AKG is well known in audio circles for professional headphones, microphones and integrated audio systems. The company started back in 1947, and soon after, its microphones were being used in radio stations, theatres and jazz clubs.
Skip forward to today and AKG is a Samsung-owned company, which it acquired with the purchase of parent brand, Harman. In addition to pro-gear, AKG sells a range of consumer products including the new AKG N700 Noise Cancelling Headphones.
Given its Australian price of $499, the N700s are in-line with two very well-established competitors: the Bose Quiet Comfort QC35 II, and Sony’s WH-1000MX3. Just a glance around an airplane cabin, train or bus and it’s obvious how popular these two models are. The real question is if AKGs can offer enough to sway people away from these two very solid choices.
AGK N700 features
The AKG N700s are the ‘over-ear’ type of noise cancelling headphones. This means that the ear cups fit around your ears, rather than on them. This design creates a passive form of noise cancellation, as they block out some outside sounds. Then there’s active noise cancelling technology, which uses a series of microphones to detect surrounding noise and then ‘cancels’ it out by playing opposite waveforms to your ears.
In addition to the AKG-tuned adaptive noise cancelling, there are ‘Talk-Thru’ and ‘Ambient Aware’ modes. Talk-Thru drops the music levels down and turns on the speech optimised microphones so you can talk to people without removing your headphones.
Adaptive Aware mixes ambient noise with what you’re listening to, so you can be ‘aware’ of your surroundings. This is a good mode for wandering around a city where you can listen to your tunes or make calls, while still hearing traffic noise or a bicycle on the path behind you.
You can assign either the Talk Thru or Ambient Aware modes to a dedicated button on the right-hand ear-cup for easy access. Otherwise, they can be selected through the AKG app.
As with its competitors, you can make voice calls without taking the N700s off. The system uses dual mics and applies noise cancellation to reduce background noise. There’s also a ‘remote’ button on the removable audio cable that you can press to make or answer calls.
The N700s connect wirelessly to your devices using low-energy Bluetooth version 4.2 or a standard audio cable connection. When using Bluetooth, the headphones are rated to last 23 hours with active noise cancellation enabled, or 32 hours using the audio cable. Charging to a full battery takes just 3 hours.
Comfort and design
The N700s are made with premium materials such as a metal headband and sliders, aluminium accents and memory foam ear cushions. There’s not as much metal as the Bose QC35 IIs, but enough to feel like they’re worth the money.
Physical controls are uncomplicated; the right ear cup houses the power/pair toggle and a dedicated ‘audio mode’ button. The left has volume up / down and play / pause buttons. There’s a removable audio cable connector on the left cup, and USB-C charge cable on the right. I’m so happy to see that AKG chose the modern, practical USB-C type connector over the antiquated and fiddly micro-USB!
Ergonomics are good, with a padded headband, and the ear cups are hinged both horizontally and vertically so they fit most head shapes. There’s certainly no problem with finding a good fit, however, I discovered that after wearing them for about 8 hours continuously, that the ear cups started to hurt my head, and I could feel the inner rim beneath the cushions.
Perhaps there’s just a little too much ‘squeeze’ pressure for my liking from the headband. However, I’ve used both the Sony and Bose models for international travel and their cushions feel ‘plusher’ and more comfortable when wearing for a long time.
N700 App control
The AKG App is fairly straightforward to use. It’s where you go for finer audio adjustments and assigning the noise cancelling mode to the customisable ear cup button.
Compared to the Sony WH-1000MX3’s app, a few notable things are missing. First, while you can set your own audio profiles via the EQ function, it would be nice to see some pre-set modes to get you started such as dynamic, theatre, movie, stadium, etc.
Second, you can’t adjust the Ambient Aware’s mix of internal vs external levels. While the pre-determined setting is OK, it would be nice to adjust this in cases where the outside noise is quite loud, to keep it from overpowering your audio playback.
