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Where's The Beef? Saga of the K501

post #1 of 75
Thread Starter 
A Completely Unfair First Impression of a Well-Respected Headphone Beloved by Thousands if Not Millions

The story of my K501 adventure starts where any good story these days really starts: eBay. I snagged a BIN auction for a new K501, based on the buzz here and figuring that I liked AKG's mics, so could their headphones be all that bad? Plus, the consensus seemed to be that they were "neutral", which of course to many means "boring and otherwise lacking in hormonal excitement". Perfect for me as a post-hormonal, mature (ahem) sort of person who's had enough excitement in his life, thank you very much. I value smoothness and effortlessness in both headphones and pro tennis players, so the K501 became a designated wallet-target. Ho hum, another uneventful eBay purchase.

Until the auction blew up. The day after I snail-mailed the check, eBay emailed me to say there was a copyright owner objection to the sale and that it should never have happened-- and to demonstrate their awesome Orwellian power to erase history they wiped all traces of the transaction off eBay's shining face. Poof. Never happened. I was on my own. Fortunately the seller was on the up and up, and today, 30 days after I mailed the check, the K501 arrived.

Keeping in mind that this K501 is still green and oozing sap, imagine my surprise when, despite warnings by many Head-Fiers that the K501 has "weak" bass, I saddled up my new purchase with my superduper Realistic STA-2200 Headphone ReAnimator receiver [see my earlier post on this bit of vintage gear and what it did for the HD-600] only to find that the bass wasn't weak at all.

Perception of bass has a lot to do with how well the diaphragm of a transducer is damped. Underdamped bass (say, in a cheap subwoofer with its typically poorly-tuned port) is bass that sounds loud all the time-- pleasing for the first 10 seconds or so; then it starts to get on your nerves. A designer of a headphone is always trying to balance fundamental resonant frequency, bass damping and treble extension. Overdamp the bass and you gain detail but you lose that warm chocolatey sound so many crave and you perforce raise the effective stiffness of the diaphragm's suspension, which moves the resonant frequency of the diaphragm up into the midrange which makes the bass seem weaker still, and bla bla bla. Underdamp the bass and you win friends and influence people. Hormones never go out of style.

I figured, based on the posts here by owners and ex-owners, that the K501 made the tradeoff in the direction of more-detailed bass (the old quality over quantity gambit) compared to the Sennheiser HD-600, and that, as with any overdamped diaphragm, some good old bass EQ would bring up the low end and all the glorious detail and impact that is the reward of making this tradeoff. So imagine the flat midrange and nice smooth extended treble I was hearing. Imagine my smile as I turned up the deep bass on the STA-2200's tone controls.

Hah. There was no "weak" bass. There was no bass. None. Dropped like a rock. Never happened.

I practically laughed out loud. After the positively smacktile bass of the Yamaha YH-100 and Fostex T-30 and the very respectable bass (even without the EQ crutch) of the refurb HD-600s, this was indeed an excellent joke.

Not that I don't like the K501. Just the opposite.
This particular K501 is, as I said, brand new and will probably change with time, though with some 'phones it's painfully obvious when they have a long way to go basswise (I think of the Fostex T50RP-- gerG will know what I mean). Meanwhile, I'm enjoying the K501's essentially flat response (far flatter than the T50RP) and effortless high end. At this point they're like expensive minimonitor speakers. No bass but everything else is just right.

Updates as they happen.
post #2 of 75
Give them time...they're good cans. They are at their best where music comes to life - in the midrange. They also require a tremendous amount of juice!!
post #3 of 75
im not understanding why you would think that turning up the bass going into the 501's would magically make them open up? if they dont reproduce bass its because their design is as such... i have K1000's and i can turn up the bass all i want on my EQ and all im going to get is distortion, no more bass...

its a universal knowledge (and you even said it yourself that you knew) that the 501's are not for bass, they are for excellent mid and high details

so im not really understanding the point of this thread...

cliffsnotes if you dont want to read the whole thread

1) bought 501's even tho warnings of lack of bass
2) turned up bass on amp, nothing happened
3) unhappy becuase of lack of bass
post #4 of 75
wualta, thanks for an entertaining read.

My own experience with a demo K501 was similar. I had read about its lack bass, excellent midrange and treble, and amazing soundstage/headstage before hearing it.

