We’re used to heaping praise on AKG headphones. Given that the company has two successive Product of the Year gongs for its sub–£100 headphones, we have high expectations for the Y40s, which come in black, blue or yellow.
These portables are just one step down from our current Award-winners – the superb AKG Y50s (£80). Surely they are a shoo-in for a five-star accolade? Well, not quite.
They’re not as balanced as we’d expect, for one. The top end is given hardly any prominence, while bass performance sounds rather overcooked. The unbalanced presentation is surprising to hear. We’re used to such a winningly controlled, clear and even-toned performance from AKG.
Play Aerosmith’s Crazy, and Steven Tyler’s voice strains and fizzes out before he reaches his trademark wailing peaks. The Y40s’ treble is rolled off to such an extent that we miss out on the finer details of guitar-string twangs and soaring orchestra highs. It lacks sparkle.
Bass performance, while not lacking in enthusiasm or richness, is on the tubby side. Coupled with the closed-in stage of the Y40s, there’s an indistinct quality to the sound that’s hard to shake off, even after a few days’ running in.
Next to more balanced and delightfully insightful rivals such as the Beyerdynamic DTX 501 p, the Y40s sound like they’re holding back. But we can hear hints of just how good they could be. The punchy, snappy rhythm that AKG delivers so well is intact.
We’re caught up in the build-up to John Williams’ Theme from Jurassic Park even if the Y40s don’t leave much room for the strings and horns to hit the high notes. The stop and start of notes are handled with taut control, and there’s plenty of detail on board. The agile presentation keeps our toes tapping, too.
The foldable, swivelling earcups make these ’phones portable and compact enough to stash in a handbag or even large coat pockets, and the sturdy construction feels durable and of a high quality – it’s a great design.
We find the dinky earcups a little too small, though. Larger cups (with softer, plusher cushioning) would cover our ears more comfortably, thereby offering a greater degree of immersion. On the plus side, they grip snugly and securely enough.
You only have to look to the Award-winning AKG Y50s to find a more comfortable fit and far more engaging, dynamic and stunningly subtle performance.
Which makes the Y40s’ unbalanced presentation all the more puzzling. The punchy, agile rhythms are worth a listen, but the Y50’s better, more engaging option is only a tenner away.