K1000 Driver Quality
I have no doubt that the K1000 was the pinnacle of AKG’s technology in its day. Looking at the K1000’s brochure, AKG quoted no less than ten different professional reviews, praising the K1000 as the best headphone of its day. However, all these reviews were dated between 1989-1990, times when MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice were the music playing on the radio. I don’t know when AKG decides to stop production on the K1000, but after having listened to the headphone, I think AKG’s decision is spot on. The champ may have had its glory days, but it doesn’t have the slightest chance to compete against today’s dynamic drivers. Indeed you can take any of the current $100 headphone, even something like the humble Sony MDR-7506 and feel how outdated the K1000’s drivers are.
The limited quality of the driver ultimately has consequences across the board. First and foremost is the ability of the K1000 to separate instruments in the music. In busy music passages, the instruments and vocals are fighting to earn the spotlight. The result is a big mess, so messy that moving to a relatively mid-fi headphone like Sennheiser’s portable HD25-1 immediately gives me a much improved layering and instrument separation. Surprising, given the fact that the HD25-1 in itself does not have a particularly new driver. Now you have to understand that this phenomenon may not be too obvious when you’re playing simple and slow paced recordings (think solo pianos, slow jazz, slow blues). The open soundscape gives a false impression that every instrument posses a distinct location of its own. But throw in a moderately fast song from any of today’s alternative and indie bands and everything gets mixed up and congested really fast. There is no separation horizontally, nor front and back.
The aging driver also hurts the soundstage image in a big way. Again, the spacious presentation of the K1000 tend to mislead here. However, an open and spacious sound is not the same as a good soundstage reproduction. The soundstage image is actually very flat. There is no depth, there is no three dimensionality, and there is no front and back with the K1000. Not only that, but the ambiance present on the recording is totally missing. In this aspect, you can take a closed headphone with a closed in sound, and still find that the soundstage image is much better than what you find on the K1000. It’s a love and hate thing for me, as the K1000 is very enjoyable to listen to live recordings, simply due to the open frame design. I can only imagine the sense of realism that we can get if AKG decides to update the K1000 with one of the modern dynamic drivers (though AKG really hasn’t been come out with any revolutionary new driver in quite a while since the K701).
I wanted to make sure that what I’m hearing on the K1000 is simply not because some bad pairing scenario with the amplifier that I’m using, so I tried to listen to it with all the finest headphone amplifiers I can find, all capable of driving efficient speakers: the RSA Dark Star, the WooAudio WA5, the Minute 45, the Rudistor RP-010, and a 4-ch AMB Labs Beta22. None of the amplifiers can do anything to alleviate the problem of an aging driver. Furthermore, one of the two K1000s I use for this review has been recabled with a Stefan Audio Art K1000 cable, and still that doesn’t seem to help the driver very much. The fact is that vintage drivers, regardless of driver type, are limited to the roughly same resolution, soundstage, and frequency extension issues, and likewise the K1000 is no exception.
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