I’ve been itching to do an A/B comparison of these two, and now I finally have the opportunity.
So strap in your seat belts, because this will be the best and most in-depth look at 2 classics that in my opinion will continue to stand the test of time. The 850 is an infant by comparison, but it really hits above its price range when you consider everything it has to offer.
Let’s take a gander at specifications first…
The only real difference between the K240 from Austria is that it’s 600 Ohm and harder to drive than the Chinese 55 Ohm model. We’ll get into that more a bit later. I was actually surprised that I didn’t have as hard of a time driving the 600 Ohm as I was expecting. The other differences simply come down to some minor cosmetic variations on the outside of the ear cups. The studio version has a detachable cable as well. Check out my article here: AKG K240 600 Ohm vs. 55 Ohm.
I’m linking to the K240 Studio (Chinese model) because it’s easier to find and is still being manufactured.
Now that the boring stuff is out of the way, let’s get into the build!
The K240 feels like a toy from your local Wal-Mart. There’s no getting around it. However, while it may be lighter than a female on a diet of Celery and Cigarettes, it’s not cheap.
It’s still around after all these years for a reason. The model I got for $35 shipped off eBay is showing signs of wear, but it’s battle-tested like the Road Warrior and feels heavier than the Chinese model.
It’s ear cups are made of cheap faux leather, but it does actually feel of a higher quality than the 55 Ohm Chinese version as well. The cups are also very shallow; you’ll find that both of your ears will touch the cloth that’s covering the driver. What is a Headphone Driver?
This doesn’t bother me quite as much as something like a Grado SR325e, but definitely keep it in mind. We’ll go into more depth in the comfort section, so don’t fret!
The headband is a thin piece of faux leather/plastic and the mechanism itself is a hammock style adjustment. I love this because I’m lazy and never have to worry about adjusting the headphone myself.
Just put that puppy on your head, sit the f back, and relax homie!
Overall, the build is all plastic, but you won’t really mind too much because, in your hand, it actually feels a bit more substantial than a Chinese model.
On each side’s headband adjustment, there’s a small round piece of plastic with “R” and “L” which are plenty big enough as I’m able to quickly give it a look and put the headphone on without hassle.
On the left side of the ear-cup, there’s some very attractive typography written out on another slightly larger, round, and gold plated piece of plastic:
600 Ohms, K240, Monitor. Made in Austria.
I know how good the Austrian models were from the last few years of painstaking research, so when I finally got this thing in my hand it was love at first hold.
Let’s compare it with the 850!
Lol. The 850 pretty much rips off the entire design of the 240, which isn’t a bad thing considering it is a good design.
Even so, there are a few notable differences in build.
The 850’s ear cups are actually a bit deeper. Your ears won’t be hitting the drivers this time around, and if they are it’s almost not even enough to notice. Now if you have Ross Perot or Dumbo sized ears, that’s a different story. Tuck those bad boys in, will ya?! In addition to that, the 850’s pads are velour vs. the faux leather on the 240.
Aside from those semi-big differences, there are some very small differences after an intense examination.
Upon first glance, these look identical, but the round piece of plastic apparent on the 240’s headband mechanism is more of a rounded rectangle shape on the 850.
Further, the round piece of plastic just below the aforementioned is also a rounded rectangle. A subtle difference but should be noted.
The grill shape on the K240 is also a bit different: there are 8 small round holes and under those holes are 3 rings that reveal a semi-open design.
On the 850, instead of larger holes, there are a countless amount of tiny holes indicating a semi-open design, surrounded by 4 odd looking shapes. What this really amounts to is simply an aesthetic variation. To me, the K240’s design is more attractive. There are some gold accents on the outside of the cups that compliment the overall look of the unit quite nicely.
Other than that, both headphones have those small rods that run over the top of the headband and all the way down to the ear cups. This provides the framing and support for both the 850 and 240.
