AKG K3003

DatDudeNic

500+ Head-Fier
Pros: Incredible clarity, punchy bass, amazing detail retrieval, fun sounding (for a "reference"), massive soundstage, crispy vocals, fit, excellent even at low volumes, build quality, weight, imaging (very precise) literally puts a smile to my face when listening to it
Cons: CABLE!, isolation (though acceptable could have been better), SSSSSSSSIBILANCE
As the title suggests this wasnt my first choice but rather it became my only choice. My first choice was the Final Audio Design AKr02 but when i recieved the unit (was bought online from a local shop) i noticed it was defective, one side sounded like there was no isolation (it was their last unit). Loved its sound reminded me of the andromeda without the sibilance. Now on to the k3003, when i first listened to it the first thing that jumped to me was its soundstage it was massive and it sounded to natural but it was sibilant like ****! I didnt experiment with the filters since i read in other peoples reviews that the ref filter was the best one and that the other ones were underwhelming. I noticed that the mids were nowhere to be found (this was even more apparent since the iem i was listening prior to this was the CA novas, of which are touted as having very laid back treble).

After a few hours (of pure agony) i finally got attenuated to its sound signature (note that the sibilance is still as rampant as ever) i realized that this was the signature that ive been looking for! Everything sounded crisp, light, transparent, incredibly detailed, precise imaging and with bass thats enough to pave through my expectations (sound signature wise its pretty day and night compared to my other iems; nova, polaris and savanna).

After a few days of experimenting with the filters and some tips ive come to the conclusion that the stock tips (other tips tend to either remove the sparkle or just makes the damn thing even more sibilant) with the reference filters sounded the best, i found the bass boost loses that incredible sparkle and the high boost though removes the sibilance (idk why its like this...) was just lacking. Fit is good but im forced to wear them around the ear since it hurts my inner ear after a while if worn downward. Isolation could have been better.

Audioscope

100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Expansive soundstage, extremely articulate and detailed, musical, lightweight and non-obstrusive
Cons: Cables not detacheable, bass may be lacking for some
I must admit, the AKG K3003 was not something that I ever wanted to purchase when they first came out.  At $1,600 CAD ($1,200 USD), they were probably the most expensive IEMs available at the time. 
 
In a world where you could buy custom IEMs for less money and have more drivers, I (like many others) dismissed these initially.  A pair of JH Audio JH13 was much more appealing to me at the time, although I had never bought one (more on that later).
 
Enter 2015, when the price of the K3003 could be found for about half of MSRP.  The K3003 thread here on Head-fi, combined with the more accessible MSRP had really gotten my attention, and so I finally bought a K3003i (same IEM, but with the inline iphone mic./cable) because the original K3003 was not much discounted.
 
In the Box:
Once unboxed, the K3003i looks and feels expensive, dispelling some of my initial thoughts about this being a massively overpriced/marked up product.  Included are three sets of "filters" that could be swapped out to alter the characteristic of the sound.  There is one for "reference", one for "extra bass", and one for "extra treble".  An inline adapter for the iPhone-ready 3.5mm terminal to a standard terminal was included, as well as an airline headphone adapter and a high quality leather pouch. 
 
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The box of the AKG K3003i
 
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Contents inside the box.  (Original clear silicone tips not shown)
 
 
What is Special about this IEM, and why does it matter?
In my daily work, I am an engineer and also a fine art and portrait photographer.  However, I will refrain from presenting too many technical details that may not be relevant to most people.
The K3003i is a special because it features a hybrid driver system with one dynamic driver and two balanced armature (BA) driver per side.  In AKG's own words, the dynamic driver is used for distortion free lows (bass), while the two BA drivers are used primarily for accurate mids and for sparkling highs.  Most conventional IEMs feature dynamic drivers, whereas offerings from Shure, Noble Audio, and most custom IEMs feature BA drivers.  
 
_DSF4443.jpg
Literature with cutaway diagram showing placement of the dynamic driver and 2x BA drivers
 
Coincidentally, I have experienced both types of IEMs and the strengths of each.  
 
Dynamic driver IEMs are probably less expensive to make.  Typically, dynamic driver IEMs have a nice, coherent sound with the ability to produce sufficient bass, but may be lacking in articulation and detail.  In my opinnion, they are well-suited for vocals and drums, but not so much for instrumentals where you want to hear everything sparkle in the background.  
Some dynamic driver IEMs I have are: Sony EX1000, JVC FX850, and just about every other inexpensive IEM out there I have listened to.
 
BA driver IEMs, on the other hand, are a much newer technology.  BA drivers are alot smaller and are used in things like hearing aids.  The strengths of BA drivers is exactly the inverse of the dynamic drivers.  That is, BA drivers excel at playing back fast paced music, such as dance, instrumentals, etc., without a hint of incoherency.  The problem with BA drivers is that they often sound shrill and lacking body, similar to what your speakers would sound like if it was missing a woofer or subwoofer.  This is also part of the reason why most BA IEMs use multiple drivers in their design.
BA driver IEMs I have, or previously owned included the JH Roxanne, Fischer Audio DBA-02, Audeo PFE111, Sony XBA3, and Earsonics SM3.
 
Essentially, the goal of the K3003i was to create an IEM that combines the strengths of both dynamic driver and BA driver technology.  This is not a new concept necessarily.  In fact, AKG also tried a hybrid-driver setup in the 70s with the K340 Electrosat-Dynamic Headphones, which I have, and mostly enjoy.  The K340 combines electrostatic drivers with dynamic drivers for the same reason that BA drivers are paired with dynamic drivers in the K3003i. 
 
The K340 is very rich and full sounding, detailed, and has good bass impact.  Where the K340 falls short is its ability to handle fast-paced music, where it may sound a bit muffled or incoherent as the dynamic drivers could not keep up with the speed of the electrostat drivers.  If we use a photography example, this would be simliar to a picture of people on the street, where the speeding cars are blurry, but the pedestrians are in sharp focus. A technically perfect photograph would be one where both the cars and the people in the picture are in sharp focus for us to see, and this is the challenge that the K3003i needs to address.
 
_DSF4411.jpg
AKG K340 Electrostat-Dynamic Headphone, circa 1970s
 
K340Cutaway.jpg
Illustration showing the hybrid driver system of the AKG K340
 
Sound:
 
Fortunately, there are no incoherency issues in the sound of the K3003i.  That is, both the pedestrians and the cars in this photograph are in sharp focus all the time.  AKG has successfully solved this engineering problem.
 
But, how does it sound?  To be perfectly honest, my ears did not understand the sound from the K3003i in the beginning.  They sounded very, very detailed with an expansive soundstage, but somewhat anemic and lacking in bass compared to all other IEMs I have tried.  I almost returned these for something else.  However, I stuck with these for long enough to try them with different DAPs and music and finally understood what the problem was.  All IEMs I have listened to up to now were very much coloured, non-articulate, and have much more bass.  These are the important points to understand.    
Let me explain.  The K3003i has a neutral presentation and doesn't add too much to the sound.  Additionally, although these IEMs are easy to drive from any portable device, they prefer a slightly warm sounding source.  In this way, the K3003i is similar to headphones like the HD800, which do not offer much of an enjoyable listening experience when paired with most cold-sounding amps due to its overly-analytical nature.  The K3003i is far more forgiving of the source music bitrate than the HD800, and far less analytical in that regard.  
 
Once I swapped the included tips to a set that was more fitting with a better seal, the bass quantity and impact became just right.  It was perfect in a way that the rest of the music does not become overshadowed or overwhelmed.  This solved the bass problem.  
 
Next, I compared these to my other IEMs: my previous favourite Sony EX1000, the JVC FX850, and the very expensive JH Roxanne.  A comparison with other high-end IEMs is a big part of the journey to understanding and enjoying the K3003i.
 
