Friday, December 3, 2010

AKG K390 NC Active Noise Cancelling IEM Review

Another great gift idea is a nice pair of headphones. The AKG K390 NC is perfect for traveling. Not only are they extremely portable due to them being IEM’s, they are active noise canceling. This makes them perfect for the traveler who wants great sound.

The AKG has some great features. It is also compatible with the iPhone, and several of the Blackberry models. There is an in-line hands free microphone with a call control button. While it includes Active Noise Cancellation, passive use is also available. A mute button is also included. The jack is gold plated and has a 99.9% oxygen free cable. They also include a nice 2 year warranty. Frequency Response is listed as 12Hz-24 kHz. And the small in-line box for the Active Noise Canceling takes a single AAA battery.

The packaging was nice, as expected for a product at the $200 price point. Opening the box revealed a nice leather case, the small Active Noise Canceling box, and an airline adapter. I was impressed with the leather carrying case. Unzipping it revealed three internal mesh pockets. There was one on the right hand side that held the warranty card and instructions, and two on the left, one of which held the cables and additional tips. The cable attaches to the Active Noise Canceling box, and one is standard 3.5 mm, and the other for the iPhone. Two additional sets of ear tips were included, which seem a tad low. I was expecting to see 3 to 4 additional sizes. I was also surprised to see no cleaning tool. Construction quality appeared very good.

Turning first to Tommy Smith’s: Blue Smith album, I went to the track titled Rain Dance. The sax was very smooth, with excellent pitch definition. Imaging was very good. There was also excellent definition in the drums.

Since this is for the Christmas season, I next turned to Pat a Pan from Mannheim Steamroller’s: Christmas in the Aire album. This is about as good as I have heard this album. There is a lot of air in the flute. The several different percussion instruments were extremely crisp and clean sounding. I noticed resolution in the strings not previously heard before. As with most of Mannheim Steamroller’s music, there are a lot of instruments at play, and they all come individually heard and sounded wonderful!

Lastly, I wanted to test the bass response. The first track I turned to was PCD: Don’t cha. The AKG K390 NC threw a wide soundstage. Again, the sound was clean with lots of resolution. Vocals sounded natural. And when the bass kicked in, there was plenty of extension, and did so with authority. To test high output deep bass I turned to my old school trusty Techmaster P.E.B.: Bass Computer album. The track I turned to was Activate, followed by Time to Jam. The bass was deep, loud, and clean.

Now it is time to test the Active Noise Cancelling feature. I was glad to hear, or not hear, the performance. They did a great job in removing the low engine rumble. Keep in mind that Active Noise Cancelling is designed to cancel out the low engine rumble of jet, train, or bus engines. They will not remove all of the external noise. Thanks to this feature in the AKG K390 NC, traveling can now be less fatiguing. AKG does not list a percentage reduction for the noise cancelling. Other manufacturers have claimed around 85% reduction. The AKG K390 NC performed about on par with what appeared to be around 85%. The mute button also worked well, and there was an On/Off switch for passive use.

I tend to be a tad skeptical when reviewing headphones that also feature active noise canceling. A large portion of the cost goes into the noise canceling part of the product. So, these $200 MSRP headphones would not sound like $200 headphones. When compared to just standard headphones, I would probably expect them to compare more to those in the $100 price range. That is to say, I would expect that on a $200 pair like these, that $100 would have gone into the headphones and $100 into the active noise cancelling feature. I was pleasantly surprised that the AKG K390 NC is bucking this trend. The headphone performance when doing my critical listening performed better then expected! Kudos to AKG. They would compare to headphones closer to the $200 range.

The AKG K390 NC is a product that exceeded my expectations. They performed well on all fronts. And they did better than I expected. Based on that performance, we are happy to award them our Highly Recommended Award. Congratulation! At the $200 MSRP they are a bargain. For more information and complete specs, check out their website at: