Mobile professionals, your ears are cleared for takeoff. The AKG K495 NC headphones (starting at $349) combine elegant looks with rich audio and powerful active noise-cancelling. The result is a product that sounds as good as it looks. But is that enough to earn our seal of approval?
In a sea of brightly colored, plasticky chaos, the K495 NCs represent an elegant oasis. The headphones employ a tantalizing mix of black leather and silvery, brushed metal for a refined look. The soft, leather-wrapped headband conceals a cushiony strip of foam.
AKG delivers even more leather on the earplates, but with a slightly rougher feel than on the headband. A thick ring of silver metal is inset on each leather plate.
If you look closely at the left-side band, you'll see an LED indicator with a small NC logo. Twisting the ring counterclockwise enables the active noise-cancelling feature and reveals another LED light. The left earplate also holds the 3.5mm audio input jack.
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The earcups consist of a thick pad of spongy foam wrapped in black leather, with a cloth mesh center. AKG added L and R logos in the center of the earcups to show listeners the correct orientation for the headphones.
A pair of silver metal hinges holds the earcups in place and allows them to rotate to lay flat and fold upward. The compact size enables the cans to easily slide into the included black pleatherette carrying case. In addition to storing the headphones, the case has pockets for the bundled extra audio cord, a charging cable and a pair of plug adapters for power outlets and airplanes.
Despite surrounding our ears in pillowy soft foam, the supra-aural (on-ear) K495s caused immediate discomfort. The earcups pressed too firmly against our ears, putting pressure on the tops and bottoms. We had to apply a fair amount of elbow grease to adjust the headphones' extenders to secure a more comfortable fit. However, the leather began to soften up after two days of use,alleviating some of the initial pressure.
We preferred the easy comfort of the over-ear Bose QuietComfort 15 noise-cancelling headphones, which cushioned the area around our delicate ears in the company's slow-response foam. We wore the QC 15s for two hours without complaint, compared to the K495s, which left our ears feeling squished.
The AKG K495 NCs weigh 8.3 ounces, which is much heavier than the QC 15s (6.4 ounces) but lighter than the Beats Executives (11.9 ounces).
You won't be skipping tracks or taking calls on the K495s. Though the headphones ship with a pair of audio cables, neither has an inline remote or built-in mic. We were disappointed, since these are standard features for most headphones on the market.
Another point of contention is the audio plugs. The cables begin in a 2.5mm plug that goes into the audio port on the headphones. The other end of the cords terminates in a 3.5mm plug, which will fit most audio devices, including smartphones and MP3 players. While you can plug the K495s into most audio devices, the smaller plug means finding a replacement cable might be a little tricky. It's a good thing AKG includes two cords.
As the NC in the name suggests, these headphones utilize active noise-cancelling technology to block ambient sound.
With ANC enabled, but no music playing, we could clearly hear conversations taking place around us in a busy office, but the voices sounded distant. The Bose headphones, in comparison, left us in a near vacuum of silence — though Bose is exceptional among ANC headphones.
We also heard a subtle hiss of white noise with the K495 NCs, though the sound wasn't as pronounced as on the Beats Executives headphones. When we switched to the Bose QuietComfort 15s, white noise was non-existent.
When the music is playing, the K495s' hiss and the noise of the outside world melted away, replaced by loud, warm audio as we listened to the sultry tunes of Sade and gritty tracks from Nas. However, the music didn't sound as refined as it did on the QC 15s. We heardoverly bright highs, blaring mids and surprisingly light bass.
When we listened to Maxwell's "Bad Habits (Uncut)," we noticed the K495s were much louder than the QC 15s, which is a plus. This was despite playing the track at the same volume setting on our Nokia Lumia 928. In addition to the louder sound, the K495s delivered a warmer performance, particularly on the horns and keyboard.
The K495s' lack of refinement muddied the rest of the track, however, preventing us from hearing some of the finer points of the song. On the QC 15s, we could pick out the saxophone and trombone in the background, elements lost on the K495s.
The K495s' loud audio didn't prevent them from employing a light touch in the bass register. The horns were front and center on Childish Gambino's "You See Me," while the song's usually bombastic bass retreated into the background. When the lower register attempted to reassert itself into the largely percussive track, it muddied the song. Although clearer, the QC 15s didn't fare much better, delivering distant, hollow bass with a slightly muted vocal.
We also tested the K495s with the ANC disabled and discovered a small drop in volume, with softer lows. The mids and highs also lost some of their edge, making the cans easier to listen to at higher volumes.
AKG claims that the K495 NC headphones will provide up 40 hours of active noise-cancellation per charge. That's better than the Bose QuietComfort 15 and the Beats Executive headphones, which last 35 and 25 hours, respectively.
Even better, the K495s use a rechargeable battery, while the QC 15s and Executives rely on AAA batteries to power their ANC. It's a minor, relatively inexpensive inconvenience, but it can add up over time and isn't the greenest way to go.
We used the K495s on and off over an eight-hour period, and the ANC showed no signs of stopping. When the battery finally peters out, the headphones will continue to play music, just without ANC. Both the QC 15s and the Beats Executives go silent when their batteries die.
Premium build, comfortable fit andsolid audio quality: these are the prerequisites of great headphones— and the AKG K495 NCs mostly met this criteria. They provide some of the best active noise-cancelling we've heard, second only to the exceptional Bose QuietComfort 15s. However, the K495s can function without ANC when the battery dies, which is a much-appreciated bonus. We're also fans of the K495s' refined presentation, with their leather and brushed metal.
But for $349, we would have expected more refined sound. At higher volumes, the AKG K495s lose definition in the highs and lows. The bass was also lighter than we would have preferred. However, the K495s do offer a louder, richer listening experience than the QC 15s.
For $299, jetsetting professionals can travel with the QC 15s,which provide a lightweight chassis, superior ANC and more defined, albeit colder audio quality. But the high style and full volume of the K495s make them a very good choice for music lovers looking to block out the world.