AKG K500, K501

These two cans may be one of the most pleasant, natural sounding headphone AKG has ever produced. Frankly, I haven’t heard the K601, but compared to the K701, K401, K240, K271, and even the K340, the K500 & K501 remains a long time favorite due to their natural sound. The question then becomes, why were they continued? It seems that part of the AKG corporate philosophy is to produce a great sounding headphone, then discontinue it, so that people who wants it can’t get it any longer. Pretty effective way of building a brand image. AKG: the maker of great discontinued headphones.

The K500 and the K501 is identical in shape. As a matter of fact, the housing and headband design is shared by the K400, K401, and the K301 as well. The donut shaped pads are made out of synthetic leather material, and people often upgraded the pads to either the K601 or the K701 pads. The K601’s pads are of the same shape as the K500/501, but it’s made of verlour. The K701’s pads are not perfectly round, but they have a shape that helps to put the drivers at an angle to your ears. Every one of these pads alters the sound slightly, and so it’s up to you to decide which pads suit your music best.

If the K501 is rare, the K500 is even rarer. Though I personally like the sound of the K501 better than the K500, (I’ll describe the differences a few paragraphs below), the K500 is still desirable precisely because they’re very hard to get, and the black housing to the gray headband color scheme is way cooler looking than the K501’s gray housing and black headband. Not to mention that almost every K501 that I have come across have peeling off model marking.

akg_k500_k501_2

Before we move on to talk about the sound of the K500 and the K501, let’s talk about amplifier requirements of these two headphones. They are one of the hardest headphone to drive, next to the likes of the K340. Why? I have no idea, but the K501 are harder to drive than the K701 (75 ohms), as well as the HD650 and the HD800, and the K500 are not so far behind it in terms of amplifier requirements. Both the K500 and the K501 may be rated at 120 Ohms, but they are far more difficult to drive, than headphones with higher impedance ratings such as the HD650 (300 Ohms) and the HD800 (300 Ohms). Not only do they require a high amount of gain (roughly 25% more on the volume knob than the Sennheisers or the Hifiman HE5 Orthodynamic), but the K501 also requires quite a high amount of current. So far, the only other headphone that’s harder to drive than the K500/K501 are the K340, possibly the K1000, and some vintage orthodynamics. Some amplifiers may have enough voltage gain, and so you can get a good amount of loudness from these headphones, but that doesn’t mean that the amplifier can supply enough current for these cans.

When under current, I find the K501 to suffer more than the K500. These wonderful headphones suddenly lack bottom end impact, and I can’t help but thinking of the word “impotent cans” that can’t seem to get themselves up. The effect is more or less the same on both headphones, but is more pronounced on the K501. I really can’t give a strict rule on what amplifier specifications are need for these two, but I can tell you that the Dr. DAC Prime, the Lisa 3, the Heed Canamp, the Grace m902, the WooAudio6, and the Beta22 are some of the amps that I’ve found to work well with these cans. But please don’t conclude that you need expensive amplifiers to drive the K500/K501s, because apparently Dhani’s CMOY (on steroids, using a 19V power supply and an array of fancy opamps like Burr-Brown’s OPA552PA and Analog Devices’ ADA4627-1ARZ, AD825ARZ) did a great job on driving the K501. I really wouldn’t spend too much money on getting a premium, reference amps for these cans, but it is important that your amplifier can deliver the power needed.

AKG K500, K501
4 (80%) 14 votes

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32 Comments

  • Reply March 9, 2010

    rap

    nice. it remaind me to the old days when i have K501 😀

    btw, i think you need to introduce dhani cmoy, or maybe cmoy shootout since you mentioned it on this review

  • Reply March 13, 2010

    indikator

    Hi Mike, nice review here,
    by the way do you think K501 soundstage is kinda artificial, because I ever compare it to HD600 side-by-side and K501 doesn’t really differ in soundstage wideness, the strongest difference is that K501 sound much airier (is it the right word? thinner?) than HD600, kinda like the difference between a fully stuffed room and an empty room (but not echoey),
    and about the impedance factor, isn’t it the other way around? in speaker building I learned that lower impedance driver draws more current thus will need a more powerful amplifier, but again I’m no expert in this subject so CMIIW

  • Reply May 1, 2010

    schawo

    I love my K500s, which I bought for $70(!) this year. Better then any other piece of my AKG collection.