I agreed with the descriptions of the K501 after listening to it.

The K501 did have very good midrange and treble which made for a smooth, pleasant sound. Soundstage was also good. Classical music, especially violins, sounded excellent.

I'm not a basshead, and prefer accurate, tight bass to the heavy booming kind. The K501 didn't have any bass.
post #5 of 75
I would prefer the bass to be slightly louder though. Other then that the midrange is gorgeous. The shrill highs only come in when you play anything other then classical or orchestral.

From my experience, burning in did not do much for these headphones. The bass was adequate from the start actually but did not increase during the 300 hour burn in. It might have decrease at one time but when back to its original level. It was however a tube rolling session that curb the upper treble harshness so careful amp matching is a must.

This is a very niche (is this the word?) headphone
post #6 of 75
Sometimes I wonder if there are variations in the individual samples of the K501? So many differing opinions on the bass. Anybody ever compare units and notice that the bass response varied among them?

post #7 of 75
I've only tried one K501.

But I believe that I am qualified to label them as the headphone where bass goes to die.

post #8 of 75
After few weeks burn-in of my K501 the bass is not too much stronger than it was in the begining (meaning: it is still weak). The biggest change in the sound is that now the sibilance is gone and the cans have became smooth and very detailed.

So far the K501 are the best phones among those I tried (HD600, RS1, K271, HD25, SR80) for listening to the piano recordings. Violins sound very good, too. But piano sounds simply incredible! However, I definitely prefer other headphones for rock and jazz.
post #9 of 75
ime, playing extremely bassy music loud for an extended period of time (>50hrs) helps somewhat with the bass problem. ymmv.
post #10 of 75
Do you have the "brown ring" ear pads or the "black ring" ear pads? Have you verified that they're rotated enough to lock in place? Others have described what exactly to do to verify these things. I found that the bass was reasonable on the K501s, but just not to my preference. The other thing I'd do is make sure you have enough amplification to feed these cans.
post #11 of 75
Heh, welcome to the "bought one cuz it can't be that bad" club.

I like 501, but honestly, they're 'piano and vocal phones'. Music for the rest of us sounded wrong without bass.
post #12 of 75
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Nak Man
Heh, welcome to the "bought one cuz it can't be that bad" club.
Hee hee. It really isn't that bad, you just have to listen with a subwoofer flailing away in the background.

As I pointed out, there's a tradeoff (which I'm glad to see working in real life, not just as theory) and there's also a difference between rolled-off (ie, weak) bass, which indicates overdamping (often a good thing), and no bass, which means a bass cutoff below which there be hippogryffes but no actual sound, arrrgh matey. Now we know why AKG came up with the K340.

OT: Nak, did you ever investigate the Primo website to try to find the OEM Grado driver?
post #13 of 75
For some reason, i just don't enjoy K501 midrange as much as many here seem to. It could be a system mismatch or perhaps I have a fairly different perception of sound. I personally don't mind its bass extension as much as its overall thin and dry presentation. In fact, for the music that doesn't require much bass extension, I prefer the tight bass of K501 to that of HD650. What bothers me most about the 501 is the thin mid/high that makes violin, for example, sound harsh and aggressive. The lush & creamy orchestral strings lack their body and sound like coming from a single violin on K501 imho. However, there are definitely recordings which K501 plays well, but those are probably some 10% of my classical cd collections. imo, K501 fairs better with pop music..
post #14 of 75
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by crazyfrenchman27
I've only tried one K501, the headphone where bass goes to die.
I love that. The bass boneyard.

OT: Hey, as long as you're in Grinnell, send us a photo of Louis Sullivan's bank.
post #15 of 75
Originally Posted by Bill Ward
Sometimes I wonder if there are variations in the individual samples of the K501? So many differing opinions on the bass. Anybody ever compare units and notice that the bass response varied among them?

I don't think the bass would vary that much from unit to unit, I think it has more to do with synergy between the cans, source, amp, and even cables to a degree. That's really the tricky part of putting together a system that will meet your individual sonic requirements. Also, you have to take subjectivity into consideration as well, for me more than any other headphones I've heard, the K501's bass (and everything else) sounds fuller with a tube amp. The K501 tends to sound thin and dry with solid state amps in general.
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