When Technoodling HQ delivered a new batch of gadgets for review to my house, there was one device that didn’t come in any packaging whatsoever. It was in a small black neoprene pouch with a plain “AKG” on the side. When I opened it, it contained a neatly folded black audio headset, a couple of cords and an airplane plug adapter. No documentation, no printed materials. Nothing else.
So, without stopping to check the model or its features (I could do that later), I hooked it up to my iPhone 4 blind, turned on the music app, and listened, while I checked out the other tech goodies in the big bag. I noticed right away the clean, clear, loud reproduction the headset gave. Intrigued, I stopped to listen closer, and spent the next hour just marveling at how nice this headset was, and giving it an off-the-cuff, impromptu listening to right then and there.
It was the over-the-ear kind. The ear cups were slightly smaller than I was used to, sitting right on top of my ears, but they were plush and compact with a metal band ringing the outside of the cups, and it had a small metal AKG logo in the middle. The cushions provided a bit of passive noise-cancelling, but you could still hear a bit of the ambient sound through them so it wasn’t that restrictive.
The headset wasn’t too heavy, but I could imagine having a bit of trouble wearing them for two or three hours straight. But I liked the feel of them, like a warm, welcoming embrace on your head, if you can imagine that. The headband was a slim blend of plastic and metal, with some padding on top which makes it more comfortable for long sessions. The ear cups were clearly marked left and right, and swivelled a bit on their axes, and slid into and out of the headband to adjust to and accommodate various shaped heads. (It was also meant to fold neatly into its neoprene bag for carrying around.)
It didn’t have a cord, and at first I thought the phones were Bluetooth-enabled. I discovered that one of the cables in the pouch connected to the left side of the headset, and the other end connected to your device via a straight 3.5mm plug. So it was a regular headset after all. The cord was a nice, tangle-free cable made of a firm, nylon cord-like material, with the small plugs on either end sturdily padded with rubber and metal. It didn’t have a remote/mic device attached to the cord, so you gotta live with not being able to control your device remotely or converse with callers on this headset. (Having a detachable cable is a great thing, as it minimizes cable repair—you can just replace it.)
They sounded wonderful! The sound stage was reproduced nicely; you could clearly tell which was left and right, up and down, near and far. It had strong, not-fuzzy bass lines, wonderfully rendered, clear highs and a full, throaty mid-range. And it was loud. Most headsets suffer from harshness and guttural vibrations when going up to their maximum levels, but this one didn’t, coming up with a warm, even fidelity at its highest volume, with giving any distortion. It faithfully reproduced the heavy guitar and drums from The Black Keys‘ Lonely Boy, yet equally did justice to the languid rhythm tracks of Quincy Jones’ Setembro. I put it through its paces, running classical pieces, hip-hop, electronica, pop and other types of music. Wow. I had another new favorite headset, whatever this was.
It was only later, when I examined it some more, that I discovered a switch on the left cup that was labeled “NC” and turned on a little green light. NC? Could it stand for… noise-cancelling?
By God, it was!
It was a headset that came with active noise-cancelling, although for the life of me, I didn’t really think it needed it—it sounded great already. No wonder the ear cups were a bit thicker than normal, it contained the noise-cancelling circuitry and the internal battery. But how did it charge? I took a look at the other cable in the pouch, and sure enough, it had a USB plug on one end; you could connect it to your computer to charge up. (I later found out it took a couple of hours or so to charge, and had about 40 hours of play in between charges—which was plenty.)
The AKG K490 NC Headphones indeed had active noise cancelling circuitry, as I discovered online later. Not that it needed it much. The audio sounded a little louder and clearer with noise-cancelling on, although you can barely tell the difference in most audio situations. The noise-cancelling is best used to great effect when listening in areas with higher noise pollution levels, to drown out an airplane engine’s hum for example (a use the manufacturers foresaw, as evidenced by the inclusion of the airplane plug adapter), or to quiet the buzz down in a noisy restaurant or a place with creeping industrial noise. Although in most cases, you can hardly tell noise-cancelling was turned on—it’s that good.
The K490 NC has overcome that bugaboo of a detectable hiss or hum when noise-cancelling is turned on, as was the case with other similar headsets. This one is whisper quiet. Without any audio input, I turned it on in Starbucks, and it immediately cut the chatter and the noise to a barely detectable level. And all without that noise-cancelling hum. That’s the way to go!
The nice thing about the K490 NC is the ability to use the headset just as it is, without turning on the noise cancellation. It’s wonderful when you’re fresh out of power for the active NC, or you’re in a quiet place and don’t really need it. All, in all, the AKG K490 NC Headphones are an excellent pair and are moderately priced, and it outperforms other headsets even above its station.
PRICE: (Approx. US$249.95)
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