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AKG/SAC K1000: Initial Listening Notes (LONG)

post #1 of 29
I auditioned this combo, comparing it to Headroom Cosmic (old model without Base Station 1) and Sennheiser HD600 (no Clou cable). The SAC amp had about 60 hours of burn-in time. Headphone only about 15 hours.

First, an apologia. I'm a novice at explaining what I hear. I know next to nothing about electronics or its terminology so I can't offer any mega- or killo- talk (which would help me better explain some things that I hear). I'll also say that at age 43 my hearing is more discerning than in earlier years, but at the price of some loss in the upper frequencies -- not enough however to affect most musical listening. I'm sure there will be other, more experienced and eloquent commentaries on this particular combo. And I anxiously await their views because I have learned a lot from this and other audio forums. (At the end of this post I include links to reviews in the past 6 months on AKG K1000 and/or SAC amp.) However, I decided that an early, initial-impression post might be warranted because I have received a few e-mails asking me for my views of this combo from people wanting to act on Jan's current sales-action before it's too late. This is not really a review, just my listening notes, so take it with a grain of salt.

Equipment: Arcam Alpha 5
ART Di/O DAC
Dimarzio ic w/ radioshack 1/4" adapters to connect to ART Di/O

Getting Started: The AKG take some fussing to get the right sound. I fiddled a little with adjustments on AKG K1000. I first tried to turn the ear-grilles out. My head's pretty skinny so I lost too much bass. I returned them parallel to my ear for better bass and tilted the headband toward the front of my head to improve the bass still more. After quite a while of listening (each time having to find the best spot), I've settled on tilting them the headband toward the back of my head to pick up a clearer and stronger bass signal. This has become my standard listening position which means quiet, fairly still listening in a chair -- no boogying on the dance floor or the headphones will fly who knows where! I find the AKG very comfortable. There is a slight pressure on your temple with no pressure on your ears. I prefer this to the conventional headphone feel.

For my first audition I listened to Mahler 4th Symphony, 2d movement. This is a scherzi, a demented and rusticated parody of a waltz. It is a nice audition piece because of the wide palette of instruments (horns, flutes, woodwind, a full complement of strings--including harp, and percussion). In addition to the more common symphonic tutti it also has many moments in which these instrument groupings play against one another in small ensemble roles, with ample opportunity to hear instruments playing solo. Mahler in general is good for listening to a wide array of instruments in combination with one another.

Here are my initial impressions.

The AKG/SAC combo is extremely transparent with gobs of detail and a very precise and expanded soundstage. I thought the Sennheiser's were transparent when I compared them to Grado 125 but compared to the AKG the Senn show signs of coloration and warmth with a relatively squished projection of instrumental separation and difference. A discernable "silence" is etched between instruments with AKG. Instrumental separation and placement is very audible and nicely imaged. It does an amazing job of allowing the various layers and intensities/dynamics of instruments during complex tutti moments.

The potential down-side of AKG's transparency and detail is that it tends toward an analytical presentation, which may be fatiguing for extended listening. The Senn have a smooth (even soothing or "laid-back") balance across the sound range. However, compared to the AKG, the Senn's lows on bass instruments sound tubby and puffy (i.e., they lose more focus than the AKG) Where the Senn may make the stroke of a contrebass sound like a puff or glug of sound, you can hear the attack of the bow to string in the AKG. Again, I found this an interesting lesson in relativity because in my earlier comparisons of Senn and Grado, I clearly thought the Senn had better detail.

In contrast to my preference for the AKG in presentation of the bass sounds (percussion, lower brass, and stringed instruments), the Senn have a tamer high range. The AKG/SAC tend toward pinched and thin highs (I am hoping this improves over time). For example the woodwinds sound nasally and violins more screechy. A musical phenomenon that I cannot explain electronically is that different headphones present the same instrument at different pitches (frequencies). For instance, the Senn seems to bring some of the violins and woodwinds down almost an octave from that of the AKG. This, I think, explains why the soundstage is more collapsed and "colored" than the AKG.

Because of AKG's thin and pinched highs I decided to lunge into the belly of the beast (for me, string quartets because the sound of the violin can become very irritating if it is pitched too high and thin). I chose the Emerson String Quartet playing Beethoven op. 131. I was pleasantly surprised by how the AKG dealt with this music. It was thinner than the Senn but not irritating. The detail, transparency and especially the PRAT leaped out at me. The texture of the sound, the timbre of the instruments really was greatly improved over the Senn. In all of my listening the AKG was clear a winner when it came to dynamics. It could present the subtlest shades and shifts from pianissimo to fortissimo.

