As the N90Q is an active design, and the ‘Q’ on the outer ear-cup of the right-hand headphone acts as a volume control. You will get around 12 hours of play between charges, and the power bar supplied is useful here. I’d love to see some form of power indicator on the headphone itself; even though the charger bar more than doubles its battery life, as the headphones effectively become a pair of 460g ear muffs without juice, knowing just how much is in the tank is fairly important. The volume control is a soft-touch device, and those used to high-grade volume knobs might prefer something with a bit more resistance, but the rest of us will prefer lighter weight. In many cases, you might want to experiment with the volume control on the source component and the one at your ear, and although traditionally I seem to prefer one of them ‘dimed’ (played at maximum) and the other acting as controller, in most cases the device turned to the max was the source. The amplifiers in the AKG are capable of being played flat out with no distortion, and the attenuation was good overall.
It seems like a lifetime ago now, but the N90Q does benefit from a few hours of playing in before it comes on song. At least according to the notebook before last! The tonal balance is hard to pick out, because the tone control is so damn effective and the DSP options change the sound fairly significantly. But in setting the N90Q to its centre points in all cases gave a sound that was extremely detailed, incredibly analytical, and possessed of a powerful bass. That deep bass might not be so surprising, given the large 52mm drivers (which use a unique and rare Japanese paper cone) are giving the sealed N90Q a lot of driver surface area. The AKG headphone stayed just to the right side of bass heavy, but turning the tone control into the bass soon delivered plenty of powerful deep bass. I preferred the overall tone setting one notch beyond the centre, which retained the insight and analysis of the sound, cleaning up the bass without making it too light or making the sound ‘etched’ or ‘pinched’ in any way. That being said, there was something oh so very alluring about the thwack of some dubstep – I went for ‘Bangarang’ by Skrillex from the Big Beat EP of the same name – and the bottom end of these headphones when ‘giving it some beans’ in the bass was deep, satisfying, but still not blurry or over-exaggerated.
The DSP settings were interesting, too. These were great for classical enthusiasts who might prefer a front row of the stalls (‘Standard’) or mid-way to the back of the concert hall (‘Studio’) presentation, but in fact I liked the headphones on all kinds of music. The downside was the ‘Surround’ setting, which appears to slightly ‘overexpose’ the silences between notes (and no, I don’t have a better term for this effect), and seems to create more of an aircraft hanger than a concert hall. This is extremely impressive when watching ‘Deadpool’ from a seat-back, however, so I suspect ‘Surround’ might be a concession to travel movie watching.