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Grado SR80 to AKG K701 (an upgrade?)

post #1 of 32
Thread Starter 

PART 1 - DAY 2
I have taken delivery of a used pair of AKG K701's, which are in mint condition and have possibly therefore not had much of the recommended breaking in. I bought these to replace a pair of Grado SR80s. I have had the Grados for about 4 years, and they are therefore the model before the SR80i.

 

The reason I swayed towards the AKGs was that the best I could afford to replace my SR80s with from the Grado range, would be the SR225i. At a time when funds are tight (certainly for me), spending the extra on the SR225i's which LOOK very much like the SR80's is something I was struggling to justify... especially to my wife! The AKGs had been given plenty of good reviews, and just standing them next to my SR80s would make the choice a no brainer if looks, quality of build, and comfort were to be the key factors. Comfort is certainly a big thing for me, and also the fact that I can now sit on my sofa with the longer lead of the AKGs being able to reach my headphone amp, instead of having to sit on the floor on cushions, as I have had to do with my Grado's shorter lead. This is a real bonus for me now I have the AKGs.

 

First listenings, switching between the two sets of headphones over a 2-3 hour period currently has be wondering which pair I really want to keep. Most of this listening was through my Musical Fidelity XCan 2 tube amp, fed by an Arcam CD92 CD player. For convenience, I also use what I consider to be a really good MP3 player (Sony NWZ-A728 which knocks spots off any other MP3 player I have ever heard).

 

As soon as I put the AKGs on and fired up Sloe Gin by Joe Bonamassa, I thought WOW.... I got this choice right! 5 mins later I put on my Grados just to prove the point to myself that my money had been well spent on the AKGs. However, the first words which went through my mind on putting the Grados back on was "Ah, that's more like it!"

 

Simply put, the Grados had more body and were less brittle than the AKGs. This feeling was echoed as I moved through a selection of other tracks by artists ranging from Billy Joel, Elvis Costello, Deep Purple, Eagles, Katie Melua, and some Paganini. Right now the Grados still float my boat, even with them being 'just' the SR80's. They have certainly seen a heck of a lot more use than the AKGs, but I'm not about the throw in the towel and sell the AKGs. I'm hoping that a few more days with my MP3 players running 24/7 through them will break them in a little more and help me hear more of what I expected to hear from them when I plugged them into my X-Can amp.

 

Perhaps I'll end up feeling that Grados are for me, and may end up going for the SR225i's in the coming months. If only Grado had done a little more with the 225's to at least make them look like they're worth more than twice the price of the SR80s. Even if it was something as simple as a better headband like the 325is has, I might not have had so much of a challenge in justifying the cost to myself or my wife.

 

I'll write more and will let you know how it goes.

 

 

 

PART 2 - 5 DAYS LATER

A few days on from my previous posting, and my AKG K701's now have between 70 and 80 hours burn since I received them, on top of whatever use the previous owner gave them (not much, as far as I'm aware)

 

They're great, and sounding better (I think).... but not for everything I listen to.

 

Last night I listened to a number of tracks from Eva Cassidy and Joe Bonamassa through my Musical Fidelity XCan 2 tube amp. On the whole I was stunned at the clarity and detail, as well as being happier than I previously was with the bass response. I couldn't have want more from a set of headphones.

 

However...

 

I listen to a lot of rock, as well as other stuff. Even on Joe Bonammasa's album where the acoustic/vocal tracks "Around the bend" and "Richmond" sounded amazing, I then moved onto the title track, "Sloe Gin"

This starts with some slow keyboards, bass with a nice depth to it, and then the vocals come in. So far so good (actually, so far so great!). But when I'm expecting a punch in the ears when the band comes in fully, and Joe does his stuff on the guitar, I still feel wanting for more. Switching over to my Grado SR80's (they're not even the SR80i's), I'm hearing more of what I want... More body, more life, and more excitement.

 

It sounds to me that the AKG's aren't too happy with busy stuff, whereas the Grados just get on with it. I think the AKGs are winning on detail on some of the acoustic and less busy jazz and blues tracks, and that perhaps the recoding quality of busy rock music is not as good as is typical for other genres.... after all, rock can be very much about impact and not detail.

 

So the question for me remains, what do I prefer listening to my most favourite music on the most... AKG K701 or Grado SR80. The answer is currently still the Grados.

