AKG K701 ReviewAKG K701 Review - added 9/24/2007 !Equipment
Primary Amp: Darkvoice THA-336i
Other Amps: M^3, SuperMacro IV
Transport/Sources: MP3/FLAC/Apple Lossless/Redbook, EMU 1212m, Storm Digital D02, Red Wine Audio Monica 2
Cables: Signal Cable Magic Power, n_maher power cable, Fitz Black Clover SPC RCA, threEchelon SPC RCA
Tubes: RCA VT-231 gray glass; United Electron 6AS7G; Tung-Sol 6SN7GT black glass/round plate; RCA 6AS7G gray plate
Other headphones: AKG K340, Audio-Technica ATH-W2002, Grado 325i
- I cycled through my entire stash of tubes before settling on the RCA VT-231 gray glass and United Electron 6AS7G for most of my listening. I specifically did not care for what the Tung-Sol 6SN7GT black glass/round plate did for the K701.
Soon after I signed up for Asr’s loaner program I had the opportunity to hear an AKG K701 at the Philadelphia meet in April. Even with only 300 hours on it it was one of the more personally impressive headphones I heard there, and this was among such giants as the Sennheiser Orpheus and Grado PS-1. I suppose the K701 sound simply clicked for me, which seems fitting considering how long the K340 has remained in my collection. There is something about the AKG presentation that simply strikes me as naturally enveloping and believable. Indeed, hearing the K701 was like meeting the cousin of your girlfriend and finding her just as hot. This was something of a relief considering I was less than in love with the K501, which, despite having that same AKG house quality, had a disagreeably artificial soundstage and scratchy pads.
The K701 was recently described to me as having a gray background, and I had the same impression at the meet. The pair I listened to seemed a little hazy, lacking the kind of definition and exactness I was expecting from the K701 after reading how much it differed from its primary rival, the HD650, and from the K501, which it had essentially replaced. Nevertheless, it showed promise, and, as I said, had a certain personal appeal. Full in the knowledge that Asr’s pair would have over 2000 hours’ on it, I looked forward to hearing a fully blossomed K701 and the chance to perhaps offer up some insight on what, if any, a difference of 1700+ hours might make.
Excited though I may have been, I do not feel that I have a tremendous amount to add to the depth of the K701 lexicon, and as such I do not intend this to be a standard review. Consider this more of a take on how the K701 fared with the Darkvoice 336i.Review
I believe I qualified for Asr’s loaner primarily because I owned a greater-than $300 tube amp, not necessarily because I’m awesome, so I decided to go with that amp, the Darkvoice THA-336i, and put my awesomeness aside. The following are my first concrete impressions listening to some relatively easy selections by The Shins, Camera Obscura, and Stars along with tracks a little more difficult to get right by Zwan and The Appleseed Cast.
My first at-home taste of the K701 revealed a smooth midrange filled to the brim with shapely notes and a tone-meets-air texture to tell your loved ones about even though they don’t care. Attack was impressive in this range and balanced with an adequate sense of decay, but this was in contrast to slightly wispy highs that seemed a little disconnected and peripheral. Indeed, there was a noticeable absence of completeness in the treble that somehow did not jive with the fuller body in the mids. I quickly honed in on a sweet spot in the mid/upper-midrange where the tones rippled with sweetness and purity. Male vocals and guitar flourished here, but the top ends of the notes seemed inappropriately curtailed somehow. Female vocals were pleasantly ethereal but drier and flatter than their male counterparts, definitely drier and flatter than they should have been.
My first pass at the bass found it tight, controlled and present without being super-impactful. Later I noted that it blossomed nicely with just a hint of bloom. It was fun and snappy, and I detected some very pleasant tube magic from the upper mid-bass upwards, giving notes a rounded shape and a slightly softened texture at the top that met the lower midrange really well. Only at one point did I ever achieve mondo bass, and that was with the cello in Your Ex-lover Is Dead by Stars. It simply sounded huge, and really, really good. At other times I found the bass a little weak and perhaps even sad, with Zwan’s Declarations of Faith picking up a most-notable in that department.
Percussion, to contrast, was nothing but impactful. Snare drum exploded in front of me and impacted behind my head, perfectly expressed and utterly realistic in terms of space, distance and detail. Percussion in general had incredible placement, making full use of the K701’s spaciousness, with full, clear, huge drum sounds that blended together to form a perfect percussive image. The Darkvoice does percussion very well, and apparently so does the K701.
