Old Champ: The AKG K1000

For years I have been reading people rave about AKG  K1000 flagship headphone. Although a bit late but better than never, the opportunity for me to evaluate this headphone has finally come. Thanks to my good friend Alvon at Jaben Jakarta and Yobbie, I have two different K1000s to evaluate for writing this review. All these years that I’ve read countless of reviews and impressions on the K1000, I can’t remember having read one bad impression on the K1000. Can a headphone really be that perfect?

Introduction to the K1000 sound

The open floating design of the K1000 results in a sound presentation unique to the of Stax’s offerings like the square-framed Lambdas. It doesn’t quite sound as open as a real speaker setup but on the other hand it easily gives a better focus on the music in comparison to the majority of speaker setups out thereK1000. It is very natural and indeed more speaker like than any other headphones, including modern flagship headphones like the Sennheiser HD800 or any . This is due to the close distance between the drivers to the ears, which makes it less dependent on room set acoustics as speakers normally do. The balance of this speaker/headphone presentation mix is very enjoyable as you get an open sound but to a certain degree still maintain the focused sound that headphones are known for.

There is a great degree of adjustability with the K1000 through the opening and closing of the driver panels. When the panels are fully closed, the drivers are parallel to the ears, and this gives the most focused and headphone like sound. As the panel is opened little by little the sound becomes more open, less forward, and more diffused. When the panel is fully open, at almost a perpendicular angle to the ears, the sound becomes more spacious yet more diffused. With certain recordings it can even give the sensation that the soundscape is slightly at the back of your ears, not the conventional in front of it — and this does feel a little odd. With classical and live recordings, the diffused presentation can work to give you a more relaxed and less focused presentation of the music. With most mainstream, studio recorded music, having the panels opened makes the music feel rather ambiguous, losing focus.

Not only can you open the panels to give you an even wider, more diffused sound, but you can also slide the headphone position up and down, forward and backward, and all the different positions will give you a slightly more focused or more diffused sound.

 

Continue to the next page…

Old Champ: The AKG K1000
3.7 (73.51%) 37 votes

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67 Comments

  • Reply January 3, 2012

    Nugraha N.

    finally, the much-anticipated, long-awaited review!
    I knew that  someone in the local community will get a hold of a K1000 eventually, and boy am I right!

    Mike, do you still have the K1000 with you? I’d really like to have an intimate listening session with it!

    • Reply January 3, 2012

      Mike

      Yes and all the big amps are all here too.

      • Reply January 12, 2012

        Guest

        What were the serial numbers of the units you tested? I know Jaben found four unopened AKG K-1000s, were they one of the units you tested?

        I’m wondering if the later ‘bass-light’ models might have updated drivers. If the Jaben unit was unopened, most likely it was a very late model.

        • Reply January 12, 2012

          Mike

          I failed to take note of the serial numbers. But even if they update the drivers on the bass-light models, how much of an upgrade would it be? We’re talking about something close to a 25 years old driver here.

          • Reply January 12, 2012

            Guest

            Thanks for the review. It’s hard to get objective impressions from something like an AKG K1000 owner’s thread.  When you drop that kind of money ($1-1.5k) on discontinued headphones that used to list for $500 and are elusive to find, maybe it’s hard to be objective.

            I was seriously looking to get an AKG K1000 but maybe the money is better put towards an HD800.

            • Reply January 12, 2012

              Mike

              You’re welcome,
              One of the reason I was really eager to do this review is also to see if all the hype are indeed true, because as you said, it’s hard to be objective if you happen to be an owner who’s spent $1K on one unit.

  • Reply January 3, 2012

    Rūdolfs Putniņš

    A great read! I wish that more headphones would use that hanging arch design headband. Especially the new orthodynamics which are notorious for being heavy.

    • Reply January 3, 2012

      Mike

      You read really fast! I just published the article one minute ago!

  • Reply January 3, 2012

    Mikael

    Interesting read, as always.

  • Reply January 3, 2012

    Anonymous

    I agree actually! I were also surprised to find close to zero depth in the soundstage image after reading all the positive reviews. I, like you, also found the separation to be only average. Overall, the HD 800 is the king of soundstaging with the much more three-dimensional imaging and separation. I have this confirmed now 🙂 

  • Reply January 3, 2012

    Vladislav Ivanovich

    Mike, great article as always! Keep it up!

