- 6/4/20. Added Video Discussion!
- 2/2/21. Article/link cleanup.
3,307-word post, approx. 4-5 min. read
If you’d like to see the final shootout of all K600/700 AKG models, go here: AKG K612 vs. K712 vs. K702 vs. K701 vs. Q701 In there I give my all impressions and rankings in one place!
Hey there friend, and Welcome aboard!!
Before we get into the Best Headphone Amp for the AKG K701 & K702, grab a snack, sit back and relax because..
I’m Here to Help!!
Table of Contents
The Hierarchy of Importance
Headphone Impedance & Sensitivity
Album List & OST’s
Once I purchased the headphone for myself, all that research proved fruitful and all of my findings were pretty much spot on. I bought it for a specific purpose (Console/PC gaming) and was aware of some of its perceived flaws. Those flaws are definitely apparent, but they aren’t deal-breakers. They’re minor gripes to an otherwise fantastic headphone.
Both the K701 and K702 sound about the same. The difference between them is that the K702 has a bit more bass emphasis and its Soundstage isn’t quite as unnaturally wide as the 701’s. Still, the differences are fairly subtle in passing. What is Soundstage? [Detailed Explanation]
Like the HD600 and 650, there are a plethora of amps that work well for the K701 & K702. Related: Best Headphone Amp for the Sennheiser HD 600 and 650. It used to be said that both headphones were notoriously hard to drive. That turned out to be a myth, and even though both do need some sort of amplification, you don’t have to go crazy trying to find the perfect pairing. In reality, they aren’t that hard to drive.
A lot of amps will work very well for both of these headphones. After demoing around 30 amps at the time of this writing, I’m fully convinced that the differences between them are extremely subtle. I don’t have as much experience with tube amps, but people will have you in a tizzy over all of it and I find that for the most part, it’s entirely unnecessary.
Hierarchy of Importance
Put it this way: The Amp in question is like a distant 4th in the hierarchy of importance regarding how your setup is going to sound. The most important things are:
- Your source file. This is of paramount importance. It won’t matter how good your headphones or amp are if the quality of the file is sh**. That’s just a fact. Go ahead, challenge me on it. You’ll lose, Buster. Going deeper, think about the quality of the music itself. How good are the musicians at creating space? What did they record with? How good is the actual master? Meaning, who is the engineer who actually mastered the track? Who mixed it? As a beat-maker/producer, I know how important these things are – more so than anything else.
- Your headphones. Also extremely important for obvious reasons. Headphone sound signatures vary immensely and will sound different from headphone to headphone. Even with that said, the headphone is only going to play what you feed it. If you feed it crap, crap is what you’ll probably hear.
- Your listening environment. With open-back headphones especially, a quiet space is ideal – free from distractions, ambient noise, and the like. I do live near a highway so perhaps mine isn’t as good as it could be, but that’s something I have to live with.
- Your Amp/DAC. Notice how I placed this last? And yeah, it’s a way distant last. As time wears on, I become sicker and sicker of Amps and DACs. There are simply too many, and in all honesty, the bearing that they have on your sound is fairly minuscule. Sure, there are differences from amp to amp sometimes, but they are so subtle that in many cases it doesn’t even matter. The average listener isn’t sitting at a desk with 7 or more amps. I’m a reviewer, blogger, and YouTuber. Naturally, I have more things at my disposal to test for you. Currently on my desk: Bravo Audio Ocean, FiiO K3, E10K, K5 Pro, CEntrance DACport HD, Audioquest DragonFly Red, iFi Zen, iFi Zen Blue. It’s quite ridiculous and just completely stupid. I have fun with it, but man, it’s stupid. Did I mention how stupid it is? It’s stupid. But fun. But still stupid. You could say I might have a problem.
Note: The CEntrance DACport HD was not included because I was having trouble with the sound cutting out. All other headphones I’ve tried sound fine with it. It’s neither the headphone jack nor the K702’s cable. The cable works fine with other amps and the CEntrance works fine with other headphones. I really have no idea what the issue is.
Notice how the 600’s cable has a nice flush edge. It plugs into 3.5mm jacks fairly easily. The trade-off is that you need a snap-on adapter; the screw on’s just don’t work. The K702’s termination by contrast works great with screw-on adapters, but as a 3.5mm plug, it’s a pain with some Amps. The CEntrance is one of them.
Headphone Impedance & Sensitivity
They both come in at 62 Ohm Impedance, which is basically just a measure of resistance. It determines how much your headphone will resist the power fed into it by an Amp. Learn more: What is Headphone Impedance? [Explained]
- Higher number? It will resist more.
- Lower number? It will not.
Sensitivity is a measure of efficiency. How efficient is the headphone at using the power it receives from an Amp? Higher number = more efficient. Lower number = less efficient. What is Sensitivity in Headphones? [Explained]
The sensitivity for both of these monsters is around 91dB/mW. That’s very low, and not efficient at all. Because of this, both headphones will require some power from an amp to reach a listenable level. The good news is that at 62 Ohms, they won’t resist that power much at all. This is why the whole “OMG K701/K702 is so hard to drive” was and still is a huge myth.
