Harman AKG K830BT Wireless Bluetooth Headset (Black) review: Harman AKG K830BT Wireless Bluetooth Headset (Black)
Despite their ease of use and comfort, we're hesitant to recommend the $250 AKG K 830 BT wireless headphones without a serious price drop. Like many Bluetooth-only headsets, these cans lose a significant amount of sound quality due to file compression, and with little else to offer aside from wireless connectivity, they're hard to endorse. If you're in the market for a pair of wireless headphones, the TDK WR700s are an effective alternative for less than half the price of the AKG K 830 BT headphones.
The AKG K 830 BTs are on-ear headphones, so the soft cloth earcups and vinyl outer layer sit on top of your ears, unlike "circumaural," over-the-ear cans like the Sennheiser HD 201s that stretch over your temple.
The AKG's plastic headband has a thin layer of padded vinyl underneath that eases the strain of wearing the headphones over the course of a day. The adjustable band and the 180-degree swiveling earcups will likely accommodate a variety of head shapes and sizes, and we personally had no comfort issues while using them over a two-week period, sometimes for more than 4 hours at a time.
AKG cuts down on the weight of these headphones by using shiny black plastic to cover the onboard controls, but the material makes the device feel cheap and gives an audible flex that doesn't inspire confidence in long-term durability. They almost feel too flimsy to throw into a bag, which is likely why AKG includes a protective sack to keep them in during travel.
Regardless, we wouldn't feel comfortable leaving these free to get knocked around in a backpack unprotected, and we're already starting to notice small sections of paint chipping off the earcups.
The outer half of the left earcup houses all the buttons you need to control the calling and music playback features, including a pause/play button on top, forward and backward buttons on the right and left sides, and a two-directional button on the bottom of the circle for volume adjustments.
There's also a large multifunction button marked with a phone in the middle that lets you dial, accept, and end calls, and redial the last number with a series of simple clicks. If you can remember all the controls, you can also mute the microphone and lock the entire control pad with another set of button-pressing patterns. We tested all the controls over a couple weeks, and our only gripe about the button layout is that the volume toggles are reversed so that "volume down" sits in front of, instead of behind, "volume up." The issue is negligible, but expect an adjustment period (it took us about a week) before you get used to the button reversal.
Along with the headset, the AKG K 830 BT box also includes a small USB charger that plugs into the bottom of the left earcup, as well as the bag already mentioned.
AKG provides detailed instructions on how to pair the AKG K 830 BT with any device with an A2DP profile, and coupling is easy enough: just hold the multifunction button until the LED on the bottom quickly flashes green and blue to indicate the device is in pairing mode.
This should make the headphones visible in a device search on your music player, and the two should pair once you designate the headset as a listening device. Once you set up a connection, the headphones will automatically remember and connect the next time you turn both devices on in close proximity.
We were able to make phone calls and listen to uninterrupted music from the advertised range of roughly 33 feet from the access point before audio started cutting out. The distance is standard for a modern Bluetooth connection, but unfortunately so is the audio compression, which ultimately lowers the value of the AKG K 830 BT headphones.
Our tests also verify AKG's claims that the battery life can last for up to 8 hours of continuous playback before petering out. Using just the USB power cable and a laptop, we were even able to eke out several days from the unit over multiple listening sessions before the LCD indicated a need for a charge. As long as you don't forget to hold the multifunction button down long enough to power it down in between uses, you'll be satisfied with the battery power.
It makes sense to pair Bluetooth headphones with smartphones since most handsets already come Bluetooth-ready, but all Bluetooth-powered audio accessories suffer from the same audio issues; they can send only unidirectional audio signals from the source to the device, which means you lose serious stereo quality in the audio compression process.
These AKG Bluetooth headphones are no different. The output quality is nowhere near what you'd hear out of a hardwired headphone connection, although it's still a step up from the stock earbuds included with modern MP3 players and smartphones. The compressed audio files lock your music into a defined sound stage, making it difficult to separate individual instruments and harmonies. Sound reproduction across all genres is significantly skewed toward the muddier end of the spectrum, and every song seems to take on a gritty edge that does little justice to the artists and their intended production.
Although we'd normally overlook the limitations of sending audio signals over Bluetooth in favor of the convenience of cord-free operation, the AKG K 830 BT headphones' inflated $250 price tag is disappointing, especially when alternative solutions like Kleer technology in the TDK WR700 wireless headphones boast much cleaner sound quality and a universal connection to any device with a 3.55mm audio jack all for a fraction of the price. Until AKG finds a way to boost the sound quality of the AKG K 830 BT headphones, your dollar can go further with TDK.