Some things stand the test of time. Competitors come and go, but the true icons remain. In this hands-on review, we check out the AKG K701. A pair of good open back headphones with a long history as one of the best. But does it still stack up in a more crowded market? Absolutely. Albeit with a few niggling issues, which might be a dealbreaker for some.
The AKG K701 is a fantastic pair of open-backed studio-grade headphones. With a host of great features, it is among the best reference cans you can buy today. But it also isn’t without some flaws, some of which left me scratching my head as to why AKG chose to go in that particular direction.
The word audiophile gets thrown around a lot. But when it comes to the AKG K701, these are undoubtedly a great mid-priced option for self-proclaimed audiophiles that demand accuracy without a hint of color. This also ensures they have a role to play in a studio setting where the need for accuracy is even more pronounced.
Let’s begin with the most crucial part of any pair of headphones. No amount of marketing hype and buzzwords can sway my thoughts. But I am happy to report that the marketing for the AKG K701 does hold up as the truth for once. Something that is often not the case.
The sound quality of the AKG K701 studio headphones is impeccable. The first thing to note is the exceptional accuracy these display. The listed frequency response of 10Hz-39.8kHz is generous and broad. But more importantly, highly neutral. There are minimal dips and spikes across the entire range.
The AKG K701 is a very neutral-sounding set of headphones.
The highs present excellent transparency and detail without a hint of aggression. Not tinny in any way and not overly sharp. One of the biggest gripes I have with headphones with a studio focus is a sharp top-end masquerading as accuracy. So I’m happy to see more restraint here.
The mids are equally impressive. Rich tones from the lower end and high clarity as you move further up. Vocals and instrumental compositions are delivered with precise intent.
The lows are also neutral and accurate. There isn’t any hype on the low end. For reference purposes, this is precisely what you want. Even for casual listening, these are pleasant. I especially found these headphones to excel when listening to classical music. But if you like more oomph on the low end, these will be a disappointment.
“True reference quality with a highly detailed and accurate sound signature.”
Accuracy is the name of the game here. No overtly colored curves that, while pleasing, mask the actual details of the music you are listening to.
Due tot he open-back design, the sound stage is wide. There is plenty of room for the audio to find its place within the stereo field. Imaging is also very consistent with a clean phase response.
With a sensitivity rating of 105dB, these are also quite loud. They offer ample headroom for both listening to music and studio work.
There is plenty to like about the sound profile of the AKG K701. Refined and accurate audio that doesn’t fatigue your ears. Ideal for detailed analytical listening. If you care about listening to audio in its purest form, these are among the best mid-priced headphones.
The comfort level of the AKG K701 is another impressive highlight. If you spend hours in the studio or enjoy long listening sessions, these are a good choice.
The clamping force is light, and there is minimal pressure on your ears. But stability is a little loose, so I wouldn’t suggest aggressive movements, and they are a very poor choice for headphones while doing any physical activity.
The 3-D Form ear pads are also fantastic. They envelop your ears with precision. Soft and durable. Likewise, the open-back design provides maximum airflow to keep your ears from sweating. This combines perfectly with the earpads for a relaxed feel. There is also ample room for your ears.
The leather headband doesn’t offer a lot of padding. But it does self-adjust. In my personal experience, the leather strap was not ideal. It can become uncomfortable, especially in warmer conditions, and even more so if you have a shaved head like I do. It wasn’t horrible, but I did notice the strap over the course of longer sessions, but your mileage may vary.
The original production run featured a padded surface with distinct bumps. And to be honest, it often felt unnecessary and led to discomfort. I’m glad AKG took the feedback from buyers on board and refined the headband, but I would have preferred a more traditional padded approach.
These are bulky in appearance, but thankfully, the lightweight frame doesn’t make them feel bulky on your head. While not the most comfortable headphones I’ve had the chance to run through my testing they are also far from the worst.
Take a look at any broad selection of studio headphones, and you’ll find one thing in common. A sea of black cans with little character.
The AKG K701 throws this convention out the window and opts for a bold and loud aesthetic with an emphasis on white color with silver accents. The color scheme of the ear cups instantly draws the eye. The light grey earpads are an excellent choice. However, I do wonder why they decided to keep the brown leather for the headband.
While these headphones are appealing to look at, some functional elements could be an issue.
A slick-looking pair of headphones with good technology baked in.
The first of these issues is that these headphones are enormous. I’ve grappled with some big cans in my days, but these are among the most monstrous ear cups I’ve encountered outside of some premium audiophile headphones.
The AKG K701 also doesn’t fold. If you have any intentions of using these for travel, you’ll need to ensure you have a bag. Unfortunately, these also don’t come with a pouch. This clearly indicates that these are best for home use and not for travel.
Further supporting this is the included dock. It matches the clean silver appearance of the headphones and complements them nicely. A perfect display piece in your studio when not in use.