Neither cable is detachable, and both are very long. The SR850’s is 8.3 ft. compared to 9.8 for the K240. I find the 240’s just a tad too long for music listening, but for Gaming, it’s ideal if you’re using an amp and sit far away from your PS4 as I do.
Lastly, you’ll find “AKG” stamped on top of the headband for the K240. There are no such indicators on the 850.
Comfort on the 240 isn’t too bad, but it’s also nothing to write home about.
Because the cups are very shallow, you’ll be making some slight adjustments from time to time. I find that the headphone makes my ears hurt slightly. It kind of has a tendency to dig in and become a bit irritating. It’s a pretty minor amount of discomfort but this isn’t the type of headphone that you “set and forget.”
Other than that, the headphone rests very comfortably on your noggin, and because it’s so light it feels fairly good! Clamp force is pretty much just right, and the headband sits pretty nicely on top without digging into the top of my skull.
On the 850, we’ve got a bit better of an experience. Because the cups are deeper, your ears won’t be hitting the driver this time around. Also, the velour padding is much more comfortable than the 240’s faux leather. I don’t find myself having to adjust quite as much, but you’ll still be fiddling with it from time to time. The 850 just feels more snuggle bunny on your head and clamps a bit better while still not being a vice grip like an HD600 when you first get it.
Not much more to say here! How about Sound and Imaging?
Sources: Tidal, with FLAC/Lossless, and Master files.
Amp/DAC used:Oppo HA-2. This headphone wasn’t quite as hard to drive as I thought it would be at 600 Ohm. I can get plenty of volume with the HA-2 on high gain.
I will also be trying both on a JDS Labs Element in the future, as it provides much more power for the 240. Will update this article to reflect that when the time comes.
Some of my findings were fairly obvious and straightforward (which I expected given the fact that I used to own a K240 55 Ohm), but some of the others have kind of varied from song to song.
I also did a couple of measurements of both. Notice the overly bright treble on the 850. It’s juuuuuust a bit peaky. I’d probably go Metal571 here and EQ that bad boy down by A LOT. Lol.
And here are the averaged responses:
The most consistent discrepancy between these two is most definitely the treble. The 850’s sounds more artificial, with more bite, and most certainly more sibilance. What does Sibilant mean?
On some songs, like Chon’s “Bubble Dream” for instance, these seemingly negative qualities actually work to the 850’s advantage. The song sounded much more lively, engaging, and exciting. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying experience, and the sibilance heard on other songs was somehow negated here. It didn’t have a harsh, forward quality to it which was rather interesting.
The K240 didn’t do well with this song by contrast. It sounded kind of muffled and distant. The 850 provided a more open affair. This was one of the only times I preferred the 850 outright to the 240.
On “Clark Gable”, from the now disbanded Postal Service, the K240’s Soundstage made me think there was something to my left about 15 feet away! I was sitting in the kitchen at mom’s and it was coming from the living room to my left. It didn’t cause me to rip the headphones off, but it definitely had me second-guessing myself. On the 850 with the same song, I just didn’t achieve this feeling and that surprised me considering the 850 has a great Soundstage in its own right.
The K240 just outclasses the 850 in this regard. The overall separation of instruments, width/spacing, vocals, etc. is better on the 240.
On Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ “Tears of a Clown” this is never more apparent. While the vocals seemed a tad more pushed back, the bass line was easier to distinguish and sounded more organic.
The song was more fun to listen to. By trying less hard to be detailed, the 240 actually becomes more intricate and detailed. It provided a masterful, stunning rendition of instruments and vocals. At 1:52 you can make out the exact riff of the instrument and it sounded so crystal clear and natural. I heard this song in a way that I haven’t before and it was a blast to rewind and take it all in multiple times.
On KRS One’s “Wannabeemceez”, the 240 provides this weird clarity going on in the background. It’s micro-detail on steroids. A lot of times Rap is recorded with a lot of vocal echoes and you can’t always hear this intended effect through other headphones. With a headphone like the 240, it becomes immediately apparent; the headphone breathes and pulsates in a very organic and natural way.
