Current testing methodology is v1.2
June 17, 2003
4.45 x 7.83 x 8.35 in
After 10 years of flopping about in the sub-$100 budget range, my wants and my wallet finally aligned, giving me the chance to buy a proper “end-game” headphone.
Or at least something that I’ll be happy with for the next 5 years.
With the headphone market in 2022 the way that it is, there was naturally a lot to choose from.
But I long had my sights on just one – the AKG K701. This review will explain the reasons why I chose it, and hopefully explain why you might like it, too.
AKG K701 Reference Class Headphones
The most underrated of the Mid-Fi Trio, the AKG K701 offers top-class technical ability for a slightly lower price.
The bright and bass-light sound of the AKG K701 is often described as cold, sterile, and even boring.
As a reference headphone, this is intended as the K701 was never meant to please the ear, but to serve the recording.
And yet, with class-leading clarity and a soundstage matched by few others, there’s a lot to love in this headphone for those that are looking for it.
- Headphone Type: Open-back over-ear headphones
- Driver Type: 50mm dynamic driver
- Frequency Response: 10 – 39,800 Hz
- Max. Input Power: 200 mW
- Sensitivity: 105 dB/V at 1kHz
- Impedance: 62 Ω at 1kHz
- Cable: Fixed 3m (~10″) cable
- Connector: 6.3mm (1/4″) gold-plated straight TRS
- Release Year: 2006
- MSRP: $450 (reviewed at $200)
What’s in the Box?
- AKG K701 headphones
- Display case box
- Headphone display stand
- 6.3mm to 3.5mm adapter
Stuff I like
- Class-leading clarity
- Pristine midrange
- Massive, airy soundstage
- 24/7 comfort
Stuff I like less
- Weak bass response
- Can be too sterile or boring
- Non-removable cable
Where to get it
Comparable products to consider
The AKG K701, but black-and-white and has a removable cable. It’s the more practical headphone in all respects—but if you ask me, the K701 still looks prettier.
The longtime rival of the K701, the HD 650 offers a more laid-back and intimate rendering of music that has found wider appeal among listeners, commanding much higher street prices as a result.
Overview & History
Released in 2006, the AKG K701 was, at one point, one of the best headphones money could buy.
Audiophile communities at the time often considered it one part of the “Mid-Fi Trio” – a group of high-performance ~$400 headphones that included the K701, the Beyerdynamic DT880, and the Sennheiser HD650.
Some 15-plus years on, these three headphones can still be bought today, but some have stayed more popular than others. More on this later.
The AKG K701 has received several successors during this time, such as the K702, the K712 Pro, and the Massdrop-collaboration K7XX.
Despite this, the K701 is still in active production and has even received slight revisions following AKG’s rather colorful history.
Packaging & Accessories
A standout feature of the K701 is, of course, it’s the packaging.
Where its successors come in more standard text-and-graphics boxes, the K701 comes in a bold display case with a thick acrylic front panel.
The headphones are also presented on a stand, which is a cute additional detail that distracts a bit from the lack of anything else in the box.
At 235 grams, the AKG K701 is on the lighter and arguably flimsier side as far as high-end headphones go.
This is made possible by the mostly-plastic construction and the suspended headband design inherited from the K240 Monitor and earlier designs.
The design involves keeping the headphones together with fixed plastic arches while a leather band is suspended across the head and adjusted by elastics. This removes the need for a headband adjustment mechanism, reducing weight.
Regardless, the K701 is built about as well as you’d expect. There are no issues with creaking or low tolerances, and it should be able to handle a few hard knocks and pulls of its non-removable cable.
This is not an outdoor headphone by any means but indoors and in studio environments, it was built for, the K701 feels right at home.
While the headphones are pretty light already, the K701 does an excellent job of making the headphones feel even lighter than they are.
The headband is wide and spreads pressure across the head very evenly, plus the headphones’ velour earpads and relatively low clamping force minimize heat buildup.
The result is a headphone that you can (and I have) worn for 24 hours without any serious discomfort.
It’s worth noting, though, that the earpads of the K701 use rather firm foam that doesn’t really compress when worn. While they’re still comfortable regardless, it did take some getting used to at first.
The Mid-Fi Trio – the AKG K701, Beyerdynamic DT880, and Sennheiser HD650 – were collectively regarded as the top of their class as professional reference headphones.
Over the years, though, the K701 has been left behind in terms of popularity, with the HD650 being recommended to new buyers far more often than the other two.
Given that all three have been seen as basically comparable then, what brought about the change? Let’s investigate.
Arguably the most noticeable quality of the K701 is its very clean and lean bass response.
