The Ballad of the AKG K812
The wake of the Planar Magnetic Wave of 2011-2013 hit us hard and without warning, sweeping most like myself out to sea and creating a bit of a bias towards Planar design. That yummy, meaty sound signature in the Planar headphones out there is very hard to ignore and borders on addictive. It was a serious shock to my system when I had first heard AKG had planned to stick to their guns with this new Summit level K812 headphone. Opting for a dynamic driver design right in the middle of the Planar tsunami might not have been the wisest course of action.
This headphone has a somber problem with treble. It is hyper dry and distributes some of the most boring upper ends of any Summit level headphone that I am aware of. Naturally, audio enthusiasts are probably most interested in how the K812 compares to the Sennheiser HD800’s…it doesn’t compare and certainly lags a bit behind in clarity potential. The K812 sounds a bit muted, recessed and absolutely out of control on the upper end of the spectrum. By comparison, the HD800 sounds tonally beautiful, all be it with the potential to be equally as ugly depending on the track quality. However, the HD-800 has the aptitude to sound truly prodigious with the right amp and a proper high quality track. The K812 will never solicit that dazzlingly gorgeous appeal, nor will it ever sound even remotely tangible or well formed.
Despite total nuclear disaster in the treble experience, the K812 midrange presentation is bloody marvelous. I find solidity a problem with dynamic headphone midrange, as most headphones with this driver tech seem to offer a thinner and less solid feel from top to bottom. Such is not the case with the K812, as it renders a very good sense of solidity to most of the frequency range without sounding overly firm or weighty. This is why I love the K812 as a vocalist headphone, it offers an unforgettably well textured, moderately-forward sound stage. Excellent staging qualities fuzed with a more engaging flare to the physical locale of the midrange vocal experience tends to fully accentuate all vocals. As a result, a midrange bloom effect takes place. While not as spacious sounding as the Sennheiser HD800, the AKG K812 certainly remains one of the largest sounding headphones on the market, offering plentiful low end as well as excellent separation of instruments from left to right. It procures more of a wide screen effect, something similar to the Stax 007 in width shape but exudes noticeably more height and air to the sound stage. Where the HD800 is a very large square in terms of stereo imaging shape, the K812 has more of a rectangle with noticeably less height and depth by comparison.
Midrange Bloom: When the midrange protrudes outward more so than the bass and treble that feel a bit more relaxed by comparison.
The general tone of this headphone is closer to slightly studio monitor sounding with a moderately dark background. If you love the monitor tonality and crave a more comfortable headphone, this is the headphone for you. Offering excellent comfort and efficiency, the K812 is one of very few truly well rounded headphones that sounds grand almost anywhere you utilize it. Those who desire a bit more bass, but are willing to sacrifice sound stage, should opt for the K812 over the Sennheiser HD800. In terms of raw clarity, the K812 is noticeably more hazy and muted by comparison to the HD800. However, the K812 is simply a more musical sounding headphone that isn’t at all picky or snobbishly accurate. Those who enjoy an excellent and intimate vocal experience without needing to worry about source and amplifier pairing should feel right at home with this headphone. From classical to jazz, folk to death metal, the K812 hammers most genres and applications without much of a problem. If not for that lack luster treble, the headphone would probably be considered the best overall dynamic driver headphone ever created. Out of all 12 headphones appearing in this guide, the K812 is the only true well rounded model, it is a headphone with the least amount of flaws and that can be taken anywhere and still end up responding nicely. From movies to gaming, death metal to classical the AKG K812 will perform admirably, excellent comfort topped off with great efficiency really sweetens the deal.
The Most Interesting Comparisons
K812 vs the HD800:
The K812 trumps the HD800 on raw musicality on most system rigs, as it is not at all picky with what pairs well with it. It also responds less than the HD800 to warm sounding sources and ends up exuding generally the same tone on all rigs I was able to test with. There is no question the HD800 is superior in clarity, it really is a no-brainer in that the HD800 is superior sonically in every way. The K812 exudes a less bright sound signature overall with more of emphasis on stereo width, with height being the most physically lackluster staging quality. The K812 offers a more solid sound signature than the uncomfortably thin HD800 sound signature to me. Vocals and instruments tend to have more body through the K812. Treble problems plague both headphones, however the HD800 can sound magnificent with proper source and track quality, the K812 never sounds magnificent with the treble. The HD800 presentation is more relaxed and distant, where as the K812 is more mid forward.
K812 vs the Oppo PM-1
Shockingly, the Oppo PM-1 sounds a bit less clean and clear. Fidelity and that realistic body to everything inside the track has more solidity through the K812 and sounds a bit less defined in the PM-1. In a clarity game, I would rate the K812 the more clear headphone by the smallest of a degree, the K812 brutally destroys the PM-1 in sound staging qualities. Offering a significantly larger and more spacious appeal. The K812 really can’t be bested by many other headphones out there with regard to the stereo imaging qualities. Both headphones are comfortable, efficient and well built. The PM-1 is much more portable and user friendly in terms of fit and design. The PM-1 also has a very natural flare to the tone by comparison to the K812’s gentle monitor tonality. That natural sense of tone is more vivid on the PM-1, which is a sound that simply isn’t noticeably colored by comparison and switching up between these two headphone showcases the K812 to be the more cold, metallic sounding headphone of the two. Both headphones also share a similar sense of impact and slam, both are highly engaging without being too harsh and I consider both fun headphones.
Rig Recommendation: Due to the forward sound signature of the midrange this headphone offers and coupled with the excellent staging properties, I highly recommend Burson as your go to amplification provider. Any similar brands or models from other amplifier companies will pair well with this headphone, it isn’t at all picky so enjoy the journey in mixing and matching. Just make sure your source and amplifier are not generally considered to have a classic U-shape to their sound signature, as it would adversely affect the best qualities the K812 has to answer. Feel free to also boost the low end a bit with an active bass booster. You won’t have to worry about small bass boosts up to +5db, anything more than that and you might be heading into uncharted territory where muddiness and loss of control is common place. The K812 is very efficient at 36ohms and works very well off portable music devices, it also does not at all benefit from more than 2 watts of power so excessive driving ability is not required. It seems the more power I feed it, the worse it sounds as all amplifiers and Dacs set to high gain are noticeably brighter and a bit hazy by comparison to plentiful volume setting on low gain modes.
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