Bass:
All these IEMs provided more bass quantity (but not quality) compared to the K3003i.  In particular, with a slight exception for the JH Roxanne, everything else sounded plain muddy in their bass.
There is more bass quantity in the JH Roxanne, but it is defnitely coloured and less articulate.
 
Tonality:
After doing many back to back comparisons, I also realized that the K3003i presents a tonally perfect presentation of the music.  This simply means that a pluck of a guitar string does not sound like a plucking an elastic band, and that foot drums do not sound like a bouncing basketball.  In this regard, all the tested IEMs failed except for the K3003i.  You may not realize this until you do the comparison yourself, but the K3003i is perfect here.  
 
Soundstage: 
The soundstage of the K3003i was very expansive, and immediately reminds me of the soundstage of my HD800.  In reality, the soundstage is closer to my T1, but for an IEM, this is the widest soundstage I have ever heard.
-From best to worst: 1) K3003i, 2) JH Roxanne, 3)Sony EX1000/JVC FX850
Yes, this beats my JH Roxanne custom IEMs.
 
Vocals:
In terms of vocals, the Sony EX1000 was my favourite because of it being very warm sounding, especially for female vocals.  However, the K3003i's wide soundstage and tonal accuracy makes the vocals sound very convincing and even more enjoyable vs. the EX1000's approach of colouring the presentation to make the vocals standout. The K3003i also has a certain depth and extension in the vocals that are not present in the EX1000.  The only reason I still have the EX1000 is for purely nostalgic reasons now.  
 
Instrumentals:
The AKG K3003i wins here with no contest.  Being the most tonally accurate and also the most articulate IEM in this group, the AKG presents instrumentals in a very musical yet detailed way that is every bit as good as my T1, but on a smaller scale.
 
A Note on Changing Filters:
Although three sets of filters are included to increase the treble, bass, or for "reference" sound, I found that I preferred the "reference" filter the most.  The other two filters are not as refined, and alot of Head-fiers echo the same sentiments too.
 
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The "Reference" filter removed.  This is a simple threaded design.
 
*Other Comparisons
At some point in time, I owned the Shure SE846 together with the AKG K3003i, and have also listened to my friend's Sennheiser IE800 extensively.  These are three IEMs that alot of people will compare, and fortunately, I was able to do some of my own back to back comparisons between them.
 
SE846
The true strength of the SE846 is its very delicious sounding sub-bass, which is both very articulate and impactful, and feels like a real subwoofer in some ways without clouding up the rest of the presentation.  I did not enjoy the very confined and small soundstage of the SE846, and once again the tonality was not accurate and fairly coloured.  It was a unique and fun IEM, but clearly outclassed by the K3003i in all areas except for a textured, impactful bass output.
 
IE800
Best described as organic-sounding and musical.  The soundstage is also very large in this IEM, but not as large as the K3003i.  Like most Sennheisers, the IE800 is warm sounding and easy to listen to, but has less detail retrieval and clarity compared to the K3003i.  On the other hand, the bass on the IE800 may be a little better than the K3003i, but not by leaps and bounds.
 
Final Comments:
It took some understanding and comparisons for me to appreciate and fully enjoy the K3003i, but it was well worth it as this is now my favourite IEM.  The AKG is lightweight, easy to wear, and sounds as close to an IEM version of my HD800 as possible (without the overbearing sibiliance or shrillness associated with the HD800).  The fact that the AKG manages to trump my JH Roxanne (discarded) speaks volumes about the perception and the reality of high end equipment from large, established companies vs. smaller, emerging outfits that are only popular within niche circles.
 
When you buy the AKG, you are not buying it for the number of drivers it has, nor any special bells and whistles.  The K3003i is a meticulously engineered IEM that is phenomenal to listen to.  It is a true reference IEM in which its sonic qualities represents the best that I have experienced, while remaining fun and musical all the same.  The K3003i is so spectacular that it makes my Sony EX1000 and JVC FX850 sound like walmart specials, with the JH Roxanne sounding just average.  I have had these AKGs for over a year and also had many other IEMs and headphones come and go.  For home listening, I have a T1, HD800, and Koss ESP/950, as well as a set of Sehring S700SE boutique speakers. When I just want to enjoy the music without using my speakers, I often choose the Koss or these K3003i.  Yes, I use the K3003i even at home because it is that much of a treat. For the low price of admission of the K3003i today, you really owe it to yourself to try one of these out with a sufficiently good DAP. 
 
Happy listening!
akg fanboy
akg fanboy
coo review
Dohyun
Dohyun
The one more triple driver also features one dynamic and two BA which is coming in. So excited! Nice review. I saw these akgs on amazon and always wondered what's so special about them.
Turrican2
Turrican2
@audioscope sorry for the delay in responding I have only now found a chance to a/b both pieces. The k303 and A4 (with red back and black front filters) are almost the same. I'd love to see measurements of these as I suspect they are extremely close. The k3003 has a lightly better presentation of cymbals to my ears but the A4 generally has more air. Both extremely capable iems.

sanjeewasam

100+ Head-Fier
Pros: very natural- if you like HD800 then this is it as IEM
Cons: To get the best out you need to pair with better
I had K3003i with a custom cable. I bough it used and the cable had been replaced and the seller assured not sound different to original
 
I loved it. I used it with Fiio X3 2nd Gen. I liked the sound- very flat, great mids, highs and tight base. When compared to AKG K812 with Mojo I could not hear much difference. I thought K3003 was flatter sounding and tad more clearer that K812. 
 
When I connected K3003i to Mojo only I noted what I was missing with Fiio X3. It is much better overall with Mojo direct
 
I sold my K3003 (which I regret now) and the later bought HD800. My first listen reminded me one thing. How similar K3003 and HD800. Both have no body- dead flat and dead honest. Mids-Highs run wild for bad recordings or not paired with correct gear
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bosiemoncrieff

Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: transparency, portability
Cons: in-line remote is a delicate flower, MSRP, isolation, clinical
Aperatif: 
Let's get this out of the way first. The MSRP is a joke. $1299? Ha! Thankfully, on the secondhand market, prices have plummeted below $500, and I got mine on ebay (less warranty, less case, less the two other "sound filters"—I'm not sure which I got, but I think it's 'reference') for $312 including $5 shipping. AKG seems to have admitted this, putting them on permanent sale for $999, and amazon has them for a little over $700.
 
At $300 secondhand, they're about what my QC25 cost, and although they lack the noise attenuation that ANC brings, I am amid my own internal crisis about whether I like ANC and whether to drop the cash for the PXC 550 or, more significantly, the N90Q. Suffice it to say that although they are not so isolating as Bose (or many other IEMs), they suit coffee shops in a way that HD800—or indeed LCD-XC, TH900, K872, Flow C, or MDR-R10—never will. They are reasonably comfortable, though as with all IEMs that seal the ear canal, you can't use them when chewing. I also find that when I take calls with them, my voice sounds reverberant in the way that it does when I have my fingers in my ears.
 
The cable is fragile and irreplaceable. Ditto the in-line remote. One wrong tug and you get intermittency. Judicious use of 2.5mm headphone jacks might have yielded a more durable product. As it is, I think AKG is targeting the wealthy among us who can afford $1299 without thinking too much of it. I wish I had the other silicone tips, as the ones that I have are a liiiiitle big for my ear canals at a very long clip, though again for $312 I'm not complaining seriously about missing accessories. 
 
Entree: 
 
Perhaps the highest compliment one can pay an IEM—indeed, a reference monitor of any kind—is comparison to HD800. K3003i is certainly worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as HD800. As regards SQ, they are inferior in almost every way—though I find bass is more impactful—but not by margins that anyone would find embarrassing. The soundstage (shocker!) is smaller, but it is not mediocre. The tonality is neutral if a bit clinical, and perfect for classical music, my preferred genre, and perfectly fine for the handful of pop music I will tolerate—bad romance, call me maybe, i really like you, let me love you, roar, rise, etc. Treble is not rolled off and the bass is deep and crisp.
 