While it extends far enough to cleanly render the sub-bass range, such as in Nine Lives by Tennyson, there’s simply not enough of it for most listeners to find enjoyable for heavy EDM genres.
The way the rest of the K701’s sound signature interacts with the bass doesn’t help much, either, as I will detail later.
For those that listen past this, you’ll be rewarded with a fast and tight bass response that dances right over difficult low-end passages with ease. You can take Supersonic (My Existence) by Skrillex as an example.
Would I like more bass from the K701? Maybe. But by doing that, I’d risk losing that speed and clarity that makes these headphones the reference they are.
Indeed, clarity is one of K701’s core strengths and is a big reason for my preference for this over most other alternatives.
The midrange demonstrates this very well, with an almost perfectly neutral response through the lower and middle registers that allow the recording to shine through cleanly and plainly.
See what I mean when you listen to Hike by Rob Araujo.
There’s also a bit of a resonance bump in the upper midrange that adds a sort of airiness to the K701’s tone. It’s this, along with the lean bass, that has most listeners describing the K701 as “cold” or “sterile”.
Personally, I like this tonality. While comparable headphones can reproduce as much detail, the K701 makes small details a bit easier to pick up on.
The K701’s treble is another one of my favorite qualities about it. However, what other people have to say about it is that it’s divisive, to say the least.
On one hand, it’s crisp and bright without being needlessly harsh. The lean bass helps quite a bit here, giving the top end more room for the listener to hear its many details, such as in Daft Punk’s Contact.
On the other hand, some may say it’s too bright – which is only made more apparent as there isn’t much bass to compensate.
Regardless of what one thinks of its sound signature, one thing is certain – the AKG K701 has some of the largest headphone soundstages you can find on the market.
Short of the simulated surround, the K701 is one of the closest you can get to music that feels like it’s playing from around your head.
We touched on the K701’s earpads a bit earlier in the review and if you’ve kept a keen eye on the pictures so far, a good chunk of them have been taken with an aftermarket pair from Geekria.
As it turns out, different earpads do produce a noticeable change in the K701’s sound.
To that end, I’ve tested the K701 with three different pairs: velour earpads from Geekria, the stock velour earpads included with the K701s, and Dekoni Audio Elite Hybrids.
From my experience, the stock earpads are by far the leanest. The Geekria pads sound mostly similar but seem to smoothen over the K701’s upper midrange in a way that brings back a bit of the low bass. The Dekoni earpads outright turn the K701 into a noticeably warmer-sounding headphone.
While I don’t have the resources to test this scientifically, it seems to me that the material of the earpads and how well the earpads press and seal against your head are responsible for producing these changes.
Now, I do want to make this very clear: buying aftermarket earpads should never be a requirement to properly enjoy a pair of headphones.
And indeed, the K701 has cemented itself as my personal reference pair just as is.
But if you do find yourself with a K701 in your possession and don’t quite like its overly lean sound, a change of earpads might just give it the slight shift you are looking for.
Throughout this review, I’ve made sure to point out that the K701 is not a very popular pair of headphones, especially when compared to the rest of the Mid-Fi Trio.
Thankfully, its decline in popularity in favor of the HD650 has made the K701 vastly more affordable.
Despite all three headphones retailing for over $400 in the 2000s, the street price for the K701 often drops below $200 if you know where to look. By comparison, the HD650 is still sold for over $300 today.
I do want to emphasize that the K701 is by no means an inferior headphone and its street prices only serve to make it a sweeter deal.
If the fixed cable, open-back design, and lightweight build were any indication, the AKG K701 was designed from the ground up as a mixing headphone for the home or studio.
Their bright sound signature and pristine clarity have been invaluable to me as someone who dabbles in music production and recording.
Since they are open-back, though, I wouldn’t use them for monitoring when recording singing as the sound leakage can get picked up by condenser microphones.
They became my daily driver as soon as they arrived and before long, I found their sound to be quite enjoyable for anything from music to gaming.
The AKG K701 is not a headphone for everyone.
Its sound is unforgiving that it quickly turns away most listeners, giving it descriptions like “harsh”, “cold”, “sterile” and many variations.
It’s all of these qualities that made me fall in love with these headphones in the first place and now serve as my benchmark for all other headphones I own and will own.
And for those that specifically want this kind of lean, analytical sound (or are willing to embrace it), you might find the K701 to be a pair of headphones worth considering.
Freelance writer, part-time streamer, full-time disappointment. Got into headphones too early in life and now knows too much about them.
This post was last updated on 2023-03-20 / Some images from Amazon Product API & some links may be affiliate links which may earn us a commission from purchases.