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Two Pairs of Headphones Enter

I like to listen to music, I like to listen to podcasts whenever I have the opportunity. I’m more often than not in an environment that will find it challenging to tolerate my personal taste in audio recordings of both kinds in the long run.

The obvious solution to this problem is a decent pair of headphones that provide good sound quality, comfort, durability, and fold up for transport.

Your mileage may vary greatly on any of these criteria for any given headphone model and it can be tough to find the optimal solution for the personal taste.

The search may involve iterations, even dead ends. Like with many other devices, it may be necessary to (more or less happily) submit into using a specific model for a given amount of time, if only to learn enough about one’s requirements in the hope that it will be possible to find a better solution come time and opportunity.

In this spirit, I have recently replaced my Sony MDR-1 RB by a pair of AKG K545 headphones. While my memory of the Sony is fresh and my experience with the AKG ramps up I figure I should write down the differences between the two devices according to my personal perception1:

Cable

The cable of the K545 is thinner than the cable that ships with the MDR1. I have read several complaints from reviewers on Amazon that claim a thinner cable means less quality.

So far, I cannot confirm this conclusion. On the contrary, the thinner cable works much better for me because it has less weight such that it doesn’t sink into the gap between my chest and my jacket and pulls at the headphone with every movement of my head.

Sound

The K545 sounds better. By a lot. The sound seems more detailed over the entire band, the MDR1 sounds “muffled” in comparison. The AKG’s bass sounds punchy in comparison, but overall I think it is just that the Sony is just too weak on the bass. But again, it is not just that.

Strangely, the only aspect where, according to my ears, the Sony is nearly on par with the AKG is spoken audio (read podcasts).

Build Quality

AKG wins. Metal vs. plastic, it’s that easy. And I’m not bothered in general with the Sony’s plastic build, it is that kind of plastic that audibly creaks with every movement of the head.

I’m well aware that I’m comparing a two year old MDR1 to a new K545, which may not entirely be fair. However, I’m pretty sure that the creaking was present from the beginning and only got worse over time.

There is no such issue with the AKG.

Neck Dropping

This is way easier with the MDR1 thanks to the less sturdy build and the shape of the earcups. The K545 drops less elegant, and this is in part the fault of the round earcups and the rest of the blame goes to the headband (which is wider than the headband of the MDR1).

Wind

Walking in strong wind with headphones on can be unpleasant because wind generates noise. However, the K545 is way less susceptible to wind than the MDR1.

The latter sometimes literally howls in the wind, thanks(?) to a small hole at the top of each earcup that, when exposed to wind, maybe the source of the howling noise.

Comfort

That’s a close call between the two models. The Sony is a bit more comfortable to wear (in terms of pressure on the ears) over a longer amount of time. On the other hand, the AKG isn’t uncomfortable by any means.

It fits tight enough to provide a good sealing against the environment but the pressure on the ears is not too hard.

I had to readjust the Sony every single time I put it on. That is, as soon as you remove the Sony from your head (and as the immediate result of that) the adjustment is gone. In contrast to that, I have adjusted the AKG to my head dimensions once right after I unboxed it, and I never had to change the adjustment since then.

The lack of higher temperatures kept me from gaining any experience with the AKG. Let’s see how the AKG makes it through the summer. I’m confident because the AKG’s earcups are made from leather and that should, at least in theory, work better than the leather substitute on the MDR.

Transport

There is not much difference between the two models. The folding space occupied by the AKG is definitely in the near range of what the Sony requires. I should know because I’m using the bag that shipped with the Sony for transporting the AKG now2.

None of them folds to a tiny package that fits into your jacket pocket, but obviously none of them has been designed for this purpose. Still, I usually have enough space in my backpack to keep my headphones and therefore the folding space is not a big issue for me.

Conclusion

Initially, I was very hesitant to even try to replace my sort of trusty pair of headphones with a new candidate. Even though3 I have done a ton of research, you can never be sure how the purchase turns out.

There’s always the risk that some detail spoils the fun to the point of regret. And as much as I love to wear headphones, the process of shopping for them is nothing that I’d like to repeat on a monthly basis.

Despite my doubts, the purchase turned out the right thing to do. The longer I’m using the AKG the happier I am with my decision. And so, the pair that’s eventually leaving the arena is the one with the letters AKG printed in bold letters on the headband.

  1. The order of topics is arbitrary and does not represent any personal priority

  2. The Sony’s transport bag isn’t great, but unfortunately the AKG ships without any transport container of any kind. So I’m using the Sony bag on the basis that anything is better than nothing.

  3. Or, maybe, because of it.

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