Pros: Enormous Soundstage, Solid Bass Impact, Accentuated Mids, Textured Treble, Durable, Velour Earpads, Big Earcups
Cons: Weak Center Imaging, Lean Bass, Unnatural mids for some songs, Painful Headband, Big Earcups, Pick with sources
TL;DR Review of the AKG Q701’s
Accentuated Mids: Enhances most female vocals, also forwards vocals, “livens” synthesizers in electronic music. Can cause vocals to sound uneven due to the 2khz bump.
Grainy/Textured Treble: Gives texture and dynamics to ride cymbals and high hats, may force treble into songs that suffer with treble. i.e. Metal genres. Not to be confused with “sparkly treble”.
Lean/Solid Bass: Bass is solid and fast, impact hits hard but rumble is lean, benefits in most techno, jazz, and classical/orchestra music. Quality of bass leaves the listener wanting more.
Soundstage: Large soundstage that has a 3D Surround better than 5.1 gaming headsets. Suffers from center imaging that relates to “in-your-head” feeling, however it has a prominent forward stage. Soundstage similar to standing in the back 24’x18’ room, 5' away from the wall.
Comfort: Bumps in the headphone gets uncomfortable overtime, earcup placement is crucial in relative to sound perceived. I.e. earcups placed too far backward can cause mids to sound muffled. Velour earpads and ~270 gram weight allows comfort over long periods of time.
Build Quality: Dropped over 5 times at height of 5’ (unintentional), still working. Plastic used for earcups allow scratches to not be visible. After 3-4 years of constant usage, earcup swivel may develop friction and creak.
“Sound Signature”: Somewhat reliant on the source, however most of the time the Q701's sounds dry due to the fast decay of notes. Especially sounds analytic when compared with other headphones, soundstage gives a dynamic feel to songs, but it suffers from center imaging in regards to intimacy.
Amplification: Requires more current than voltage to power them right in my opinion. Performance on Q701’s rely more on the quality of source rather than how much power it can output.
Conclusion: The AKG Q701’s are bright sounding headphones at first without proper amplification and brain burn in.
If you don’t need isolation for gaming, throw away your gaming headsets and get AKG Q701’s. If you’re looking to get serious with your music, like detail retrieval and don’t mind spending an amplifier/dac combo that costs the same as the AKG Q701’s; get yourself a pair. If you want boomy bass, if you want isolation, if you want a smooth experience; look somewhere else, the AKG Q701’s aren’t for you. The Q701’s can be found for cheap now and definitely worth it.
Day in the Life with AKG Q701’s
I got to visit a studio today and it was nothing short of audiophoolishness delight. Upon entering the studio I was greeted with just two tower speakers made by Strauss (Strauss-SE-MF-2). These gave off a very life-like impression in sound and I was quite blown away by how close they sounded to actual instruments. The only issue I have with the speakers is that I had to be at a certain position in the room for everything to sound just right in regards to soundstage and for the treble to not sound muffled. I guess you could say this is similar to how the Q701’s need to be centered for them to sound right.
Alongside listening to the studio, I got to listen to my friends’ band play in a rehearsal room a while ago, a concert hall, and a venue all with the same song. Though none of you know the song, I used this song as a benchmark for all my tests with the Q701’s.
Cataclysm by Motivated by Foolishness
Songs found above.
The Q701’s I have are third hand, pre-burnt in, Austrian made, and so far have about 3000 hours on their mileage, not including the hours used by the previous owners. My review is solely opinion based and I’m not too hard focused on specifications (except for the measurements), and please do take the titles of the review into consideration. As there may be misconceptions of my review if they are ignored. I will assume you already have done research about the Q701’s from other reviews, I’m just providing more insight.
Q701's vs Real Life Instruments
After an entire day of listening to just instruments. I came to the conclusion that the Q701's:
- Sound a bit dry, instruments seem to not linger around very much (not regarding reverb though)
- Lack a bit of center imaging
- Tom toms don't have enough attack
- Treble is a bit grainy, and needs some more sparkle. However the Q701's have the high hat texture not many headphones have.
- There needs to be a bit more upper mids/lower treble flatness, electric guitars though have the detail and crescendo-like sound, they don't have the smoothness needed during reproduction. This upper mid is what makes pianos and violins sound more solid, the Q701's lack the solidity of piano notes.
