Saturday, 7 July 2018

AKG K701 Reference Headphones

What a wonderful sound! I've never owned a pair of headphones worth more than about £40 (apart from the Marshall Monitor pair which came free with the Marshall London, but more of that later) and I was offered these second hand for a bit of a bargain, read up about them and thought 'why not'.

I'm shocked to see that any pair of headphones can be priced at such ludicrous prices. On further investigation, like a lot of tech I guess, you can pay thousands of pounds for headphones. Anyway, apparently these were, at one time, £300. Wow. Reduced now to £140 new, but for the newer version, bizarrely, the AKG K702 unit, it's £130! I didn't see what could be so special about headphones to justify such cost - it's a pair of speakers next to your ears! But how wrong I was.

From hereon in, do realise that I'm no expert or audiophile. I'm reporting what I hear and find, layman fashion. Reading up about these headphones it seems that they are known as 'reference' headphones, which means, as far as I can work out, they are used as a kind of benchmark against which others will be compared (like a Nexus/Pixel Android SmartPhone). They have a fairly 'flat' sound whereas other models will have created some 'personality' based on their reputation or user-base demands. A good example of this seems to be the Marshall Monitor headphones, to which I can refer by experience. When I put these AKG's on, I couldn't believe how 'pure' the sound seemed to be, used with a quality music source and no processing or equalisation etc. It made me realise that Marshall have purposely made their headphones' 'stamp' to be heavy bass, likely to appeal to their rock-based fans used to standing bangin' their heads in front of a huge Marshall Amp at a deafening gig, full volume!

When I play my preferred music - these days, piano, jazz, classical, female vocals - I realised what I was missing using cheap earphones and bass-heavy Marshall headphones. As I say, the delivery is pure and exact, with a near perfect tone for my ears, it would seem, for the music I want to listen to. I can tell the difference between these two examples and hugely prefer the sound of the AKG's - and I never thought I'd say that. I always thought that headphones are headphones and the mark of a 'good' pair was how bass'y they sound.

Physically, they are an interesting design. The cups (if that's the right word) are huge and open-backed (so you can avoid being run over)! They are nicely designed in white (the 702's are black) with really comfortable cushions and a central 'hole' for even the biggest ears. The material used is hard plastic, but that doesn't make them appear or feel 'cheap' - rather that they are light. And light they are - surprisingly. So much so that you can barely feel them on your head, for long sessions. This is helped by the presence of a smart leather band across the top, which your head pushes up into, as gravity works with the attached ends, to 'sit' the cups in just the right place. There's no pulling this and that up and down on some 'sizing' ratchet. It just works! Fiendish.

The cable is attached and comes with a 6.5mm audio jack on the end and a 6.5mm F/M 3.5mm adaptor, so a bit bulky. Worth noting that the 702's reverse that having a 3.5mm M/F 6.5mm adaptor and that the cable is removable from the headphone end by means of a mini XLR connector for easy replacement. If I'd had the choice, I'm not sure if I'd have chosen the 'updated' 702's over the 701's. Apparently the only differences are the ones I just described - and I kinda like the white anyway!

These sure are a Whatever Works item for me. I had no idea that music could sound so different and clean. Of course, if you want to wind up the bass on your music source you can, but I love them just as they are, flat. It's refreshing and pure. There's no background noise that I can hear and it sounds like I'm in the room standing next to the Grand Piano! Thoroughly recommended. See if you can find a used pair already 'run in' (apparently you're supposed to do that!) and for half the new price!

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