HD600, the closest headphone I own in price to what I paid for K3003i, is softer (a critic would say blurrier), and requires an amp (and 4-pin XLR) to sound their best. I got my K3003i for maybe $70 more, and while Bimby/Mjolnir 2 softens the sound slightly, the change is minute. K3003 may change as you change their filters (I didn't receive filters from the janky ebay sale), but in the current filter (which I assume is 'reference'), to my ears, they get maybe 70% of the way to HD800, with most of the deficit being soundstage. Circumaural headphones—and HD800 more than nearly all—can fool the ear more easily than IEMs. Miniaturization is ridiculously punishing, and to pack the majority of HD800's performance into their petite industrial design, and not to require an amplifier makes the technical achievement all the more stunning.
 
The sound can be unforgiving, and perhaps the treble could have used further tuning. Gidon Kramer playing the Kreutzer Sonata has its harsh moments, though had I been ten inches from the violin, I think the experience would have been similarly uncomfortable. Lynn Harrell on the third cello sonata is pleasanter, not least for my own preference for that instrument. While I can't say that the piano had the slam of the Fostex TH900 or LCD-4, it had solidity and weight—these are reference cans after all. The mids are nicely flat, and there is good detail retrieval; though it is clearly outclassed by HD800, it delivers exceptional performance and is not embarrassed by the comparison. 
 
My ultimate stress test for any pair of headphones is the Solti Ring. Imaging is above average, and at the very top of the pack for an IEM, though (as it's another dimension of soundstage) not competitive with HD800 or K1000. Instruments are indeed a notch less transparent than my top-flight open back flagships, a pinch more distant and veiled. But I repeat: IEMs perform with two hands tied behind their back, and K3003 perform admirably given their physical limitations; IE800, from the makers of HD800, are no better, and (IMHO) worse. Despite all of this though, orchestral colors were handled with aplomb. Brass had its appropriate sheen, depth, and impact; strings soared during O hehrstes wunder and were palpably torn across by their bows during the stormy Walküre prelude to act 1 and Siegfried prelude to act 3. Timpani rumble deliciously but not excessively. Tenor James King was more transparent than Birgit Nilsson; she seemed a bit distant. Wolfgang Windgassen was less immediate (forward?) than on K1000 but K1000 is a magical beast—the forging scene seemed slightly to overwhelm the tenor as it does less on other cans (caveat about herculean demands of the role). But my taste for tilted treble may make my assessment unreliable. Really like Erda. She and Hans Hotter do an excellent duet in Siegfried. Oboes have their utterly lifelike nasality. The triangle is sparkly and wonderful. Immolation Scene comes together very well. Woodwinds, brass, strings, soprano—all coherent and weighty.
 
Dolce:
 
IEMs do not have physics on their side. 56mm transducers can do things that IEMs cannot hope to. Despite this, the double balanced armature plus dynamic driver design of K3003i has to be considered a success. Performance approaches that of top flight open back headphones. While it decisively does not equal them, it is a very, very good substitute when you're on the go. Though isolation is mediocre-to-average, and while I might in the future prefer the PXC 550 or N90Q, these are infinitely more stylish and portable. 
 
If you can find them for ~$300, they are very much worth the expense. If they're any more than $500, feel confident in your decision to skip them.
proedros
proedros
grey = reference filters
white = treble filters
black = bass filters
bosiemoncrieff
bosiemoncrieff
ha, just checked, have grey!

salla45

1000+ Head-Fier
Pros: Real reference transducers. Very rewarding and involving. Completely addictive and immersive. Clarity, separation, dynamics and response all excellent
Cons: Nothing worth mentioning
(edited note - for some reason I am giving these 10/10 for Audio Quality, but they are appearing as one notch less. Not sure why!)
 
Introduction
 
To begin, would like to explain a little about my self and what makes me "tick" as regards audio equipment.
 
First off, I am no head-fier. I have enjoyed audio reproduction for the last 30 years or so, and specifically enjoy an out-of-the-box soundstage experience with conventional loudspeakers; kit which just disappears and leaves the music behind.
 
I purchase audio equipment for the sole purpose of listening to music, music, music. That's all, not for looks, not for caché or impression, or for boom and tizz. For musical involvement.  First and foremost I am a music addict, literally; I just get such a buzz from listening to great musicians playing well together and give thanks that I am living now, in this time, to be able to enjoy so much excellent recorded material in near perfect clarity with relatively low cost equipment.
 
I have currently a pair of Kef X300A active speakers and run them with an assortment of several thousand albums of all genres ripped in flac or HD/SACD.
 
Recently have I found that family lifestyle was not really allowing me to listen "pubicly" so I started investigating the smaller end of the spectrum, and specifically the world of universal IEM's.
 
My first foray into the genre was an unheard of investment in a pair of Grado GR10's earlier this year quickly followed by a Fiio X3ii and E12 amp (to run the Grados and also a pair of ageing but still entirely worthy Sennheiser HD600's).
 
I was very pleased with the sound of both with my new "rig", and loved the midrange of the Grados but soon the lure of something with more extension at both ends was just too much and I pulled the trigger on a pair of AKG's flagship model, the K3003's. I should add, this was after much prevarication and reading around, reviews, etc! I almost went for the SE846's from Shure, but was nagged by a feeling the apparent rolled of top end would be a constant source of regret had I gone for them.
 
So after a week or so of almost complete immersion into the world of these "designed in Austria" beauties, I can safely say they have blown me away and bathe me in addictive and involving sound which just "works". 
 
I am not going to describe the gear very much, nor their ergonomics, or aesthetics or what you get or don't get in the box. Nothing matters for me apart from how the sound and the fact that they can be worn for extended periods without discomfort or fatigue. With this in mind I should say that the back edges are a little sharp and take a little while to get used to. I did have some mild discomfort to begin with but now my ears have become used to them and I feel no discomfort.
 
Why am I reviewing them? Simply because I find them to allow me to connect with the music more than any other piece of audio equipment I have ever owned or heard and I felt that they deserved a fresh review in light of recent price revisions
 
I purchased the AKG's for a decent price of 800 CHF (around 850 usd or 550 gbp) and this was for the non-i version, ie without the remote and mic. Also with 2 years' guarantee.
 
So... it's a far cry from the 1000 gbp original price or 1300usd or whatnot, and I feel at the price I paid, they are a bit of a bargain.
 
I also think they have been marketed by AKG in such a way as to make them seem a frivolously chic frippery. a "lifestyle" item intending for rich playboys, to go with a nice pair of cufflinks or tiepin. Ie not worthy of audiophile consideration. I am hoping to redress this somewhat :)
 
Now onto the important stuff...
 
How do they sound
 
I should mention that I use the K3003's with the Fiio X3ii / E12 combo and listen to a range of CD Flac rips and HD Tracks and SACD ISO and DFF or DSD files.
 
Where to begin?
 
Overall these are stunning. A masterpiece of engineering, offering more musical insight than I have ever hitherto had the pleasure of experiencing.
 
The AKG K3003's allow me to enjoy, wherever I may be, a seemingly holographic portrayal of all genres of music.
 
When I first listened to these, I focused on the bass , or the treble, picking out frequencies which were new to my ears in well-established recordings, and being stunned initially by their discrete abilities in this regard, but over time I have become more and more appreciative of the way the whole performance is portrayed. It's very easy to become lost in the soundscape, it's so detailed and rich and immersive. The wall of the interface of music reproduction simply melts away so easily and leaves you to just bathe in the performances. 
 
To this end, I find the effect most stunning with well recorded ensemble pieces, rather than heavily processed or electronic tracks. That's not to say that these latter styles don't sound good (great, even), it's just that the effect, the illusion, of real human interplay is so heightened by the AKG's that genuinely virtuosic performances by ensembles at the top of their game just makes them entirely irresistible and addictive.
 
