on May 12, 2006
The AKG K701 is the latest headphone from AKG which takes place at the top of their line. Their previous top end headphone is the K1000 "ear speaker" which has now been discontinued. This headphone has some fancy new technical features, such as their new Varimotion diaphragm and flat wire coil, which is unique to this model and its baby brother K601, features that are supposed to give it better sound.
Let's get to the meat of this review. The two most important things: the comfort and the sound.
The headphone is very comfortable, the soft ear pads surround your ear. The headphone top headband is made out of leather, and self adjust to the size of your head. Even with my size 7 1/2 hat size, I find the headphones comfortable for more than 2 hours of listening, the clamping force is strong but not overly so. In comparison to the popular Sennheiser HD580/600/650, I find the clamping pressure to be more tolerable. However, I do find the pressure of the knobs under the top of the leather band to give the top of my head a burning sensation due to the pressure. The headphone is lighter than it looks, overall I rate this headphone among the top candidates for comfort, with only the headband issue detracting.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
This headphone has a very neutral "audiophile" sound, there is no part of the frequency spectrum that sounds overly forward, that is, the bass is balanced with the midrange, and the treble is not overly prominent or dominant. I do feel the bass is a tad bit light. If the recording is bass light, these headphones might sound a bit thin. The depth of bass is very good, the headphone has good bass response down to 25Hz as I verified for myself by running test tone sweeps, so the bass is there, just not as much "in your face". The midrange sounds excellent, and the headphone does vocals really well, especially female voice, with good body, airiness, and clarity. The headphone does a reasonably good job of handling sibilance, without emphasizing it unduly. This is the headphone's primary strength, clear luscious and fluid sounding midrange, it seems to work well for female voice and recovers the detail and texture in the singer's voice. If your recordings are harsh sounding, the headphone doesn't try to hide it, the headphone isn't really well suited for low quality MP3 listening. Unlike some of the Sennheiser headphones like the HD600, I find this headphone to have a more "airy", "lively" sound with cymbals with a more convincing metallic shimmer, but without too much treble energy that gives me a headache after long periods of listening. It's somewhere in between the Sennheiser and Beyerdynamic models for treble presence. Strings and acoustical instruments are very well rendered, with good details that lets you here every nuance of the music. Piano sound very realistic, carrying the richness of the harmonics very well.
Soundstaging/imaging is something that is quite contrived with headphone listening in general, but for the most part, there is less of that "in your head" feeling with these headphones. The performers seem to be more well spaced in good live recordings, and you feel like you are sitting further back rather than being right in the middle of the band.
The only real issue is that the bass is about 10% too lean from what I perceive as perfectly neutral tonality. Maybe turning the bass control up a couple of notches is all that is needed to get perfect sound.
As far as sensitivity, these headphones do require a decent amp. It might be too much of a stretch for some portable devices to handle the load, but out of an iPod even, the sound is still quite pleasant, altough it is a bit weak in volume. These are headphones that work better with a home stereo system or a separate headphone amplifier.
As this is a premium product, most people who aren't critical listeners might be better off with some of the cheaper and still very capable headphones like the Sennheiser HD580, but for a person who has a great high grade stereo system and takes their music listening seriously, these are the real deal. If most of your music is 128kbps MP3s, I say don't bother. I'd suggest that the rest of your system should be of a pretty high grade also, these capability of these headphones is a bit wasted unless you listen to good quality recordings regularly and have a good CD/SACD/DVD Audio player. Also look into buying an outboard headphone amp with this headphone.
Overall sound quality: 9 out of 10.
Conclusion: one of the best headphones under $500. If you are a discriminating listener, these are well worth it. I personally prefer it to any other dynamic headphone under $1000 (includes all the current Grados, Sennheisers, Beyerdynamic, Sony and Audio Technica models). Just
be aware that these aren't very bassy headphones.