Needless to say I believe headphones exaggerate sound overall, the only way that reproduction can be saved here are through binaural recordings. In which replicate sound much better in comparison to regular stereo recordings. Unfortunately, most songs that I know of aren’t tuned and mastered for headphones, rather for speakers instead. If I had to mention soundstage, I’d have to say the Q701’s are spot on for an acoustically tuned 24 feet by 18 feet room with musicians playing in it. Nevertheless, soundstage does indeed require a good sound signature to illustrate the distance of instruments. So the only nitpicks or comments I have about that is the flaws I mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph in regards to soundstage.
Q701’s vs Strauss-SE-MF-2 Studio Monitors
The problem I actually have with listening to reference tuned studio monitors is that they sound a bit bland with my songs. Mids don't stand out enough and bass is a bit too much for my taste.…
The Q701’s lean bass allows more detail for the rest of the spectrum, from strings getting plucked to the fingers sliding along the neck of a guitar. As you’ve noticed, I do indeed enjoy a certain part of headphones even BETTER than live performances or studio monitors; and that’s a sense of intimacy. Though these headphones don’t have the accurate reproduction of studio monitors, or the ‘in-your-head’ feeling with other headphones, I can get quite enough of intimacy through the Q701’s. I believe that intimacy can be achieved through:
A) As if you were in the room with the band members
B) Having the band members being shoved into your brain.
So it’s fairly obvious which one the Q701’s strive for. (B)
Q701's vs Other Headphones in Brief.
So why do I still have the Q701's?
Why don't I have DT990's? In which they clearly have more bass oomph and a higher treble spike?
Why don't I have HE-400's? That have a flatter sound signature, extremely solid sub bass, and smoother treble that allows me to turn up music higher?
Why don't I have HD800's?
Well first off, I don’t have the funds for HD800's, if I had the money I'd sell my Q's and own the HD800's. I've auditioned them before and fell in love with them.
HE-400's yes, are nice, but I prefer the near weightlessness of Q701's. The issue I had in regards to comfort with the AKG Q701’s are indeed the headphone placement and headband. They have to be placed somewhere near center of my head so that sound is directed into my ears and that I get full advantage of the spectrum. As for the headband, I cut off the bumps and replaced it with 0.3mm of foam. The bumps molded into my scalp and eventually I got fairly uncomfortable when I had less hair on my head after a haircut.
Also, the HE 400 don't offer a big enough soundstage for me. If you’ve heard of ASMR, the enormous soundstage heightens the effectiveness of ASMR videos. Also due to the enormous soundstage of the Q701’s, instruments feel as if they’re just being suspended mid-air, ready to be picked and listened to individually.
Beyerdynamic DT990 250 ohm
DT990’s (250ohm) slightly emphasize bass and higher treble spike, although I didn’t feel the same excitement of music when the mids weren’t quite there. However the DT990’s actually have a bit more detail.
Other Headphone Recommendation that Compliment the Q701
Audio Technica ATH-A900X
My favourite “fun” headphone would be the A900X. When I switch back to the Q701 after 3 hours with the A900X, the Q701’s sound life-less and I need at least 15 minutes for my ears to burn back to the Q701’s. In which I listen to Flamenco Rumba or a song that takes advantage of soundstage to get myself accustomed to again.
Etymotic Research ER4S (Tri-Flange IEM)
If you have the Q701’s, I recommend the ER4S. They have similar sound signatures and the extreme isolation of the ER4S compliments the Q701’s open back nature. Of course both headphones have comfort issues, but if you already have the ER4S or Q701’s, we can already assume you’re a masochist.
I found the bass quantity increases with stronger amplifiers, regular amplification makes the HD598 sound flat
HD598 with regular amping (i.e. JDS Labs ODAC/O2) still have more mid-bass than the Q701's, but not by much
Q701's have more sub-bass
I found the Q701's to have more bass texture, but sometimes can be found lean compared to the HD598
Sub-bass is also dry on the Q701's, so bass will often roll off faster without giving satisfaction of proper "oomph"
After some brain burn in, I found the Q701's to have slightly more solid and faster bass than the HD598's.
- Mids are flat and I found all vocals to work well with the HD598's.
- Mids have more weight, smooth and grounded to the floor, however the HD598 can be airy when called for
- Vocals can sometimes be a bit boring since they're flat.
- Mids are more intimate and exciting than the HD598's due to the peak in the 2khz area and brighter treble
- Mids are light and airy, giving vocals a magical presence
- Mids can sometimes be too much especially in fortissimo sections of a vocal solo
- Vocals can sometimes be sibilant. With well mastered recordings there is no sibilance. Vocalists such as Susan Wong who emphasize the letter S a lot introduce a lot of sibilance.