We here at GadgetGuy.com.au expect a high-quality set of headphones to be able to strike a delicate balance between noise cancellation and the broad dynamic range needed for hi-fidelity audio playback.
Since the N700s are all about travel, the most fitting way to test them would be on a plane. So, I took them along on my flight to New York, where I listened to music, watched videos and movies and ‘slept’, with plenty of ambient jet noise.
To test the lower frequencies and bass response, I started with Bob Sinclair’s seminal dance anthem, I feel for you, which is something I shuffled around to back in the early 2000s. I followed up with some modern hip-hop courtesy of Girls @ from Joey Purp and various A$AP Rocky and Drake selections. Bass response was meaty, with plenty of punch, and no perceptible distortion.
Moving up the frequency range, I indulged in a bit of K-Pop with Kill this Love by Blackpink, which demonstrated solid separation between bass, bright trumpets and vocals.
Slowing things down, I listened to Charles Barkley’s Changes and Victim of Love. With both, the Charles’s raspy, earnestness came through beautifully. Left and right separation was clearly discernible, with a good sense of the original recording soundstage. The same could be said for Maggie’ Roger’s silky smooth Alaska, and there was plenty of grit and acoustic goodness to enjoy in Alabama Shake’s This Feeling.
Video and movies, whether connected via my mobile phone or the aircraft’s entertainment system, sounded as expected. Good low end response for explosions and dramatic scores, with brightness and clarity for audio tracks and detailed high frequencies.
Connecting the AKG N700s to sources such as my Samsung Galaxy S10, iPhone XS Max and MacBook Pro laptop via Bluetooth was quick and uneventful. AKG includes a removable audio cable, as well as an airline adaptor, along with the USB-C charging cable and a sturdy travel case.
Packing up involves learning how to flatten the headphones, which is a little tricky the first few times around, but everything fits neatly into the travel case. It’s a semi-soft case but firm enough to protect your gear.
The AKG tuned noise cancelation is very effective. It all but eliminated the engine droning on my flights. While the Airbus A380 I flew was fairly quiet, the small Embraer 190 regional jet certainly was not. Either way, the N700’s noise cancellation was invaluable.
Keep in mind that the AKGs will always have some form of noise cancellation in operation when turned on, unlike the Bose QC35 IIs, where you can switch it off. This was a little confusing at the beginning, and the manual wasn’t all that helpful.
How they stack up
So, are the AKG N700s better than the Bose or Sony models? Well, they certainly sound good, have a really impressive battery life, come with travel case and accessories, and are similar in price. Some audio enthusiasts might say that the Sony’s sound better, but I couldn’t confirm this, even though I brought both on my trip. You can adjust both models EQs depending on your tastes, so it really comes down to personal preference.
Noise cancellation is also excellent, and not obviously better or worse than my experience with the Sony or Bose models. I do feel that the Sony’s were slightly more comfortable when wearing for a long time, but were bulkier and heavier too. The Bose’s nice metallic outer shell is attractive, but the AKG’s are good looking and quite minimalist. It depends on what you like to look at, what fits your head the best, and what you think sounds good.
UPDATE: while we didn’t find integration with Siri and Google Assistant initially, this is actually supported. A double press of the Play/Pause button will initiate Siri if on iPhone and Google Assistant on Android.
There’s no compromising with the AKG N700s. They sound excellent, the noise cancellation is very effective, they have an attractive design and solid ergonomics. For those who are considering buying Samsung’s new Note 10, you can score a free pair if you pre-order now. For more on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 and AKG N700 pre-order promotion, check here, or visit Samsung’s promo page here.
In the box:
USB-C charging cable
Straight cable (3.5mm audio)
AKG N700NCM2 Specifications:
Dynamic frequency response range
Max input power
Samsung Scalable Codec SBC, AAC
Polymer Li-ion battery (3.7V, 800mAh)
Music (Bluetooth + Noise cancelling)
Valens Quinn travelled to the UnPacked 2019 event in New York as a guest of Samsung Australia.