Austrian Audio The Composer review: wired, wondrous sound

These hard-wired headphones are expensive, but given the right high-end source material the sound is wondrous

T3 Platinum Award
Austrian Audio The Composer review
(Image credit: Future)
T3 Verdict

The Composer by Austrian Audio are a hugely capable, gratifyingly comfortable pair of high-end headphones. You'll only fall out with them if you don’t do the right thing when it comes to source material.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Direct, dynamic and information-rich sound

  • +

    Acable for every eventuality

  • +

    Light and comfortable

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Revealing no matter if that’s a good or bad thing

  • -

    Need a similarly capable source

  • -

    Some very decent alternatives

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Back in 2016 AKG was told by its parent company, Harman, that it was relocating from Vienna to California. Some AKG employees declined the offer, and instead stayed put and established a new brand called - hey! - Austrian Audio. 

Since then Austrian Audio has established itself as a genuine force in making the best wired headphones, but beyond making other great-value consumer-focused headphones, the brand is also in the pro audio microphones market.

Which brings us to now, 2024, the year when Austrian Audio has decided to bring the fight to the high-end headphones market where the likes of Audeze, Grado and Sennheiser typically hold sway. The product that’s supposed to crash the party? That'll be Austrain Audio's The Composer.

Austrian Audio The Composer: Price & Availability

The Composer by Austrian Audio is on sale now, and in the United Kingdom these headphones are priced at £2249. In America they sell for $2699, while Australian customers are looking at AU$3849 or thereabouts.

Looks like a lot of money when it’s written down, doesn’t it? But that doesn’t mean you’re short of alternatives if you want to spend this sort of money on some wired over-ear headphones, far from it. Frankly, The Composer has it all to do… 

Austrian Audio The Composer review: Features & What's New?

Austrian Audio The Composer review

(Image credit: Future)

Because The Composer are hard-wired, over-ear, open-backed headphones, they’re not exactly what you’d describe as ‘feature-rich’. But never fear - the few features they do have are thoroughly fit for purpose.

For instance, the headphones are supplied in a big, padded wooden box with three cables inside. As well as a 3m length that terminates in your standard 3.5mm jack (with 6.3mm adapter), there’s also a 3m length with a four-pin XLR termination, and a 1.3m cable that finishes with a 4.4mm Pentacon connector. So every realistic eventuality is catered for.

The headphone-end of each cable is split into two. Each earcup is wired, and uses a proprietary two-pin banana plug joined to the suspension frame. It’s a robust, secure arrangement.

The cable ultimately feeds a pair of 49mm full-range dynamic drivers. The diaphragm of each driver is coated in diamond-like carbon (DLC), which combines stiffness with lightness and responsiveness in a very useful manner. Austrian Audio reckons the frequency response from this arrangement is an ultra-deep 5Hz to an extremely high 44kHz. 

Austrian Audio The Composer review: Performance

Austrian Audio The Composer review

(Image credit: Future)

Some expensive headphones are remarkably tolerant where partnering equipment and the standard of the recordings they’re asked to deal with are concerned. The Composer by Austrian Audio, it’s safe to say, are not those headphones. Want to listen to the free tier of Spotify with the 3.5mm jack plugged straight into your laptop’s headphone socket? Not only will The Composer not sound anything special, they’ll make you feel guilty for your feckless ways.

Do the right thing, though, by using them either with one of the best headphone DACs or attached to the headphone socket of some capable hi-fi equipment, and listen to uncompressed audio files (or CD, or vinyl) and then The Composer are a vigorous, positive and, above all, musical listen. They take you directly to the heart of a recording, show you around and let you have everything it has to give.

Their frequency response, from the top of the range to the bottom, is beautifully balanced and even. Their tonality, no matter if you ask them to play some orchestral music or some walloping EDM, is neutral and natural. And their ability to peer deep into even the most complex, busy mixes and return with an absolute stack of information, with even the finest and most transient details, is little short of remarkable. 

Austrian Audio The Composer review

(Image credit: Future)

The soundstage The Composer is capable of generating is expansive and brilliantly controlled. There’s plenty of space for every element of recording to operate securely, and the headphones give just as much weighting to silences and absences as they do to actual occurrences - and the result is a presentation that’s confident and convincing every time. And even though the Austrian Audio can separate out even the most complicated, element-heavy recordings, it’s able to unify every individual strand into a convincing whole; a singularity.

There’s more than enough dynamic potency on display here too. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about the manifest changes in intensity, attack and volume that symphony orchestra indulges in, or the smaller harmonic variations when the pianist takes their solo, they’re observed, reported on and properly contextualised by these headphones. And the same is true where rhythms and tempos are concerned - the control of the (deep, textured and detail-rich) low frequencies is such that rhythms are expressed with real positivity, and The Composer is able to give proper voicing to even the gimpiest, wallflower-adjacent tempos too.

So yes, if you want The Composer to sound anything less than utterly assured and winningly musical, about all you can do is give them some nasty 320kbps MP3 files to deal with. These Austrian Audio headphones don’t suffer this sort of nonsense gladly - but in every other respect they’re endlessly listenable and enjoyable. Just as well they stay comfortable for hour after hour, then.  

Austrian Audio The Composer review: Design & Usability

Austrian Audio The Composer review

(Image credit: Future)

There’s nothing groundbreaking in the design of The Composer, but that’s not the same as saying that no thought has gone into them. 

For instance, there’s plenty of adjustability here. The headband is a two-tier arrangement - the inner part is a lightweight pleather-and-mesh arrangement that rests on your head and can be adjusted using the sliders on each side of the slender aluminium outer part that keeps the headphones in position. The yokes are made of more slim aluminium, and articulate forwards and backwards as well as allowing the earcups to fold flat. The earcups can be tilted through four different positions, too, using a clicky mechanism. Which means there should be no difficulty getting comfortable inside these headphones.

The fabric mesh of the inner headband is mimicked by the metal mesh covering the outside of the earcups. The Composer is about as open-backed as open-backed can be, to the point that the (branded) rear of the drivers is plainly visible. Apart from that stylised ‘A’, the only branding that appears is on one of the skinny aluminium arms running from the yoke to the rear of the earcups and a causal ‘The Composer - Made in Austria’ on the inside of the outer headband.

Overall, the look here is sleek - and an all-in weight of just 385g strongly hints at enduring comfort. 

Austrian Audio The Composer review: Verdict

Austrian Audio The Composer review

(Image credit: Future)

Yes, The Composer have certain requirements regarding partnering equipment and the quality of the recordings you put through them - but do the right thing and these Austrian Audio headphones are a brilliantly rewarding listen.

Also consider

Now down to a touch under £2K, the GS 3000x Statement by Grado are a superb-sounding pair of headphones with no apparent end to their sonic talents. They’re made to look and feel a little hamfisted as an object by The Composer, though… 

Simon Lucas

Simon Lucas is a freelance technology journalist and consultant, with particular emphasis on the audio/video aspects of home entertainment. Before embracing the carefree life of the freelancer, he was editor of What Hi-Fi? magazine and website – since then, he's written for titles such as Wired, Metro, the Guardian and Stuff, among many others. Should he find himself with a spare moment, Simon likes nothing more than publishing and then quickly deleting tweets about the state of the nation (in general), the state of Aston Villa (in particular) and the state of his partner's cat.