Massdrop x AKG K7XX
It’s safe to say that Massdrop has played a decent role in both introducing new products to the headphone community while highlighting others through their group-purchase system. The headphone I’m going to tackle today is their collaboration with Austrian manufacturer AKG, a Chinese-made version of their K702 65th Anniversary Edition rebranded as the K7XX that retails for $199 on the site.
I had been interested in this headphone for some time now as praise has been showered on it for its price-to-performance ratio – with special consideration being given to its soundstage and imaging. I got my hands on one recently and this is what I found.
Configured by Massdrop
Manufactured by AKG
Pre-selected dynamic transducers
Flat-wire voice coil
Varimotion two-layer diaphragm
Genuine leather headband
Memory foam earpads with velour covering
Individually tested and numbered
Detachable 9.8 ft (3 m) straight cable with 1/8 in (3.5 mm) jack
Frequency response: 10 to 39,800 Hz
Sensitivity: 105 dB/V
Maximum input power: 200 mW
Rated impedance: 62 Ohms
8.3 oz (235 g)
Build, Comfort & Features
I have not felt a full-sized headphone as effortless to wear as this since I sold my Beyerdynamic DT-990 600 Ohm. There is no incremental adjustment on the sides, much like the Meze 99 Classic, so you just pull it over your head and it stays in place. Comfort is supreme, absolutely supreme. The only issue I can imagine is during intense summer heat, which my locale actually had last week during a heatwave. Without air conditioning in such weather, the soft velour pads of the K7XX can get quite hot and bothersome.
The build itself can be described in a single word: plastic. That really is all there is to it. I was briefly fooled by one part and mentioned in my video review that it looked like a small piece of thin metal, but that is just brushed plastic too. While on one hand, this keeps the cost low and the weight light, these are not very durable and I’ve read of many accounts of creaking issues after some time of use.
The box really does not include much. Just the headphones, the cable and a small 1/8 to ¼ adapter. The cable is one of my favourite aspects of the K7XX as it is removable. I applaud such a quality showing up in a $199 pair of headphones just as much as I lament it not being included in $399, $449 and $499 pairs of headphones also being sold on Massdrop.
Before I even dissect the bass, mids and treble of the K7XX – I must address its most conspicuous feature. The soundstage is the widest I have heard yet on a pair of headphones, beating the previous champion of my list – the Beyerdynamic DT-990 600 ohm edition. The soundstage and imaging go hand-in-hand to create an out-of-head-space experience that truly lends credence to the term “surround sound.” A good test of such an attribute is a binaural recording, and this headphone was able to let me pinpoint a person’s almost inaudible movements while standing behind the binaural microphone setup. What really helps with the imaging is the speed of the headphones. They are in no way a planar magnetic level of speed, but they provide an excellent experience and fast transient response for $199. Panning audio in songs is effortless and not laid back at all.
I have read that the major change to the K702 65th Anniversary Edition, and therefore the K7XX, from the original K702 was a three decibel increase in bass. How I wrap my mind around such a number is by imagining two bass ports on the ZMF Vibro Mk. I that I used to have, each one controlling one-and-a-half decibels of bass. With that knowledge, it is a substantial increase and by no means a basshead-pleasing one – but one to round off the low end and add body to the music played. Due to this, I would not characterize the K7XX as being a bright headphone but rather a warm one. The bass is fast but, obviously, not planar magnetic levels of fast but it is very smooth. There is definite roll-off so some genres of music would not be suitable for use – such as really bass-dependent EDM and hip hop tracks.
The midrange gives a clean feeling to it. It is not recessed, stark nor syrupy sweet – like the Hifiman HE-500. It’s just there, and vocals and instruments utilizing it will be heard as such. It just exists, if that makes sense. If the K7XX was a sports team, the midrange would be a role-player and not the star of the show – which the soundstage is. By all means, do not take my words as negative in this matter because music does sound quite full bodied in the midrange for most genres. It’s just those certain times where you feel like vocals and instruments sound a little thinner than they should. This could probably be changed with the right amp setup, for I do hear a slight improvement using my Cavalli Audio Liquid Carbon in this regard.
The treble takes my old term of “comfortably extended” and raises it just a slight amount more. Suddenly, there is more sparkle to music and the “air” around instruments is more distinguishable. Sibilance is only reached rarely in music that was not mixed/mastered properly. One can be grateful for the treble extension and detail because of how drum cymbals are so easily elevated from the rest of the instruments, and then be grateful for the immense soundstage because where they can rest in the mix accurately.