One note I had made when listening over the past week include that they make most albums very listenable and engaging; that there is a sound signature to albums of which I was not acutely aware until listening to various albums with these. Once I got used to the bright clear sound signature of these AKG's themselves, I was able to assimilate the signatures of the albums was listening to quite rapidly, and I could get on with the business of listening to the album on it's own strengths and weaknesses.
 
So, rather than being turned off an album for this and that reason and moving on to the next to try (a regular, normal occurrence when listening to audio with me, at least), I am just transfixed often enough with what is currently playing so I listen to a whole whole track or album, relishing each note, feeling the direct connection with the musicians, their passion, their energy, their life. This occurs with most genres and recordings. And give them better source material, they simply perform even better. This is no mean feat for any equipment,as far as I am concerned. I am notoriously flighty when it comes to listening. Always seeking nirvana, the next buzz, or what-have-you, so to have some kind of stable and consistently excellent platform to listen to music on its own merits is refreshing to say the least.
 
Another note I made was that dynamically, the K3003's handle well the ebb and flow of music, especially notable with well recorded classical material and prog-rock, where crescendos are handled effortlessly and naturally.
 
To sum up... Man, these are something else! They are pure transducers of a high order offering a window onto the sound like nothing else I have experienced. However, they don't sound cold or clinically analytical. just pure. I keep testing them out, thinking, "when is the bubble going to burst, when am I going to wake up or come to my senses?" but they just keep on making sublime music. And wherever and whenever I want, completely discretely. Absolutely stunning.  
 
One thing I would say, is that these are pretty addictive. I have had to consciously and reluctantly climb out of listening experiences, musical moments, when other things have demanded my attention. It's another world in here.
 
Specific Examples - Musical Notes (I could go on forever, but here's a few...)
 
Blues-Rock - Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble - Soul To Soul - Say What! (MFSL SACD DFF)
 
Great test this. Can easily sound congested, but the AKG's deconstructed this beautifully, revealing a full 3d soundscape, with all instruments in define spaces. Easy to follow bassline and "comping" keyboards and percussion behind SRV's soaring lead. Fantastic. Giving me chills as I write this.
 
Blues-Rock/Southern Rock/Jam Band - Allman Brothers - Eat A Peach - Mountain Jam (MFSL SACD DFF) (1st 15 mins or so)
 
Now, this is a blast! OK, here goes... Deconstruction. In defined spaces in the soundstage: Bass, Berry Oakley clearly defined rickenbacker by the sound of it (correction- It's a Fender Jazz Bass). Really clean and clear, in mid foreground, slightly to the right. Lead guitar on right, Duane Allman. Left hand side rhythm/2nd lead, Dickey Betts. Far right and left double drummers Jai Johannson and Butch Trucks. And in the background (unless leading) Gregg on organ. My goodness this is incredible. I've never heard these guy gel so well! & I've listened to this 1000 times. Really so stunning, the bass ripping through it all, but tying perfectly to the drumming, allowing a canvas on which the guitars and keyboards can soar. 
 
Classical - Beethoven Symph no 3 - Eroica - Marriner - AAM - (1983 or something?) CD Rip
 
This is a very well recorded version of the 3rd, and performances are spot-on. I have listened to this for the last 25 years or so and it's sounding super via the AKG's. Smooth, detailed, holographic. I can clearly hear individual groups of instruments and interplay between them. No stridency whatsoever, just smooth and clear. Dynamic peaks handled extremely well. Music flows naturally. Phones disappear, leaving soundstage.
 
Electronic - Tangerine Dream - Poland (Title track)
 
I have always loved this track, since the late 80's when I first heard it. It's one of my favourite all time Tangerine Dream tracks. It has a visceral energy, dynamic, stunning bass, and atmosphere and it's an amazingly well recorded live album. With the AKG's it's portrayed very well indeed. Holographic soundstage, great air between instruments. Tight bass line. The textures of the sounds are very layered and interesting. Beautiful rendition, stunning. Giving me chills again, as I write. The dynamics and tension are captured so well. It's alive!! There's one part of the track around 6 mins in where a sort of rasping sound moves from l-r and then the piece takes off again into a soaring electronic climax. All handled beautifully and clearly. Am enjoying interplay more than ever here.
 
Acoustic - Punk/Folk - Frank Turner - I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous CD Rip
 
Got into FT in recent years, went to see him live a couple of times locally. Great times. I Knew Prufrock is a super track about coming of age. Here it sound better than ever. It has a slow buildup to a rousing finish, with much detail and complexity along the way. A great test for any system and can easily sound irritating with lesser systems. Here, with the AKG's it's sounding great. Holographic (that word again) acoustic guitar sound, crystal clear. Vocals nicely presented. Visceral energy builds up proportionally as the track moves forward. All very good. As the full crescendo comes on, it almost loses it, and it probably should sound like it should, but it doesn't and maintains composure, surety.
 
Prog -  Rock - Genesis - Selling England By The Pound - Dancing With The Moonlit Knight SACD DFF
 
This album was one of the early pinnacle masterpieces from the Prog Rock masters. The opening track is a stunner. Everyone is on top form and the recording production is 2nd to none. Here, with the K3003's, it's superb. Crystal clear definition of instruments in their own spaces, Gabriel's vocals are stunning, very lifelike indeed. Nothing to fault; interplay is superb, sounds like a jazz fusion outfit at the top of their game. One realises what a great drummer Phil Collins was.  So uncongested. Incredible, given the complexity of the music, like each instrument is laser etched.
 
Rock - Jazz - Steely Dan - Aja (Title Track)  SACD ISO
 
Possibly the finest track from arguably the finest album of the 70's. Becker and Fagen were notorious for their ruthless and laborious approach to album creation, hiring the best musicians of the day to play certain parts of each track and then editing them to perfection with all the finest cuts. Aja features a drum and sax solo from Steve Gadd and Wayne Shorter respectively and it's a real epic, swooping and soaring often in startling directions. The AKG's handle the piece with reverence, neutrally, allowing the virtuosic perfomances to shine through. Notably, percussive cymbals are shining through with a delicacy I haven't heard before. Really adding to the experience. Beautiful.
 
Rock - Metal - Iron Maiden - Rock In Rio - Blood Brothers - CD Rip
 
Love this track, and not more so than on the Rock In Rio album. Handled superbly by the AKG's, deconstructs the soundstage very well. I was expecting this to sound irritating and compressed somewhat, but was completely surprised. The soundstage was pushed back nicely, and dynamics handled well, with the swelling and power of the occasion coming over well. Turning on the bass boost feature of the Fiio E12 amp, helped to give some oomph to the proceedings. Guitar solo really nicely defined with great interplay with percussion.  Again, giving me chills :)

salla45
pacman46
pacman46
great write up.very well worded too. as for the cable not being detachable your right they both have their advantages.i also for me think that the cable is the perfect length for me and as its not detachable it is very well made and if taken care of should last you for years...stunning IEM..great review. cheers!!
bosiemoncrieff
bosiemoncrieff
Spot on, I think. They still come up short of the HD800 in terms of ultimate transparency, soundstage, and imaging, but given that that has 56mm driver, open back, and requires dedicated amp and dac, K3003 has its advantages. 
 
In terms of cons, the fragility of the cable is definitely a strike against it. It can't be denied. I also have difficulty hearing much difference between iPhone and Bimby/Mjolnir 2 other than some slight, slight added warmth.

jamesyuchn

New Head-Fier
Pros: Beautifully crafted, natural signature, wide soundstage, balanced sound
Cons: cable not detachable
This is the best IEM among all my gears! The sound is balanced and natural. A big CON is about its undetachable cable... I think switching to balanced output will make it sound even better, but simply cannot try it unless cutting the cable, which will be a hard choice :frowning2:

GUO XIAOZHOU

New Head-Fier
Pros: Beautifully crafted; outstanding isolation and comfort; easy to drive; natural signature.
Cons: cable are not detachable.
AKG K3003 is an important milestone in the development of IEM. It’s the first universal fit IEM that successfully combines dynamic driver and balance armature technology together. After owning them for 3 years, K3003 never fail to move me.
 
