More musical than the Bose QC35 II but noise cancelling is mediocre
- Exceptional sound quality
- Noise cancelling can't match Bose or Sony
- No voice assistant button
AKG’s long history in studio headphones is well established but it’s not quite as well-publicised that the brand is today part of Samsung-owned Harman. That’s why you’ll see AKG-tuned earbuds supplied with Samsung’s top-end smartphones and it’s a relationship that has helped the firm gain a foothold in the high-tech headphone market.
This is where the firm’s latest AKG N700 NCM2 headphones sit. They’re the latest attempt by Samsung/AKG to dislodge the Bose QC35 II and the Sony WH-1000XM3 from their positions as the best noise-cancelling headphones money can buy – the segment of the market where, seemingly, the most profits are to be made.
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AKG N700NC M2 Wireless review: What you need to know
As a direct rival to those most popular of headphones, it shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone to find that the core feature set of the AKG N700 NCM2 makes familiar reading. This is a pair of primarily wireless headphones that use Bluetooth 4.2 to connect to and receive audio from your smartphone.
Like the Bose QC35 II, they’re over-the-ear models that fold away neatly and have active noise cancellation that cuts down on background noise such as aeroplane engines and train clatter. They’re battery-powered, too, and will give you 23 hours of playback with Bluetooth and noise cancellation enabled and up to 32 hours with Bluetooth off, listening via an analogue 3.5mm cable.
In the box is a 2.5mm to 3.5mm cable that allows you to do just that and this is complemented by a USB Type-C charging cable, a double-pronged airline adapter and a compact, semi-hard case to stow the headphones in after use.
AKG N700NC M2 Wireless review: Price and competition
At £269, the AKG N700NC M2 are unusually cheap for a pair of flagship wireless ANC headphones; most headphones of this ilk seem to come in at £329 or more. While that’s good to see, they’re still a touch more expensive than the Sony WH-1000XM3 and the Bose QC35 II, which have both been discounted since launch from £330 to £260.
AKG N700NC M2 Wireless review: Build, comfort and features
That’s not much of a discrepancy, however, and there’s plenty about these headphones that make them worth considering. They’re very well made headphones, for starters. They’re more robust feeling than the Bose QC35 II and their slightly more compact memory foam earpads are very comfortable, too. If you have large ears, you might want to find a pair to trial, though, because there’s less room inside the cups for your lugs to breathe.
AKG has kept the controls simple, too, with no fiddly touch-sensitive areas to worry about setting off by accident. The left earcup gives you three buttons for pause/play, volume and skip and on the right earcup is the power/pairing switch plus a button that activates the AKG’s “Talk Thru” or “Ambient Aware” functions.
You can choose which feature is assigned to the button in the accompanying smartphone app. Choose “Talk Thru” and, when you hit the button, the music is muted dramatically, and activates the headphones’ external microphones so you can carry out a conversation without having to remove the headphones. “Ambient Aware” leaves the music volume largely as it is but mixes in a little external audio so you’re not completely sealed off from the outside world.
What you don’t get with the AKG N700NCM2 is a digital assistant activation button or any kind of adjustability for the noise cancellation beyond the two ambient sound options. It is possible to create your own EQ settings through the app, however.
AKG N700NC M2 Wireless review: Noise-cancelling and sound quality
Possibly the most disappointing element of the AKG N700NCM2 is the strength of the active noise cancellation. I compared the headphones back to back with a pair of Bose QC35 II on the London underground and, while the AKGs’ noise cancellation was reasonably effective at cutting out the clatter and roar of the train on the tracks, it fell well short of the standards set by the Bose.
I didn’t have a pair of Sony WH-1000XM3 to compare with but since we concluded that these are slightly better overall than the Bose, you can safely assume that the AKG aren’t as good as those, either.
Sound quality, on the other hand, is a different matter entirely and in less extreme environments, where the noise cancellation level isn’t as critical, the N700NCM2 truly shine. Performance is superb across the audio spectrum but nowhere is these headphones’ superiority more noticeable than the bass. Many headphones struggle with reproducing the sound of a double-bass, getting all boomy or simply not injecting the audio with enough oomph. This isn’t the case with the AKGs, whose level of solidity, control and clarity is just about right.
They’re pretty flat through the mid-range, too, extending well at the top end and performing well with pretty much any musical genre I threw at them. The heavy metal strains of Ramstein’s “Deutschland” were dispatched with as much clarity and authority as the more subtle but no less complex “Lacrimosa” from Mozart’s Requiem. These are multi-talented headphones that never seem to be unsettled by anything and they’re a joy to listen to.
AKG N700NC M2 Wireless review: Verdict
There’s no doubt in my mind that if you’re interested in buying a pair of active noise-cancelling headphones and you have around £270 to invest then these AKG headphones should be firmly on your shortlist.
They don’t deliver noise-cancelling on a level with their rivals from Bose or Sony but if sound quality is your chief concern, they’re right up there with the best in the genre and they’re comfortable and extremely well-made, too. Give them a listen if you can, you may be surprised at how much you like them.