AKG has an outstanding reputation for high-quality studio headphones. The K553 MKII gathered a bunch of praise from some reviewers, so I was eager to see how it stood up against the competition at this price point. The results, however, were a little underwhelming.
AKG K553 MKII
The AKG K553 MKII certainly gets some things right. But a few issues hold it back from earning my instant recommendation. The top-level highlights are below but read on for a more detailed breakdown.
The AKG K553 MKII is relatively affordable when compared to other closed back headphones. But there is still a lot of competition at this price point, so it still has much to prove. Let’s dive into the details.
Professionals demand and require supreme performance from their headphones. Even from a casual listening perspective, you want the best possible sound quality. So how does the AKG K553 MKII fair in this area? To be honest, it is a bit hit-and-miss, but much of that will depend on what you need from your cans.
Let’s start with the least impressive element of the sound signature of the K553 MKII. The bass response is noticeably anemic. I don’t have high expectations from a neutral pair of headphones for studio use. Precision and detail are paramount, but even then, I expect to be able to feel the depth and volume in bass regions to make informed mixing decisions.
The K553 MKII is lifeless and underwhelming in this area and can lead to disappointment. If you don’t work with bass-heavy genres, this won’t be a huge concern, but I would suggest exploring alternatives if you are a bass-lover.
The K553 MKII has a wide soundstage but weak bass.
The mid-range, on the other hand, is superb. Wonderfully detailed and full of vibrancy and character. The delivery here is also accurate and flat, helping to bring out details in the source material that other headphones can’t.
The top end leans bright, as is often the case with AKG headphones. Your tolerance of high frequencies will play a role in your enjoyment of these. For some, it will be exceptionally detailed and clear, while others will find it sharp and brittle.
One area that the AKG K553 MKII shines is in its spacious soundstage. These are remarkably open-sounding for a pair of closed-back cans. Imaging is refined and accurate, with a sense of depth and room. An impressive achievement for closed-back headphones that can often sound claustrophobic compared to open-back alternatives.
For the most part, the AKG K553 MKII studio headphones offer decent sound quality. Some wrinkles are present, and I would not recommend these for casual listening. Even from a mixing and mastering perspective, there are better choices, even within the AKG lineup.
That doesn’t mean these headphones can’t find a home, and I could see these working well as a tracking and monitoring set of cans. They also are a viable option for recording sessions, especially for speech or vocals.
Long studio sessions can be fatiguing, so a comfortable pair of headphones is critical to keeping you focused. Much like in the sound signature department, the performance of the AKG K553 MKII in this area is a mixed bag.
The clamping force is relatively tight, which I don’t mind. It’s not a vice-like grip but form enough to ensure stability. This tight fit also goes a long way in minimizing sound bleed, which is essential for recording sessions. It also provides maximum passive isolation.
The ear padding is spacious but shallow.
The padding on the headband is practically non-existent. A thin strip provides minimal support, and at 0.67 lbs. (304 grams), these are not the most lightweight studio cans. I would have loved to see more padding here to prevent fatigue over longer sessions from the pressure on the tip of your scalp.
The ear pads also present a few issues. While there is ample room for your ears to achieve a natural fit, the depth is a tad too shallow for my liking. If you have prominent ears, they may come in contact with the fabric coating on the drivers.
Usually, it would take a couple of hours for me to become aware of any comfort issues, but with the AKG K553 MKII, these issues came to the fore sooner than I anticipated. They are more than adequate for shorter stints, but they are not ideal if you need them for all-day use.
I’ll be the first to admit that appearances are not that important when buying a pair of studio headphones. But equally, I can’t resist an attractive set of cans.
The overall aesthetic of the AKG K553 MKII is appealing. The large 50mm drivers mean the cups are on the larger side, but I’ve become accustomed to larger cups, so they look fine. The chunky headband adds a sense of presence, and I appreciate the material finish. It looks the part of a professional set of headphones without any garish embellishments.
As for technical design, there are some notable improvements from the previous model. The most obvious is the new detachable cable. I love detachable cables and tend to harp on about them more than I probably should. But the ease of use and flexibility they provide is undeniable. It also is one less failure point that you need to deal with.
The K533 MKII offers a bulky yet professional appearance.
These headphones also fold flat for storage. Very easy to tuck these away in a draw when not in use. But I would have liked it if they had included a case or pouch to round out this functionality. Despite that, I do appreciate that these are adaptable to what can often be a busy and cluttered studio setting.
The outstanding soundstage is the true highlight of the design philosophy behind the AKG K553 MKII. It’s very impressive how close these sound to open-back headphones. This is a true engineering masterclass on overcoming one of the most significant drawbacks of closed-back cans.
The impedance is also low at 32 ohms making these a quick and easy addition to your studio setup. Just plug these in, and off you go. Also low enough to comfortably use with lower-powered devices like smartphones. With a sensitivity level of 114 dB, these also have plenty of reach for high output.
In what seems to be a recurring theme with these headphones, the AKG K553 MKII offers a varied level of quality. It is outstanding in some sections, but in others, it is slightly head-scratchingly disappointing.
The frame is robust and tough. When you combine that with the heftier weight, they exhibit an air of security and stability that gives me confidence. The finish is durable and will resist knocks, bumps, and scratches. The cable quality is also fantastic, with a secure and reliable connection.
