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An Enjoyable, But Flawed Earphone Not Worth The Price

A Review On: AKG K3003

AKG K3003

Rated # 38 in Universal Fit
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Price paid: $1,400.00
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Pros: Great Tuning--These Are Fun To Listen To, Good Detail In the Midrange And Treble

Cons: Incoherency Between The Drivers Is Noticeable, Harsh treble with best detailed filter, detail loss with others, High price, Reliability is a concern

Short Review: All observations made with the high pass filters. Naturally I listened with each of the three filters, but the high pass was my preference.



I really liked the tuning of these. With the K3003, you get an approximation of a neutral sound in terms of a good balance between treble, midrange and bass and the filter system gives you a means of adjusting this balance (at a cost of slightly loss of detail with the non-reference filters). What's great is that the sound is still very fun. I'm not sure I can put my finger on exactly why, but these were great to listen to. I think the combination of the brightness of the treble with the full bass give the fun of a more v-shaped sound, but I didn't find the midrange recessed. Add that to the nice detail in the midrange and treble, and you've got a tuning that lets you sit up an really listen to your music while still rocking out.



The main issue for me was the incoherency between the drivers. You can certainly tell the difference between the sound characteristics of the dynamic driver for the bass and the balanced armature drivers for the midrange and treble. I'm not sure why AKG used this particular dynamic driver, but it's markedly less detailed and has a slower decay than the armatures. It's not terrible, but it's a serious flaw in an earphone with a huge pricetag. I often listen to music where the bass, midrange and treble are equally balanced, string quartets are an example. Another is renaissance polyphony where the bass, tenor, alto and soprano singers must be balanced. The bass voices were less detailed and crisp than the sopranos with the k3003. I imagine there will be music where this issue is less noticeable, but if you listen, you'll hear the discontinuity in the earphone.


EDIT: After writing the review, I've come across a graph which may help: The CSD graph in this post perfectly sums up the issue with the k3003. You can see very clearly that the decay in the bass from the dynamic driver is way, way, way longer than in the rest of the frequency range as produced by the armature drivers.


The treble will definitely be a bit harsh for some using the high pass filters, but using the other filters takes a bit away from the detail resolution. It's a trade off that I don't want to make at $1,400.


Some found issues with isolation, I thought it was average. Others have reported fit issues, I didn't have any, but certainly it's always possible and one can carefully try different brands of eartips. The standard tips worked for me so I didn't explore that.


Reliability is a serious concern as well. The stress relief on the pair I used for this review was showing signs of wear after only a few months.


I updated my review to show the great CSD graph posted by Inks. It sums up the issue with the k3003's sound perfectly.
Did you see the CSD graph before or after you wrote your excellent review (Thank you!)? Honestly!