Extended listening revealed wonderful attack, but it was very prominent and decay felt a touch or two short. Consequently, notes and percussion stood out more clearly from an apparently blacker background, but at the cost of feeling slightly disconnected from a greater body of sound. Indeed, I was at times struck with the sense of listening to the “front” of the music. Because the focus was on the leading edge of notes, there was a certain space and air around them that conveyed the sense of instruments being played very well. This quality coupled with noticeable but subtle tube energy allowed the Darkvoice/K701 to get instruments like acoustic guitar, tambourine and French horn all sounding very realistic. Only high piano notes sounded a bit glassy and artificial. Zwan’s Lyric in particular was where I was most impressed with the K701’s ability to articulate. So many of the details on this track get lost in the distortion, but every miniscule guitar note along with its trailing, crunchy distortion came off as clear and purposeful. Even the female vocals way back in the mix seemed found again.
Essentially, what the Darkvoice did well for the K701 had a flip side. Its well defined, crisp, impactful signature was hampered by sharp if not quite strident highs, a slight thinness and a failure to bind its sense of realism in individual elements into a realistic whole. I want to be clear that the thinness I mention is not a result of under-driving the K701, and does not sound weak or frail. It just sounds not full. There a certain lack of midrange space, with a highs-on-top-of-bass quality, and this despite using the RCA VT-231, known for its full, lush midrange. Another complaint I have is that the K701 is almost too open. A sense of room seems to be sacrificed for an exotically intricate layer of instruments with no boundary or space. Part of this is the Darkvoice’s doing. As I touched upon, it tends to leave sounds floating in an unreal space. However, unique to the K701 were peripheral sounds that at times sounded just that—peripheral. Detail at the outer edges seemed to lack tone or weight, and contributed to a dry quality outside of the sweet zone in the mid/upper midrange.Summary
To sum things up, the K701 is an eloquent beast. It revealed the sexiness of neutrality to me, and through the power of its neutrality clearly highlighted the differences between my amps and DACs. I found it engaging, loveable, huggable, and startlingly different as well as a welcome change from the world of closed, colored Audio-Technicas. It maintains what I like about the AKG sound from a quarter-century ago while bringing some new attributes to the table, and it carved itself out a nice fleshy gulch in my heart. The Darkvoice THA-336i is a decent amp but I feel like the K701 can do better.Final Notes
I may compile more notes from comparisons I did with other amps and to other headphones. Perhaps not though. These feel like outdated thoughts to me.Other Thoughts
:M^3 - 9/25/2007
In comparison to the Darkvoice the M^3 had the K701 sounding more full bodied, relaxed and up front with solid if rounded impact. Notes were held longer. Decay in the midrange was slow and syrupy, definitely an artifact of the M^3, and not unpleasant at all here. Cymbals and drums were moderately crisp, warm and sweet, in that sense more musical, with less of an emphasis on percussion. Occasionally percussion could sound muffled when coming straight from the Darkvoice, although tambourine was janglier and better. Vocals and other instruments lacked tube vibrancy and some air, but they were more focused and complete front to back, producing an entire picture instead of one made up of individual instruments. There was a noticeable midrange emphasis with much more room for the bottom end of female vocals where all the smoke and breathiness takes place. They sounded richer and fuller. The detail surrounding a vocalist on stage was more clear and the consequent image more vivid, somewhat quizzically since, as I mentioned, vocals did not benefit from tube glow. I think it had to do with notes having time to complete and play off of each other, conveying spatial information that the Darkvoice only got half of. Soundstage was more immersive, offering a front row seat whereas the Darkvoice had me sitting back about ten rows.
Bass extended very deep but there was something a tad grating about it, like bad car bass, all while remaining more accurate and controlled (no bloom to speak of). It was essentially colder and more analytical, with angular, slightly unpleasant notes. This isn't something I've come across with the M^3 before. There must have simply been some bad mojo afoot.
For most of my listening with the K701 I would likely pick the the M^3 over the Darkvoice, but where instrument separation - even if a little artificial - and vibrancy on an individual level were important, especially for more complex, intricate music, the Darkvoice would be my preference.Cayin HA-1A - (3/4/2010)
I didn't realize this lil' thread was still being read into 2009. I believe I've posted these thoughts elsewhere, but my favorite amp for the K701 (so far, by far) has been the Cayin HA-1A, in direct comparison with a balanced K701 driven by a maxed HeadRoom Balanced Desktop and other various amps at a meet and at home. With decent tubes, I'm not sure I could find a flaw worth caring about. Most notably, the sound was completely filled out and pure, with none of the odd absences of the Darkvoice, none of the compromises of the M^3 (or Heed CanAmp, which didn't do much for me). For the first time, female vocals were sweet, dreamy, and full
. The K701 is capable of a tremendous amount of life and believability with the right synergy; the only thing that has kept me from snagging a K70x is its open nature, which just doesn't jive with a computer-based rig for me.