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4.2 out of 5 stars
AKG K550 Closed-Back Reference Class Headphones
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145 of 160 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 24, 2012
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These headphones are VERY difficult to review. All headphone preferences are specific to the listener, but these take that concept to the Nth degree. So be very mindful that this is just one man's perspective.

Appearance: Gorgeous. 'nuff said. I consider these the best looking cans in the business. But meh, I'd take a great sounding ugly pair than a horrible sounding attractive pair. I'm still talking about headphones of course, but I jest.

Sealed vs Closed: these terms are too often used interchangeably, but we all know that not all closed headphones seal. To me, sealing means that you don't hear the outside environs and others around you don't hear what you are listening to. When you are in public, you don't want your cans to leak out. Let's admit it, we all have our guilty pleasure songs that we don't want to admit we keep on our portable music players, beyond the fact that it is just plain rude to your neighbors. And when you are on a plane, you don't want to hear the crying baby over your cans(isolation). So if you are looking for a high-quality set of cans that can travel with you, you want "sealed". For example, the denons are closed cans, but leak sound like crazy with very little isolation from your external environs. So they are FAR from sealed. These AKGs I safely report are closed and sealed. They are great for isolation and limited leakage when you are not alone.

32Ohms: Low impedance cans are often times associated with low-end. But that is far from the truth. Low-Impedance determines how easy it is to power the music. If you plug in a high impedance set of cans directly into an iphone for example, the volume with be really low and the sound quality will be horrible. But use that same iphone and use an amp with it, you will greatly enhance the listening pleasure of high impedance headphones. Generally speaking, ALL cans should benefit from a good DAC/AMP set up, but those with Ohm ratings higher than approximately 100 will REQUIRE a headphone AMP. A lot of home theater receivers have a great built-in headphone amp, but no computer sound card can truly power a high impedance set of cans(NOT even the Xonar). Some examples of good low impedance cans are denons, ATH M50, MDR-V6, and Sennheiser HD-25ii. The AKG K550 is 32Ohms, so any portable device will power it fine without an amp. They sound great with my Cowon Plenue Z2. They sound decent connected directly to my laptop. They sound great for music, movie, and games. BUT!!! they sound MUCH better with an amp. In other words, these headphones scale beautifully with a GOOD DAC/AMP. The more juice you give it, the more it shines. So although, they are low imp cans, and therefore, work great without an amp, they benefit GREATLY when juiced.

SOUND QUALITY: So why would you want these headphones? Let's not get it twisted, these cans will never replace my home set up. In the isolation of my place, I love the experience of putting on a nice set of open-back cans while sipping some wine or scotch. BUT...I travel a lot and need a nice SEALED headphone that isolates and does not leak. I used to use the MDR-V6 by Sony. Great cans with 63Ohms rating. But the sound stage is small and the sound is a bit too analytical. Don't get me wrong, they're fantastic, but I've always had my eyes open for a better set of sealed cans. ATH M50 by audio technica is one of the most highly regarded sealed, low-impedance cans, along with the Senns HD25s, but i wanted a set of cans that rivaled the sound stage of an open-back set of headphones. So these cans deliver the sound stage? sort of. The sound stage is good, really good. In fact, they're the best I've ever heard from a closed-back headphone. But they still don't have the vast sound-stage of a truly open-back set of headphones. A lot of people say these are a bit weak in the bass department. These aren't Beats. The bass won't overwhelm you, but it is solid and clear. Some songs where I know the bass is loud, i turn down my amp in anticipation. I like protecting my hearing and you can actually feel the air of the bass on certain songs. The midrange is a bit inconsistent. There are odd spikes that soften over time(I will discuss burn-in later). Some parts of the midrange sound recessed, and other parts overemphasized. The highs are clear and balanced with the rest of the sound spectrum. All-in-all, these are a really fun pair of headphones. No part of the spectrum is ignored. And often times, you will hear things you have never noticed in a song before. I have never heard some songs sound so interesting. "Wake Me Up When September Ends" by Greenday is an example of such a song. For the most part, these cans are exact in their delivery, so good audio sources and good audio recordings will be critical when listening to these. Some of my less inspiring digital files are left nearly unlistenable.

