The Wonderfully Competent AKG K550 Sealed Headphone

AKG Headphones
AKG has a very long history manufacturing headphones, and was a leading force in headphone design back in the '70s. Here's a cool article about some old AKG headphones I got to play with. The K240 series of headphones were very popular in recording studios in the '70s and '80s, and AKG has continued to develop headphone models, and has a significant roll in the world of headphones world wide.

The thing is, I think AKG lost its way regarding headphones for the last little while. The early '90s were tough times for AKG. 1993 saw its first annual loss. The company went through some serious ownership turmoil; this Funding Universe article is an interesting read. After Harman International's purchase of AKG, a lot of things happened to turn the company around. Foreign subsidiaries were shut down, and the focus returned to its core competency: microphones and headphones. Well...microphones anyway.

The Funding Universe article mentions that OEM components (mostly cellphone microphones for handheld and automotive applications) grew from 10% of AKG's business in 1997, to more than 45% by 2000. AKG also gained a lot of corporate ground by designing and producing lower cost microphones to compete in the burgeoning home studio market.

What's missing? Headphone development. AKG did continue to produce a long string of AKG K240 variants, but in truth, the world was passing them by. The K501/K601/K701 was certainly a new development. These headphones were indeed very good headphones at the time, as were the K 81 DJ and K 518 LE. But overall, I've felt AKG's headphone offerings were pretty lackluster over the past decade otherwise.

Can't blame them really. If cellphone and recording mikes are hot and paying the bills, well, ya gotta do what you gotta do. But I can tell you, there were, and are, a lot of headphone enthusiasts unaware and rightfully not caring about AKG's focus on microphones. We wanted new and bitchin' cans from one of the few makers who could stand toe-to-toe with the likes of Sennheiser to bring on some competition...and AKG didn't.

Well, times they are a-changing, headphones are now white hot in the consumer market, and it looks like AKG has turned its attention back to headphones. By the sound of the K550, AKG is dead serious about developing world-class, or at least very good sounding headphones, once again.

The AKG K550 ($349 MSRP, $299 MAP)
The K550 is a full-size, circumaural, sealed headphone. Constructed of various metal and synthetic materials, I find it very nicely built and finished. The wide metal headband is moderately padded, without the bumps found on the K701 variants--which is sure to please many who complained about the discomfort. Markings on the headband permit accurate adjustment to fit the head, and look cool too.

The gimbals attaching the earpieces to the headband allow plenty of freedom for the earpads to align with the side of the head, and permit them to be rotated flat for transport and storage. (No carry case is included, unfortunately.) The design of the gimbals is excellent, but they are a bit stiff to move into position--and the position of the earpads against the side of the head is critical for sound quality with these cans.

The earcups are circular in shape and fairly deep. The pads are made of a very nice pleather and are very comfortable for long listening sessions. They do smell rather odd fresh out of the box, but it goes away in a few days. The fabric covers over the drivers have a big "L" and "R" identifying the proper ear orientation. I thought this was a cool feature--so many times it's like the maker hides which ear is which. It's obvious here.

The three-meter cable is pliant and resists mechanical noise that might be heard in the cans. It's permanently attached to the left earpiece, and is terminated with a very handsome 1/4" plug, which unscrews to reveal a 1/8" plug within.

The build quality of these headphones is excellent.

After the rash of gaudy and ostentatious "rapper" cans I've reviewed lately, it's refreshing to see a headphone designed for an adult. These are really an elegant and understated headphone...just beautiful! Sporting a variety of sumptuous materials and textures in various and harmonious shades of gray, I find myself thinking these are among the most tastefully designed headphones I've had the pleasure to behold. Superb!

Comfort and Isolation
This is an extremely comfortable headphone, which isolates relatively well, but during measurements I found them finicky about position and clamping force in the extreme. Out of the box, it seems to fit my moderately large head very well, but placing it on my measurement head was another story altogether. People with small heads will need to adjust the headband by pressing it inward and making it curve a bit more to fit tighter and achieve a proper seal. Without doing so will net poor isolation, and a pretty severe change for the worse in sonic character. Once properly adjusted, however, the comfort and sound can be endured for hours with great pleasure.

Well, I s'pose it's time to talk about how they sound...

