The best on-ear headphones provide a nice middle ground – more immersive than in-ears, but a lot more portable than over-ears. As such, for many they're the sweet spot in headphone design.
AKG makes some of the best on-ear headphones around the more modest price brackets. Both the Y50 and Y500 Wireless are a few years old now, but they're both still superb headphones. And their prices have come down since they launched. Considering they weren't too pricey to begin with, that means they can now be picked up for very little money indeed.
But which is right for you? We've put them side by side so you can see how they differ, and decide which – if either – you should go for.
AKG Y50 vs AKG Y500 Wireless: price
Both the Y50 and Y500 are towards the more affordable end of the on-ear market. And thanks to their age, their prices have come down even lower.
The Y50s launched at £90, but can now be picked up for as little as £70 (they're a little harder to come by nowadays, but some retailers still have stock). Considering they launched in 2015, that's not a huge discount, you might think. But given they're What Hi-Fi? Award winners five years on the trot, we would say that price is quite a bargain.
The Y500 Wireless are a little newer, and a little pricier. They launched in 2018 at £129, but can be picked up for £85. Which is an absolute steal.
**Winner** AKG Y50
AKG Y50 vs AKG Y500 Wireless: features
It's worth noting from the outset that these headphones differ in their feature sets. The Y500s are wireless, so you have to take into account battery life when considering a purchase. Thankfully, the battery life is very health indeed, standing at 33 hours. For most people, that's enough for a week's listening. The battery goes from zero to full in 2.5 hours, and they come with a cable too, so you don't have to rely on the internal battery.
Connect over Bluetooth, and a small LED comes on to indicate you're hooked up wirelessly. The cable has an inline remote too, for controlling your tunes. Or you can use the ear cup controls – one button plays and pauses music (double-tapping it summons your smartphone’s voice assistant), and there's a neat volume switch. The controls are responsive, and it takes mere seconds to get used to them.
The other earcup houses a button for AKG’s ‘Ambient Aware’ feature, which makes you aware of your surroundings while keeping your headphones on, so you don’t get run over by traffic or miss that train announcement. It works effectively, with music subdued and outside noise seeping in naturally.
The Y500s automatically pause music when you take them off. Put them back on, and music starts playing again. It’s a neat feature when it works, but we find it a bit hit and miss.
The Y50s are a more pared back affair. They're cabled only, not wireless, with an inline remote for controlling your tunes and conducting handsfree calls. And that's about it in terms of features.
**Winner** AKG Y500 Wireless
AKG Y50 vs AKG Y500 Wireless: design and fit
Both headphones might be made by the same company, but you wouldn't know it just from looking at them: they couldn't look more different.
The Y50s have a bold, brash design – that large-lettered branding is designed to appeal to the youth market. But we like it. And unlike some cheap models, it's not a case of style over substance. These are exceptionally well made headphones.
Their aluminium ear cups – which house 40mm drivers – have a smooth, glossy feel and feature fine cosmetic detail. Portability isn’t an issue thanks to a neatly designed mechanism that lets them fold flat and collapse inwards for easy storage. Despite the stainless-steel headband being wafer-thin, it’s very durable, and there's ample cushioning underneath for your head. The leather earpads sit firmly on the ears, though they do tend to warm up after an hour or so.
The Y500s look a lot more premium, thanks to their muted colour schemes. That shouty branding is gone as well: the AKG logo is much smaller and subtler, while the design has got a bit smarter. The mix of aluminium and plastic leave the Y500s feeling sturdy yet lightweight, and the polished metal edges around the earcups give the cans a touch of class.
The earcups themselves are soft, but clamp down on your ears a bit too tightly for our liking, which is worth bearing in mind if you wear glasses. You can also fold up the headphones flat, bundling them up small enough to fit into your bag or a large pocket.
**Winner** AKG Y500 Wireless
AKG Y50 vs AKG Y500 Wireless: sound quality
The Y50s might be budget headphones, but sonically they punch well above their weight. In fact, they sound as chirpy as they look, with rhythmic, punchy expression being their forte.
They're balanced and insightful, bass throbs along quite happily, and they're capable of conveying the full scale and power of a big orchestral number. They pick up on finer details others might miss, though they are a bit on the quiet side. Be warned: turning up your device's volume will drain its battery quicker than normal.
The Y500s have an altogether more refined and grown up sound. There’s plenty of detail, and every bit of it is composed and clear.
Theirs is a bold, solid delivery, complete with a pleasingly spacious presentation. There’s ample heft and punch to the low end, while edges of notes are crisply laid out. Unlike the Y50s, the Y500s go comfortably loud, too – they never sound rowdy or unruly even when pushed to high volumes. If you want headphones that you can just put on, listen to and enjoy with minimum fuss, these are ideal.
AKG has opted for a more composed and polished presentation that sacrifices a touch of its previous dramatic and energetic flair, but that doesn’t mean these cans aren’t an exciting, involving proposition.
**Winner** AKG Y500 Wireless
AKG Y50 vs AKG Y500 Wireless: verdict
In the end, this is a bit of a one-sided fight. The Y500s are newer, more sophisticated and sound better. And they're only marginally more expensive than the Y50s. We would go for them every time. But if your budget is strictly limited, there's still a lot to like about the Y50s. Grab them while you still can!