FIT: Often times when I review headphones, I'll just say, "comfortable for continuous use". AKG K550s need a LOT more in-depth discussion regarding fit. I have never used a pair of headphones that required such precise fit. First off, these cans are out-of-the-box designed for big heads. With a little bending of the headband, they can be modified to fit smaller heads. If you lose the seal, the sound quality goes down the toilet. Much like IEMs, these full-sized cans require a great seal to deliver the intended sound, bass especially. I think the design/fit would be greatly enhanced by increasing the padding in the rear of pads. Angled kind of like the Q701s. As big as these are, and as reliant on seal as these are, it is a big oversight to not add features that enahnce the seal. For me, these work great b/c I have a big head. But if you got a little noggin, then be prepared to do some bending.

BURN-IN: Placebo or real? I have wondered if I just got used the sound of a pair of headphones or if headphones really changed over time. I've always believed it was a combination of the two. UNTIL NOW. These headphones are the greatest evidence that burn-in is REAL I've ever heard. When I first got these, before even burning them in, I listened to them. And the sound was so odd that I almost gave up on them. There were odd spikes and sometimes ear-piercing peaks. The electric guitar in songs sounded just horrible, scratch and distorted. But like all headphones I get, I decided to burn them in. I first used medium volume and put my music library on random. These cans I think can greatly benefit from white and pink noise, although I didn't use that method. Even with the medium volume burn-in, i didn't get the results I wanted. So I cranked up the volume on my amp to max and burned them in for and additional 50+ hours. Most of my issues with these cans disappeared. There is still a note or two in the upper-mids that spikes and hurts my ear, but I hope this goes away in time. The electric guitar sounds a lot better now, even the loud strumming electric. I would highly recommend burning in these THOROUGHLY at loud volumes before judging these cans.

CONCLUSION: These are not the best headphones in the world. I will use them at home some times to mix things up, but I will use them predominantly for use on the road. And for this purpose, it is my opinion that these are the best headphones. Great soundstage, great representation of the entire frequency range(minus a couple of upper-mid spikes), and SEALED(not just closed). I recommend them for a good all-purpose headphones. If you plan to only buy one set of headphones and use them for everything at home and on the road, then this is a good option. If you listen to a ton of electric guitar music(especially strumming wall-of-sound electric guitar), like speed metal, I highly recommend you stay away from these. Although, this is changing over time as songs like "Paradise City" by G&R and "Creep" by Radiohead are sounding better after a thorough burn-in. "Tom Sawyer" by Rush is sounding amazing. I haven't heard drums sound this good.

As I am traveling for work, I am away from my home set up. But I have received my Asgard and Bifrost from Schiit. So I have finally gotten to test these cans with a decent amp/dac combination. The Asgard/Bifrost combo has a very warm sound signature. My set up now: laptop to SPDIF optical to Schiit Bifrost to RCA to Asgard to AKG K550. Absolutely amazing. Source material is sooooo important. And by source material, I am counting everything before the AMP. That includes the music files and the DAC. People stress headphones and amp, but they forget how important a good source is. Garbage in garbage out I say. Anyhow, I digress. With this setup and a mild equalization change to favor bass and reduce the upper-mids(4kHz-8kHz), the AKG K550s have THRIVED!!! These cans sound so NATURAL. A guitar sounds like a live guitar (both electric and acoustic). Drums are fast and thunderous. Vocals are resonant and textured. The sound stage is absolutely incredible now. I am raising my 4 star rating to 5 star. Mind you, I've considerably burned these in also. These cans as I've stated above require an incredible amount of burn-in. These cans are now playing everything I throw at it. VERY versatile. Even the upper mid spikes are going away if not completely gone. If you are to own just one set of cans, these are them. These cans thrive with a good set up, but will work with a bad one too.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 2012
Verified Purchase
I have worked as a professional location sound engineer in my past. I have used a lot of headphones over the years. When recording on location you need closed headphones that provide maximum isolation. For years my preference was the Sony V7's or the Bayer Dynamic DT100. These headphones provided good isolation and flat response... But the overall fidelity and imaging was nowhere near the quality of an open back headphone.

Now you can have the isolation of a closed back headphone with the imaging and fidelity of a open back headphone. To my ears they sound pretty darn fantastic. They do need some time to break in. The bass improved after about 250 hours of use.