Another big difference between these 2 headphones is detail retrieval. The 850 routinely tries very hard to be open, clinical, sterile, and detailed. Unfortunately, in comparison to the 240, it comes across as artificial at times. The hi-hats on the aforementioned Tears of a Clown just didn’t sound right. On the 240 they were much more organic and fit in better with the overall vibe of the song.
This detail reached a pinnacle for me on “(Love is Like A) Heat Wave”, from Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. The K240 achieved door 3 status during the intro to this song. There was this ringing from one of the instruments at 3 seconds in that I’ve never been able to distinguish in all my years listening to this song. The instrument took on an extra dimension, which for me hearkened back to the first time I heard Pink Floyd’s Time with a HIFIMAN HE400i and Bryston’s BHA-1.
With the K240, there’s raw but warm energy derived from the music. There’s a reason this headphone is considered legendary, and listening to this song cemented that for me.
Getting into some of the smaller differences, the bass on both is roughly the same. I did notice that the SR850’s have a bit more thump most of the time, while still remaining excellently detailed and natural. The K240 is kind of “infamous” for having an almost painfully lean response down low, but I don’t really mind it. I enjoy hearing the intricacies of the notes, and on the K240 I really liked being able to discern individual plucks with absolute ease. The bass actually sounds sort of like a Jazz bass: light but right.
For instance, fire up Tears of a Clown and just listen to the bass. You can hear every individual pluck while being able to follow it with that proverbial microscope in your head. What a treat!
Another cool thing I noticed was that I could make out the backing vocals a lot better than I ever remember in listening with other headphones. The 850 does a pretty good job of this, but I think the 240 slightly outclasses it. It’s very close, however.
The best way I can describe the experience of a 240 is that of rediscovery with all of your old favorite music. It sounds new and fresh again, which is something that I haven’t experienced in quite a while.
You know it when you hear it. It’s that moment when you say to yourself, “This is what music is supposed to sound like.” With the 850, you get a taste of that, but the 240 is more professional and elegant about it, while the 850 is trying a bit too hard.
This comparison reminds me a lot of the one between the HIFIMAN HE400i vs. 400S. The 400S is a bit brash and abrasive, while the 400i is smooth and effortless.
Likewise with the 240. It knows it’s sexy and doesn’t really try to throw it in your face.
“Baby Love” by the Supremes is another great example of this. There’s a nice bounce to the track that just triggers this desire in you to let go and enjoy the music. At 2:11, her voice trails off so beautifully, with a remarkable sense of decay. Instead of cutting off or sounding lost, it’s fleshed out in a way that sounds so much different than your average headphone with your average source file.
It makes me want to cry tears of joy actually.
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I could keep going, but let’s get into some technical considerations real fast. 🙂
This is another main difference between these 2 headphones. To start off, the 600 Ohm K240 @ 91dB Sensitivity isn’t all that more difficult to drive than the newer 55 Ohm Chinese version (dubbed the K240 “Studio”). The 55 Ohm requires the same amount of power from an amp, which is around 79-80mW, but the 600 Ohm version will resist a bit more. Still, I was expecting this headphone to be ridiculously hard to drive and it’s just not. What is Headphone Impedance?
With the Oppo HA-2, I used gain with the 600 Ohm and it does get loud enough. No, you’re not going to have much headroom, but with a headphone like this, you’re really not going to want to push it too hard anyway. It’s the type of sound that does better at slightly lower volumes. It will sound kind of bloomy if you really try to pump up the volume, resulting in some harmonic distortion specifically in the bass regions.
Even so, it does resist power quite a bit, so you’ll want to invest in at least a JDS Labs Objective 2 for the desktop if you’re really serious about your investment (which you should be). Fortunately for us, the Objective 2 is a no BS option that provides plenty of power at an affordable price.
Right now I’m listening to it with an E10K on high gain and it sounds just loud enough. Is this the ideal pairing? No, but it’s what I have at this current moment.
