In an ever-more crowded market filled with noise cancelling headphones, it can be a challenge to find the right balance of noise cancellation, comfort and audio quality. I was so impressed with the sound and comfort of the AKG K551 over-the-Ear headphones I reviewed recently (read the review), that I wanted to check out a pair of their noise cancelling offerings. They were kind enough to send a pair of the AKG K391 Noise Cancelling Headphones for review, and my first impressions are excellent.
The AKG K391 NC Noise Cancelling Headphones have an MSRP of $249.99, but they are widely available for under $200; in fact the AKG site now shows the K391’s price to be $199.95. At that price you would expect a decent unboxing experience, and that is exactly what you get. Here’s a look.
The packaging isn’t fancy, but it does make it clear that you are dealing with a quality product from the minute you slide the AKG K391 NC Noise Cancelling Headphones out of the box.
The main part of the AKG K391 NC Noise Cancelling Headphones is the noise-cancellation package. A sleek silver and black colored rectangle, it features the AKG initials prominently and in a way that looks quite attractive. The earbuds are permanently connected to the main portion of the unit; an in-line microphone and remote is the only other feature that draws any attention.
Best as I can tell, while the silver portion of the main portion of the AKG K391 NC Noise Cancelling Headphones is metal, the remote is silver-colored plastic. That isn’t a knock on the product but a simple observation. What is a knock is the fact that the remote is a single-button deal that will play, pause or skip your tunes, but it doesn’t allow for volume control. Interestingly, the product page lists the AKG K391s as having a three button remote that DOES allow you to control the volume. I’m not sure if this is a website error or something that was planned in early designing of the product, but did not make it into the final product. Either way I missed the volume controls.
The microphone works well enough on the AKG K391 NC Noise Cancelling Headphones. I don’t think I would want to rely on it for all my calls, but it is nice to have the microphone there if a call comes in or if you want to make a voice note.
As noted in the introduction, the AKG K391 NC Noise Cancelling Headphones’ noise cancellation is built into this small rectangular unit that is at the bottom of the cable once it merges the two individual cords making their way to the earbuds. It has a classy look and feels quite solid. It also offers nothing by the way of controls other than an on/off toggle, and there is an indicator light to let you know when the noise cancellation is active. That’s a good thing, since it means you don’t have to think too much when you go to use the AKG K391 NC Noise Cancelling Headphones. Flip the toggle on, and the world all but disappears into a far-more quiet setting. Flip the toggle off, and you are back in the thick of things. It is simple and effective.
The fact that the noise cancelling unit is at the end of this first piece of cable also means you can use the AKG K391 NCs to ONLY block out sound. If you want music, you need to plug one of the included 3.5mm cords into the bottom of the unit. More on that in a moment.
The headphones are well made. That’s something I have come to expect from AKG. The actual earbuds are made of aluminum, and the “closed-back” design means when you are listening to music sound won’t bleed out and disturb those around you.
It also means you’ll get a good seal inside your ear when you use the correct insert for your ear’s size and shape. That physical barrier combines with the active noise cancellation to do a good job of isolating you and creating a peaceful environment. I write “good” rather than “excellent”, because when flying down to Jamaica I used the headphones for a while, and they did a decent job of blocking out the noise. I also used a pair of the Harman Kardon NC over-the-ear headphones (review coming shortly) which, by comparison, did a far better job.
In fairness, the over-the-ear design was at an immediate advantage over these small, light in-ear offerings. Had I not had the Harman Kardon NC headphones with me for direct comparison I suspect I would not be offering this many qualifiers. It is also worth noting that the noise cancellation on the AKG K391 NC Noise Cancelling Headphones is not accompanied by the buzz or pressure that is sometimes associated with noise-zapping headphones; to me that is a huge plus in their favor.
I really love the fact that you can use the AKG K391 NC Noise Cancelling Headphones to simply cut out noise or, using one of the two included 3.5mm to 3.5mm cables, you can connect the AKG K391 NC Noise Cancelling Headphones to your favorite audio source and enjoy music, audio books or podcasts. And when doing the latter activity you’ll enjoy excellent sound — so long as the noise-cancellation is turned on. As is often the case with NC headphones, the quality of the audio is vastly different depending upon whether the noise cancellation is turned on or not. With noise cancellation turned on, the AKG K391 NC Noise Cancelling Headphones sound fantastic. The sound is rich and full. The bass is heavy, but the highs are clear. The experience of listening to music using the headphones is as good as I have heard from small in-ear headphones. When you turn the noise cancellation off however, it is quite a different story.
It’s not so much that the audio coming through the AKG K391 NC Noise Cancelling Headphones is bad when the NC is turned off, but rather the fact that the sound is thin. There is very little bass, a lack of fullness, and the overall experience just isn’t particularly good. Then again, if I want to listen to music without noise cancellation, why would I want to deal with the added weight and bulk of the noise cancellation module? In other words, while you CAN use these without the noise cancellation being active, they are really designed for noise cancellation.
In all, I really like the AKG K391 NC Noise Cancelling Headphones. They are comfortable, easy to use, they do a good job of shutting out the outside world, and they sound excellent when the noise cancellation is turned on. As I mentioned, it is quite a different story when the noise cancellation is turned off. That, combined with the lack of a clip and volume controls on the device itself, keeps me from giving the headphones my unqualified recommendation. Don’t get me wrong, I like the AKG K391 NC Noise Cancelling Headphones a lot, and I will enjoy using them in the future. I just wish there were a few things the company had done differently.
If you like in-ear headphones and are in the market for a pair that offers noise cancellation, then you’ll want to check them out. You can learn more here, through our Amazon portal.. You can order
What I Like: Sound excellent when the noise cancellation is turned on; Simple to use; Comfortable; Good noise cancellation without the buzz or pressure some NC headphones have
What Needs Improvement: No in-line volume control; No shirt clip on the NC unit; Sound just okay when the noise cancellation is turned off
Source: Manufacturer supplied review sample