- Feb 21, 2007
If you're anything like me, you've gone at least a few rounds with the AKG K701 and family. I've probably owned at least a half dozen of them over the years, in their various names/colors/configurations. There must be something about them that I really enjoy because I keep buying them. Yet there's also something about them that I clearly dislike because they never last long around here. I guess I keep thinking that if they finally manage to tweak the sound just enough, without straying too far from the original signature.... well, that would be something I'd keep around for the long term.
I admit I've skipped the last few releases like K712 Pro and the 65th Anniversary Edition. Not that I wasn't interested, but after all the Quincy Jones models with their wacky color schemes I guess I just lost patience. There are so many other headphones worth trying that I suppose I put AKG on the back burner for a while. Thankfully that seems to have ended now - with this new model.
A few weeks back, an old HeadFi buddy contacted me and asked if I'd like to give something a try. He now works for Massdrop as their Audiophile Buyer and he seemed pretty excited about this new release. The more details he gave me, the more I got excited as well, and now that I've spent a few weeks with the product I'd say that excitement was justified.
The headphone in question is the AKG K7XX. It's a joint venture between AKG and Massdrop, and will be available exclusively through Massdrop (obviously) starting sometime next week. I was told "the week of Black Friday" so I don't have a more specific launch date - but that's not far off anyway.
To clarify: the name is in fact "K7XX". That's what it says on the packaging as well as on the headphone itself. I know we (myself included) often summarize the prior AKG models by calling them "K70x" or similar, and I guess in retrospect that may cause a little confusion. I'll have to stop doing that from now on because I have a feeling we'll be talking about this particular model a lot.
So what's the deal with this new model? Well, lemme just say that I've put more than a few hours on it and I have not yet had the urge to sell it or donate it.... which is already an improvement over every single prior model I've owned. But it doesn't end there; rather than being merely "not bad", the K7XX is actually quite good! It's definitely an evolution, not a revolution, but for me it goes just far enough to satisfy that craving I must have had all these years.
Starting with the outside - K7XX is ninja black and gloriously free of any obnoxious accents. It's arguably the best looking variation in the history of the series. I loved the original K701 which I felt looked pretty sharp next to contemporaries such as HD600, DT880, and Grado SR325. Sure, it was obviously "inspired" by the Apple iPod which was blowing up at that time, but still.... the "retro-futuristic" look just hit the spot for me. Unfortunately it was all down hill from there. Imagine my surprise when my new K702 - which I swear looked black in the pictures - arrived via FedEx and turned out to be that weird faded blue color. And I'm not even going to mention the other color choices that followed in the Q series, what with the neon greens and all. In terms of appearance, the mostly solid-black (including cable) K7XX is the headphone I've been waiting for all this time.
Another significant aspect is the headband, which is quite different from the older models. It's smaller, somewhat offset to avoid the crown of the head, and thankfully free of the oft-maligned "bumps" which so many of us had trouble with. This may be something already implemented somewhere along the way, so maybe it's old news to most, but I was pretty happy to see it here. I now find these to be among the most comfy cans out there.
So, how about the sound? AKG has definitely tweaked these compared to the old stuff. There's mention of a 3dB bass increase which is easily noticeable and welcome. There's talk of precisely matched drivers which can only be a good thing - especially considering how a lot of the old models sounded quite different from one pair to the next. This is far from the lean, plastic sounding K701 of yesteryear. You still won't confuse it for an LCD-2, but does have a nice warmth to it that makes it far more versatile with different types of music than the old models ever were. Yet we still get a good dose of clarity that the original was known for. This feels more refined, more buttoned down, but still has a definite bump somewhere in the mid treble range. That means a bit of sibilance on some vocals as compared to say an HD650, but also a nice snap on snare drums and convincing shimmer on cymbals. The soundstage and imaging are great - always a strong point, but better than ever in this release due to the extremely tight tolerances for driver matching. And we don't have to make all those trade-offs to get it.
Seriously.... if your BS alarm is ringing, if you're fed up with another color scheme equating to a "new model" but sounding the same as always..... that's not what this is.The K7XX is a truly enjoyable headphone for a wide variety of music. No joke. I'm told it's based on the 65th Anniversary model which is one that I skipped - so I can't say how much is different or the same in comparison. But I know that model was more respected than the Q series so it's not bad company to be in.
With the same 60+ ohm impedance as other 7-series models, the K7XX remains somewhat confusing in how tough it is to drive. Throwing it on a smartphone or iPad will get plenty of volume but it won't necessarily be all that enjoyable. Despite the warmer and smoother response, I still think this headphone sounds thin and peaky (as did all the prior models) without some reasonably potent amplification. Most higher quality desktop amps should do the trick fine though, and the newer crop of premium DAPs and portable amps should also be up to the task. I spent a lot of time with the AK240, the Calyx M, and a Fiio X5 doing transport duty for the new iQube V5 - all of them sounded very enjoyable in their own unique ways. The AK240 was a resolution master, the Calyx M was warmer and more analog sounding, and the X5/iQube split the difference to be probably the most enjoyable of the three. This shows that the K7XX, despite being more listenable than it's predecessors, remains a highly resolving tool, good enough to easily show the differences between components. Not all headphones can pull this off as well, and certainly none I've heard at this price..... which leads me to my next point.
The most exciting part of this whole affair? Price. MSRP on the original K701 was $449 which was rather steep for a headphone back in 2006. The recent 65th Anniversary Edition was $499, and so is the K712 Pro, so the prices of new models hasn't changed all that much over the years. Of course street prices are a different matter and for the past few years it wasn't hard to score a basic model new for $350 or even less. The K7XX, with superior sound (and looks imho), will sell for just $200. No Black Friday, limited time buying frenzy, just $200 regular price for what I consider a very solid headphone. That's significantly less than any authorized deal I've ever seen on an HD650. Heck, that's less than the Momentum over-ear version. Less than a DT880, less than an SR325, less than any of the serious Shure full-sized models, less than the Mad Dogs, less than the Sony MDR-1R..... you get the idea. It's a very reasonable price that even a more casual headphone user might be willing to stretch for. The only cost cutting measure I see is the package - it's nothing fancy but it gets the job done. And for this price I'd be content to get a plain cardboard box and some packing peanuts.
Caveats? There aren't many. AKG and Massdrop are limiting the first drop to just 2000 units, and the total run of this First Edition to 6000 units. That doesn't necessarily mean they won't do a later edition somewhere down the road, but at present this is a legit limited edition model. Of course, AKG stands behind the K7XX by offering the full 2-year warranty, just like the other models with the higher MSRP. Not that this series is known to have trouble anyway.
I hear Jude has a pair of these coming to him, and some at another site may have a pair floating around as well. Personally? I'm thrilled with these things, and I think Massdrop will sell quite a few. Here's a link to the product page - it isn't live for ordering yet, but keep an eye out, and I'll update this thread when I know more.
UPDATE! I just got word - the drop is scheduled to go live Monday morning 11/24/14 at 9am Eastern Time. So not much longer to wait.