K3003 is hand crafted in Vienna with the highest standard of precision engineering. Its main component is made out of one single piece of stainless steel, this ensure an outstanding durability of the earphone. It terminate in an 3.5mm mini jack with rose gold plating. The build quality of K3003 is a 10/10.
 
Since K3003 is a combination of two different audio technology, I want to talk about each one of them briefly.
 
First of all, AKG K3003 contains 2 balance armature drivers in the housing: 1 tweeter and 1 full-range. Most people tempt to believe that balance armature earphones generally deliver a cold sound with great amount of detail, but actually this isn’t the case for every models. Shure SE530 is a typical example of a warm sounding balance armature earphone. On the other hand, the clarity of the earphones is actually depends on the number of drivers and the performance of each individual driver. In the case of K3003, the 2 balance armatures combination generates an unbelievable clarity that can even compete with some of the flagship Custom IEM on the market right now. From this aspect, K3003 sounds really similar to the K702. The only different is, the details on K3003 is under better control, not too define, not muddy at all, just right.
 
Other than the 2 balance armatures, there’s also 1 dynamic driver inside K3003. That dynamic driver is for the bass. In fact, at the very beginning, I was concern that the penetration of dynamic and balance armature wouldn’t work, but AKG proved that I’m wrong. They work together perfectly, result in a perfectly natural sound signature with outstanding soundstage performance (greatest width and depth I ever heard from a universal-fit IEM). All instrument and vocal now sound more heartwarming, When they finally comes together in one piece, language seems so powerless to describe the experience, it all comes down to one word: Heaven.
 
All of conclusion from above are all my impression with K3003 and iPod classic alone, without using any amplifier. K3003 is the kind of headphone that you have to listen it yourself to understand how amazing it is. A lot of people thinks K3003 is too pricey, but for me, when it comes to buying K3003, only 2 questions are require: Do I like it? Can I afford one? For IEM like K3003, price is nothing more than a number.
 
I believe that music creates miracle, K3003 did it.
 
 
Tracks use for review:
 
1. Evangelion Simphony 2 -Partita III fur Violin Solo in E No 3.
 
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2. Kaori Kobayashi - Sunshine.
 
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3. Mozart - Requiem in D minor.
 
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4. Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance Original Soundtrack - "Mellow 2009" (2EM18).
 
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5. Thanatos (If i Can't be Yours).
 
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jpmac55
jpmac55
Very helpful review. Can these be worn both down & around ear? Easy to seal?

skfktkwjs

100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Overall sound, clarity, Very wide stage, fun yet balanced sound .
Cons: price, none detachable cable, cable above Y split, carrying case is bit small to fit it in, isolation is not as good as other IEM
.

LeloHeven

New Head-Fier
Pros: natural tune, full of detail, beautiful crafted
Cons: a little overprice
Treble: a little bit piercing, especially on IPC. However, if connet this with the Hifiman player like HM-602, HM-603 or HM-801, the treble would be bright but not piercing.
 
Mid: clean and natural. Some might say it's lack of warmth, but with a warmth sound music player, the mid will be warm and full of emotion.
 
Bass: when I bought this, I thought this IEM lack of bass. After run for longer than 700 hours. It has much better perfomance on bass, especially the depth of the bass.
 
Soundstage: the only word to discribe the soundstage of this IEM is UNBELIEVEABLE. I just can't imaging an IEM can have this range of soundstage. 
 
Imaging: Amazing, just like the perfomance on the soundstage. I can clearly feel the different locations of all the music instrument.
 
Vocal: very natural, slightly forward. clearly seperated to the accompany. clear and bright, might feel lack of warmth with some player.
 
Comfort: I have to say, the K3003 is very comfort for me, but not for the guys who have narrow ear canal.
 
Isolation: the isolation of this IEM is not that good, but still better than many IEM, after use the Comply foam tips, the isolation getting better.
 
About the dynamic and balanced armature units: I have to say, the K3003 is the best hybrid headphone I've ever heard. I think the coherency is quite good.
mahesh
mahesh
Hi great review
Can you please tell me which comply tips you are using?
Thx in advance
Audiowood
Audiowood
I heartily agree to everything above. This is what I would also describe the AKG3003i.
If you love akg3003i, you can also try the sm64 from earsonic, its pretty good in my books.

ricoc82

New Head-Fier
Pros: overall sound quality, transparency, imaging, sound stage
Cons: price, sound quality is critical to your gear
Gears used: HiSoundAudio Studio V, iRiver AK100
 
Tracks used: SoundProLab Absolute Sampler Album
                    Kamikazee's Maharot
                    Mary Stallings, Sunny
                    All in Lossless CD Quality 44khz/16bit
 
Value:
I think this is a great value for an IEM, to have this kind of sound quality yet very portable to carry around is just amazing. If you can save up to buy these they are definitely worth it.
 
Audio Quality:
I am not very technical so I'll just share you in a way that I can.
Transparency:
I think this is where the K3003 shine the most, It was able to provide layers and separation in all notes, not too many IEMs can do that specially at the low frequencies, other IEMs tend to sound distorted when a set of bass level instruments are produced simultaneously, with the K3003 the lows from drums, bass guitar, and rhythm guitar are significantly heard separately. The mids and highs are like that as well.
 
Imaging:
The presentation is simply amazing, you can close your eyes and imagine where the band is playing whether the music was produce to sound as if you were in a bar with a small stage or a large concert stadium.
 
Soundstage:
The largest I've heard on any universal IEM.
 
Sound Signature:
Very very very natural, very similar to Beyerdynamic T1 which is my favorite full sized headphones. Everything you will hear in K3003 is very real, the drum hits are just unbelievable, the guitar strings sound as if you're the one playing them, you can even hear the singer's lips open. I am not exaggerating this.
 
Bass:
Great but its just a couple notch to becoming excellent I just want a little more punch and a little more bass extension but very little.
 
Mids:
Great, maybe excellent if we are only comparing with IEM.
 
Highs:
Excellent, the most pleasurable highs I have heard, very clear but not fatiguing.
 
Comfort:
I guess if I can pin point a problem it will be the comfort, well its not actually uncomfortable but you get the feeling that the IEM is losing its grip inside after awhile but not really.
 
Isolation:
4 stars because of the comfort problem that I mentioned, this is with comparison to Westone silicon tips that locks up instantly without any effort.
 
Overall:
This is the best universal IEM that I have heard so far. I may come bias since I have not heard other expensive earphones available in the market other than the Sennheiser IE 800 and Westone 4R. I am very familiar with the headphones Beyerdynamic T1 and Sennheiser HD 800. Sure there are a lot of portable gear setups that can surpass the sound quality that you can get from a mere set of earphones and a dap, but hey its a mere set of earphones and a dap!
 
 
 
 
 
Sleinzel
Sleinzel
Some feedback:
If you say something is the best you've ever heard, tell us what you heard.
eg:
The largest I've heard on any IEM.
Is this your first, second or 100th IEM? Did you ever try JH16 Custom in ears?
Aero Dynamik
Aero Dynamik
The way I understand it he has heard "IE 800 and Westone 4R" as he writes under "Overall:" Did you miss that, or did I miss something? BTW, I enjoyed this personal review! Thanks ricoc82!
papijoe08
papijoe08

Kunlun

Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Great Tuning--These Are Fun To Listen To, Good Detail In the Midrange And Treble
Cons: Incoherency Between The Drivers Is Noticeable, Harsh treble with best detailed filter, detail loss with others, High price, Reliability is a concern
Short Review: All observations made with the high pass filters. Naturally I listened with each of the three filters, but the high pass was my preference.
 
