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AKG K701 after 1000 Hours - Final Review

post #1 of 42
Thread Starter 
Intro

I was originally going to add this review to my review comparison with the 2006 DT880, but when it started getting longer than originally planned, it no longer fit in with the scope of that thread. What follows is my final assessment of the K701 after more than 1000 hours of burn-in.

Equipment Used & Burn-In Times

Source:
- Arcam CD73, over 500 hours

Cables:
- Signal Cable Analog Mini & SilverMini, ~100 hours each
- Signal Cable Analog Two & Silver Analog, ~200 hours each

Amps:
- Little Dot Micro+, over 1000 hours
- Xin SuperMini-3 w/ AD8397, over 2000 hours
- DIY Millett Hybrid, over 500 hours
- Cayin HA-1A, 0-2 hours

I lost count of the hours on the K701 at the end of May (bought them the second week of April). However, it's been left playing nearly continuously almost every day since then, so by logical deduction it has at least 1000 hours on it, probably more.

Test CDs

100 Masterpieces Vol. 5: The Top 10 of Classical Music 1811 - 1841 (on Delta Music)
James Newton Howard - The Village [OST]
James Newton Howard & Hans Zimmer - Batman Begins [OST]
Jewel - Goodbye Alice in Wonderland
Kevin Kern - Imagination's Light (new age piano)
Koma + Bones - Nu Horizons: The Next Generation of Breaks, Vol. 2
Massive Attack - Mezzanine
Orbital - Middle of Nowhere
Peter Kater - Inner Works (orchestral - the last track on this CD was performed at the 2000 Summer Olympics)
Portishead - Portishead
Radiohead - OK Computer
Sarah Brightman - The Andrew Lloyd Webber Collection
Sneaker Pimps - Becoming X
Thievery Corporation - Versions
The Crystal Method - Tweekend
Zero 7 - When It Falls

Review

- Bass

Bass on the K701 is very tight, very controlled. It goes relatively deep, but loses signal strength somewhere in the 40 Hz region. For a headphone at this price point though, it's a good extension. It's not quite low enough for electronica that uses low-pass sweeps and rolls. On test tracks off Massive Attack's Mezzanine, The Crystal Method's Tweekend, and Sneaker Pimps' Becoming X, it couldn't go low enough to get all of the bass notes that provide the sweeps, rhythms, heavy rolls, and low-level harmonies - it could get only the tops of those notes, leaving a definite impression that the lower portions of the notes was cutting off.

Unlike a lot of other headphones that allow bass to "boom" and retain a sense of some flabbiness, the K701 maintains full control over the entire low frequency range. As far as it extends, all frequencies are held back resulting in a sound that's distinctly non-bassy. It sounds completely like a "reference" headphone in this aspect. At no time, regardless of the kind of music, does bass really "slam" down with weight or authority. Bass is simply there - no more, no less. That's not to say that its bass response is anemic. It's simply a toned, almost rounded bass that provides more of a neutral response than a satisfying headbanging one. There's not a whole lot of quantifiable texture to it either. Bass is "shaped" on this headphone more than it's "defined," leading to often vague-sounding notes. Kick drums specifically aren't very well defined - they tend to sound like generic bass notes rather than the textured punch that they really are.

The mid-bass is fully controlled as well, almost to the point of restraint. There's little sense of an impact to bass notes. Test tracks by Koma + Bones and The Crystal Method had a distinct lack of force, fullness, and energy. A forceful mid-bass response could not be extracted from the solid-state amps. The tube amps, on the other hand, added some impact and lower-level strength, but not enough that the bass became significantly different. The Cayin amp though did improve strength in the mid-bass and near the 40 Hz point more than the Millett Hybrid, providing a greater sense of impact and a more audible result on the extension.

Overall, the bass response is neutral to the point where it's distinctly non-exciting. It's blended well against the rest of the frequency spectrum, but ultimately this makes the K701 suited for music that uses up and takes advantage of the entire spectrum instead of music that focuses on the bass region. In other words, it's not a headphone for any kind of bassy music, and this includes breakbeat electronic, heavy rock, metal, and industrial (to generalize of course, there may be some exceptions in those genres).