- HD598's have a more extended treble peak on the spectrum, therefore giving the HD598's a more subtle sparkle
- However the highs on the HD598 are smoothed out and not as exciting as the Q701's
- Treble has a flat peak and gives high hats more texture, however lacks the sparkly shimmer sometimes.
- Treble is more emphasized than the HD598's
- Lower treble has a steeper dip that makes the Q701's sound more clean and black, but hides instruments that need it (explained later)
- Left and Right channels have slightly more depth and have good center imaging, but front and back soundstage is less apparent. This can be visually seen by the design of the headphones
- The HD598 sounds more solid and grounded.
- Have a better frontal soundstage with less center imaging, has a harder left and right sound panning due to the lack of center imaging.
- Left and Right channels extend out into airiness, compared to the solid left and right depth of the HD598's.
- Soundstage is larger in regards to front-to-behind depth
- Q701's sound light and airy.
Gaming, Isolation, and Comfort
- Less clamp, Less clamp = more pressure on the top of my head.
- Deeper cups, my ears don't touch anything inside the headphone at all
- Soundstage is much better presented in Source Engine games (Counterstrike/TF2) that have less audio effects due to the forwarded drivers.
- Fully open, all sounds go in, all sounds go out.
- Headband bumps are a nightmare, after these are sliced off/modded. Q701's have better weight distribution.
- Shallower cups, ears poke the inside foam but cause no discomfort to me.
- Wider earcups mean I have to center the drivers to get the best sound quality.
- Soundstage is much better presented in games with audio effects such as Frostbite Engine games (Battlefield/Mirror's Edge).
- Fully open/semi-ish closed, most sounds go out, most sounds come in. External treble frequencies muffled more than the HD598's.
Microdetails, Amplification and Burn-In
- HD598 has a tad less microdetails, however due to the flatter response and less dips/peaks; multiple instruments are easier to pick up in busy tracks/compressed music.
- More powerful amplifiers seem to increase the bass more on the HD598's. However for these to sound more flat than the Q701's, I like to use the JDS Labs ODAC/O2 that are already tuned to be neutral.
- HD598's are nevertheless an easy headphone to drive
- I found the sound to be very open and enjoyable after 30-40 hours of brain and driver burn in.
- Have better microdetails but it's hardly noticeable, however due to the better mids in the Q701's; microdetails are more evident in tracks that have good mastering.
- Benefit from a better DAC, however requires an amplifier to extract the details from the DAC.
- Louder volumes without an amplifier will cause the Q701's to distort earlier than if it was amplified.
- Noisy amps pair well with the Q701's, as these pick up noise from amplifiers a lot less compared to the HD598.
- Unfortunately I can't comment on burn in, but my friend enjoyed his Q701's about an entire week of burn in.
- The Q701's are all about finding the right source and music to sound magical with, I absolutely love using the Q701's with tube amplifiers that colour sound.
Genres, Instruments and Presentation
- Does better with classical/orchestra music in which cellos are more emphasized
- American punk rock/metal/screamo is suited better for the HD598's since these are less active in treble and can be turned louder without fatigue
- Hip hop and rap is better due to more bass (via tube amplifier)
- Violins and Pianos are smoother and more enjoyable/presented since there is a flatter lower treble compared to the Q701's.
- Male vocals sound better
- American Female Pop artists with lower octave registers sound more intimate and smooth
- More forgiving than the Q701's, making a larger variety of songs enjoyable in comparison.
- In regards to Techno: dubstep, hardstyle, europop and bass dependent songs are better.
- A flat/warm-ish sounding headphone and sometimes unengaging
- Can be airy as the Q701's when called for, but just not as much
- The Sennheiser veil is not as present in this headphone compared to the HD600. I think the veil what people are talking about is the lack of a large treble spike with a mix of a warm/bassy presentation the sennheisers have.
- Acoustic Guitars/Flamenco Rumba are much more detailed and fun to listen to
- Jazz is presented much better
- Poprock is more active and engaging
- Classic rock from the 80's sound brighter and lively due to the large soundstage
- Female vocals in higher octaves sound better, sweeter and more active.
- In regards to Techno: Trance/Nu Disco/EDM involving a lot of synthesizers sound clearer and faster.
