AKG Y500 review: Not the headphones you were looking for

AKG has a long history of manufacturing headphones, from studio-centric professional models to consumer-grade and audiophile cans, and their products have often been well reviewed. The AKG Y50 and AKG Y50BT, in particular, were classics of the genre and the new AKG Y500 Wireless follow in their footsteps.

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AKG Y500 review: What you need to know

Unsurprisingly, the AKG Y500 Wireless are similar to their predecessors: they’re Bluetooth on-ear headphones designed for commuters and travellers. There are a lot of similarities elsewhere, too: they’ve got a similar sound signature, charge in the same way and can also be used with a wired connection when the battery runs out. The biggest difference comes in the form of a redesigned exterior and longer battery life; AKG says the Y500 will give you 33 hours of battery life – 13 hours longer than its predecessors.

AKG Y500 review: Price and competition

The AKG Y500 Wireless will set you back a hefty £129. In AKG’s defence, that’s only £10 more than its predecessor, the Y50BT, and in many ways, the Y500 are superior. They have longer battery life, and look nicer, too.

Elsewhere, there are a few other on-ears to consider: the £85 Libratone Q Adapt, which have better instrument separation, and the £90 SoundMagic BT30 have a similar sound but are considerably cheaper.

However, the best value is to be found when you consider over-ear headphones, namely from Lindy. The German manufacturer sells the supremely comfortable BNX-60 at £74 and the stylish-looking BNX-100 at £110, both of which have noise-cancelling technology built in and support the higher-quality aptX codec.

READ NEXT: Lindy BNX-60 review: The budget ANC headphones just got cheaper

AKG Y500 review: Build quality and features

Weighing in at just 230g, the AKG Y500 sit lightly on your head and, when they’re not in use, you’ll hardly notice them hanging around your neck. The headband’s core is aluminium rather than steel and it’s surrounded by plastic, which also keeps the weight down. Despite this, build quality is sturdy and the headphones stow away neatly, too. The earcups not only fold inwards and but they also rotate by up to 90 degrees so you can store them flat. Even the pads are geared towards portability, and they sit on your ears rather than around them.

The on-ear design does have its limitations, however, and the biggest of these is that they don’t provide much passive noise isolation so you’ll get a small degree of leakage that might annoy your fellow commuters. They’re also not the most comfortable for long listening sessions, notably if you wear glasses like me. After only 30 minutes of use, I found they became uncomfortable, whereas the Lindy BNX-60 with their soft over-ear pads can be worn for hours on end.

The other big problem with the AKG Y500 is they don’t fit particularly securely. Make any sudden movements or start running with them on your ears and they’ll gradually slip off your head.

If they do, you’ll find the Y500 automatically pause playback, which is admittedly a neat feature – however, it’s also somewhat temperamental. At times, the headphones would mistakenly pause media when I readjusted for comfort and they would occasionally fail to pause when I took them off as well. It’s very much a hit-and-miss affair.

If you’re more of a traditionalist and prefer manual controls, though, these headphones will very much be your bag. There are physical play and pause buttons and a sprung volume slider control on the left earcup. This doubles as a skip control if you hold it in either direction.

Other nice features include impressively long 33-hour battery life and, for those rare occasions when you do run out of charge, there’s a 2.5mm auxiliary jack input and a 1.2m-long cable with a right-angled 3.5mm termination included in the box.

On the right earcup, you’ll also find a power switch, a micro-USB port for charging and an ‘ambient aware’ button, which lowers the volume of the headphones to make it easier to tune into your surroundings. This doesn’t work particularly well, however; I’d much rather have it use a microphone to mix in ambient audio rather than just reducing the volume.

Another irritation is that when you turn this mode on or off, the headphones emit an obnoxiously loud beep, and the same happens when you power on the headphones. It’s so ludicrously loud it hurts my ears.

AKG Y500 review: Sound quality

Design-wise, then, the AKG Y500 are a mixed bag. Unfortunately, they’re also not so great to listen to. To start with, they’re limited to using the lowest-quality SBC Bluetooth codec over the wireless connection, which contributes to poor instrument separation and problematic mids.

Other aspects of the Y500’s sound quality I find uninspiring include near non-existent sub-bass, rolled off treble, and recessed mids. It’s the headphone’s soundstage that’s most troubling, however. Play Geko’s ‘Hey Mama’ and you’ll struggle to differentiate the artist’s voice from the instruments in the background. By comparison, the Lindy BNX-60 and Libratone’s Q Adapt sound more airy and open.

There are some positives. There’s sublime control across mid-bass frequencies, a characteristic perfectly illustrated by the delivery of the bassline in R Kelly’s ‘Ignition’, and great upper-mid reproduction, which benefits simple vocal tracks particularly well.

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AKG Y500 review: Verdict

On the whole, the AKG Y500 are an upgrade over the Y50BTs – they last longer, are more stylish and have more features. If, for some reason, you prefer headphones that sit on your ears rather than encasing them, they’re worth considering – ultimately, they’re not terrible.

However, given the breadth of choice there is in the headphone market right now, you’d be much better off buying a different pair, namely the Lindy BNX-60. These provide not only better comfort and features but also deliver noticeably better sound quality.

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