- Mids

The mids are an area in which the K701 excels. They were warm fresh out of the box and have ultimately settled down as slightly warm. It's a very pleasant, easy-to-listen-to sound, with a very natural sense. Of course the mids aren't anywhere as warm and captivating as the mids on the K240 or K271 (which are some of the warmest mids AKG has ever made), but the K701 definitely recalls AKG's house sound to a very small extent and still makes it stand out from other headphone brands.

The wide array of instruments that reside in the mid region sound fully clear and discrete. The K701 has an uncanny ability to extract instruments from the sound mix and place them in their own "space," allowing them to play without much interference from each other. This effect can be slightly disorienting at first, and contributes to the perceived soundstage (more on that later). As expected, it works best on acoustic, jazz, and classical instruments. Guitars especially can sound startingly real, as their separation from the mix tends to be more prominent than other instruments.

Male and female vocals are reproduced with an accurate, if not total, realism. There's a very slight grain to the edges of male vocals, making them sound a tiny bit fuzzy. This was noticeable on Radiohead's OK Computer. However, there's an overall spike in the region of the female voice, making it sound distinctly powerful and sultry regardless of what the mastered mix intends. Singers like Jewel and Sia Furler (Zero 7) for example get brought to the forefront and receive an extra attention to detail in the process. The subtleties in female vocal performances are easily noticeable, like throat-catching, slight off-key notes, and half-whispering. The K701 is even detailed enough to almost get noises like coughing and the sense that the female singer's mouth is drying up. The female vocal emphasis extends into the soprano range as well, making other singers like Sarah Brightman sound especially powerful.

There's been a point of contention here on Head-Fi that the K701 has a boring/dead/sterile sound. For a while I was baffled by this claim, until I put the K701 in an ABX test against the HD600 and DT880. While the K701 does have the warmest mids of the three, the naysayers are absolutely correct - the K701 does have a sense of a dead sound to it. The lively sound of the Arcam CD73 wasn't heard - it just didn't make it through the headphone to the ears. The effect was especially noticeable on solo acoustic piano and classical - the sense of passion and performance just wasn't there, it took away that intangible sense of raw passion and emotion in music and left it dulled and boring.

To be more specific on this subject, there's a somewhat noticeable "disconnection" between the mids, upper-mids, and highs that leads to a lack of weight, body, and resonance with instruments like violins and pianos, and female vocals. More on the violin and piano in the next section. As for female vocals, although they do get emphasized, the K701 skews the response a bit - it's the distinct female portion of the voice that gets this emphasis. The normal human voice range, which lies within the male range, loses a bit of definition and is slightly recessed, along with the aforementioned gain, resulting in voices missing that key low-register component. In other words, both female and male voices that dig into the gut can lack a feeling of rawness. This also affects instruments that operate simultaneously in the highs, upper mids, and mids too, as there is a noticeable lack of body and fullness. Resonance isn't clear, and certain instruments can lose their body and raw edge, like the violin, as already mentioned.

- Highs

The K701 reaches quite far into the highs with no obvious roll-off on most kinds of music. However, testing with classical and Orbital's Middle of Nowhere revealed its declining and cut-off points. High-end response rapidly falls away after approximately 15-16 kHz (this point isn't uncommon), and it cuts off somewhere around 18-19 kHz (however this point isn't normal). The K701 compensates for this a bit with a quick attack (more on that later) but isn't entirely successful at grabbing those tiny details - extremely fast sounds just skip past it.

Classical music works on the K701 for the most part, but once a good recording passes into it, the limitations on the highs start showing up. As noted in the Mids section, there's a disconnect between them and the upper-mids. It tends to gloss over violins - violin tends to get portrayed more with a "sweet" and "delicate" sound rather than the gutsy sound a wooden instrument should exude. Some people might prefer the sweetness of the K701, but ultimately that's not a realistic portrayal - gritty performances on a finely-crafted instrument should be conveyed realistically as well. It simply misses the resonant body component of the violin sound, which contributes to the emotional weight behind a performance. Solo acoustic piano reveals this as well. Piano notes are rendered with a delicate touch that belies the depth of the sound that the instrument can produce. It glosses on this too much, forgoing a fleshed-out sound that should emerge from a masterfully-made instrument like a Steinway.

