Pros: Real reference transducers. Very rewarding and involving. Completely addictive and immersive. Clarity, separation, dynamics and response all excellent
Cons: Nothing worth mentioning
(edited note - for some reason I am giving these 10/10 for Audio Quality, but they are appearing as one notch less. Not sure why!)
To begin, would like to explain a little about my self and what makes me "tick" as regards audio equipment.
First off, I am no head-fier. I have enjoyed audio reproduction for the last 30 years or so, and specifically enjoy an out-of-the-box soundstage experience with conventional loudspeakers; kit which just disappears and leaves the music behind.
I purchase audio equipment for the sole purpose of listening to music, music, music. That's all, not for looks, not for caché or impression, or for boom and tizz. For musical involvement. First and foremost I am a music addict, literally; I just get such a buzz from listening to great musicians playing well together and give thanks that I am living now, in this time, to be able to enjoy so much excellent recorded material in near perfect clarity with relatively low cost equipment.
I have currently a pair of Kef X300A active speakers and run them with an assortment of several thousand albums of all genres ripped in flac or HD/SACD.
Recently have I found that family lifestyle was not really allowing me to listen "pubicly" so I started investigating the smaller end of the spectrum, and specifically the world of universal IEM's.
My first foray into the genre was an unheard of investment in a pair of Grado GR10's earlier this year quickly followed by a Fiio X3ii and E12 amp (to run the Grados and also a pair of ageing but still entirely worthy Sennheiser HD600's).
I was very pleased with the sound of both with my new "rig", and loved the midrange of the Grados but soon the lure of something with more extension at both ends was just too much and I pulled the trigger on a pair of AKG's flagship model, the K3003's. I should add, this was after much prevarication and reading around, reviews, etc! I almost went for the SE846's from Shure, but was nagged by a feeling the apparent rolled of top end would be a constant source of regret had I gone for them.
So after a week or so of almost complete immersion into the world of these "designed in Austria" beauties, I can safely say they have blown me away and bathe me in addictive and involving sound which just "works".
I am not going to describe the gear very much, nor their ergonomics, or aesthetics or what you get or don't get in the box. Nothing matters for me apart from how the sound and the fact that they can be worn for extended periods without discomfort or fatigue. With this in mind I should say that the back edges are a little sharp and take a little while to get used to. I did have some mild discomfort to begin with but now my ears have become used to them and I feel no discomfort.
Why am I reviewing them? Simply because I find them to allow me to connect with the music more than any other piece of audio equipment I have ever owned or heard and I felt that they deserved a fresh review in light of recent price revisions
I purchased the AKG's for a decent price of 800 CHF (around 850 usd or 550 gbp) and this was for the non-i version, ie without the remote and mic. Also with 2 years' guarantee.
So... it's a far cry from the 1000 gbp original price or 1300usd or whatnot, and I feel at the price I paid, they are a bit of a bargain.
I also think they have been marketed by AKG in such a way as to make them seem a frivolously chic frippery. a "lifestyle" item intending for rich playboys, to go with a nice pair of cufflinks or tiepin. Ie not worthy of audiophile consideration. I am hoping to redress this somewhat :-)
Now onto the important stuff...
How do they sound
I should mention that I use the K3003's with the Fiio X3ii / E12 combo and listen to a range of CD Flac rips and HD Tracks and SACD ISO and DFF or DSD files.
Where to begin?
Overall these are stunning. A masterpiece of engineering, offering more musical insight than I have ever hitherto had the pleasure of experiencing.
The AKG K3003's allow me to enjoy, wherever I may be, a seemingly holographic portrayal of all genres of music.
When I first listened to these, I focused on the bass , or the treble, picking out frequencies which were new to my ears in well-established recordings, and being stunned initially by their discrete abilities in this regard, but over time I have become more and more appreciative of the way the whole performance is portrayed. It's very easy to become lost in the soundscape, it's so detailed and rich and immersive. The wall of the interface of music reproduction simply melts away so easily and leaves you to just bathe in the performances.
To this end, I find the effect most stunning with well recorded ensemble pieces, rather than heavily processed or electronic tracks. That's not to say that these latter styles don't sound good (great, even), it's just that the effect, the illusion, of real human interplay is so heightened by the AKG's that genuinely virtuosic performances by ensembles at the top of their game just makes them entirely irresistible and addictive.
One note I had made when listening over the past week include that they make most albums very listenable and engaging; that there is a sound signature to albums of which I was not acutely aware until listening to various albums with these. Once I got used to the bright clear sound signature of these AKG's themselves, I was able to assimilate the signatures of the albums was listening to quite rapidly, and I could get on with the business of listening to the album on it's own strengths and weaknesses.
So, rather than being turned off an album for this and that reason and moving on to the next to try (a regular, normal occurrence when listening to audio with me, at least), I am just transfixed often enough with what is currently playing so I listen to a whole whole track or album, relishing each note, feeling the direct connection with the musicians, their passion, their energy, their life. This occurs with most genres and recordings. And give them better source material, they simply perform even better. This is no mean feat for any equipment,as far as I am concerned. I am notoriously flighty when it comes to listening. Always seeking nirvana, the next buzz, or what-have-you, so to have some kind of stable and consistently excellent platform to listen to music on its own merits is refreshing to say the least.
Another note I made was that dynamically, the K3003's handle well the ebb and flow of music, especially notable with well recorded classical material and prog-rock, where crescendos are handled effortlessly and naturally.
