AKG IP2 In-Ear Monitor Headphone Review
The AKG IP2s are truly pro-grade in-ear monitors, for better and for worse.
With consumer interest in high-end headphones at an all-time high, there are headphones to suit every kind of buyer. Whether you want headphones for the gym, or for your next flight, or to listen to your TV from across the room, there are plenty of options. If you're a real-life musician in need of a pro-quality in-ear headphone for use during a performance, your needs are a little more specialized.
The AKG IP2 Professional In-Ear Monitors are gunning for this exact buyer, delivering pro-grade audio quality and isolation in a low profile package. They're comfortable, they keep ambient noise out so you can hear what's going on, and they nestle deep in your ears. Oh, and they're also loud as hell.
But with so many headphones calling themselves "pro grade," it's possible the IP2s will land on the radar of people hoping to just find a pair of great all-around in-ear headphones. If there's good enough for pros, they must be great at everything. Unfortunately, this is a mistake, as the IP2s are highly specialized in a way that makes them less than suitable for most regular people.
The AKG IP2s are as basic as it gets when it comes to in-ears, with two bulbous monitors attached by a skinny wire. There are no fancy fans or ear hooks to keep them in place; just a simple bud with a variety of included sleeve sizes to help you get a good fit.
As simple as they are, there are some nice design touches that do elevate these above your typical $15 in-ear headphones. They have protective sleeves over all the points where the wires would be soldered to connections, including the 3.5mm connector and each earbud. This should make them more durable and less likely to become disconnected if they get tugged on.
The wire is also coated in a rubber material of some kind that helps prevent tangling; even once or twice when these were balled up in my bag they didn't get badly tangled, and the wire easily returned to normal once they were loose. There are no in-line controls of any kind, underscoring that these aren't really your typical cheap wired in-ears, since they're not meant for hands-free operation at the gym or while you're out on a run.
What We Like
Booming lows unleash bass-heavy tracks
The frequency response we saw in our test labs tells an interesting tale with the IP2s, but the name of the game here is bass. These things are very bass-heavy, pushing far above what we typically see from in-ears on the low end. The overall bass response is very flat from 20-100 Hz, with a slight drop from there to 250Hz. That comes through when you listen to certain tracks, as the rhythm and strings section in a classical mix comes through very cleanly.
These suckers are loud, with minimal distortion
Most in-ear headphones simply aren't that loud, or begin to break down at high volumes as they give way to distortion. The AKG IP2s do not have this problem. They have an extremely high maximum volume, to the point that my normal listening volume was actually very uncomfortable. This again underscores the IP2s' ability to handle bass-heavy tracks, since your hearing is naturally less-sensitive when it comes to lower notes.
Part of the reason for that success is the lack of distortion. While it's very rare for distortion to be an issue at low frequencies anyway, in songs that have a mix of low- and high-frequency notes (like most music) you can push the volume to enjoy the bottom end without destroying the mix on the other end.
The IP2s keep your music in and world out.
Like most in-ear headphones, the IP2s do an excellent job of keeping the outside world where it belongs...outside. They also do a good job of keeping your music inside, so people around you can't hear what you're listening to. Despite filling your ear canal, they're actually quite comfortable over long stretches. I wore them for a few different 2-3 hour sessions and didn't feel much discomfort, which is rare for in-ear headphones.
What We Don't Like
The mix just doesn't work for some genres
As we said above, the frequency response on the AKG IP2s tells an interesting tale. And while the good news is at the low end, that's pretty much where the good news ends for us. The sound profile of the IP2s takes some aggressive swings, bottoming out in the mids and spiking at the high frequency. This creates a very awkward mix and a sound stage that sounds hopelessly compressed on some tracks.
It's a particular problem with pop music and hip-hop, where you have a booming bass track mixed with a something high frequency, like a sample or a high hat. The combination of aggressive highs, booming lows, and absent mids can sometimes sound like you're underwater, or you're listening to music with popped ears. Some of the highs are so aggressive that it's not uncommon to have an errant high note come through that is simply uncomfortable.
It popped out to me at about the 4:15 mark of Jay-Z's "Moment of Clarity" where there's a sample that sounds like an old analog TV powering off. After bumping the volume up to enjoy the bass track, the high frequency burst from the sample made me clench my jaw. It was not a great moment, but it made clear what the IP2s should be used for.
With limited appeal, they're expensive
At $79, wired in-ears have to be pretty special to earn our recommendation; there are just so many high-quality, affordable in-ears out there that it's tough to justify spending the extra money if there isn't some other must-have feature.
With the IP2s, the most compelling feature is noise isolation and volume, which is worth it if you need in-ear monitoring during a performance, but for regular consumers isn't a huge deal. It's also worth noting that most in-ear headphone isolate well, so even professionals needing that may find luck elsewhere.
Should You Buy Them?
Probably not, unless you need pro-grade in-ears for performance monitoring.
Headphones come in all shapes and sizes, and they're used in conditions that can vary wildly. Maybe you want some headphones for the gym, or to use on your commute, or monitoring the mix during your band's next live performance. For the most part, headphones that are good at one thing will be good at the others. But designing pro-grade headphones often involves knowing your customer and prioritizing certain aspects of performance to meet those needs.
With the AKG IP2s, these are designed primarily for monitoring a live performance. That means needing a steady, strong bass presence so you can monitor rhythm elements, a low-profile design that won't get in your way, and an earbud that can isolate you from louder-than-normal ambient noise. For that specific use case, the IP2s get the job done.
Unfortunately, the IP2s' Achilles' heel is that they just aren't that flexible. They suit professionals in that setting well, but if you're sitting quietly in an office trying to just enjoy some tunes? They aren't that enjoyable. Their extreme isolation is great, but the sound profile is so specific that some songs just sound bad, like you're listening to them while underwater.
Part of the problem is the language we use to describe headphones these days. With everyone wanting to call their headphones "professional grade," we quickly lose sight of just how specialized some pro gear can be. In the case of the IP2s, they're a bit too specialized for most consumers. Professionals with specific needs should check them out, but everyone else can safely give them a pass.
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