    • Reply January 3, 2012

      Vladislav Ivanovich

      btw, any improvements with Stefan Audio Art K1000 cable over Stock Cable?

      • Reply January 3, 2012

        Mike

        A small improvement in treble, a little more sparkle. 

  • Reply January 3, 2012

    Questa

    Speaking of aging drivers, I wonder, how about the 1989-2004 Sony MDR-R10?

    • Reply January 3, 2012

      Austin Morrow

      I’ve heard so many good comments about the MDR-R10 and it’s magnificent low end. I’d love to try a pair someday….

    • Reply January 3, 2012

      Mike

      Send me one and I’ll do a full review 😉 

    • Reply January 4, 2012

      Brian Fu

      The R10 has the best soundstage that I’ve ever heard in a headphone but I’ve always thought that it’s pretty coloured. 

      One thing for sure is I’m not going to pay $5000 for them with so many modern alternatives available nowadays. 

  • Reply January 3, 2012

    Olivier

    Great objective review (without falling in obsessive nostalgia or unusefull comments like ‘the upper mids remind me my old DT-48’ like in some afficionados reviews)

    You’ve recently tested the Sony PFR-V1 with in introduction a question on how it could compare to the K1000. Actually reading the reviews, it seems the PFR beats the K1000 in most aspects (except the pleasure to have a wonderful vintage object which I can understand but has nothing to do with sound quality). How would you develop the comparison ?

    Thx

    • Reply January 3, 2012

      Mike

      Thanks Olivier

      Here is a brief comparison to the PFR-V1:
      – AKG K1000 sounds more open, perhaps due to the totally open panel front and back. The PFR-V1 has a closed-back housing.
      – AKG K1000 has a more natural sound, the PFR-V1 more a V-shaped sound. 
      – AKG K1000 has a more proper timbre, the PFR-V1 is more plasticky, similar to Sony consumer level headphones. 
      – AKG K1000 has a more limited frequency range, the PFR-V1 better extension up and down. 
      – I didn’t get a sense that the PFR-V1 has outdated drivers. It was more like a headphone with a consumer-oriented tuning, V-shaped, and all the limitations associated with a small driver size. With the K1000 it was very obvious, old drivers.
      – The PFR-V1 is actually very comfortable in comparison to the K1000.
      – With the bass tubes, I get lower bass on the PFR-V1 than I do on the K1000. However the K1000’s drivers hit harder than the PFR-V1 (again due to the driver size).

    • Reply January 29, 2012

      Maniacal71

      That is very strange that you mentioned the DT48 as how aficionados would review them as, bet that you’ve heard neither the KK or the DT48, well mentioning how you believed that the PFR-V1 would “beat” the KK simply shows your affection for V shaped sound signature and the neutral or mid-centric headphones aren’t for you.

  • Reply January 3, 2012

    Donunus

    Brutal! Love the review! I’m guessing the k1000 cult is going to be here anytime making some comments hehehehe

    • Reply January 3, 2012

      Mike

      Donunus, it’s really funny how nobody has ever said anything bad, even the slightest negative thing about the K1000 while all these things should be obvious. 

      • Reply January 3, 2012

        Donunus

        This review puts perspective on things. I’ve always been curious about these cans. I’m glad I wasn’t curious enough to buy them blind now 🙂

        • Reply January 3, 2012

          Mike

          Still you need to have a listen to one yourself, Donunus. 🙂

          • Reply January 29, 2012

            Maniacal71

            Totally agree with this, try it some time, a legend in its time and a unique one at that, although the drivers show their age, i would still say that it was and is still before its time, if AKG were to pick up where they left off, i’m sure the KK with it’s objective of giving a speaker like experience will definitely better most modern day headphones once again.

      • Reply January 3, 2012

        Lieven V

        I told you right from the start I didn’t need to hear them again as I didn’t like them at all when I listened to them last year. If I had to describe them in one word, it would be “unique”

        • Reply January 3, 2012

          Mike

          I guess that puts us on the same team now, the “I think the AKG K1000 is unique” team. 😉

  • Reply January 3, 2012

    QQ

    Great write up as always! I think almost people who owned the K1000 never mind how its sound good or bad, especially the Old Champ is so hard to find. he’s just going to say Vintage Rule!! 😛

    • Reply January 3, 2012

      Mike

      Thanks, QQ. I think the reputation is rather huge and that alone may form a pretty strong placebo. 