No they are not in the same league as a $2,700 pair of Ultrasone EDITION 10's... But Ultrasone's are completely worthless for recording a live concert.

These AKG-550's are really a new breed. They have the open sound of an open back headphone with the isolation that you need for live recording. They are pretty flat sounding. A little bump in the high mid range. The low end is clean, tight and honest. (If you are a bass freak you might want to look at a pair of Beats.) These cans have almost no "character"... They are just what a recording engineer is looking for.

The other thing I like about them is that they are comfortable. If you have a small head they might not seal real well. But on the average person they fit well and they leave plenty of room for your ears. They don't fold like a pair of V6's... But I am willing to live with the bulk. They are also built pretty well. I think they will stand up to professional use. The look and feel like a workhorse. These are my new favorite 1st choice. And they just happen to cost under $300... which makes them a practical choice for location work. (You are not going to cry when someone drops a road case on them.)
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37 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2012
Verified Purchase
Bought the K550s to replace my AKG K702s, which still I love but my wife complained about sound leakage during late night listening, since they are an open design.

Virtually no sound leakage (in or out) with the K550s. Very private listening.

While the K550s are not self-adjusting, they are definitely more comfortable than the K702s, which have those little bumps in the headband that dig into you head after a while.

Build quality seems excellent; certainly no flimsiness, especially for a folding design.

Fairly lightweight for headphones with a framework that contains a lot of metal.

While these are not as open sounding as the K702s, they do seem to have been carefully tuned to avoid the "closed-in" sometimes "boomy" sound that many sealed headphones offer.

In terms of general sound quality, I did not find them lacking or weak in any particular area.

Maybe a little too sensitive, but they are intended for home and portable use.

You would definitely have to spend a lot more to get better-sounding sealed headphones.

Just wish they had a detachable cord.
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39 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on June 21, 2012
Verified Purchase
A number of early reviews of the K550 have pointed out that (1) a good seal is critical to great sound quality, and (2) these do tend to run large. So how big a head do you really need to wear these?? It will take more data to answer that conclusively, but I'll make a start here. If you have numbers, please post...

The vast majority of adult heads run 50 to 63 cm in circumference. (If you're not sure how to measure, stop by your local bike shop and ask them to give you a hand.) I'm on the large side, at 60 cm, and did not have any problem. I don't need to fiddle with them to get a good seal and have not experienced any problem with the phones moving around on my head; the clamping force is fine for a head my size, although certainly not what I would call tight. (They're quite comfortable, even after a couple of hours.)

There is another important dimension to sizing though, and that is the distance over the top of your head from one ear to the other. This is, of course, why headphones have expandable headbands and, unfortunately, the 550s are poorly sized in this dimension. There are 13 "click stop" expansion positions on the headband, with 12 of them conveniently numbered. The problem is that I'm on the lowest (tightest) setting with my large head. They fit me just right this way, but if I expand the headband more than one notch, the fit is too loose - i.e. they start to ride too low on the ears. By way of comparison, I have never worn headphones that I did not have to expand at least 1/4" on both sides of the headband, and I have to expand my HD598s just over 1/2" to get a good fit.

Based on my experience, if your head is 60 cm or larger I think you'll be fine. A little smaller than 60 cm may be ok, especially if you have thick hair (I don't) but average to small heads are likely to have trouble getting a good fit. Too bad really - if they had sized the headband better this would not be an issue. Hopefully they'll recognize this and address it, because these are great in every other way. EDIT: I asked my son to try them on for comparison. His head circumference is 59 cm - slighlty smaller than mine. Interestingly, his head is also rounder and he found that he needs to expand the headband about 4 to 5 notches on each side. No problem getting a good fit. So it looks like head shape is a factor here too.

I got these as a closed set to go with my 598s for those times when I'd like to be in the same room with my wife while listening. Overall first impressions are excellent other than the sizing issue: great build quality, very comfortable, good isolation with much lower leakage than the open Senns. Obviously a somewhat different musical experience than the Senns, but not as different as I expected given open vs. closed. Others have said plenty there so I'll just close by saying that these are certainly a 4 or 5 if they fit you, but they're probably a 1 if they don't. Hence the 3 rating.

