Friday, 8 May 2015

AKG K553 Pro First Impressions Review



Below is a text version of the above Youtube video :)

DESIGN
The K550 design is probably quite familiar to everyone by now, so I'll only mention it briefly. Big, big earcups, super thin headband. I think it looks beautifully minimalist, but the headband has such a lack of cushioning that it doesn't end up distributing the 305g weight evenly.
The earpads are plush and make broad compact with your skin, but because of the sheer size of the earcups, your jawline just might not seal with the earpads.
The end result is that the K553 feels comfortable when you first put it on, but after a few hours you'll probably get a sore spot on the top of your head.


SOUND

I don't really remember how the K550 sounds, but my memory of the sound is probably a bit useless anyway because I suspect some of my issues with the sound may have been a result of my glasses. Now I have much thinner glasses. I’ll probably make a direct comparison with the K550 by my final review.

First of all I can tell you that for a $120 headphone, the K553 sounds good, but I’m still undecided if I like all the changes to the sound signature made with the K553.

K553 has still got an overall lean, balanced sound to it, with no mid-bass bloat and the mids and treble still retaining that dry, textured quality.

The mids aren’t as forward and grainy anymore, and there isn’t that mid-peak around 1kHz that I found really irritating, so that’s a good thing. Female vocals are still forward on this headphone compared to male vocals, and they still sound really detailed and textured without nasal or brassy, which is great.

But the high frequency treble is a bit shaved off, meaning that shimmer and kind of S notes are a little more diffuse. I actually felt like the K553 sounded muffled out of the box because of that. I don’t even know if this is something that changed from the K550 or it’s just something I’m noticing now, but it doesn’t sound as open as I remember the K550 is supposed to sound.

The two closest point of reference in terms of sound I have in my collection are the Audio Technica MSR7 and Takstar Pro 80. The MSR7 isn’t really in the same size class and it’s much more expensive, but it’s worth mentioning because it sounds sort of similar to the K553, particularly in the mids. Meanwhile the Takstar Pro 80 sounds somehwat close as well and is probably legitimate competition for the K553 for around $80. I finally received a replacement unit from LHLabs after a faulty Geek Pulse ate my old unit, and this new unit seems to have slightly better build quality and a straight cable, so it’s nice to revisit it.

Compared to the K553 both the Takstar Pro 80 and the MSR7 sounds cleaner and more detailed in the treble, because they’re more forward up there, and in particular the MSR7 is a more aggressive around the 8kHz “S” region which some people find irritating. As you might know I tend to prefer a little more in the treble, particularly in the higher frequency, shimmery 10kHz regions, which is why I like the DT770 so much.

I think the K553 could do with a little more of that shimmer up top.

As for the bass, we’re still getting that really exceptionally nice bass on the K550 where the lows are incredibly tight. Initially you may think there isn’t much bass until you realise that the K553 has plenty of sub-bass and digs down really really low, it just doesn’t have any mid-bass bloat, meaning that you’ll get that sense of visceral scale and rumble down deep but maybe not the kind of satisfying thump thump that you might find in something more fun sounding like the Shure SRH1540.

Again for comparison both the MSR7 and Takstar Pro 80 has a little more mid-bass and a little less sub-bass, meaning that they both perhaps sound a little more ‘fun’. The MSR7 is probably the ‘poppiest' sounding of the trio.

But if we’re just comparing like for like, at $120 the K553 is a good sounding headphone, though it doesn’t blow the Takstar Pro 80 out of the water. The K553 is built better and seems every part the more expensive headphone, but I think it’s a bit of a toss up as to which one sounds better, depending on your preferences. Neither sounds dramatically better in technical performance. They’re both quite neutral and balanced sounding headphones - if you want something dryer and perhaps more ruler flat, go for the K550, if you want something with just a smidge more flavour and sparkle, go the Takstar. They really are quite remarkably similar in tone.

Personally, my pick at this point for a headphone around $100 would still be the Takstar because I think it’s a better all rounder.

I think this is another sign of just how fierce the competition is getting now, and it’s a “if you can’t beat em, join em” effort from AKG - moving production to China just to be able to compete with the local chinese OEMs, which are just getting better every year.

The Massdrop K553 seems like great value but I think there’s even better bargains to be had if you are willing to look further afield.