AKG K81DJ (aka K518DJ aka K518LE) Review

| June 4, 2012 | 0 Comments

Price: As low as $45 depending on color (MSRP $99)
Wear style: On-ear (Closed back)
Features: “3D-Axis” folding mechanism, swivel cups

In Short: A high-value, bass-oriented portable/DJ headphone. The clamping force is significant but most people find it comfortable for several hours.

Quick overview:

First and foremost, this headphone is ultra-portable.  It can be folded up a half dozen different ways thanks to AKG’s 3D-Axis system, and actually can fit into your back pocket (or the included carrying pouch).

The build quality is impressive for a headphone that you can find for $50. It is built almost purely of plastic (the visible parts anyway), but it feels sturdy. The one metal piece is the foundation of the headband, which is covered in plastic and only visible from a top or side view. The cable is relatively thin but has great strain relief on the plug end. Be aware that the cable length varies depending on the model you choose.

In terms of sound, the K518 is surprisingly technical but more importantly fun to listen to. These are not monitoring headphones and we say thank you to AKG for not going after a neutral sound with these. The bass is strong, full-bodied, and the clear focal point. The bass could have more speed and control, but these are more wishes rather than detriments. The midrange and treble are recessed compared to the bass, giving it a warm and dark sound signature. Still, these frequencies manage to sound natural and involving, especially with orchestral music and instruments. The presentation is in-your-face and the soundstage is not very impressive (a-la Grado), but this can be expected of a closed on-ear headphone. Heck, most $200 and $300 closed on-ears don’t have impressive soundstages.

The K518 does have some caveats but most of them can be modded away. First, the clamping force out of the box is pretty strong. If you find this uncomfortable, you can loosen them up by putting a stack of books in between them for a few hours (and repeat as necessary). Second, the headband extensions do not extend as far as most headphones, so the K518 might not fit those with very large heads. Lastly, there are two mods that may improve the sound and comfort. Some people have removed the foam piece covering the driver and reported that this balances out the sound (moving closer to neutrality from the inherent darkness). Also, the HD-25-1 Velour ear pads fit perfectly on the K81/K518 and may improve the comfort at the expense of isolation.

If you can deal with the few quirks mentioned above, the K518 is easily one of the best portable/DJ sets south of $100. If you can get it for the $43 it is currently selling for, it’s a steal. For those who have, and love, their K81/K518, the K181DJ would be a logical upgrade as it shares the same sound signature but with a few slight improvements.


Driver type Dynamic
Impedance 32 Ω
Frequency Response 16 -24,000 Hz
Cable 8.2ft (2.5m) on K81DJ and K518DJ, 3.3ft (1m) on K518LE
Weight 5.3 oz (150g)
Warranty 2 years
Included accessories Carrying bag, screw-on ¼” adapter
Mods and Experiments Foam driver cover removal for improved balance, earpad replacements with HD-25-1 velours

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Category: On-ear, Reviews

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