    • Reply May 3, 2010

      Mike

      $70 is a steal for K500s!!!! 😀

  • Reply June 18, 2010

    Ron G.

    Thanks for a very thoughtful review. I retired my K501s after 10 years of listening, during which I occasionally drifted to Grado 225s in search of more visceral bass slam, but always came back. The Grados never could equal the spaciousness or smoothness of the 501s, but I *did* miss the Grados’ bass. (I listen to jazz, electronica (house music), R&B, and small amounts of rock and classical.)

    Replacing the 501’s earpads with 701 pads made a big improvement in my opinion, as the new pads helped capture what I previously had thought was “missing” bass. But the 501s remained very hard to drive, and tended to sound congested at higher volumes.

    I still have my 501s, but have shifted to Shure SRH840 for my primary listening. The Shures revealed some key weaknesses in my set-up: the Grado extension cable, which I replaced with a Mogami cable; and my Rega EAR headphone amp, for which I’m shopping for a replacement. I use Naim gear, and am looking forward to hearing their HeadLine headphone amp in my system.

    Once I settle on a better amp, I’ll give another listen to the 501s to see if their shortcomings have been mitigated.

    I’m glad they haven’t been forgotten!

    • Reply June 18, 2010

      Mike

      Hi Ron, the K501 is a great headphone. Why AKG discontinued it still puzzles me.

      On the Grace m902 amp, the 501 finally has a proper low end impact. The amplifier requirement for the 501 is not easy, and perhaps that's one of the reason AKG discontinued it.

      I still think that the 501 is primarily a Jazz/Classical headphone though. I don't think it has enough bass punch for R&B and Electronica/House. Don't you think so?

      • Reply June 24, 2010

        Ron G.

        The Shure (and the Grados I've used: the 225 and 325) are much better than the K501 for R&B and Electronica/House. The Shure also offers more inner detail, but less of a sense of spaciousness than the K501.

        I have a Naim HeadLine amp and NAPSC power supply on order to try, so we'll see what results it can get with the Shure and the AKG. I'm hoping the Naim pieces will arrive in the next couple of weeks.

        • Reply June 24, 2010

          Mike

          Hi Ron,
          I left a message on your blog. 🙂

  • Reply December 21, 2010

    amigastar

    nice review always wanted to try the k501,
    i recently bought some AKG K240DF for 45 € thats about 60 Dollars in good condition.
    Running them on my Audinst DAC and they sound really nice.
    Compared to my akg k142 hd they sound more clear, better soundstage but not so much bass unfortunately. that were the main reason why i bought them and in what the k142 hd were lacking. i was not dissapointed.
    it seems to me that the headphone development is a little bit stagnating the last years.

    • Reply December 21, 2010

      Mike

      I think the AKG studio monitor line has more or less the same tonal balance. They are quite neutral and linear.

  • Reply March 14, 2011

    Kolten F.

    Proud to be an AKG k500 owner, sadly no box Q.Q

    • Reply March 14, 2011

      Anonymous

      Nice!

      • Reply June 5, 2011

        Amigastar

        hi mike,
        Bought them on ebay for 85 euros. do you think audinst hud-mx 1 can drive them at least acceptable? i have the 300-600 ohm jumper setting.
        greetings

        • Reply June 5, 2011

          Amigastar

          sorry,
          i mean the k501

          • Reply June 6, 2011

            Anonymous

            Hi Amigastar,
            The K501 is one of the trickiest headphone to drive. The Audinst should
            be able to drive it up to a proper volume level, but I doubt you’ll be
            getting a proper bass impact out of the Audinst. But I won’t say that
            it’s the Audinst fault, as the K501 just happens to be very tricky. The
            only amp that I’ve heard able to bring the bass impact alive in the K501
            is the Grace m902 amp (sadly costs ~$1,500).

