Are we quite sure, and this is a question we would like to ask our faithful and numerous readers, that the high-end headphones market is going in the right direction?
Each manufacturer is trying to set the trend, both in design and marketing to catch firstly the attention of their fans and then that of potential buyers. We, in our small way, having had direct contact and worked in the world of professional audio, lean towards products that have a solid reputation and sound as their own trademark. For many years the headset has always been a fundamental tool for our work to listen and tonally correct songs recorded by various artists, but also to evaluate the quality of a whole range of professional audio equipment. AKG must have been of the same opinion, as over the years, it has developed and marketed a wide range of professional headphones to facilitate industry professionals. The AKG brand, due to its reputation and market penetration, needs no introduction as it has churned out several high-performance models aimed at the professional market. This Austrian company has decided to take a quite different direction by introducing variants of the K701, such as the K702, Q701, K702 and K712 65th Anniversary Edition. However, while many manufacturers have attacked the market with four-digit prices, AKG has always desisted from doing so, at least until its many fans around the world begun to clamour for a new headset. The AKG K812 was finally born, resulting in an headset developed for the professional market, but that is also attractive to the more demanding enthusiasts.
To be honest, although we don’t want to dampen your enthusiasm, AKG has produced a truly aesthetically pleasing headset. The box, or maybe it would be better to call it a treasure chest, that encloses the headset is black and opaque and at first glance inspires a certain awe. Once opened, the headphones rest softly inside on a headset port made from mahogany. Once extracted, we can see that the K812 is a full-size, circumaural, dynamic and open headphone. The product’s colour is gunmetal grey combined with black and brushed metal. The headband is composed of two main bands of metal coated with a synthetic coating which is soft but very resistant. The leather central band is suspended beneath two arches, with a layer of breathable mesh. Once put on, in order to easily adjust it to the size of your head, there are stepped settings on both inner sides of the arches. These adjustments are rather stiff and therefore it’s not easy to find the correct height of the bow while wearing them, but once you have found the right calibration the K812 remains firmly on.
We can say that the headphones are lightweight and comfortable without giving any sense of occlusion. The contact of the earpads is pleasant. In fact, they are made of leather protein with memory foam and their conformation is quite unique. The opening of the center hole is narrower than the internal dimension of the ear, which is rather spacious. It may seem funny and possibly of little consequence, but people with generous sized ears will not have any problem wearing the K812. The exterior skin of the inner earpad has a great additional lip with the words Sound Sealing imprinted above, as if to emphasize better insulation in the most problematic point where the skull, neck and jaw come together in a unique way for each user. The transducer is the largest that K812 AKG has ever built measuring less than 53 mm. The magnetic flux generated by the generous driver headset is 1.5 Tesla. According to AKG specs, the coil coated aluminum copper extends the frequency response to up to 54 kHz. The headset is equipped with a detachable 3 meters long cable finished with the classic 6.3 mm unbalanced gold-plated plug.
All headsets, like the rest of the speakers, require a rather long burn-in time. Therefore, we made sure we let the K812 play for at least 150 hours before making our critical listening tests. The amplifiers used for the test were the Bryston BHA-1, SPL Phonitor 2 and the Lake People G100 connected from time to time to the balanced line outputs of our new reference DAC, the Tobby by FireStone Audio. We wanted to compare, given its market positioning and price, the AKG top of the range with the Sennheiser flagship HD-800. We started our listening texts by connecting the K812 to Phonitor 2 and using our high resolution reference songs. From the beginning the headset showed a very good headstage and an excellent transient articulation. The detail on medium-high frequencies is very good as well as the bass performance. The performance of the bass has always been, in the past, a weak point for AKG. In the case of the K812, the bass is pretty full and deep although it seems as if it’s blocked and held back by an invisible hand. When compared to the HD-800, the latter goes a little lower and shows a more dynamic sound performance in the low frequencies without any constraints whatsoever. The tone of the two headphones is quite similar and both have a pretty wide soundstage.
When connecting the K812 to the Bryston we noted that the headstage remains at high levels. The tone of the headset, however, becomes slightly softer especially at low frequencies when the AKG seems to descend a little less in the low end and with a smaller, but still noticeable, authority when compared to the HD-800. At these frequencies the sound of the headphone becomes drier and less round, as the Bryston slightly dries the lower part of the sound spectrum, highlighting the blocked bass of the K812 even more. Voices and acoustic instruments don’t undergo any change in the same manner as when the K812 is driven by the Phonitor 2. We can therefore say, without going into apodictic considerations, that the K812 is complementary to Phonitor 2 as the HD-800 is complementary to Bryston BHA-1. If you then connect the HD-800 in balanced mode to the two amplifiers, the headphone takes flight going to a higher level when compared to the K812 which is left with an unbalanced connection that prevents it expressing, at least in our opinion, its full potential. Comparing then the two headphones with the Lake People G100 both have a very similar sonic level. The HD-800 is slightly more precise on transients articulation and on attacks and releases of individual notes. In any case, the G100’s warm timbre helps to rebalance the two headphones sound response.
The AKG K812 is definitely a very good product. It’s a headset created for audio professionals who need to have a reference listen without any compromises, while some audiophiles might find it much less musical as the AKG fearlessly reveals all the flaws of the source or the music you’re listening to. The K812 is also affected by the kind of amplification with which it’s fed. It must have a powerful amplifier of the same quality level in order to make the drivers work properly and above all to provide the necessary thrust at low frequencies. In this regard, we found excellent pairing with the Phonitor 2 professional amplifier. Therefore, we think that this combo could easily reside on a permanent basis in many recording studios or in all enviroments that require analytic listening. The K812 has to be burned-in for a number of hours in order to be able to express its full potential by providing genres such as classical music, jazz tunes and high resolution tracks the attention they deserve. To conclude, the remarkable sonic qualities of the AKG K812 would lead us to highly recommend it not only to all audio professionals, but also to more demanding audiophiles.
I really liked listening to the AKG K812 and using it as a tool for professional audio applications especially in combination with the Phonitor 2. If the AKG came with a stock balanced cable, the potential of the headphone would be greatly increased. This would allow it to benefit, and not just a little bit, from more defined, fuller articulation and rendering of bass frequencies. If the HD-800 was not already on the market, the AKG K812 would be the first headphone that I would buy immediately. Although it falls in the category of headphones made for professionals who give more importance to analicity than musicality, there are more and more people like myself, who are looking for a product of this type and with this sound. In this case, the AKG K812 is probably the best you can buy.
- Sound quality 
- Bang for the buck 
- Measures 
- Build quality 
- Versatility 
- Overall rating
- 1. The sound quality is really excellent especially for professional use
- 2. The bang for the buck of the headset is pretty good when compared to the price
- 3. The measures reported a very good linearity on different parameters
- 4. Build quality and aesthetics are really very good indeed
- 5. The versatility is not as wide. The headset is affected by the amplifier to which it’s coupled to