In recent years AKG has dominated the budget and mid-range headphone space. While most other headphones at these price points chase after the bass-addicts, AKG has been content to stick to what it knows best; namely headphones that offer a balanced, refined sound you’d normally find in more expensive cans.
With the AKG N60NC Wireless headphones the company appears to be stepping out of its comfort zone a little. The aluminium accented design is more flashy than AKG’s usual fare, and the noise-cancellation combined with wireless operation pushes the N60NCs to the upper end of the company’s normal price points.
But in spite of these more premium features, the headphones are still comfortably cheaper than their equivalents from Bose and Sony with the QC35 and MDR-1000x headphones respectively.
So, does this difference in price translate to much of a difference in quality? For the most part no. We had a couple of niggling control issues with the N60NC Wireless headphones, but outside of this they offer fantastic value for money – so long as you’re after a pair of on-ear, rather than over-ear, headphones.
Whereas most noise-cancelling headphones opt for an over-ear design, which means the earcups encase your ears without necessarily touching them, AKG has stuck to an on-ear design for the N60NC Wireless.
This means that the headphones are in constant contact with your ears which has an impact on how comfortable they are over long periods.
The upside of this on-ear form-factor is that the headphones are much more compact than their over-ear equivalents. The earcups themselves are little larger than your ears themselves and, combined with the folding arms, this means that the headphones can fold into a compact semi-circle and are easily stowed in the bottom of a bag.
Unfortunately the N60NC’s slimness doesn’t match their otherwise compact form-factor, leading to them looking a little disproportionately fat when sitting on your head. With time the cushions should reduce in size but, at least initially, they do stick out a fair bit.
It’s a shame because otherwise the headphones are fairly good looking. The sleek black color is circled with a subtle silver trim which adds a touch of flair, while a small AKG logo adorns each earcup.
Overall we think the company has done a good job at creating a pair of headphones that wouldn’t look out of place on a business-person’s head, without falling into the trap of producing something as boring and functional looking as the Bose QC35.
On the right ear-cup is a full assortment of levers and buttons to control volume, playback and pairing.
The first lever-button controls playback. Flick it up to skip forward a track, down to skip backward, and press it in to play and pause. Weirdly, while we found skipping backwards to be an easy process, skipping forwards required us to be a little more firm with the lever. It’s not a problem once you get used to it, but it was a little annoying at first.
More problematic is how similar the playback lever and on/off lever feel. Both are located on the rear of the right earcup, and both feel identical. Perform the motion for skipping forward on the on/off lever and you’ll immediately turn off the headphones – which is hardly ideal.
This on/off lever controls the noise-cancellation as well, meaning it doesn’t appear to be possible to use the headphones wirelessly with the noise-cancellation turned off.
Finally, round the front of the right earcup are two buttons for controlling volume.
On the left earcup you’ve got a 2.5mm jack to allow you to use a wired connection, and a micro-USB port to handle charging duties. In both cases we would have preferred AKG to use different ports (a 3.5mm jack for the wired connection and USB-C for charging) to maximise compatibility both now and in the future, but this is hardly a deal-breaker.
If you decide to use the N60NCs as wired headphones, the included cable has an additional mic and a play/pause button.
On the whole the build quality of the headphones is solid. Although AKG’s chosen materials veer towards plasticy, this has been done in a way that doesn’t feel cheap or flimsy. The headband is flexible yet reassuringly solid-feeling, and overall we didn’t feel the need to treat the headphones too delicately.
Inside, the AKG N60NC Wireless are packing AptX Bluetooth for lossless sound quality on compatible devices.
Starting with the noise-cancelling performance, the AKG N60NC Wireless are definitely in the same league as the more expensive Bose QC35 headphones.
We tried out the noise-cancellation for ourselves on a flight and found it very effectively canceled out the low rumbling sound of the plane’s engines, despite the fact that our seat’s position meant that we were practically sitting on top of them.
Like other noise-cancelling headphones, the AKG N60NC Wireless are nowhere near as good at cancelling out higher-pitched frequencies such as speech. This problem is accentuated slightly by the on-ear form-factor, which means that your ear isn’t encased in the headphone’s ear cushions.
Make no mistake, higher-pitched sounds are still made quieter by the headphones, but they’re not eliminated in quite the same way as lower rumbles. In practice we found that the sound of our music drowned them out in most cases.
Turning to audio performance we were reassured to hear that the headphones continue AKG’s excellent track-record when it comes to sound quality. Though you could never claim that these headphones are of a reference design in the same way as the much more expensive Bowers and Wilkins P9 or Beyerdynamic T1 Gen 2, that’s definitely the sound signature that AKG is shooting for.
If you like your headphones to be as bassy as possible then turn away now because the AKG N60NC Wireless have no interest in adding too much of their own flavor to your music.
Bass is still present certainly, as a cursory listen to Vibetech by Marmozets can attest to. The song’s driving drumbeat is present in spades, leading to the headphones maintaining the driving rhythm of the song, but thankfully it never overwhelms.
The N60NC’s bass instead complements the rest of the mix, and it’s a welcome change from the ‘bass at all costs’ strategy taken by most manufacturers at this price point.
Switching to a sonically dense track like Kraken by Three Trapped Tigers shows off the detail the N60NC Wireless are capable of. Each instrument’s track is clear and distinct even in busier portions of the song, and they all come through with a fine amount of richness and detailing.
Switching between wired and wireless (non-AptX Bluetooth) reveals a small amount of detail loss. Contra by LITE loses a small amount of bite and crispness in its guitars, but it wasn’t enough to make us resent using the headphones wirelessly.
Switching between wired and wireless performance was seamless. Plugging in a cable to the headphones’ 2.5mm jack causes the Bluetooth indicator light to turn from blue to green to indicate the switch, and the headphones are instantly usable in this state.
Conversely, pulling out the cable causes the headphones to instantly jump back into wireless mode, and we found they were able to re-pair with our phone in a matter of seconds.
Battery life was solid, with the headphones easily lasting multiple days on a single charge with moderate usage. Unfortunately though the headphones don’t give any indication of battery life when you turn them on, which would make it easier to keep track of remaining battery.
Our biggest issue with the AKG N60NC Wireless’s performance is their on-ear form factor. Although the imitation leather earpads are soft and malleable, the fact that they’re constantly pressed against your ear means they become uncomfortable during mid to long use sessions.
As a travel pair of headphones we can see why AKG has made this decision to keep the headphones nice and compact, but we found we needed to give our ears a break after a couple of hours of listening, which was a shame.
Still, if you have a preference for on-ear rather than over-ear, this is unlikely to bother you.
Outside of the on-ear form-factor it’s tough to find too much fault with the AKG N60NC Wireless. They have a lovely refined sound, great noise-cancelling performance and, once you get to grips with the quirks of their control scheme, they perform just as well as their much more expensive competitors.
But, depending on your preferences, the fact that they sit on rather than over your ears could prove to be annoying. We simply couldn’t use the headphones for hours on end without our ears growing uncomfortable, which was such a shame when these headphones are as listenable as they are.
Whether this ends up being a deal breaker will depend entirely on how you like to listen to your music. If you want a small, compact pair of headphones to listen to on your daily commute, then the AKG N60NC Wireless will do the job admirably, and will sound and look great in the process.
But if you want a pair of noise-cancelling headphones for longer listening sessions such as plane flights, then it might be worth opting for an over-ear pair such as the Sony MDR-1000X for the additional comfort they provide over longer periods.