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AKG K1000 and Conrad Johson CAV-50 -- a quick review

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 
Well, after bringing my CAV-50 to the Southern California meet, and pairing it with Orpheus's K1000s, I knew I needed to acquire this headphone. I had never heard another its equal. In a quick preface to this review, I will say that I have more experience writing analytical essays in the humanities than I do in evaluating audio equipment. First, the basics.
System setup: AKG K1000 headphones with stock cable.
Amplifier: Conrad Jonhson CAV-50
Source: California Audio Labs Icon Mark II cd player

Physical impressions: Well, regardless of how these things sound, they sure are ugly. They sort of look like those ungainly headphone/radios that people used to wear jogging. Either that or Billy Dee Williams's assistant in starwars -- Lobot Yes, I did have to lookup his name. Remove all mirrors from your listening room unless you want seven years of bad luck. Also, don't have them on if you know that girl you have a crush on might be coming over...As for fit and comfort. Initially, I was not too happy with the fit. It takes getting used to, and they require some adjusting. They put a pretty good amount of pressure on your temples (well, on mine anyway), so if you have them on a sensitive spot, your head can begin to throb pretty quickly. Once I found a good position however, I can wear them for several hours comfortably. Since they don't touch your ears, it is more like wearing a hat than a headphone. The speaker angle is adjustable, and for now, I find that I like them turned out just a bit, such that they are parallel with my ears. Changing the position will increase openness at the expense of bass or vice versa.

Now for the good news:
Listening impressions:
Although I am sure most of you would prefer a scientific review, you will not get one out of me. I will just tell you what music I have listened to, what it sounded like to me, and my overall impression. Vsyo ponyatno? Khorosho, my prodolzhaem.

Mstislav Rostropovich: Bach's Six Suites for Solo Cello
This has been my reference for audio perfomance for years now. It is a world-class recording by a world-class performer of some of the best works written by arguably the finest composer in the history of mankind. Whew, I hope I didn't play it up too much.
Listening to Mstislav play the prelude to Bach's 3rd cello suite, when a note hangs in the air, you can tell that the piece was recorded in a cathedral. The sense of space in these phones is totally unrivaled by any other phones I have heard. The capability with respect to dynamics was also very good. The phones were not troubled by switches from pianissimo to forte. The K1000s offer great detail, enough to not only to hear Rostropovich's fingers hitting the fingerboard, but also to hear them slide along the strings as he changes positions. His breathing is also audible. This degree of detail may be distracting to some listeners, but it is really what I am after, so I am quite pleased with this. To be fair, these details are also noticible on my HD-580s, but the level of clarity is greater in the k1000s. The K1000s bring a level of intimacy that I crave. The only way I can describe it is like when I used to take cello lessons. My teacher would sit across from me, and occasionally she would play something. It was like that, only without the full body bass that would come on a open C. The K1000s bring you very very close.

The Tackacs Quartet: Bartok: The Complete String Quartets
Amazing. I have heard the Tackacs perform the Bartok cycle live, and this was a totally different experience. Where I had been sitting close in a small hall, with the AKG's, I was sitting on the floor with the musicians surrounding me. Of course, the live presentation was better, but strangely, the AKG's were more intimate. This is likely because the sound is literally millimeters from my ears. I could literally tell where the microphone was...it was that good. The cellist and the first violinist were behind me to the right and left, while the 2nd violin and viola were in front of me to either side. It was unbelievable. I have never heard a soundstage so clearly defined on headphones. In this respect they handily trounce anything but the very best speaker based systems I have heard (10,000+ speakers). This was especially noticable in the alegro molto capriccioso movement of the 2nd quartet, where the players pass around the theme like a hot potato. The K1000s easily keep up with the music, which is impressive, the pizzicato is very clear.

Stereolab: Sound Dust
Generally, this is a great headphone recording, so I was looking forward to hearing it on the AKGs. There is a lot going on sonically in this music, and it demands a lot of a hi-fi system. Lots of electric noises, deep base, high things like flutes, great female vocals, piano, Moog, trumpets, celesta(I think anyway some sort of xylephone type thing). Moreover, there is a lot of migration of the signal between channels for left to right effect. If it sounds like a mess, it is, but a happy mess. The AKG's did a wonderful job of isolating all these diverse sounds. The sound was not mushy at all. That said, background items stayed in the backround, the vocalists' voices never got lost in the chaos. Once again, the K1000s did a great job of keeping up with the fast paced music, and did really well with dynamic changes.
If I wanted to impress someone with these phones, I would have them listen to this cd. It truly is jaw-dropping.

