the bass in-check slightly better than the Mezes, which tend to get a bit woolly and ‘one-note’ at times.
The Meze’s front-up with more fun-factor and engagement due to the greater levels of energy in the presence region, and by comparison tend to jump-out and say “look at me!” more than the AK T5p V2 does. However, they feel positively congested and stuffy compared to the AK T5p, whose sense of space and air ultimately drag it head and shoulders above the 99 Classics. Longer-term comparisons also declare the AK T5p V2 to have greater refinement and resolution – and so they should, given they cost almost four times as much. The Astell&Kern also handily outperforms the 99 Classics in terms of comfort and isolation, the Meze having some quibbles with their headband and cable noise, plus middling isolation from their smallish, cramped pads.
Vs Focal Stellia
Tipping the scales the other way, it feels a little unfair putting the AK T5p up against the $3K Focal Stellia, but then again, the Focal does occupy rarified air indeed. But, it is the closed-back headphone by which others ought to be referenced (in this reviewer’s books, anyhow), and so is a worthwhile side-by-side listen.
The Focals, being so tonally correct do show-up some slight timbral weaknesses in the AK T5p’s tuning. While the AK T5p V2 gets absolutely shown-up in the mid-range detail-stakes, its treble also feels thinner and more brittle compared to the French flagship. Sure, it’s a tough match-up for the would-be portable AK T5p V2, but when your asking price is over a grand it’s certainly worth putting it to the test.
Vs ZMF Eikon
Side-by-side, these are two very different-sounding headphones. The ZMF has a very observable peak around 5K which gives vocals and certain instruments a ton more emphasis than the AK T5p V2, whose presence region feels bare by comparison. Tonally, the Eikon has a much more organic, sweeter voicing while the AK T5p V2 is left feeling a bit more dry and clinical after listening to the bio-cellulose drivers of the big 300-ohm ZMFs. The AK T5p V2, thanks to its mid-bass power, does make the Eikon feel a little bass shy, but a close listen will reveal the superior sub-bass extension and quality of the Eikon. Comfort-wise, the AK’s actually do feel portable compared to the portly ZMF’s, but then again you’re never going to leave the house in a pair of Eikons…right?
Vs Beyerdynamic DT1770
This was an interesting comparison for me, as I’ve used the DT1770’s in the past as my ‘portable’ headphones and have even taken them away with me on overseas holidays. Form-factor wise, they’re pretty similar terms of build and size, although the DT1770’s have a bit more heft in the cup size. Sound-wise the DT1770 is a more coherent, balanced headphone top-to-bottom with more control in the bass, and better mid-range definition. Treble is also certainly a more pronounced (to my liking) on the DT1770. While similar in some respects, the 250-ohm DT1770 is designed for a completely different application: monitoring and professional studio requirements. The supplied single-ended coiled cable was always a nightmare on-the-go, but it does make me think that with a different cable configuration and a proper portable power source (I would use it with the Chord Mojo + Poly) that it might just be my favourite ‘portable’ headphone, but ultimately the comfort and form-factor of the AK T5p make it far more fit-for-purpose.
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