    • Reply March 9, 2012

      Matthew Santa Maria

      Mike has a great site with thoughtful reviewing but it is
      possibly him that suffers from the strong placebo effect.  By reviewing
      latest and greatest and then comparing them to the K1000 his criticism is right
      on the mark – if you are trying to write a review. Doing this he is following a
      pattern that can only lead to just that, a critic of the differences, totally
      missing the mark on the big picture. The K1000’s have many flaws and I would
      suggest they had these flaws when introduced in the early 1990’s all the way
      through the over 10 years they were made. When compared to any of the best
      efforts from Sennheiser and others during that period of time they would have
      received the exact same comments on the shortcomings Mike has pointed out
      currently. But try this before forming an opinion. Find a way to check out a
      sophisticated musical event in your local area – a local symphony if you can.
      Take it all in and a few days later find a quiets spot in your crib and clear
      your mind of all preconceived notions. Place a set of K1000’s on your head with
      the drivers flipped out which causes even more of the K1000’s differences and
      shortcomings to be spotlighted and Play some symphonic music. Just take it all
      in without listening to any specific performance area. You will find yourself
      transported back to a very similar experience to the live performance you
      witnessed before. We all like to talk and write about micro specifics when
      trying to evaluate any piece of gear but that is an evil trap that keeps us
      from getting lost in the beauty, flaws and triumph of the musical performance
      and a particular components ability to relay that back to us in the playback
      realm.
       

  • Reply January 3, 2012

    Mike

    Check this out, a double blind test on Stradivarius violins: 

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/01/02/144482863/double-blind-violin-test-can-you-pick-the-strad

    “Dale Purves, a professor of neuroscience at Duke University, says the research “makes the point that things that people think are ‘special’ are not so special after all when knowledge of the origin is taken away.””

    • Reply August 10, 2012

      Matthew Santa Maria

      I worked for a large speaker manufacturer that pioneered this double
      blind listen test procedure for audio products and just like the results
      of the violin test you reference – person after person would pick our
      moderately priced speakers over some of the highest $ competition.
      Scientific tests have to be quantified just like peoples blind
      assumptions that certain vintage gear is great because of folklore. In
      my opinion double blind tests set up the listeners to pick a tonal
      accurate and overall solid performing speaker but they also put people
      in a critical listening mode in which they are trying to judge
      differences and form an opinion. This is the same challenge a reviewer
      faces as they must give us insight into their attempt to relay the
      performance of a given product. However unless they can turn off the
      critical focus at some point they can miss that a given speaker may not
      be tonally perfect, have accurate phase, frequency extension and a host
      of other attributes we use to win over the spec wars and double blind
      listening test. But this speaker can sound truly remarkable when it
      comes to relaying those special moments when a musician or musicians are
      really in their flow and the emotional power of their creation comes across.

  • Reply January 4, 2012

    Katun

    Heh, I’m glad you gave it a “proper” review Mike.

    I think K1000 owners still have their heads in the clouds 😉

    • Reply January 4, 2012

      Mike

      Thanks Katun. 🙂

  • Reply January 4, 2012

    Shahrose

    Hey Mike,

    I had some of the same issues as you initially with the bass-heavy K1000. But, after living with them for a few months and getting them recabled with DHC’s cryo copper (a hassle…but worth it), they’ve become one of my favourite headphones. It’s vitally important to find the right driver angle…moving them outwards too much is bad, but having them completely parallel isn’t optimal either IME. A slight toe-in is good.

    The recable improved the tone and soundstage depth (the latter still falls short of the current top cans though). The bass on these, however, is just awesome. Tight as a fist and hits like a jackhammer, without being fatiguing. They even extend pretty low…I can hear 30Hz clearly and it’s only near that mark and below that I can distinguish them from other flagships. Not only that, but the dynamics are eye-wincing and I hear no treble and midrange anomalies after the recable either. In fact, they’re quite well-balanced…I don’t find myself wanting more or less of anything. Plus, the speaker-like sound is so unique and involving in my system that it warrants keeping.

