The whole AKG K812 affair started around October last year, the long waited flagship from such a company couldn’t pass the community just like that.
Actually, it began a bit earlier, when the 65th Anniversary AKG 702 was released and later renewing of the K601 and K702 with 2 models K612 and K712, but still, folks were complaining that AKG / Harman do not do anything else, but just rename and release of one and the very same headphones with different colors and pads, and I must say, a lot of true is in there, especially when we see many new headphones are coming out lately. And what AKG / Harman were doing? Not much in that regard, until now, because AKG K812 was announced by their PRO division and the whole riot started.
So far, we have had several good reviews from German head fiers and more impressions are coming from all over the world slowly, but there are lots of doubts as well and not without a reason, so, let’s see if I can be any help here to.
My search for a possible K812 loan began just after their official EU release in December 2013, but I couldn’t book any success, until I started to communicate with our German head fiers FritzS and cucera, who advised me to contact their dealer in Germany and see if he can provide them, so I did, but again, no success and then FritzS wrote to me if I would like to try our local dealer AUDIO XL, which I totally overlooked and like the man says: “If you look long enough, you will find the right door to knock on” and yes, it was striking the rose from the first shot. My email was redirected to the sales manager Mr. Martijn Leistra, who answer in very short time and a week later I got AKG K812, personally delivered by Martijn to my office, how about that?! We had a very nice talk with the result that I could keep these beautiful headphones for 3 weeks, without any obligations, so, before I start, would like to thank Mr. Martijn Leistra from Audio XL, my good friend Henk ( tohenk2 ) by providing me his goods, all my friends, who supported me through the whole period: rosgr63, alota, maguire, Kees, Arman,Tanik, Michal from www.earstream.eu and Mr. Sezai from SilverFi. Great headfiers: SleepyOne, Acix, Piotr Ryka, FritzS and cucera, many thanks to all of you guys!
Unison Research Unico CD player ( 2x ECC82 inside )
Sony Vaio Laptop using Foobar2000
Sonic Pearl headphones amplifier
SPL Phonitor MK1 headphones amp
Cary CAD 300sei integrated amplifier
SilverFi Digital D-2 cable
Van den Hul D102III Hybrid XLR
DHL Labs Silversonic USB cable
Kemp Electronics power plant
André Previn: London Symphony Orchestra - [Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker (1972 Issue - 2011 Remaster)
Montserrat Caballé Bellini - Norma / Patane, Caballe, Vickers, Veasey, Theatre Antique d'Orange (1975)
Anna Netrebko – Sempre Libera Mahler Chamber Orchestra -Claudio Abbado Deutsche Grammaphon 2004
Johann Sebastian Bach - Les Suites pour Violoncelle seul (Jean-Guihen Queyras) CD1/2
Chicago Symphony Orchestra & Sir Georg Solti - Solti Collection - Beethoven Symphony No.9 XRCD24 Beethoven Symphony No.9
Luciano Pavarotti The Best – DECCA 2 CD 2005
Carreras Domingo Pavarotti in concert - Terme di Caracalla - Roma, DECCA 7-7-1990
Kari Bremnes - Norwegian Mood 2000
Arild Andersen - Mira
Charlie Haden and Antonio Forcione – Heartplay
Peter White - Glow
Diana Krall 1996 - All For You (2013 HDTracks 24 96)
Anouar Brahem – The Astounding Eyes of Rita ECM 2009
Scott Kinsey – Kinesthetics
Ferenc Snétberger – The Budapest Concert
Rosanne Cash - The River & The Thread (Deluxe Edition) (2014)
Carmen McRae - As Time Goes By (XRCD)
Бригада С - Реки (1993)
Дахабраха Feat Portmone Ванюша Хмелева Project 2012
Дахабраха - На Межi
Metallica - Through the Never 2CD (2013)
And many more….
