Monday, 15 April 2013

AKG K550, the Harmon Kardon and AKG

Yes, finally the famous AKG K550 headphone, so sorry for the delay of this review, it was in my buying list for quite some time, however the fund always gets an urgent relocate to other equipments, and finally, here is the AKG K550 review I promised.

There are of course, tons of amazing reviews out for you to read and grab before this, so what’s the point for me to review again? Ain’t that pointless as it is too late for the time being? Most of the people already grabbed it when it first released. Well, as I mentioned previously, my review will be targeting audiophile in Malaysia, the critical comparison points will be the difference price issue in Malaysia, availability, music genre and alternatives which able to purchase in Malaysia.

I will be skipping out the History of AKG, you can google it without any reason for me to type it out, and to be specific, this model is AKG by Harmon Kardon, as if you don’t know what happened, it is sort of Harmon Kardon bought over AKG story.

So let’s cut the crap…

Packaging and Accessories

It is confusing, mind me, I’m not telling you it is “hard or complicated” to open, but why the great design of the box didn’t combine with awesome accessories.
In fact, the design and outlook of the box are gorgeous, apparently it was designed by Harmon Kardon, as AKG old design boxes are just… old school and tradition, I prefer to mention them in a softer tone. They are elegant, clean and straight to the point, you can have an immediate grace through the headphone, admiring the dark shadow and techy design of K550 outside of the box.
While you enjoy the glorious moment of slipping through your fingers on the box, and slowly open the box, “WTF is this?” Yes, it is sad to tell you that, the accessories they provided are “suck”, it can be same or worse then Beyerdynamic in my experience. One headphone, one 3.5mm to 6.2mm jack converter, that’s all, the reason why I’m shocked, it is not about I’m an accessory freak. Well… personally I don’t really care much, however it is “The” Harmon Kardon, the company creates magic with the combination of design, technology and lifestyle into a product, yet created a headphone looks so nice on itself, but didn’t include any basic accessories, at least give me a pouch…

                                                          *Front view of the box

                                                           *Side view of the box

Design and Fitting

I like it, I like it a lot, I fall in love with it. The concept design of the headphone is just so… exciting, neat, cool and grand. The first impression of my opinion? I’m sure it was not designed solely by sound engineer, if you know what I meant.  Every parts and joints are the showcase of tight, precise, engineering and lifestyle, they combined so well, there are no awkward placements of design and idea on the headphone, everything blend perfectly well.
The headphone is beefy and huge, overall bigger size then DT880, directly it affects the comfortability of this headphone. K550 is relatively comfortable, the earphone is big and deep enough to devour your whole ear piece, soft spongy earpads suitable for long hour listening without any issues. However, there are few flaws in my opinion, the position of your ear placement inside the pad is important, you need to place your ear in the middle, or the tip of your behind your ear must touch on the edge of the pad. Mainly due to the size of the pad, there is not space limitation inside the contact point, so the sound resonance into your ear canal must be positioned correctly to be sounded good. You need to adjust for a few seconds according to your ear shape, when you got everything correct, you will have the reference for future use, not a big problem to me. Furthermore, every time when you fresh wear the headphone, you must press the headphone against your ears, it helps provide better isolation, and the angle of the earcup will swivel to fit your face structure, if you don’t do that, the whole music experience will sounds hollow and very thin presentation. Yeap the headband, once again you need a great position over the top of your head for long hour listening, if not, it caused pain due to weird pressure point. They require self adjust, when you got everything fit correctly, it shouldn’t create any big problems.

                                                            *Huge indicator of "R" and "L"

                                                           *The huge size of the ear cup      

                                                                 *Design in Austria

                                                      *Huge AKG top of the headphone

                                                    *Basic indicator for which length setting

                                            *Soft padding as the support point for your head

Sound Quality

There will be arguments inside the sound section, mainly my personal opinion and how my view over AKG/Harmon Kardon collaboration.
My source will be Ipod 5th Generation straight out to AKG K550, as I want to keep the review as neutral as possible without amplifier coloration. Initially I was thinking to push it with an amplifier, we got the idea of you should use an amplifier when you headphone priced at USD300, but I would like to test the efficiency of this headphone, maybe I am trying to be funny, but who cares =).

Treble – How should I explain this… There are “Tons” of treble, maybe this is my first time using quantity to describe high frequency. Funny though as I couldn’t find a word to describe my feeling. Mind me, it is not a bright headphone for AKG K550, it has dynamic and extension of high frequency, but it tends to push it too much and directly created an upper mid and treble centric Can. It has power and synergy in this frequency range, but not natural, smooth and texture enough in my opinion, you can enjoy the crispy, sparkly and fast transition from mid to treble range, but most of the time it pushed too much and lacking in term of body. K550 is revealing, whatever appears in the treble frequency, you can capture the detail easily without try to pump in with an amplifier or volume, it should be a fairly easy to drive headphone overall, of course, they are improvements need to sort out from what I experienced.
 Is it bad? No it is not, in fact there are reasons why they are doing that, the sound presentation is forward, tilt on the upper, it helps provide a more engaging and fun experience in most of the music genre, especially fast and impactful music.

Mid – It has slightly dry signature on mid frequency, but pretty much balances out from top end to mid flow. It is not a mid centric headphone, with laid back on the line with upper and lower mid. K550 does not present mid frequency in a smooth or thick, but to make everything nice and easy, it is clear, detail and balance for mid, so far no particular strong coloration can be found, it is actually a good neutral headphone that suitable for cross professional and consumer use.

Bass – It is deep and punchy, stronger than any AKG previous models that I experienced  before (Audiophile series). To be prĂ©cised, K550 is not a heavy bass oriented headphone, it is a Can that’s done right on bass section, the amount of control power over low end frequency is remarkable. It has the similar presentation of Beyerdynamic DT880 bass section, however with more body, punch and control. The mid bass is accurate and outstanding, you are able to sense the hit and speed clearly on that particular frequency. Decay and extension are average and clean, extremely clear cut for decay, the resonance is subtle, pretty relax for music listening.

Overall -
*Forward and aggressive signature
*Average sound stage
*Quite a good all-rounder
*Balance, clean, detail


This is a good headphone, despite the flaws I found on the headphone design, I still like it a lot, it has the traits I want. K550 wanders off from their older line, the K701, 601 etc, not just the design, but sound. You don’t sense the AKG house signature in K550 anymore, while to me K550 is kind of a product that builds to fulfill the demand of consumer in these days, sort of  taking all the good parts from everyone, and put into a new model. K550 sounded damn good, fitted well with the music genre I am listening, across from rock, metal, R&B to classical, nevertheless this is the sound of reference, AKG/Harmon Kardon did it right, hell yea just right, they did it almost perfect in all aspects. To me, this model will be included in one of the benchmark of combining lifestyle + design + sound.

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