AKG K701 Initial Impressions-- Raw and Uncensored!
Mar 15, 2006 at 9:03 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 498

markl

Hangin' with the monkeys.
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Hah-hah, made you look!
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Yeah, I could have put these thoughts in a number of other existing threads, but I didn't, so sue me!
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Having recently discovered and fallen in love with AKG's new K81DJ semi-portable headphone (see review up above in the permanent section), I was very eager to get to hear the new AKG flagship K701. I was so taken with the K81, I even confess I was prone to visions of being able to sell my beloved Sony R10s and pocket the change, provided the K701 was proportionately better than them, and worked out for me.
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If you know me and my posts, you'll know that's quite a statement from me.
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But so far, I have to say, I'm not convinced.

So, I asked the forums for a loaner K701 so I could give them a spin, and thanks to socrates63, a truly generous Head-Fier, I got that chance. Three cheers for you my friend.

I've since received several inquiries from other head-Fiers asking me for my impressions. I've only had them a day, and these are my initial impressions exactly as I wrote them down. These K701's only have 25 hours of burn-in on them, and from what I've read, require a good 300 hours to reach full maturity.

Well, from what I've heard so far, I sure hope that's the case!
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Right now, and I can't believe I'm typing this, the K81DJ is (in some ways) possibly the superior headphone for me.
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The K81 sounded better out of the box, and my pair has around 60 hours of burn-in now, during which time they've improved even more. Compared head-to-head, the K81 is a bit ahead of the K701 in some areas (but not all), though the K701 pulls ahead in others.

These impressions may sound harsh, but I grade on a sliding scale, FWIW. A full-sized home-system-based, top-of-the-line headphone has more to live up to than a cheap portable can for me. So, it's only fair from my POV to adjust my criteria accordingly. It can also be argued that comparing the K701 against an R10 isn't fair to begin with. Also, these are preliminary impressions that could change radically with further burn-in/listening. All fair points, can't argue with them and won't try; these impressions are mainly for fun and to track one listener's experience in real time.

For better or worse, fair or not (please take them for what they're worth), here's what I wrote in my notes:

Observations/Impressions

1. I agree, they look much better in person than in pictures. The white color isn't nearly as objectionable as I thought it would be.

2. Fit is comfortable, no objections there.

3. Need to be turned up considerably on my Ray Samuels HR-2 to achieve same volume level as R10s.

4. K701 is almost useless at lower volumes. Amp needs to be turned up to enable the K701 to "bloom". Luckily, these are very non-fatiguing phones, so turning the volume up in no way pricks or hurts the ears. I can listen to the K701s at slightly louder volumes than the R10s with greater comfort.

5. I suspect the K701 needs beefy, powerful amps to drive them to their full potential.

6. A similar sound signature to the K81. Very natural and uncolored. Overall pleasant, excellent tone. AKG really seems to know how to voice their cans in terms of tonality. They sound extremely natural and real. Bravo!!!

7. Somewhat distant sounding; there's a fog between you and the performers. Not an "immediate" sounding phone. Does not have great clarity or transparency.

8. A bit thin, not enough flesh and body to the musical bones. Treble slightly rolled, but still has extremely natural tonality.

9. Dry as a bone.

10. Some sibilance.

11. A very balanced and even headphone, with only one notable frequency anomaly. There's a small spike in and a bit of jagged-ness in the upper midrange/lower treble. In that small region, volume of events that occur within it are somewhat increased, making them stick out. Beyond this anomaly, nothing sticks out as being "wrong".

12. Edges of individual sounds not defined, even more blunted than on the K81DJ. Edges not totally clean, somewhat frayed. There's a lack of crispness and sharpness of focus to the sound that's troubling. It's a bit soupy, kind of muddled and muddy. Not enough definition around individual instruments/tracks/sounds.

13. A lack of air. Can't breathe fully.

14. Non-fatiguing, maybe too much so; drivers feel a million miles from your ear drums.

15. Background somewhat "white" (i.e. not "black" and silent). Sounds emerge from a gray color, not from the absolute blackness you get with the R10s.

16. Adequate slam and heft. Not a weakling but not overwhelming in terms of power and force.

17. Not a fast headphone, a bit sluggish and heavy.

18. Not a bass monster. Bass almost too meek, seems rolled at bottom-most frequencies, not as "full" as the K81 DJ, or even the R10.

19. No richness or lushness, a bit hollow-sounding in the mids. You want desperately for the sounds to "fill-in". They sound like outlines, not fully-rendered, solid objects.

20. There's a heaviness that damps down the sound; K701 needs to open up and free itself. Occasionally sounds like a heavy blanket is layed on top of it.

21. A slight "headphoney" signature.

22. A slight fakeness to some drum hits. Seems intermittent, doesn't affect all recordings.

23. Good soundstage, but only when volume-matched to the same level I listen to the R10s. At lower volumes, K701 sounds closed in.

24. Electric guitars lack a certain edge or crunchiness through the K701s.

25. The driver of the K701 seems to be wound up too tight, needs to loosen itself up, relax its grip and open up. This was my same observation of the K81, and after 60 hours of burn-in, that driver responded accordingly. This K701 is already at the 50 hour mark, but still sounds too tight to me. I do appreciate people say it needs a full 300 hours of burn-in to achieve its true identity.