From the first notes it was clear to me that these are kicking real badly at midbass, pushing by the lower end, but this and all other wonderful things were coming out from a very stiff pair of headphones, which created absolutely non pleasurable experience for me in the first few days. While I am very familiar with AKG sound signature, my ears were having some hard time, getting sour and tired, even painful. I couldn’t believe that I am having such sound pressure, which was like the sound was coming from closed back headphones. It felt that sound came out from vacuum closed cups, no oxygen or fresh air, but dark, punchy oomph with killing lower end finish, but still very revealing and detailed, where the mids were simply destroyed, having no own space to flow, because everything was so concentrated there and pushed in your ears, which eventually translated in sour and painful ears. The biggest bugger was midbass oomph and not much air; this was simply no go for me, but after 40 hours, the first improvements show up. The midbass oomph was slightly settled down; it took that need it step back and made that free space for mids, Good Lord that was a relief, really. Second, their lower end while still very meaty became slightly less prominent.
So, for those who may experience the same just give them a full burn in, at least 200 hours, before you make your mind up.
COMFORT, ERGONOMICS, MATERIAL and BUILD
For the first time I put them on my head, it felt quite nice, but after longer and daily use, I experienced different comfort stages, from annoying to acceptable.
The pads are made from memory foam, where the lower and wider part of them (with some text on it) also have some rubber structure inside, which, I guess, made to offer extra support for pads by not become flat in the time, but it seems to push hard and that causes annoying pain around under and slightly behind the ears. Took me 2 weeks, before the caused pain around ears was gone, but, pads show some deforming inside them already. Maybe this is normal, I don’t know, but if they will get flatter in the time, this may have direct influence on sound signature, so, buying new pads will be necessary, because AKG is too parsimonious by providing extra pair with it, what a shame. For example, I own wireless model from AKG, HEARO888 http://www.akg.com/HEARO+888+Digital-1289.html?pid=1618 they were sold for EUR 799 back in 2004 and they came with 2 differ pads: leather and velour, but these days, you pay double and get double, only double less.
Pads design and material do not offer good grip on my head and the whole cups construction feels hanging, where the headband construction support and light it up of course, but I can’t say that these feels like feather, especially when you compare to more ergonomically HD800, but K702 are the winners here. I feel those K812 cups around my ears all the time, even though I am used to them now and they don’t push like they did from out of the box, but still, I am not really charmed. Feels like the weight been spread it not equally through the whole construction, or, because of the fact that they are simply heavier, net weight is 390gr, while K702 are 235 and that’s like 65% heavier and you can’t miss that, at least, I can’t. More even, do not try bending forward or back spontaneously, because they will fall off just like that, so, their headband grip and the whole stability can vary from head to head. Actually, they remind me of AKG K340, which gave me the very same feeling, so, if you like to use them for 5-6 hours a day, in the studio, it may be problematic, and that’s how I feel about it. Their adjustment mechanism isn’t ideal either, because I already experienced some slipping of the left cup click mechanism when I tried to put them on my head, so the question is: what can we expect with heavy, daily use?
Another thing is their cable connecting point. Now I do understand why they offer them with a stand, because if you don’t look out and land them hard on that connector by accident, it will break or will be damaged for sure. And, I don’t want to start about what will happened with them if they fall on the hard floor, don’t think it will be much lefty over from such connector.
Headband is made from some fabric, which I doubt is the best choice, real leather would be much better, but unfortunately, this isn’t the case and such fabric, probably, will show some wear marks soon. Headband is very comfy & feels soft, but not sure how it feels if you are bald-headed, because fabric doesn’t feel like silk, when you touch it.
Conclusion – If we leave all those things above and if I have to judge them from how they feel in the hands and look, yes, its top notch, but how they will be in few years, still a big question.
BASS and MIDBAS oomph
Yes, both are there, solid and you can’t miss them; it’s like Sennheiser HD650 with more clarity and detail, but what’s the catch here?