Harman International Industries, Incorporated.
400 Atlantic Street
Stamford, CT 06901, USA

ultrabike's picture

Very nice article! Thanks!

Another criticism on the Denon D2000 and the AKG 70X is that they are not that comfortable compared to the Senns HD5XX/HD6XX. I wonder how comfortable these are compared to the Senns...?

Given the HD6XX prices, and my Audeo (or any IEM) issues with canal irritation/mild fatigue, I'm looking at options (maybe these or the HD598...?)


tdockweiler's picture

So glad you pointed out that they're quite a bit different than the K701/K702. When I bought these I had found they had done some things in a closed headphone that no other company has done quite as well.

They did have very good bass (not excessive, but just right), but I found them a little lean in the mids and kind of thin sounding at times. Never gave them much burn-in though. This and the price was the only deal killer for me, but it's basically due to signature preferences.

I did feel the KRK KNS-8400 was a bit clearer sounding and more balanced, but probably has less isolation. Doesn't have the soundstage of the K550 though.

K550 reminds me a little like a closed version of the Koss A/250.

Those requiring a closed and easier to drive headphone for Metal or Classical might love these.

ultrabike's picture

Small world! Check out your HD598 review @ amazon left comments few hours before you wrote here :) Honestly this was a major coincidence ... I'm seriously looking to buy a good set of full size cans (IEM had its issues).

Cotnijoe's picture

How is the sound stage on it? Seems like you really enjoyed them so I assume the sound stage is pretty satisfying even for a closed can?

Negakinu's picture

for you to get your hands on a Fischer Audio FA-003/ Brainwavz HM5/ Yoga CD-880. Would be awesome to see them compared to the Denon D2000, KRK KNS8400 and this AKG K550. Mid-Fi closed headphone shootout?

Great review! These headphones look pretty damn stylish. :)

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I've got a pair of the FA-003, and they're okay...a bit brght though. The problem is their distribution in the U.S. is so poor that it's sort of not worth my time reviewing something that's not readily available. Especially since there are so many other cans to gt to as well. Sorry.
VagabondJ's picture

Curious which Closed Headphones you prefer, the AKG K550s or the Sennheiser Amperiors that you reviewed recently. How do the sounds of those two compare?

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Wow, tough one. I think it depends mostly on the application. The Amperiors is way better as a portable can; the K550 better (because of the comfort) for home and studio use. I think the Amperior may be a bit more refined, but it may be a tad uneven compared to theK550.

Yes please, I'll take both!

bobxxxbob's picture

Hi! How do these compare to DT-1350? I hated the D2000 but love DT-1350. Could these be the full size sealed can for me?

helluvapixel's picture

Once you can tune your ears to the K550.. man it's the best sounding headphone for the price. My favourite for sure. Works well just off iPad / iPhone. Great sound.

helluvapixel's picture

Someone asked about comfort. To be honest, as soon as I put a pair on in the store I had to buy them. The leather cushion is lush and comfortable.

To question of sound stage, it's wide and clear. Something you'd expect from an open set of cans. I was blown away. Another reason making it my favourite set of cans.

ultrabike's picture

Thank you!

Beagle's picture

You indicated "I agree that the Denon AH-D2000 is a slightly better sounding headphone with a more refined and properly articulate treble"
but you also stated "The AKG K550, on the other hand, is a very well balanced sounding headphone, and, to my ears, bests the above mentioned cans in terms of overall performance".

Are you saying the D2000 and K550 run neck and neck but sound different, each with their merits? I have the D2000, it's balanced but sounds like "pudding".

Regarding optimum positioning....yeah, I find closed headphones are often problematic in the positioning and become inconsistent with bass response because of it. Nothing more annoying than relaxing your jaw or turning your head and all of a sudden the bass is overwhelming.

DaveBSC's picture

Interesting review Tyll. Personally, I found the performance of the Denon D2000 to be quite poor - muddy bass, bright and grainy treble, and mids that were thin and recessed. Typical "V" response.

Any chance you'll be reviewing similar headphones like the Audio-Technica A1000X or Kenwood KH-K1000? I'd be very curious how those would compare to the AKG.

Another potential rival without the need to import from Japan is the long rumored V-moda M100.

