I’ve always admired ninjas. The way they seek the light if only to hide in the shadows. I feel the same way about Bluetooth headphones. They seek to provide a better user experience, only to muck it all up with subpar FR and high noise floors. They all sound veiled or wonky, and all of them hiss. But still, the tech is undeniably sexy, as is the promise of a life lived untethered. With that promise in mind, I keep coming back to BT headphones. I want it to work.
I once went to a ninja parade. It was great. Nobody in the crowd saw a single ninja for the entire 3 hour parade. True masters at their craft. I feel the same way about the AKG. Every BT headphone I’ve owned struggled to hide the fact that it was a wireless headphone, with the cable being replaced by hiss or other SQ issues. This is not so with the AKG N700NC.
When you first put on the N700NC, it’s reminiscent of the B&W PX, having relatively narrow pad diameters. However, unlike the PX, you don’t feel the plastic rim under the pads digging into your head. The memory foam warms up and conforms to your face, forming a tight seal that doesn’t break when you turn your head. Although not quite as comfortable as the class leading QC35ii or 1000XM3, the N700 can easily be worn on a 12 hour transpacific flight with no problems.
You reach up with your right hand and slide the power switch down with your thumb. You’re greeted with a futuristic ascending tone letting you know that the power is on, and then another letting you know that a BT connection is active. A split second later, everything goes eerily silent as the ANC kicks in. An ANC that’s a touch better than that found in the PX and H9i, though not as good as the QC35ii or top dog XM3.
You reach up with your left thumb and hit the Play/Pause button, nestled between the Volume + and - buttons, and fire up your Reference Playlist and the music starts to play.
My God, the tuning. AKG is owned by Harman, and you can hear it in the application of the Harman Target Response Curve to the FR of the N700. It’s a sound that’s both neutral and fun.
Bass is thunderous, yet controlled in the Oliver Heldens remix of One Kiss. There’s minimal bloom, though the relatively slow drivers get hampered down in the complicated passages and kettle drum rolls in The Battle - Hans Zimmer.
Acoustic instruments and vocals are presented with a natural timbre as the mids are handed off to the treble without any really weird peaks or suckouts. There’s a bit of extra energy at 3-4K that makes female vocals really pop without introducing any sibilance.
Speed and detail are on par for offerings in this price range.
Things take a turn for the worse when you switch the power off and use it in passive mode. It sounds like there’s a big 500-1K peak with a 2-4K suckout, along with slightly muted bass. There’s got to be some DSP EQ going on when you power everything up. This approach makes sense, rather than trying to tune the closed back set through dampening and other physical means. Whatever they did, AKG had made by far the best sounding BT headphone I have ever heard.
You reach up with your right thumb and hit the Ambient Mode button. At first, you’re not sure if anything happened besides the volume being lowered 5 dB or so. Then the air conditioning in your house kicks in and you hear the air coming out of the vents. You start talking to your wife and it hits you. The passthrough mode is incredible. Everything sounds completely natural, like the N700 turned into an open back headphone with no isolation. You can hear the refrigerator cycle on, the rustle of your bedsheets, and your kid starting to rouse from her nap, all without sounding tinny or overblown like with other BT headphones. It’s incredibly useful when you have young children or a wife that you actually still like.
You open up the app and check out the EQ. At first, it seems a little weird but you notice that each tap of your thumb adds another adjustable point to the graph. Of course, you have to keep tapping the graph to see how many points you can add. You get to 15 before your fat thumbs can no longer add any more points. When you move the points around, the frequency and gain are clearly labeled. Wow, you could probably get really close to PEQ accuracy with this system.
Who’s It For?
The N700NC is my top recommendation for most people looking for wireless or ANC headphones. Its FR and SQ – black background with no hiss – are noticably better than the competing models from Sony, Bose, B&W, and B&O. The N700 sounds great for everyday listening and with its awesome tuning might be all most consumers ever need for audiophile sound in a convenient package.
I would not recommend the N700 for people that travel a lot and only use their ANC headphone while flying. The Sony 1000XM3 has the best ANC at the moment and sounds better than the N700 at altitude.
I also would not recommend the N700 for techies who need to have all of the latest and greatest features. The only BT codecs included are SBC and AAC, which is fine because AAC sounds great. However, the lack of AptX-LL might bug people that only watch a lot of movies.
Sensitivity: 98dB/mW @1kHz
Max Input Power: 30mW
BT type: 4.2
Frequency Range: 10-20kHz
Price: $350 USD