Founded in 1947 in Vienna, Austria, AKG immediately established itself as a no-compromise manufacturer of the finest microphones and headphones in the world. Now, on their 75th birthday, AKG’s reputation is, if anything, even stronger, and their mics and headphones are used by the very top level of professional sound engineers and recording artists, as well as millions and millions of people every day – from casual listeners to serious audiophiles – all around the world.
But there are really a lot of different AKG headphones available, and the task of finding the best ones, among so many brilliant products, can be a little daunting. That’s why we’ve prepared this in-depth buyer’s guide, to help you find and buy the best AKG headphones on the market today.
And the best AKG headphones – whether unbelievably affordable or fabulously expensive – are truly among the best in the world, so you, by extension, will end up a very, very happy listener!
Why are AKG Headphones So Popular?
People talk so much about how the world’s leading artists, leading recording studios, and the very best recording engineers and producers all seem to use AKG, but, we may well ask, who cares? If you’re looking for a pair of great-sounding headphones for your phone, your computer, or your hi-fi system, why does it matter that the finest high-resolution audiophile recordings have been made using AKG products more than probably any other company’s?
Because AKG headphones get you closer to the music. This is the most important thing to professionals, or for any serious listener, and when headphones are neutral, honest and transparent, and simply present the music without their own colorations or distortions, everything sounds better, and the beauty, dynamic energy, and excitement of any music can come shining through.
But really AKG headphones are immensely popular, and have maybe the most positive reputation of any brand, because in this age of social media, sharing and tweeting and liking and whatnot, anyone can easily hear that AKG headphones consistently provide a sweet, musical and exciting sound, and they can, and do, tell everybody they know the good news.
Are AKG Headphones Really That Good?
Well, yes they are. AKG headphones are not only great sounding, but are made with a focus on great design, material quality and durability that not many other major headphone manufacturers manage – at least with the kind of consistency, from the bottom of the line to the top, that AKG provides.
Wired or wireless, headphones or earbuds, AKG products always take advantage of the very latest technological advancements – many invented or developed by AKG themselves. And while much of this technology will be focused on getting the best wireless performance, the best battery life, the most comfortable fit, the best long-term reliability or other factors, the most exciting of AKG’s engineering and design innovations focus on sound.
And this, their commitment to the best sounding products, and the wonderfully sweet, musical and honest sound that results, is the real reason why AKG became a world leader in pro and consumer audio, and why their headphones are among the most popular and beloved in the world.
How Can You Find the Right AKG Headphones for You?
If you are a little tired of the artificial sound of most major headphone brands – with their heavily boosted highs and big, boomy bass, increased brightness and even distortion for a more “exciting” sound – you are already on the way to finding the ideal pair of AKG headphones for you, and will soon find out what it’s like when the music is allowed to speak for itself, with its own natural energy, excitement and beauty.
But we still need to narrow it down a bit. There are, after all, a lot of different choices in the AKG product line, and they are all very good. There are a few very special AKG headphones, though, which really stand out as offering even higher levels of musicality, overall performance and quality, and represent a really substantial value at their respective price points.
We will break down this AKG buyer’s guide into three sections:
Wired On-Ear / Over-Ear Headphones – From expensive to delightfully affordable, these reference grade high-resolution headphones best embody the AKG ideal of presenting music with absolute purity and neutrality, and offer everybody, from studio professional to casual home listener, a wonderfully open and musical audiophile experience. By far the majority of recommendations in our list of best AKG headphones fall into this category, in which AKG is a true leader.
Ear Buds – here we’re focusing on the award winning N-series earbuds, which are inexpensive yet truly premium quality buds with that awesome AKG sound, completely free from the shrill, harsh treble, bloated, boomy bass or overall muted or hazy sound of many other major brands’ earbuds – just crystal clear highs, powerful deep bass, tons of detail, superb imaging and tons of musical energy.
Wireless Headphones – with the technological support of not only their own laboratories but their parent company (Samsung International) as well, it makes sense that AKG now can produce the best wireless headphones to complement their already legendary line of wired ‘phones. And, of course, there is still the beautiful AKG sound, neutral, open, sweet and dynamic.
So if you have an idea of how much you want to spend, and what kind of headphones you want – wired or wireless, standard over-ear headphones or earbuds – you can find the corresponding choice in our list of best AKG headphones in 2021 and click with confidence, knowing you will end up with a pair of headphones that sound amazing and are built to the very highest standards.
