MP3 players may be losing market share to music phones, but one thing is certain: portable audio isn't going anywhere. And to enjoy it to the fullest, you need some decent headphones. Of course, not everyone likes pushing earbuds into their ears, which is where the still-compact on-ear headphone comes in. One such set is the AKG K 518 LE, which retails for $139 and offers a sleek design and balanced audio quality.
When it comes to gadget design, there's a fine line between dull and over-the-top, and AKG walks it nicely with the K 518 LE headphones. The semi-exposed metal headband and pop of color on the earcups give them a bit of style, but not so much that you'd feel overly conspicuous when rocking them in public. The headphones are available in a rainbow of shades--from red all the way to fuchsia (seven colors in all)--so you should have no trouble choosing one that appeals to your eye. The circular earcups are quite compact, measuring 2.7 inches across, making this model fall squarely into the on-ear category. Like any portable earphone worth its salt, the K 518 folds down for transport and includes a soft travel pouch.
Immediately upon slipping the AKG K 518 LE onto our head, we were greeted with one possible design concern: the headphones are exceptionally tight. After less than an hour of wear, we became bothered by the uncomfortable pressure on the top cartilage of our ears. They also got quite hot during this period, though this may be bad or good, depending on what you're doing. Of course, fit is very personal and not everyone will experience discomfort. On the plus side, the headphones do fit very securely, and they offer a good amount of passive sound isolation for an on-ear model. Our only other design concern with the K 518 is that the top portion of the Y-cable (which measures 40 inches long in all) is thin and may not be durable, though we do appreciate the thicker lower half and the reinforced gold-plated straight plug.
The AKG K 518 LE headphones aren't the cleanest-sounding we've heard, but the overall audio quality is very solid for a set in this price range. Other than a few select songs that had a muddy quality to them, we were impressed with the performance across a variety of genres and would have no issue recommending them to listeners with eclectic taste. The low-end is deep and present without being overwhelming in most cases, but it could stand to be a bit tighter, as it trends toward loose and mushy. Again, however, given the reasonable pricing and small size, this is a minor complaint. Mids are rich and lovely, easily the best performers in the bunch, and there's a reasonable amount of detail on the high-end, though clarity is not excellent. Also, one should be aware that there is a fair amount of sound leakage, meaning your neighbor on the train will likely be able to hear what you're listening to.
In the final analysis, despite some fit issues, we're pretty pleased with the AKG K 518 LE headphones. They offer a good value for the money with their slick design and balanced audio quality. If you're searching for a portable, on-ear set for less than $150, give these a shot.