Old School Trio: AKG K701, Beyerdynamics DT880, Sennheiser HD650

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The AKG K701

After the opposite polarities of the DT880 and the HD650, it’s time to take a look at the middle line approach from AKG. The K701 inherited a lot of nice things from the engineers who designed them. Between the bright DT880 and the dark HD650, the K701 easily sounds the most neutral with just a tad of warmth. The treble is smooth and inoffensive. The midrange is also smooth and with a good presence for vocals. The soundstage is big, the separation very clear. The presentation of the headphone reveals a lot of information in the music. Unlike the extreme monitoring stance of the DT880, the K701 seems to have a good potential to bridge the gap between monitoring and music listening. It’s revealing enough for monitoring, and yet not as dry and as sterile as the DT880. The K701 brings good technicalities without having to be very heavy on the amplifier requirements. It’s also warm enough to be used for more music listening. Yes, it doesn’t have the proper bass weight to maintain a good PRaT, but some people who listens to smooth jazz, slow female vocals, or easy listening instrumentals probably wouldn’t be bothered very much. I can see why people like it.

As I listened the K701’s sound further, I begin to see why the K701 has been going down in popularity. First and foremost, I see the K701 as not having a clear sense of direction in the sound. When isolated by its individual sound components, the K701 would do fairly well. I can probably give it a decent grade in a table-score system, such as 8.5/10 for treble, 9/10 for midrange, 7.5 for bass, and so on. But when evaluated as a whole, you don’t see the direction that the K701 is going with the sound. And I wouldn’t call it colorless either — that would be a better description of the Beyer DT880. The K701 is like the politician who tries to please everybody and ends up getting everybody upset because he can’t get anything done. I struggle to give a good analogy here, but the point is, I can’t get where the K701 is trying to go with the sound. The DT880 is a very focused monitoring headphone. The HD650 intentionally is very colored for medium paced music. Grados have that strong Grado signature sound that engage you with the midrange. Jerry Harvey’s IEMs have that “Jerry Harvey” signature as well. But the K701? I’ve seen it being branded as analytical or sterile, but I actually think the DT880 fits that better and for a good reason. The K701 sounds relatively warm to the DT880, so it’s not cold sounding either. Instead, the K701’s sound just give you a blank look, without trying to communicate anything to you.

On the technical side, the K701 is not without flaws either. Though it reveals the music very well, the K701 actually has the least low level detail of the three, while the HD650 and the DT880 is roughly equal with a bit of an edge to the HD650. The treble and bass extension is also rolled off in comparison to the HD650 and the DT880. Quite surprising indeed, considering the K701 is always synonymous with detail and technicalities. The K701 also have some resonance on the mid region, which I suspect leaves the impression of a “plasticky” sound. The HD650 has some small resonance as well in the lower treble, but not as noticeable as the K701 and only at loud volumes.

Perhaps the most famous aspect of the K701 is its soundstage. Indeed, the K701 has a very wide soundstage with clear separation of the instruments. The soundstage is very big, and instruments take a clear and distinct positioning within that soundstage. However, on live recordings, the small background detail is cut off in the K701, when they are more faithfully preserved in the DT880 and the HD650. And despite the famous “soundstage” of the K701, I actually rank the soundstage performance as the last of the bunch. Let’s take a look at how I come to that conclusion on the next page.

  • Milko Georgiev

    Even HD600 has too much bass. R&B and other bassy music sounds like you are in a barrel. Mids are weak. AKG K701 and K712 give enough bass and still sound balanced, natural, nice, with no offence. Boom-tataa-boom is not the root of the misic 😉

    • http://dalethorn.com dalethorn

      I thought the K712 was very nicely balanced. I’m surprised to hear that the HD600 has a warmer or bassier sound, but it’s been more than 10 years since I had the HD600, so can’t compare them. But the K712 is a much newer design, yes? I think the Sennheisers are just too old, and look what they’re making now!! Momentum, Momentum junior, and (gasp) the Urbanite!

      • http://realmegapixel.com Milko Georgiev

        Yes K712 is an noticeable upgrade of K701.
        I’ll try Momentum, thanx for the advice.
        In my opinion Sennheiser (as many others) gives people (what they want) more disco/club feeling.