K518LE On-Ear Headphones – Review


K518LE On-Ear Headphones
Company: AKG

Price: $140

Amazon purchase

There is nothing wrong with a set of $140 headphones that a $250 set won’t cure. If your budget is $140, not $250, and you need on-ear headphones to be compact, folding, rich in bass, and strong in midrange, the “Limited Edition” K518LE series from AKG may satisfy your requirements.

The official description for this model is: “Closed-back earphones with isolating ear cups that attenuate ambient noise, keeping even quiet passages clearly audible.” Try saying that a hundred times in rapid succession! It is accurate, to be fair.

What you get for $140 is attractive, stylish, well-built headphones in your choice of color accents: blue, fuscia, green, orange, red, white, or yellow. See photo below for the red version being evaluated.

Its folding, swiveling, padded ear cups are nicely engineered. The “R” and “L” to designate right and left ears are not easily located, which is ridiculous. Once you know where to look, you will remember which is which. Each earpiece slides out up to one extra inch, demarcated in ten increments, but if you have a large head, big hat, or a mountain of hair, the overall fit will be more snug than comfortable. The U-shaped headpiece is internally sprung, but not padded on its underside.

The rubbery cable is only three feet long, which is about three feet too short. Included accessories are a pull-string tote case and a 1/4 inch (6.3 mm) stereo plug adapter. AKG provides a two-year warranty.

Sound isolation is very good. Audio delivery is robust. Bass response is substantial. Midrange “punch” presence is well-focused. High-end is lacking, but these are not audiophile headphones. They are portable, DJ-style, geared to situations where flutes and piccolos are less in evidence than are rappers and pop artists.

If you don’t already know how to alter the Equalizer settings in iTunes, do yourself a favor and learn today: Window -> Equalizer. The best presets for optimum playback using K518LE are Dance, Piano, and Spoken Word. You’ll get much better high-end presence by customizing your Equalizer to something resembling the screen shot below, when using iTunes.

On a typical stereo receiver, keep the bass EQ at your standard “zero” setting, and boost the treble halfway between “zero” and maximum. On an iPod or other portable player, first try the three presets recommended in the paragraph above.

Careful equalizer tweaking can approximate the immersive, transparent, full-spectrum experience that arrives out of the box with more expensive headphones and earphones. In-ear phones in the $150-200 range sound roughly the same as these AKG on-ear ‘phones, but premium in-ear headphones in the $250-400 range vastly surpass K518LE.

For $140, these headphones are good value, well-constructed, attractive, and compact, with powerful bass/midrange audio presence. AKG is a top-tier European company, and MyMac welcomes them to the North American Harman International family of personal and professional products.

MyMac rating: 4 out of 5

Bonus! I wore K518LE On-Ear Headphones during a two-hour walk across and back the cold, windy Golden Gate Bridge. My ears remained warm and protected from wind gusts. Audio output was surprisingly thin, probably due to the relentless white noise interference of of a thousand cars roaring past, but the overall experience was positive. Sound isolation was quite good.

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