When headphones are mentioned I immediately start thinking about Grado, Beyer and AKG. Most people only make it as far as Sennheiser, which in my opinion is a shame. Sure they do make fantastic equipment but the pricing is poor if you want a good set of what are called “monitor” or reference headphones. To the average user this may be neither here nor there however it makes a big difference to what you actually hear. Pick the wrong cans and they will colour the sound of the music by accentuating particular aspects of the sound spectrum, which if you don’t know already is bad. Sure enough some people will prefer the coloured sounds, but personally I like to hear it as the artist intended, which is usually the way it sounds the best anyway.

Having been given a $40 JB HiFi gift voucher for Christmas by a relation I thought there would be the best place to begin my search for my new headphones. They had Sennheisers on display there with a listening post, the phones (HD465 I think) I liked the look of were about $125. But even before they had touched my ears I was disgusted by their muddy sound so I tossed them back onto the shelf. I then tried on the HD555 ($200) and HD550 ($175) both of which were quite nice and a vast improvement upon the pair I tried on earlier. But I did not really want to spend that much money of a pair of headphones that could get left somewhere or get nicked because they look really nice.

The next day I hunted down an AKG agent because I really wanted to try out the K44s everybody on forums and in some magazines had been raving about. Having read a review on HiFiChoice.co.uk as was not going to buy them without trying them out as they are reportedly uncomfortable for some people. Different ears cope differently with having padding against them for long periods of time. So I went for a 40 minute drive to Drum Power in Bayswater (http://www.drumpower.com.au/) to checkout their range of AKG head phones as they seemed to be the closest agent and friendly on the phone.

They had some K44s hooked up for me to try out on a Sennheiser tower similar to the one at JB but with the studio range of Sennheiser cans. Whilst I was suitably impressed by the sound they produced they were very uncomfortable against my ears as the cup was slightly too small to fit around my ears. So it crushed the lobes and became almost painful after 10 minutes of listening. They also had the K55 and K66 in the store, however none that I could audition, looking at the cups I thought I could detect a larger size on the higher range models. So still impressed by the great bang for buck sound of the K44s ($44, rrp ~$59) I bought a pair of K55s ($55, rrp ~$70), which have been used for monitoring in the past by some studios on a budget. The K66s have a coloured sound according to Darren the very friendly and helpful bloke who helped me out at the shop so I decided that they were off the cards. He was however adamant that the K44, K55 and K66 all had the same cup size. So having decided that I could give them to my sister if they were uncomfortable I took a chance and bought the K55s unheard and without even seeing them out of the box.

After another 40 minutes I arrived home and hooked the K55s up to my PC to test them out on my large collection of music. When I put them over my head I was soon glad that I had taken a chance, if the cups are not bigger then they certainly feel it and are far more comfortable than the K44s. However one thing to note about all of the K series mentioned so far is that the cups are really quite shallow so if your ears stick out a bit then these most likely will become excruciatingly uncomfortable before very long. Now I have only been testing the new headphones for about 1.5 hours so I cannot definitively say that they will not start to hurt my ears after prolonged use but so far for the small amount they cost they are very comfortable. Like everyone else I suggest you try before you buy, but this time I was lucky enough to get away without trying out the exact model I ended up buying.

The headphones do not have looks on their side but then what does it matter when they sound really nice? Besides most people will look at them and think that they are a pair of cheepies (which you can easily argue they are) and not bother nicking them if you accidentally leave them somewhere. The build quality is of the standard you would expect for the price, plastic, but they feel durable enough and are quite flexible so will take to being put into a bag full other stuff without being snapped in two like some solid but brittle headphones. They are a closed design so they do cut out some external noise and make a minimal attempt of not disturbing the person next to you. Up until now they have not become too hot to wear but by summer that may have changed!

So what am I saying in this long winded way? If your in the market for some terrific sounding headphones but don’t have a $400 budget then I recommend the AKG K55s. Obviously there are better headphones out there, but for the money ($55) you cannot do better in my experience. If you are in the UK or USA then perhaps with some of the deals you can get (eg. Richer Sounds) then there are other similarly good headphones in the same price bracket, but in Australia I am yet to see anything. Go have a chat with Luke or Darren at Drum Power who are very accommodating and pickup some new phones at very close to wholesale price.