- An active/airy-ish headphone and sometimes fatiguing
- A brighter headphone would be something like the AD900X, in which treble is much more sparkly, airy and a lot less focused on bass.
Durability and Accessories
- Feels like cheap plastic, but extremely durable nonetheless.
- Cable is a 6.5mm jack, but comes with a 6.5mm to 3.5mm adapter. Looks awkward on my amp but I'm not too picky about it.
- Velours are bound to get dirty.
- Thicker plastic and solid, but also extremely durable. Metal headband rods saved the headphones from landing earcups first
- Green cable is bound to get dirty.
- Velours are bound to get dirty.
Sidenote: My headphones that were marketed to be durable broke first compared to these two headphones that have absolutely no issue in durability.
Both are good and allow me to enjoy my entire playlist of music. Though I prefer the AKG Q701's since I have more female vocals, I prefer the HD598's equally due to it's flat nature that allow me to enjoy a variety of genres. I'm getting the Shozy Alien that apparently has more detail than any of my sources so I'll update this post accordingly in regards to how the headphones scale up to them, images coming soon!. When I need to have music or noise in the background, I grab the HD598's since they're a bit more laid back sounding. If I need to get in the zone and active/listen to my daily ASMR, I grab the Q701's.
Powering the Q701’s
I’m just going to flat out say, there’s a certain point in which the Q701’s don’t need any more amping. I believe, similar to the music played through these headphones, the Q701’s are picky with its sources and need a good match for them to sound good and taken to full advantage. Heck, if my initial purchase of a mid-fi headphone was an HD650 instead of the Q701’s, I’d probably have about 500 songs in my entire music collection, rather than a tailored 180 songs for the Q701. Although I have no regret, I’m enjoying my 180 songs 6 hours a day, for the past 2 years. Like any headphone, each one has their own pair of songs that just simply sing. I can't emphasize how nice Jazz sounds with the Q701's.
The nature of FiiO products so far is that their soundstage is a bit narrow compared to desktop DAC’s like the JDSLabs ODAC.
The FiiO X3 sounds a bit better than the E07K in terms of clarity and bass solidity (Firmware 3.2).
The FiiO E12 cleans up the sound of the X3 or E07K. It smoothens the treble, enriches the mids and the bass is a bit more solid.
Regular devices such as an iPad, Supreme FX III (Asus Crosshair Formula-Z Motherboard/Onboard), Xonar DGX and Sony Walkman E474 (which the Sony could BARELY drive the Q701’s to audible levels) make the Q701’s sound “average”. I would have sold the Q701’s and stuck to my A900X if it weren’t for source upgrade.
JDS Labs ODac+O2
The jump from the E07K to the ODAC/O2 by JDS Labs however was the game changer, and which I started loving the Q701’s. Warmth covered the harsh treble of the Q701’s, and bass was there! Mids sounded more intimate, and treble had more texture to it. Bass wasn’t emphasized too much but it hit hard and it was THERE!
Dared MP5 Vintage Tube Amplifier
Now I’m powering the Q701’s with a vintage tube amplifier, the Dared MP5. To be honest the sound didn’t improve very much, if anything it was a change in sound signature. I believe all that changed was that treble is a tad bit more revealing, and a slight hint of natural distortion in the treble peaks exist so that treble is more forgiving. Mids are sweeter, the bass became increased a bit in quantity for enjoyment purposes. The Dared MP5 has some background noise/hiss, but for some reason, these don’t pick up the noise as much as my other headphones even though the Q’s are detail monsters… This is quite a contradictive sentence, but if you have a noisy amp, you’d be glad to pick up the Q’s.
This could simply be an exaggeration, but if I listened to a headphone long enough, my brain starts burning in to that sound signature. Then once after listening to a new source after a period of time, the difference is evident. The opinions of this new change of source is also biased with emotional opinions. These emotional opinions sometimes get mixed in with facts. When I switched between devices too quickly, my brain doesn’t have enough time to adjust to the new source. So as a result I believe that what I’m hearing with the improved source sounds the same to downgraded source. That’s how minor the improvements are with the Q701’s. However this proves that the Q701’s are sensitive to change in sources.
Gaming with the Q701’s
After the upgrade to the ODAC/O2, soundstage felt 3-Dimensional and I could hear the distance of bullets whizzing by in Battlefield 3. If a bullet whizzed across my face 2 meters in front of me, I can tell, if bullets hit behind my feet, I can tell. Out of all the $300+ gaming headphones I’ve tried (Astro A40’s, Razer Tiamat/Kraken/Blackshark/Carcharias)… there’s nothing more immersive than a product just meant for audio like the AKG Q701’s. Headsets are just utility knives, packing devices like a microphone, L.E.D’s, batteries, 5 drivers per earcup, all under $300.