Well, out of box, It felt that they create that rich and full body sound signature with it, simply by pushing midbass that far, supporting by lower end, but unfortunately, I couldn’t appreciate that, also because it doesn’t felt deep enough for my taste, because of their upfront signature, it’s just too close for my liking.
Yes, they have wonderful tone, detail and impact, wowing you for a little while, but just wait and try them with something bass heavy, something that already been recorded with upper bass: acoustic or electric, doesn’t matter, both will show you that K812 aren’t deep enough, it simply starting booming and I don’t want to start about higher volume use. I don’t know how to call such bass, maybe fun with quality, which can be great for a track or two, but my personal preference arguing big time and when I put HD800 on, just after them, they sound thin for a few seconds, while they are not like that at all and after those seconds, everything feels normal again.
Before I tried K812, I thought HD800 had upper midbass, but now, I think that they are just fine, offer very comfortable one, by not taking the midsection over by playing the boss there, because the toll K812 are paying, is heavy, even after it settled quite a bit, it still showing up so fast, that before you know, it hits again, maybe not screaming, like it did in the beginning, but you will feel its heavy breathe for sure. Putting HD800 on and it feels very good, certainly a relief, less pressure and feels much easier & relaxed.
Also, I do believe that pads play a big part up here, as they seal very tight, don’t offer the transparency of K702 pads, these are like Anniversary K702 pads, only coated in protein/flax leather. What I meant, is that the pads made from memory foam that seems to do wonders with creating full body sig and heavy low end. I owned K702 Anniversary model and tried their pads on my K702, what caused the mega bass and midbass oomph right away, made them sound darker. More even, those pads were the only trick they did with Anniversary model to tune that signature, so, basically, both headphones (mean K702 here) are the same, only pads are not. Also, they start sounding like a closed back model, punchy and warmish with not much air.
After 270 hours, sub bass took the road, left the midfield. Lower end become deeper and more balanced, but they still kept that basic upfront character and with higher volume, at some point, there is too much of it anyway, so, I am slightly disappointed, because AKG finally create something in the right direction, but still they couldn’t tune these at the way that I would fully appreciate, as I am missing an real depth and more air around it.
The good part is the way how they pick up the lower notes of cello. Tonality is very natural, rich and full of wood, I like it bit more than HD800.
MIDSECTION and MISCONCEPTION
Big problem in the beginning, because it felt overloaded with every possible thing. It seems that everything must find their exit through it, which does not offer enough relaxed listening. Like I wrote, during the first 2 days, my ears were in pain. Even now, after 270 hours, I still feel sometimes that sound pressure is there, probably due their very upper centric character? It’s just too much at some point. And yes, the glorious lower end just don’t let midbass totally go; they are married for life, if you like.
After burn in, voices got more space / air, but not enough delicacy for my taste; they have got their full neutrality, yes, but not blooming kind, because the autumn is not coming, leaving tree buds in the cold, you know. Even more, if you drive them underpowered, uhh, that’s something. I read enough about how great they are from out of iPhone or iPad, right? Wrong, because out of my Cowon iAudio X5L and i10 they sound pretty mediocre with very thin mids and the only thing remains, is the bass.
On the other hand, some voices are very good sounding through K812, think of Diana Krall, Patricia Barber, Ive Mendes, Jacinta, Madeleine Peyroux or similar, Carmen McRae is wonderful too, all sound clean and clear, natural and neutral, where HD800 are much easy going, less neutral, but definitely natural with creamy touch, simply lovely, I must say. So, as you see, both headphones represent them very well, but their own way, like them both, really, however, there are situations when K812 starts annoying me, for example opera and ethnic acoustic folk. While both sound pretty damn good most of the time, there are moments that I call: “Moments of true”. Moments with sky high dynamic range, you see, but unfortunately, the coupled stress on top is there; I hear it very clear with higher notes, you may like to check it out this track: Dakha Brakha Ukrainian ethnic folk track no 2 Nad Dunaem
http://www.dakhabrakha.com.ua/eng/title/albums/namezhi Track starts with very beautiful female voice, sounding crystal clear and fluent, but once it starts to get the higher notes, I can hear that tonal stress right away, especially on the second part of this track, it’s not smooth enough to handle your ears with care, if you know what I mean.