    As for comfort, did you try extending the earpads horizontally? They come out…and fully stretched, they’re supremely comfortable on my head. Also, I found it’s not necessary nor favourable to pull the headphones down. Just gently rest them on your head and let them sit…they feel lighter that way.

    Although I agree that on some technical aspects like the microdetail retrieval, frequency extension, soundstage layering/depth, and just the “delicacy and nuance” of the sound, they are outclassed by the current TOTL hp’s. Yet, I almost feel you didn’t hear them at their best. Strange, because you tried quite a few setups, but there seems to be a bit of a disparity between our ears which is uncommon…many of the other folks who own and have heard them don’t seem to hear it the same way either.

    This turned out to be longer than I anticipated…apologies.

    (Running these from a Dynahi and a modded EE Minimax tube DAC/MK3 JKSPDIF)
    (Other cans I have on hand to compare are the HD800, T1, HE6, HD650 and a bunch of mid-level cans…all of them are recabled)

    • Reply January 4, 2012

      Mike

      Hi Shahrose,
      I agree with the slight toe in. Yes, and the speaker-like set up is unique indeed, and that’s the part that I loved about the K1000. Truly unique, but it’s such a pity that the driver is so limited. The recable probably helps, but no recable can make a vintage driver sound like new.
      What’s interesting is that we had the K1000 + Dark Star set up on the local Jaben store for a week or so, and most of the people who heard it seem to share the same impression. Good open sound, but when you play moderately busy music the drivers fall apart. And the Dark Star was among the best amplifier I feel for the K1000.
      Have you tried it with moderately busy music? Progressive or alternative Rock, Indie, or even mainstream Pop. You’ll see what I mean by the instruments collapsing together to a point of singularity.
      Nevertheless, it’s still one of the coolest headphone around. Just don’t expect the 30 years old drivers to do any miracles.

      • Reply January 4, 2012

        Shahrose

        You know what, now I’m starting to think the Darkstar isn’t as good as some say (atleast for the K1k)…because to me, that sounds like an amp problem. I say this especially because everyone who heard the K1000s here had the opposite reaction. I remember I was also impressed at the meet…and months later, I decided to buy myself a pair.

        If I had found congestion in complex passages, the K1000 would have been long gone. I’m A/B’ing with these other headphones and I don’t hear it. The sound isn’t as delineated as the 800s or T1s, but it’s not far behind. I listen to all sorts of genres, a lot of which has dense texture…very busy music. There’s no smearing nor dryness. The imaging is precise though not as holographic as the aforementioned flagships (here we agree).

        One last thing before I let this go 🙂
        If you get a chance, try the K1000s on a good speaker amp. I just want to see if it’s really an amp problem. If you find the same problems…well then we’ll just chalk it up to differing preferences and perhaps recabling. (I remember all the weaknesses of the K1000 were noticeably worse with the stock cable).

        • Reply January 4, 2012

          Mike

          The congestion is there regardless of the amplifier Shahrose. Please check the gear list on the review to see which amplifiers I used.

  • Reply January 4, 2012

    Olivier

    Mike,

    How would you compare the K1000 with the PFR -V1 you’ve recently tested, since they both belong to the strange family of ultra open headphones ? Are the vintage drivers still in the race ? Is the PFR-V1 the little brother or the worthy successor ?
    I’d be very interested to have your comments.

    Thx

  • Reply January 5, 2012

    Olivier

    Mike, i’ve just saw your answer below in my first post (I was expecting it at the top)
    Sorry for the double post (you can delete it) and thanks for your answer.

    • Reply January 5, 2012

      Mike

      Yes was about to tell you that. Hope that helps.

  • Reply January 7, 2012

    maguire

    You should try the K1000 paired with Cary 300SEI, This is a great match up.

  • Reply January 8, 2012

    Anonymous

    No matter if it sound spectacular, I will never ever wear those even indoors and alone. I’ll rather shoot myself. These babies look weird and funny and I have a hard not time trolling myself when I wear these.

  • Reply January 10, 2012

    Mr.Sneis

    Nice little review Mike.  I’ve just gotta say though that “K-1000 not care” 🙂  The K1k is a special piece that will forever be a timeless classic, bass “deficiencies” aside I’ve yet to hear anything close in the headphone realm.  It’s very sad there are not more of them in the wild though.