Other cds which I listened to: Cake: Comfort Eagle; radiohead: Airbag/How's my driving EP; Karl Richter: Bach's Organ work; Sigur Ros: ( ); Rostropovich: Shostakovich's Cello Concerto; Jeff Buckley: Grace; Vladislav Chernenko and St. Petersburg Chamber Choir: Rachmaninov's Vsenoshchnaya Bdenye; Bob Dylan: Greatest Hits; Jim O'Rourke: Bad Timing; Massive Attack: Mezzanine; Pierre Fournier: Bach's Cello Suites; Pablo Casals: Bach's Cello Suites; Mouse on Mars: Autoditacker; Beth Orton: Trailer Park; Yefim Bronfman and Esa Pekka Solonen: Rachmaninov's Piano Concertos 2 and 3; Borodin Quartet: Shostakovich's 8th String Quartet; radiohead: Kid A

The Akg's fared very well on all these except the Rachmaninov piano concertos...for some reason they just did not sound as gritty as they had in the past. Hmm. Bass on the AKG's is good as well as clear, but it lacks the force of the Senn's with Clou blue cable. This was also very noticible on the opening track of Mezzanine.

Though this review is overwhelmingly positive, I am not trying to say that the K1000s are unbeatable. I have not heard R10's, HP-1's, nor Stax phones in an critical listening environment. There are also some distinct disadvantages to the AKG's: zero portability, dubious looks, discomfort for fat-headed users, great difficulty to drive properly, somewhat precarious fit (you will not be shaking your head around unless you want to invest in a new pair), difficulty in adjusting correctly, annoying connection (they connect like old speakers...i.e. bare wire to four terminals) and complete lack of any sound dampening -- someone in the same room will hear every note, and you will hear everything as well. All these disadvantages melt away as soon as you hear them however. Why not just get speakers? Well, first, cost. These sound MUCH better than anything within 3 times their price. In my mind, they sounded better than B&W 805s. You also always have optimal speaker position and no room acoustics to worry about with the akg's, which allows you to move freely about without change in sonic quality. Finally, you will not bother your neighbors with your favorite Yoko Ono records.
Well, I guess that is good for now. Since I was long winded in the text, I will be brief in the conclusion.

Summary: These are good headphones.
post #2 of 10
Thanks. Enjoyable, well written review. And you certainly nailed the looks of AKG K100 down. That’s the hurdle I seem unable to pass but my interest has been heightened.
post #3 of 10
Thanks Stuart for the entertaining and timely review.
I am slowly building a bedroom system around these phones so it was great to hear your sonic observations. Especially nice to hear the comparisons to high end speakers as that was my hope with these "ear speakers".
Good news.
post #4 of 10
Nice review, Stuart. Your impressions parallel mine when I heard them at a recent mini-meet. At the same meet, I heard the R-10, the HP-1, and the Stax Omega........to my ears, the K1000s provided a listening experience unrivalled by any of the others. It's as if a pair of speakers are hanging off your head, which I guess is actually the case.
I plan on getting a pair in the near future.
post #5 of 10
Thread Starter 
Originally posted by joelongwood
. It's as if a pair of speakers are hanging off your head, which I guess is actually the case.
That is right, it is the main advantage and disadvanted of the phones. They sound just like speakers, but they don't offer many of headphones' benefits like isolation etc.
post #6 of 10
Originally posted by stuartr
They sound just like speakers, but they don't offer many of headphones' benefits like isolation etc.
And that is why I'm putting off getting them until the end of the Summer. At that time, I'll be retired, but my wife will continue working.No more"Turn it down."
post #7 of 10
First of all, nice review stuartr. Not as long-winded as you think, and quite useful info.

Regarding the lack of isolation issue: A friend of mine came over yesterday, and I (in all my headphone geekiness) showed her my new K1000's. As she curiously put them on, she was all like "you mean people around you can hear the music too?". I just stood there perplexed as if to say "Yeah, so? Why is that a problem?". She wasn't impressed .

Oh well....at least you all understand.

post #8 of 10
Very nice review, Stuart!

post #9 of 10
Thread Starter 
I also wanted to add that my determination of the Senn's is from memory, as mine have been sent to the factory for repair. Also, I am sure that the Senn's could sound much better. With respect to the amps, the comparision is unfair. To power the K1000s, I was using the CAV-50, which retails for around 2500 dollars, where the senns I use are powered by a Headroom Supreme, at circa 350. I think the 600s with a cardas cable and the Blockhead would have been a very different comparision. The CAV-50 is one of the best amps you can choose for the K1000s...frankly, to choose it just for the K1000s would be outrageous in my mind...it is 45 watts per channel tubed with 8 ohms output. It is basically meant to drive hi-end monitors with a great degree of fidelity. It is a small room amp, but one that does not make any comprises.

Nevertheless, I think the Senns would have a great deal of trouble competeing with the openness and soundstage of the AKG's...I cannot really imagine any conventional circumaural headphone capable of challenging them in this respect.
post #10 of 10

Re: AKG K1000 and Conrad Johson CAV-50 -- a quick review

Originally posted by stuartr
I find that I like them turned out just a bit, such that they are parallel with my ears. Changing the position will increase openness at the expense of bass or vice versa.

First, I agree with everyone that your review is excellent and right on target.

Second, I too use my K-1000s with the "speakers" turned out a few degrees. What I may lose in bass response I more than make up in separation and spaciousness.
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