One’s Rebec/Fiddle – Gudók http://www.face-music.ch/instrum/ukraine_instrumen.html takes the leading part and take step up front, voices are in the back ground and getting thinner, which is also the situation through HD800, but still more delicacy and fullness / presence there.
Or, for example, Luciano Pavarotti - The Best (Decca 2 CD) track no. 7 Puccini - La Bohéme , O soave fanciulla, when Luciano and Mirella voices are meeting, high dynamic range, all together with orchestra, that’s when my ears getting very uncomfortable.
There is also another interesting thing happens, listen to 3 tenors DECCA Terme di Caracalla - Roma, 7-7-1990 Carreras Domingo and Pavarotti Finale multiple tracks, where the complexity of such can bring many headphones in shame and, unfortunately, K812 are no different here and while they don’t ring, the stress is still big and I can hear that kind of trouble where they become thin with metallic touch, but the HD800, while not having real fun either, still keep the overall balance much better through the whole range by giving no chance your ears to bleed.
SPACE, SOUNDSTAGING, IMAGINE and FRESH AIR
Now I am going to say. This is why all above happens, because of such limited space, warmish and almost fuggy air, very precise 2D imagine and upper sound staging.
None of the goodies get enough space to create the best possible presentation and sound reproduction. Instead of following the path of HD800 3D imagine, AKG decided to make them sound very centric and compact, which feels like closed back almost, and let them fight with each other, that’s what my idea of it. When I read that some say that K812 are better than K1000, it’s all beyond me, don’t understand this at all, sorry, because K1000 are different universe, world of their own and nothing can come close to it, if they are driven correctly, period. Not in a million years K812 can compete here, because they can’t even dream about that kind of speaker presentation of these lovely ear speakers.
Don’t get me wrong, if you like such punchy, upfront, upper detailed presentation, go ahead, but I am missing that well known AKG airiness very much.
After 270 hours, K812 sounds bigger, but feels like 2D to me anyway, still not HD800 level. Voices are very precise in the middle, closely surrounded by everything else. I don’t feel they reveal the natural stage / ambience as I have experienced in a theatre, HD800 does, but K812 doesn’t.
A very good example are the records made inside church, opera or open air theatres, you hear it right away, just switch between K812 and HD800 and you will hear it, try Quiet Winter Night by HOFF ENSEMBLE 2L RECORDS.
Morten Lindberg, who is sound engineer, said it much better:
2L (Lindberg Lyd) records in spacious acoustic venues; large concert halls, churches and cathedrals. This is actually where we can make the most intimate recordings. The qualities we seek in large rooms are not necessarily a big reverb, but openness due to the absence of close reflecting walls. Making an ambient and beautiful recording is the way of least resistance. Searching the fine edge between direct contact and openness; that’s the real challenge! A really good recording should be able to bodily move the listener. This core quality of audio production is made by choosing the right venue for the repertoire, and balancing the image in the placement of microphones and musicians relative to each other in that venue. There is no method available today to reproduce the exact perception of attending a live performance. That leaves us with the art of illusion when it comes to recording music. As recording engineers and producers we need to do exactly the same as any good musician; interpret the music and the composer’s intentions and adapt to the media where we perform. Surround sound is a completely new conception of the musical experience. Recorded music is no longer a matter of a fixed two-dimensional setting, but rather a three-dimensional enveloping situation. Stereo can be described as a flat canvas, while surround sound is a sculpture that you can literally move around and relate to spatially; surrounded by music you can move about in the aural space and choose angles, vantage points and positions.
From what he wrote I feel that K812 does it direct and intimate contact, but openness and 3D are limited and that’s where I think they have limitation compared to HD800.