13mh13's picture

Yeah, they do LOOK a lot better than some of the other butt-uglies out there ... and that 'cludes AKG's own UAF (ugly-as-fukk) 701/702. That said, the 70x do sound good AFTER the mandatory 200+hr break-in time. Not sure how long Hertsy boy did in his testies... but if they are like other Aay Kay Gee's, that noted "zazzy" harshness/brightness will settle down.

bmigal's picture

Thanks for this review. One thing I don't quite understand is the distinction between "sealed" and "closed", especially when you referred to the Denons being "far from sealed". I thought that by definition, the Denon AH-DX000's were a closed headphone. What's the difference between that and "sealed", which according to this article, they are not? Sorry if this is a bit of a noob question. I tried searching around for the answer and could not come up with a decent one.

John Grandberg's picture
"Closed" refers to any non-open circumaural headphones - that much is clear. "Sealed" is generally used interchangeably. The tricky part is that "sealed" brings to mind "hermetically sealed" which implies complete protection from the outside world. No headphone gives COMPLETE protection but some of them get closer than others. The Denons block very little sound - they block more than open headphones but less than pretty much any other closed headphone.
bmigal's picture

I see. Thank you for that clarification.

bigb121074's picture

Closed only means that the cups are not open, or vented. Closed cans that seal, meaning the earpads on the cups will form a seal around the ear, will isolate you from outside noise better.

*edit* Didn't see that this was already answered.

thermalboyz's picture

Thanks Tyll for your review and insight. I would like it ask are there any room inside to make a detachable cable (Portable use)? Insert 3.5mm Stereo Jack Socket inside the K550. Thanks and your comments are much appreciated.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
I woud think so, if you're handy at that sort of thing.
thermalboyz's picture

thanks for your fast response. I am not handy with that sort of things but if there is a chance i would like to try. Will need to investigate it more on how to do it.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
Here's a Google search that should do you some good:

And you can search around in this forum area:

Don't be afraid to post a thread as a question in there after you search around, DIYers are very helpful.

thermalboyz's picture

thanks tyll, i am already head-fi member. Will decide to get it soon the K550. Waiting for your Fidelio L1 review too soon. cheers

jherbert's picture

The review actuallly made me have a second look at the AH-D2000. Looking at the measurements it seems Denon made some major changes on these. They now more closely resemble the D7000. Anyone around here got any details?

Craigster75's picture

Understanding the HUGE price difference, how do these compare in overall tone and bass punch/extension?

earwicker's picture

Just wondering why they appear to amplify external noise at the bottom end of the frequency range?


DGriff0400's picture

i plan to get a good headphone for portable use.been looking at the k550 due to its sealing and comfort but the amperior looks good as well according to the review but ive never really liked on ear headphones. In your opinion which s better, at sound,seal and overall portable use?

sszorin's picture

These headphones are priced to be a competitor to the Beyerdynamic T70 / T70p pair.

Are you planning to compare them ? 

Jayman94's picture

great review of the akg k550, but need a little more information on the bass response of the headphones. i listen to rock (love it when headphones vibrate to the kick of the drum), dubstep, drum and bass, RnB, hip hop, jazz, soul, reggae, rap and almost all other genres of music. i am an audiophile and love headphones that are true to the song being played, and so wanted to ask this, is the bass response of the headphones true to the song??...Is the bass you hear the bass that was meant to be heard?? the headphones in any way affect or munipulate the song (for example, do they in any way increase or decrease the amount of bass that was intended to be heard by the song) ??... is the general response true to the song (if the song is of high quality, will i hear that quality with these headphones) ??


if you could please answer me these few questions

would be very helpful as i am looking to buy a pair. Thank you and have a happy new year

Matt321's picture

Very transparent, clean and natural, with just about enough bass. But I can hear the reverberations of the closed can and feel claustropphobic if I wear them for longer than 5 minutes. And the sealing lets my inner sounds be louder and more annoying than any outside sounds could be (swallowing, breathing, sometimes even my heart)... Sealed headphones in my opinion are an all-around failed concept, a deliberate technical handicap.