Despite this lackluster presentation, the highs on their own have a good overall power and presence. They're very nicely matched against the mids and bass so nearly any kind of music will sound balanced. It's a very even balance too - much better balanced than any other headphones I've heard, including the HD600, HD650, DT770, DT880, and even Sony CD3000. The entire spectrum overall is evened out so well it's hard to find a range that noticeably curves out.

- Attack & Decay

Attack on the K701 is nice and swift, not too fast, not too slow. It seems like just the right amount and is very realistic. Percussion sounds especially are right on time with the right amount of energy. In fact, between the HD600 and 2006 DT880, the chimes on Radiohead's "No Surprises" got the most realistic treatment by the K701. It was able to give them just the right kick for the very initial impact, the "whink," to be heard, whereas it was completely lost on the other two headphones. However, the K701 seems to use its quick attack to combat the highs as they weaken past 16 kHz. It's somewhat noticeable on Orbital's "Way Out" on the upper wash of effects, as it tries to "stab" the notes but they're quite clearly out of range.

Decay, however, is a little too quick. It doesn't quite let cymbals take time to fall away and never really captures the "shhhh" sound on the trailing edge. It doesn't capture the empty-air "wahhhh" sounds a double-cymbal leaves either - the attack can get the whump, but the decay doesn't get all of the result. However, for most music, the fast decay won't be very noticeable, if at all. It does get very apparent though on classical music, or any music that relies heavily on cymbal sounds.

- Detail & Resolution

Detail retrieval on the K701 is excellent. Not quite as good as some other headphones I've heard (specifically the DT880), but it's plenty detailed for most purposes. It's able to resolve the nuances of analog recordings with the clicks, hisses, pops, and crackles all clearly audible. It can also get quick leads, loops, and samples so widely used in electronica, as well as most of the subtleties of upper-range classical instruments like harp, chimes, bells, and other high-pitched percussion. It does have some difficulty though retrieving details from multiple concurrent layers, especially if they're all operating in the highs. It struggles when trying to separate a percussion layer against a wash of high-pitched effects.

Overall resolution is very fine though, as it's able to present music with nearly all the layers intact, regardless of how complex they might get. Its ability to separate layers works for it in this case, as it holds everything together like a cohesive wall of sound.

- Soundstage

There are three major components to the K701's soundstage:

First is the amount of air it gives to music. It's an open headphone so this is expected, but it adds a huge amount of air to whatever it plays. The edges of notes sound like they're trailing a bit into a vanishing airspace, leaving the impression that the K701 might be losing control over these exit trails. It does have a tendency to make the listener feel like notes are "escaping" into a void.

Second is the aforementioned layer separation. It has a nice ability to sort out instruments from a mix and place them within their own space, so the ear can easily hear everything going on in the music without having to turn up the volume too much.

Third is its very well-done stereo-channel separation. It's easily the best stereo separation I've heard. If something is supposed to come from the left channel, it actually sounds like it, and is even placed a bit back too.

These three components combine to form quite possibly one of the most unique soundstages on record in the history of headphones. It's clearly a wide soundstage, and when playing classical, does a nice convincing placement on the instrument sections. Perceived distance will of course vary depending on the recording, but in most instances it'll be about the 10th row in a large auditorium, so quite a ways back. It provides a nice 3D image as well, if a bit more vertical than horizontal - the perceived image may be more up and down than left to right. However, at moderate to high volumes it tends to give a three-blob soundstage - left, center, and right. Adjusting volume louder (or softer) will usually remedy this.

- Physical Aspects

Time to address some of the physical issues with these headphones! As some Head-Fiers have reported, the headband may be uncomfortable for certain head sizes/shapes. There are 7 pads on the underside of the headband, and the center pad may apply too much pressure to the head, leading to discomfort and a sore feeling. Re-adjusting the fit every once in a while will be the only solution for many people.

However, the headband is designed to swivel around the points where it connects to the Left and Right pivots, so it can be adjusted either forward or backward to better conform to headshape.