HIFIMAN headphones are also notorious for being inefficient, oftentimes coming in at around 93dB.
My Sennheiser HD600’s sit in a weird middle ground at 97dB and 300 Ohm. They aren’t very hard to drive though; I can get loud enough levels out of a semi-under-powered amp like the FiiO E10K and even the less powerful K3.
So the main takeaway is that you’ll need some sort of semi beefy amplification for both the 701 and 702, but don’t go ape shit about it alright? Lol. The E10K will still drive it plenty loud enough.
A lot of amps will sound great as well. I’ve done quite a bit of research on the matter over the years, and this list will be the definitive guide on what you should go with. So sit back, strap on, and get ready! This will be an exhaustive but thorough list. By the time you’re finished, you should have a fantastic idea of what to go with. I will also update the post as I try more pairings.
FiiO E10K or K3.
A lot of people may look at this pairing and scoff at the idea of joining a K702 with something so cheap. They may claim it doesn’t have enough power, or that it’s not .. appropriate.
As an entry-level Amp/DAC, either of these will sound just fine with either. I’m listening now with the 702 out of the E10K at around 5-6 (out of 8), and it’s plenty loud enough. I don’t even have the gain on. Just tried the K3 as well. It sounds a bit less grainy but you’ll be turning up the volume more. Still, it gets loud enough and sounds nice and clean. It’s good you like!
Is it the most ideal pairing? That’s up for debate, homie. That said, it will work for the vast majority of users who may need something in a pinch, or just don’t want to spend a ton of money right away. For that, these 2 will sound magnificent with the K701 or K702.
With both, you’ve got a gain switch, bass boost, and it can be used as a DAC when you upgrade Amps later on down the road via its line out. It’s a jack of all trades little buddy and has powered everything I’ve thrown at it. This includes an AKG K240M (600 Ohm original Austrian model), HD600, 650, K702, etc.
Budget Tube Amp
Bravo Audio Ocean
My good friend In To It Reviews loaned me this for demo purposes and I’m really loving it. It’s a Class A Tube Hybrid and sounds fantastic with a K702. With Jazz specifically, I’m noticing better resolution and clarity through the Ocean. I listened to a Master of John Coltrane’s Love Supreme through Tidal, and I started hearing subtle details that I have not heard before. Little voices in the background became more apparent and easily distinguishable from what was going on in the forefront.
Part of this surely has to do with the K702 itself; there’s much better Soundstage depth and width when you have this headphone on, and that’s really not debatable. Even so, I was finding the album to come through with a much greater degree of immediacy and pinpoint accuracy than I remember out of other setups. There’s a smooth, liquid sense of detail apparent – bass notes sound less hazy and wooly, and the overall sound is more enjoyable and lush. Imagine free flowing scotch. That’s what the Ocean is like.
I personally have always had a hard time with Jazz and headphones. It’s one of the most difficult genres to reproduce accurately and realistically. A lot of the time stuff gets muddied up quite easily, but with the Ocean I found the opposite to be true: there’s a realistic rumble to the tracks that now have plenty of room to breathe and pulsate without sounding lost and incoherent.
The Ocean has a pair of RCA Inputs and Outputs, as well as a Line Input. It’s versatile in the fact that you can pair it with pretty much any DAC. I paired it with the DragonFly Red and FiiO E10K. I would say it sounded a bit better with the DF Red, but again, it could be my imagination.
On the front, there’s a 6.35mm and 3.5mm jack. It’s also got an ON/OFF switch, and the volume pot feels nice and solid. The unit itself feels very rugged but does run really hot. You could legit probably cook an egg on this bad boy. I put my hand on it and it was borderline too hot, to the point that I almost had to take my handoff.
Solid State Amp
JDS Labs Objective 2 or ATOM.
Note: Objective 2 has been discontinued.
These 2 would be a logical step up from the K3 or E10K and are currently my all-time favorites as far as pure black sound goes. What does that mean? It means whatever I say it means!!
Haha just kidding.
It means that the sound is entirely neutral and uncolored, so what you hear is how the headphone actually sounds – no added flavors, colors, or preservatives. 😛 Think of these amps like buying organic; everything is mad natural homie!
The ATOM has no business being as cheap as it is, and the same goes for Objective 2. When you listen through these amps, it kind of feels like you’re in a studio space rather than listening through a set of headphones.
Don’t wet yourself or anything though.
It’s not like actually being there, but you do get a sense that there are depth and width to the soundscape. With a headphone like the K702? That’s certainly a great thing.
If you’re just starting out in the hobby, I’d probably look to either of these first. They provide just about the cleanest sound I’ve ever heard, but at the same time are dirt cheap and provide plenty of juice for any headphone. That’s quite a … power-packed combination, friend! There’s a reason a lot of people copy the open-source schematic that’s now been around for quite a while; it just sounds right. No distortion, no hiss, nothing. It’s almost hard to believe how much clarity is present when you pair it up to a K702, HD600, or HD650.
