Why spend £1000 on a pair of headphones like the K812s? There are great performers available for a fraction of the price (step forward AKG’s own Award-winning £200 K550s). So why spend more?
Build and design
The K812s need a top quality source and headphone amplifier if you’re going to get the most out of them
Physically, there’s little to help the K812’s case against such talented in-house rivals. These headphones may be very nicely engineered, comfortable and made with high-quality materials, but they don’t ooze luxury.
The K812s look to be in a spot of bother – until you start listening. Then it becomes obvious where the money has been spent: inside.
The clue to the K812’s priorities is that they are marketed and distributed by the AKG’s Professional wing, which deals with recording studios and the music-making side of things in general.
Exotic finishes and conventional judgements of luxury count for very little. Instead, reliability, toughness and consistency take priority, and the sound quality of a pair of headphones can be judged against the live event.
If you’re going to charge £1000 for a pair of headphones in such an environment they had better be good, really good. Fortunately, the K812s certainly are.
It takes time to appreciate just how talented these headphones are. They take ages to run-in. Straight out of the box they sound bright, edgy and quite coarse.
Sure, there are hints of the good things to come – even at this stage, these headphones resolve a lot of detail and show a great deal of agility – but the overall balance just isn’t right.
Give them time, plenty of it, and things get considerably better.
Our review pair only started to sound truly special when they had played music for nearly 100 hours. These headphones need more than just time to sound good, though.
A high-quality partnering system is a must. We use our resident Apple MacBook (loaded with Pure Music replay software) feeding the hugely talented Chord Hugo for much of the test.
Our reference Naim NDS/555PS music streamer proves a valuable back-up source too.
We use a range of recordings, from a low bit-rate 192kbps of Eminem’s Curtain Call, through to Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions on DSD, to 24-bit/192kHz files of Hans Zimmer’s The Dark Knight Rises.
More after the break
What makes these headphones so good? It’s their transparency; that ability to reveal the recording for what it is without overlaying a distinctive sonic signature on top.
Play Eminem’s Stan and these AKGs don’t hesitate to reveal the relatively crude nature of the 192kbps file. There’s a lack of subtlety and a shortfall in spaciousness.
The rhythmic structure isn’t too secure and the track has reduced momentum. Switch to a CD-quality rip of the same track and the improvement is immediately clear – the sound gains refinement and has more energy.
Eminem’s beautifully judged vocal flow comes through with more passion and precision. It’s far more enjoyable.
Reliability, toughness and consistency, not looks, take priority with the K812s
Move to something grander in the form of The Dark Knight OST and the K812s respond with an impressive sense of power, particularly when it comes to bass punch and reach.
Dynamic extremes are delivered with class-leading authority and composure. These headphones never sound stretched, even when music as demanding as this is replayed at high volumes.
The treble, which sounds a touch hard and monotone when the headphones are fresh, is now wonderfully insightful and refined.
Give them a great recording such as Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions and these AKGs are happy to shine.
There’s a mass of detail here, as much as we’ve heard from any headphone at this price, and it is convincingly organised into a wonderfully entertaining whole.
Top-end headphones invariably appear poor value next to other similarly priced hi-fi components.
But for outright insight you’d have to spend thousands more on speakers before you get remotely close to the resolution and agility on offer here.
That’s before you factor in matching power amplifiers and the kind of room (and acoustic) that can do such speakers justice. In this context, we recommend the K812s highly.