Disclaimer: I asked Dale if he would be interested in reviewing the new AKG flag ship, the K812, for us and he sent in his review straight away. As far as I know Dale bought the K812 and it is not an official review sample. This is Dale’s first review on Headfonia. I hope you like it. Lieven.
I’ve wanted the AKG K812 ever since it was first announced. It has a unique look that says ‘metal’ and ‘industrial’ – not in the musical sense, but just in the aesthetics. And of course, what color could be better than black (with a bit of chrome trim)? I love the K812, but as love affairs go it can be rough going at times.
AKG did something with the K812 that I never would have expected of a flagship open-back headphone – they set the impedance at 36 ohms and terminated the 3m cable with a standard 3.5mm plug, threaded for the included 6.35 adapter plug. I’m guessing they did this because of the many small headphone amps that people use which have 3.5mm jacks only. However, open-back headphones don’t play well in most portable situations, so playing in a hotel room etc. may be the only option for portable use.
Checking the sensitivity of the K812 with an iPhone5, the maximum volume isn’t sufficient for audiophile listening with nearly half of my music tracks, although the tone qualities and balance hold up as well as when driving more efficient headphones. In spite of the partial success with phones or other similar players, a good headphone amp is necessary for full dynamics to prevent clipping, and to reproduce all of the detail in most music tracks.
The most critical reviews of the K812 have noted harshness in certain music tracks, and since the K812 is a “full treble” headphone like the Beyerdynamic T1 or Sennheiser HD800, it’s critical to get a good matching amplifier and even the music tracks that play best with this headphone. A good tube amp would be best in my opinion, and although the only such amp I have on hand is the low-cost Bravo Ocean, a good tube amp should help. The magical thing that catches a lot of users by surprise is when they connect the K812 to the better tube amps (or possibly solid state if a good match exists), when they hear the harshness turn into instrumental details – the quality that’s generally referred to as instrument separation.
Personally, I wouldn’t be inclined to listen to most industrial goth, the brighter metal genres, or other treble-intensive music with the K812, unless I had my hand on the treble or volume controls, ready to turn it down in case it gets too hot. The K812 bass is similar to the Sennheiser HD800’s I think, although I no longer have the HD800 here for a direct comparison. I wouldn’t expect any bassheads to be attracted by the K812, but in that unlikely event, it can take some bass boost and still sound pretty clean. I don’t find anything to say about the midrange except for some forwardness, and that forward emphasis is mostly a function of the strong treble from what I hear.
The most critical analysis I’ve done is a direct comparison to the two similar headphones I’ve had recently – the Beyer T1 and T90. The T1’s bass isn’t as strong as the HD800’s as best I remember. The T90 is closer, and the K812 very similar. The treble is much the same for all 3 headphones – i.e. somewhat bright for my listening. In my comparisons, frequency responses weren’t a distraction from hearing the underlying sonic qualities. My analysis has the T1 sounding very smooth (ignoring any treble issues), and by comparison the K812 sounds rougher. That sound for the K812 might be described as dry or even grainy, and while I suspect that the main component of that difference is unevenness in the response, it’s possible that certain distortion issues noted in other reviews could be part of that. Listened to on its own, that sound quality doesn’t bother me at all, but there are recordings that will make you aware of it. On the other hand, the T1 can also sound harsh (if not grainy or rough) with some music.
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