26. Lacks a solid foundation. Has a twinge of that same floaty, airy-fairy, light-weight sound as other open headphones I've owned. Maybe I just don't dig open phones? All of my favorite phones so far have been closed. Coincidence or accident?

27. A phone for "old fogeys"? A bit too polite, safe, and frankly, a bit dull.

28. "Introducing the K701-- guaranteed not to offend anyone." A headphone designed by committee. Eliminate all sonic elements that the focus group noticed and might be bothered by. But what are you left with? Not enough. A headphone designed by subtraction of negatives instead of addition of positives. Lowest common denominator sound. Is the K701 *boring*?
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OK, so that's probably all I'll have until I burn them in for another 100-150 hours or more. Yes, first impression is mixed, but I'm really holding the K701's feet to the fire; if they want to compete with the big boys, and truly are world-class headphones, how else should they be treated?

If nothing else, my first exposure to the K701 has only increased my appreciation for the humble K81DJ. If I'm being truly candid, and if I'm really willing to go way way way out on a limb, I'd admit that there are things the K81DJ does that even my R10 does not.
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I'm in no way saying they're better (as if!!!
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), but damn, they're good.
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Further Observations/Impressions After 150 Hours of Burn-In

The K701s now have 150 full hours of burn in on them, 25 from the original owner, 125 from me. I created several special burn-in discs composed mainly of hard-driving rock. Replaced the disc every 24 hours. This puts me at the half-way point to the magical 300 hour mark when they are supposed to reach full maturity.


I have discovered something new about these cans that I hadn't noticed people discuss before in previous reviews/descriptions of the K701, though I haven't read that many (didn't want to prejudice my results).

IMO, the K701 is VERY sensitive to placement on the head and where the driver sits relative to the ear. The ear-hole space within the donut pads is quite large and circular shaped. This provides a myriad of different potential positions for them to rest on your head surrounding your ear. When they are centered comfortably on my head, the sound is not so great. The more forward I move them toward the front of my face, the worse the sound gets. The further back I move them toward the back of my head, the better they sound. Unfortunately, in order to get them to sound their best, they have to be much further back than intended; it's not comfortable and it forces the headband back on the top of my head to the point where it becomes a bit unstable and could slip off my head entirely.

IMO, the sound shift when positioned "correctly" is quite dramatic, if not night and day. I suspect, part of my problem *may* be a fit issue related to my head shape/size. But I have a *much* stronger suspicion it's more of a design flaw in the cans themselves; I've never experienced anything like this with any other phones. When positioned correctly (and/or with further burn-in), the K701 goes from "almost unacceptable" to "half-way decent, actually".
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I'm liking them a lot more than before (he said before unloading even more critical comments).

With that in mind, here are additional listening notes from today's session; I listened to around 10 different CDs:

1. Some of the airy-fairy light-weight, floaty sound I complained about has decreased. A bit. Less "veiled" but still missing presence, body and fullness in the middle.

2. I used the word "hollow" to describe these phones in my initial review. I also noted that there was some weird coloration I couldn't yet describe. Well, I've figured out what the issue is. What I hear is a coloration almost like you'd get if you held a hollow plastic tube up to your ears. That kind of sea-shell, hissing echoing sound, that creates a sort of hollow-ness. This is interesting to me when I consider two design factors of the K701: as noted previously, drivers are seated a bit farther back from the ear than some other cans, plus the interior shape of the donut of padding is a big circle. I wonder if part of what I'm hearing is the sound of a driver placed at the end of a hollow tube-like formation? In any case, I detect a sort of "under-water" diving bell submerged sound to it. It's very distracting to me to the point I really can't get past it, this is a major major coloration to me.

3. Bass is coming in nicely. It has above average tonality, too. But it has a sort of bubbling/gurgling/gargling sound, that kind of stays in the background when it should at times step forward a bit more. It still wants a bit more foundation and firmness.

4. K701 still has trouble when the music kicks in hard and all amplified electric instruments are playing simultaneously. It can all turn to mud/mush. It all kind of swirls and smears together incoherently. It kind of "rings" and the vibrations of all that competing sound can run into one another and step all over themselves.

5. It needs desperately to improve its focus/sharpness and definition around different instruments and performers. It's nowhere near the R10 in its ability to do that; in fact, it's still miles away from the K81DJ. It just lacks air. It can't get up under sounds and project them out and define their boundaries. It doesn't dig up the detail and cues that distinguish one recording from another. It's all a bit stifled and deadened. If you like it's basic presentation, you're really in luck, because it takes that same sense and perspective to every recording you throw at it. I feel like I would have a much harder time using the K701 as an instrument to determine if a particular recording or remastering was any good, or better than another.

6. Still has a headphone-y signature.

7. Cymbals are clean, very nice, not tinny, frayed or frazzled, or overly splashy. They stay exactly within the range they should, they compliment the drum kit without overwhelming it.

8. Guitar sounds still lack some crunch and electricity. They seem to be somewhat muted and reserved at times.

9. Driver still too tight, seems to lack full excursion, it's too reserved. K701 seems only able to project all sounds up to a certain point, where it stops in mid-air in a flat plane a few yeards in front of you. Sound is tethered and gets sucked back instead of being allowed to just flow. This makes the soundstage lack depth, and prevents full dynamics to bloom. I suspect part of the issue again is the distance of the driver from the ear. Either way, not enough difference between the perception of quiet and loud sounds. That contributes to the muddled-ness I mentioned earlier. It also prevents the driver from ever really engaging the ear, tickling it, scintilating it, or otherwise fully interacting with it. K701 is something you appreciate more from a distance rather than being hooked up directly to it and having the sound travel straight from the driver to your brain's synapses, which for me is one of the key elements of headphones that make them so enjoyable in the first place, and one of the few things they put on the table that speakers do not. Good for some, bad for others.

10. Background is still not black, it's gray. I think this relates to point 9. There isn't enough contrast to the image, it's all shades of gray.

11. I noted some sibilance early on, that seems to be gone, or I was mistaken. Instead, the K701 seems to lack enough defined edges to produce sibilance even if it wanted to. It's very smooth in the treble region, though there is a grainy pattern to the whole presentation of the phone, albeit a very even and fine fine grit.

12. No glare or extra sheen on the sound. This is not a cavity-inducing sugary sweet headphone. Very plain-spoken and accurate, if a bit muffled and polite.

13. Tonality pretty much dead on. Instruments sound like themselves. Vocalists sound like human beings. For me, this is no small thing. Incredibly hard to do, yet so easily taken for granted. Very high marks in the "realism" stakes.

14. K701 tries too hard at being "even-handed" and "fair and balanced" to everything it encounters; it doesn't have quite enough for me to latch on to and be *passionate* about. All music (and all recordings) seem to have a sort of same-y quality to them, as if there's not enough colors in the K701's tonal pallette to fully paint different albums and sounds in full glorious Technicolor. Read another way, however, this is very high praise indeed; critical as I am, I am hard-pressed to identify sounds that come across "wrong" or "colored". K701 does what it does very well, and maybe it's not fair to be asking it for what it does not do. But sometimes "uncolored" can bleed over a bit into "flavorless". YMMV, and again, can be read as an absurdly high compliment.

15. I'm not as involved by the K701, it doesn't quite connect me to the music in the way the R10 does. Sound sometimes exists inside an impermeable "bubble" that actually seems to actively push me outside of it. I'm not as compelled to "rock out" or boogie to the K701, but more inclined to sit in my seat and appreciate it.


I swear I sometimes feel like I must be listening to an entirely different headphone than everyone else who seem to rave about these cans. I find myself struggling to find postive things I can write down to avoid getting slammed by everyone here. They're OK for what they are, solid performers and good value for the money, but not nearly in the same league as the R10 for example, and to me fail to deliver on the promise of even the lowly K81DJ also from AKG. Part of me wonders if there isn't maybe some group-think going on, originating with Headroom's original ringing endorsement and trickling down to initial impressions from early adopters and then snow-balling down hilll to the point no one dare speak a word against them. Or if they don't take to them, even start questioning their own hearing or trying to do some Orwellian double-think on themselves to get in line with everyone else...

But if that's true, then that means I'm up here looking down from my enlightened ivory tower at everyone else and shaking my head in disbelief, and I don't want to feel like that (believe it or not). That means I think everyone but me is susceptible to peer pressure or mass hallucination, and I don't like to think that way. It means I think less experienced ears see others here praising the can to the high heavens, then start believeing that this must be the definition of "good sound", whatever that is, and so somewhat blindly accept what they ultimately hear from them as being the Gospel truth of what a headphone is "supposed" to sound like. But I also believe you can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time.

If none of those things, that means it must be me, and maybe so. With many pieces of gear I'm not overwhelmed by, I can at least see and acknowledge what other people are raving about, but I'm having some trouble with the K701. It sounds a bit like a naked emperor to me so far, but that may have more to do with my expectations than their actual performance. They are in no way "bad" headphones to me, they are very good at what they do, but the world's best? Yes, I am holding them to a very high standard, and my comments are deeply exaggerated in order to bring their characteristics to life. Depending on where you are coming from, none of these comments may apply; you don't know "better" until you've actually heard it. For myself, I've heard more and better than the K701 at 150 hours delivers, although I gladly concede it has improved noticeably so far with further break-in, so who knows?

Make no mistake (though from my comments you'd never guess, I know), so far I think these are excellent headphones for the money; but R10 killers?

Will report back at the 300 hour mark.


Still Further Observations/Impressions After 300 Hours of Burn-In

OK, I've decided to post more "impressions", mainly because I'm a bit surprised at how far these phones have come since the 150 hour mark. I'm actually starting to *like* these headphones.
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*But*, my feeling is that they're still not all the way there yet. If I had to guess right now, I would predict there's a full 500 hours of needed burn-in on these cans. The difference between the sound now and the sound they had at 150 hours is not small, but it's still nowhere near a "night and day" difference. I recognize it's voodoo or Uri Gellar psychic mumbo-jumbo to say you know the cans aren't fully burned in yet; all I can say is that's my gut-level hunch, take it FWIW.

Anyway, these strike me as some STUBBORN headphones. You need to crack the whip on them, and be patient while they get up to speed.

So, since I still don't feel they're there yet or ready for full eval, here are some more "fun" observations:

1. Drums! Oh where have you been?
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Decent heft and slam now, nice! Kick drums especcialy have some, well... "kick".
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These drums sound like real drums, imagine that. This for me is one of the areas in which I find that headphones are typically challenged, so I'm keyed in on this. However, there's still something about the way the R10 and even the CD3000 can capture the whole complete sound of the drums internals that's still not all the way there yet or fully developed with the K701. Still, coming along nicely here.

2. Finally, some air is appearing, along with some sense of room ambience inherent in the recording. Still not within 100 yards of the R10, but showing some skills here at last.

3. Holy soundstage, Batman! Soundstage is WIDE with the K701, even wider than the widescreen Panavision vistas of the R10, believe it or not. But I'm concerened there might be *too much* separation left and right with the K701 which can leave the notorious gap in the middle of the image you get with so many cans. I'll be keeping a mind's eye on that one, not sure yet what to make of this.

4. Still impressed/pleased with the tone of the K701. Very natural sounding cans, even if they err a lot on the dry/cold side, which leads me to observation #5:

5. TUBES! K701 cries out for tube amplification, IMO. They could greatly benefit from the lushness, midrange warmth, and "lit from within" quality of tubes, especially a SET or something with an especially rich, full, tube sound that gives you that direct-from-the-heart-of-the-tube-to-your-ear sound. But where is the tube amp that can provide the brute strength to give these power-crazed cans all the juice they desire? Singlepower maybe? I can't say, I've never heard any of their gear. Maybe a SLAM model with extra bass oomph might be worth looking at. I do know that the rich EarMax Pro sound would compliment the K701 quite well, help fill in some of the colors it's missing, but damn, that is one flea-powered little amp. In any form, upgraded, anniversary or whatever, I doubt highly that amp could power the K701.

6. The fine fine layer of grain I noted before seems to be greatly reduced, the K701 is now very clean at the 300 hour mark.

7. Background is getting darker, but still a shade of gray.

8. I can play them louder before they start breaking up/losing control.

9. Like the K81DJ, bass on the K701 is a bit "same-y". It could use a little more upper-bass warmth to give it a bit more possible modes of expression. It could also benefit from a little extra low-bass info to give the sound a more solid foundation. As it is, the bass guitar on the K701 can play a little "hide-and-seek" vs. the R10. Bass guitar is still too reserved and standing too far behind the other musicians in the sound-field. Peek-a-boo, I see you!
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10. There is still some blurring going on, sounds aren't totally defined and crisp. There's a slight "deadening" or "damping" of the sound that is frustrating.

11. Electric guitars have gained in the "crunchiness" factor; they're developing some b*lls, but still not fully mature yet!
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12. Fun factor increasing with the K701, but still not head-bobbers.

13. I don't know how to accurately capture this obvious coloration with the K701, I've taken a few passes at it already, and I'll try again (it has yet to abate). Sounds are sort of occurring inside a blown-up balloon and you are on the outside of it. There's a hollow, echoey reverb that happens within the confines of this balloon. You know that sound you get when you rub your fingers across a blown up ballon? It's sort of realted to that. Or you know when your ears feel like they do when you go underwater and they develop that little air bubble around them that prevents water from rushing in? I get that sort of effect when listening to the K701. I know that's way way way way way abstract, but that's the best verbalization I can muster right now, so sue me!
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"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture". So sayeth Elvis Costello and I agree; I've been criticized in this thread for a few of my descriptions, but you use the tools you have to describe the sound your hear, even if language isn't fully up to the task.

14. Still very balanced in their presentation, nothing really sticks out that much (except a slight lower treble/upper midrange spike), yet everything kind of takes an unnecessary step back that's a bit annoying. There's just something "missing" with these cans that I suspect some especially tubey amp might help restore.

15. The more I listen at one stretch, the more my ears/mind acclimatizes to the K701's presentation, but FWIW I feel like this is my brain compensating/adjusting for what the K701 just ain't necessarily pumping out on its own. My mind appears to be filling the blanks that the R10 just fills in by itself. I don't seem to trust the K701 like I do the R10.

16. When I strap the R10 back on after listening the K701 and listen to the same recordings, I'm still left with the impression that "there's no way the K701 can do what I just heard"; and that can apply to any parameter, any aspect of sound reproduction, any emotional connection or psycho-acostic phenomenon. I have yet to hear from the K701 anything that the R10 can't do.

OK, that's it until I have another 100+ hours on them. After that, I surrender!
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I foresee a new business opportunity for people to provide "burn-in services" for the K701.
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I wouldn't want to listen to these headphones until at least the 300 hour mark. That's a lot of labor and patience waiting for them to burn in, surely that's worth at least minimum wage? Maybe I'll post an ad here on Head-Fi charging $5 an hour for burn-in.

Any takers?
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Final 450-Hour Impressions

OK, time to eat some more humble pie. These cans continue to improve. My feeling is that now, at long last, I'm hearing them as they are supposed to be heard, they've achieved 100% break-in. I can now say that I feel these are indeed some EXCELLENT headphones, I mean really really good! It's been a bumpy ride (to say the least) to get here, and I am still not without some serious reservations, but at long last I'm starting to get what these cans are all about. All I can say is, you have to be VERY patient with them, I've never experienced a headphone that took this long to mature or changed as much during the break-in process as the K701. If you are patient and can stick it out, while not "perfect" (but what is?), they have a lot to offer.

I've finally started to hear things out of them that my R10's can't do. There, I said it, is everyone happy now?
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The K701 does bring some unique things to the table, some things I wish the R10 could do. I can now hear elements on some recordings that have not been revealed in the same way (or at all in some cases) as they have with the R10. The K701 has *finally* started to *groove*. They still aren't quite funky head-bobbers, but I no longer feel like a purely passive observer. The K701 has finally approached me and asked me to dance. We boogie conservatively; there will clearly be no hanky panky or heavy petting, and we stand apart from each other, but at least now we're on the floor together.
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Anyway, I can't believe it, but over the last 4 days of listening, I've actually been *enjoying* the K701.
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So, here are final observations:

1. The K701 may be the soundstaging champ, IF soundstage is measured in height and width. I never thought I'd hear a can with better, bigger, soundstage than the R10, but I relent and admit the K701 is it. The K701 is definitely *taller* than the R10, and I think *slightly* wider, even if it seems to lack a bit of the R10's depth, it's still no slouch there. But there is a price to pay-- the K701 do, however, over-emphasive stereo separation *slightly*, but to the point where you can't help but notice that sounds extreme left and right can be a little louder than everything in the middle. This effect is subtle, but noticebale. But I don't feel it's to the point where it's an especially reasonable objection, more a minor, transitory annoyance.

2. I want to separate "soundstaging" from "imaging". When it comes to pin-pointing *exactly* where something is in space, seeing a musician or an instrument or hearing a track separately in space, the R10s still come out ahead. The K701 has a slight tendency to homogenize everything. This relates to the lack of "air" I've noted previously. Although GREATLY allieviated, the K701 still lacks a bit in terms of air and space around instruments the R10 so clearly provides so easily. But still, the K701 is no slouch in that department, finally, after 450 hours+ of burn-in. It used to sound quite "heavy" and sluggish, with a bit of a "blanket-over-the-speakers" effect, but that has really diminished dramatically. It's now very free and open-sounding, if not to the level of the R10, then enough to no longer be a concern.

3. Drums! The K701 is a fantastic headphones for capturing a realistic drum sound. I have to admit, that the K701 provides *slightly* more impact and physicality with drums than the R10. IME, headphones really SUCK at doing drums vs. speakers, so when I hear a headphone that can capture a realistic drum sound, I get excited. IMO, the K701 is among a small elite group of cans that can do drums any justice whatsoever. They sound real and natural, although they lack somewhat the ability to fully portray the sound of the drums' internals instead of just portraying the strike on the skin. For me, one of the key skills of the R10 is the ability to fully portray the entirety of the drum sound. Good as the K701 is in this area, I've still yet to hear any can that can do that as well as the Sonys (even the CD3000). Nevertheless, the K701s are simply excellent with the drums, and even provide a bit of extra ooomph over what the R10 delivers. Very very hard to do with a headphone. Bravo!

4. Cymbals! IME, another headphone pitfall is extremely poor and unrealistic way the can portray cymbal crashes. This is even harder to do than drums themselves. Cymbals should sound brassy, not tinny, and should fully resolve. They should go "baaaaaaaasssssshhhhh", not "pish". The K701 is simply a master at properly portraying cymbal hits. It also keeps them in proper proportion to the rest of the drums. They do not dominate, they do not drill into your ear, or assault them with jagged edges or added sharpness or brittleness. They sound natural and real, if a *tad* subdued.

5. Acoustic guitars! I've never heard a headphone that can portray acoustic guitars so accurately and completely. On recording after recording, I continue to be impressed with how wonderful acoustic guitars sound. If getting an accurate and delectable acoustic guitar sound is at all a buying criteria for you, the K701 will simply not disappoint. Wow!

6. The K701 strips away that extra "digital sheen" that so many CDs (or CD players) exhibit. You know, that added "glare" or gloss or frosting that can be so annoying and unnatural. This can make some CDs sound much more realistic than you are used to. But it cuts both ways; sometimes, it can make other CDs sound too "dry" and not rich enough.

7. The K701 is EXTREMELY picky about which CDs it likes. The R10 loves everyone; it makes EVERYTHING sound like a million bucks. OK, some will say, that proves the R10 is "cheating"; aren't we better off with a can that tells the truth all the time and lets the chips fall where they may? Maybe. But then that opens a whole other argument about the purpose of audio. For me, audio equipment is just a means to an end. It's just a drug delivery system for my drug of choice-- music. I favor that component that gives me the most pleasure/enjoyment the majority of the time; the one that stimulates the greatest production of positive chemicals in my brain. I'm no longer as concerned with "neutrality" as I am with pure enjoyment. To me, the K701 only sounds its best when it locks into a particular CD. But when it does-- look out!
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It's hard to beat. For example, I've found that the K701 especially loves Rhino CDs mastered by Bill Inglot and Dan Hersch. Considering they are respected, but known for applying a slightly "smiley-face" EQ (slightly elevated treble and bass) to their mastering jobs, it's not surprising, considering the K701 especially needs a little help in those exact areas. I would hazard to say the K701 (despite what we see in its graph on Headroom) presents a slightly "fowny-faced" EQ. Emphasis on the mids, slight de-emphasis on frequency extremes at the bottom of the bass and top the treble.

8. As I've mentioned now a 100 times, the K701 is clearly one of the most tonally natural and realistic sounding cans ever made. Sounding "real" is, IMO, often something many younger Head-Fiers can easily overlook in the quest for that "WOW" factor. But achieving a sound that sounds like real, actual life is insanely hard to do. It's very easy to overlook or pooh pooh, but it shouldn't be, that's really one of the *first* things we should look at when evaluating a headphone instead of one of the last, as it so often ends up being. That said, IMO, the K701 may be "neutral to a fault". After prolonged exposure to it, I begrudgingly now admit that the R10 probably achieves its signature lovely, lush and rich sound in an *additive* way. Maybe it isn't as natural and real as it makes you believe. However, that doesn't mean that K701 isn't doing what it does by subtly reducing, omitting or subtracting. I feel that the tonal truth lies somewhere in between what I get from the R10 and the K701. But since such a headphone does not exist, I have to side with the sweet, tasty, drool-inducing R10. So sue me.
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9. But as I've noted previously, the K701 isn't 100% flat. There is still that tiny area in the lower treble/upper midrange that sticks out. FWIW, I wish that that spike applied to every frequency from top to bottom. I wish the K701 delivered the same richness and presence throughout the frequency spectrum instead of restricting it to that small band. Instead, you get this little open window of clarity, and the rest is standing at some remove from you, frustratingly.

10. If I was to listen to the K701 for an even more extended period of time, I believe I could forgive and forget what it's not doing vs. the R10. I believe I could live with them long-term, with a high level of enjoyment. But that doesn't mean that as soon as I was able to strap on another R10 I wouldn't instantly experience the K701's *relative* shortcomings once again.

11. I've begun noticing subtle nuances and small details with the K701 that I did not with the R10. Some small details step forward in greater relief with the K701, but others step back. Bear in mind, I've been listening to the R10 for 4.5 years now. In my recent memory, my only feelings/impressions of any of the 3000+ CDs I own are almost totally shaped by the Sony MDR-R10s (and my speakers, PSB Stratus Goldis). I've grown acclimatized 100% to their presentation, and in many ways it totally shapes my experience of even the most familiar CDs. So, yes, I do have some "trouble" when listening to another totally different presentation of the same basic "facts". It won't always sound "right" to me. That is clearly a shortcoming of this review. Although I do feel confident I could easily and instantly recognize something that sounded automatically "better" straight out of the box. But I don't feel the K701 is automatically "better", it's just "different", and that puts it in a gray area that would require still more time than I have available to fully put the screws to. Although I still feel the R10s are more immediately enjoyable, and I still doubt strongly that the K701 could fully unseat it as my favorite headphone.

12. The K701 will never ever cause you listening fatigue. It has to be the best-behaved headphone I've ever heard. That enables you to listen to them much louder than your other cans. And that's doubly good considering that, IMO, there is a very specific volume at which they perform at their best and that's not at a low level. The K701 is VERY picky about the volume at which they are played. You need to crank them up a bit to achieve a fully "open" sound, but you have to be extra cautious not to go so far that they start to get frayed or to break up. For me, there is only one volume level at which they are acceptable, and at any other, they either close up and shrink away, or start to break apart. But, again, even though the ideal volume level is slightly louder than the ideal level for the R10, the unfatiguing nature of the K701s mean that you will still be very very comfortable.

13. The K701 is the most clean and grain-free headphone I've ever heard outside of the R10. After a lengthy break-in, any sibilance or extra grit you hear in the highs will evaporate, leaving you with a fantastically clean headphone. That extra layer of headphone grit can often spoil the illusion of reality, but the K701 does not suffer from that problem.

14. Although drums kick and thump convincingly, I still have an issue with another part of the rhythm section, and that's the electric bass. Bass players are still subdued and standing a couple feet too far back. The very bottom end wants a little extra oomph, foundation and presence that's just not there. Some people have criticized the R10 for lacking bass extension, and I kind of agree, but the K701 still falls short of the output (not to mention the accuracy/articulation) the R10 provides. Bass notes on the K701 are still truncated at the bottom octave and a bit "same-y" and homogenous, although I can say it is quite tight. I say all this, and still note that I am NOT a bass-head. So, if I have some reservations about the extension of the K701, I'm pretty sure most other people will as well.

15. There's still this weird coloration I've tried to describe before that clearly shades the sound that I hear. There's a bluntness to the sound and a bubble-like sphere in which the sound takes place that I still find distracting. At this point, I do feel I could get enough accustomed to it that I could live with it, though, so it's not quite the deal-breaker it was before.

16. There's still this extra reverberation that causes a slight muddy-ness to the sound, as if some digital bits are arriving too fast out of order, and others too slow, so the sound is ever-so-slightly jumbled or muddled.

17. The lack of richness to the tone that led to a perception of lean-ness or thin-ness is allieviated. The sound is still somewhat congested as if the K701 has a head cold, but again, it's now at the level I feel I could ultimately overlook this flaw.

18. My experience with AKG's K81DJ and now the K701 are my first up-close, intimate experiences with their products on my terms. Obviously, I've posted elsewhere just how impressed I am with the K81DJ. Clearly, IMO, AKG has within its engineering capabilities and marketing grasp, the power to design THE WORLD'S BEST headphone; something that *could* practically *shame* all other previous headphones in an objective, easily-graspable way. Based on these experiences, I would look to AKG well ahead of Sennheiser, Grado, Beyer, or even Sony (based on what I've read, I haven't heard the Qualia or the other derrivative phones) to deliver that world-beater. But, IMO, they haven't quite achieved this with the K701, although they've come tantalizingly close. My deepest wish is for AKG to create a statement closed phone that builds on what the humble K81DJ already does so well and expands on it until it achieves what a fully grown, "high-end" version of that headphone can do. At that point, I believe AKG could have on its hands a headphone that clearly outpaces all that came before it, and takes the headphone flag and plants it 20 yards ahead of the rest, forcing all the rest to play catch-up, which would obviously benefit all of us headphone-lovers.

Final Thoughts
Over all this burn-in, I've grown to respect and even to really like (if not head-over-heels fall in love with) the K701. I didn't expect to reach this point; my experience with headphone burn-in previously was such that I was not expecting this degree of improvement. I've come to feel the K701 is an EXCELLENT headphone, it has A LOT going for it, and as you may guess, I did not think I would be able to type that before. In its price class, this is a SERIOUS contender that desrerves careful consideration. At the price of entry, it's close to a bargain. If a bomb were to drop on my R10s and I had to find a replacement, I would definitely consider the K701. I would want to hear the Qualias and the better Audio Technica cans first, though. But if all R10s were to disappear from the earth, I could happily live with the K701, it's a simply terrific headphone.

Can you believe it?
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Post Script
Once again, this review would not have been possible without the generous assistance of socrates63. Thank you again.
 
Mar 15, 2006 at 9:24 PM Post #3 of 498

wang228

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such a joy to read. thanks for your impression. I just received my K701 and slowly burning it in. So far, i agree that these phones are 'dry as a bone' and a bit boring.
 
Mar 15, 2006 at 9:34 PM Post #5 of 498

A.Thorsen

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As a noob buying a set of these, and also these will be my first set of open headphones, let me fire off a few questions to you (and other 701 owners) via this list:



Observations/Impressions





Quote:

7. Somewhat distant sounding; there's a fog between you and the performers. Not an "immediate" sounding phone. Does not have great clarity or transparency.


This is a viewpoint I have not personally run across before when it comes to these headphones.

Not that that means much. Anyone want to comment or elaborate on this further?




Quote:

9. Dry as a bone.

10. Some sibilance.


?!


Quote:


11. A very balanced and even headphone, with only one notable frequency anomaly. There's a small spike in and a bit of jagged-ness in the upper midrange/lower treble. In that small region, volume of events that occur within it are somewhat increased, making them stick out. Beyond this anomaly, nothing sticks out as being "wrong".


Wow, you have some amazing hearing my friend!

Quote:


12. Edges of individual sounds not defined, even more blunted than on the K81DJ. Edges not totally clean, somewhat frayed. There's a lack of crispness and sharpness of focus to the sound that's troubling. It's a bit soupy, kind of muddled and muddy. Not enough definition around individual instruments/tracks/sounds.


Again: ?!

Quote:


13. A lack of air. Can't breathe fully.


Don't take this the wrong way but...how big is your head?
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Puffy hair?
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Comfort is as important as anything else when buying a set of cans.


Quote:


14. Non-fatiguing, maybe too much so; drivers feel a million miles from your ear drums.


That goes with your earlier point about a distant sound.


Quote:


15. Background somewhat "white" (i.e. not "black" and silent). Sounds emerge from a gray color, not from the absolute blackness you get with the R10s.


Hmmm...this also goes with some of your earlier points. I'm not trying to put words in your mouth, but that almost reads like a " washed out" description.

Again, I haven't seen these kinds of sentiments very often, if at all, with the 701's.

Hopefully more burn-in time would improve the situation for you.
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Quote:

17. Not a fast headphone, a bit sluggish and heavy.


Not exactly sure what this means. Pardon my noobishness.


Quote:


18. Not a bass monster. Bass almost too meek, seems rolled at bottom-most frequencies, not as "full" as the K81 DJ, or even the R10.


?!

Quote:


19. No richness or lushness, a bit hollow-sounding in the mids. You want desperately for the sounds to "fill-in". They sound like outlines, not fully-rendered, solid objects.


?!?!

Quote:


20. There's a heaviness that damps down the sound; K701 needs to open up and free itself. Occasionally sounds like a heavy blanket is layed on top of it.

