This is actually a review of the AKG K702s but I understand they are essentially identical so this seems to be the place to post it.
I chose to buy the AKG K702 headphones after a lot of research. Headphones are a difficult purchase because it’s hard to audition them due to the difficulty of finding a retailer who stocks a wide range and also because retailers are reluctant to let people try them due to health and safety concerns around cleanliness.
My research was threefold. Firstly I looked at reviews by hifi magazines and websites. Then I consulted hifi forums and lastly I looked at product reviews on sites like Amazon from people who actually had purchased items. All opinions gathered in this way have to be treated with some caution because the views are subjective and, to be frank, some people do have favourite brands. The opinions I took the most notice of were from people who like the same type of music as me, which is mainly classical. These came out heavily in favour of AKG headphones and the K702s in particular.
I also took price into account. I was willing to spend rather more than the roughly £250 the AKGs cost but there is a law of diminishing returns in hifi and everything I read made me think that, whilst I could get better headphones, I would probably be satisfied with the AKGs.
Ok so they come in a nice enough box. There is no case but that is not a concern for me as they will only be used at home and I have a convenient shelf for them to sit on. They have a tubular metal framework with a leather strap which goes on top of your head. The bodies are made of plastic and they have foam ear-surrounds. They are pretty light, 360g on my kitchen scales, including the cable, which is detachable. They are “open back” which means that they don’t insulate you fully from external noise nor indeed do they protect others from your music. So they are for use in private!
I have found them very comfortable. As mentioned, they are light so there is no problem there and I didn’t find that my ears got hot even after a couple of hours of listening. Some reviewers have said that they found the ridges under the leather strap uncomfortable but to be frank I didn’t really notice they were there. (I wonder if people have been pulling the phones hard down onto their scalp?)
In terms of sound quality this is an early review. Some reviewers say that they need hundreds of hours to “run in” but I found them excellent straight out of the box. Some reviewers also say that they are much better with a dedicated headphone amp but I haven’t tried that. In fact so far I have only tried them using the headphone socket on my Marantz CD6004. I will in due course try them using the socket on my Marantz PM6004.
I’ve listened to a wide variety of music but the main ones to talk about are:
The Grieg is rather special, being a Penguin Guide Rosette winner and a former Gramophone “record of the year”. The performances by both singer and accompanist are outstanding and the digital recording is demonstration quality. It is a tough test for any piece of equipment. The AKGs shone here. Von Otter’s voice was captured in all its beauty and in some ways even better the piano was beautifully reproduced, all the notes perfectly represented to my ears. The sound staging was also excellent and by closing my eyes I could easily envisage a live performance.
The Tchaikovsky is a much older (1970) analogue recording and I included it in the test not only because it is a wonderful performance but also I wanted to be see how the AKGs handed a non-digital recording (albeit a well-regarded one) and how they would integrate a soloist with a full orchestra. I’m pleased to say that all was well and indeed it was so good I played it through twice.
The Allegri is also an old analogue recording but you wouldn’t guess that. This is also a really tough test because the key thing is to be able to reproduce the acoustic of the venue, actually the Chapel of Merton College, Oxford, and to set the voices properly in perspective in it. This is hard because the solo group and the main choir are located at opposite ends of the Chapel, so to get it right you have to recreate a huge 3-dimensional sound stage. The distant and often hushed voices of the main choir have to live in harmony with the much closer solo group and Alison Stamp’s wonderful treble has to soar above everything. I was quite stunned at how good the AKGs were at achieving this. My KEF Q500s do it better but you would expect that as they have the whole volume of a room to achieve it in. To make it realistic with headphones is excellent.
The “War of the Worlds” is an old favourite and includes some excellent sound effects as well as some punchy popular music, with the added bonus of Richard Burton’s wonderful narration. Burton really came alive through the AKGs and indeed everything sounded great. The “unscrewing” of the Martian canister sounded fantastic, I won’t say realistic because that would be the wrong word, and it conveyed a wonderful impression of what was happening. It was so involving that I listened to the whole CD rather than the first 10 minutes as I had intended.
Jennifer Warnes is one of “the” voices of the late 20th century in my opinion and her versions of Leonard Cohen’s songs are highly prized. As Cohen himself said of her singing “I stand by my original astonishment”. I won’t go through the tracks but the AKGs didn’t stumble and of particular note they handled with ease the rather difficult live version of “Joan of Arc”, which can sound dreadful on cheap equipment.
I chose the Prokofiev because it is highly percussive and I wanted to see if the AKGs could separate out all the various percussion instruments that are employed. In addition I wanted to know if they could convey the great excitement and drive of the final movement. They could! I could identify all the instruments and when I closed my eyes it took me back to a live performance I saw in the Albert Hall many years ago.
To summarise, the AKGs performed well on all the music I tried. They were particularly good at presenting a realistic sound-stage; the performers seemed to be there in front of you. The Allegri was particularly impressive. I have read reviews that say the AKGs lack bass. I don’t think that is right. I think they are neutral and reproduce what is there (albeit nothing I tried has a heavy bass component). If you want bass to be boosted these are not the headphones for you! They are rather analytical, i.e. everything is separated out and put into place, and people who like a smoother sound might find that wearing. I simply think it is realistic and I think the more you listen to these headphones the more you will appreciate the analysis.
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