    • Reply January 10, 2012

      Mr.Sneis

      As for comfort — the pads actually slide out and separate from each other; not something immediately noticeable from the surface.  Did you make sure to do this Mike?  It helps prolong the life of the pads by compressing them less and should improve the comfort/fit immensely.

  • Reply January 11, 2012

    MIFreeze10

    I have a pair I am going to list on eBay in the next day or so.  Is is brand new in the original packaging.  I was going to hold onto them but it’s time to let them go.  I have another pair as well in my personal listening room … they still amaze me and I listen to many different forms of music.

    • Reply January 11, 2012

      Lieven V

      Wouldn’t harm posting the link here once you’ve put them up for sale. I’m sure some will be very interested!

    • Reply January 12, 2012

      João Rossa

      Yep can you send me an email, i might be interested.

  • Reply February 20, 2012

    manicmindtrick

    I really recommend DNA Stratus 2A3 tube amp with the K1000. It’s made with this headphone in mind and take away that upper mid harchness you where talking about and brings out great musicality in this heaphone. Also IMO better than the Darkstar with both the LCD-2 and 3, HE-6 and HD-800. You guy have to try this thing…
    A real treat! 

    • Reply February 20, 2012

      Mike

      The point with this review is that the problem with the K1000 is in the drivers. I’ve tried it even with the SAC 45 amp which uses the 45 tube (that should be even more laid back than the 2A3), and still the problem is in the driver resolution of the K1000.

  • Reply March 4, 2012

    Matthew Santa Maria

    A reviewer recommending newer and currently available products from folks willing to send him free gear and advertise on this site slamming the K1000’s – call me shocked!!! There are a large group of more savvy listeners out there that understand that things like ultimate resolution are just a small part of the sonic picture. They prize a truly natural rendering to the music being played back. To them only the K1000 will do.

  • Reply March 10, 2012

    Matthew Santa Maria

    Mike has given everyone reading this site some valuable information and
    tools in which to help guide them in the pursuit getting the best
    results from headphones. I would hope at the same time he would be the
    first to chime in and say “this is just one mans experience – go out and
    listen to everything you can and enjoy what really works best for you”. I have added my comments here because several posts have suggested that anyone owning or searching for K1000’s has somehow drank the kool aide and suffers from some delusion.  Mike, by reviewing latest and greatest and then comparing them to the K1000 is right on the mark on the flaws in  the AKG design. Also by doing this he is following a pattern that can only lead to just that, a critic of the shortcomings and possibly miss the big picture. The K1000’s have many flaws and I would suggest they had these flaws when introduced in the early 1990’s all the way through the over 10 years they were made. When compared to any of the best
    efforts from Sennheiser and others during that period of time they would have
    received many of the same comments on the shortcomings as they have always been a headset people either love or hate. But try this before forming an opinion. Find a way to check out a sophisticated musical event in your local area – a local symphony if you can.
    Take it all in and a few days later find a quiets spot in your crib and clear
    your mind of all preconceived notions. Place a set of K1000’s on your head with
    the drivers flipped out which causes even more of the K1000’s differences and
    shortcomings to be spotlighted and Play some symphonic music. Just take it all
    in without listening to any specific performance area. You will find yourself
    transported back to a very similar experience to the live performance you
    witnessed before. We all like to talk and write about micro specifics when
    trying to evaluate any piece of gear but that can be an evil trap that keeps us
    from getting lost in the beauty, flaws and triumph of the musical performance
    and a particular components ability to relay that back to us in the playback.

    • Reply March 10, 2012

      Mike

      Thanks for the very nice and well thought post there, Matthew.

      As an avid classical listener, I think the problem with listening to local performances is that the orchestra/conductor are always lacking in so many areas compared to the levels of Berlin Philharmonic, Karajan, etc. Not to mention some musicians who are already dead and are only available on CD.
      Also the other issue with live performance hall is that the good seats are extremely pricey. And if you can only afford the standard rate tickets, then the acoustic performance is not very good.