 

Another factor is (sorry to all you audiophiles for saying this), that for convenience, listening to tracks on my MP3 player (a really good sounding unit from Sony... the NWZ-A728) is a reality. In most cases both headphones work great. However, as I live in the UK, some of the things we buy have to meet with the approval of the EU law makers. I purchased a Sony NWZ-A845 a while ago, which I expected to be at least as good as my other Sony unit, but with the capacity to hold more tracks. To my disappointment, it doesn't go very loud.

 

The reason Sony explained to me is that the EU law placed a limit on the volume these things can produce. So Sony needed to oblige, and there is no way this can be bypassed. What this means as far as my Grado and AKG listening goes, is that my Grados as perfectly happy humming along at a volume level of 22-25 out of 30. However, as the AKG need more juice than the Grado, even with that MP3 player set to max (30), the AKGs are about as loud as the Grados are at 22. However, there is no headroom for sudden dymamics in the music, as they're already running at maximum, and therefore sounds a little compressed at times. Damn!

 

So, if like, me you also use MP3 players, you might want to consider my comments on how these two pairs of cans behave. Also, if you have the need to pack your cans and MP3 player into an overnight bag, the Grado's present no problem, even in their own case. But the AKGs take up a LOT more space, so that option for me is going to be a little more cumbersome in the future.

 

I'll persist with burning in the AKGs in the hope that there is more to come from them. If that happens, I hope it's a lot more body and openness. If not, I'm likely to remain a Grado man, and will consider upgrading to something like the SR225i's (I just wish Grado made them at least "look" they were worth the money, as I really could so without the comments I'm bound to get over their appearance when compared to my SR80's!)

post #2 of 32
Honestly, I think you bought the wrong headphones. The K702 I had was great...for anything that wasn't the music you listen to.
post #3 of 32
Quote:
Originally Posted by daronharvey View Post

......................................

I'll persist with burning in the AKGs in the hope that there is more to come from them. If that happens, I hope it's a lot more body and openness. If not, I'm likely to remain a Grado man, and will consider upgrading to something like the SR225i's (I just wish Grado made them at least "look" they were worth the money, as I really could so without the comments I'm bound to get over their appearance when compared to my SR80's!)

Hi Daron

 

Burn in will not change the AKGs that much if any but you may want to take a look at this thread.

http://www.head-fi.org/t/660408/reversible-akg-k701-bass-mod

 

Also have you tried the Grado L bowl cushions on the SR80s which would make them much closer to the 225s in sound and may be what you're looking for.


Edited by Rob80b - 1/8/14 at 9:14am
post #4 of 32
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the suggestions.

 

Rob - I took a look at my 701's and they appear to have had the mod already. So maybe these are as good (ie close to what I'm looking for) as they'll ever be.

 

I haven't tried replacing the cushions on my SR80's, but I was pleased to find that a colleague actually has a pair of SR225s (probably not the SR225i's), and is happy to lend them to me for a night. So I'm going to indulge myself tomorrow and see what comes of that.

 

Depending how the 225 trial goes, which will be a head to head with the 80's and 701's over a selection of different types of music, I'll see how I feel. It could be that I take a look at the AKG K702 as has also been suggested.

 

I'll report back, as I'm sure whatever I find will (hopefully) prove useful to other users and potential buyers.

post #5 of 32

I have an AKG Q701 and a few different Grado cans around the house, between me and my son.....an SR60i, SR225i....RS1I

 

I have experienced everything that you are saying.....and you have said it very well......I am afraid Grado is your crack cocaine :p

 

I get it....I ilsten to my Q701 and say, damn this is an awesome headphone, and it is......but the PRaT of the Grado is just so darn good.

 

The guitars just sound perfect to me, not to mention that I actually love the tight fast bass...there is not a lot, but it is very good, and I prefer good over more.

post #6 of 32
I own both the SR60i and K702 and I can't stand the AKG for music. They are so boring! Grado rock my head off love them.
post #7 of 32
Thread Starter 

Thanks a lot for your input.

 

I'm interested in how the Grados compare. The RS1 is in 'dreamland' budget for me, but given that you have heard and can relate to my experiences with the two sets of headphones I have here, and that my listening tastes are mainly but not exclusively rock (also includes jazz, acoustic and classical), how would you consider the SR225i's would fit in, and how, for you, do they compare to the SR60i and the RS1i?

