Not to give it away, but here's our AKG Y400 review in a sentence: if you were to judge the best wireless headphones purely on an ‘enjoyment per pound’ basis, the AKG Y400 would come very near the top of the list.
In fact, the AKG Y400 have a strong claim to a spot near the top of the list if you factor most other things in too. Despite being very affordably priced, it doesn't feel like corners have been cut on sound, and they even manage to be more than a little stylish while they're at it.
In a world where the best wireless earbuds continue to grow in popularity, the AKG Y400 also make a great case for on-ear headphones still deserving your attention, even if what you're prioritising is something that easy to travel with.
AKG Y400 review: Price and availability
The AKG Y400 are on sale now, and in the UK they’re priced at £109. That equates to $149 in the United States, although at the time of writing AKG’s American website is offering them at a time-limited (and frankly bonkers) $80. No such luck in Australia, though, where you’re looking at a predictable AU$199.
AKG Y400 review: Design & build
AKG has done its utmost to keep both the weight and the cost of the Y400 down to the minimum, but that doesn’t mean they’re in any way lacking where quality of construction is concerned.
The plastics that constitute the outside of the earcups, the arms joining them to the headband, and the headband itself, are on the hard side, it’s true. But the Y400 feel robust and properly put together, and while the plastics are hard they’re far from thin.
The memory foam-filled pleather earcups and the brief padding on the inside of the headband make sure the AKGs stay comfortable on heads of all sizes, although those with a wider head than average might find the fit a little ‘clampy’. There’s a fair bit of adjustment in the headband, though, and the movement on the aluminium slider feels sturdy and reliable.
Unusually for a pair of on-ear headphones, controls are spread between both earcups – ordinarily, it’s the right-hand side that has to do all the work. Here, the right-hand earcup features a slider for ‘power on/off/Bluetooth pairing’ and a button to scroll through the AKG's ‘ambient aware’ and ‘talk-thru’ settings.
One button-press reduces the incoming volume to allow the wearer to hold a conversation without taking the Y400 off (‘talk-thru’), and another press returns the volume to something approaching normal but amplifies external sound considerably (‘ambient aware’). A third press returns the performance back to normal.
Over on the left-hand earcup, meanwhile, there’s a USB-C socket for charging (there’s a cable in the package), and a 2.5mm input for hard-wiring (there’s a cable provided for this too, but given it’s of the lesser-spotted 2.5mm-to-3.5mm type with a single-button in-line remote control, you’d best take good care of it). There’s a ‘play/pause’ button too (unless you press it twice in quick succession, when it becomes a ‘summon voice assistant’ button) and an ‘up/down’ slider for adjusting volume.
Wireless connectivity is via Bluetooth 5.0, which is ample for getting high-quality audio quality beamed over to it. From there, sound is delivered by a pair of 36mm full-range dynamic drivers – and that’s quite a significant driver size to have squeezed into such modest earcups.
For once where the design of on- or over-ear headphones is concerned, the Y400 actually look good in any of the finishes on offer. Unlike quite a few rivals, who rather half-heartedly offer colours from the ‘not black’ palette, AKG’s offerings in blue, green, pink or rose gold look both vibrant and no less expensive than the basic black.
Battery life? The Y400s are an extremely compact design, it’s true, and at 170g they’re hardly heavyweights either. But nevertheless, an all-in full-to-flat battery life of 20 hours is pretty standard – there are true wireless in-ear headphones that will go for plenty longer than that, and they don’t have anything like the space for a battery.
Still, if you’re embarking on a journey that’s going to take more than 20 hours, well, we wish you good luck – and if the worst happens, the Y400s will charge from flat to full in two hours. Or you could always use the bundled cable to hard-wire them to your music player.
AKG Y400 review: Sound quality
Unlike some of AKG’s more expensive designs, the Y400 aren’t compatible with its (excellent) headphone app – so you’re stuck with this one, unalterable sound, with no EQ option. Fortunately, it’s one of the best pound-for-pound sounds you can currently get from relatively affordable on-ear headphones.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the way the AKG Y400 sound is how unconcerned with impressing you they are. Too many designs at this sort of money try to have some kind of specific sonic signature (‘too bassy’ is very popular, and ‘shrill treble’ crops up quite often too), but the Y400 are determinedly neutral and judiciously balanced. As a consequence, they’re the sort of headphones you can listen to for hours on end without them becoming in any way tiring.
Like pretty much any pair of headphones that’s capable of handling hi-res audio, the AKGs sound their best when they’re doing just that. With a full-fat file from somewhere like Primephonic on board, they offer impressive scale, excellent detail levels and a very naturalistic attitude towards the way the whole of the frequency range, from the deepest sounds to the highest, knits together.
But unlike many a pair of headphones at this sort of money, the Y400 don’t go to pieces if they’re asked to deal with some slightly more ordinary content from somewhere like Spotify’s free (and increasingly advert-ridden) free tier. The bottom of the frequency range stays clean and detailed – there’s more than enough bass weight here to properly underpin a tune, but it’s far from overstated.
At the opposite end there’s the sort of bite and shine that a big cymbal-crash demands, but there’s never any suggestion that they might get gritty or hard. And in between, they demonstrate enough midrange poise to let a singer do their thing without being too badly imposed upon by the rest of the audio information around them.
Detail levels are good, so singers are generally characterful, and the soundstage the AKGs describe is open enough for every element to get the breathing-space it needs in order to be heard. Dynamically they’re pretty adept, too – so a big symphony orchestra having a charge at the biggest climaxes doesn’t sound underpowered or tentative.
AKG Y400 review: Verdict
Even if you’re not taking advantage an excellent sale price, the AKG Y400 represent very good value indeed. They’re well made, comfy, properly specified and – most important of all – they sound enjoyably balanced and absorbing.
Only their unremarkable battery life stops this being the sort of review that sometimes gets called ‘a rave’, but it's not like 20 hours could be considered limiting. These should absolutely be at the top of your shopping list for the price.