AKG K 490 NC Review
Can they work out?
During his tenure as a Crutchfield staff writer, Marshall Chase wrote about home theater receivers, sound bars, and in-wall and in-ceiling speakers.
More from Marshall Chase
The place I most enjoy using a pair of headphones is the gym. So when I had the chance to try out the AKG K 490 NC (noise-canceling) headphones, I grabbed it. I've used lots of different headphones for the gym. Finding something that fits in my ears and doesn't require constant re-adjustment is darn near impossible. The '490 NCs are an "on-ear" style of headphones that have noise cancelation. My hope was to have a comfortable fit while still being able to enjoy the music over the sounds of the TV and machines. I was not disappointed.
Striving for fitness
I've had nearly every major in-ear headphone brand pop out of my ears or lazily slip low while I bounced up and down on the stair climber. So I was interested trying the '490s with their "on-ear" design. I was concerned that they might be uncomfortable or too heavy. I fretted needlessly.
While the '490s certainly are heavier than earbuds, I didn't find them tiring nor did they interrupt my cardio workout with slippage. The headphones have a single, cloth covered cord that went to my iPod touch®. There was no tangling and the length of the cord was perfect for sitting the player on the climber's control pad.
I tested the '490s on two different levels — noise cancellation and sound quality. First and foremost, these are noise canceling headphones. My hope was that they would eliminate the noise of the TVs, and the whine of the machines in the cardio room. These AKGs have a simple noise-canceling (NC) switch on one ear cup. Switching between noise canceling and passive mode was really easy.
I found that the '490s significantly diminished the ambient sounds of the gym. When I checked them out in other instances where the noise was more random (sneezing and coughing) they didn't block noise out as well. In both instances, the bass dropped off noticeably in the NC mode. One thing I will say about the '490s is that for on-ear style headphones, they are among the best I've tried for noise cancellation.
As for music, I thought the sound quality of these AKGs were fantastic. The music library I tested came from my Spotify® premium subscription. I used both their mobile and streaming service. The sampling rates varied between 160 and 320 kbps. Not high resolution, but not bad at all.
I listened to the Dixie Chicks perform Wide Open Spaces. This track has a lot of string instrumentation as well as solo vocal and harmony. The '490s had this tune sounding as if it were being played in a wide open space. All instruments were uncolored by the headphones. The bass was present but not prominent, again with some drop in noise-canceling mode.
For comparative purposes and to get something with a little more of a bass line, I listened to Cake Showroom of Compassion. Here we have male vocals and a bit of electronica thrown in with some sound effects and the bass guitar more up front. There was an excellent level of detail coming through this track. The bass extended a bit further of where it was with the Chicks, but didn't still take over.
Overall, clarity is what stands out on these headphones. They just don't get in the way of the music.
The little things are important
The AKG K 490 NC use active noise canceling, requiring power from a built-in battery. Charging is easy using an included cord that has USB on one end and a headphone-type plug on the other. The '490s come with an adapter for travel and a foam pouch.
The pouch has a little stretch to it. The earcups of the headphones rotate and fold in for storage. It was nice to have some flexibility built into both the headphones and the pouch, especially as I took them back and forth to the gym and to work.
The '490 headphones have me thinking that on-ear is going to be my "go-to" style for cardio at the gym. And I liked them just as well working at my desk. These are comfortable, good sounding headphones that deliver spacious sound to the music you want to hear and a decent blocking out the noise you don't. If you're looking for comfortable, noise canceling headphones that reproduce your music very well, consider the AKG K 490 NC headphones.