For 2012 AKG has two new pairs of stylish noise-canceling headphones, the $349.95 K495 NC and $249.95 K490 NC.
Both are on-ear models that fold flat and have built-in rechargeable batteries that charge via USB. Unlike a lot of noise-canceling models, including those from Bose, these can play sound when the battery dies or if you simply want to turn off the active noise cancellation.
The marketing line on the higher-end K495 NCs reviewed here is that they "deliver high-quality audio defined by a clarity of sound across all ranges, from crisp highs to deep lows."
The big question, of course, is whether they're better than the Bose QuietComfort 15s, which cost $300. In terms of build quality, they arguably are. And their noise-canceling capabilities are also very good, too. But the K495s' overall comfort level and sound quality just doesn't quite measure up to that of the QC 15s. Read on to find out why.
The K 495s are certainly an attractive pair of headphones that fold flat for transport and have a high-end look and feel. They feature brushed-metal parts, leather earcups, and an adjustable leather headband, and ship with a nice carrying case, two audio cables (the cloth-covered cord headphone cable is detachable from the headphones), a USB charging adapter, and a flight adapter.
The fit and finish on these guys is really good, and we liked that the earpads are marked on the inside with "L" and "R" in big letters, which leaves no doubt which is left and right.
To activate the noise-canceling feature, you turn a ring on the left earpiece rather than flip a switch. That's fine, though we did find it a little difficult to turn the ring (it's not as difficult as opening the lid on a tightly shut jar but it takes a little bit of effort).
The headphones overall are comfortable, but the Bose headphones are slightly lighter and more comfortable. As I said, this is an on-ear model, while the Bose QC 15s are an over-the-ear model. That on-ear design can put more pressure on your ear (because the pad literally sits on your ear) and I just found the over-the-ear design of the Bose more comfortable. (Note: Bose also makes the $350 QuietComfort 3s, an on-ear model that also happens to be more comfortable than these AKGs).
Aside from the active noise cancellation, the other noteworthy feature is the NC 495's built-in rechargeable battery, which you juice up via USB, which is nice. The Bose QC 15s use a single AA battery and offer a rechargeable battery option, though no USB charging.
As with almost all these types of headphones, you get a two-pronged adapter for airplane use. As noted, AKG also throws in an extra cloth-covered headphone cord, which is nice.
Alas, neither of AKG's noise-canceling models appears to feature an in-line remote with a built-in microphone for making cell phone calls. (Neither do the Bose headphones).
Let's start with the noise canceling itself. I wore these on a flight from New York to Las Vegas (and back) and was impressed with their noise-canceling capabilities. While they weren't as comfortable to wear over a long flight as the Bose headphones, they were on par (or at least very close to being on par) as far as muffling aircraft noise goes. They also did a decent job in the New York City subway system.
As I said, unlike Bose noise-canceling headphones, the K495s can operate without activating the noise-cancellation circuitry. Sometimes we find that some noise-canceling headphones sound better without the noise canceling engaged, but in the case of the K495s, they definitely sounded better with the noise canceling on (they sound a little bright and edgy without noise cancellation).
They sound very good--and offer good detail--but my caveat on them is that they're a little forward sounding and a little light on the bass. They also lack refinement for their high price tag. I wanted them to sound better than the Bose QC15s. I really did (we're always looking for good Bose alternatives). But they didn't.
The QC 15s are just a little clearer-sounding, more transparent, and offer more articulate bass.
Overall, I really liked the fit and finish of these AKG headphones and they certainly sound good and offer very good noise cancellation. As I said in the intro, however, they're not quite as comfortable as the Bose QC 15s and don't sound quite as good.
When you're looking at headphones at this price point, I really feel everything has to come together, especially from a comfort and performance standpoint, to earn an excellent rating overall. These guys are excellent in certain areas but merely good to very good in others. So while they're recommendable, they're not best in class, particularly for the price.