As reported in markl's review thread, the perception of frequency response can also be dependent on the fit. Placing the headphone more towards the back of the head can lead to a perceived loss of highs. Placing it more forward will bring the highs back. So a re-adjustment may be necessary to get the optimal (or desired) frequency response.

As noted and shown so often here on Head-Fi, the K701 is made of a searingly white plastic (many have commented on its toilet-seat looks) and has been criticized for following the iPod trend. It's also a somewhat large headphone, with the earcups nearly the size of a CD. Hence it's not a portable headphone by any means, and the color may be off-putting to some (and a potential target of laughter/sarcasm in social settings).

- Amplification

Although some people have reported being able to use the K701 from an iPod unamped, the headphone distinctly benefits from an external amplifier. Despite being rated at 62 Ohms, it drives more like a 250 Ohm headphone.

It's sensitive enough to respond to differences in op-amps in solid-state amplifiers. The higher-powered the op-amp, the better the results tend to be - the AD8397 in the SuperMini-3 gives the highs the extra power they need, at the expense of some definition. It takes full advantage of any extra power it's receiving, as the current from the tube amps allowed for extra punch to bass and mid-bass, but mostly an extra swarth over the mids and upper mids for a better sense of realism and detail. So a tube amplifier is recommended for those who want a punchy bass and overall realism. A solid-state amp is recommended for those who want a balanced, precise sound.

- System Synergy

Due to the headphone's soundstage and frequency response, other components in the chain should be carefully considered. In terms of the source, added resolution in the highs and extra oomph in the bass may be a desirable option. Silver cables are recommended to give the highs a little extra sparkle, for those who prefer treble sparkle of course. Finally the amp will depend on personal preference - again, a tube design is recommended to give the bass the response most people will want. Tubes should be carefully selected to make sure definition in the highs isn't lost at the same time.

Conclusion

It's the million-dollar question: is the K701 a good headphone?

It depends on what you want from a headphone. If you want a "reference" sound from something affordable and can live with an airy presentation, it's definitely worth checking out. It's not going to be for everyone, especially due to its airy nature and that it takes away much of the emotion & passion of performed music. Genres it works best with include rock, pop, ambient electronic, trip-hop, jazz, acoustic, and New Age - and almost anything with a female singer. If you're into those genres, check out AKG's K701. If not, look elsewhere.

All flaws aside, it's technically a good headphone and makes for a pleasurable listen with most kinds of music. A decent all-rounder and a worthy upgrade from most <$200 headphones.
post #2 of 42
Now that's a nice review! Basically, put into words what I wanted to say but couldn't due to the lack of experience I have with these headphones and headphone hifi.

The thing I love most about my K701s are its complex soundstage. I can be playing a game or reading things online and I don't have to try very hard to pick out details in my music. I usually have to focus on other headphones or sometimes a soundstage just doesn't exist.

Thanks Asr
post #3 of 42
Nice review, although I would disagree that the K701 is "dead-sounding". Yes, I have heard other headphones which offer more excitement (GS1000, RS1), but I can still feel the emotions and the passions behind the music. In other words, the K701s can get my toe-tapping to the music. So to me, that's not dead-sounding; it might not be as exciting as other headphones, but I don't think it's sterile.
post #4 of 42
Quote:
it takes away the emotion & passion of performed music.
I'm with humanflyz.
To my ears and settings, K701s are far from "takes away the emotion & passion of performed music".
post #5 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by Asr
Genres it works best with include rock, pop, ambient electronic, trip-hop, jazz, acoustic, and New Age - and almost anything with a female singer. If you're into those genres, check out AKG's K701. If not, look elsewhere.
As far as I know, AKG's top headphones are tuned for classical music.
So I am surprised by your conclusion.
post #6 of 42
Thread Starter 
I think I may need to edit this review.

First, the dead-sounding thing. I was compelled to address that topic because it's the biggest criticism the K701's opponents have against it, and I'm inclined to agree, to an extent.