The last two movements of this quartet really generate some heat and speed. To borrow a digital metaphor, the Senn just seemed like the information was streaming too fast for them to keep up, while the AKG snapped up the information and laid it out in a "real-time" stream. The pizzicato and rapid sawing of the bow across the strings were thrillingly presented with the AKG. The rapid-fire cross playing of the four lines undulating from player to player was palpable.

The lows of the cello didn't bloom like the Senn but neither did they get lost with the AKG. They just were plucked and bowed without collapsing into the complex pandemonium of sound. If people like a physical feel to their bass, I don't think that the AKG is right for you. You can "groove" to them but they're certainly not headbangers. It takes some adjustment to get into the groove of the music but when you do, you're "there", right in front (if not on top) of the music. The Senn has a more distanced presentation of the music -- smooth and refined.

I had the hardest time trying to compare the two with vocal music. Just to add suspicion to my views, most people argue that AKG 1000 really shine in vocal music. I am not convinced that they are the hands down winner in this department. I couldn't believe my ears so I tried a few different samples (soprano Susan Graham in Le roi du Thule; soprano Regine Crespin in Berlioz's Les Nuits d'ete, and tenor Ian Bostridge in Schubert's Die Schone Mullerin). I generally preferred the Senn because the voices were more voluptuous and immediately pleasant -- some of the cushion of warmth and color supported the voices and deepened their texture. The AKG was detailed and transparent, but in a way that made the voice seem unsupported, isolated, and "naked" (giving a certain graininess to the voice). I still need to listen more because I'm not convinced that one is clearly better than other, but I'm nonetheless surprised that AKG didn't impress me more.

In the end, my judgement about the 2 combos is similar to that of picking who's better: Vermeer or Rubens, Bach or Beethoven, Proust or Joyce, Batman or Spider Man? They're different, each with the strengths, and at this level, very few real weakness. I can see myself moving back and forth endlessly. Sometimes picking up the AKG K1000 for careful, analytical listening, wanting to hear a crystalline sound of transparency and detail (especially in chamber music). Sometimes relaxing to the musicality of the Senn their immediate invitation to be enveloped in a lusty musical experience.


For additional reviews from more experienced ears than mine, see Jan's initial review of AKG1000:
http://headwize.com/ubb/showpage5.php?fnum=1&tid=2862

Jan's Review of SAC amp:
http://headwize.com/ubb/showpage5.php?fnum=2&tid=1808

An exceptionally detailed and comprehensive review of AKG 1000, including short comparisons using various amps:
http://www.acidhardware.com/reviews/akg/index.shtml

Todd's (from Headroom) review of AKG 1000 with Antique Sound Labs AQ 1005DT tube power amp:
http://headwize.com/ubb/showpage5.php?fnum=1&tid=2447

Harry's review (via Jan) comparing AKG 1000 to other headphones:
http://headwize.com/ubb/showpage5.ph...days=2&stime=0

Jan's subsequent view of the AKG 1000 compared to other headphones:
http://headwize.com/ubb/showpage5.ph...time=0&fpage=2

M Rael's excellent description of AKG's sound comparing it to Sony MDR-F1
http://headwize.com/ubb/showpage5.ph...days=2&stime=0

There are, of course, others but these were the ones that I remembered best for one reason or another.
post #2 of 29
That's a honestly great review holderlin. Excellent choice of music and very good descriptions. In depth coverage. I even got a reading recommendation in classic literature out of it - I've read Proust, maybe I should try Joyce?

Oh, I see you're a writer/teacher from your profile. I normally don't do that but your review was so well written that I had to. No wonder it was put together so well .
post #3 of 29
Great review, holderlin! For someone who said at the outset that he would have trouble describing the sound you hear, you did a fantastic job. Your assessment of these 'phones is one of the best reviews, professional or otherwise, that I've come across. Bravo!.........and thank you.
post #4 of 29
Its very interesting that your findings on the HD600's are extremely similar as how I first received them, and I had both Ety's and AKG501 as reference points at the time.

I often wonder if it requires that one has a reference point in order to notice weaknesses in different phones? And I sometimes wonder if buying new headphones is like opening Pandora's box...and you tend to realize weaknesses both in what you own...and what you just bought! Course in the end it is the strengths that matter, but I still think it is interesting that until a new reference point is added, some weaknesses are never known!

From my experience, it seems that it is difficult to get a headphone that is both more transparent than the Senns, yet retaining a very smooth musical quality. Its as if you need to trade a strength for a weakness. This is akin to the DT931 which I feel is also more transparent and has better bass than Senn, but can also be a tad annoying in the highs. Now I am also just wondering if Jan's Analoguer is really a digititus curing miracle worker since his tastes definitely does lean towards these more analyltical phones...

