We’re always excited to welcome a new pair of Y-series AKG headphones into the office – and not only because it gives us an excuse for some terrible ‘why?’ and ‘why not?’ puns.
AKG Y-series headphones are normally there-or-thereabouts when it comes to the all-important performance-per-pound ratio. You only have to look at the AKG Y400 to see what we mean – compact, affordable and so impressive in performance terms that we gave them an Award this year.
Now it’s the turn of the Y600NC – bigger, more expensive and with a reputation to uphold. Can they do the Y-series proud?
For once, here’s a pair of wireless noise-cancelling over-ear headphones that don’t appear to have been designed simply to look as much like a pair of WH-1000XM4 as it’s possible to without attracting the attention of Sony’s lawyers. Instead, the Y600NC actually look quite distinctive.
Their earcups, for instance, are large and almost perfectly circular, and the point where they meet their headband is remarkably brief. The memory-foam-under-synthetic-leather earpads are big, comfortable and stay decently cool even if you’ve had them on your ears for hours. Even the headband padding, which looks a little scant on first acquaintance, proves entirely acceptable as far as comfort is concerned.
An all-in weight of 322g is about par for the wireless over-ear course, and there’s nothing burdensome about the Y600NC when it comes to longer listening sessions. There’s plenty of adjustment in the headband, so even those blessed with bigger or wider heads than the average should have no trouble getting comfy inside the AKGs.
In terms of pure build quality, the Y600NC are constructed with obvious skill and care, and feel ready to last for the long haul. Nothing creaks or squeaks, there are no groans from the frame, and when you fold them flat they don’t feel like the effort is going to loosen the way they feel any time soon.
Frequency response 10Hz – 24kHz
Bluetooth version 5.0
Battery life 25 hours (BT & NC on)
They fold decently small, incidentally, and while the carry pouch isn’t exactly substantial, it will at least help prevent the nice smooth finish from getting scratched.
The earcups house 40mm full-range dynamic drivers – but, as is usual with wireless over-ear models, they have additional responsibilities too. The right-hand earcup, for instance, has a switch handling ‘power on/off/Bluetooth pairing’, a USB-C socket for charging, and lastly a ‘smart ambient’ button, the function of which can be assigned in AKG’s neat control app.
‘Smart ambient’ can be defined as either ‘talk thru’ (which boosts external sound and reduces playback volume) or ‘ambient aware’ (which just boosts ambient sound). The app also allows you to fiddle with EQ levels and save a few of your favourite settings. It’s handy for checking for software updates, too. That’s about it as far as ‘control’ goes, though. For instance, it’s not possible to finesse the Y600NC level of noise-cancelling – it’s on, all the time, whether you like it or not.
Over on the left earcup, meanwhile, is a slide/push switch dealing with ‘play/pause’ and ‘skip forwards/backwards’ functions, as well as a 3.5mm input for the provided cable (with in-line remote) should the worst happen in terms of battery life. The AKGs are good for an average 25 hours of wireless playback from a single charge or 35 hours when hard-wired. Handily, a ten-minute charging burst will hold you for four hours.
The entire surface of the left earcup rotates to adjust the volume level. Annoyingly, though, it’s not a question of ‘twist and hold’ to ramp up the volume, but rather repeated ‘twist and release’ to knock it up one level at a time. We’re all for a bit of hands-on control, but this is either a bit much or not enough (depending on how you look at it).
We’re aware that a lot of the descriptive terms we’re about to deploy here, such as ‘competent’, ‘easy-going’ and ‘listenable’, fall into the category of faint praise. That’s a pity because in many ways the AKG Y600NC are eminently praise-worthy – but these are the terms that apply, nevertheless.
We play a hi-res file of Thom Yorke’s I Am A Very Rude Person over Bluetooth 5.0 and there’s no arguing with the refinement of the Y600NC's sound. It’s easy-going, but the smoothness of the midrange and treble response goes a long way towards delivering a likeable overall sonic signature. The midrange is detailed enough to allow Yorke’s muttering proper expression and, at the top end, the AKGs summon almost enough attack to sound decisive.
The soundfield they generate is respectably wide and properly defined, giving every competing element of a recording more than enough space to do its thing without impacting on any other. At the same time, the Y600NC integrate these individual aspects together into a respectably coherent whole.
However, as far as broad tonality is concerned, some aspects of the AKGs’ low-frequency reproduction are problematic. The Y600NC aren’t short of bass weight or extension, but they’re rather monotonal and short of detail in this region – and that’s the case no matter how much we fiddle with the app-based EQ settings. Low-end response is rather heavy-handed and unsubtle, and doesn’t share a great deal in common with the frequency information above it. As a consequence, the lack of bass articulacy can leave the bottom end sounding detached.
There’s also a slight shortage of dynamic heft here, which in its own way contributes to the easy-listening nature of the AKGs. A listen to the Montreal Symphony Orchestra having at Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre is refined and enjoyable, but it lacks the necessary bite and agility to really bring the piece to life.
The always-on active noise-cancelling falls into the ‘good-not-great’ category, too. Outside noise is diminished but not, strictly speaking, cancelled, and because there’s no way to adjust it, let alone turn it off, it’s a ‘one size fits all’ solution. And generally ‘one size fits all’ doesn’t really fit anyone all that well.
If you’re after some attack and positivity from your wireless noise-cancelling headphones, you’ve almost certainly stopped reading already. But if you value a smooth ride, few sonic surprises and a listenable balance, the Y600NC do enough to warrant being on your radar. Just as long as ‘refinement’ beats 'excitement’ in your book.
- Sound 4
- Comfort 4
- Build 5
Read our guide to the best wireless noise-cancelling headphones
Read our Sony WH-1000XM4 review
Read our AKG Y400 review