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Best of the Best 2012: Personal Technology: AKG K3003

Since mobile mp 3 players took over the world—namely Apple’s iPod, whose first-generation device launched in 2001—audiophiles have scoffed at the thought of a pocket player providing genuine high-fidelity sound. Using these personal devices with Apple’s stock earbuds makes matters worse, and spending a few hundred dollars on upgraded earbuds only goes so far—none have been good enough to satisfy audiophiles’ ears.

In December, that changed. Austrian headphone expert AKG began delivering its K3003 earbuds, which are unquestionably the finest universally fitting in-ear headphones ever created. With more than 60 years of experience manufacturing headphones and more than 1,400 technology patents, AKG pulled out all the stops to produce the K3003s, and spent four years on research and development before finally bringing these small wonders to market.

The new buds, which retail for $1,300, easily compete with professional in-ear monitors (IEMs)—bulky devices that fill the entire ear cavity with multiple drivers and coloration-causing crossover switches. The relatively tiny buds of the AKG K3003s offer the high-quality audio reproduction of IEMs without sacrificing comfort and convenience.

The groundbreaking development behind the K3003s—they weigh less than half an ounce without the cable—is a patent-pending three-way hybrid-driver system, which places a single dynamic bass driver behind dual balanced armatures that power the mids and highs. This arrangement, in addition to providing naturally aligned frequency phases, also eliminates the need for additional crossovers between each of the drivers. (The IEMs, by comparison, use as many as eight drivers with at least one crossover for each.) The results are crystal clear responses across the earphones’ huge frequency range of 10 Hz to 30 kHz. The lows hit hard and clean, the mids are smooth as butter, and the highs deliver unbelievable detail that provides nuances never before heard from earbuds: Squeaky chairs and musicians breathing delightfully color orchestral pieces, while the sound of parting lips whets vocal performances.

AKG also developed three separate user-applied filters for the K3003s—one for reference-quality audio, one to boost bass response, and one for treble. These game-changing earbuds are also available with an Apple iOS–friendly remote control and microphone incorporated into the tangle-resistant cable, to convert users’ Apple devices into audiophile-grade mobile music players.

AKG, 888.452.4254, www.akg.com

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