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Let me tell you how good these are by comparison to some other fine headphones......... I just went out to Sweetwater Sound which is one of the largest studio equipment retailers and recording studios in the world here in Fort Wayne, IN and I listened to the new and fantastic Beyerdynamic DT-1770 closed back headphones ($639). I also auditioned the AKG flagship K812 open back headphone ($1499).
I took my little Geekout V2 USB DAC/AMP ($299) and my laptop as along as well as these AKG 553's. I had bought them from Massdrop about 18 months ago and I estimate I have 400+ hours of play on them. They are fully broke in and sound significantly better than when brand new.
So the million dollar question is how much "better" do these high-end headphones sound than my fully broke in 553's you ask? Would you be surprised if I told you less that 5% better! I actually liked my 553's better then the AKG 812's if you can believe that. Sure the 812's were a tad more dynamic (4%?), a touch more extended in the highs which actually sounded worse, and a bass region that was simply "different" and perhaps just a shade tighter. Now, for the Beyerdynamic DT-1770 Comparison: Yep, they're fantastic. They are just a touch smoother (5-6%) with a slight bit more spacing around the instruments, etc than the 553's. Because both the DT-1770's and the 553 are closed back, the differences are just not that great.......I mean very, very, minimal. When you come to realize that the mega-buck headphones are only "better" by just a hair, you start to realize just how fantastic these AKG 553's really are and what an incredible value they are. The differentials just don't justify the price differences for high end headphones. OH, and I want to mention that I also have the Philips Fidelio X2 open back headphones which are superb (currently $225) open cans. Again, money does not by you "better". Honestly, I think it comes down your tastes and your wallet. But why? Why would anyone spend 5-10X more for not even a hair's worth of difference. Granted my 553's sound significantly better with break in, and their competitors were fresh out of the box, but damn. Pull the trigger and never doubt yourself for $119. It's impossible to go wrong for this money--impossible.