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AKG K701 Reference Headphones Review (number 100,000)

post #1 of 17
Thread Starter 

 

Hello Everybody,

This is my second headphone review on here, and I just want to thank everybody on head-fi for making this website such an engaging and enjoyable community to be a part of. You can read the original review on my blog by clicking here.


 

The AKG K701 is a renowned audiophile favorite for many reasons. First off, they are drop dead gorgeous – and at the price of between $250 – $400 I’d be impressed to see a headphone that does what this pair of can’s do. But let’s keep in mind that we’re in audiophile territory, where people pay hundreds of dollars for upgrades that are barely noticeable to the untrained ear. In this review I will offer up my honest opinion of the AKG K701, along with comparisons between my other headphones – the Sennheiser hd595 and the Ultrasone HFI 2400.

Design & Comfort

Like various other AKG models, the K701 is equipped with a self adjusting leather band. This means that when you plop these headphones on, they self adjust to the size of your melon. Because of this, the K701 fits loosely on your head. This is something that comes down to personal preference, do you like tight or loose fitting headphones. I personally thought the loose fit was an upgrade from my tight fitting hd595′s which seem to clamp to my head and my HFI 2400 which sit in between. Another great thing about the K701 is that they are remarkably lightweight. They weigh in at only 3 lbs, but all of the weight seems to be in the drive heads themselves. This means that when you put them on, they sort of float on your ears and it becomes easy to forget that there even is a headband holding them up. Speaking of the drive head’s, the first thing that jumps out at me is how amazing these things look. The white polish and silver lining I find to be very appealing, even if I look weird wearing them. The red authentic leather head band is also a nice aesthetic touch (although the plastic wire cover’s that loop over it feel sort of cheap and out of place).

When listening to the K701′s, I’ve noticed (post burn in) that there is hardly any sound fatigue. I can literally listen to these things all day and not get tired of them. This is partly because of their open back design, which means that there is sound leaking in and out of the headphones. Comfort wise, this is a huge plus, but this also means that whatever you hear your roommate will hear as well. Another thing to note is that they are absolutely massive. I can actually see the drive heads out of the corner of my eyes as I wear them. Because of this, I don’t think you will see to many people walking around with these, although they would look pretty funny if they did.

  • Design Score: 4 / 5
  • Comfort Score: 4.5 / 5

Sound

Alright now I’m sure that this is the part of the review that your actually interested in reading. I could honestly just end this review right here and say that these are the best headphones I’ve ever listened to, but that wouldn’t be any fun. Immediately upon listening to the K701 I noticed how massive the sound stage is. it’s airy and unique, unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. When listening to these headphones you get a true perspective of space and instrumental positioning. I can best describe it as sitting a few rows back at a live concert as opposed to being on stage as the HD595′s sound. This means that you are able to listen to music in a very analytical way (makes sense since they are a reference headphone). The overall sound quality is absolutely pristine. Everything you pump through these is crystal clear, and any poor recordings will sound just that – poor.

Treble

Just as in my last review, I will be choosing three songs each for treble, midtone, and bass testing. For treble, I choose to listen to “First Breath After Coma” by Explosions in the Sky, “Venice Queen” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and “The Walls are Coming Down” by Fanfarlo. Listening to the opening sequence from First Breath makes me think that the high notes are going to seriously hurt my ears once the song picks up. I was very pleased to learn that this was not the case. Instead what I heard was pure upper registry magic. I can hear every plug of the guitar string, along with subtle other effects I never noticed before. What I was expecting to sound sibilant actually sounded very nice, sometimes to the extent that I couldn’t believe that high notes could sound this pronounced without leaving that inner ear ringing behind. Moving onto Venice Queen, I noticed more of what I experienced with First Breath. These headphones have a very very pronounced treble. This is probably because of the flat wire coil design of the diaphragm, which actually has a built in tweeter (big props)! What’s so amazing about this is that not only do the high notes sound fantastic without being sibilant, but they don’t intrude at all on any of the other registry’s. Moving onto The Walls are Coming Down, I wasn’t sure how the fast paced strings and acoustic’s would hold up. I have only one thing to say after listening to this song, wow! The combination of the horns, strings and guitar sounds fantastic, and I was amazed at how well their signature was distinguished. I never expected to be able to distinguish the strumming of two guitars along with the overlaying violin. This song was a joy to listen to on the K701 and I personally feel that it brought out the best in their treble response. Hands down these headphones provide the best treble response I have ever heard, and I find myself putting them on to listen to acoustic tracks over and over again.

