Disclaimer: this review was originally posted in French on Audiofanzine.fr. With their kind permission we translated the text to English and published here for you to enjoy.
The Austrian manufacturer AKG, not content to simply have microphones in its catalog, notably the C414 and the C12, also manufactures headphones whose reputation have reached far beyond the borders of its small country.
One of the most notable of these is the K702 which has pleased hobbyists and professionals for years. We are excited and curious to test the K812. The K812 is the crown jewel of its line at a price of nearly 1200 €. So, is it worth it?
We think that 150 € is a good starting price for “professional” headphones that are reliable enough for serious work. We have noticed in the past that models priced around 300 € are significantly better than those at 150 €. At 300 € you get a bit more balance and precision. For double the price, you certainly do not get double the quality; however, there is a significant improvement that is well worth your money.
IT’S OVER 900 (€)
Most manufacturers make one or more high-end models. These are usually priced over 1000 €. This price, three to four times higher than that of many well-performing models, raises a few questions. What would be the advantage, if there is any, over “my good ‘ole headphones”? We will address these questions in this test, which will compare the K702 (which sells for less than 200 €), a pair of headphones which we have had and enjoyed for a long time, to the most recent and expensive K812 (around 1200 €).
There are two things that we must note before jumping into the test. The K812, even if it has a price often attributed to “Hi-Fi” or “audiophile” material, is described by the manufacturer – just as the K702 – as a pair of headphones made for mixing and monitoring. So, the goal of these two models of headphones is the same. Know as well that there is an in-between model in the Austrian manufacturer’s catalog – the K712 costs around 350 € and takes its place between the K702 and the K812; however, we don’t have it on hand for this test.
CLASSY, COMFORTABLE, AND DELIGHTFUL
When opened, even with the price in mind, we had to confess that the K812 doesn’t disappoint. It has a simple yet classy look with its charcoal grey exterior and its subtle silver borders. It has a convenient 3 meter detachable cable and weighs only 390 grams. That, along with its classy wooden stand, convinced us that we were dealing with some very high-end headphones!
The manufacturer tells us that inside the headphones there is a 53mm transducer (its largest) as well as a 1.5 Tesla magnet with lightweight aluminum-copper coils. From a technical standpoint, know that the K812 is a pair of open headphones, with a 36 ohm impedance and replaceable cushions. Note also some characteristics affecting its mobility: the headphones do not fold and have no remote. However, this is totally reasonable in view of the high-end, sedentary nature of the K812.
We liked the light, comfortable fit of the K702, but the K812 raises the bar even higher. The cushions are shaped to perfectly fit the ears and head. Once put on, they stay perfectly in place and are so comfortable that you could forget you’re wearing them. It is a real pleasure to wear these headphones. Now all we have to do is plug them in…
For this test, we organized a new testing protocol in addition to the classic, comparative listening test. With the precious aid of our partner, Sonarworks, we were able to make precise graphs of frequency response and magnitude. These graphs were elaborated by professionals who do this kind of work in a lab on a daily basis. They have extensive experience, and you’ll get to read their professional opinion. Isn’t life great?
We’ll start with the frequency response of the K812, followed by that of the K702:
We can clearly see that these two headphones have the same origin, and a certain signature AKG sound. The bottom of the spectrum is fairly linear and the top of the spectrum is well developed. Our first observation on the K812 is that there is a difference in bass between the right and left channels. In fact, the right channel has around 2dB more on the entire low register (between 50 and 400 Hz), something that we don’t see on the K702. So there’s the first disappointment. We also found a significant – up to 6 dB – drop between 2 and 3 kHz, which are important frequencies for mixing. The K702 also has variation in these medium-high frequencies, but never more than +3 or -2 dB. In the higher frequencies, the K702 peaks to just over 6 dB between 6 and 10 kHz; however, the K812 peaks to nearly 10 dB at 10 kHz. The overall graph for the K812 is clearly rougher than that of its little brother, the K702. That’s good for recreational listening, but not so good for mixing.
Next, here are the magnitudes of the two pairs of headphones:
Here we are surprised to see less magnitude on the K702, whatever the volume. Both headphones manage to stay under 2% for the entire spectrum at 83 dB; however, the K812 starts jumping at 93 dB between 2 and 4 kHz and in the extreme low register. The K702 has no need to cower before its big brother; in fact, the exact opposite is the case.
Now we will talk about the headphones’ performance while listening to music.
Johnny Cash – Hurt
When listening to this Jonny Cash song, there is a clear similarity between these two AKG headphones; the audio and dynamic sound the same to us. However, whether we’re listening to Cash’s acoustic guitar or his voice, the biggest difference between the two models is felt in the 1/1.5 kHz range. In fact, the K702 peaks 3 dB while the K812 dips 6 dB, which makes around a 9 dB difference for certain frequencies. This results in an emptier, less “in your face” sound on the K812. Cash’s throat and nasal sounds are more prominent on the K702 whereas the K812 puts more emphasis on silence and air. Both headphones are very nice to listen to; however, it seems that the K702 tends to be less flattering to the ear as it lets through frequencies that are often a bit “hard,” yet that are necessary for mixing.
Gorillaz – Feel Good Inc.
On this song, we hear the K812’s more developed lower registers, and it’s very nice. However, the difference between the two pairs of headphones is still relatively subtle, and even if the K702 has less prominent lower frequencies, they are both still very precise. On the mediums and the highs, the drop at 1 kHz is clearly heard on the K812, which is manifested through voices and certain instruments having a hollow, distant sound. The general sound of the K812 is very nice; it is never aggressive while at the same time it is fairly detailed. However, the audio sounds more realistic on the K702, even if sometimes realistic doesn’t sound pretty!
Michael Jackson – Liberian Girl
We’ll finish with this piece by Bambi. The pad in the introduction doesn’t really let us hear a clear difference between the two pairs of headphones because both of them have a well-developed high register, so that we can hear this part of the song very clearly. When Michael Jackson starts singing, the K702 clearly brings out his voice in a very natural manner, while the K812 makes him sound a bit less human and a bit more ghost-like. This is mostly due to its balance of medium frequencies in contrast with the high and low extremes. On this piece, the K702 acts a bit like a magnifying glass that lets us hear certain elements with precision, while the K812 gives us a sound more suited to recreational listening.
To summarize, the K812 seems to be less fit for mixing than its little brother the K702. It has more balanced mediums than the rest of the spectrum. However, the K812 has shown itself to also be very agreeable, both in terms of audio as well as comfort. It has a nice feel and decent clarity in the higher registers, but as we have already said, it seems that the K702 is a much better option when it comes to mixing and audio production.
The opinion of Sonarworks
AKG did a fantastic job with the comfort and quality of these headphones’ construction. The K812’s sound is reminiscent of traditional “studio” headphones that sound far too bright for mixing or mastering. For its price, we would have liked the tonal signature to be more balanced. After all, there are much less expensive pairs of headphones that provide a similar spectral balance.
We were expecting a “super” K702; however, in the end we found ourselves with a pair of headphones that comes from a prominent line of descent, yet in the end also proposes a very different philosophy. It is somewhat unbalanced in the middle and high frequencies, and its audio performance doesn’t necessarily outdo that of its much less expensive younger brother. Its audio is still nice and detailed and it is perfectly comfortable to wear. Its appearance and physical quality live up its high-class origins. We would recommend these headphones to a rich, musical amateur rather than to somebody in a home studio who wants a useful tool and doesn’t care about its appearance. The first is looking for a toy, the other for a tool.