Jerry Ibbotson sits down with a pair of these new monitoring headphones from the audio giant, and finds they have plenty going for them...
I’ve become a bit of a beer bore over the last couple of years. I now sup hand-crafted ales from micro-breweries that (in my imagination) are run by men with luxuriant beards and trousers that don’t reach their shoes. It’s a great hobby to have but one of the problems comes when trying to explain the difference between a three-hop IPA from a small brewery in Kent and a three-hop IPA from a small brewery in Cumbria. There are only so many times the words “citrus finish” can leave one’s lips.
It’s a similar thing with headphones. I’ve been testing the AKG K182s and it’s the third time in the last year or so that I’ve put a pair of professionals cans through their paces. It’s good to have a benchmark in my head and to have something definite to compare them to, but putting that into words does risk leading me into “mellow hoppiness” territory.
The AKGs are marketed at musicians and engineers but they are essentially compact, closed-back monitoring headphones with a moderate price tag. They have an over-ear design (with replaceable pads) and swivel and fold when not in use. They also have, as I immediately spotted, a mahoosive “L” and “R” printed in each ear-cup, just to stop you getting confused.
Their presentation is top-notch, with high-grade composite materials mixed with metal. There’s a removable cable, with 0.25in adapter in place on the plug and a comfortable headband; they feel like quality headphones. I share a house with two teenagers who go through consumer grade ‘phones at a stomach churning (and wallet scorching) rate of knots, but I can immediately tell that these are a cut-above the norm in terms of build quality and design (as anything labelled ‘pro’ should be).
The frequency response is 10Hz to 28kHz and the drivers that do all the hard work are 50mm, which AKG says “keep it loud”. I did the majority of testing with them hooked to a Focusrite I/O on my laptop but AKG says they are equally at home on mobile devices.
I actually hot-swapped between these and a pair of Pioneer headphones, to do a direct comparison. I hadn’t expected there to be a great deal of difference between the two pairs, particularly as I began by listening to some recorded speech files, played through Adobe Audition at 44.1kHz. But what I heard surprised me. The AKGs had more bass to them, while the Pioneers were a touch lighter. The voices in the AKGs sounded a little more ‘roomy’ (they were recorded on location), which may have been a true reflection of the acoustics but might also have been the way the K182s reproduced the audio. It was noticeable without being a problem.
I switched to some music, starting with a bit of Billy Bragg. The AKGs had a slightly narrower stereo field than my other headphones and that extra bass was present again. But the sound quality was excellent overall and I flicked through a wide selection of other tracks of differing styles – all were faithfully reproduced by the K182.
My eldest daughter (one of the destroyers-of-cheap-headphones) had asked for help editing a video project for college. She’d interviewed her grandmother using a DSLR and a Røde Videomic and needed to cut it up. After overseeing her doing the initial edit in Premiere, I slipped on the AKGs and listened to the audio. Oh, DSLR audio how I loathe you. Even with a half-decent mic in place, it’s still the noisiest thing this side of the National Museum of Hum and Hiss.
I fired up Izotope RX4 from within Adobe Audition and did a bit of clean-up (it’s always good being a sixth former when your boring old Dad is a semi-lapsed sound designer). That’s when decent headphones come to the fore – not when listening to pristine, mastered material but dirty, noisy raw audio that needs a good scrub. I wanted to hear what I was trying to get rid of and the AKGs dutifully obliged, reproducing the hum and fuzz left behind by the DSLR and replacing it with silence when RX4 had done its work.
Overall, these are excellent headphones. They are well made and robust and should stand up to the rigours of life both in the studio or out on the road. I would happily fold these away and stash them in a gear bag. They are quite bassy but it’s not intrusive and I could listen to audio through them for long periods without fatigue creeping in.
One thing I have learned is that two models of headphones may appear similar on paper – in this case offerings from AKG and Pioneer – but differ in use. In fact the level of ‘difference’ took me by surprise. In the same way that buying studio monitors is often down to a matter of taste, so it is with headphones. Most of us would not go that far, but think of it as craft beer. You need to know which one has the echoes of mellow fruit, don’t you?
Jerry Ibbotson has worked in pro-audio for more than 20 years, first as a BBC radio journalist and then as a sound designer in the games industry. He’s now a freelance audio producer and writer.
- High-sensitivity 50mm transducers
- 10Hz-28kHz frequency range
- 3D-axis professional folding system
- Detachable cable and screw-on adapter
- Replaceable ear pads