  • Treble: 4.8 / 5

Midrange

To test out the midrange, I decided to listen to “Oxford Comma” by Vampire Weekend, “The Suburbs” by the Arcade Fire, and “Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise” by the Avett Brothers. Listening to Oxford Comma I noticed that the upper midrange was vastly more pronounced than the lower midrange. This brought the snare drums to life as I’ve never experienced percussion to be this engaging in a song without taking away from the upper registry. I’m starting to think that these arn’t the one trick pony I was initially expecting. This is especially noticeable as the guitar solo takes center stage about halfway through the song. As high as the notes go, I’m still able to clearly discern the texture and quality of the drums. The Suburbs I found to be not quite as engaging with the percussion, yet the background acoustic strumming was brought up front. This was a part of the song that I had never found to be significant before. The piano sounds fantastic, yet I can’t quite say that I have much to compare this to. But theres something else that I noticed in this song, and that was the cymbals. Wow, I thought that my HD595′s made cymbals sound good, the K701 makes me actually imagine their vibrations as they hit and die away. The vocals are an entirely different story. I feel like male vocals if not recorded upfront like in Vampire Weekend can fall into the background. That’s the story here as I found myself listening to the instrumentals of this song, completely forgetting about the vocals. Head Full of Doubt which I have always thought to be a fantastic song tells a different story than I was expecting. I was expecting an explosion of strings and vibrancy that I found to be replaced with an amazing sense of space and percussion. I mean not only do the cymbals and drums sound unlike anything I’ve ever heard before, but I feel as if I can accurately imagine the positioning of every individual instrument. The piano is so much more pronounced here than in The Suburbs, and I can actually hear the inner strumming as the pianist pushes down on the keys. The vocals I feel are perfect, unobtrusive yet crisp and clear. The midrange I’ve found to be just as crystal clear as the treble, but with much less emphasis. I feel that this is actually a plus for the midrange, as it allows for me to focus more on the sound stage and space associated with it.

  • Midrange: 4.4 / 5

Bass:

For bass I choose to listen to “What to Say” by the Born Ruffians, “Our Swords” by Band of Horses, and“Loaded Painted Red” by 764-Hero. Now if your familiar with any of these songs, you might be wondering how in any way are these bass heavy songs? Well they arn’t in fact, but they all have an easily distinguishable bass guitar in them. Starting with What to Say, the bass is initially very weak but very easy to pick out. Then the song picks up and it becomes a little bit stronger. The thing about the K701 that I’ve noticed is that you don’t experience or feel bass like you would with any bass head equipment. Instead you listen to the bass, and appreciate it. This is exactly how I felt listening to this song, the bass was easily distinguishable throughout the entire song, and even the light taps to the kick drum were easily identifiable even as the guitar and vocals picked up. The detail of the bass guitar though is what is most striking about this song. With many other headphones the bass is loud and muddied, here you can hear the individual strum of the bass guitar and it actually sounds like a real string instrument (as it should)! I experienced much of the same listening to Our Swords. The bass guitar was easy to distinguish throughout the song, although there certainly seems to be much less of an emphasis on the lower bass notes than there are on the rest of the frequencies. That being said, the bass still goes very very low. You can easily hear the individual strings vibrate through the recording room, unlike any bass I have ever heard before. Loaded Painted Red I was surprised to find out was the same story. I was expecting the bass guitar to be difficult to pick out, however this was not the case. I could easily discern the strumming of the bass guitar underneath even as light as it is. Another thing I noticed was just how deep the kick drum goes in this song. The kick drum certainly sounds different on these headphones than on anything else I’ve ever listened to. Once again it sounds like a real instrument and a part of the song as opposed to just a muddied beat. Overall I was very happy with how analytical the bass was, and the response and depth of the notes simply blew me away. Don’t expect to be head banging with the K701, but expect to truly hear the lower registry for what it is.

  • Bass: 4.2 / 5

Final Thoughts

Don’t expect a headphone that you will be rocking out to, and don’t expect a headphone that will sound fantastic with all types of music. Expect a headphone that will force you to critically listen to and enjoy music in way’s that you’ve never considered before. Truly the highlight of the K701 is the simply beautiful treble response due to the built in tweeters and thick foam pad that dissipates any sibilance. The upper registry sparkle is something that I have never heard before, and after adjusting to it’s signature it is something that I certainly prefer. However another very strong point I’ve found to be percussion. Not the type of percussion that you might be used to hearing in modern rock songs, but the kind of percussion that you can simply appreciate and listen to in awe at the crispness and craftsmanship of. Drums actually have a distinguishable signature that on many other headphones simply sound like the beat to a song. On the K701 however you can loose yourself focusing on the texture and complexity of the percussion. Another important note to make is that female vocals are at their best on the K701. Because of the upper midtone and treble emphasis female (and some male) vocals really take center stage. Overall I have to say that these are the finest pair of headphones that I have ever listened to, and in a truly unique and unexpected way. Listening to music on the K701 is appreciating every individual instrument and artistic feature of your music. Just be prepared for them to bring out any flaws in your music recordings and audio setup, they are not forgiving headphones. Also I would not recommend listening to them without a decent amp system, an ipod simply will not cut it here. Listening to the K701 straight out of my ipod sounds hollow and anemic, even if it is able to drive them to sufficient noise levels. To anybody who wants to experience their music in a realistic and analytical way, I highly recommend the AKG K701, especially if you are into any range of classical or acoustic music.

  • Overall Score: 4.7 / 5

*I’d like to note that I did all my listening on my FiiO e7 DAC + e9 amp system, with recording at either 320 kbps or lossless FLAC. I also put about 400 hours of pink noise and music through these headphones before this review.

post #2 of 17
Thread Starter 

I've been reading some threads that the newer AKG's are produced in China and use lower quality drivers, is there a way to tell which version mine is (if this is even true)?

post #3 of 17

I have heard that they use parts from china and austria, maybe manufacturing on china is to lower costs. 

