If you're in the market for a premium noise-canceling headphone, chances are you're looking at one of the Bose models, the QuietComfort 25 (around-ear) or QuietComfort 20. We gave high ratings to those products and -- in terms of noise-canceling headphones -- they're leaders in the category.
So why get the AKG N60 NC over the Bose QC25? Well, for starters it takes up a little less room in your bag. This is a smaller, on-ear headphone (it's better suited to smaller heads) and folds up and flat to fit in an included neoprene carrying case, weighing 6.3 ounces or 179 grams without the cord connected. Also, at $250 (£220, AU$350), it's a little less expensive.
While it may not be quite as comfortable as the Bose, it's very comfortable for an on-ear headphone, with soft leather-covered earcups, and well built-in, too. It even has a bit of aluminum accenting its design.
But really the main reason is that it sounds better than the Bose. It's a cleaner-sounding headphone with more detail and tighter bass and decent openness for an on-ear headphone.
The Bose QC25 is powered by a single AAA battery. This AKG has an integrated rechargeable battery that offers a solid 30 hours of active noise canceling and -- if the battery runs out -- you can listen in passive mode without the headphone being powered.
To be sure, the noise canceling isn't quite as effective as Bose's and there's a very faint hiss when it's engaged. That said, I thought it was quite good overall (relatively speaking) and worked well muffling sound in CNET's New York office, on a plane, the subway, and walking the streets of New York. And remember: this, like those Bose models, is a wired headphone. There is no Bluetooth.
The cons are small, but they are cons. Instead of the standard micro USB charger you'd use to charge your phone, you have to charge the battery via the headphone jack with a 2.5mm sub-mini plug to USB cable. Lose that charging cord and you can't charge the headphone anymore and will have to seek a replacement. I'd be less concerned about that if there was an interior storage poach inside the carrying case to stow the cord, but the carrying case is very basic; you basically have to shove everything inside, headphones plus the two cables.
It's also worth pointing out that there are no volume controls on the headphone cord, which has a fabric cover to reduce cord noise (that's good). It's a one-button universal remote that allows you to pause and play tracks, answer and end calls, and to skip tracks forward and back. Call quality was decent.
The AKG N60 NC reminds me a little of Beyerdynamic's T51i on-ear headphones. It isn't quite as revealing as the T51i, but it offers clean, well-balanced sound with smooth treble, warm midrange and a tighter bass than the Bose QC25 or QC20, which come across as slightly more laid back (even if Bose did improve the treble response in the QC25 and make it a more exciting headphone).
Whenever you introduce active noise canceling to a headphone, you lose a little bit of sound quality, but the N60 NC succeeds because it comes across sounding more like a passive headphone -- and by that I mean natural and not overly processed.
Because the QC25 is an around-ear headphone, you get a bit better noise isolation from its design. But for an on-ear headphone, the N60 NC's memory-foam-equipped earpads do a decent job sealing out noise even though they rest on your ears, not fully enveloping them.
Typically, an around-ear headphone offers more open spacious sound, but I thought the AKG had a little more depth and richness to it than the QC25 -- the AKG sounds like a bigger headphone than it is.
But the Bose has a small comfort advantage, particularly over longer listening sessions.
As far as other competing models, I also liked the Philips Fidelio NC1, another on-ear noise-canceling headphone. But that model costs more and doesn't perform quite as well overall -- both in terms of noise cancelling and sound. The AKG is a notch up.
A worthy Bose rival
Minor gripes aside, this a well-designed active headphone that's worth considering over the Bose if sound quality is your highest priority in an active noise-canceling headphone.