 

I hear that in some people's opinion, the 225i's are the sweetspot in performance per buck spent, but then some say that about the 325is, which are a pretty bright and harsh sounding can according to what I've read.

post #8 of 32

Listened to Dave Hollands” Prime Directive” this afternoon, the modified K701s did an excellent job on this well recorded and dynamic disc, especially with separation, imaging and depth, the percussion displaying excellent impact.

Just for an experiment, try removing the pads on the AKGs and place the Grado pads between your ears and AKG drivers, voila “Grados”.

 

(Disclaimer, I really like my SR325i's :))


Edited by Rob80b - 1/8/14 at 2:35pm
post #9 of 32
Quote:
Originally Posted by daronharvey View Post
 

Thanks a lot for your input.

 

I'm interested in how the Grados compare. The RS1 is in 'dreamland' budget for me, but given that you have heard and can relate to my experiences with the two sets of headphones I have here, and that my listening tastes are mainly but not exclusively rock (also includes jazz, acoustic and classical), how would you consider the SR225i's would fit in, and how, for you, do they compare to the SR60i and the RS1i?

 

I hear that in some people's opinion, the 225i's are the sweetspot in performance per buck spent, but then some say that about the 325is, which are a pretty bright and harsh sounding can according to what I've read.

I really could not argue the sweet spot being the SR225i

 

You get a better built headphone with the 325i....but it cost $100 more

 

You could get either  2nd hand for a pretty nice deal....$ 150 SR225i      $220 325I......possibly could beat those deals if at the right place at the right time.

 

You would notice the upgrade to the 225i or the 325i....after that you are getting more into the diminishing returns category.

post #10 of 32
Thread Starter 

Okay.... My ears and I are closer to a conclusion, having spent an evening with my SR80's, AKG K701's, and a borrowed pair of SR225's.


Before I go any further, I don't know if the 225's are 225i's, and neither does the guy I borrowed them from (!), but I'm grateful for the loan. Admittedly the 225's have seen better days, and the pads/cushions were in such a state of degradation that I had no choice but to keep swapping my SR80 pads between the two Grado models. What follows is based on two evenings of listening...  A busy life and having to work away means that in some cases portability is necessary, so the first time I compared the three headphones was using exclusively my Sony NWZ-A728 with a selection of tracks in WAV and MP3 at a bit rate of 320. The second evening of listening was using mu Arcam CD92 feeding my Musical Fidelity XCans Mk2 tube headphone amp. By now I have put about 120 hours of music through the AKG. since taking possession of them a couple of weeks ago.


My first action, before even considering the trying either of the Grados, was to put "Wayfairing Stranger" by Eva Cassidy through the AKGs. I had read so much much good stuff about the 701's (which is what swayed me to buy them as I didn't feel I could afford or justify the extra cost of a worthwhile Grado upgrade), so I felt that getting acclimatised to the AKGs before trying either of the Grado was the right thing to do.


I adjusted the volume level until I was 'feeling' it, and I sat back to enjoy. And enjoy I did. The bass held my attention nicely, and the guitar was punctuating the vocals subtly and tastefully, and the guy on the drums was clearly on a trip playing out little what-ever-it-is-drummers-do in various positions on his metalwork, and all of this was coming through nicely on the AKGs. I listened on for a couple more tracks, then returned to "Wayfairing Stranger" for second listen through.


I ran the same track again, and got half way through the first verse then switched from the AKGs to my SR80's.


Erm.....


Sorry AKGs, but I still feel that the Grados have more of everything. Are they more detailed? Probably not, but enjoyment and involvement was what I hope to get from my listening, plus the occasional WOW, which can come from subtleties, depth, separation, impact, etc. Once I switched over to the Grados (SR80's), because I felt they delivered so much more, I quickly lost interest in analysing this track under the microscope by playing swapsie with the cans, as it's a good track and I wanted to enjoy it, and the Grado's helped me do just that.


I heard the track out on the SR80's and on during the 2nd run I switched over to the SR225's (with the cushions from the 80's). I don't know how much the pads play in differentiating these two Grado models, but with what I had at my disposal, I honestly struggled to find any significant difference between them. The differences were subtle, but the more time I spent with them, the more I could appreciate tighter control on the bass guitar. They didn't have more bass... just a little better presentation of it than the SR80s.


