AKG K701 Studio Reference Headphone Review
Are these the most comfortable headphones ever made?
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When it comes to high-end headphones, people gravitate to specific models for all sort of reasons. Some have beautifully detailed highs, some have booming lows, and others feature more newfangled features like stellar active noise cancellation or wireless connectivity.
For people who just want the most comfortable pair of over-ear headphones possible, the AKG K701 is absolutely the way to go. The AKG K701s have been around forever (we last reviewed them in 2011) and they've stuck around for good reason: they sound beautiful, they're almost perfectly designed, and putting them on feels like letting your head hit the pillow after a long day. They're that good.
Now, that doesn't mean they're perfect. As open-back headphones they don't isolate or reduce noise... at all. Almost everything you play with these on will be heard by your neighbors and anyone talking above a whisper in your vicinity is going to come through. But if you are buying headphones for the listening experience and not to drown out the world around you, these are dynamite.
The AKG K701s look like most over-ear headphones in that they feature two large earcups connected with a wide, flat band. The earcups are almost entirely plastic despite the metallic look, so they don't feel quite as premium as other headphones in the price range at first. Don't be fooled, though; the light weight is a real benefit for anyone listening to these for long stretches.
The earcups are made of an extremely soft velour with a 3D Form pad that fit our testers' ears perfectly. The headband features two radial arms with a flat strip of lined leather for some gentle resistance. It makes for an instant, automatic fit so the headphones seem to just rest on your head rather than clamp on, like some others.
The design is great, but these are clearly meant to be kept indoors and stationary. The cord isn't removable, the velour pads will get wrecked if you toss them in your bag, and there's nothing keeping your sound in or the elements out.
What We Like
A detailed, balanced sound that gets better with age
Like most mid-range high-end headphones, the AKG K701s are designed to match a variety of needs. They're generally well-balanced throughout the frequency range. They stay within studio limits, but they're not as flat as you might expect, giving a unique sound signature that gets better with time.
For most people, this will just come across as balanced and detailed, though anyone actually using these in a studio environment should know the highs get quite high. This gives highs a lot of life, but it can sound sibilant until you break the headphones in.
Comfort, comfort, comfort
One of the things that we focus on with our headphone reviews that often gets overlooked is comfort. If a great pair of headphones is difficult to wear for more than a half hour at a time, you're unlikely to keep wearing them. The AKG K701s do not have this problem; if anything, you won't want to take them off.
I'm not exaggerating when I saw that these are the most comfortable headphones I've ever worn, and second place isn't close. I do wish there were some other creature comforts so that I could wear these in more places, like a removable cord or better isolation, but they feel so good I'm willing to deal with that.
Lightweight, but well-built
With most consumer products, heftiness tends to lend a sense of quality. It's certainly true of headphones, where some manufacturers (especially knock-off manufacturers) have been known to glue in useless weights to make their products seem more premium than they are. It's a testament to AKG's discipline then that the K701s are mostly plastic.
It would be easy to swap out some more of the parts around the earcup or the band for metal foro aesthetic or design reasons, but sticking with plastic makes for a lighter overall build. That makes them even more comfortable to wear for long sessions, and is a big leg up over some of the competition.
Before you buy the AKG K701, take a look at these other headphones.
What We Don't Like
If headphones were cats, this would be an indoor kitty
If you buy the AKG K701, I highly suggest you leave them indoors. They're not especially well-built for travel or portability, they don't even bother trying to isolate sound, and everyone around you can hear whatever you're listening to. They're beautiful, beautiful headphones and they should last as long as possible. They're just not built for the great outdoors.
With heavy sound leakage, they aren't great for travel or the office
As with all open-back headphones, the AKG K701 are not meant to keep your music in or the world around you out. As a result they're only suitable if you have a quiet room to listen to, such as a listening room or a home office, where you won't disturb (or be disturbed by) others.
That's a shame, because these headphones are so comfortable that I want to wear them all day long at work. While I can get away with listening to them at a low volume, anything above that and you can hear them from across the room. If you need a closed-back version something like the AKG K271 II is a decent replica, though users indicate they don't sound as expansive.
Yes, if you want comfortable open-backed headphones.
There's no getting around it: either you want open-backed headphones or you don't. For most people, closed-back headphones make more sense. They are more useful in more situations because they can help isolate outside noise and prevent your music from leaking out to those around you. As someone who has been politely asked by a flight attendant to turn down my music because everyone else could hear it, trust me: you don't need that kind of embarassment.
But if you are in a situation where you want open-backed headphones, the AKG K701s are a treat. They feature one of the most beautifully detailed sound signatures around, especially if you're into music that features detailed high frequency work, such as classical. Where many headphones shy away from highs in favor of booming lows, the K701s keep on trucking right up to the limit.
The rest of the AKG K701's sound profile is nicely balanced, making these a solid choice for anyone who wants to use them in a studio or just prefers a balanced mix that doesn't try to blow you away with bass. The open design allows for a larger sense of space as well, which is prized by many audiophiles.
Most of all, the AKG K701s are simply the most comfortable headphones I've ever put on my head. They aren't too heavy, they fit perfectly, they require zero adjustments, and they don't clamp down on your head in any way. From a comfort standpoint, they are our gold standard. They're a bit on the pricey side given the limited appeal of the open-backed design, but if that's not a problem these are a must-try.
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