For those who know AKG well for its 70 years making headphones and pro-audio equipment, it may be a surprise to find Harman Australia relaunching the brand here in the consumer space as if it is a relative unknown - even though Samsung's ownership of Harman has recently seen millions of AKG earbuds delivered in the box with Samsung smartphones.
‘AKG Lifestyle’ is the tag for the new headphone range, which is being offered at retail initially exclusively through Harvey Norman in Australia, as well as via AKG's website (below).
The latest launch focused on four new models — two in-ears, one with high-res audio capabilities and one with active noise-cancellation, and two larger models, the on-ear noise-cancelling Bluetooth N60NC model, and the remarkable $1999 Quincy Jones-edition N90Q.
The AKG N20NC in-ear model is “designed for travelling, urban environments and commuting”, providing its active noise cancelling via an electronics ‘lozenge’ at the plug end offering a quoted 20 hours of battery life rechargeable via micro-USB, and also able to operate in passive mode without battery use. The tangle-free cable includes a three-button remote which unusually operates with both iOS and Android devices via a compatability switch. In a nice design touch, the patterning on that lozenge is a representation of a street map of Austria, AKG’s head office location. Price is $299.
The N30 in-ears offer high-res audio frequency response quoted up to 40kHz, made possible by their driver design combining a traditional dynamic driver for the lower frequencies with a balanced armature transducer for the higher frequencies. AKG includes a pair of “exchangeable sound filters” — these are not software implemented but mechanical additions which fix into the earphones to adjust their sonic delivery to “Bass Boost” or “Reference Sound”.
The cables here are detachable at the earphone end (they use neat little MMCX microminiature RF connectors) which allow “changing to the cable of your preference, or just use the one we included with a universal remote/microphone”. For high-res audio playback you will, of course, need to plug them into a device also capable of delivering frequencies above 20kHz. Price is $399.95.
AKG’s N60 NC Wireless are stylish on-ear Bluetooth noise-cancelling designs which AKG clearly sees as having applications beyond the usual executive in-flight market, and thanks to their multiple folding and on-ear rather than over-ear size, they certainly allow compact storage in the provided soft pouch.
Bluetooth operation includes the aptX codec for those using Android devices which support it (the literature inaccurately describes aptX as lossless; it is a lossy compression using a relatively benign 4:1 compression ratio), and battery life is variably quoted in the literature as either 15 hours or 30 hours.
Cabled passive operation is also possible, and is the only solution whereby their noise-cancelling can be turned off, since NC is permanently engaged when using the Bluetooth operation.
We were able to enjoy time with the N60NC during the Harman launch, and our first listen indicated excellent sound quality and effective cancellation; a review will follow.
Price is $449.
Top shiny star among the new launches is the remarkable $1999 N90Q “reference-class auto-calibration noise-cancelling headphones” with the ‘Q’ referring to the involvement of legendary producer/arranger/performer Quincy Jones, whose longterm use of AKG headphones has led to his position as a brand ambassador which extends to input into the tuning of key models.
The tech within these golden headphones (black is also available) is very interesting — they include their own DACs which can be used by making a USB connection to your source or a micro-USB Android connection, enabling high-res playback, though conventional connection cables are also included. One earcup allows volume control by turning the outer edging, while the other earcup adjusts their tonal envelope, raising or dipping both treble and bass response. There are also ‘Stage Control’ spatial listening modes available, labelled as delivering ‘Standard’, ‘2.1 Studio’ or ‘5.1 Surround’ options.
Perhaps most innovative of all is ‘TruNote’ technology, which when engaged issues a tone which Harman Australia tells us is used as an acoustic ‘ping’ to map your outer ear canal in order to auto-calibrate the N90Q’s response to your particular lugholes.
These are also noise-cancelling designs, and in a curious choice for headphones clearly designed partly if not largely for home use, it again seems you cannot turn the noise cancelling off.
In addition to the tech, the presentation is impressive, with many ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ made at the launch by those examining their classy metal presentation case (a leather case is also provided, since the weight of the metal one might rather dominate your hand baggage allowance). They come with a choice of cables and adaptors
And a battery pack to top up the N90Q’s internal power capability, which is quoted at 11-12 hours.
Price is $1999.
The new models join others including the $199 Y40BT and the Y50BT (currently $227) wireless on-ear models, all available currently exclusively through Harvey Norman, or online via AKG's Australian website: http://au.akg.com