      • Reply March 10, 2012

        David Ulrich

        That’s why I feel so lucky to live in Minneapolis.  My local orchestra is the Minnesota Orchestra.  Truly world class, and having sat everywhere at some point in Orchestra Hall, the acoustics there are flawless.  Whether you have nosebleed seats or VIP, the sound is amazing.  Not related to headphones I know, I just felt like bragging.

        • Reply March 12, 2012

          Mike

          Lucky indeed, but you’re only limited to the Minnesota Orchestra 😉

      • Reply March 11, 2012

        Matthew Santa Maria

        The more I read this site and your writing the more I appreciate the quality that is presented. My first post was a knee jerk reaction to the K1000 review making me a
        bit suspicious of the integrity of the site. I have
        lost my faith in the magazines that highend audio lovers have looked to
        for years for info and unbiased opinions. The fact that one can posts alternative points of view without fear of
        them being censored and get measured and thoughtful replies helps make it
        a very valuable forum. Loved the article on Tim Murison’s BitPerfect as I am a MAC user and have high hopes that high rez computer centric audio will keep our hobby from dieing a cruel death from lack of quality playback formats. Looking forward to you comparison to Amarra as I will be doing the same in my rig. Keep up the good work and count me as an avid fan of the site

        • Reply March 12, 2012

          Mike

          Thank you, Matthew. Looking forward to hearing more of your comments here.

  • Reply October 22, 2012

    grokit

    Nice writeup, agreed on most counts but I definitely prefer the K1K to the 325i. But not to the dynamic flagships (HD800, LCD2, HE6). The HE6 in particular because it does absolutely everything so well and has similar driving requirements to the K1K.

  • Reply January 5, 2013

    Georg

    Thank you for your careful review. The K1000 has one unique feature which I did not found by other headphones: The sound depends on the position of the panels. I like this feature very much, so I try to get the K1000 “singing” (I am still working…). So far I could say depends a lot of the sound of two sources: the cable and the amplifier. If one uses stock equipment, I agree fully with your review. Only with special cable (e.g. Stefan AudioArt) and a balanced amplifier with an excellent high quality and very fast power supply, the K1000 remains about my opinion a leader in the top ten of headphones.

  • Reply August 8, 2014

    Ventura Rodriguez Vallejo

    I own a pair of AKG’s K-1000 since the early 90’s, and it’s funny to have one of the most controversial (and odd) headphones ever delivered to the hi-fi market. I must admit that I belong to both who love them and, at the same time, to who hate them. Wearing comfort and look are no items I consider relevant, just sound. In one hand, I find these headphones playing in the premiere league of sonics quality, that is, tonal balance (I don’t
    hear them bass-weak
    sounding, precisely),
    detail, instruments and
    voice chararacterization
    and all that we use to
    understand for “fidelity”, specially when I drive them with a Luxman MQ-360 tube power amp. In the other hand,
    however, it’s stereo
    imaging (a major item for me), albeit being quite different than the
    usual “inside-your-brains-and-left-plus-right” presentation most
    headphones (no matter the price) offer, the K1k
    are suppossed to produce a three-dimensional-out-of-the-head sound staging,
    but, in my experience, if
    you are hearing with them to a, say, well recorded simphonic orchestra and you close your eyes, no matter how strong your efforts
    can be, you won’t feel
    inside the concert hall and in front of the orchestra; you can try various angles for the cans but except when their completely in front
    to your ears (difuse sound and light-weight bass) or completely parallel to them (conventional cans stereo and strong bass),
    their imaging is weird, to
    say the less: a convex layer of sound, centered
    in your very face and running away fast from
    boh sides of your head,
    and this differs quite a lot from AKG’s self literature. Anyway, being
    a fan of headphone listening (it’s very private and very revealing), and owning a sensible number of them (of almost all type, including the hybrid AKG’s K-340), I wouldn’t like, quite the opposite, to see the K-1000 out of
    my hi-fi gear.

  • Reply August 31, 2017

    christian C Martin

    Thanks you very much for this review.
    I recently divorced and moved from Paris to San Francisco.
    and want to get back to HiFi world with good sources (High Resolution audio files,…)
    I still have my AKG 1000 …
    which dedicated pre amp /amp options do you recommend I could buy to optimize the experience with this headphone ?
    Thanks in advance
    Christian

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