Is it a performer? Absolutely. Will it take down the more expensive and heavier hitters in the audio world? Not really. While the sound itself has been a welcome surprise for the price range, the actual selling point of these headphones is definitely just mid-fi all-round usage and immense soundstage. This actually influenced me to come up with a new sub-section for this review.
Yes gentlemen and gentler men, the K7XX is by far the absolute best gaming headphones I have ever heard. If you have the budget, and it is indeed a budget you will require for reasons that will follow below, then do away with your Razer, Steelseries, Kingston and other gaming headsets and buy these instead. I have not had a comparable experience with audio clarity when it comes to gaming from anything I have owned before. I play Overwatch these days and every footstep and ability trigger/voiceover rang out incredibly in the overall game sound design thanks to how well the K7XX was keeping up.
All those aspects that gaming companies’ marketing divisions like to yell about is indeed present in the K7XX, to a realistic level. You can actually make out where an enemy is by the sound of their footsteps growing louder or softer in a direction. Will it give you that L337 gaming edge you’ve been looking for since you first jumped into Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s online-mode? I can’t say, only you can, champ.
This is where it gets a bit tricky. You might be fooled by the 62 ohms impedance of the K7XX, but these are not very easy headphones to drive. They are nowhere near Hifiman HE-6 levels of difficult, but they do need proper amping if you want to enjoy all aspects of its sound. I have three amps in my possession and let’s see how they compare:
Cavalli Audio Liquid Carbon
While this amp adds a little body to the midrange due to its warm characteristic, my specific model is not one I would pair with the likes of the K7XX because it does fall into the “low impedance” realm that is problematic with some first run Liquid Carbons such as mine. There is a humming issue, greatly exacerbated if on high gain (which I don’t recommend with these headphones in general).
Venture Electronics RunAbout Plus
This portable-sized amplifier actually packs a good punch to it and a sound signature that isn’t quite warm but isn’t quite neutral. It even drives my ZMF Omni, a planar magnetic Fostex T50RP mod, somewhat decently. However, the K7XX loses a fair amount of its bass response and tightness when paired with it. It’s the same problem I notice if you try to run the headphones through the likes of a smartphone, the bass becomes quieter and a tad distorted.
Schiit Magni 2
I keep calling this “probably the only amp you’ll ever need” and I keep being proven right. The clean power that it provides synergizes very well with the K7XX. I keep it on low gain and it is more than enough to control the bass and have the sound blazing on all cylinders – just don’t expect an especially melodious or magical pairing. It is just adding volume and power, nothing more.
I am satisfied with the K7XX. That is the best way I can put it. I didn’t expect magic but I did receive some in a small way, the soundstage and imaging is a great selling point as it its allrounder functionality. In terms of build, mine don’t creak so much and I bought them used so your mileage may indeed vary if a new pair starts to do so after a few weeks.
Ultimately, I see the K7XX as a very capitalist pair of headphones. This took an item that was limited edition and priced over $400 and brought it down to $199 simply by switching some build materials and moving production to China. However, unlike Walmart, you can’t really hate on Massdrop and AKG for the birth of the K7XX because it is indeed bringing a quality headphone within the reach of those who are starting out in the audio game or those who want something relatively inexpensive but different to complement their main set of cans. If you can amp it, go for it I say. I’ll be using these for gaming and movies for sure.
Bass Quantity: TH-X00 > Classic 99 > ZMF Omni > ZMF Vibro Mk. I > HE400i > DT990 > K7XX > HE-500 > HD600
Mids: HE-500 > HD600 > ZMF Omni > Classic 99 > HE400i > ZMF Vibro Mk. I > K7XX > TH-X00 > DT990
Treble Quantity: DT990 > HE400i > TH-X00 > K7XX > Classic 99 > HE-500 > HD600 > ZMF Omni > ZMF Vibro Mk. I
Soundstage: K7XX > DT990 > HE-500 > ZMF Omni > HD600 > HE400i > ZMF Vibro Mk. I > Classic 99 > TH-X00
Comfort: DT990 > K7XX > TH-X00 > HE400i > HD600 > ZMF Omni > Classic 99 > ZMF Vibro Mk. I > HE-500
Aesthetics: Classic 99 > TH-X00 > ZMF Omni > ZMF Vibro Mk. I > HE400i > DT990 > K7XX > HE-500 > HD600
Lightness: Classic 99 > K7XX > DT990 > TH-X00 > HD600 > HE400i > ZMF Vibro Mk. I > ZMF Omni > HE-500
Equipment used: Foobar200 WASAPI Event > Schiit Wyrd > Schiit Gungnir USB Ver. 2 > Venture Schiit Magni 2.