EDIT after 50+ hours of use. These initially seemed lighter in bass than my well-used HD598s, but 20 or so hours of burn in really closed that gap. They are nicely balanced; not at all bass light, but total bass heads may prefer something less balanced. On comfort, they are only slightly less suitable than the (VERY comfortable) 598s for long listening sessions, primarily due to the pleather pads which, coupled with a closed phone, just make them a bit warmer on your ears than the fabric + open of the 598s. Finally, the soundstage is really quite nice for a closed phone - definitely better than I was expecting. Overall, highly recommended if you are in the market for a closed set in this price range and have a big enough head to wear them. Oh, and I drive them both with and without amplification, and they are really fine either way.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on July 30, 2013
Format: ElectronicsVerified Purchase
I purchased these through Amazon (fast delivery - Thanks Amazon!) after doing a lot of research on headphones with clean and clear sound. On that front the AKG K550's do not disappoint.

The Good

Sound - Although a lot of reviews commented that the K550's require extensive burn-in to settle down, personally mine were fine right out of the box. The first thing apparent in listening to the K550's is the clarity in the sound. Across the board, the sound is very up front and balanced. A number of reviews criticize the K550's for a lack of bass. I did not find that to be the case. The bass is present, but not overbalanced to over emphasize it like in Beats, Sol Republics, and other Celebrity brands. The best way to describe the K550 sound is natural - not overbalanced or forced.

Due to their design as reference headphones, what you hear is what was recorded. The K550's do not introduce any coloration to the music. I mean that in a very good way. Other brands of headphones have a certain "sound" signature, from your bass heavy Beats, the up front and bright Grado's or the slightly veiled sound of Sennheiser's. The K550 has a clarity I've never experienced before for all types of genres - Rock, Pop, Classical, Opera, Standards, etc. You will hear things in your music you did not hear before - a singer taking a breath, the sound of the drumstick hitting a high-hat, the clear thump of the drummers bass's amazing without coming across as cold or clinical sounding. Coupled with that they have a wide sound stage - which is amazing with closed headphones. The sound is never claustrophobic or narrow sounding.

You can easily use the K550 with an iPod, iPhone, iPad, Android phone or tablet and they will sound excellent for a full size headphone. Where they really sing is hooking them up to a proper amplifier like a home stereo/theater setup or headphone amp. I have a NuForce Icon HDP DAC/Amp combo playing my iTunes library through Audivarna (a digital music player) on my Mac mini and the sound is phenomenal with the K550's. Even iTunes purchased music at 256 kbps encoding sounds amazing through the K550.

Comfort - Simply put, the K550 is a very comfortable set of closed headphones. Sound isolation is excellent due to the around-the-ear design. I have an average size head (hat size 7 1/4) and I did not experience the fit issues many folks have mentioned. The fit for me is very good and is comfortable for hours and hours. The design is very adjustable and the speakers articulate and pivot to allow a comfortable fit.

Details - There are a lot of little details with the K550 that I really like and are worth mentioning. The speakers are very clearly marked L and R in large white letters on the interior of each speaker - a very handy feature for those of us wearing glasses. The headband has numbers listed for each notch of adjustment with a white line indicator so that it's very easy to insure you don't have one speaker up high and the other low. The 1/4 inch headphone plug unscrews revealing the mini-plug, a really nice touch. The construction, while metal, is very light and solidly constructed. The K550's feel like quality headphones just by holding them. Lastly, the overall design in the brushed metal matte black just has a very classic and understated look that is very classy.

The Bad

Postioning - If I have one criticism of the K550's is how critical their position is on your head and the sound quality. My K550's fit me perfectly, but I do see what other mention that those with smaller heads or petite frames might find that the K550's do not seal well or are just too big for them. My advice would be to try on a pair at a retailer to assess how they fit for you. Also, even with the K550's fitting well for me, I do find I have to hit a "sweet spot" in the speaker positioning so they are well sealed around the ear but also centered on the ear without causing either the cushions to rest on the ear or have the driver covering rest on the ear. Fortunately the K550's articulate well so I can always get them "in the zone" to sound their best and not rest on the ear.

