It wasn’t too long ago that Active Noise Cancelling was a magic trick owned by one company, on one type of headphone, with one sound signature. Now it seems like ANC is everywhere, available in over-ear, in-ear, and battery-free in-ear Lightning headphones. AKG’s N60 on-ear headphones with ANC adds even more choice for the consumer. We trusted our ears to the N60 for a few weeks of commuting; the N60 has some minor ergonomic issues and can’t deliver complete silence, but we found it to be a solid choice if you’re a fan of on-ear headphones.
Included with the N60 is a charging cable, 3.5mm audio cable with inline one-button (Android) control pod and microphone, and a neoprene carry case. They’re extremely light and, adding to their portability, the cups both swivel and collapse to fit into a package that can easily fit in a backpack or purse. The N60 is mostly made of plastic, but it feels well-built. There are no rattles or squeaks, and the cups move solidly enough into place when open or folded. A clean black design with silver accents presents a classy appearance for the N60, far more appealing than the extremely loud styling of the AKG Y50 we tested back in 2015. If we have one gripe about the N60’s design, it’s that its soft-touch plastics and pleather headband are magnets for fingerprints, however — they might need frequent cleaning.
Living with the N60 was a bit of a mixed bag. What we can say about the N60’s tech is that it works — it paired easily with our phone, has good range (30+ feet), and good battery life (we got close to the advertised 15 hours). The N60’s controls, however, have problems. Volume is controlled by two easy-to-find buttons on the top of the right driver cup, but power and track controls are operated by rocker switches in close proximity to one another. When trying to change tracks, it’s easy to accidentally hit the power switch, turning the N60 off. To make matters worse, the track controls must be executed perfectly to work — if the rocker button is depressed even slightly or the switch isn’t pushed as far as it will go, track changes won’t register. There has to be a better way.
The N60 deserves credit for its comfort. We admit that we’re not usually fans of on-ear headphones, often finding them uncomfortable for anything more than short listening periods. The N60, however, surprised us with the softness of its small doughnut-shaped ear pads and has a medium clamp – it’s one of the most comfortable on-ears we’ve tried.
AKG claims that the N60 has “best-in-class” active noise canceling technology, but doesn’t say which “class” the N60 is competing in. It also claims to have “lossless wireless noise canceling playback”, but fails to explain what that phrase means. Regardless, we subjected the N60 to our usual noise torture test — the New York City Subway system — and found that it performs pretty well given the limitations of its form factor. As an on-ear headphone, it’s necessarily limited by the amount that its small ear pads can isolate from the outside world. As such, the N60’s ANC can’t stand up to that of the circumaural Sony MDR-1000X that we tested last month. Rather than the nearly complete silence that we experienced with the 1000X, we found that the N60 more subtly hushed and dulled the noise of the outside world. Indoors, we tried both the N60 and the 1000X in a room with a window-mounted air conditioner — the N60 only reduced the air conditioner’s noise about half as much as the 1000X.
The N60’s ANC is always on, so we can’t say whether it affects the sound, but it really doesn’t matter. The N60 sounds good for an on-ear. Its shortcomings are what one might expect from an on-ear — a sound that is smallish, congested, and thin compared to a good over-ear. However, we were happy to find that, despite the limitations of the form factor, the N60 sounds good. AKG elected not to handicap the N60 with the ‘consumer’ V-shaped sound signature. Rather, the N60’s tone is very balanced, making it a versatile pairing for many genres of music. They’re not as good as the Audeze Sine, but they sound better than many on-ears we’ve tried in this price range.
Overall, we were not blown away by the AKG N60, but we were not disappointed either. In this price range, you can find headphones that each have better sound quality, better comfort, or better ANC. The N60 performs respectably in each category, but never really meets its “best in class” aspirations.
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