I'm going to need to clarify this in the edited review. I think specifically what's going on is a disconnect between the highs, the upper mids, and the mids, because: (1) violin sounds are way too delicate on the K701 - and believe me I know, as I play violin, (2) female voices in particular don't have a certain "weight," (3) I distinctly heard the Arcam's liveliness with the HD600 and DT880, but I just can't hear it nearly as well with the K701, (4) there's an overall lack of body and "grit" to music. It seems the highs are being disconnected from the mids, which is where emotion/passion comes from, in the "gritty" part of the performance.

Ferbose, if that's true, I'm surprised. The K701 really does not do an exceptional job with classical - the more I listen to it, the more I can hear it glossing over violins and not give enough weight to the brass and woodwind sections. It sounds more like a high-frequency sheen than a real orchestra. That said, it still does a lot better at classical than something like the HD600, but it's not completely convincing, considering I've heard the real thing more than once.
post #7 of 42
I wonder if the K701 has more in common with the K501 than some people admit. I for one feel that the K501 is not good at all with classical, and matches pretty much the same genres you specified for the 701. I love the K501, but always turn to my DT880s for live instrument realism and when I'm listening to classical.

Personally I love an airy presentation though, and really dislike slow/heavy or goopy reproduction (in fact I hate it). You almost disparage airiness, as if it were a negative quality... strange.

P.S. you seem to recommend the 701 for female vocals, but above you said female vocals are lacking a certain 'weight' -- might want to be careful on the consistency thing.
post #8 of 42
Interesting observations. I have a pair of K701's with around 110 hours on them. At the moment, they are sounding superior to my 2003 DT880's in my set-up. DT880's seem a bit bright and spatially constricted in back-to-back comparison, although I have been very happy with the BeyerDynamic previously and would like to hear the 2006 model. One area where the K701 certainly pulls ahead of the K701 is the midrange, there is more clarity and space and I am noticing extra detail here. Treble is OK. Sometimes feels understated but I have the feeling it's probably more natural than the DT880 presentation. I am certainly happy with bass quantity and quality, I certainly don't feel the K701 struggles to reproduce deep bass at all. Playing some electronic stuff e.g. Kraftwerk Tour de France Soundtracks, System 7 Rite of Spring is more than satisfying, there is some very deep bass on these albums and it comes through with a lot of impact. Rock sounds good as well, Love's 'Forever Changes' sounds really natural and lively, certainly not sterile or antiseptic.

On the negative side, presentation can seem somewhat 'matter-of-fact' at times. There is also more than a hint of a '3 blob' headstage. But I'm inclined to think this is more recording-dependent rather than the fault of the K701 itself. I am also open to the possibility of burn-in, this may take a few hundred hours longer than I currently have clocked up so I'll make another judgment call at this point. Can't see myself wanting to wait 1000 hours for a component to burn-in.
post #9 of 42

AKG K701 VS K240

First off all GREAT REVIEW!

I read some comparing with K240 ,which very interesting, cos see this for the first time.
I own AKG HEARO 888 DIGITAL that seems to be based, qua sound, on K240 like. Well that's what AKG claims. Personally never heard AKG K701 yet...

Can you give more detailed comparing to those two, will be very nice. Don't have to be a very detailed, like this, just some big lines if possible.

Many thanks

Great review
post #10 of 42
Excellent contribution to head-fi. It should be posted in the review forum.
post #11 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by fewtch
Personally I love an airy presentation though, and really dislike slow/heavy or goopy reproduction (in fact I hate it). You almost disparage airiness, as if it were a negative quality... strange.
Instead I'm entirely with Asr on this matter - and I think I understood what he meant to convey.
post #12 of 42
Fantastic review that should end up in the full review section, for sure. Nicely done, Asr. I have to say I pretty much agree with all of it based on memory. I especially agree with all you said on Bass and also the deadening of performances.
post #13 of 42
Good review -- you missed a few things. The K701 does not have a 3-blob soundstage. If you want to hear that, listen to the HD650. The K701 has more of a 2-blob soundstage, and your review touched on everything but the shifty imaging. As the volume goes up on the K701, the imaging becomes worse, sounds seem to shift around.
post #14 of 42
003, out of curiosity, what were the sources and amps that you've tried K701s with?
post #15 of 42
My WooAudio 3 and my ESI Juli@. My friend has an X-can v3, and an external DAC (not sure which one), I thought it sounded better on my Woo3.
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