TREBLE and RINGBELLS
K812 are very revealing, no color, no mercy, no maybe a little, nothing. HD800 are colored and mercy at certain level. Does it make AKG better? Depends, because they don’t like many genres Sennheiser does and if that’s not a problem for you, well, go for it.
When I listened to some pop or electronica, bass is kicking, but highs can sound metallic and mids are thin and tsss with voices is there, again, not enough airiness. I even heard them ringing, yes, true. Was listen to Bach cello suites by Jean Guihen Queyras track no.1 in G Major .1.Prélude and at the very last part when cello takes that higher pitch, man, sszzinng happens for a second several times during play. I pick up HD800 and nothing there, putting K702 on, no, also nothing. Trying K812 again and yes, here we go, same place, same distortion, I checked 5 times to be sure of it.
Luckily, it doesn’t happen all the time, but just pay extra attention, if you like of course. Other than that, crystal clear and precise top end, natural hi hat and cymbals, again, natural tone is best part.
Using my Cary headphones section made things much easy going, but described distortion is there anyway. I must say, I like how K812 sound through Cary more than HD800, but you must compromise with less details and bloomy low end, not that it is very bad or I found this really annoying, no, just saying. Highs and midsection having the most benefit.
On the other hand, their basic should occur and not be covered, because, why would anyone buy EUR 1450 headphones plus EUR 4500 amp to make them sound like HD650? I better invest in Sonic Pearl EUR 1400 plus HD800 EUR 1000 and have a great set up, if you know what I mean.
AKG K812 and HD800 are headphones with very different intentions:
K812 are very direct and centric sounding, showing very clear high level of inner detail, midbass oriented, rich and prominent low end, due their limited space around instruments, mids are overloaded. They don’t expand as I would like them to be, to upfront and mid-centric, 2D sound staging makes me want more and do not reproduce the natural feeling of it as you have when you are in the opera or open air theatre. Heavy weight bass, while superb in tonality and detail, don’t go deep enough.
They are revealing and do not show much, or at all, mercy, found them limited to some genres as well. Voices acting differently in different genres, some are wonderful and some are stressing on top, midsection can sound very full and rich, but also thin and hot on the same record, really depends on what you listen to. Can’t say they are best all-rounder. I have very wide range of different recordings, from simple MP3 to hi rez / hd quality and no matter which material you use, they will act like I described. For example, easy going jazz and their vocals are fantastic, but use them with some complex records and they will become to overloaded around mids, stressing around higher tone voices, strings and cello. It’s not that they can’t handle them, no, it’s just my ears are getting sour and tired during that. Tonality is very good, both on voices and instruments, very natural and crystal clear, but I miss a little delicacy and space around them, which may be the reason why they show some aggression once in a while, or would I say, they expose the record not on subtle, but raw way, which can be just too much in some situations. I believe that low level listening is best with them, they, just as HD800, are very good in that.
All above make met think that these are PRO headphones, made for professional use, however, there are always people who will like such presentation and lucky they are, because if you do, these are maybe the best you can get.
HD800 are less direct sounding, having very beautiful 3D presentation, without pushing the midsection. The level of detail is on pair with K812, but less shouting, it doesn’t jump out, if you like. The bass is deeper and less prominent, subtle midbass oomph is very acceptable. Voices are smooth and very delicate, all the time and with any record I tried. They are not neutral, certainly not the same tonality as K812, but this makes them sound more forgiving with many different music styles. Think of hard and heavy metal or electronica, they do them very well without making your ears cry. Yes, they aren’t that close to natural tonality of K812, but I can’t say that they sound unnatural either, depends on what you think is more important and where you can compromise.
I found the HD800 comfort better than the K812.
In my opinion and contrary to K812, HD800 are more focused on the general consumer, having less obvious abilities to be best in everything and used in studio, but that’s my opinion, based just on this comparison and not on some studio work, so, leave this to those guys who know better.
Don’t forget, everything is system and personal preferences depended.
Thanks for looking.
Edited by Blackmore - 7/9/14 at 12:54am