Mids are usually exceptional with AKG’s. This is also a very good headphone for instruments and vocals, but they’re not totally natural, instead they’re a little dark and thick by a notch then, say Q701. This is not a bad thing after all, and it’s actually welcomed by me, but there are also deep points in the spectrum which make it a little stressed and congested sometimes because that creates a contrast presentation to the upper mids for example, which are a little boosted. So mids are not fully flat or consistent as a whole, they are still mostly effortless and musical and it is simply a joy to listen Jazz recordings but when things get busy it doesn’t have a top notch separation, clarity or coherence. You feel the lack of these things with certain scenarios but let’s not be harsh here. Remember the price of these cans, all the time!
Vocals are generally forward which makes it suitable for vocal centered types but they’re not assisted with a high-end resolution, they’re slightly veiled instead. Overall the tone is darker and thicker than the classic AKG headphones to me. So K7XX is not a Jedi anymore, instead we see the force of the dark side. Don’t underestimate the power of the dark side folks.
The treble is the worst part of the headphone in my opinion. It’s not bad for me as I like the soft and laid back treble, but the lower treble region is a little thick and depressed, which takes away the clarity and liveliness of instruments like strings etc. So basically the treble is colored in K7XX, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but strikes a blow on clarity and energy required by some genres. In addition, this specialty of the headphone is not suitable for the lovers of razor sharp presentation and sparkle. Lower treble region is problematic and definitely doesn’t sound reference. Also, I found the extension slightly lacking, but only slightly. It’s not a problem like the lower treble part, it’s understandable for a 200$ headphone.
Aside from the frequency performance let’s look upon other things: Soundstage is stellar in K7XX. AKG has good reputation regarding soundstage in their headphones and this is just another incarnation of the consensus. Stage is wide and long, width being more impressive than depth and the stage addicts would love this model. It feels so nice to be in that kind of a stage in a headphone. Well, this is one of the joys we always look for isn’t it? Like listening it live in a hall.
It’s not the fastest headphone around of course. If you seek something like that you should go for pricier options such as planar magnetics. This one is for the people who are looking for the maximum performance for what they give and I think it manages to fulfill that expectation. Resolution-wise things are OK here as I found no obvious problem for the price, except the lower treble which I mentioned above. The resolution would’ve been nice with a better lower treble response. Just imagine that this is an AKG with 1 or 2 veils, so you can’t see the elements of the music in an amazing resolution. But what you can do is sit back and relax, enjoy that sweet presentation and harmony across the range.
K7XX is not so easy to drive. It will benefit from a good desktop amp and that way it would reach it’s potential. I drove it with my Fostex HPA-4 desktop DAC/AMP, and I liked the performance I got from it, but unfortunately I couldn’t find a dedicated amplifier to try. You don’t have to have amazing power to drive it but you do need some to get the desired response. You definitely can’t reach the optimum with a plain DAP.
I also want to mention a custom copper cable that I had a chance to try with K7XX. This is a cable manufactured by a local guy here in Istanbul, so it’s not something related to a brand.
I think copper works really well with K7XX, especially with the bass response, which is an area most copper cables affect positively as you know. The bass hits better with the copper and actually has better control and texture overall. In addition, the other frequencies are also better, it makes the headphone sound more coherent. The ups and downs that I’ve described across the mid and high ranges are no longer there with the custom cable. So it sounds the way it should have in the first place in my opinion. The custom copper cable is definitely better than the stock one, so hands down, I recommend a copper cable with the K7XX.
There’s always a but: This cable costs almost as much as the headphones… So the decision is up to you.
K7XX is such a nice headphone and maybe the best one in it’s price, as I can’t think of a better headphone in this range. Maybe there are a bunch out there but in terms of my experience, there’s no better headphone for 200$.
I also took this shift about the sound presentation positively, which is a better experience in my book than the former AKG headphones. It’s smoother and it has more body and it’s much more enjoyable and easier to listen to. Maybe on technical parts it’s not the most amazing one, but I always look for the equipment that offers a relaxing approach to music, therefore I really liked the K7XX as a desktop headphone.
I comfortably recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a bassier AKG with a smoother sound overall, with a really competitive value.
Editor’s note (Lieven)
I bought the AKG K7XX the first time it was on Massdrop, since then this headphone and some special versions such as the one Berkhan reviewed have been “sold” several other times on Massdrop. I have never been a fan of the original 701 but I have to admit that this headphone, using a desktop amp (preferably tubes), sounds pretty darn good for the money. It has excellent bass body which is something I didn’t expect right away and for the rest reading Berkhans review, I’m pretty sure the Red and Black edition sound identical. The only reason I don’t ever use the K7XX is because I really don’t like the headband system. The K7XX sit way too loose on my head and there just isn’t enough pressure and grip to keep it on my head.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see another version of this headphone on Massdrop soon. I personally hope they’ll have a better headband system (not going to happen) and that it’s an improved version that got rid of the complaints Berkhan beautifully described. One can dream, no? Seriously though, for the price this is a good headphone, way better than the original, but to me it can still be improved substantially. If you want all the details do read the comprehensive thread on Head-fi.