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It’s difficult to know where to place the AKG K290 surround sound headphones into the scheme of things. The promotional blurb is a bit vague; they’re variously described as being complimentary to a multi-speaker surround system and for livening up video games and CDs, but they’re not it seems, being touted an alternative to the four or five speakers in a Dolby Pro-Logic set-up. Actually that’s a shame because the spectre of speaker boxes and tripwire cables looms large over the nascent home cinema industry; anything that would make surround sound more palatable, not to say neighbour-friendly would be very welcome indeed.


Inside each ‘can’ there’s two driver modules, mounted horizontally and angled inwards towards the auditory canal (earhole). One driver per side handles the right and left stereo channels, the other two carry rear channel information. There’s no provision for a centre channel, instead the DPL decoder has to be configured for phantom centre channel output. The phones connect to the DPL amplifier or decoder via an optional switchbox, that selects speaker or headphones. The box contains around eight quid’s worth of components, yet it adds £100 to the price of the phones, which sell for £150 on their own.


As far as straightforward stereo source material is concerned they do a very good job. Bass response is gutsy, mid-range and treble frequencies are very well articulated, they have a clean, open sound, the sort of performance in fact you be happy to pay £100 or more for. Comfort? Personally I found them tight and my earlobes felt a little sore after a couple of hours; others (clearly with smaller heads and ears) reported no problems.


But how about surround-sound? Sorry, in spite of a major trawl through my collection of Dolby Surround test recordings I remained unconvinced. Specific effects that I know back to front and inside out, that normally leap out and demand the listener’s attention, remained stubbornly locked into the soundfield. No amount of messing around with front-rear balance, delay times or even cable-swapping had any effect. Centre-channel dialogue was reasonably well resolved, though it seemed to come from above, rather than from in front. An interesting idea but in the end it has to be said that you can get better stereo phones cheaper, and surround sound is barely perceptible.  



Features: 4-element (2-drivers per can) headphones, 150 ohm impedance, optional dedicated switcher box with impedance matching, 6-metres cable, weight 270g (ex cable)


Telephone Harman Audio on 0181-207 5050



Ó R. Maybury 1996 1803


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Copyright (c) 2005 Rick Maybury Ltd.