The Wrap-Up

The AKG K550's are deserving of the high praise they've received in other reviews both here on Amazon and elsewhere on-line, particularly audiophile reviews and headphone enthusiast sites. For the price, they produce audiophile quality sound. You cannot go wrong with these headphones. My only caveat would be is to get the opportunity to try on a pair first to see if they fit you properly to insure your getting the best sound from the K550's. If your find they are too big, these may not be the headphones for you.
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24 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on April 1, 2012
It's about time an audio company addressed the need for sensitive headphones suitable for use with a typical mobile device - phone or tablet or media player - without a secondary amplifier.

The AKG K550 is just awesome.

It's almost impossible to find decent sealed cans for office / travel use that do not fall in to one of the following categories: a) noise cancellation or b) over pronounced bass.

The K550 is great if you prefer clean/crisp vs Bose or Beats. Lots of detail and space for a sealed design. The relatively huge cups are comfy too.

Mature design is another strong plus for me - although I would not call these inconspicuous, the bright trim and overbranding common on most other brands is thankfully absent.

Super high build quality. Mostly metal, but not too heavy. Very comfortable with good seal on my size "L" head right out of the box. The K550 is not a true reference design, but it's very, very close - with the sensitivity needed for good performance with an iPhone.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 16, 2014
Format: Electronics
ok first things first. I'm not an audiophile! my approach to this review is to try to convey my impressions of these headphones (cans) with the average user in mind. i work in an office and listen to music about 2-4 hours a day while i work. i plug my headphones into this budget dac/amp

my previous pair of headphones were the Audio Technica ATH M30, which i think are the best overall closed back headphones under $100. my music files range in quality from 196 to 320 kbps mp3 files. i also grabbed some of my old cds and ripped the files to FLAC to see what a lossless source would sound like. lastly, i purchased these directly from Harman Audio factory refurbished. they came to me looking brand new and i cannot detect any issues with them, being refurbs. I've had these cans for a week now so this will be my initial impressions. i'll come back in a few months to give a longer term outlook. I'm not sure if I'm a believer in headphone burn in but these are new with minimal use so if burn in is real, these cans should warm up a bit after some significant use.

these are some quality cans! the materials are very sturdy and feel expensive to the touch. they feel substantial while still weighing almost nothing. the leather/pleather (not sure which it is) is soft and durable. these are very comfortable cans to wear. they look impressive and I've had quite a few coworkers come up and ask me about them. they are large on your head, think of two cds clamped to your ears. this leads to an issue many others have experienced. that is proper sealing of the cup around your ear.

getting a good seal is challenging at times. my head is a bit big and i still feel i don't have adequate seal. the problem in my eyes is the clamping force of the headband. it's not that strong. you'd think that thick metal band would squeeze nice and tight, but unfortunately it doesn't. i bent mine a bit to increase clamping force but i cant tell if it is squeezing more or not. BUT....if you take an extra second or two to wiggle and press these things around your ears, you can get a good seal. and the seal is essential for sound quality.

before i go into detail on the sound quality of these cans, let me talk a bit about what affects the sound quality. these cans can resolve very high levels of detail, so if your source material is of poor quality, the sound itself will sound especially poor. high quality source material tends to really bring these cans to life. so if you have a lot of low quality mp3 files (anything under 256kbps), I'd skip these cans. these cans are very neutral sounding, almost cold I'd say. they don't enhance what you're listening to much. they don't boost any of the frequencies much, in my opinion, so if the original material is flat sounding, then you're gonna get very flat and unappealing sound. my older ath m30s are a warmer pair of cans and add some body to the sound. so they in essence mask or cover up a lesser quality recording. that's just not the case with the k550s. they produce a sound that's very very true to the source material. keep that in mind when considering them. like i said, if you don't have good fidelity source material, these headphones will disappoint you greatly. if your source material is poor, a warmer can like the ath m50 might be the better option.

ok lets talk about the sound! first and foremost, as a whole i love them. paired with good source material they are a revelation in clarity and detail. I've read many many people complaining they have no bass, but i disagree! they do not BOOST bass, so any bass you hear was meant to be heard. these aren't beats people. Gnarles Barkley - Transformer is a very bass-centric track and the bass comes through clean and impactful. the bass quality is excellent. i think some people associate quantity with quality. no, these don't hit hard, but they go deep and have a good natural impact. nothing feels artificial about the bass presentation with these cans. my m30s in comparison feel a bit boosted in the bass dept. they punch HARDER, but without as much detail, clouding the mids.