All tracks in lossless FLAC in at least 16/44.1
Aerosmith – Dream On (2012 Remaster)
A headphone’s soundstage always makes or breaks this song in my opinion. With the ability to space out and separate the instrumental, the K7XX does this song justice in a manner that is out of reach of headphones like the TH-X00. The low end is not overly bassy, but well-rounded so that the bass guitar finds itself comfortably in the mix. Nothing is drowned out either in the instrumental.
a-ha – Take On Me
While missing the incredibly low reach of the TH-X00’s sub-bass, the K7XX does an admirable job of opening up the song’s instrumental and vocal layering so that the 80s synthesizers have more of a sparkle to them – so far removed they are from the low end. The superior imaging of the K7XX really plays well into the panning synthesizer runs in the bridge section.
Alan Parson’s Project – Sirius
This track synergizes very well with the K7XX, which delivers warmth and body to the low end while maintaining a treble extension that allows the shimmering string section and synths to stand out in the mix rather effortlessly. The song is a builder, and every instrument is represented well as the layers stack.
Black Sabbath – Planet Caravan
While the soundstage is undoubtedly incredible, there is a certain artificial nature to Ozzy’s voice in this song compared to the likes of the HE-500. I chalk this up to the superior mids of the Hifiman headphone. The piano on the left channel at the end does not sound as natural either. Not by any means a poor listen however – owing to the really good allrounder status that the K7XX has.
Prince – Controversy
While not oozing effort in the midrange, the K7XX does quite a good job at holding the song’s driving nature at the seams. The presentation is disciplined, but the sub-bass of other headphones in my possession is missed for that oomph sound in the beat.
Billy Joel – We Didn’t Start the Fire
One of my favourite listens with the K7XX. The production gels with the strengths of the headphones to provide a complete and fun listening experience. The overdubs ring out clearly due to the large soundstage with the bass-boosted nature of the headphones provide a good sense of fast pacing with the kick drum.
Blink-182 – I Miss You
The two acoustic guitar tracks ring out incredibly on the two channels. Not quite a punk rock song by a pop-punk band, the mature melody and instrumentation is really well served by the K7XX on all fronts.
Chris Isaak – Wicked Game
I return to this song with every song impression and with good reason as it is very good at highlighting the strengths of various headphones. In this case, as aforementioned, the incredible soundstage benefits the song in a large manner. The warmth also makes the acoustic guitars sound rich and lifelike. However, the vocal is not as pleasing as it would have been on the HE-500 or ZMF Omni, but one must consider the incredible price differences in making that comparison. As also mentioned before, it is still a great listen on its own and quite excellent for $199.
Clint Mansell – Lux Aeterna
As the string sections creeps up on the listener, the fast nature of the K7XX comes into play as the whole presentation is very controlled and effortless. The different sections are spaced out well. The higher pitched main melody, played on a violin, maintains a decent amount of air around it but not an incredible amount due to the extension of the treble being as a “comfortable” level. What is most impressive is that I can name a number/degree from 0 to 180 for exactly where each string section is in the mix.
Coldplay – Clocks
The K7XX separates the tracks incredibly in this densely layered track, giving the backing ethereal synth-pad a lot of body. The piano rests in the right channel, far from the guitar work on the left – all while Chris Martin’s vocal rings out above it all.
Eminem – Without Me
I was taken by surprise here, the 3 dB of bass bump that is present on the K7XX compared to the K702 really shows on tracks like this. While the bass is not the centre of attention like it is on the TH-X00, it isn’t entirely lacking either. If anything, the whole song sounds “clean.” The extended treble makes the snare and hihat bite through the mix however, something to consider if you are treble sensitive.
Fleetwood Mac – Dreams
The cymbal on the right side is further to the right than with any other piece of audio gear I own currently, another fact attesting the vast soundstage. The bass guitar work does not feel as tight however. The vocal layering in the chorus is not as rich as the HE-500 either. What is done the best is the sense of space and the treble lending a decent amount of air to the production.
Metallica – The Unforgiven
The Black Album probably has the best production on a Metallica record to date, but it can feel a bit hollow on some headphones due to how much it relies on low end and midrange body. So what I hear is a lot of sparkle in the cymbals and crashes but not so much weight behind the guitar section except with the acoustic guitars kick in in the intro and chorus. The guitar solo however sounds pretty good, with its overdubs adding to its presence. However it is only a small section of the song.