REVIEW: AKG K545
Things you should know before we begin: I've been a user of warmer headphones all my life, so use that for a reference point of bias. I will also be using the HD25 as my main point of comparison as they are in similar price ranges now and it was my previous gold standard for portable audio. I also tend to listen at slightly above-average volumes. In addition, I am running these unamped out of my iPhone 5S; this being marketed as a portable headphone, and I will treat it as such. That being said, keep both in mind while taking into account what I've got to say. Enjoy!
Pros: Great musicality and extension, modern aesthetics, incredible sound, imaging and detail, build quality
Cons: Fit is tricky to pull off at times, appreciates higher volumes
Packaging/Accessories (6/10): They come in a very modest and minimalistic box, but they do make the headphones look great and presentable. The accessories supplied include a stereo jack adapter, a cable with remote for iOS, and a cable with remote for Android - both are detachable as you'd expect and interchangable. Nothing very special here, but the two cables are great. In case one breaks, you can use the other one (albeit without the remote function) while you get another, which is nice to know. I would have liked a carrying pouch, or maybe an extra set of earpads, but you can only ask for so much.
Design (9.5/10): It looks absolutely beautiful, in every color offered. I personally went for the black with turquoise plates, and I'm going to be completely honest here in saying it was one of the reasons I showed interest in this set. In my opinion, of a guy who creates and loves hypermodern looks and design, these are some of my favorite looking headphones in the world. As for functionality, the cable is very manageable, the headband is comfortable, but the earpads can sometimes be picky with fit and making a seal. I've only experienced it once or twice and I can't surely say it has any bearing on the SQ. Isolation also gets a 9/10, it is very usable in noisy environments at average volumes. In addition, it has rotating cups which make for great portability.
Comfort (8/10): This rating here is mainly for the fit, as opposed to the comfort. In some situations after long listening sessions while commuting, I've found it to hurt a little bit with my glasses on, which also hinders the seal ever so slightly, which may pose a problem for some, but this problem is very present in a lot of circumaural headphones and not exclusive to the K545. The padding under the metal headband strip feels firm, yet softens up when you place it on your head. The pleather earpads feel incredible, I would take them any day over even the velour of the DT770 and HD25, and the M50's pleather by a mile. As I write this review, I've been wearing it quite literally all day without my glasses on and I can't feel the slightest bit of discomfort.
Build Quality (9.5/10): It looks like a tank and feels like a tank when I wear them. The headband, earcup plates, and hinges are metal, and it uses matte scratch-resistant plastic everywhere else. The headband is made of flexible (sexy brushed-metal) aluminum with absolutely no fear of breakage as I mess around with it. The cable as mentioned is detachable, so in case something happens, your headphones will be fine. Both ends of the cable have metal-enclosed connectors and great-feeling strain relief. They're not the rugged and invincible HD25, but they will hold up for a long, long, long time.
The K545 is a very detailed set of headphones, and easily surpass my HD25 in terms of detail and imaging. By extension, that makes it a very revealing set, and you will notice a big difference in poor and lossy recordings and good ones. The overall presentation of the sound in the K545 is somewhat balanced in terms of sound signature, but with a slight un-AKGlike shift towards the lower end, and the mids and lower end seem to be the emphasis of the set. Soundstage is great, especially for a closed-back set with such good isolation. Certain tracks and live recordings really shine with the K545, moreso than my HD25 and my M50. Instrument separation is incredible, a huge noticeable step up from both aforementioned sets. Onto the specifics:
Treble (8/10): The highs on the K545 are pretty damn good, but some songs with higher pitches ("Set Yourself Free" by Tiësto, for example) exhibited a slight treble roll-off noticeable in the into and riffs which wasn't shown in the HD25, as the HD25's bright sparkle covered it. Thankfully for most songs, it isn't very present and so far has only shown itself in those songs that rely heavily on sharp trebles. In addition, the treble that isn't rolled off sounds very natural and well-bodied and has no problem with separation and faster songs. As long as songs don't cut into the high sharp trebles characteristic of the aforementioned song's intro, the treble, while not ideally extended like the HD25, is very well done and sounds amazing with just enough sparkle and transparency.
Mids (10/10): Your typical AKG house sound manifests once more in the K545, and the mids are by far the most wonderful part of the headphones. They're rich, full-bodied, spacious, and sound extremely lifelike and natural and are well-accentuated by a little treble sparkle and the presence of the bass of the set, which I'll write about in a moment. Voices sound very alive and their richness and fullness eclipses my HD25 by far. Suzuki Konomi's "This Game" and Nano's "Nevereverland" really highlight the realism in the mids the K545 brings to life. The heavy guitars and powerful drums are portrayed just as such; deeper vocals sound so rich, full and intimate, the one thing that I'd never heard from the HD25. One of my favorite singers, Wotamin, sounds so much more incredible and intimate than I'd ever realized; I don't feel I can go back to her songs without these headphones. Fall Out Boy's lower guitar and thicker drum emphasis in "Miss Missing You" are so impactful and real, it would be hard to not appreciate it. I just really can't say much else, aside from saying they're the best I've heard so far.
Bass (9/10): Another highlight of this set, the bass on the K545 is very well done to suit the mid-forward signature that AKG so loves. When they marketed the K545, they emphasized the improvement of bass quality and portability over its predecessor, the K550, and they're right on the money. The K545 has very toned, high-quality bass all-around, but the focus of the presentation seems to ride along the sub-bass. It's very tight and controlled, but punchy and impactful when a song calls for it; Macklemore's "Can't Hold Us" and Yanagi Nagi's "Tokohana / トコハナ" as well as various movie scores have highlighted and shown me bass I've never heard in these songs before, by any headphone I own, including my bassy Shure SE215. It extends very, very low, especially in the aforementioned sub-bass region and hits considerably hard without intruding, and has a pretty fast decay. It will rumble when it needs to, and won't when it doesn't. Easily topples the HD25 and blows the M50 out of the water by a mile in terms of bass extension. Luckily, since all of the emphasis is placed in the lower bass, the upper bass is not terribly emphasized, making it not bleed into the midrange at all, but instead creates a nice harmony and balance between the two which I liked from the HD25. Overall, very pleased with the bass presentation in the K545.
As a long-time superfan of the HD25 and trying time and time again to surpass or match its quality at its price range. I've tried the Sennheiser Momentum, found it much too warm, even coming off the SE215. V-Moda's M100 didn't have the lifelike mids I was craving. But with AKG's new K545, I've finally found a set to do just that. Is the K545 a better headphone than the HD25? Hard to say, but it excels in areas where the HD25 doesn't, and while the HD25 is an amazing set in itself, I feel the K545 is at its level in quality and simply appeals to a different audience with a different set of strengths and weaknesses. At the sub-$200 price point, I can easily say with confidence that this set will be one of the big names, especially given its ease to drive (reminder that this review was written based off the sound from an unamped iPhone), portability, design, and overall very pleasing sound quality. It's one of the best packages you can get below $200 - it's got everything you could possibly want in a set of headphones. It looks amazing, sounds amazing, and feels amazing. Give this headphone a try; it's got something for everyone and I'm sure it won't disappoint you, especially at its price range.