since these cans wont enhance or boost bass, material without a strong low frequency will sound a bit flat and lifeless. my Megadeth - Holy Wars track is of lower quality and almost devoid of bass. so listening to it with these cans is depressing, to say the least. i actually go back to my m30s for the album (and most of my bass-less music). but do you blame the headphones for this? in my opinion, no! they were designed to reproduce frequencies as they were recorded. they're not here to color and enhance the recordings.

mids i feel are these can's strong point. they're rich and detailed, with excellent detail. i have been listening to all my old music again just to hear things i never heard before. i went through this when i got my m30s, and the K550s can bring even more detail out of the recordings than they can. i hear details like the pluck of a string, or a hand moving along the guitar neck, or the skate of a drum stick along a cymbal. i never heard those small details with any of my other headphones. i thought the m30s were detailed, but these are so much more so. and i find the majority of these detail in the mids and highs. tracks like Greenday - Minority, or Bob Dylan - Like a Rolling Stone burst with sonic detail. there is a heft to the mids that really make these cans sparkle. acoustic guitar sounds especially good on them.

highs are as wonderful as the mids. guitar solos like Van Halen - Eruption, or Jimi Hendricks - Purple Haze are crystal clear and vivid. but i don't find them harsh at all. I've read some people say the highs are a big harsh, but i don't feel this at all.

all in all i find these headphones to be of exceptional quality. but please do yourself a favor and consider your source materials. if you don't have high quality recordings you will probably hate the sound of these cans. i find myself grabbing my m30s when i listen to some of my crappy recordings. I'm even debating getting the m50s to complement these cans just for that purpose. and I'm going back to all my cd's and re-burning them to either 320kbps mp3s or flac files.

a note on 320kbps mp3 and flac. so far i don't have the ear to distinguish them. the flac files SHOULD be better sonically, but i cant honestly tell the difference. I'm still ripping flac files in case i can teach myself how to hear the difference, but honestly, 320kbps mp3s is more than enough to make these cans sing. too bad half my collection is low quality 128 and 196kbps mp3s, and i don't have the cds anymore to reburn them at a higher quality.

so you, average guy looking for better than average headphones! should you try them? MAYBE...

if you have good source material, and you're ok taking a bit of extra time to get a good fit, then yes. if you want neutral sound without much coloration, then yes. if you want bass that's natural but not overpowering, then yes. if you have crappy source materials, stay away! if you like boosted bass, stay away! if you like an overall warm/fun sound presentation, probably stay away. i myself want to hear what the producers intended, so i like these cans a lot. in that regard i love them. but honestly i hate them too. why? when my source materials are poor, they just sound horrible. they're not perfect, don't expect perfection. they're finicky, fussy, and somewhat difficult to get good sound out of. but if you can just put that little bit of extra energy in, you might find you can love them too. i know i have! i'll update this in a few months to see how they've grown on me, and if the whole headphone burn in thing is noticeable to me and if so, what effect it had on them.

UPDATE 5/22/14:

ok I've added the Audio Technica ATH M50x headphones as a supplemental pair. I wont go into heavy detail on them, just know this: they have a warmer sound to them and much more impactful bass. the k550 have a very flat sound curve, whereas the m50 have a more U shaped curve. that means lows and highs are more accentuated than the mids. but I wouldn't say the mids are recessed much, as others have said. but the overall impression I have of them is this, they're just more "fun" to listen to. the bass, though not nearly as detailed, hits harder. the overall warmer sound does indeed liven up my poorer source material, as I thought it might. so how does this related to the k550?

listening to both sets side by side has helped me further appreciate the k550. it also helped me learn more about my own preferences.

first, there is no doubt the k550 has a much more open soundstage than the m50. if you were to visualize the performance on stage, you'd think the performers were much more spaced out physically on the k550. with the m50 you'd think they're all bunched up together playing right next to each other. does that have a large impact on the overall performance of the cans? to me not so much. it's a personal thing and everyone will have different preferences. but I easily acclimated to both sets when I'd go back and forth in my listening. and I'd switch constantly. my routine was to close my eyes, turn up the volume to a higher level, then listen to a selected track with the k550. once the track was done I'd switch to the m50 and repeat the same track. if there was a particularly stand out portion of the track, I'd listen to that section only with the two. Greenday - Hold On was a great track with a very eclectic opening, which helped illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of both cans.