In regards to games made by Valve, you’re in for a treat. Games like Counterstrike Global Offensive, Team Fortress 2, Half-Life series all benefit from the AKG’s. Valve already implemented an “around your head” soundstage that’s immersive for regular headphones/headsets. The additional soundstage from the Q701’s are beneficial for sound depth. The only issue with Valve’s audio is that they didn’t implement a very good algorithm for sounds in front and sounds behind. In which the Q701’s falter because it doesn’t have a solid central soundstage. Other headphones I have such as the A900X do better with Valve’s front and rear soundstage due to the angled drivers.
Q701’s Modded vs Unmodded
If you’ve never heard the Q701’s before, and you feel comfortable with modifying headphones. My recommendation is to mod it straight away with the sticker mod. Because as soon as you put those headphones on your head and hear the amazing mids and soundstage these offer without the mod, it’ll be hard to turn back.
This mod is known as the AKG Sticker Mod. The sticker mod is literally a sticker inside the earcups that can be removed to increase sub-bass. All you need is tweezers to stick into the "Q" grill of the earcups, rotate it counter clockwise, unscrew two screws to carefully remove the plate that requires some force to peel off, and finally use the same tweezers to gently peel off the sticker that covers the bass port.
When I did the frequency response sweeps on the Q701’s, it was fairly evident the sub bass came first a lot earlier than the earcup that had the sticker still on. There’s definitely a tad looser bass with the sticker off however, although what you get is sub-bass, and a bit more bass to boot. The downside of the sticker off is less mids, and less airiness in soundstage due to the increase in bass.
The good part of the mod is that everything sounds neutral one might even consider it as an improvement, not an improvement for me; but a possible improvement nevertheless.
Mids are flat, bass is more full bodied, treble is not as grainy and has sparkle to it. Similar to the Etymotic Research Er4s frequency response, except the ER4S sounds more lively with this response than the modded Q701's.
Note: This is a raw measurement of the AKG Q701, usually there would be a compensation chart to simulate sound perceived in the room, but I don't have that unfortunately. That's why the treble seems over-emphasized here.
The stickers off also increase the higher treble area. I don’t notice this at all since the bass balances this out. Also, the graph looks weird, I apologize if this isn't an exact interpretation of the AKG Q701's, because the mids and bass through my ears sound like they're balanced with the treble.
I tried the bass mod but the slight reduction in soundstage (in regards to circumference, not depth) somewhat turned me around back to stock.
I prefer my stickers on, I’m a purist and prefer to use the product as is.
Alpha Design Labs iHP-35 Cable
The cables indeed do sound similar. The signature of the Q701's are still there; but it just sounds a bit smoother now like my Sennheiser HD598's treble.
I had a hard time justifying a very expensive 1.5m cable. The guy at HeadfoneShop kept telling me for an entire year, "Hey, it's up to you if you want to buy it man, you just have to believe me there's a difference". As he continued to play World of Warcraft on his laptop.
I took up his offer a year later and finally bought it.
Was there a difference? Thankfully yes, I was ready to return these. All my doubts lead to no until I finally got a chance to listen to the overpriced cable.
The cables made my Q701's lean a bit towards the smoother side.
There's a bit more treble grainyness on the green stock cables compared to the ADL cable that sound oh so great with guitars that I miss.
The cables are less sensitive to my amp's hiss but more sensitive to detail somehow.
I would also like to re-iterate that these cables due introduce a bit more sibilance.
Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV)
My audio preferences? Big soundstage, solid bass, forwarded and sweet mids, and treble that could attack fast in electronic music and provide texture for high hats in which the Q701’s definitely provide. The Q701's are not headphones for everyone, since these headphones are only $150-$220 on the market, we can assume that one hasn't gone into the higher end market that already has a headphone tailored for their music preferences. Or an even better headphone that presents music better for a wider range of genres. A place that is not in reach for the near future.
The Q701’s are indeed a hit or miss, and for me they were definitely a pinpoint shot. I believe that one needs brain burn-in equally to driver burn in of the Q701’s for these to be enjoyed. I certainly don’t think these are headphones meant to be enjoyed out of the box.
Thanks to BlueMonkeyFlyer for the In-Ear Microphone!