Saturday, July 11, 2015

Bang goes the Buck! AKG K7xx Massdrop 1st Edition Review

==Introduction==


I would like to thank the Head-Fi Massdrop staff and AKG for producing such a good pair of headphones. This pair has honestly been one of the best cures for upgrade-itis I have had in a long while and I think that it will be a nice ending to the long story of the AKG K7-series driver as I think AKG decided to do this because the driver is nearing the end of its life cycle. 

This review should of course be taken as a grain of salt as it is my opinion and only my opinion. I have past experience with quite a few cans and IEMs before. I personally own or have owned these cans and IEMs (to the best of my knowledge):
  • Sennheiser HD25 Aluminium 25th Anniversary Limited Edition
  • Sennheiser HD424
  • M-Audio Q40
  • Denon AH-D2000
  • NAD VISO HP50
  • Aedle VK-1
  • Beyerdynamic DTX-101iE
  • Monster Turbine Pro Gold
  • ADL EH-008
  • Koss Sportapro
  • Other odd vintage cans

As for the backstory behind these cans, I bought the AKG K7xx when I read the description for the drop for it on Massdrop.com touting these pair of cans to basically be a warmer, bassier AKG K702 Annie back around November. As I have already tried various AKG cans in the past and disliked many of them because of the lack of bass, the overly bright tilt and the oh-so-dreadful headband bumps that most of the mid-tier AKG cans seem to possess, I thought to myself that this would be just the ticket to satisfy my desires and jumped right onto the drop, to the displeasure of my wallet and the absolute joy of my ears.



==Aesthetics==

Packaging and Accessories

These headphones arrived much later in typical Massdrop fashion in a rather typical box with all the usual labelling on it advertising these cans.  (As most people say, you forget that you’ve bought something on Massdrop and then whatever you’ve bought comes as a pleasant surprise much later!) The packaging these headphones come in is, for lack of a better word, minimal – just enough to keep them safe and make them look pretty but nothing else. When I opened it to have a look, the cans seemed to be quite lonely as it comes with absolutely no accessories to accompany it, apart from a ¼-inch adapter. Well, I suppose that means that my attention will be focused on the cans, it seems. I just wish they came with a carrying case.

Design and Build


The AKG K7xx Massdrop 1st Edition is a pair of open-backed headphones co-designed by Massdrop and AKG and are the first batch of a limited run of 6000 headphones. For a pair of $200 headphones, they have a fairly typical build for this price point and are mainly made out of plastic with a bit of metal and real leather used for the headband. They obviously won’t survive a direct hit from a nuclear strike but they should last fairly long under daily use. Plastic obviously means that they feel slightly cheaper but this also contributes to its very light 235 grams of mass which is very good comfort-wise (as I will mention later).

They have a really cool stealth black colour scheme which deserves props to AKG for completing the cycle of colour schemes they used starting with white for the original AKG K701 and ending with black for this pair of cans. They have a single-entry configuration for its 3m rubber-coated cable which, while nothing special, does the job with fine fashion. One end is terminated in a 3.5mm jack which accepts a 3.5mm to 6.3mm adapter provided by AKG and the other end is terminated with a 3-pin mini-XLR jack. Left and right sides are labelled on the outside of the headband and is fairly easily located. The ear-cups are free to swivel a small amount in any direction but do not fold flat as they are designed for desktop listening.

Comfort and Isolation

Firstly, these are open-backed headphones. Therefore, isolation is irrelevant in this review as they let in almost any background sound and thus isn’t fair to properly judge. However, I do have to say that the leakage from this pair of cans is surprisingly minimal considering its nature and I do have to say that I’m impressed.

Comfort, on the other hand, gets a very big thumbs up for me because I tend to be fairly picky when it comes to this. The pads, while not being the deepest, are adequate enough for my ears to nestle in the cups for a few hours without any issues. 

The only gripe I have with them is how the tips of my ears touch the inside and how this causes some pain after a few hours, but by then I should be taking a break anyways so this is a fairly minor issue. The headband, like I mentioned previously, is made of real leather, which is a nice touch. The main plus for me, however, is the fact that they have none of the atrociously painful headband bumps that early AKG K7-series headphones had which means that the headband rests comfortably on my head. Clamp is also fairly minimal, being just enough to keep these on my head as long as I don’t start headbanging but not nearly enough to hurt the area around my ears.

The only other issue I have is with the elastic headband suspension system. It’s been fine for the few months I’ve been using this pair of headphones but I’m somewhat worried that they’ll lose elasticity over the years (especially since there have been reports of this happening with other AKG cans) but this also means that the entire system is self-adjusting, which is perfect for my OCD self as I just have to put them on without worrying about setting the headband to be exactly this much distance apart.

==Sound==


Equipment and Burn-in

The equipment I used was: Windows laptop (running Foobar 2000) > AMB Gamma2 > Headamp Gilmore Lite V2, with no EQ used. These headphones have at least a few months of usage and I haven't detected (or don’t remember) any change within the first 100 hours or so of using them. However, I did not burn them in at all and  instead used them straight out of the box.

Bass

As this is an open-backed headphone, extension will of course not be as great as a closed-back headphone. However I was pleasantly surprised to hear that these reach surprisingly low with good clarity and texture. There isn’t the biggest amount of bass, but it’s definitely enough for every genre of music I listen to. It’s punchy and quick when it needs to be and never overwhelms the sound signature.