I will be testing it with the Objective 2 as well as the Element. Both provide plenty of power for 91dB. The Element outputs 140mW into 600 Ohm and the K240 requires around 80. By contrast, the Objective 2 pumps out 88 which is still plenty for this headphone if my satisfaction with an E10K is any indication.
By contrast, the 850 at 32 Impedance and 98dB Sensitivity needs hardly any power. An E10K is the absolute maximum I would ever need for a headphone like this. With the 240, that’s probably the bare minimum, and for some, that won’t be enough. Keep in mind that I didn’t purchase an E10K specifically to pair with a K240. I just wanted to prove the point that a lot of these so-called “requirements” are kind of fabricated and don’t really mean all that much when you actually sit down and listen to music.
With that, what type of music are we talking about here?
I think the main takeaway from this comparison is in fact a genre-specific consideration, coupled with source files.
As good as the K240 is, it won’t sound amazing with every genre and that’s something you’ll have to accept beforehand.
Both of these headphones do really well with older music, specifically Rock, anything guitar/rhythm guitar, and generally anything that’s a bit lighter in the bass regions. With Rock, the bass is there but it’s obviously not overpowered in any way. We also have to remember that the SR850 is basically a sub $50 headphone. Don’t expect it to move mountains or raise folks from the dead.
What I found interesting is that The 850 handles that “crunch” much better, so if you’re more into Metal/Hard Rock, and those types of more intense genres, it will fare better. The K240 just kind of lost me at times with some of those heavier songs.
For instance, “Testify” by Rage Against the Machine is a song that’s just not going to sound as good through a 240 and there’s no getting around it. The separation is there, the detail is heard, but it just doesn’t hit like it needs to. I think most of this has to do with the more laid back treble. It works wonderfully on lighter genres because of its incredible way of presenting the instruments Timbre, but it lacks a punch required from a harder number. What is Timbre?
For Classic Rock though? I actually prefer the 240 over the 850 because of said Timbre. It’s more natural, more organic, and more realistic sounding.
While the 850 paired with Testify may be more lively, there’s still the problem of the treble just being too bitey and sibilant. You’ll notice that it tends to sound kind of forced and a bit artificial. I did notice the bass does hit a bit harder than a 240 and helps to give the song some extra body.
It’s also important to note that the 850 doesn’t always give off this harsh/abrasive quality. I think the source file, how it was recorded, and how good it is technically speaking are all better indicators than simply pointing to an Amp/DAC as the culprit. In reality, DAC to DAC you’re just not going to find that much discrepancy until you hear something like a Chord Mojo paired with a semi-high end headphone. Related:What is a USB DAC?
I also wouldn’t rely on either of these for Hip-Hop, Rap, or any other heavy genres, but the 850 will definitely fare better than a 240.
In most circumstances, I would recommend the AKG K240. It sounds more true to life, more organic, more natural, and has a slightly better Soundstage with a more relaxed but still detailed treble.
There are a couple of things that the 850 does better; namely comfort and bass. It’s treble sometimes excels better than the 240 because of pure excitement and air, but many times it’s short-lived due to its fairly brash character. That said, I still love the SR850 and it’s currently a Budget King #4 on my list. I haven’t heard a K240 since 2016, and I’m strongly considering replacing the 850 with it as a Budget King. I think side by side with the 240, the 850 does get outclassed and sounds less refined, with a bit too much sizzle and a forced, unnatural type of sound in the treble area specifically. Outside of that issue, it’s a near-perfect headphone and a fantastic value.
The K240 600 Ohm has been discontinued for quite some time, and I was fortunate to get my hands on a pair for this comparison. The studio version is the next best thing, as it achieves the same legendary sound and is a bit easier to drive.
Stu is determined to help you make sound decisions, and strives to deliver the best and most in depth content on the internet! In his spare time, he likes to fish, paint, play guitar, pray, rap, make beats, take photos, record videos, graphic design, and more. His sense of humour, coupled with a knack for excellence and strict attention to detail are what allow him to stand out in an crowded industry.