AKG isn't new to the noise-cancelling headphone scene. Over the years, the luxury audio brand, now a subsidiary of Samsung, has launched several well-received wired and wireless models. With its latest release, the N700NC, AKG seems poised to join the ranks of Bose and Sony as a category leader.
With beautiful aesthetics, dynamic sound and noise-neutralizing modes offered in a deluxe package, the N700NC has most of the bells and whistles needed to compete with the industry's best listening devices. However, based on our testing, we've concluded that the Bose QuietComfort 35 II and Sony WH-1000XM3 offer better noise-cancelling experiences.
The N700NC is another fine example of AKG's commitment to stellar craftsmanship. This device boasts a sleek, modern silhouette with premium materials that justify the headphones' steep price..
Build quality is solid all around, with a polished, sturdy metal frame keeping every component intact. The ear cups are constructed from aluminum and feature leatherette memory foam-pads that look and feel plusher than Bose's or Sony's earpads do. At the top is a headband with soft-touch padding for extra comfort.
The N700NC is another fine example of AKG's commitment to stellar craftsmanship.
The details on these cans won me over, starting with the curved hinges. Not only do they look gorgeous, but they also give the N700NC an ultramodern appearance. Swiveling the ear cups to the side showcases the chrome-and-matte-silver accents and AKG logo, which add flare to the overall design. Even the extenders are distinct, with length settings inscribed on a tiny black strip to ensure proper adjustment.
AKG bundles some nice accessories with its lavish headphones. These includes a 2.5mm auxiliary cable made from rigid nylon, micro USB charging cable, airplane adapter and a stylish woven travel case to store everything. The quality of the case is superb, although it's bulkier than what Bose and Sony offer.
Comfort and Fit
At 9.2 ounces, the N700NC is heavier than the QC35 II (8.3 ounces) and WH-1000xM3 (9 ounces). Despite that, the headphones provide a snug, relaxed fit, at least for me.
I was content sporting them for a few hours daily. Even when worn around my neck, they were lightweight. The memory-foam ear pads offered great cushioning and stability, preventing slippage when I was moving fast on the go. The headband was stiffer than I would have liked, but employing the extenders helped relieve any pressure. While there are 11 settings available to accommodate different head sizes, the N700NC's streamlined design might cause discomfort for people with larger heads.
Controls and Setup
The N700NC doesn't have a cool-touch interface to manage playback like the WH-100xM3 does, but AKG's device does possess a practical control scheme similar to the QC35 II's. All buttons rest on the side of each ear cup, have accurate tactile response and are simple to locate.
The left side houses three buttons: volume up, volume down, and a multifunctional button for calls and playback. Tapping the volume buttons will increase or decrease sound, while holding either down for 2 seconds will skip or play a previous track, respectively. Tapping the MF button once will play/pause or answer/end a call, and a double tap enables your device's native digital assistant.
On the right side, you'll find the signature features. There's a slider that acts as the power/Bluetooth button and an oval button to turn on the Smart Ambient feature. The slider mechanism is simple to operate: Push up to power off, toggle to the middle to power on/activate ANC Mode, or pull down fully and hold for 3 seconds to enter Pairing Mode. Turning on the headphones automatically enables Pairing Mode. It’' a basic setup anyone can pick up.
To connect the headphones to your audio source, make sure Bluetooth is enabled, search for AKG N700NC on the available devices list and select it. Every time you turn on the headphones, they'll instantly pair to your last connected device.
Active Noise Cancellation
The noise-reduction technology on these cans is adept and well-engineered. Do I place it in the same league as what Bose and Sony offer? No, but it falls right under what you'll get on the Microsoft Surface Headphones, which is still ranks high on the active noise-cancelling hierarchy.
AKG confirmed that the ANC Mode was the default and that there's no way to disable it in wireless mode. This didn't bother me much, as I listened to my Spotify playlists unfazed by most of the clatter in midtown Manhattan. Nearby conversations and vehicle engines were drowned out, but louder noises such as jackhammers and sirens were more noticeable. This is one area where the QC35 II and WH-1000xM3 have these cans beat.
Nearby conversations and vehicle engines were drowned out, but louder noises such as jackhammers and sirens were more noticeable on the AKGs than with Bose or Sony.
In addition, the N700NC bleeds sound when played at high volume. I was embarrassed when I saw the look on my girlfriend's face as she noticed I was blasting Snow's "Informer" when cooking dinner. Take it from me — listen to these headphones at midvolume to enjoy your tunes peacefully.