When it comes to orchestral pieces, sub bass is extremely important for reproducing the feel of the piece. I’m happy to say that this pair of cans have enough to make for an enjoyable listening experience. Compared to the HD650, the bass is far quicker and actually works for electronic music unlike the HD650.

Midrange

The mid-range of these headphones take center stage here. It’s very clear and natural-sounding but also a little warm to give vocals and instruments a little extra oomph to make them sound majestic and lively, unlike most AKG cans in this price range. There isn’t a music piece I’ve listened to that sounds artificial or unnatural with these headphones so far, which greatly impresses me as many other headphones I’ve listened to simply don’t work with specific genres. Everything is articulate and very well-defined and is most similar to a window into the recording. It’s not overly lush and rich but not overly thin and cold either and even subtle distortions in the music can be heard as a result of mastering errors.

Treble

This treble can best be described as neutral to slightly bright, like a cool sip of water in a summer’s day. It’s very well-extended, precise and linear with some subtle lower-treble emphasis which is fairly typical of an AKG can. However, this emphasis is far less pronounced than most other AKG cans and for that I am grateful as I am sensitive to nasty treble spikes. It’s also very resolving, able to pick up a lot of detail in recordings and can be described as rather crisp and clear. However, despite the focus on detail of these headphones, the treble never gets too bright as long as the recording is good quality.

Soundstage/Presentation

Here we go, the famous AKG soundstage that the company’s headphones are known for having. As expected, the AKG K7xx does not disappoint, offering a spacious, wide, high and deep soundstage with excellent positioning and clarity. Every instrument has its own place and the soundstage is so realistic that oftentimes I will think that a sound in the music came from real life – trust me, it’s a confusing feeling when this happens and it’s a good thing!


The overall sound signature of the K7xx is very natural and lifelike. The frequency response for the most part seems to be fairly neutral and most importantly, natural. This pair of cans especially excels with live recordings but can handle most any genre you throw at it and brings the focus of the listener, not the sound signature of the AKG K7xx like some headphones do. Timbre and tonal balance is both excellent and overall these pair of cans seem to be somewhat like a pair of speakers. This also means that they are not forgiving of poor-quality source files which can be a good or bad thing depending on your choice of music.

Update: The Bass Port Mod

After doing the fairly simplistic bass port mod (the details of which are detailed here), the bass quantity improved by a noticeable amount without bleeding into the mids. They're now an excellent pair of cans for even those genres which require a heavy-handed approach to the bass section while still being great at what they were originally good at. Anyways, I like these cans even more now, but keep in mind that the mod is not for everyone, especially not for those who prefer a linear bass section.

==Conclusion==


The AKG K7xx is probably the best $200 (excluding the $30 shipping) purchase of my life so far. I have been happy with them for over 6 months and I am sure I will be happy with them for many years to come. I prefer it over a lot of the other headphones I’ve auditioned, including its fellow brethren, the Beyer cans, the Sennheiser HD650 and many more. The value is simply insane and I think that its AKG’s best value pair of cans they’ve made in a while.

Some things that AKG could improve on, although I don't see much, is to perhaps include a carrying case for these wonderful headphones as it would be a shame if they broke. It's a good thing that they cost only $200 though as this helps to justify the lack of accessories. However, the bass port being closed up is in my opinion a strange decision. I have a feeling that AKG planned to leave the port open but closed it up at a later time for whatever reason, the likes of which completely defeat my mind as I greatly prefer these cans with the port open.

Category
Score
Comment
Packaging and Accessories       
3/10
Adequate for the price.
Design and Build
7/10
Typical mid-tier AKG plastic stuff. Fairly solid and functional but the stealth black makes it look cool.
Comfort and Isolation
9/10
One of the most comfortable pair of cans I’ve ever listened to in my life, with only one small nitpick. Isolation is of course moot as this is a pair of open-backed headphones.
Bass
7.5/10
Update: 9/10 with the bass port mod
Good tight well-extended bass for an open-backed headphone. Update: improves substantially with the bass port mod.
Midrange
9.5/10
Fantastic mid-range, better than a lot of more expensive cans I’ve tried and definitely very satisfying.
Treble   
8.5/10
Clear airy and crisp treble which is well-extended and very revealing.
Presentation
9/10
The way the headphone works is simply marvelous and synergizes very well with each other. The soundstage is amazing too and the texture of the music is top-notch.
Value
10/10
Must-buy especially for its price. Period.
Total      
8.5/10
Update: 9.5 with the bass port mod
If the lack of accessories don’t bother you, then this is a fabulous open-backed offering from AKG and I highly recommend buying this when it comes up on sale on massdrop. It’s unrivalled at its price point with no significant flaws to hold it back.
Update: There is also the option to increase the bass by a solid amount which lets these cans shine with even more genres.I have a feeling that AKG planned to leave the port open but closed it up at a later time for whatever reason, the likes of which completely defeat my mind.

==Specs==

Headphone Type:
Open-back
Driver Type:
Dynamic
Frequency Response:
10Hz to 39.8KHz
Max. Input Power:
200mW
Sensitivity:
105 dB/mW
Impedance:
62
Cable:    
235g (Without cable)
Connector:           
Single-entry 3-pin mini XLR to 1/8 jack
Accessories:
1/8 to ¼ adapter


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