I have a fairly good impression of the K181DJ when I tried it a long time ago. Since a friend offered to include the K181DJ in this comparison, I was happy to accept his offer. Unlike the others, the AKG K181DJ headphone is fairly obscure and not many people think highly of it, while the reality is the K181DJ is quite a strong contender in this league of highly popular headphones. Let’s see how it compares to the others.
Looking at the exterior build, the K181DJ doesn’t inspire too much confidence. The styling is okay, but with knobs plastered all over the housing body, one would doubt it the sound quality can be any good. The cheap plastic finish adds to the overall impression as well. Compared to the SRH-750DJ headphone, the Shure is still better in terms of build quality and finishing, and even to the spartan HD25-1, the K181DJ still looks very cheap (the photo we took is a bit flattering).
The clamping force is very strong on the K181DJ, the strongest in this comparison. The vinyl pads are not the most comfortable, but it’s not so bad either. The diameter of the pads are fairly big, roughly similar to the SRH-750DJ. The fit is fairly good, slightly better than the SRH-750DJ and HD25-1, but less comfortable than the SRH-840, ATH M-50, and Ultrasone Pro900. The strong clamping force makes it the least comfortable for long term music listening, but the noise isolation is the best in this shootout. I guess AKG really wanted to make sure that the DJ wearing this would get maximum noise isolation in clubs.
The K181DJ comes with two switches to alter the sound output. First is a Mono/Stereo switch which I’m sure you know what it does. The second is a pair of switches located on both housing cups that say CLUB: Large — Small. My impressions were mostly done on the “small” setting, as it gives just enough bass quantity and yet much tighter bass performance. The “large” setting is a bass boost switch that increases the weight and the punch of the bass and also adding a slight reverb effect for an impression of a bigger soundstage image. While the bass is less tight on that setting, it’s still fairly controlled and it does work better for some electronic genre.
The sound signature is surprisingly similar to the Sennheiser HD25-1. The tonal balance is very similar, though the vocal is a tad less forward than the HD25-1. It’s not a big deal, seeing that the HD25-1 is very forward to begin with. The K181DJ, however, betters the HD25-1 in top and bottom frequency extension. High treble notes are more evident, and likewise the low bass frequencies. The K181DJ is also more detailed and more refined than the HD25-1. There is no denying that the HD25-1 driver is getting old. The soundstage is also bigger in the K181DJ. Looks like the AKG got the Senn beat in all the technicalities aspect. Not bad!
The HD25-1 has been my strongest recommendation for Rock music, but the AKG K181DJ do have the same pace and attack that makes it suitable for energetic music. But sometimes, having better technicalities don’t always mean a good thing, as the more extended treble in the K181DJ leads to sibilance and a slightly brighter sound than the HD25-1. If you don’t mind those drawbacks, then the K181DJ would be a good alternative to replace the HD25-1.
Compared to the SRH-750DJ, the K181DJ again has a more linear treble extension, but again, that makes for a brighter sound than the SRH-750DJ. The K181DJ, however has a fuller midrange and bass, with stronger and tighter bass punch than the SRH-750DJ. The K181DJ also has a better attack and energy for the fast Electronica and Rock songs, which is the forte for the two headphones. So in those areas, between the SRH-750DJ and the K181DJ, the latter is preferable in almost every aspect but the brighter treble presentation. If you have a dark source and amp combination, then the K181DJ is the better choice as it betters both the HD25-1 and the SRH-750DJ in a lot of aspects. For those with more a more neutral source, then I would go with the SRH-750DJ or the HD25-1.