While hybrid driver headphones are not a new thing on the market, it’s a strange move from major audio companies. While most companies stick to multiple Balanced Armatures or Micro-Drivers for their higher end IEMs, AKG has decided to mix up the equation and use both a balanced armature and dynamic driver to power their latest IEM the N40. For a dual driver headphone this makes sense because of how the technology works. Balanced armatures have a naturally better signal response for higher frequency content. While larger dynamic drivers have a better low end frequency response.
AKG N40 Review
Out of the Box
With premium releases comes the expectation of a solid unboxing experience. While a lot of IEMs are pretty hit or miss, more oft miss, AKG designed a pretty good casing for their new IEM. With the earbuds being shown off in a cutout on the back of the box, I’m not sure why not the front to fully showcase the earbuds. Slightly hidden is the MMXC cable with the remote wound right behind them. With the rest of the contents being shown to you. Multiple sizes of silicon tips, a cleaning too, carrying case, different filters for the earbuds to change the frequency response, additional MMCX cable, and to my surprise a multi mono converter.
The N40 is a pretty standard IEM, the connectors are MMCX cables which makes them compatible with a plethora of name brand accessories, such as Westone’s Bluetooth cable which is pretty amazing. The design of the cable is worth mentioning. Instead of being fully nylon or plastic the cable is nylon from the 3.5mm jack to the splitting of the cable, and after is plastic to the connectors. I like this design because while nylon has a longer life than plastic, cable noise is easily picked up and can be pretty annoying to live with. The cable with a remote has a switch to toggle between iOS and Android compatibility so no need to worry about phone compatibility. The grill of the earbuds is removable and comes with two additional filters to give a more customized listening experience. One being a bass heavier option while the other enhances the amount of treble response. They are easily unscrewed from the earpiece and have a small container in the box to keep track of them. I found the medium silicon tips to be a little bit uncomfortable, tried switching to the smaller tips but it didn’t really help for comfort.
With the balanced filters on the earbuds the sound quality comes off with a warm tonality. There is a good size of fullness and presence that a lot of IEMs can lose while focusing more on a detailed tonality. The N40s have a great amount of musicality to them which is coupled by a great frequency response.
The N40 has a great handle on the low end with the Reference Filters on. There is a good extension into sub-bass content that retains it’s detail and punch. The low end’s presence is pretty forward which causes the IEM to have a warmer sound quality to it. While not causing a loss of detail in most content, it can come off a little strong in some tracks.
The mid range is kind of left alone in the headphone. It comes through fine and has plenty of clarity to it, it just gets a little overshadowed by the low end. The mid range comes off a little darker because of the boosted harmonic content spilling over from the low end, which causes the higher mid range to come off a little softer. Vocals come through clear and well-bodied.
The high end comes off pretty clean and starts to come back to life in the earbud after the upper mid range. There is good extension into upper end content and a good amount of brightness that doesn’t come off as brittle or harsh. With the reference filters on the high end feels a little out of place because it doesn’t have the presence that the mid range has. I cannot switch the filters in the model I have available to demo but I can imagine that switching to the treble filters will help the presence of the high and balance out the signal.
The N40 has a pretty good soundstage for an IEM. The presence of the lower end content has a nice way of adding depth into the earphone. Reverb doesn’t have a lot of room to decay because of the focus on the low end which eats up a bit of the soundstage. There is a wider amount of separation in the earbuds for in-ears than I am used to which is a nice change of pace.
The N40 creates a rich listening experience which carries over into multiple genres. The balanced filters have a little more bass in them than I expected them to have, but the option to switch them out is an appealing factor for a lot of people. I prefer switching out filters than having to go straight to an EQ to fix a signal, when possible. While expecting more of a reference style IEM the N40 surprised me with a more musical approach stylistically.
While the N40 is a great hybrid driver IEM if you are looking for a full balanced armature IEM the Westone W30s are a good more neutral sounding in-ear. Also for a brighter sounding IEM the Audio-Technica E70 is a good choice, but neither have the presence that the AKG N40 has. While not coming stock with foam tips I would recommend looking into grabbing some Comply tips for their comfort, I believe the N40 is a Comply TS-500 size, silicon tips start to bother me during longer listening sessions. This IEM brings some musicality back into the IEM market that often time gets pushed out by different types of technology or sound design, and because of that I give this one a silver star.
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