The ear pads wear out and flake quickly.
But it’s not all roses, with two issues that need highlighting. The first is the connection point between the cups and the headband. At first glance, it appears robust enough, but on closer inspection, it looks thin, and I could see this as one potential failure point. As always, I suggest handling your headphones with care to maximize longevity.
The other gripe I have is with the quality of the coating on the ear pads. One of my pet peeves with cheaper headphones is how quickly the coating will begin to flake. It comes with the territory of cheaper cans, but these are not exactly budget headphones.
I haven’t had these long enough to determine how bad the issue is, but I have seen multiple reports of these beginning to flake after a few months of use. Thankfully replacement pads are readily available, but that is an added ongoing maintenance cost that might come up more frequently than you might like.
The value offering of the AKG K553 MKII is perhaps the most challenging element to gauge. On the surface level, these are very affordable compared to other studio headphones. Spending well over $500 or $1000 on quality studio headphones is not very hard.
I appreciate the close attention to detail and intensive research and development that goes into high-end headphones. But there is also a case of diminishing returns as you climb the price ladder. I’m also a bargain lover, so I love a good deal.
The K553 MKII comes with one cable and an adapter.
In some regards, the AKG K553 MKII fits the bill. It’s a reasonably priced pair of cans that, for the most part, are well-built. The sound quality is functional for specific tasks, and the airy soundstage is ultra-enticing. But they are not as versatile as some other headphones. Depending on your needs, you might be better off spending more on headphones that can tackle more tasks.
These headphones also don’t come with accessories. You’ll need to spend extra if you want a pouch or case, and you’ll need to hand over more money if you want a straight cable instead of the included coiled cable. It’s also worth considering the ongoing maintenance cost of replacement ear pads.
The reviews for the AKG K553 MKII are just as diverse as the headphones themselves. Multiple 4 and 5-star reviews highlight the excellent soundstage and incredible detail in the mids and highs. But many others point out the underwhelming bass and below-average comfort level. As with everything in life, everyone will have a different opinion. But the K553 MKII seems to divide people more than usual.
Quick Tips For Home Recording Sessions
Headphones like the AKG K553 MKII are great for home recording sessions. The high isolation level ensures you maintain focus, while the low bleed levels prevent unwanted noise from entering your recording. The focused mid-range also keeps your vocals present and accurate.
But having a solid pair of headphones for your recording session is just the beginning. Below are a few quick tips to get the most out of your home studio when recording.
Quality Microphone – You should commit to buying a high-quality microphone if you record frequently. Also, be aware that some microphones are better at specific tasks. Some excel at recording instruments, while others are better at vocals.
There are several things you can do to optimize your recording sessions.
Invest In A Pop Filter – A pop filter is an essential purchase if you are recording vocals or speech. This filter sits in front of the microphone and will prevent the “pop” from “p” sounds. You can make your own pop filter, but they are relatively inexpensive to buy and make a huge difference.
Consider Room Treatment – The sound dynamics of your room can significantly impact your recordings. Sound reflections can creep into your recordings, so it is worthwhile to invest in some room treatment to prevent issues.
Don’t Blow Your Ears Out – When using headphones; there is a natural inclination to turn them up. But prolonged exposure to loud sound can cause damage to your hearing. This can lead to tinnitus, an uncomfortable and incurable condition affecting your hearing.
Several alternatives are available if the AKG K553 MKII doesn’t tick all the boxes for you. Below we take a quick look at some other options worth exploring.
Sennheiser HD 300 Pro Review
The Sennheiser HD 300 Pro is one of the most obvious alternatives to the K553 MKII. A staple for many studio environments, it is among the best tracking and monitoring headphones available.
- A well-rounded sound signature that offers a better bass response.
- Rugged construction and high isolation for daily monitoring use.
- The clamping force is aggressive, which could cause discomfort for some.
Sennheiser HD 300 Pro
Rode NTH-100 Review
The NTH-100 from Rode is an excellent pair of headphones at an enticing price. It also sets itself apart from the competition with some unique features.
- Neutral sound delivery that is crisp and clear.
- Low heat build-up thanks to CoolTech gel within the ear padding.
- The angular earcups don’t offer a lot of room for more prominent ears.
Audio-Technica ATH-M60x Review
The NAMM TEC Award Winning ATH-M60x is also worth considering. A workhorse set of headphones that can tackle various tasks with ease.
- A flat and balanced sound signature that is great for monitoring and mixing.
- Robust construction and replaceable components.
- The soundstage is cramped and unforgiving compared to the K553 MKII.
Should You Buy?
Perhaps my expectations of these headphones are a little too high. After all, these are reasonably priced and excel in key areas. But after experiencing so many exceptional AKG headphones in the past, I can’t help but feel these are not up to their usual level. But in that same breath, the AKG cans I love are noticeably more expensive.
If you know its limitations, the AKG K553 MKII is a solid pair of headphones. For specific tasks like recording, monitoring, and tracking, these present good value and impressive performance. They are also among the most open-sounding pairs of closed-back cans on the market.
But these might not be the best choice if you need an all-rounder pair of cans or intend to utilize these for casual listening. As always, understanding your needs will be the determining factor as to whether these are right for you.
AKG K553 MKII