Pros:
I really liked the tuning of these. With the K3003, you get an approximation of a neutral sound in terms of a good balance between treble, midrange and bass and the filter system gives you a means of adjusting this balance (at a cost of slightly loss of detail with the non-reference filters). What's great is that the sound is still very fun. I'm not sure I can put my finger on exactly why, but these were great to listen to. I think the combination of the brightness of the treble with the full bass give the fun of a more v-shaped sound, but I didn't find the midrange recessed. Add that to the nice detail in the midrange and treble, and you've got a tuning that lets you sit up an really listen to your music while still rocking out.
 
Cons:
The main issue for me was the incoherency between the drivers. You can certainly tell the difference between the sound characteristics of the dynamic driver for the bass and the balanced armature drivers for the midrange and treble. I'm not sure why AKG used this particular dynamic driver, but it's markedly less detailed and has a slower decay than the armatures. It's not terrible, but it's a serious flaw in an earphone with a huge pricetag. I often listen to music where the bass, midrange and treble are equally balanced, string quartets are an example. Another is renaissance polyphony where the bass, tenor, alto and soprano singers must be balanced. The bass voices were less detailed and crisp than the sopranos with the k3003. I imagine there will be music where this issue is less noticeable, but if you listen, you'll hear the discontinuity in the earphone.
 
EDIT: After writing the review, I've come across a graph which may help: The CSD graph in this post perfectly sums up the issue with the k3003. You can see very clearly that the decay in the bass from the dynamic driver is way, way, way longer than in the rest of the frequency range as produced by the armature drivers.
 
The treble will definitely be a bit harsh for some using the high pass filters, but using the other filters takes a bit away from the detail resolution. It's a trade off that I don't want to make at $1,400.
 
Some found issues with isolation, I thought it was average. Others have reported fit issues, I didn't have any, but certainly it's always possible and one can carefully try different brands of eartips. The standard tips worked for me so I didn't explore that.
 
Reliability is a serious concern as well. The stress relief on the pair I used for this review was showing signs of wear after only a few months.
Aero Dynamik
Aero Dynamik
To “MomijiTMO”:
In essence exactly what I’ve been trying to say. Don’t take Kunlun’s (or my) word for it; if you are on the lookout for an amazingly sounding (and to my ears coherently sounding) universal in-ear monitor, try the K3003 for yourself and I’m sure there’s more than a good chance you’ll be greeted by some of the most amazing sound you’ve ever heard from a headphone.
To “Maxvla”:
Why so offensive? I haven’t attacked you or anyone else, and for your information I constantly try out new gear. Recently I’ve invested in the FitEar ToGo! 334 (definitely on par with the K3003 but having a different signature) and the Portaphile 627X. And BTW, I don’t believe in aural nirvana. Sound is my hobby, not my religion.
To “driver 8”: Since the money doesn’t mean anything to you, may I suggest that you sell your K3003 and donate the money to doctorswithoutborders.org? Did you know that for $1500 you can protect more than 5000 children from being crippled by measles? To those children the money means more than a lot! Let us know your decision! Thanks!
amzies01
amzies01
To Aero Dynamik... glad you're happy with your K3003. U are entitled to your opinion. You said u trust your ears ONLY so nothing else holds water for you cept your own thoughts. I appreciate that. As for the incoherence and harshness, i've noticed them. And to MY EARS, I don't think the price-to-performance ratio is justifiable. But that's just to me and evidently, to several others (and pretty good company, i should say). We're happy u are loving your AKG's. At the end of the day, it's YOU who decides and discerns what YOU want, like and love. And that goes for the rest of us.
Aero Dynamik
Aero Dynamik
amzies01> glad you're happy with your K3003.
 
Indeed I am! Thank you! I'm glad you're glad!
 
amzies01> U are entitled to your opinion.
 
I already knew that, but thank you for reminding me! What a priviledge freedom of speech is!
 
amzies01> You said u trust your ears ONLY so nothing else holds water for you cept your own thoughts.
 
Yes, I guess so! At the end of the day it is what I personally hear from an IEM that really matters to me.
 
amzies01> I appreciate that.
 
That sounds reassuring!
 
amzies01> As for the incoherence and harshness, i've noticed them. And to MY EARS, I don't think the price-to-performance ratio is justifiable. But that's just to me and evidently, to several others (and pretty good company, i should say).
 
You know, majority doesn't necessarily make something true or right, but I can respect a personal and sincere opinion. You don't really need others to tell you what you hear, right?
 
amzies01>We're happy u are loving your AKG's.
 
Well I'm afraid I don't feel convinced that all those who do not share my sentiments about the K3003 appreciate my affection for it. However, if you sincerely do it is good enough for me. Thanks!
 
amzies01>At the end of the day, it's YOU who decides and discerns what YOU want, like and love. And that goes for the rest of us.
 
Amen (and I enjoy sharing my thoughts with others)!

shotgunshane

Headphoneus Supremus
Pros: Dynamics, low volume listening, timbre
Cons: price, cable above the Y split, price
AKG K3003



Before jumping into the sound, I want to make a few comments on build and accessories, which I feel are important to discuss, due to how they may affect the sound and/or durability of the product.

Accessories include 3 pair of stock single flange tips that are very comfortable and well made with a good combination of thickness and flexibility. My only issue with them is that I require a bit deeper insertion due to the shape of the housings and tip length; I can’t quite reach optimal positioning. I had some extra Meelec triple flange (trips) tips lying around and these solved the fit issue. Achieving optimum fit smoothed the treble out, improving its tone and realism, while tightening up the low end a fair amount. Another benefit was the expansion of soundstage from left to right and improving imaging. I would like to see AKG offer some dual and triple flange tips of the same quality of their single flanges as the changes I heard in sound were significant for me.

Other accessories include screw on swappable filters (bass, treble and reference). The bass filter is basically useless. It really muddies up the sound, wrecks clarity and timbre and just plain sounds bad. The treble filter offers a very nice analytical sound that is very reminiscent of the Audio Technica CK10 and is overall more neutral. The reference filter, which is my preference, slightly pulls back on the treble presence, while adding a very satisfying bass presence. The build quality of the housings and filters are excellent and beautifully crafted. I love the smart screw-in mechanism of the filters. The housings are surprisingly small and tastefully minimalistic in overall design.

If there is anything to fault or complain about, it is the cable; in particularly the section of the cable above the Y split. On the microphone version, there are no strain reliefs around it and I find where the cable enters the strain reliefs on the housings concerning as well. Perhaps it is unfounded concern but these do appear to be weak points in an otherwise well built and very expensive, top of the line earphone. I think I would have preferred the upper portion of the cable to be covered in the same nylon feeling material of the bottom portion, allowing for more flexibility without kinking at strain points.

Also suspect is the winding case. While very attractive looking, I find winding the earphone in a large square shape to be impractical and creates odd memory to the cable; but more importantly the method for storing the housings in the case seems overly complicated and could lead to kinking or damaging the cable, if one is not very carful. An aftermarket case, like a Pelican, Otterbox or UE hard case is recommended.

Enough with the cosmetic and on with the sound.




Being that the K3003 is a hybrid design, coherency between the differing driver technologies seems to be one of the biggest concerns; so let me start by saying, to me, it is a non-issue. I think the driver technologies are blended very well and I did not find anything distracting or disjointed during my listening sessions. Instruments sounded smooth and cohesive from the bottom of the scale and up, contributing to excellent timbre. Coherency Schmoeherency. Just enjoy the music because it sounds damn good from the K3003.



Coherency Schmoeherency as performed by Van Halen.

The treble of the K3003 is simply fantastic, nicely weighted and has a very nice brassiness about it. It is highly reminiscent of the CK10 treble, albeit a slightly tamed down version of that treble. With the Meelec trips, I’ve had no issue with undo sibilance or issues with peaks or harshness. Just airy, brassy and extended goodness.