The fact that I updated the review to show the graph makes it obvious that I saw the graph afterwards. The flaws noted in the review have been heard by others as well. I'm sorry your feelings were hurt. I hope you can understand even if you don't agree.
I'm fine! Thanks for your care!
Having listened to the K3003 critically for quite a while now and having compared it to my other high-end headphones (Sennheiser HD 650, EarSonics EM6, EarSonics SM3) I find your review way off from what I hear. With high quality recordings I find that the “High boost” filters very notably improve transparency and resolution, i.e. they provide an extremely clean and detailed sound, yet balanced, much more so than the reference filters. I would call the K3003s overall sound signature (with the “Reference” and “High boost” filters) natural and sublime (never “v-shaped” and “fun”). I can’t hear any incoherency, on the contrary I find the K3003 very coherent, more so than my other headphones. Finally, how can you tell that: “The treble will definitely be a bit harsh for some using the reference filters” and that: “using the other filters takes a bit away from the detail resolution” when all of your observations were made with the reference filters? Seems a bit incoherent!
I know you're pretty attached to the k3003 being the best, so just enjoy it and don't worry about what other people think.
I'm sorry you don't like that I and others (purrin, Anaxilus, LFF, etc.) have heard the k3003's incoherency between drivers. Even James444 who is a big fan of the k3003 hears the difference between drivers. Given that you claim the k3003 is more coherent than the HD650, a single driver dynamic headphone, it's possible that you don't understand what coherency is and simply want the k3003 to be the best at everything. What is meant by incoherency is that a discerning listener can hear that there are different drivers handling different parts of the sound. A single driver earphone or headphone such as the HD650, by definition, has excellent coherency.
As for the names of the different filters, it may be that I've confused their labels. There are three filters, which for simplicity we can call treble, moderate and bass, for the sake of conversation. The treble filter yields a harsher sound. The moderate filter tempers that harshness at the cost of detail resolution. Naturally, when I had the k3003, I listened to it with all filters before reviewing. I'll update the review, thanks.
Again, I hope you can understand that no earphone is perfect and that not only one, but several people have had issues with the k3003. You paid a lot of money for the k3003 and enjoy it, that's great. You'll have to accept that other people have not enjoyed it as much and can articulate the issues they have with it. It's better not to get upset.
I hope you can understand even if you don't agree.
The very purpose of a review is to give its readers a sense of what a product is like before they try it or buy it. As I feel your review substantially deviates from my perceptions of the K3003 I felt it pressing to let other people know in what ways. To me and especially with the “High boost” filters the K3003 sounds every bit as coherent as my other headphones. I’m sure you and others have heard incoherency between drivers and even seen it in graphs, but I rely on my ears only. After all, the sound of headphones is designed to be listened to, not viewed. Even though you don’t know me and have no sustaining evidence I notice that you draw many conclusions about my emotional state of mind and conclusions about my appraisal of you and others sharing your opinions about the K3003. Please don’t! It’s not fair to attribute me with opinions that I don’t have and have never expressed. I certainly hope you don’t apply the same method when assessing headphones!? I think it’s excellent that you and others point out what you personally experience as shortcomings of the K3003 so that others who are considering the K3003 are aware of this and try it before they buy it. Evidently there are some people who hear incoherency and think it’s an issue, there are those (even HF authorities) who hear it and don’t think it’s an issue, and there are many others for whom it’s not an issue at all. I guess the only way to find out which group you belong to is to listen to it. You state that: “The treble filter yields a harsher sound” as though it was an objective truth. (BTW, I take it you mean the “High boost” filter as named by AKG when you write the “treble filter”. For consistency and convenience I think it better to stick with AKG’s terminology.) Are you sure the “High boost” filters were properly screwed on and undamaged when you tried them? I wonder because I just find it impossible to associate the K3003 with the word “harsh”. Personally I could accept “slightly brighter” as a proper description, but IMHO that would be the least significant effect of the “High Boost” filters.
You call the K3003 "flawed" and I really don’t want to get into the debate about the AKG K3003 being “flawed”, but I just have to say this. I find it very, no, extremely strange to call it flawed. How can it be called flawed? To me something that is flawed is so in comparison to its specification (in the case of the K3003, the specification defined by the engineers at AKG), or some expectation, and who has the authority to define what we should or must expect from an IEM? All I have to say for now is that the AKG K3003 is the most satisfying sounding IEM I’ve heard to date, and I recommend anyone looking for a reference high-end IEM (of any type) to try it.
I'm glad you think it's excellent that I and others have pointed out the flaws in the k3003. The harshness in particular has been apparent to a number of listeners, as has the incoherency between drivers.
That is why we call it flawed. We are entirely authorized to do so. The AKG k3003 has flaws in its reproduction of sound and music--that's its purpose and everyone with ears has the authority to judge it. People who are practiced in listening to different earphones with high quality source gear and recordings may develop a bit of a trained ear in recognizing aspects of an earphone's ability to accurately reproduce sound. Pointing out the K3003's flaws as purrin and I and others have is very useful to people who care about how their high end earphone will sound. Naturally, different people may be looking for different things from their earphone. It's great that you are enjoying your k3003 and that you don't mind the harshness and incoherency.
I wish you the best in your audio journey.
Not everyone is going to share your views and everyone's hearing is different.
Glad you found nirvana, now you can move on, since you obviously don't need to be looking for any more gear.
Nice review KunLun! I enjoyed the K3003's but don't use them much anymore because I have better IEMs/gear in general and their harshness bothered me a bit. I'd probably be looking to sell them if the money meant anything to me.
To “MomijiTMO”:
In essence exactly what I’ve been trying to say. Don’t take Kunlun’s (or my) word for it; if you are on the lookout for an amazingly sounding (and to my ears coherently sounding) universal in-ear monitor, try the K3003 for yourself and I’m sure there’s more than a good chance you’ll be greeted by some of the most amazing sound you’ve ever heard from a headphone.
To “Maxvla”:
Why so offensive? I haven’t attacked you or anyone else, and for your information I constantly try out new gear. Recently I’ve invested in the FitEar ToGo! 334 (definitely on par with the K3003 but having a different signature) and the Portaphile 627X. And BTW, I don’t believe in aural nirvana. Sound is my hobby, not my religion.
To “driver 8”: Since the money doesn’t mean anything to you, may I suggest that you sell your K3003 and donate the money to doctorswithoutborders.org? Did you know that for $1500 you can protect more than 5000 children from being crippled by measles? To those children the money means more than a lot! Let us know your decision! Thanks!
To Aero Dynamik... glad you're happy with your K3003. U are entitled to your opinion. You said u trust your ears ONLY so nothing else holds water for you cept your own thoughts. I appreciate that. As for the incoherence and harshness, i've noticed them. And to MY EARS, I don't think the price-to-performance ratio is justifiable. But that's just to me and evidently, to several others (and pretty good company, i should say). We're happy u are loving your AKG's. At the end of the day, it's YOU who decides and discerns what YOU want, like and love. And that goes for the rest of us.
amzies01> glad you're happy with your K3003.
Indeed I am! Thank you! I'm glad you're glad!
amzies01> U are entitled to your opinion.
I already knew that, but thank you for reminding me! What a priviledge freedom of speech is!
amzies01> You said u trust your ears ONLY so nothing else holds water for you cept your own thoughts.
Yes, I guess so! At the end of the day it is what I personally hear from an IEM that really matters to me.
amzies01> I appreciate that.
That sounds reassuring!
amzies01> As for the incoherence and harshness, i've noticed them. And to MY EARS, I don't think the price-to-performance ratio is justifiable. But that's just to me and evidently, to several others (and pretty good company, i should say).
You know, majority doesn't necessarily make something true or right, but I can respect a personal and sincere opinion. You don't really need others to tell you what you hear, right?
amzies01>We're happy u are loving your AKG's.
Well I'm afraid I don't feel convinced that all those who do not share my sentiments about the K3003 appreciate my affection for it. However, if you sincerely do it is good enough for me. Thanks!
amzies01>At the end of the day, it's YOU who decides and discerns what YOU want, like and love. And that goes for the rest of us.
Amen (and I enjoy sharing my thoughts with others)!
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