Compromise is fundamental to every product we test, bar perhaps those at the very top end, and that balancing act becomes only more precarious the more features are added.
But over time, those compromises for new technologies become fewer, and we now find ourselves at the point where, for premium wireless headphones, the decision between convenience over sound quality is no longer a binary choice.
This is confirmed by products such as the AKG N700NC M2, which justify their rather lofty price tag in terms of design, build and comfort but also sound quality too. Unfortunately for AKG, there is already a lot of extremely tough competition jostling for position in this area of the market, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact that this is a highly capable pair of wireless headphones.
The M2 refers to the second generation of the N700NCs, the first of which we gave four stars at the end of 2018. Indeed, they’re almost identical in their design, but for the darker colouring – something that only enhances the premium aesthetic.
We’re glad not much else has changed in terms of their build, though, because AKG had already designed a fantastically comfortable pair of headphones. The over-ear cups embrace the sides of your head, rather than clinging on for dear life, and the dual-foam cushioning of those and the headband ensures a comfortable listen – even if you use them for every minute of their claimed 23-hour battery life.
The N700NC M2s aren’t exactly pocket-friendly, but they fold up and slot nicely inside their carry case to help you avoid scratching that black finish. The carry case comes along with your headphones in the box, as does a 3.5mm cable for wired listening, a two-way adaptor and USB-C charging cable.
App integration is a major feature of wireless products these days – especially at this price – and with the AKG Headphones app, you can change some basic EQ settings, activate the Auto-off function to save battery and customise audio settings for specific genres of music.
Bluetooth version 4.2
Headphone jack 3.5mm
Battery life 23hrs
Perhaps a more useful feature is the N700NC M2s’ multi-point connectivity, which allows you to pair two devices to your headphones at once. This means you can be watching a series on your tablet and, when a phone call comes in on your phone, the AKGs will automatically switch devices so you can answer without the usual juggling.
But as well as their sonic output, almost as important with headphones such as these is their active noise-cancelling. The N700NC M2s’ is adaptive, meaning it automatically reads your surroundings and minimises noise depending on where you are and what is going on around you.
You can turn noise-cancelling off completely, which will save battery and keep your headphones going longer, or use TalkThru mode, which drops the music down so you don’t have to remove your headphones if you want to have a face-to-face conversation or hear traffic when crossing the road.
In practice, the noise-cancelling offered by these AKGs is okay, but not exactly class-leading. Train and bus hums, as well as general office chatter, are quietened but not entirely removed. In some ways, that’s fine – too much noise cancellation can be unnerving and claustrophobic, with all life sucked out of the atmosphere – but if you’re after complete silence, the N700NC M2s might leave you a tad underwhelmed, especially compared to the class-leaders in this arena, such as the Sony WH-1000XM3, Sennheiser Momentum Wireless and the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700.
You shouldn’t feel underwhelmed by the overall sound, though. AKG has been richly rewarded for its clean, detailed and musical performances in recent years, and there’s much here that to remind us of past offerings.
Give the N700NC M2s something of decent resolution to get their teeth stuck into and they offer brilliant insight. The tonal balance of these over-ears is largely unflappable, meaning you can enjoy the rich textures AKG has been able to convey from top to bottom. They were challenged during our testing only by a few warbling notes deep in the bass, but the fact these were audible at all is testament to their low-end reach.
Instruments are well organised too, with plenty of space for each to perform, and their introductions and pauses are delivered with competent timing. That isn’t to say the presentation is entirely analytical, however: there is enough in the way of large and small-scale dynamics to make this an entertaining listen.
But this is an area of the market with a lot of talented competition, including the new B&W PX7s (£349), Sennheiser’s Momentum Wirelesses (£349) and our Award-winners, the Sony WH-1000XM3s (£269). These AKGs aren’t the only headphones that will suffer a little from being compared to the Sony cans in particular.
Certainly, the two are comparable in terms of clarity and detail – these AKGs probably even win the battles on these grounds – but Sony has found a way of knitting together various musical elements into a cohesive whole that cannot be beaten.
The Sony’s combination of sure-footed rhythms, effusive dynamics and librarian-like organisation allows us to settle and simply enjoy the music we put on. And the fact that the WH-1000XM3s' price has dropped to under £270 cannot be ignored.
For their comfort, useful features and a clear and detailed, hi-fi-like performance, these AKGs are a highly recommendable pair of over-ear headphones and should be high on the list of anyone shopping for premium wireless cans. Their problem is simply the quality of the competition at the money.
- Sound 4
- Comfort 5
- Build 5
Best noise-cancelling headphones
Read our Sony WH-1000XM3 review
Read our Sennheiser Momentum Wireless review
Read our B&W PX7 review