As I love rock, I couldn't let the opportunity pass without comparing the SR80's and 225's with some tracks by Black Stone Cherry and ACDC. It has to be said that both scored far higher than the AKGs, but I was still struggling to find significant differences between the two models. In fact at times I needed to look at the pair laying next to me to remind me which pair I was wearing.


Some of you reading this may be saying "This guy is deaf... the differences are massive" but maybe this is because I'm comparing them with them being fed by an MP3 player. Maybe (just a thought), that the SR225's were doing a better job then the SR80's were or reproducing a mediocre signal, and that I may need to re-think what I've just said about the Grado comparison once I plus them into my headphone amp another evening.


When that evening arrived, I warmed up my tube amp before making any comparisons between the cans. I selected a bunch of tracks, including "Carry on Wayward Son" by Kansas, "More Than a Feeling" by Boston, "Squonk" by Genesis, "Sultans of Swing" by Dire Straits, "Blues Deluxe" by Joe Bonamassa, "Wayfairing Stranger" by Eva Cassidy, and a recording of Mozart's "Eine kleine Nachtmusik"


To set the scene, I gave the AKGs first run. Certainly the tube amp has more power to drive the AKGs than the MP3 player has. Maybe I was about to hear the AKGs perform in an environment they were intended for, and I would be more satisfied by them. As with my previous test using the MP3 player, I got myself acclimatised to them before I began switch over to either of the Grados.


I found that in ALL cases, I was better satisfied when I switched over to the Grados. With the tube headphone amp, I would say that the AKGs displayed more detail than my Grado SR80's, but the 80's provided a more enjoyable listen... more body, more depth, more space, more excitement, and plenty of detail.


So now, again, I'm finding myself wanting to decide whether an upgrade from the SR80's to SR225's is what I should do. The decision has certainly been made that the AKGs are not for me, so I can now spend more time on the Grados.


Compared to the listening session on the MP3 player a couple evenings before, I'm now hearing more of a difference between the SR80's and SR225's. The 225's have the ability to let you hear more space between the instruments, and more of the playing styles of some of the musicians. For example, some of the Joe Bonamassa's subtle vibrato is more audible on the 225's, even when the music gets busier. The same can be said for the bass player choking some of the notes, and on the odd occasion when a sting hasn't been cleanly hit, or is picked/plucked closer to the bridge (which gives more attack on a stringed instrument), these can also be heard more clearly. It was also clearer in reproducing the sound of a snare drum hit in different places on the skin, and similar can be said for cymbals, etc.


I have re-read some of the AKG reviews which inspire me to buy them in the first place, and during the writing of this review I have been listening to them for the most part. I'm wondering why I can be so wrong (or feel that I am). The AKGs got great reviews from some very respected sources. Many people write good things about the Grados, whilst others are very critical. However, as I'm doing this comparison to decide which paid of cans is best for ME, `with the music I listen to, and the equipment I use, I have to trust what my ears are telling me. After all, my ears and I have spent a long time together, and I've grown attached to them during the 50 years they have sat on opposite sides of my head.


You may recall at the beginning of this thread I had bought the AKGs to replace the SR80's, as I wanted to improve my headphone listening after four years of being faithfully served by the SR80's, which were the best I could afford at the time. I chose not to pursue the Grado line as I couldn't afford anything which looked significantly different enough to my SR80's to justify the move. In other words, the SR225i's are so similar in appearance to the 80's that I would not have felt able to justify the purchase. Such an upgrade, if I buy the SR225i's new, is likely to cost me around three times what I can get for my SR80's when I see them.


This does require some consideration, as to me this is a decent chunk of money which... let's face it... could be spent on a decent used Tascam digital 4 track for my daughter to get some of her songs recorded. That reminds me of the time a couple of decades ago when I downgraded from my Linn Ekos arm on my LP12 so I could afford a PA system including mixing desk for a blues band I was getting together. Man, so much money can be tied up in hi-fi, that it almost loses a sense of perspective at times!


Anyway... I digress... back to the headphones...


When I weighed up other factors such as comfort, quality of build, additional cable length, etc., I could far more easily justify purchasing the AKGs, and it took far less explaining to my wife than it would have done if I had come home with... to predict her words based on the SR80/SR225 appearance... something twice the price, but exactly the same. They AKGs also come in a box which looks like someone back at the AKG factory cares about them reaching their eventual destination and being stored well by their owners for a long life. The Grado's almost call for an upgrade from their original packaging to a used cereal box! There must be some justification in packaging something as expensive as Grado's in something costing $5 more than the disposable equivalent my corn flakes arrive in.


