The K271 is my third headphone, the first being the Sony MDR-XD200, which I used for two years, and the second being the ATH-A700, which I've used for the last three years.
One year old Lenovo laptop and Sansa Clip as source. All comparisons are to the A700, and in retrospect as they are no longer working.
A Note: Descriptive terms are symbols of feeling, which is defined individually by personality, experiences, and thinking. I suggest never using the feeling words of others to support personal decisions you hope will be informed by truths.
Comfort & Pads
Upon first wearing the K271, I determined that it clamped too strongly. As I had done with the A700 at first, I stretched out the headband bars to relieve the clamping force, and this improved general comfort significantly. I was surprised that the headband itself was fairly comfortable. Though the banded tension system works for establishing a basic headband height, comfort is still limited by the single headband piece, and so doesn't really approach the comfort of the A700, which has looser headband tension, more space for verticle movement below the bars, and separate, padded head pieces.
Before listening I switched out the pleather pads for the velour, which are more comfortable on the skin for me in general, but can be somewhat itchy and fit too closely around the ear because of their smaller ear openings. The pleather pads, with room around the ears, seem larger when fitted and reached far enough below the earlobe that the pressure there became uncomfortable for me. The velour pads are also thicker and more firm than the pleather, and benefit from a couple weeks under a heavy object; I used a small box full of notebooks and folders.
Because the pads from my A700 have worn through their pleather coating to a more comfortable fabric, and are squishy from long use, I tried fitting them to the K271. Though not as tight on the housing as the originals, the A700 pads fit well and were a significant improvement in comfort. However, because the attachment material on these pads is falling apart, I put the original pair back on. I fattened the pads at one point which I mention below.
The K271 is lighter in weight than the A700, and feels near weightless. There is somewhat less comfort when lying on a pillow, I suspect because of the tighter openings on the pads. The A700 was fairly loose and would still feel comfortable when pushed forward by the pillow.
In a loud coffee shop there isn't much useful isolation. Though the A700 wasn't remarkable here, it seemed to block out more. However, sounds in close proximity seem quieter with the K271, with general room noise seemingly louder. I can't explain this perception, but there's a noticeable difference in how close sounds, like one's own voice or finger snaps, come through compared to the A700.
To achieve on the laptop listening volumes similar to the A700 I need only to increase volume by one or two taps up, equivalent to 20% higher on the volume bar. I haven't used the K271 with the Sansa Clip much, but have generally needed to double the amount of volume needed for the A700, and some songs have sounded less full here than on the laptop.
Air's "Playground Love" on CD through a year old Sony stereo receiver revealed no noticeable change in sound from the laptop. This is the only comparison test I have done with the receiver.
Softer high frequencies:
I was hearing the high frequencies I was familiar with through the A700, but they didn't cut through to the front of everything as with the A700, and really seemed less sparkly. Each time after acknowledging this impression, I would concentrate on the overall presentation again and didn't feel as though anything was missing.
Powerful low frequencies:
The pillowy bass plop of the A700 was enjoyable but became more ornamental than consistently interesting after two years. The K271 has a very noticeable bass hug and significant impact, like the resonance in your hand when you hit metal with metal. In a large room full of people, the K271 is a licky Austrian Mastiff lingering around the floor, and you can feel the tension in waves as people around you jump a little once in a while as it brushes by, but there's a kind of affirmative and primal energy between people because of it. The A700 is an orange balloon bumping awkwardly into people and occasionally interrupting to tap you on the head while you're trying to talk to that girl who reads the same obscure books you do.
I skipped quickly through a variety of songs before going to bed and didn't hear much difference from what I thought I was used to with the A700, aside from the obvious bass and treble differences noted above.
Five hours consisting of the following cycle: 40 minutes pink noise, 20 minutes white noise, and 10 seconds frequency sweep (10hz-30,000 khz) on repeat. I have no idea what I'm doing here but I tried.
My initial headphone test is always Golden Bear's "10,000 Orchestras", with subtle layers of sound beyond what is immediately evident. The subtle background sounds and atmosphere at the start were comparable to what I heard with the A700, but the modest left channel rhythm guitar was noticeably more present during the song. The bass presence is one of standing next to its amp, and I think now this is what's alluded to with a balanced presentation in monitor headphones. There's a kind of realism to it here that resembles bass in a live show, as opposed to the A700 with which the bass could almost come off as somehow dropped on top of the sound rather than occurring with it. The organ tending toward the left channel sounds amazing, still subtle in presence but with a beautifully vintage organ sound which I had no awareness of before.
I didn't listen again until the next day, starting with New Villager's "Rich Doors" and "Light House". I was doing something else and not paying complete attention when I started these songs and suddenly stopped at one point. This is when I realized how much better the low end seemed to me; organic, infiltrating and kind of mennacing. Felt like love. It kept touching me with its bass hands and giving me the shivers. The A700 was like a guy bumping into you in line at the school caffeteria as he repeatedly gestures to indicate the physical attributes of some girl he met at a party the night before. Seriously bro? Rolled my pear right into my applesauce.
I did keep drifting unaware to a hope that the highs would sharpen and sparkle at some point, but I'd remember each time how comfortable I was with the broad roundness of the highs I was hearing. I also kept in mind that the highs of the A700 were really forward and potentially unrealistic in tone.