The closest I've gotten is with Ety4S, but I expect even more out of a full-sizer with expanded soundstage and a little bass oomph, but sometimes wonder if its too much to ask.

Anyhow I also would love to hear more about how your new Art D/IO is doing!!! I'm strongly considering it as a cheap upgrade. BTW have you removed the tube from the unit or upgraded its power supply?
post #5 of 29
Tim D: Yup, I think reference points are useful. For example, I didn't have proof that the DT531 has just a tad too much mid-bass, before I had listened to the HP890 - now my notion turned into conviction (nevertheless, the DT531 is still a very good headphone for the price - especially for rock: try Yes 90125!).

To make a simple analogy: You might think that your mum makes the best steak around, because you really like it - but only until you have the chance to find out that one of your friends' mums can do it even better (my mother is fairly good, though - even if she has the tendency to fry meat too long. lucky me, because I have a talent for frying and barbequeing... ).

Without reference points you have no chance to judge things properly, as you just can't know the "truth" (= how things should look, sound, feel, smeel or taste like to make you really happy) from the start (even if this "truth" might be very individual...) - people with absolute hearing, that might need no reference points, are very rare (...and I'm not even sure if absolute hearing isn't based on initial experiences with different "truths", too).

That's why I want to know even more headphones. And sometimes we have some good sayings in German: Das Bessere ist des Guten Feind. (literally translated: The better is the enemy of the good.) Especially after you found it.

Greetings from Munich!

Manfred / lini

P.S.: Holderlin, nice review! I recently tried the K1000 (when I bought my new Marantz stuff...), but only for comfort. I think it is surprisingly comfy, but I'm not sure whether it would stay on my head when I get into groove, either.
post #6 of 29

Holderlin, My hat goes off to you...

Holderlin,

Excellent review, I haven't ever had the pleasure of trying the SAC 1000 but I tend to agree with you that the AKG is exceptionally analytical. To put it all in perspective if music were a beach the AKG would be akin to counting every grain of sand...

As for my review:
"An exceptionally detailed and comprehensive review of AKG 1000, including short comparisons using various amps: "

I actually only used one amplifier. I got a hold of a Micromega Stage 1 + Audiolab 8000P/Q/DAC (Audiolab is now owned by Tag Maclaren.) The 8000 gave an equally analytical performance with these cans... I'm thinking maybe a Cary 300SEI valve amp would calm them down a bit when compared to a solid state amp unit but at $4000 with no distributor in Australia I doubt I'll ever get the chance to try them.

Holderlin, could you post pics of the SAC? I'm sure we're all interested in getting up close and personal with this amplifier. We can store it along with our AKG K 1000 review on our webspace if you want a permanent place to put them. We'd be more than happy...

Also I've gotten word of the Amity (http://www.amity.de) amplifier. It's another unit specially designed for the AKG K 1000. Supposedly in German magazines it has had a great review run but I haven't actually read in detail about it or had the chance to audition it so I guess we'll have to wait and see...

This review certainly belongs in the review archives. An absolute class effort.

Cheers!
post #7 of 29
evilcthul: You can find it on the German SAC site (www.sac.de) - looks like it has one of the good ALPS pots inside...

Greetings from Munich!

Manfred / lini
post #8 of 29
Lini,

The pictures on the SAC website tend to be kind of blurred and not too detailed...
post #9 of 29

Re: Holderlin, My hat goes off to you...

Quote:
Originally posted by evilcthul
could you post pics of the SAC? I'm sure we're all interested in getting up close and personal with this amplifier. We can store it along with our AKG K 1000 review on our webspace if you want a permanent place to put them. We'd be more than happy...

Also I've gotten word of the Amity (http://www.amity.de) amplifier.
Thanks to all,

Evilcthul, I'd be happy to post pics. I'll try to get at it this weekend. I would love to hear amps other than the SAC with the AKG (and of course reviews comparing different amps with AKG). At times I thought (hoped?) that the culprit for some of the stressing highs was the amp. I'd love to audition some of the tube amps that have been recommended (Cary, Antique Sound Labs). The Amity would also be interesting.

Quote:
Originally posted by Tim D
I also would love to hear more about how your new Art D/IO is doing!!! I'm strongly considering it as a cheap upgrade. BTW have you removed the tube from the unit or upgraded its power supply?
I've had the ART Di/O for about a week. It's been burning in since I got it. Each time I listen to it my opinion changes somewhat. In general, however, it has added quite a punch to my cdp -- much better sound staging, improved dynamics, greater detail across the frequency spectrum. It colors the sound a bit more than I than I care for. I have not listened to any other external DAC so I don't have any reference point but I think it has definitely p(l)ayed for itself.

