AKG Acoustics K 701 headphones Page 2

I'd been given a copy of Geoff Emerick's Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles, so it seemed only natural to pull out copies of the Beatles recordings I was reading about, starting with Revolver (CD, Capitol 025764), the first album on which Emerick sat in the balance engineer's chair. Whoa! I came to about 40 minutes later, when the book fell off my lap. The 701s are not a good choice for listening and reading—music sounds too good to be relegated to the background.

The things I do for this magazine.

I'd intended to follow the text and home in on some of the flubs and mistakes Emerick enumerates in his saga, but that dog just plain wouldn't hunt. Oh, I heard 'em, but I was more captivated by the musical gestalt than by the details. McCartney's deliciously fat bass sound on "Here, There and Everywhere" just burbled along too delightfully for me to care about catching the lads out on any mistakes. And while I appreciated knowing that it was McCartney playing the guitar solo on "Taxman," I can't say I enjoyed the song any more for learning that.

It was the same story when I moved the K 701s into my home office and tried to get some work done while listening to some "background" music. With the 701s, there was no background music. Music was alive, compelling, demanding.

Is that too abstract? Should I break down the sound into bass, midrange, and high frequencies? Okay, the K 701s possessed some of the deepest bass I've ever heard from a pair of headphones. The bass was scary good, although it lacked some of the physical impact that speaker listening can convey on, say, a live jazz recording such as Bill Evans' Sunday at the Vanguard (CD, Riverside 9376), where you not only hear Paul Motian's kickdrum flex the Vanguard's wooden floor, you feel it in your gut as well. On the AKGs, I heard it, but not in my gut.

Midrange? Oy! Such a midrange they have! On "Willy O'Winsbury," from Pentangle's Solomon's Seal (CD, Castle 555), the AKGs captured perfectly the slight catch in Jacqui McShee's voice as she delivers the king's line "If I were a woman as I am a man." I must have swooned over this song hundreds of times over the years, but I've almost never heard it as fully embodied as through the K 701s. They can teach old songs new tricks.

As for the K 701s' HF performance, I found myself listening to an enormous amount of acoustic string music for the very simple reason that the AKGs delivered the snap, bloom, and harmonic overtones of plucked strings with unbelievable clarity. David Russell's latest CD, Renaissance Favorites (Telarc CD-70659), spent a lot of time in the sundry listening stations around the house. Francesco Canova da Milano's Fantasia XIII, with its flurry of staccato runs and long tolling tones, was a particular favorite, especially for the way the decay of the notes sketched out the acoustic in which the piece was performed.

Of course, just 'cause I dug da Milano didn't mean I couldn't hear how great Bill Monroe's classic Decca sides were as well. Even though those recordings are almost half a century old, they still sound crisp and clear in Bluegrass: 1950–58 (4 CDs, Bear Family 15423). Although I'd listened to the Bear Family discs many times before auditioning the K 701s, I must have been listening with blinkers on (earplugs in?)—it had never penetrated my thick skull that Monroe didn't tune his mandolin the way other mortals did. Listening to "Sally Jo," I heard string sonorities that didn't match the classic octave pairings most players use, so I turned my office right-side up (it usually is upside down) looking for the CD booklet, which, sure enough, explained that "It was while at Decca that [Monroe] introduced and recorded his original and trademark mandolin tuning—where instead of four pairs of strings tuned to the same pitches as a violin, he tuned several pairs of strings to two different notes that added the otherworldly timbres to his 'high lonesome' sound."

Yeah, I'm probably an idiot not to have ever noticed that before, but dang, it had never been so baldly in my face—er, ears—before.

I thought I knew you. What did I know?
Over the last decade, my go-to headphones have been the Sennheiser HD-600s and the Sennheiser HD-650s. In my review of the HD-650s, I said, "When I listened to the Fab Four, for example, all I could hear were the punch-ins (the mid-strum appearance of a distorted guitar five seconds into 'Money'), dropouts (the lead guitar disappears from the right channel almost two minutes into 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds'), and jokes ('Ahhhh, Paul,' sings John under Paul's lead 20 seconds into 'Lovely Rita')."

This actually proves two things: 1) I apparently don't have many original ideas, and 2) while I could hear all that stuff with the AKG 701s, it didn't really seem like that big a deal. Maybe I just don't like playing "gotcha!" as much as I used to, but I think it has more to do with my chief niggle regarding the HD-650s, which was that they could be, shall we say, overly analytical—that I could all too easily focus on the musical trees (or even branches) rather than the forest.

Comparing the AKG K 701s to the Sennheiser HD-650s with, oh, let's take David Russell's da Milano track (any of the others would do just as well), it was easy to hear why that was. Russell's guitar sounded rounder and warmer through the Sennheisers. Too warm and round, in fact. The AKGs matched the HD-650s for a full bottom end and pleasing tonality through the midrange, but the 701s had sparkle and life in the high frequencies and harmonics that the '650s simply didn't match.

Mind you, one of the glories of the HD-600s and HD-650s—to my ears, at least—had always been how unetched and natural their top ends sounded. Contrasted with cheap headphones, or even fairly pricey headphones with a reputation for "exciting" sound, what I love about the Sennheiser sound was the evidence that the designers had apparently taken an oath to first do no harm. However, with track after track, it became apparent to me that with the K 701s, AKG has developed headphones that not only did no harm to the top end, but also told the truth about what was going on up there.

The AKG K 701s have raised the bar for natural-sounding headphones.

I want you, I want you, I want you
Throughout the High End, the level of the good has gotten so darn good that honesty usually compels me to waffle a bit in the conclusion of a review. You pay a hefty price to go from pretty good to a wop bop a loobop a lop bam boom! As a result, we reviewers have to qualify everything. At $450, AKG's K 701 isn't cheap, although it's far from the most expensive set of headphones available. It's not for you if you want to jog or commute with your iPod. You should use it with a headphone amp. And it's even possible that neutrality isn't what you want from a headphone—after all, you're the boss of you.

Still: the AKG K 701s are the best-sounding headphones I've heard—and not for the money, and not for picking apart a recording or playing gotcha! with recording engineers. The K 701s just flat-out sound more like music as I hear it than any other headphones I've ever heard. I love 'em and I won't be sending 'em back. They're mine, all mine! Bwah hah haha haaa!

Go buy your own.

AKG Acoustics US
914 Airpark Center Drive
Nashville, TN 37217
(614) 620-3800

onebadfishy's picture

And if only AKG gave a rats ass about supporting their customers.  It's a sad joke...  I've had 3 pairs of K701s...  two have had problems...  and it sure as hell isn't like I go around abusing my cans...  Here's an AKG horror story for you:  I bought a pair for $400 bucks and their support staff never replied...  yes...  they avoided me...  so I did it the right way...  i ordered another pair...  called my old pair defective...  and ended with two working pairs of cans rather than a single pair of shit...  as it turns out another pair has died out...  Do I travel with these?  Nope...  Do I try not to let anything hurt my prized pair of cans?  Yes.  And yet I have issues now with audio dropping due to a short in these cans.  So here's my conclusion...  AKG is too stupid to make a decent, reliable pair of headphones.  They are a worthless business that needs to die and be replaced.  Their support won't respond to this.  They have great reviews after all, so they can delude themselves into not competing...  like every other company that half asses their way through success.  I'll have visual images of myself dancing on the AKGs grave when it happens.  I'll share it with the world...  I was trying to be polite, but truthfully, they suck raw cock!