The Best AKG Headphones: A Full Buyer’s Guide for 2021
The Best AKG Wired Headphones in 2021
Truly reference quality, the AKG K812 open-backed studio headphones come as close as you possibly can to complete neutrality and accuracy in sound, with astonishing transparency, ease, transient speed and resolving power. They have incredibly wide and flat frequency response and inaudibly low levels of distortion and coloration, and perfectly meet the needs of not only the best recording professionals in the world, but the most discerning audiophiles as well.
The K812 headphones are an open-back design, which is the default choice for studio engineers and audiophiles, offering an open and natural sound no closed-back designs can come close to, as well as unparalleled detail and dynamics – from the most subtle to the most powerful – and the widest and most accurate stereo soundstage.
Their open design does mean that your music will be audible to those around you, and loud background noise can interfere with your listening. The AKG K812 studio reference monitor headphones are not, though, for the office, for commuting or working out, but for close, undistracted listening, and are among the half-dozen best headphones in the world today – and easily the best value of them all.
The Law of Diminishing Returns is strongly enforced when comparing these delightfully affordable true audiophile headphones, the AKG K712 open-back headphones, to their much more expensive siblings, the K812 just above.
Yes, the K812 are a great bargain, even at around fifteen hundred bucks, and yes, they are as close to perfect as I’ve ever heard without spending even a few thousand dollars more, but the K712 are also a genuinely reference-grade high resolution headphone for professional recordists and audiophiles at the very highest level, and an almost unbelievable bargain in their price range.
Breathtaking transparency, ease, and speed, impact, and subtlety, enormous and precise soundstage, absolutely unbelievable resolving power, and a superbly musical overall presentation – just as Diminishing Returns dictates, the AKG K712 headphones offer 99 percent of the flagship 812’s performance, and at about 25% of the price.
Of course, some of you loveably nutty audiophiles our there want the extra 1% and have the extra 1,100+ dollars at hand, but if you don’t, and you want what may be the best value on the market today for uncompromised high fidelity headphone listening, it’s really just about the math, and the AKG K712 Pro Audio Reference Headphones are the answer.
Where the two above AKG headphones are open-back, which is the favorite design of both audiophiles and studio engineers, these beautiful AKG K553 wired headphones are closed-back, offering some very specific advantages in the real world, and still sound just amazing.
Yes, open designs do have a larger soundstage, a greater ease and openness overall, and generally more resolving power. They are not, however, great in a noisy environment, or anywhere your music may bother others. They also take more power to play at louder volumes, and require a bit more care and protection from sun, moisture and dust.
But the AKG K553 offers an amazing solution for budget audiophiles, with nearly all of the resolution, accuracy and openness of even very expensive open-back headphones, a great soundstage and a true sense of musical ease, but for a much, much lower price. And, being closed-back, they keep noise out and your music in, can be exposed more to the elements, and can play loud and sound great with more modest gear and smaller amps (even PCs, phones and tablets).
Many people do not have the proper listening conditions (or the budget for that matter) for open-back reference headphones, but the AKG K553 Mark II headphones can give them real high-resolution audiophile sound in a more versatile closed-back design, anywhere and at any time, and for a lot less money.
Probably the most popular headphones in the entire AKG product line, the AKG K240 open-back headphones offer not just a glimpse into the world of high end audiophile listening, but a big clear window into that rarified realm.
Now let’s not assume too much here – loads of reviews out there say these very inexpensive K240 ‘phones sound just as good as the fifteen hundred dollar K812 reference headphones, or even more expensive headphones from stellar companies like Hifiman or Focal. They don’t, which is weird since they are only 5,940 dollars cheaper than the 5,999 Hifiman Susvara – go figure…
But we can say they sound similar, and really do sound much better than headphones from major brands, or even smaller hi-fi companies, that are hundreds of dollars more expensive. Indeed, the AKG K240 headphones are known as perhaps the best value in audiophile listening today, with the kind of ease, openness and musicality the most discerning listeners demand.
Crazy inexpensive and just beautiful sounding with absolutely any kind of music, it is hard to imagine how any budget audiophile could do better than the AKG K240 open-back headphones, which get our (and apparently everybody else’s) most enthusiastic recommendation.