I have not tried any of the tweaks recommended by folks -- removing the tube, grounding the DAC, voltage attenuator, new power supply. I have exchanged e-mails with Wayne at Bolder Cable Co and he is working on a 1/4" to RCA interconnect for the ART and a new power source. I may look into these, as well as try grounding the ART chasis to the amp's ground (apparently that has made a difference for some people).
post #10 of 29
Great review! To balance it out a bit, here's Shivohum's review of the AKG K1000 vs. Alessandro-Grado Music Series Pro (the one I bought from him ):

http://headwize.com/ubb/showpage5.php?fnum=1&tid=2874

I couldn't find Vka's review or my review of the AKG K1000 comparing it to the A-G MS Pro on the Cary 300SEI and Cary 306 CD player. But I found my impressions were quite similar, except that I preferred the MS Pro to the K1000 for the Beethoven string quartets. Maybe because I was listening to the Alban Berg Quartett?
post #11 of 29
Bob (holderlin),

Thanks for the listening notes, which qualify as one of the best headphones reviews I read yet. The review manages to convey the objective aspects of the K1000s accurately, so that we can then predict what our subjective reactions to the headphones will be. I totally agree with your descriptions of their sound, even though, for my personal tastes, I don't like the K1000's sound, and much prefer the Sennheiser HD-600's.

Another thing to think about is resolution versus emphasized highs versus distortion. It's often very easy to confuse these three things because they seem to affect the same frequency ranges. I haven't yet decided what the K1000s are doing up there with their thin, almost etched highs. My experience with extended resolution has been that the musical notes have an almost loose, relaxed character, sounding or projecting out very effortlessly: they're just there, without being forced to do anything to bring attention to themselves. This is most noticeable for me at a live orchestral concert where there's so much natural detail, it's easy to tune in and out different details of the soundfield. It's almost a textural thing at that point more than a tonal or pitch thing. I hope this makes sense.

You mentioned that you have a relatively narrow head. I have a relatively wide head, and I've always thought that this is why I find them so uncomfortable.

Which Mahler 4 were you listening to?

--Andre
post #12 of 29
Thread Starter 

AKG/SAC K1000: Initial Listening Notes (LONG)

holderlin,

Extremely good review! Great read.
post #13 of 29
Nice review, holderin. Great read....very informative.

Another headphone to buy on my list.....lol......
post #14 of 29
Quote:
Originally posted by DanG
here's Shivohum's review of the AKG K1000 vs. Alessandro-Grado Music Series Pro (the one I bought from him ):

http://headwize.com/ubb/showpage5.php?fnum=1&tid=2874

I couldn't find Vka's review or my review of the AKG K1000 comparing it to the A-G MS Pro on the Cary 300SEI and Cary 306 CD player. But I found my impressions were quite similar, except that I preferred the MS Pro to the K1000 for the Beethoven string quartets. Maybe because I was listening to the Alban Berg Quartett?
Thanks for the reference; it's an impressive review. It also gave me an idea to turn the ear-grilles away from my ears and increase the volume -- in a way this gets me a bit closer to an ideal: increased sound stage (really quite stunning!) and less loss of bass. At first, the fussiness of the fit bothered me; now I'm beginning to find all the variations quite fascinating.

I remember Vka's review. That little trip that the two of you took to listen to the AKG/Cary combo (can't remember, was that in Chicago?) probably started me down the AKG and Cary path. I'm anxious to hear the Cary 306's little brother (303) in my rig. I should be able to demo it with my system in a week or two.

Quote:
Originally posted by AndreYew
which Mahler 4th
I chose one of my favorite versions: Paul Kletzki conducting Philharmonia Orchestra (Royal Classics: 6468). It's not the most sonically stunning version, but it is one that I know pretty well for auditioning purposes.
post #15 of 29
holderin, thats a most impresive review of the K1000. your findings are about the same as mine with the SAC amp. i've been using the Cambridge Audio A500 amp with the K1000 lately and while its too early to make positive judgments one thing is very clear. The A500 out performs the SAC amp by a wide margin. The K1000 is a very different and much better sounding headphone when hooked up to the A500. The K1000 includes the adaptor cable which allows you to connect it to regular speaker jacks on an amp or reciever.

The Cambridge Audio A500 by the way is an entry level high-fi 65 watt integrated amp. Of course you won't be needing and you certainly wouldn't want to try using anything near max volume for the K1000 with the A500 which would be very lethal i'm sure. I get good volume with the volume knob set at somewhere between the 10:00 and 11:30 position depending on the CD.

A500 here

if i get time i'll post a review of the K1000 with the A500 once everything is "broken in"
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