AKG has been in the business of making personal and professional audio equipment since the 1940s, so one might rightfully expect top-notch quality from the company's line of headphones and earphones. The AKG K 390 noise-cancelling earphones feature a double whammy of passive sound isolation and active noise cancellation, making them a tempting option for commuters and frequent fliers. But, at £80, these earphones aren't cheap, and buyers should be wary of potential fit issues, as comfort is key for any extended-wear scenario.
Sleek but hefty
The K390 earphones have a sleek, understated design with matte black and shiny gunmetal plastic comprising the earpieces, cable and noise-cancellation module. The earbuds are slightly larger than average and feature an external port (for more air flow, we assume) and a reinforced cable connection for durability. Like the earbuds, the sound apertures are on the large side, which caused us some discomfort during testing, no matter which eartips we used.
About halfway down the cord descending from the right earpiece, you'll find the integrated mic and call-answer button -- a handy feature for music-phone users. This first segment of cable measures about 46cm long before joining with the noise-cancellation unit.
There's no getting around the fact that the noise-cancellation module is rather hefty, both in size and weight. But AKG has built in a shirt clip so the earbuds aren't pulled out of your ears by the weight. The module measures about 76 by 25 by 13mm, so it's definitely not inconspicuous.
The top edge of the unit houses an on/off switch for the noise-cancelling feature, as well as a mute button that allows you to hear what's going on around you without removing the earbuds. A single AAA battery is concealed beneath a flap on the bottom side. This is also where you attach the included stereo patch cable for connecting your MP3 player or other audio source. It's pleasing that the cord is detachable, as this provides a more clutter-free method for utilising the noise cancellation as a stand-alone feature on an aeroplane, for example.
As mentioned, AKG has been in the audio game a long time, so we had high expectations for the earphones' performance. Overall, we were pretty impressed by the sound quality, particularly since it changed very little based on whether or not noise cancellation was activated.
The K390s managed to put forth a pleasing, crisp response, with plenty of detail on the high end, yet they weren't too bright for our tastes. Mids weren't as remarkable. Although music sounded reasonably warm, it wasn't quite as rich or buttery as we'd like. Bass response was something of a mixed bag. If you can get a good seal, the lows are tight without being overwhelming, but, once you turn on the noise cancellation, the low end loses some of its oomph. Picky listeners may be able to find more suitable options.
As far as noise cancelling is concerned, although the earphones did a reasonable job of overcoming the hum of the server in our office, the anti-noise created a significant amount of audible white noise during silence. We're not sure this is any better than listening to a jet engine or the rumblings of a train -- it depends on the listener.
The AKG K 390 earphones offer good sound quality and useful noise-cancelling capability, but the size of the noise-cancelling module may put some people off, and not everyone will be able to get a good fit.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet