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[Review] AKG Q701 - The Little Headphone That Could. Game, that is.

Discussion in 'Headphones (full-size)' started by venividivale, Jul 26, 2014.
  1. VeniVidiVale

    Would You Like To Join The Q Continuum?


    But First, a Preface: And Now, The Larch.
    The scene: AKG HQ. A bunch of AKG executives are sitting around a table deciding on a strategy to counter the whipping Beats is giving them in the marketplace.

    "We have got to come up with a viable model that can take on Beats. What can we market?"

    "Well our headphones are stylish."

    "Ummm...most people think AKG makes headphones for people with neckbeards and black turtlenecks who listen to Dave Brubeck!"

    "OK let's color them white and green, like those gaming headophones, so that nobody can see that our basic design hasn't changed since 1880."

    "How about marketing our headphones as "heavy on the bass"? That seems to be working for Beats."

    "Ummm...our headphones have less bass than Mel Gibson has acting offers!"

    "OK. Maybe what we need is a celebrity endorser. Can we get LeBron?"

    "Ummm...he signed with Beats."
    "I know, how about Dave Brubeck?"

    "Ummm...he's dead, Jim. How about Quincy Jones?"

    "Oh wow, the Q. He may be almost 90, but he is a living legend. Who hasn't heard of him?"

    The answer: almost anyone under 30. If you are in the said demographic, at this point of time please review this  to familiarize yourself with the Q Experience before proceeding to read this review.

    And thus the Q701 was born: the bastard child of the union of the K701 and Quincy Jones and radioactive green slimy ooze from Mars.

    OK now on to the review

    First, a disclaimer. I like the Q701, and it is my go-to headphones for gaming.

    What the Q701 is

    The Q701 is an open model with lots of detail, some (but not substantial) bass presence, and veers towards brightness. It has a huge soundstage for headphones, and so has the fortunate side effect of being particularly good for gaming, because

    [1] the soundstage, obviously
    [2] it is comfortable especially around the ears (see below about headband) and
    [3] it does not have too much bass which kills gaming for me -- modern games have so many explosions that i get a headache gaming with bass-heavy headphones -- but it is not so bass-shy that I can't listen to music when gaming. Like Goldilocks, I don't wan't too much or too little bass when gaming, and IMO the Q701 is just right.

    What the Q701 isn't

    It's not a great choice for EDM, because of its profile. If you are looking for isolation, move on. It isn't as warm as many other headphones. The headband has bumps that can be painful for some. If you are looking for a new Q701 made in Austria, good luck finding one. While it works fine without an amp, to squeeze maximum performance you will need to consider amping it. It does not pair well with some amps. Also, if you are thinking that the Q701 with its huge soundstage will give you a speaker-like experience, dream on. It won't. No headphones can. And finally, this headphone is not for portable use.

    The Look

    The Q701 comes in three flavors. I'm going to call the black version "vanilla, except for the weirdly coordinated green cable", the white "Look ma, I'm a Stormtrooper!" and the green "I'll take these to a LAN party so that I can fit in with all those fools with Razers". Of the three, my favorite is white, because I can wear it and say "Let me see your identification......We don't need to see his identification......These aren't the droids we're looking for......Move along......move along."

    Even though the Q701 looks large, hefty and substantial, when you hold it, it feels weirdly delicate. That's partly because of the headband design -- the two curved metal rods frame the headband, and have considerable flex. AKG claims the Q701 arches are unbreakable, but I would not want to test that assertion.

    The universal self-adjusting stretch headband is attached to the frame by a flimsy-looking plastic clip mechanism, and tensioned by two rubber bands on each side, which looks (and feels) more delicate than industrial.The earcups are huge, and mostly plastic. The large velour earcups are circular in shape, deeply recessed for ears, but do not feature memory foam. The Q701 cable connects at the left earcup with a sturdy mini XLR connector.

    And yes, the inside of the universal headband has eight (count 'em. eight) bumps, which are either a good thing or AKG's attempt to waterboard its customers, depending on your viewpoint.

    In summary, from a distance, the Q701 looks rugged, but up close it feels somewhat frail. The materials themselves are of good quality, but it almost feels like the Q701 has brittle bones and you have to baby it to prevent something from snapping. Think of the Q701 as being akin to a boxer with osteoporosis, and you will understand what I mean.

    The Feel

    This is a very light (235 gm) pair of headphones. The fit and finish is excellent. The velour is plush, the plastic is shiny, the green stitching on the headband is an interesting touch. The cable is long but of good quality, the connectors are top notch. The mini XLR connection is solid and tight. The plug and contacts are gold plated.

    AKG claims their patented "Varimotion" diaphgrams (which feature a multi-layer construction technique) are their best yet. The voice coils are wound with flat wires.

    Let me address up front what many folks consider to be the Achilles heel of the Q701 -- the headband bumps. Regarding comfort: I find the Q701 comfortable and don't have an issue with the bumps, but some folks just hate the Q701 headband bumps digging into their skulls. People go as far as to chop the bumps off with a blade and wrap with something like a Beyerdynamic replacement pad around the amputated headband to get comfortable. I think that the only way you will know if you have a sensitive scalp is to try the Q701 and see what happens.

    Also, I keep reading questions online where folks are concerned where the Q701 is made. AKG shifted production of the Q701 from Austria to China a couple of years ago. If it does not say "Made in Austria" right on the headphones it is made in China. I don't think there is any difference, although I have seen people work themselves up into a frenzy about this very topic. There are pictures of Q701 showing "smooth" plastic in the made in Austria model vs "blemished" plastic made in China. My personal opinion is that QC is QC no matter which country products are made in. If AKG values their reputation, hopefully they picked a factory in China with quality standards that meet or exceed what they had in in their facilities in Austria.
    The Q701 comes with two cables -- one long, the other that stretches from here to, well, China. Maybe if they bundled the headphone with a 1.5m and 3m cable I would use both, but the 6m cable is ridiculously long and pretty much unusable. Ah well, maybe I can knit a sweater with it.
    The Sound

    First, the biggest criticism leveled against the Q701: that it has a "plasticky" sound. I would not characterize the main characteristic of the Q701 sound as "plasticky", although I appreciate where folks are coming from with this criticism, having heard the K701 also.

    Some folks complain that tHE Q701 is fatiguing, but certainly I don't have an issue with extended sessions.

    The Q701 has a clean, neutral-to-modestly bright profile. Bass is present, but by no means prominent. Vocals are crisp and natural; mids are smooth. The treble is a little artificial-sounding, and somewhat brittle. Clarity is outstanding. Detail is truly excellent. Soundstage is very wide. Frequency response is relatively flat.

    Maximum input power is rated at 200mW. Sensitivity is 105 dB SPLV. With its impedance of 62 ohms, you can power the Q701 in theory off your phone or tablet or motherboard, but this is one headphone that likes to be amped.

    If I had to decribe Q701 sound in a single word, I would pick "spacious". It really is.
    In conclusion

    I'm going to call my white Q701 "The Stormtrooper In Drag" because it looks like a stormtrooper, but doesn't sound like one. It is a great midfi audiophile headphone choice for folks who want a more neutral-to-bright tone without dominant bass, and for folks who prize detail uber alles. It's also a great choice for folks who listen to a lot of live performances, because of the vast soundstage it projects. But where the Q701 really shines is as a pair of gaming headphones, which I am sure neither AKG or Quincy Jones foresaw when they released this model.

    In case you are wondering where the "Stormtrooper In Drag" reference comes from, it is from a Gary Numan song.
    Some head to head comparisons: the Cliff Notes version

    Q701 vs ATHM50: The Q701 has much less bass than the M50, and more visible mids. Highs are not as artificial as the M50. Soundstage is obviously better than the closed M50. By a mile.

    Q701 vs Beyerdynamic DT990: If you are a fan of the Beyer sound profile with its V shaped emphasis on the bass as well as the highs, you may find that the bass and treble are both going to be lacking somewhat with the Q701.

    Q701 vs Sennheiser HD598 with respect to music: The 598 is a little warmer, and has a little more emphasized bass, despite its 100 Hz impedance spike. The real difference is in the treble: HD598 has much smoother treble, without the slightly artificial tone that the Q701 brings to the table.