To sum up... Man, these are something else! They are pure transducers of a high order offering a window onto the sound like nothing else I have experienced. However, they don't sound cold or clinically analytical. just pure. I keep testing them out, thinking, "when is the bubble going to burst, when am I going to wake up or come to my senses?" but they just keep on making sublime music. And wherever and whenever I want, completely discretely. Absolutely stunning.
One thing I would say, is that these are pretty addictive. I have had to consciously and reluctantly climb out of listening experiences, musical moments, when other things have demanded my attention. It's another world in here.
Specific Examples - Musical Notes (I could go on forever, but here's a few...)
Blues-Rock - Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble - Soul To Soul - Say What! (MFSL SACD DFF)
Great test this. Can easily sound congested, but the AKG's deconstructed this beautifully, revealing a full 3d soundscape, with all instruments in define spaces. Easy to follow bassline and "comping" keyboards and percussion behind SRV's soaring lead. Fantastic. Giving me chills as I write this.
Blues-Rock/Southern Rock/Jam Band - Allman Brothers - Eat A Peach - Mountain Jam (MFSL SACD DFF) (1st 15 mins or so)
Now, this is a blast! OK, here goes... Deconstruction. In defined spaces in the soundstage: Bass, Berry Oakley clearly defined rickenbacker by the sound of it (correction- It's a Fender Jazz Bass). Really clean and clear, in mid foreground, slightly to the right. Lead guitar on right, Duane Allman. Left hand side rhythm/2nd lead, Dickey Betts. Far right and left double drummers Jai Johannson and Butch Trucks. And in the background (unless leading) Gregg on organ. My goodness this is incredible. I've never heard these guy gel so well! & I've listened to this 1000 times. Really so stunning, the bass ripping through it all, but tying perfectly to the drumming, allowing a canvas on which the guitars and keyboards can soar.
Classical - Beethoven Symph no 3 - Eroica - Marriner - AAM - (1983 or something?) CD Rip
This is a very well recorded version of the 3rd, and performances are spot-on. I have listened to this for the last 25 years or so and it's sounding super via the AKG's. Smooth, detailed, holographic. I can clearly hear individual groups of instruments and interplay between them. No stridency whatsoever, just smooth and clear. Dynamic peaks handled extremely well. Music flows naturally. Phones disappear, leaving soundstage.
Electronic - Tangerine Dream - Poland (Title track)
I have always loved this track, since the late 80's when I first heard it. It's one of my favourite all time Tangerine Dream tracks. It has a visceral energy, dynamic, stunning bass, and atmosphere and it's an amazingly well recorded live album. With the AKG's it's portrayed very well indeed. Holographic soundstage, great air between instruments. Tight bass line. The textures of the sounds are very layered and interesting. Beautiful rendition, stunning. Giving me chills again, as I write. The dynamics and tension are captured so well. It's alive!! There's one part of the track around 6 mins in where a sort of rasping sound moves from l-r and then the piece takes off again into a soaring electronic climax. All handled beautifully and clearly. Am enjoying interplay more than ever here.
Acoustic - Punk/Folk - Frank Turner - I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous CD Rip
Got into FT in recent years, went to see him live a couple of times locally. Great times. I Knew Prufrock is a super track about coming of age. Here it sound better than ever. It has a slow buildup to a rousing finish, with much detail and complexity along the way. A great test for any system and can easily sound irritating with lesser systems. Here, with the AKG's it's sounding great. Holographic (that word again) acoustic guitar sound, crystal clear. Vocals nicely presented. Visceral energy builds up proportionally as the track moves forward. All very good. As the full crescendo comes on, it almost loses it, and it probably should sound like it should, but it doesn't and maintains composure, surety.
Prog - Rock - Genesis - Selling England By The Pound - Dancing With The Moonlit Knight SACD DFF
This album was one of the early pinnacle masterpieces from the Prog Rock masters. The opening track is a stunner. Everyone is on top form and the recording production is 2nd to none. Here, with the K3003's, it's superb. Crystal clear definition of instruments in their own spaces, Gabriel's vocals are stunning, very lifelike indeed. Nothing to fault; interplay is superb, sounds like a jazz fusion outfit at the top of their game. One realises what a great drummer Phil Collins was. So uncongested. Incredible, given the complexity of the music, like each instrument is laser etched.
Rock - Jazz - Steely Dan - Aja (Title Track) SACD ISO
Possibly the finest track from arguably the finest album of the 70's. Becker and Fagen were notorious for their ruthless and laborious approach to album creation, hiring the best musicians of the day to play certain parts of each track and then editing them to perfection with all the finest cuts. Aja features a drum and sax solo from Steve Gadd and Wayne Shorter respectively and it's a real epic, swooping and soaring often in startling directions. The AKG's handle the piece with reverence, neutrally, allowing the virtuosic perfomances to shine through. Notably, percussive cymbals are shining through with a delicacy I haven't heard before. Really adding to the experience. Beautiful.
Rock - Metal - Iron Maiden - Rock In Rio - Blood Brothers - CD Rip
Love this track, and not more so than on the Rock In Rio album. Handled superbly by the AKG's, deconstructs the soundstage very well. I was expecting this to sound irritating and compressed somewhat, but was completely surprised. The soundstage was pushed back nicely, and dynamics handled well, with the swelling and power of the occasion coming over well. Turning on the bass boost feature of the Fiio E12 amp, helped to give some oomph to the proceedings. Guitar solo really nicely defined with great interplay with percussion. Again, giving me chills :-)