Sound on the N700NC is more on the neutral side. This device offers a wider feel of the soundstage and balances frequencies better than the QC35 II and Surface Headphones, but the WH-100xM3 remains the best sounding of the batch.
Orchestra-heavy tracks like Max Roach's "Lonesome Lover" showcased how well the headphones managed treble. The cymbal and hi-hat were transparent, blending nicely with sensational saxophone play to create some great mids and highs. Clarity was spot-on.I made the transition into more bass-centric tracks and was pleased with the N700NC's performance. Future's "Mask Off" delivered a sonic boom to my eardrums that didn't distort sound and left room for the melodic flute to shine. The iconic synth riff on Van Halen's "Jump" was exhilarating, while the drum and guitars fueled my need for powerful lows. Even though the QC35 II has solid low-end response, the N700NC packed a harder punch.
Using the aux cable brings down the bass; however, it refines the mids and highs. Bob Marley's "Could You Be Loved" had a livelier presence, with the hook and high-pitched instruments such as the Brazilian cuíca sounded incredibly clear.
Oddly, the N700NC supports only one wireless codec: SBC. AKG's decision to leave aptX, aptX HD and LDAC off the spec list makes little sense to me, especially since those codecs enhance sound quality over Bluetooth. I can hear Android users grunting right now.
Smart Ambient and TalkThru
Ambient-aware functionality is a feature we're seeing more noise-cancelling headphones adopt. When done right, like on the WH-1000xM3, it's useful for people who want to have a conversation without removing their headphones. When done wrong, it's useless. The N700NC falls under the latter category.
Smart Ambient is the default mode assigned to the headphones; it drops the ANC and audio levels so you can hear what's happening around you. This wasn't very effective; as I walked around my neighborhood, I was unable to decipher noises around me.
TalkThru temporarily silences music, which is fine for stop-and-go greetings but not conversations. After about 5 seconds, the song you're playing increases volume, meaning you'll have to press the button again to re-enable the mode. It's easier to just tap the MF button to pause music and chat, or to hear announcements.
AKG Headphone App
While it lacks the in-depth sound customization of Sony's Connect App, the AKG Headphone (Android and IOS) is still a serviceable program, free to all users. Here is where you can assign the Smart Ambient button to either Smart Ambient or TalkThru mode, check battery life, push firmware updates, and set the Auto-Off function to preserve battery life. There is also an EQ setting that lets you tweak the N700NC's sound profile or create your own. It's a cool way to personalize the soundstage, but only if you know how to manipulate the frequencies.
Siri and Google Assistant are available for use on these cans, and both assistants work smoothly. The built-in mic accurately registered my every command. Even in windy conditions, the mic picked up my voice and responded to inquiries swiftly. I also found that Google Assistant operated slightly faster on the N700NC than it does on the QC35 II.
AKG promises 23 hours of battery life with ANC and Bluetooth enabled. On my test run, the headphones lasted around 21 hours, which is above-average and right up there with the QC35 II's results (20 hours), but shorter than the WH-1000xM3's time (30 hours). The AKG's time translated to four to five days of moderate usage. I was able to stream music during my commutes to the city, watch videos and take a few Skype calls. Using these headphones in wired mode with ANC on extends battery life to 36 hours.
Call Quality and Connectivity
As a calling headset, the N700NC is a mixed bag. I was able to make out what people were saying in quiet settings, but background noises made it difficult to communicate. Voices also sounded low, and I had a few callers complain about echoing on their end. Clarity improved after I plugged in the aux cable, yet noticeable dropout occurred every 2 to 3 seconds. Stick to making calls directly on your smartphone.
I believe Bluetooth 5.0 should be a requirement for any pair of wireless headphones that cost over $300. AKG thought otherwise, settling for Bluetooth 4.2, which, to my surprise, was just as fast and stable as Bluetooth 5.0. Range extended to about 37 feet – just enough to stream music throughout my entire apartment and allow me to step out into the hallway sans interference.
A crisp sound signature combined with plush aesthetics, modern listening features and reliable ANC performance make the AKG N700NC an admirable addition to the noise-cancelling market. It's a few tuneups shy from competing against Bose's and Sony's headphones, but it puts up a strong fight against the Surface Headphones for the bronze.
Nevertheless, I do believe AKG/Samsung is asking a lot for these cans, especially when market leaders like the QC35 II and WH-100xM3 sell for the same price. Also, the listening modes do little to boost the N700NC's value, as the ambient modes on other headphones are more advanced and work better.
But hey, if you want business-class headphones with sound, style and silencing capabilities, the N700NC is surely worth a look.