second, I learned something about my sound preferences. I prefer the warmer sound of the m50 to the flatter analytical sound of the k550 for most of my go to music. you know, the music you tend to go to more than the others? for me it's metal (Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Iron Maiden, Slayer). I found myself responding more to the music with the m50. it had a more forceful and impactful quality that made metal just more fun to listen to, FOR ME. but when I'd listen to more vocal-centric music, or classical, I found myself reaching for the k550. vocals on the k550 are so well presented, more so than the m50. I think what really makes the m50 more fun for me is the bass performance. though the k550 bass is more detailed, the m50 just hits harder. it's a bit more muddy for sure, and lacks the nuanced detail of the k550... but it just made me smile and move my feet and head to the music.

does this mean i prefer the m50 OVERALL, over the k550? not necessarily. both are excellent cans that have drastically different presentations. when I'm listening to more active, fun material (rock/metal), i definitely grab the m50. but when I'm listening to more complex or acoustic music, i much prefer the k550. listening to KD Lang - Hallelujah on the k550 is such a treat. her soulful voice comes through so heavenly on the k550 i couldn't imagine listening to it any other way. does it sound bad on the m50? not at all! but in back to back listening, i preferred the k550 sound signature more.

i know, I'm confusing. and I'm confused myself. i really don't want to keep two sets of headphones, i find myself wasting too much time just trying to decide on which pair to grab for what. so eventually i'll decide on which to keep and which to ditch. but right now only 3 weeks in, i just don't know. both have their strengths and weaknesses. right now I'm having more fun with the m50, but I'm also learning to appreciate the intricately detailed presentation of the k550.

so that's my update for now. just wanted to share more impressions with you to help you the reader decide on what you may think is best when you choose. I'd also like to give guitar center a plug here, those guys are just the best! i took my k550 with me and asked if i could audition some headphones. i told them I'm on the fence with the k550 and need some time with other headphones to get a better idea which is best for me. they didn't think twice, they let me grab any of the headphones in stock and sit down for about an hour listening to them all. i listened to the m50x which i bought that day, the shure 840, and two beyerdynamics, the dt770 80ohm and custom pro. the m50 immediately stuck out to me upon listening to them. the beyerdynamic custom pro was fun but i found the sound similar to the m50 but not as detailed. and they were much more $. the dt770 sounded lifeless plugged into my android phone (lg g2). i think the higher impedance (80ohm vs 30-something for all the others) made their performance suffer un-amped. and before you jump on me and say well of course you need to amp them... I'm not carrying a phone and an amp. its my preference. I'm sure the dt770 would sound much much better with an amp. but i want a pair of headphones that i can enjoy without an amp when I'm on the go. so no disrespect to the dt770, it just wasn't going to work for me and my gear. the shure 840 sounded good but just didn't blow me away like the m50 did. so in the end after an hour listening to the same tracks over and over and over and over again with all 4 headphones, i found i liked the m50x the best, of the headphones i didn't own. thank you guitar center.

i'll spend more time with both headphones and update this review again once i feel i have more to share. at this point i still love the sound of the k550, and am tempted to raise the score to 5 stars. but their overall fussiness of use is keeping me from doing so at this time. and no i haven't noticed any burn in effect yet from either pair. and they've been playing A LOT. over 60 hours for each. probably 120 for the k550. i leave them both on overnight at moderate volume to test the burn in thing....

UPDATE 5/29/14:

after hours and hours with both the k550 and m50, I've decided to send back the k550 and keep the m50. though I recognize the k550 are a higher quality headphone, their sound signature just doesn't match up well with my musical tastes and source material. I just have more fun listening to the m50. I wont change my score though as I do believe whole heartedly in what I wrote. when things aligned just right, the k550 were amazing. unfortunately for me and my situation, that alignment didn't occur often enough. I would routinely avoid some of my favorite music with them because I knew they wouldn't sound very good. its a lesson learned for me for sure. thankfully I'm in love with my m50, they are perfect for me and my situation. I have the utmost respect for the k550 and almost kept them as a secondary pair, but budget wouldn't allow it. i'll write up a m50x review when I have some time.