          • Reply June 7, 2011

            Amigastar

            looks like i have to buy, no not the Grace amp haha befcause it’s too expensive for me, but the matrix m-stage. maybe i get acceptaple results with that one because i think bass is the flesh on the music, without you would only have bones.
            thanks for you answer
            greetings.

            • Reply June 7, 2011

              Anonymous

              That’s a good idea. The M-Stage would be a far better amp for the K501
              than the Audinst. Or you can skip the hassle and get a Senn HD25-1 and
              get tight punchy bass without needing any amp at all.

  • Reply March 14, 2011

    Donunus

    do you think the e9 is sufficient in driving these babies?

    • Reply March 14, 2011

      Anonymous

      Voltage wise, yes. Current wise, not sure. Many amps felt underpowered
      when driving the K501. I don’t think it’s worth trying though. You’ll be
      better off with some of the newer, more efficient headphones.

  • Reply June 19, 2011

    Gustavo

    Hello Mike,
    I’m between the K501 or the K340. Could you point the sound signature of both, pro and cons? Both headphones have great reviews, but from I’ve been reading, the K501 is more musical, the K340 is more analytic. Do you agree with this?
    Thanks in advance

    • Reply June 19, 2011

      Gustavo

      Ah, another question. Which one you find better for acoustic and classical musical?
      Thanks

  • Reply July 19, 2011

    Boomcabasa

    Hi Mike, first af all thanks for your very nice review. I used the AKG K400 some 10 years ago and I remember them being clean and fairly linear, big soundstage indeed.  I was looking into buying them again SH or going for the K702 model AKG currently has.  You mention the 701 wich I guess it’s very similar to the 702 : “K500/K501 has a soundstage that’s bigger than AKG’s own AKG701, though the K701 has a better instrument separation.” Could you maybe compare even further the frequency response / low end rendition on the K400/500 vs K702?
    Thank you so much !

    • Reply July 20, 2011

      Anonymous

      The K701/702 has a flatter frequency response and I can also say better
      low end than the K400/500. However the timbre and the overall tone of
      the headphone is quite different, and I can understand it when people
      say that the K400/500 is the more natural sounding one, as the K701 is
      seriously off in the timbre and tone. I think the K701 is one of those
      headphones that you need to audition personally as it is more than just
      a frequency response issue.

  • Reply July 21, 2011

    Nick01

    Hi Mike,
    Just got my K501 today and using the RSA Predator, sounds very nice. I love the texture of the pads. I agree with you about them sounding natural, love their midrange and soundstage. Listening side by side with my K702, them two have completely different sound. The K702 sound a lot thinner than the K501. But I still love my K702 for their superb clarity. I can’t wait to drive both pairs with the Just Audio Class A amp.

    • Reply July 22, 2011

      Anonymous

      Nice. I think they will make a good pairing with the Just Audio Class A amp.

  • Reply November 19, 2011

    Erick Jannes

    I had no idea that the headphone that I have, the AKG K500 is so rare.

    • Reply November 21, 2011

      Anonymous

      Maybe if you’re in Europe they are not so rare?

  • there really good 

  • Reply May 12, 2012

    Jongheon Park

    Do you think Schiit Asgard or Matrix would be a good match for AKG K501

    • Reply May 12, 2012

      Mike

      Sorry I never tried that pairing, and I haven’t listened to the K501 in a very long time. It’s a very difficult headphone to get right. Last time I can get some real bass out of it was with the Grace m902.

  • Reply August 28, 2012

    Don Vittorio Sierra

    Does this k501 glare that you’ve noticed also exist on the k500?

  • Reply February 11, 2019

    Brnrds

    I do own a K500 headphone.
    However those earpads are totally crumbling.
    Is there a compatible type because I can’t find the original ones anymore?

    Sound is excellent but I must confess that I build a headphone amplifier myself with a very low output impedance. It’s a DC design. The sound is as crystal clear as when I replace my pre-amp on my main-amp. and connected to my beautiful Elipson speakers.

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