In comparison the Merlin and UM3X treble are much more subdued and laid back. The UM3X treble is not only more laid back but also sounds less realistic, with less detail retrieval than the K3003. Upon switching back to the UM3X, it’s takes a moment to readjust, making the UM3X seem a little too dark and smoothed over. The Merlin treble is also more laid back than the K3003 but is certainly crisper and more present than the UM3X. Both the Merlin and K3003 high end come across as highly detailed and resolving, especially when amplified with the cleaner signal of the Leckerton UHA-6s mk2, but over all I enjoy the treble presentation of the K3003 more. It’s the CK10 like brassiness and realism that won me over.

The midrange of the K3003 is slightly forward and aggressive with a flavor I would term as sweet. Vocals are very engaging; strings sound lifelike and distortion guitars have excellent bite. This energetic midrange presentation is right in my wheelhouse of preferences and is one of the most likeable traits of the K3003; in fact I think I’d call the K3003 mildly mid-centric.

In comparison to the UM3X, the K3003 displays much greater upper mid presence, which is what gives it the aggressive and sweet sound. The upper mid of the UM3X is actually scooped out, with more emphasis on the lower mid, giving it a more lush, euphonic or analogue sound. Both presentations are great but I’d say the balance of upper and lower mid presence gives the K3003 more versatility for a better all rounder and certainly gives it greater clarity.

On the other hand, the Merlin seems to split the difference between the mid presentation of the UM3X and K3003. In my Merlin thread, I compared the similarities between the RE262 mids and the Merlin. The K3003 mids are more aggressive and sweet sounding than the Merlin still, due to more upper mid presence. The Merlin gives a more emotional, intimate vocal by being more laid back than the K3003. I also find the midrange of the Merlin to be more resolving of micro-detail, especially with the Leckerton or Arrow 4g amps.

The bass of the K3003 can be summed up a number of ways - fun, satisfying, impactful, deep, textured and musical. If ultimate neutrality is your goal, you won’t find it with the dynamic bass of the K3003 and the reference filter, although its boost isn’t as large as the overwhelming majority of consumer oriented earphones. The amount of boost the K3003 offers is quite possibly the perfect amount for my preferences. It adds realistic and believable weight to strings and keys and I could not detect any issues with bleeding into the midrange. While certainly not as fast and as accurate as say, the CK10 bass, it is fast for dynamic driver bass and is tastefully colored and very lifelike.

In comparison to the UM3X and Merlin, the K3003 has less bass quantity, coming across as the most neutral of the three. The K3003 beats the UM3X in lower end extension and resolution, while the Merlin has more of its bass focused on deep/sub bass, so it gives the feeling of greater extension and rumble. With the Meelec trips, the tightness of the K3003 bass competes very well with the Merlin bass, both being some of the tighter dynamic driver bass I’ve heard.




With the stock tips, I thought the K3003 soundstage width was just average to perhaps slightly above average but with a spacious and airy presentation within that soundstage, displaying much better than average depth. With the Meelec trips, the soundstage is increased from left to right by a substantial margin to my ears. Comparatively the Merlin soundstage is still wider and deeper but a fair amount taller as well. The Merlin soundstage is the tallest I’ve heard to date, although with the Meelec trips, the K3003 soundstage is very satisfying.

Imaging and separation are as good as the best, or better than I’ve heard in most universals. Dynamics are also excellent and the K3003 makes a superb low volume listening experience, and is in fact the best I’ve heard yet for low volume. As mentioned earlier, timbre is very good - strings and keys sound lifelike and believable, with proper note weight; toms and snares snap to life; cymbals and rides have a natural brassiness. The K3003 is one of better phones for portraying instruments as you would hear them in person. I would love to be able to compare these to my previous timbre champs, the EX1000 and FX700. It seems to balance nicely between earphones that come across as too thick or too thin in note.

Value

While I absolutely love the sound of the K3003, I do find the price point impractical for myself; but I am hoping AKG prices the K3003 more competitively in near future, as other companies release new hybrids and new flagships this winter. If so, I would definitely be very interested in obtaining my own set.

Conclusion

If I had to sum up my listening experience with the K3003, I would call it a CK10 with dynamic driver bass. It takes the same great, brassy treble of the CK10, tones it down just a bit; sweetens up the midrange and lifts it slightly; then adds a more subdued taste of the Merlin bass. The majority of the music I listen to is distortion guitar driven rock with a healthy does of acoustic/indie/singer-songwriter selections - and it is without reservation that I can say the AKG K3003 rocks; but it does so much more and truly sounds excellent with everything I send its way.

Big thanks to Bizkit!

Review re-posted here.

Comparison with Tralucent 1+2 (9.25.13)

Ever since I first had the loaner K3003, I’ve really missed the treble timbre and liveliness that is somehow never harsh. Every iem I’ve owned, loaned or sampled has had the unenviable task of comparing itself to that memory.

The only real negative I have about the k3k is the cable. It doesn’t have much in the way, if any at all, for stress relief. That being said, there are quite a few owners who've had their sets for well over a year and haven't had cable issues, so I finally decided to put that concern behind me and give a second go with the k3k, this time as an owner.

The k3k is everything I remember and more. This time around, for whatever reason, I do not have any issues fitting them properly. No need for meelec trips, the stock tips are working perfectly. The housings are small enough to disappear in my ear, with over the ear fit, giving me a pleasing aesthetic, unlike the much larger TG334 or 1+2. (When do the beautiful ladies arrive?) Also, the k3k has to be the best low volume iem on the market, it’s simply fantastic at low volumes.

So I decided to do some comparisons with the 1+2, since its been mentioned they are fairly similar. While I found they are pretty similar in overall signature, I found the few db’s difference here and there cause quite a large difference in preference, perception and enjoyment. For my listing I used a combination of the Tera>QS stack and straight from the iPhone 5.

Instead of rewriting my notes in paragraph format, I’ll just re-paste them here:

K3K
- tiny housings
  1. more sub bass presence
  2. longer bass decay
  3. smoother treble while maintaining liveliness
  4. brassier treble tonality; impeccable timbre
  5. more vocal intimacy; better emotional connection
  6. airy soundstage
  7. thicker distortion guitar
  8. more acoustic guitar reverb
  9. overall thicker note weight

1+2
- XL housings
  1. leaner bass
  2. faster bass
  3. hotter / spicier and brighter treble
  4. more frequent sibilance
  5. vocals placed further back and can lack an emotional connection
  6. airier, even grander soundstage
  7. awesome distortion guitar bite
  8. more precise imaging
  9. pianos have great tonality

Both are seriously excellent iems and two of the best, as well as two of my favorite iems I’ve ever heard.
Last edited:

Lan647

1000+ Head-Fier
Pros: Beautifully crafted, very comfortable, clean sound, different filters to choose from
Cons: Piercing treble, lack of warmth, very overpriced
These shiny, luxurious little in-ear monitors that come in a very exclusive box sure feel very expensive in terms of look and feel. They shells attach behind your earlobes and rest comfortably there. This is the most comfortable in-ear headphone I've worn. 
 
They can be driven from an iPhone as well as an amp, sound will not be any different. 
 
The sound of these didn't impress. They have that clean, clinical sound yet lack the clarity to sit at this price range. The midrange is fairly neutral, but also quite flat sounding. The treble extends very high but is a bit piercing. Fatiguing to listen to for extended periods of time. 

The bass can be changed using the filters, which I didn't try. But it sure is a useful feature. The bass I heard was quite impactful, with zero muddiness. 

Soundstage is small on these, and again the midrange is quite flat sounding. 
 