Desktop Amp/DAC Combo
If you’re running Tidal and MQA, just stop everything and get a Zen. It sounds great with the aforementioned, and pairs very well with my K702. No-fuss no muss.
On the front, there’s a true bass button that adds a tasteful amount, and we’ve also got a power match button that will stay on most of the time.
The Zen is capable of playing DSD64/128/256, and also supports PCM up to 32-bit/384kHz. You’ve got the option to run balanced 4.4mm or use the unbalanced 6.35mm jack. On the back, it’s got a pair of RCA outputs so you can connect to speakers or monitors if you so choose!
FiiO K5 Pro
This little buddy can do basically anything, and sounds great with a K702 for both music and Gaming!
I listened to quite a few albums out of it, which I will list out towards the bottom. The overall sound is a bit warmer and more laid back than the Zen, so detail heads may look elsewhere. This is an Amp you’ll want to kick back and just enjoy. With the Zen, I find myself honing in on specific instruments, whereas with the K5 Pro I tend to listen to the song as a whole.
An example is the Police’s – “Every Breath You Take.” With the Zen, I was marveling at how incredible the bass line sounded. My focus zeroed in on that exclusively for a spell. With the K5 Pro, I just wanted to let the song speak to me in its entirety rather than pinpointing anything specific.
Just know that the K5 Pro has quite a lot going for it. Like the Ocean, it’s got a pair of RCA inputs and outputs. The K5 also comes with an Optical Input, a Coaxial input, a USB Type-B Jack, and a DC15V power jack.
Use it on your desk or with your console! I’m using mine with the Playstation 4. 🙂
AudioQuest DragonFly Red
Every time I plug in a DragonFly and listen, it’s like I’m getting a bit of an upgrade. I still can’t tell if this is in my head, but the same thing has happened every single time: The sound opens up, it’s a bit smoother, and the song almost expands like the universe or something.
Whoa, man. The universe. It’s like, vast and stuff.
Vast is a great way to describe the DragonFly Red. This little thumb drive is an Amp/DAC combo rolled into one.
Yeah, that’s right, you heard me correctly, BUB. A thumb drive. Plug this bad boy into your laptop, grab some headphones, sit down and shut up.
Why? Because you’re in for the ride of your life. Listening now with the K702 sounds magnificent, as per usual.
With the K702, you’re always getting this uneasy feeling that something is in the room with you. The DF Red doesn’t help this sentiment any.
I’m constantly wondering if the sound is coming from the headphone or outside of it. If you live in a remote area and listen at night, it’s particularly unnerving. Ever seen the movie The Strangers? I rest my case.
Anyone that says a DF Red is overrated is FOS. I’m enjoying this pairing more so than some of the other amps I have at my desk. It’s extremely immersive with the K702 and sounds really lush and expansive.
So turn that frown upside down!
Don’t forget to leave me some love! <3
Other Potential Pairings
As mentioned above, I did a lot of research on this over the years. Here I will list out everything I came across, with the amps towards the top getting the most mention followed by the ones toward the bottom with the least amount of mention.
- Heed Can Amp. This seems to be one of the most recommended pairings with the K701, but it’s much harder to find nowadays.
- Creek OBH-11.
- Vioelectric V200. I reached out to Vioelectric about possibly sending this one for a demo. They responded, but the conversation kind of went nowhere – sort of like that girl you’ve been talking to who went cold like your mom’s leftover meatloaf. 😛
- Asus Xonar STX.
- Questyle Audio CMA 800R.
- Benchmark DAC-1.
- Musical Fidelity X CAN V3/V8.
- Matrix M Stage.
- Aphex Head Pod.
- Woo Audio WA-6.
- SPL Phonitor.
- Schiit Valhalla.
- Burson HA160.
- Auralic Taurus.
- Leben CS300XS.
- Cary SLI-80.
- Lake People G103P.
- Schiit Lyr.
- Neco Mosfet V2.
- Neco Portable V2.
- JDS Labs cMoy.
- Titanium HD.
- Trends Audio PA-10.
- Tascam UH7000.
- Mix Pre-D.
- Meridian Explorer.
- RSA Intruder.
- RSA Raptor.
- Val E10 Vacuum Tube Amp.
- Corda Classic.
- Meier Aria.
- Darkvoice 337.
- Art 406.
I don’t want you to get carried away in trying to find the perfect pairing. There are simply too many amps out there for all of that nonsense.
If I had to recommend one to get you started, I’d go with a DragonFly Red and upgrade from there. You can add any number of Amps to that set up including a Bravo Ocean, JDS Atom/Objective 2, or any amp that has a 3.5mm line-in or RCA inputs.
The important thing to remember is that all of the ones I’ve tried sound good with my K702. Any perceived differences are very slight and maybe all in my head.
Album List and OST’s
Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve gotten some valuable information out of this article on the best headphone amp for the AKG K701 & K702.
Which of these would you be inclined to go with? Do you have any suggestions? Be sure to let me know!!
If you have any other questions or feel I’ve missed the mark on something, leave a comment down below or contact me!
I very much look forward to speaking with you…
All the best and God bless,
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