21. A slight "headphoney" signature.

22. A slight fakeness to some drum hits. Seems intermittent, doesn't affect all recordings.

23. Good soundstage, but only when volume-matched to the same level I listen to the R10s. At lower volumes, K701 sounds closed in.

24. Electric guitars lack a certain edge or crunchiness through the K701s.

25. The driver of the K701 seems to be wound up too tight, needs to loosen itself up, relax its grip and open up. This was my same observation of the K81, and after 60 hours of burn-in, that driver responded accordingly. This K701 is already at the 50 hour mark, but still sounds too tight to me. I do appreciate people say it needs a full 300 hours of burn-in to achieve its true identity.

26. Lacks a solid foundation. Has a twinge of that same floaty, airy-fairy, light-weight sound as other open headphones I've owned. Maybe I just don't dig open phones? All of my favorite phones so far have been closed. Coincidence or accident?

27. A phone for "old fogeys"? A bit too polite, safe, and frankly, a bit dull.

28. "Introducing the K701-- guaranteed not to offend anyone." A headphone designed by committee. Eliminate all sonic elements that the focus group noticed and might be bothered by. But what are you left with? Not enough. A headphone designed by subtraction of negatives instead of addition of positives. Lowest common denominator sound. Is the K701 *boring*?
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All of this: ?! ?! ?!

Quote:


OK, so that's probably all I'll have until I burn them in for another 100-150 hours or more. Yes, first impression is mixed, but I'm really holding the K701's feet to the fire; if they want to compete with the big boys, and truly are world-class headphones, how else should they be treated?


No mercy! It's the only way.
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Mar 15, 2006 at 9:39 PM Post #8 of 498

xand1x

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Thanks for the initial impressions. I should be receiving my pair sometime next week I hope. It'll be interesting to hear what you have to say after the cans have burned in a bit longer
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Mar 15, 2006 at 9:42 PM Post #9 of 498

Glod

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Notes exactly in my language. Thank you! Now I wish more than ever I really had taken the opportunity to listen to these "wonder phones" at the Dutch/German meet.
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And yes, please keep us updated.
 
Mar 15, 2006 at 9:58 PM Post #10 of 498

omedon

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Mark I am looking forward your impressions once they have had time to burn in. Hopefully you will have them that long.

I am curious to hear some more thoughts on these phones but 60 hours is just way to early to judge. My HF-1's changed dramatically after 60 hours.
 
Mar 15, 2006 at 9:58 PM Post #11 of 498

Icehawk

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I'd guess your amp isn't up to the task of driving the K701s to their full potential.

Comment #7 in particular is about the exact opposite of what I noticed listening to them at a recent meet (I used an MAD and an Aria IIRC to drive them - the Aria definitely struggled a bit vs the MAD). Very clean sounding/analytical to me.
 
Mar 15, 2006 at 10:15 PM Post #12 of 498

kwkarth

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Hi Markl,
I have to agree with most of your impressions regarding the 701s before they are broken in. My pair really started to bloom at about 200 hours and since then, more than once have actually tricked me into thinking I was hearing some live sound in the room when it was only coming from the can/source. This was on a new CD with material I was not familiar with. Listening to the same material through my beloved near field monitors that had become my reference (yes, surpassing all of my headphones) the illusion of reality was still not quite up to par with the 701s. I'm driving them with my Headroom Max, and although easier to drive than the 501s, they definately neeed a beefy amp to get the best out of them. For example, they sound ok being driven from my RSA SR-71, but not near as good as when driven from the Max. YMMV
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Mar 15, 2006 at 10:23 PM Post #13 of 498

markl

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A.Thorsen, I can't answer all those things, only encourage you to do a search to get a gist of what all that terminology means.

Quote:

I should be receiving my pair sometime next week I hope. It'll be interesting to hear what you have to say after the cans have burned in a bit longer


Quote:

It'll be interesting to hear what you have to say after the cans have burned in a bit longer


Quote:

I am curious to hear some more thoughts on these phones but 60 hours is just way to early to judge. My HF-1's changed dramatically after 60 hours.


Quote:

Mark I am looking forward your impressions once they have had time to burn in. Hopefully you will have them that long.


My benefactor, the great and beneficent socrates63, has assured me I can take my time with these headphones, and I promise to give them their full due WRT burn-in. Believe me, I want very much for these headphones to replace my much more expensive Sony R10s. If you see my R10's up for sale in the Classifieds in a few weeks, you'll know how I feel about the K701. If not, then well, they didn't improve sufficiently over how they sound now to justify such a transition....
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Mar 15, 2006 at 10:29 PM Post #14 of 498

A.Thorsen

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Quote:

Originally Posted by markl
A.Thorsen, I can't answer all those things, only encourage you to do a search to get a gist of what all that terminology means.


Workin' on it.
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I hope you didn't get the wrong idea from me: I do appreciate threads like these.
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I'm a bit new to a lot of this, but reading some of your descriptions, I too was wondering how much of that could be characteristics of the amp involved as well...
 
Mar 15, 2006 at 10:40 PM Post #15 of 498

Michael Crespo

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Nice candid review. I'm just over 100 hours on my pair and can't say I have the same observations, though I totally appreciate this review.

Michael
 

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