    Q701 vs Sennheiser HD598 with respect to gaming: With respect to gaming, particularly FPS gaming, while situational positioning is an advantage, it is not the biggest factor associated with playing FPS games well. What I mean is that if you suck at FPS games in general, improved soundstage is not going to make you into a superstar all of a sudden. For example, if you cannot support your buddies appropriately, or you have no clue what "cover" means, the Q701 will not make you either more popular with your buddies or suddenly render you invincible.
    What positional advantage does do in FPS gaming is give you a small advantage in using an extra sense to determine where people (or objects) are. To be honest you cannot go wrong with either the HD598 or the Q701. If you are an average gamer, either will give you a good positional sense. If you are an uber competitive gamer, then maybe the Q701 will give you an extra few % of positional advantage, and if you believe that you really need that small extra boost to get to your desired level of gaming, then yes Q701 is a better choice.

    Q701 vs Philips Fidelio X1: They are very different headphones. Both are open, and the similarities pretty much stop there. The X1 is much more colored, has more (and IMO better) bass, is very warm in comparison to the Q701, but has less detail. If you like warmth and colored "fun" sound the X1 clearly wins.

    Q701 vs K701: The two share the same basic design but having heard both side by side, they sound different. Specifically, K701 has less bass and sounds more, well, plasticky than the Q701. I'm not a fan of K701 sound.

    Q701 vs Beyerdynamic DT880 versus Sennheiser HD650 3-way shootout: The HD650 sits on one end of midline neutrality with its dark nature, the DT880 sits closer to the middle, and the Q701 is just on the bright side of the 880 furthest from the 650. Personally I think that when it comes to detail the Q701 trumps the 650 by a nose.

    Q701 vs HD600: AKG claims that the Q701 is the "the most accurate and responsive reference headphones we‘ve ever produced". If you are looking for a neutral pair of headphones, the HD600 might even be at endgame-level for you, so it makes sense to bypass the 701 and just jump on the HD600. The Q701 is more comfortable than the HD600 (less clamp, lighter) unless you have issues with the headband bumps. The 701 also has a more spacious soundstage and a little more detail than the 600, which is worth considering.

    The Mods

    2 mods you may want to look at before you decide to buy: [1] the Q701 bass mod, and [2] the headband mod (to fix the bumps issue)

    With respect to the bass mod, the two common methods are to remove the small reflex adhesive tape dots on the drivers, and using a reflector/attenuator (like microfiber) to try and make the Q701 a "semi open" headphone. But adding a microfiber layer behind the driver reduces the soundstage, which is probably why you bought the Q701 in the first place. Also, the little round bandaid reflectors are actually there for a reason -- without them the Q701 bass becomes too smeared. Since the design is so open, the reflex really improves low end resonance characteristics. Sure if you peel them off you get a little more bass, but the overall sound worsens. So the bottom line is: don't do the 701 bass mod, it does not improve sound quality. If you want tons of bass, IMO you shouldn't buy an AKG. Also don't try to close off the open Q701 with microfiber/ electrical tape, etc. You kill the soundstage, which IMO is the Q701's biggest feature.

    With respect to the headband mod, keep in mind that mutilating the headband kills resale value. Some folks have made custom universal headbands or transplanted the K701 headbands (which are expensive!). Wrapping Beyerdynamic replacement headband around the Q701 headband works, but you will have to cut the stock headband to size to allow the Beyer clips to fasten. You could also fill the valleys in the headband with adhesive foam tape.
  2. shiorisekine Contributor
    Dude Nice Review, the preface was a good hook and made me want to read the rest, also I think the " Stromtrooper" one does look the best. Also I can agree with both comparisons of the Q701 and the beyer DTXX0 series but I actually like both the 701 and the beyers currently have both sitting next to me.


  3. bubsdaddy
    You are very talented writer. I have no interest in the headphones but I really enjoyed reading your review.
  4. Boffy
    Which would you recommend for female vocals, AKG Q701 or Beyerdynamic DT880? 
  5. VeniVidiVale
    >Which would you recommend for female vocals, AKG Q701 or Beyerdynamic DT880? 
    That's actually a hard question to answer, IMO. To simplify things a little, the human voice ranges from about a F2 to C6 range, which equated to 80-1100 Hz. Of course overtones get higher. When you consider the basic timber of female voices, you are looking at the contralto through soprano ranges, which would be from about F3 to C6.
    There is very little separating the FR of the Q701 and DT880 in the 500-1000 Hz range, although the Q701 frequency response is a little more forward and bright in the 1000-3000 range. You would theoretically expect the Q701 to shine a little more than the DT880 based on their graphs, but when A/B listening the DT800 renders female vocals a little more faithfully, without the somewhat shiny brightness of the Q701.

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