Overall a clean in-ear monitor that looks and feels luxurious. But it's in no way worth this price. I prefer the Sennheiser HD 25 for portable use.
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discretesound
discretesound
lee730: May I know what hybrid IEM that you prefer instead of the AKG?
Lan647
Lan647
temporaryname: Glad to help!

lee730 Well to be honest I've not listened to many high end IEMs, so don't know how the soundstage compares to the competitors. I found it flat (lacking depth) but hey maybe that's a trade-off you'll have to make. I've heard from friends the Shure SE535 is significantly better, will try to audition that one :)

willyvlyminck
willyvlyminck
Would you say that the IE80 is as good as the K3003? Since the releas of the latter, 4 years are passed by, so I think there must be a strong competition for the K3003 by now, I wonder which in ears are up to same level soundwise but moderately priced?

i2ehan

Aka: Nightcrawler, Oof Oink
Was flipping items from the classifieds on eBay.
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k3oxkjo

500+ Head-Fier
Pros:
The AKG K-3003 is at least close to a landmark Universal IEM, in my view. Pricey, yes, but one of the first Universals to aspire to the heights that the best of the Custon IEM's aspire to. They are well built (though some may not like the idea of non-detachable cables) and attractive enough. But the real issue is, of course, the sound, so let's get right to it.
 
The first thing that hit me about the AKG's is that they invite comparison to full size phones in certain ways more that other IEM's. The combination of excellent coherency top to bottom, excellent but not hyped detail and resolution, low distortion, good dynamics and relative neutrality show up even good IEM's such as the Sony MDR-EX1000, Audio Technica CK-10, Ortofon EQ-7 and the like as pretenders. Let's take some of these features forward for further scrutiny.
 
Coherency 
 
These sound quite consistant as a solo instrument (piano, violin, guitar etc.) is played up and down the key/fret board. Lesser IEM's will tend to, worse case, sound uneven in amplitude or, less destructively, thin or fatten the harmonic envelope (this is where our ability to discern instruments of different model/construction comes from) under these conditions. A good example of this is the album The Virtuoso Guitar as played by Alirio Diaz on a Vangard recording. If the guitar doesn't sound like the same guitar through its range, the illusion of an expert musician playing his instrument is damaged. This coherency pays off even further during the Castelnuevo-Tedesco Guitar Concerto #1 off this album where the interplay between soloist and orchestra is preserved.
 
Detail
 
The high linearity (low distortion) of the 3003 allows one to hear deep into the lower levels of recordings without the masking effects of distortion products. This allows low level information to be heard in the mix of popular music or orchestral presentation. This allows things like the "humming along" Ivan Moravec provides in his VAI label Beethoven recordings (original on Connoisseur Society) or the various sonic manipulations on the Beatles "Strawberry Fields" to be heard clearly for what they are. This detail is not the "thrown in your face" detail of certain treble emphasized phones but is an organic part of the recording not obscured by transducer playback artifacts.
 
Dynamics
 
This is where the 3003 really excells over lesser IEM's. The combination of lack of low level artifacts and high (for IEM's) level linearity makes for a wide dynamic envelope. The Fritz Reiner RCA recording of "Isle of the Dead" (off "The Reiner Sound" album) is a great example of this. This recording starts very much hushed (as befits a piece called Isle of the Dead) but swells to quite loud crescendos. The AKG's can accomodate this without distortion (beyond the slight tape saturation on the highest peaks endemic to the otherwise excellent late '50 recording) or without compromising the soundfield by coagulating the instruments together, quite a feat for an IEM. Careful, don't listen too loud! The low distortion and high levels attainable can lead to this...
 
Relative Neutrality
 
I use this term because I am not sure what absolute neutrality would be. Neutral to the recording? Neutral to the original sound of the original performace? Neutral to some preconsceived idea how a phone "should" measure? Neutral to the your personal preference? Or some combination?
 
The AKG tends to be neutral to the recording, which tends to result in a somewhat front-of-the-hall perspective. Still neutral to the original performace, but some may like a bit of a more distant perspective as personal preference. One of my tests for the "gestalt" of the concert hall is the EMI recording of the Barbirolli Mahler 9 with the Berliner Philharmoniker. This is a good, but somewhat forward, recording of an excellent performance of this evocative piece. If the playback puts you into the hall without putting the forwardness "over the top", it's good playback. The 3003 does this, to be sure.
 
For further evaluation, let's go to the classics. I personally use Iggy and the Stooges "Search and Destroy". This is a recording made with the VU meters pegged, as it should be! An IEM that can deliver the swagger, threat and excitement of this is doing it justice and the AKG does it justice, in my view. A particular favorite group of mine is the sound world of The Legendary Pink Dots. The combination of the Silverman's swirling keyboards and Edward Ka-Spel's wispy lyrics and vocals (inside joke) make for music that can take you to some less-visited places inside. The fact that I can be sitting on the train on the way home from work and still escape to the Dots' world is as good a recommendation as I can give.
 
Bottom line. Between AKG, Final Audio Design and various of the custom designers the IEM has been brought into higher levels of performance than ever before. Here in the States, one has to give credit to Ultimate Ears and JH Audio for pioneering the idea that custom IEM's can aspire to greatness and that audiophiles would respond to the performance by paying the price. And now we can thank AKG and Final Audio Design for believing that those of us who don't want customs would also pay for high performance.
 
Some will balk at the 5 star rating for value. The K3003 are indeed not cheap, but I know of no way currently to get equivalent performance in a universal IEM at a lesser price. To me, that's priceless.
 
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eke2k6
eke2k6
I understand that the price is high. However, it is competition that drives prices down, and at the moment there is none. If the $320 Vsonic GR08 that has a similar driver configuration ends up with similar or better sound than the K3003, Harmon will be presented with the ultimatum to either lower their prices, or simply not make sales. It's what happened with Nvidia vs ATI, and other similar examples.
DaBomb77766
DaBomb77766
Oh this is a great review, I agree, but honestly, once you surpass the ~$500 zone you are so far past the point of diminishing returns that you're pretty much just getting either sidegrades or like a .01% increase in sound quality...I agree that things can sound wonderful and excellent at this range, but I just don't feel that anything really truly deserves a 5/5 on value unless, say, they absolutely blow away every other custom IEM in the same price range.
I just like everything about the review but the value rating; I feel that is a little bit excessive, but I can of course still respect his opinion.
Aero Dynamik
Aero Dynamik
Great review! Personal, easy to read and understand, very entertaining, and lots of examples of music. Thanks!

purrin

aka Marvey, purr1n
Member of the Trade: Eddie Current
Pros: It's OK
Cons: Poor value
 
 
[size=11.0pt]EXECUTIVE SUMMARY[/size]
 
[size=11.0pt]1.      Not coherent throughout the audio band:[/size]
[size=11.0pt]a. Overall neutral, but but but[/size]
[size=11.0pt]b. [/size][size=11.0pt]What’s up with the peaks in the upper mids/lower treble?*[/size]
[size=11.0pt]c. Little bit bloated in the bass[/size]
[size=11pt]d. Bass not keeping up with the mids/treble[/size]
[size=11.0pt]2.      Little bullet design = comfort/fit that blows monkey chucks[/size]
[size=11.0pt]3.      Mid-fi resolution[/size]
[size=11.0pt]4.      Aren't IEMs supposed to isolate?[/size]
 
[size=11pt]Significant sonic issues indicated in red.[/size]
 
 
* Pop and rock do not sound good. However your results may be better with classical or music with acoustic instruments.
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Aero Dynamik
Aero Dynamik
I tried the AKG K3003 for a couple of hours today (with my CLAS -db + ALO Rx MK3-B + Media Center 18 with FLACs) and was deeply, deeply impressed. In many ways the greatest IEM/sonic experience I've ever had (have the EarSonics SM3, EarSonics custom EM6 and Sennheiser HD 650). When told the price (9950 Swedish kroner = 1550 USD) I swallowed, but to me it didn't affect the sound quality. I was, lo and behold, still deeply impressed. I'm not sure it is excessively expensive compared to what you get (soundwise), but to me personally it is just too much money, so I didn't buy it.

agooh
agooh
how about you write a review about yggy ? many headfiers' will be happy to see the first 5 star from you  XD
Zombie_X
Zombie_X
Great review and is pretty much spot on with what I experienced with this IEM. Yes the IEM is pure crap, heck the SE-535 is better overall
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