I'm being cynical, I know, but surely the thought has crossed not just my mind. But when we got down to putting "something" over our ears to enjoy the music, the Grado's win in my humble opinion.


If all I was going to do was listen to music on my MP3 player, I would be hard pushed to justify upgrading to the 225's, but the evening spent with the tube amp has given me more reason to do so. I'll repeat that if the build quality of the 225's looked anything like the AKGs, and less like the SR80's, I would not find it so much of a challenge to justify an upgrade.


I'll close by one last praise for the SR80's. What astonishing value these cans are!


Thanks for reading.

post #11 of 32

Nice impressions. I'm a big fan of the AKG's but they do need a slight tweak with an EQ in the upper mids to make them sound more real. Otherwise they can be a bit shouty with vocals etc. They are one of the few headphones that really respond well to EQ because they are so flat. I've owned the 225i before and thought they were great for rock music. I then bought the RS1's and these were a lot better for me as I mostly listen to Jazz. Smoother and fuller in the bass.   

post #12 of 32

That was a very interesting read.

 

I could follow everything that you were saying.

 

The bottom line is that you want to enjoy your music as much as you can.

 

You could always buy a 2nd hand pair of 225i....you can get them for around $150

 

You could also sell your AKG phones and recoup some of the money.

 

The further you go up the Grado chain, the more refined the sound gets, and just like you said....it may take awhile before you can really tell a difference.....eventually you will hear the refinement.

 

Whatever you decide, I wish you all the best and it was nice to read a review like yours, as it reminded me so much of an experience that I had myself.

post #13 of 32
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by LugBug1 View Post
 

Nice impressions. I'm a big fan of the AKG's but they do need a slight tweak with an EQ in the upper mids to make them sound more real. Otherwise they can be a bit shouty with vocals etc. They are one of the few headphones that really respond well to EQ because they are so flat. I've owned the 225i before and thought they were great for rock music. I then bought the RS1's and these were a lot better for me as I mostly listen to Jazz. Smoother and fuller in the bass.  

 

Thanks for the response.

 

My MP3 players are able to compensate some the AKGs lack of bass, but with the tube amp offering no tonal control, I get what I get.

 

I know some equipment works better when pairs with certain pieces of gear, and of course the quality of the recording (including the studio monitors the engineer is mixing on) determines the starting point for everything we hear. I reckon that for the limited time I've had to spend with the borrowed 225's (they go back tomorrow), I've given the cans and my ears a decent workout across a variety of tracks and genres, and it has helped me make up my mind.

 

Enjoyable whilst doing so too!

post #14 of 32
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by whirlwind View Post
 

That was a very interesting read.

 

I could follow everything that you were saying.

 

The bottom line is that you want to enjoy your music as much as you can.

 

You could always buy a 2nd hand pair of 225i....you can get them for around $150

 

You could also sell your AKG phones and recoup some of the money.

 

The further you go up the Grado chain, the more refined the sound gets, and just like you said....it may take awhile before you can really tell a difference.....eventually you will hear the refinement.

 

Whatever you decide, I wish you all the best and it was nice to read a review like yours, as it reminded me so much of an experience that I had myself.

Thanks for the response.

 

The sale of the AKGs will certainly help towards the cost of the 225i's, so just a matter of time now!

 

I also read that the Grados respond to different cushions/pads. I honestly dont know what cushions my original SR80's cam with (I hear that SR80i's had different cushions to my model), so it could be that switching whatever my cushions are over to the SR225's was perhaps not doing them justice. The cushions on 225's I borrowed look bad enough to suggest a mouse had found a new source of bedding material, so there was no way I was going to use them during my trials!

 

Mind you... if it was a mouse, maybe it was constipated, as there wasn't a single dropping anywhere near the cans! Damn shame to treat the cans in that way. If the guy feels they would be better loved and cherished strapped around my head, maybe he'll let me adopt them for not a lot of money (although the cables leading up to each ear piece are amazingly kinked and twisted, so they would benefit from being replaced sometime soon)

 

Thanks again for your contributions, and happy listening.

post #15 of 32

The 225i would have the L-cushions...they can be replaced new for $20

 

The SR80i comes with the S-cushion....they can be replaced for $10

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