UPDATE 9/9/14:

its been awhile since I parted ways with the k550. since then I've added the schiit magni/modi combo (desktop amp/dac), as well as a fiio e12 portable amp, and the amazing hifiman he-400 headphones. so what does this have to do with the k550 which I no longer own? well I got a chance to listen to them again for a day with my improved equipment, and I thought I'd give that perspective to potential buyers.

simply put, these headphones benefit quite a bit from a quality equipment and source setup. I stream via spotify premium (320kbps mp3 files), and plug the headphones into the magni/modi combo. the powerful magni powers these cans with authority. the k550 respond very well to the power. bass is more controlled and responsive. tighter vs louder, I'd say. these are still somewhat bass-light cans, but the magni brings out the best in the bass. mids and highs were slightly more detailed and forward. treble benefitted quite a bit too, losing some of it's strident nature with some tracks. I don't find the k550 very bright, but sometimes it would catch me off guard, which was more to do with the source than the headphones. but the magni seemed to mellow the treble just a touch, in a very good way.

overall everything just seemed tighter and more controlled with the magni/modi. the overall sound signature didn't change, it just matured. what i feel happened is i finally heard the k550 at its full potential. so if you're considering the k550 I'd strongly suggest you get a good amp at minimum to properly power them. they do NOT do that well just plugged into a phone or computer headphone jack. that's my opinion, but i'm sticking to it. they respond to power very very well. much more so than my ath m50x. those did improve as well with the magni amp, but to a much lesser degree.

my overall thoughts on the k550 remain intact. in certain situations with certain types of music they are wonderful sounding cans. but for rock/metal, I find them too clinical and boring. they're detailed, with wonderful mids. but as I said before, the flat sound curve is not to my liking. hence all my cans now have a V shaped sound curve. but I wont lie, I sure wish I could keep a set of these cans for vocals...
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 2013
With the sound and noise isolation of closed-headphones plus the soundstage and image generation of open-headphones, I can say no other closed-headphone sounded better than these. The K550 has accomplished what no other headphone (closed or open for that matter)in this generation have done previously with its design. Those 50mm drivers are no slouch either, having no significant deficiencies and sounds like a charm. These are indeed reference-class, very crisp highs (those cymbals definitely shimmer) without sounding too sibilant, the mids are not shrouded and vocals still shine with the rest of the instruments. Some might find its bass lacking not I've got no problems with it whatsoever since these are made to be reference-sounding. If you want the added bass, you could go for an external headphone amp to boost those lows. These are also really comfy and I had no problems listening with these for hours with just the right clamp. Heck, adding even another $50 to the K550 SRP and these could still be considered bang-for-buck. My only gripe is the lack of accessories - with its huge box it only comes with the unit and an adapter. I wish they could've added at least a pouch or the option for removable/replaceable cables Other than that, these are simply one of the best models AKG have produced. I could even go as far as to say these are just a bit better sounding than the K701 (subjective obviously) - considering the driving efficiency, versatility, and overall balance.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 14, 2013
I just got this about 3 days ago. As many of the reviewers have said, these are not your normal headphones. They need some getting used to.

Sound Quality *****
If you're used to a Dr.Dre / beats, this will probably disappoint you. These do ONE job and that they do really well - faithfully reproduce sound. As an example, I was able to identify the type of flute used to play a rendition of the 'William Tell overture', the sound is that awesome. The better the audio quality that you have, the better the sound that you'll get from these. The audio files I've sampled with these are anywhere from 256Kpbs to FLAC's. FLAC's sound great... 92kbps sounds ok...Further, these headphones don't need amps - which is great.

Build *****
Rock solid - these feel professional. There's not much sound leakage.

Packaging ****
Come on AKG, where's the carrying case? I'd have expected AKG to throw in a carrying case for these - while I'm able to fold them, a carrying case would be a welcome addition.

If you enjoy every little nuance a piece of music has to offer, this is for you. If you need music while working out, this is not for you.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on December 20, 2012
Verified Purchase
I dont usually write reviews for any product, but I have to say these headphones literally blew up my mind.
The precision of its sound is incredible. You'll hear everything as if you're in the studio with the artist. If you're looking for great performance, go for these. If you're looking for heavy bass and style, well buy the beats (I was a beats owners, but literally love the k550 HANDS DOWN). Hope that helps.
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