With the final recommendations for wired headphones on our 2021 AKG headphone buyer’s guide, we turn to ‘phones that, like the K240 above, have become known as a legendary value, but this time in a more versatile closed-back design – the AKG K72 and AKG K92 headphones.
And even though they are a closed design headphone, the most striking thing about both of these ‘phones is the remarkably open sound. There is a width and spatial realism to the soundstage which makes music startlingly present and realistic, and an easy, fast and effortless quality to detail and dynamics that even some high-end headphones – closed or open – from other companies can’t come close to.
While these are both great headphones, and not much different in price, the K92 are even more neutral, with a flatter and wider frequency response and less coloration overall, and are in fact amazingly close to the true AKG ideal of pure and natural transparency in reproduced music. They are the least expensive headphones I’ve ever heard that could truly satisfy even very particular audiophiles.
The K72, on the other hand, while not as startlingly realistic, has a bit more of a “popular” sound signature, with lots of solid bass, bright and sweet high frequencies and a really punchy and dynamic presentation. They are still neutral and have lots of detail and wide and precise stereo imaging, but are a little better for rock, rap and hip-hop, country and other popular music – and a little less expensive.
Either way you go, though, these are both superbly made, long lasting headphones with that wide open AKG sound, letting the all of the beauty, subtlety and power of the music come through.
The Best AKG Wired Earbuds in 2021
There have been tons of changes recently in the AKG product line, which honestly isn’t the worst thing – there was an almost overwhelmingly confusing profusion of headphones, earbuds, wireless and noise canceling ‘phones, but now things are a little more clear and focused.
And the really great news is that, while several older earbud models are being discontinued, the awesome and extremely popular N series in-ear headphones remains. AKG does make a couple of more expensive (even quite expensive) buds, and a couple of cheaper ones as well, but the two most popular models – the N40 and the N20 – offer such amazing high resolution sound, and such amazing value, that we need look no further.
We start with the more expensive AKG N40 wired in-ear headphones, which are, even at their higher price, an extraordinary value. None of the problems we often associate with earbuds – narrow and flat soundstage, closed and compressed sound, lack of air or ease – are here, and in fact these wondrous little N40s sound more like expensive open-design studio headphones than like typical earbuds.
And yet the qualities we associate with the best earbuds are still here. Resolution is astounding, with real presentation of the smallest changes in dynamics or spatial/temporal relationships, bass is very deep, tight and fast, sound isolation is excellent, and the AKG N40 earbuds will play loud with very little power, and without a hint of aggression or distortion.
The AKG N20 wired earbuds, for well under half the price of the N40, are admittedly not as high resolution, and direct comparison shows that the more expensive AKGs do reveal detail and other musical elements the inexpensive N20s cannot quite make out. On the other hand, comparison to similarly priced earbuds from other manufacturers tells a different story – the AKG N20 are far more musical, open, detailed and dynamic than pretty much anything in this range, and the best for the money in allowing the music, in all its beauty, come through.
Both the AKG N20 and N40 wired earbuds are, in fact, high resolution reference in ear monitors, and each far out-performs anything in its price category, and they are both very comfortably and premium quality products. The N40 in-ear headphones also have detachable cords, three replaceable screens to customize the sound, an extra cable with microphone and a nice case with cleaning and travel accessories, while the N20 buds have a permanent cable without microphone, but still come with a nice kit and case.
I’m not sure I can clearly recommend one over the other – if you have the money, the N40 will thrill and delight you every time you use them, and if your budget only permits the N20 buds, well, they will thrill and delight you every time you use them.
The Best AKG Wireless Headphones in 2021
If we simply focus on the technology and features of these marvelous AKG N400 true wireless earbuds, they would easily qualify for inclusion in our list of best AKG headphones in 2021:
- Bluetooth 5.0 for extended range and battery life
- Active Noise Cancelling with Ambient Aware and Talk-Thru
- IPX7 Waterproof Rating
- Big 8.2MM Drivers with Bass Response down to 10 HZ and 96 dB Sensitivity
- Fast Charging Time of 10 Minutes (quick charge) or 2 Hours (full charge)
- Intelligent Design and Great In-Ear Comfort
But, as with all things AKG, the most impressive thing about the N400 wireless earbuds is how they sound. We come to expect the highest levels of technical innovation, great design and premium quality from any AKG headphones, and even more we expect a neutral, honest and wide-open sound, that lets the music come though as it was originally recorded, with all of its dynamic power, tonal beauty and realism.