Nick Drake's "Pink Moon"; I think I understand now what its like when guitar seems to be playing live in front of you. This song sounds a lot like listening to my uncle playing acoustic guitar in his living room.
Of Montreal's "Wicked Wisdom" sounds fairly distant to me as it did with the A700, less aggresive but with bass that is more tangible and less pillowy. The lack of highs comparable to the A700 is especially noticeable, and the overall presentation feels less lively.
Raised the pads with a napkin tucked under the perimeter.
This improved ear comfort noticeably, my ears now feeling less entombed. The surrounding fit of the velour pads is still too snug for me.
Bobby Birdman's "Demon Heart"; The way it's recorded it always sounds good to me, but instrument separation seemed greater and not as shallow and synthetic, and the bass is much more emotional in that it is everywhere and yet dry and controlled, purposeful feeling, as opposed to the somewhat watery bass in this song with the A700. At the end of the song the instrumentation trails off into what I thought was silence until one last lyric is repeated, but now I can hear the last note of the bass resonates the entire time until that last lyric. I consider this impressive.
Animal Collective's "Two Corvettes" sounds more natural and present than on the A700, which I felt made this song sound especially thin and a bit synthetic. The background sounds (rustling foliage and wind) seemed to benefit from the A700's sharper high frequencies, but it comes through somewhat fuller now which is pleasing as it is important to the outside atmosphere of the recording.
Akron/Family's "Lake Song"; Once the freakout begins the subtle organ in the right channel is noticeably more detailed, the particulars of its flailing pattern more apparent. A kind of squeaky distortion from clipping is heard much more easily as the freakout fades into the ending banjos. This song benefited from the A700's bass plop in the echoed bass drum, and sharper frequencies in the howling and screaming vocals.
Air's "Biological"; The vocals seem less synthetic than before, which is not necessarily good here as they seemed before to have a sort of distressed electronic quality which is common with Air and appealed to me in some of their songs. I am content with this subtle change however, as the vocals now further compliment the chorus banjo as part of the natural element of the song. The ending instrumental piece which plays the song out is no longer abrasive to me at the same volume the rest of the song played at. It sounds calmer and less compressed.
Deerhunter's "Twilight at Carbon Lake" is significantly more fleshed out in the midrange, achieving balance with the high frequencies and making it seem less thin overall. Background warping sound effects in the very opening is much more present and given a living, squirmy quality. I could see this song feeling a little too calm now for some, but I like its new softness emphasising Deerhunter's art pop sound.
Johnny Greenwood's "Prospector's Arrive", There Will Be Blood Soundtrack; I am hearing nearly no difference from the A700, aside from the higher piano notes now sounding less compressed. The music on this soundtrack has always seemed too compressed and lifeless, though the music itself means a lot to me.
Arvo Part's "Fratres for Cello and Piano"; I'm finding it difficult to articulate what differences I'm hearing, but that some higher string notes sound much clearer and more in the room.
The Double's "Busty Beasty"; much clearer and more natural sounding harp, and subtle background sounds have come more forward, revealing some quiet things I hardly noticed before. Drums have a slightly more realistic presence.
Radical Face's "Welcome Home"; There's a lot more lively presence to the surrounding claps. Snare drum playing near the end comes through a bit more clearly.
The Beach Boys' unreleased Landlocked version of "Big Sur" sounds gorgeous as always to me, but the impact of the synthesized bass drum in the right channel is now delightfully more powerful. The A700 curiously couldn't even make it plop.
John Maus' "Believer"; The chorus vocals were rather buried in the instrumentation on the A700 but are now able to come through more clearly. They still seem fairly suppressed though. Synthesizers soar high as before but swim around a little more too which is nice.
Von Bingen's "Murray 606" sounds clearer and more present all around. The synthesizer buzz and background instruments and noises are almost nerve racking now in their eery presence. This song is now incense and halloween.
Pink Floyd's "Astronomy Domine", remastered mono version from deluxe release a few years ago; Opening voices are slightly more natural. The guitars have more space and depth. Echo reflects the room more realistically. At loud volumes this is definitely less aggressive overall than on the A700.
Sufjan Stevens' "The Owl and the Tanager"; The incidental piano noises are more present. Vocals are ... rather impressively improved all around. Clearer... prettier...
The Beach Boys' "Don't Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)"; Oh. Why, hello there stranger.
Huey Lewis and The News' "Hip to be Square"; Their early work was a little too new wave for my tastes, but when Sports came out in '83, I think they really came into their own, commercially and artistically. The whole album has a clear, crisp sound, and a new sheen of consummate professionalism that really gives the songs a big boost. He's been compared to Elvis Costello, but I think Huey has a far much more bitter, cynical sense of humor. In '87, Huey released Fore, their most accomplished album. I think their undisputed masterpiece is "Hip to be Square", a song so catchy, most people probably don't listen to the lyrics. But they should, because it's not just about the pleasures of conformity, and the importance of trends, it's also a personal statement about the band itself.
Overall the K271 fulfilled my desire for a greater mid range than the A700 was capable of, and is more satisfying in what I would call its measured musicality. The less ploppy but more powerful and deeper reaching bass can be a little tiring with some music. I don't expect to replace these, but I will be trying one of the Fischer Audio pairs, perhaps the FA-011, at some point.
I plan to order a pair of AD900 pads for the K271 and will update this review when I try them out.
Edited by yokochamas - 12/30/11 at 6:58pm