OmidAsadi's picture


Hi, I'm a musician and I want to listen to music with high quality (different genres). I've heard k550 is good but has a peak and resonance in one spot in the upper mids problem.  what is the diffenece between k550 and k551 in sound (every aspects)?  Does k551 have the same problem?

which one do you recommend?

robocop's picture

Hi OmidAsadi,

A delayed response to your question and I hope you don't mind me responding.  I have the K551 - I understand that they are marketed as a more portable version due to the cable being a lot shorter and including in-line controls for volume etc for iOS devices, hence why I purchased these over the K550.  I believe that this is the only difference that AKG state between the models.  Whilst I do listen on an iPhone (I appreciate that this is not particularly audiophile!) I use Spotify files at 320mbps bit rate so, whilst not ideal, my source material is good enough to highlight the different sounds between head-phones / IEMs.  

My father owns the K550 and, as we're passionate about sound, we did a fair bit of A/B testing between the K551 and K550.  Naturally, you and others may disagree but in both my and my father's opinion, the K550 were far better than the K551!  Strange?  That's exactly what we thought!  The K550 sounded more open in the sound stage and with a marked improvement in vocal 'emotion'.  Whilst the K551 still sounded impressive, they had an element of brightness compared to the K550.  We both agreed this within only a few minutes of listening but continued to try with different music genres and recordings all with the same conclusion.  Ultimately, we concluded that the cable was the weak link in the K551 so if you can live without the convenience of the short cable with in-line controls, the K550 are the better choice in my opinion.

With reference to your concern about the upper-mids; I would agree BUT I think that I may be listening to the source as opposed the headphone - although I have tried the K551 with my MacBook Pro (MP3 320 file) and Yamaha AV amp (with CD) with same result.  Ultimately, the 'peakiness' is more noticeable at higher volumes - perhaps a better amp dac etc might sort this - and is only a slight flaw in an otherwise superb closed back headphone hence I struggle to mark them down in this respect.  I'm no expert but I would certainly recommend the K550.

One final, minor, niggle on the K551 lead compared to the K550 lead is the plug; the housing on the K551 is flat so does not fit into a portable device if you use a case whereas the threaded' plug on the K550 does fit as there's more room between the housing and the jack. This may not be useful but thought I'd mention it just in case!

I hope this is useful for you and others.

Finally, thanks to Tyll for a cracking review!


Scot1970's picture

Dear Tyl,

Thank you for your excellent reviews. I am hoping you can help me decide...

I am looking for closed-back headphones for travelling (I use Grado SR80is for home use). When out and about, my source is a Cowon X9 - soon to be iBasso DX90 - with FLAC files ripped from CDs via Exact Audio Copy, so I like my source audio as accurate as possible. I used a pair of in-ear Shure SE530s until they bit the dust. However, the in-ear sound did seem to congest when it came to big orchestral music.
And this is why I'm considering circum-aural phones for my next on-the-go set. I mainly listen to classical music - big symphonies and more intimate chamber works. Therefore, a wide, natural soundstage is very important for me. Orchestral music can easily sound congested in closed cans too.
I'm looking for a smooth, natural signature with good natural (not forced) bass. I don't want it in my face, but I do want to get a thrill with the bass drum rumbles/thwacks and the rich wooden vibrations of the double bass section. Bass is important for classical, but it's gotta be the right kind. Do the AKG K550s have that? I'm also looking for a smooth sound that is still detailed and will reveal the wealth of textures in orchestrations.

So, for me and for my preferred music, I think a wide and organic signature is probably best and I know the AKG K550s have a very open sound. What do you think?

I was also thinking of the Sennheiser Momentums. They get a top recommendation from yourself and in What HiFi, but I don't know if they would be suitable for orchestral.

What is your advice, Tyl? Would the AKG K550s be the ones for me? Perhaps there are more suitable cans I haven't heard about yet.

Looking forward to hearing your advice :-)

Thank you,
Scot Peacock.

Jim Tavegia's picture

I had to put over 100 hours on them to get them to calm down in the treble, but now they sound great for all of $199. Close to myk701s, but the 721 seem to have slighly more bass, but less smoothness on the top.

There is also a lever above the left earcup you can turn 90 degrees and change the auto-off to always-on. A nice touch.

I would recommend the 721s, but you must break them in.