The N400 wireless earbuds do this in spades, and in fact do not sound like any other wireless buds I’ve heard. The best of the best from other companies always sound a bit constricted, closed in and even artificial, but the AKG N400’s sound is alive, open and exciting.
There are, in fact, other earbuds out there that offer better specification on paper, better battery life, more advanced Bluetooth codecs, even slightly more effective noise cancellation, but (and I’ve heard lots and lots of them) none of them sounds even close to as good as the AKG N400 true wireless – the best, and best value, wireless earbud for audiophiles.
With active noise cancelation that is greatly improved from older AKG models, and now rivals the best ANC systems from Bose and Sony, and especially with full lossless AptX audio codec that allows even the most high resolution digital and analog music files to come through with absolutely no loss or degradation in sound quality, the AKG N60NC wireless on-ear headphones are truly a next-generation product, impressive in every way.
But while customer reviews do talk about the excellent noise reduction and other technologies, the great design and nice styling, the long battery life, the features and usability, the most often heard comments all have to do with sound. Over and over people talk about just how open and honest the sound is, how they sound better than any other headphones they’ve owned or heard, how the N60NC approach true studio reference or high resolution audiophile headphones, and how they sound fabulous with any kind of music.
While lots of people purchase these for commuting, traveling, using in the office, or moving from place to place in the house, and are thankful for the great foldable design and nice carrying pouch, people seem even more grateful for the included audio cord for wired use – they power the N60s down, plug them in and use them all the time, claiming they have much better sound than even much more expensive wired headphones they have on hand for more serious or focused listening.
The AKG N60NC are true reference headphones in the best AKG tradition, with neutral, open and transparent sound, lots of dynamic energy and a sweet and natural musicality. In fact, for around 125 dollars, I would easily recommend these as one of the best sounding AKG headphones period, quite up to the standards set by the company’s wired ‘phones at the same price – and we can call the noise reduction, lossless Bluetooth wireless operation and all the rest just a bonus!
It could simply be said that the AKG Y500BT headphones are far and away the best sounding wireless phones at this price point, and even outperform wireless cans costing much more, and that in itself is surely enough for them to get our recommendation as one of the best of all AKG headphones, and one of the best values available today.
But we really should spend a moment considering their design, their technology and their workmanship. The Y500BT have super-long 33 hours battery life, incredible Bluetooth range, great and well laid out on-cup controls, multi-point connectivity and the most clever and effective passive noise reduction I’ve ever used. They are slick, comfortable, beautifully designed and obviously a well made and durable product.
And, did I mention that they sound great? A very slight “popular” sound signature, with strong bass and brilliant highs, makes these an exciting listen, but they are still AKG ‘phones, so the low, low distortion and coloration, incredible detail, imaging and energy make them exciting over the long term as well, and ideal for any kind of music.
The AKG Y500BT Bluetooth wireless is a fitting headphone to close our list of best AKG headphones of 2021, since it is one of the most beloved, award winning and highly reviewed headphones – wireless or otherwise – on the market today, and a great glimpse of what we can expect from the venerable house of AKG for the next 75 years.
Final Thoughts: Should You Get a Headphone Amplifier?
With all of this talk, in every single one of our AKG recommendations, about high resolution, audiophile sound quality, open and neutral sound, lack of coloration or distortion and so forth, it’s natural that you might consider a headphone amplifier to complement your new AKG headphones. After all, if they really are that open and revealing, aren’t they going to make your poor old gear sound like crud?
Well, maybe. The very upper echelon of AKG headphones, like the K812 and K712 above, certainly want the very best gear – the latest generation high-resolution digital processors, clean and fast amplification, and more – but if you are considering headphones on that level your gear is probably already pretty well sorted. Yes, these reference-grade true audiophile headphones may reveal things in your current stereo system that you didn’t know about before, and that you don’t like, but perhaps it is best to see if it is or ain’t broke before you fix it.
AKG headphones overall, however, even for all their revealing nature, have a tendency to make associated equipment sound much better, and you will doubtless be thrilled at how good your gear actually sounds. That said, there is no doubt that almost any PC, phone, or tablet has rather limited audio circuitry, including poor sounding DAC and amplifier chips, and a modest investment into an excellent outboard DAC/headphone amp dongle will change your life. Well, it may not literally change your life, but will at least make a dramatic improvement in your listening (which for many of us is life).