 

As long as they work good, you don't have to worry. 

post #4 of 17

Should say "made in Austria". My K702s did.

post #5 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by ex0du5 View Post

Should say "made in Austria". My K702s did.

Mine was too.
 

post #6 of 17

All the AKG studio hps made in Austria, maybe the in ear made in China.

post #7 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by Acix View Post

All the AKG studio hps made in Austria, maybe the in ear made in China.

Not all.  My K271 MKII were "made in China".
 

post #8 of 17

Thank you colmustard for such an interesting review.

 
I think these headphones keep getting better and better as the amplification improves.
 
This has nothing to do with issues of their "drivability" but rather that the good amplifier loses less information than a poor amplifier.
 
Inferior headphones gloss over information lost by the amplifier or source because they apply distortion, often extending the length of notes etc, so they lose fine detail but they push what they can find to the fore.
 
You will often see those kinds of headphones reviewed as having "good presentation" and suchlike.
 
Improving the input to those inferior headphones doesn't improve anything because they just don't have the capability to pick up on the fine details.
 
The AKG K 701/702s will see astonishing fine detail and so if the amplifier is capable of including it in the final output then the K 701/2s will reproduce it.
 
If the amplifier is putting the detail out of context, of course the K 701/2s will also see that.
 
So, with the K 701/2s you get a very clear window as to their input signal which is exactly how it should be with hi fi headphones.
 
The best amplifiers to use with K 701/2s are transparent ones which keep detail in context, in other words good amplifiers.
 
Finally please remember, expensive amplifiers are not necessarily good amplifiers.

 

post #9 of 17


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by DjAmTraX View Post



Quote:
Originally Posted by Acix View Post

All the AKG studio hps made in Austria, maybe the in ear made in China.

Not all.  My K271 MKII were "made in China".
 

 

Well, in this case maybe they moved the production to China, like most of the hps companies. I just wonder if all the MKll models are made in China.
 

post #10 of 17
Thread Starter 


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by p a t r i c k View Post

Thank you colmustard for such an interesting review.

 
I think these headphones keep getting better and better as the amplification improves.
 
This has nothing to do with issues of their "drivability" but rather that the good amplifier loses less information than a poor amplifier.
 
Inferior headphones gloss over information lost by the amplifier or source because they apply distortion, often extending the length of notes etc, so they lose fine detail but they push what they can find to the fore.
 
You will often see those kinds of headphones reviewed as having "good presentation" and suchlike.
 
Improving the input to those inferior headphones doesn't improve anything because they just don't have the capability to pick up on the fine details.
 
The AKG K 701/702s will see astonishing fine detail and so if the amplifier is capable of including it in the final output then the K 701/2s will reproduce it.
 
If the amplifier is putting the detail out of context, of course the K 701/2s will also see that.
 
So, with the K 701/2s you get a very clear window as to their input signal which is exactly how it should be with hi fi headphones.
 
The best amplifiers to use with K 701/2s are transparent ones which keep detail in context, in other words good amplifiers.
 
Finally please remember, expensive amplifiers are not necessarily good amplifiers.

 


 

I'm glad you liked my review! :)

 

I've got to say, I have absolutely no problems with my FiiO e7+e9, especially at the low $200 price! I really want to try out the k701 on a high end tube amp, I've read that the distortion really brings out the midtones and bass in a fantastic way.

post #11 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by colmustard View Post


 

 
Finally please remember, expensive amplifiers are not necessarily good amplifiers.

 

 

True, you dont have to spend over 1k for a Dac/amp combo...you can find good ones on that price range. 

 

What about trying your Akg's with a SS amp? 

 

...Forgot to mention, nice review man. tongue.gif

post #12 of 17

The whole China/Austria thing is totally off topic. That being said, My K702 are made in Austria, and I had a pair of K240 MKII's that were also made in Austria. There are some AKG phones that are made in China, though, and will not have "Made in Austria" on them.

 

Anyways, nice writeup - especially regarding the bass. Yeah, you'll hear it, but you won't feel it.

 

Now, just wait for the haters to start posting ;-)

post #13 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by earerror View Post



 

True, you dont have to spend over 1k for a Dac/amp combo...you can find good ones for that price or less. 

 

What about trying your Akg's with a SS amp? 



I am very much one for good solid state amplifiers.

 

The second-hand market is a place where something really great can be got for a low price.

 

That is how I got may Sugden HeadMaster which is the best headphone amplifier I have ever used.

post #14 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by p a t r i c k View Post


The second-hand market is a place where something really great can be got for a low price.


Agree. 

A good place to start, if you cant afford for something new. 

post #15 of 17
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by earerror View Post



Quote:
Originally Posted by p a t r i c k View Post


The second-hand market is a place where something really great can be got for a low price.


Agree. 

A good place to start, if you cant afford for something new. 



Any recommendations? I would really like to try out some solid state or tube amps. 

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