The other main issue is the cable. This long 9.8 ft (3 m) straight cable feels decent, but it is not a detachable cable. I expect a detachable cable and potentially even an alternate coiled or shorter cable as an option at this price point. It is also quite heavy, especially with the adapter attached. This excess weight can lead to unwanted pressure on the connection point on one of the ear cups, which could lead to early failure.
These headphones will also go flying off your head if you catch the cord on something. And one too many yanks or drops, and you can kiss your headphones goodbye.
The AKG K701 also has a reasonable impedance level of 62 ohms. I’d still recommend a headphone amp to get the most out of these. But at this level, you can get away with one that isn’t overly powerful. And in a pinch, these will perform decently when connected to a laptop or smartphone.
Despite some head-scratching decisions, especially the non-detachable cable, the AKG K701 is a stylish pair of open-back headphones. With the distinct focus on at-home or studio use, some of these issues may not be a big deal. But for others, they could be dealbreakers.
I’ve already highlighted my concerns about the cable. But beyond that, these headphones are pretty robust. Especially considering how light these are.
The lightweight design stems from the heavy use of plastic throughout the build. Plastic might not inspire confidence, but the execution here is on point. The headphones do feel flimsy but they also twist and bend without any overt creaking, and the finish is smooth and appealing.
The component quality is also high. The headphone drivers are great. They feature revolutionary flat-wire voice coil technology and a patented AKG Varimotion ultra-precision 2-layer diaphragm. The padding and leather headband are equally impressive.
I’ll admit these might not be the most rock-solid pair of headphones, so I would encourage you to be careful with them. But for the most part, I can see these holding up well in the long run. The long 2-year warranty also adds peace of mind. But does the quality match the price point? After my intensive testing, it fell a bit short.
The AKG K701 is not a cheap pair of headphones. But equally, it doesn’t sport the super high price points of some other audiophile-focused headphones. It comfortably sits in the midrange of options.
The performance to dollar comparison is decent. The sound quality is hard to resist and these do give more expensive headphones a run for their money.
But it does lack some of the bells and whistles that other headphones offer. No extra cables, no extra ear pads, and no pouch. However, the headphone stand is a nice inclusion.
Budget buyers will have to look elsewhere, and if you want a pair of cans to listen to bass-heavy genres, I would also explore alternatives. But if you can afford these, they offer decent value when matched up against other comparable studio-focused headphones.
These headphones have been on the market for over a decade. In that time, they have gathered plenty of positive reviews. But more impressively, they continue to collect favorable reviews even today. A testament to how great these headphones are.
Peaks And Dips
One of the characteristics of a neutral sound profile is the lack of dips and peaks across the frequency response graph. This means that throughout the entire frequency range, the response stays as close to the baseline as possible.
A neutral response is critical for making music but equally great for casual listening.
This is a hallmark of accurate headphones that translate the source material as precisely as possible. Some manufacturers tend to keep this information under wraps. But you can find independent test results across the web for a range of headphones.
Headphones like the AKG K701 display a tight grip over the baseline. This neutral or flat profile is critical to effective mixing and mastering. But it is also essential for any lover of music. You want to hear the music in its purest form to appreciate a track fully. And a response that doesn’t display peaks and dips will deliver just that.
If you are looking for a pair of open-backed headphones, some excellent choices are available. Below, we take a quick look at three alternatives worth exploring.
Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro Review
The Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro is an excellent alternative to the K701. It is at a similar price point but offers a detachable cable and fantastic sound quality.
- An exceptionally natural and pleasing sound profile. Very accurate.
- Supreme comfort thanks to the super-soft ear padding.
- The connecting wires do stick out, and they could catch and lead to damage.
Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro
Sennheiser HD 600 Review
Sennheiser produces an excellent range of high-quality headphones for studio applications, and the HD 600 is one of the most recommended ones in the range.
- An ultra-flat response that is ideal for serious studio work.
- High build quality with replaceable components.
- Not as attractive compared to the K701.
Sennheiser HD 600
Audio-Technica ATH-R70x Review
The open-backed ATH-R70x is another excellent pair of open-backed headphones. Great sound profile, along with a reasonable price point.
- Fantastic clarity and detail with a wide soundstage.
- The unique wing-based headband offers incredible comfort.
- The high impedance demands a good headphone amp.
Should You Buy?
The AKG K701 has been around for a long time, yet it still keeps up with more modern headphones. It is an impressive feat and a testament to the superb team at AKG. But the choice to go for a non-detachable cable is one I can’t get behind.
While the AKG K701 is far from a perfect pair of headphones, the fantastic sound profile is hard to resist. Highly detailed, very accurate, and ideal for serious studio work. If you want a stylish and capable pair of open-backed headphones and can look past some flaws, these are a great investment.