Thanks to Arv for loaning this to me for review.
AKG released the K812 in 2010 for $1500 and was seen as a response to Sennheiser’s HD800 which had been released 2 years earlier in 2008. The K812 seems to take all the design cues AKG has used with their previous flagships and make them more refined with higher quality components. Materials, connectors and just the overall design seem like a refinement on everything they’ve done previously. It’s a shame the connector they chose was 3-pin, which prevents the owner from ever using it with a balanced source without serious modifications. I wasn’t actually able to find much background information on this particular headphone, but it has interested me for a while, curious to see what AKG could manage in their first statement headphone since the long-discontinued AKG K1000 which is truly more of an ear-speaker and very different from this seeming evolution of the K7-series headphones.
Fit and Comfort
Clearly a lot of attention was paid to the materials and ergonomics on this headphone. Two things really stand out to me as being very unique about this headphones design: the swivel of the cups and the pads. Both of these things were clearly designed to create as complete a seal as possible with as many heads as possible and it’s extremely comfortable. The headphone is surprisingly light considering its use of metal and other premium looking and feeling materials. The pads seem designed specifically to make sure that there is no break in the seal in the area just below and behind your ears along your jawline with a design that sort of hooks itself behind your ears and fills in that whole area.
This headphone seems to have all the characteristics of AKGs tuning of their AKG K7-series headphones, especially the K712. While there are differences in where the specific dips and emphases are in the tonality, in broad strokes you have similarly decently extended and mostly linear bass, a midrange that has a dip and then an emphasis in the upper midrange and present and well extended treble with a good sense of air. While it does share these traits with other AKG headphones, it is by no means the same, presenting each of these features in a way that’s uniquely different from the K7-series headphones.
Bass is quite different in its presentation from other headphones, having an emphasis in the upper bass and lower midrange around 200 Hz and then very gradually declining into the subbass. Sub-bass is fairly well extended though not as present as things like kick drums and percussive guitar slapping is due to that roll off as you go deeper into the bass. This emphasis lends a kind of unnatural thickness to male vocals and instruments but at the same time also lacks the solid foundation of a linear sub-bass. This results in the lower midrange sounding somewhat boomy and unnaturally forward without any of the sense of slam one would normally expect with sounds in that range. This feature gave the bass an awkward sounding timbre overall. The bass reproduction of the headphone did seem to extend well into the sub-bass, had a somewhat light sense of slam especially in the last few octaves and seemed slightly slow and thick in the wrong places. Delivery of bass was always smooth, but lacked some definition and texture even compared to a headphone like the K712.
The midrange is the source of what’s probably the biggest complaint I have about this headphones tonality. There is a sudden dip and then emphasis around 3KHz that really interferes with the timbre and tonality of vocals. There seems to be a dip around 1KHz that makes male vocals sound thick due to the lower mids but makes them lack any real bite, making them sound both thick and distant. Female vocals lack body but then the bite of female vocals is very overemphasized and forward. These features also affects the tonality of string instruments but in a way that I think some may find pleasing. The overemphasis brings string instrument fundamentals more forward, similar to how they are presented on K7-series headphones which is a sound I know many prefer. Mids remain smooth and coherent despite these tonal aberrations.
The treble is tonally the best balanced part of this headphone to me, but seems to suffer from other issues. There is a grittiness and granularity to the treble that makes it sound messy and detracts from the natural smoothness that one would normally expect. I would describe it as a sort of hashy-ness that lends a rough texture to the treble and keeps it from ultimately sounding very clear and makes it difficult to place instruments like horns in the image. The headphone does seem to maintain good extension and a sense of space and airiness.
The headphone overall sounds slightly compressed, a bit more dynamic than something like a Sennheiser HD650, but not by a large margin. The image is also confusing on this headphone, as it seems to sort of wrap the image around your head, giving you the sense that certain sounds are coming from behind you. Separation is somewhat lacking in this headphone overall especially compared to their implicit goal of taking down the HD800. Sounds seem to smooth over and run into each other a bit, not being as distinct or clear as I would expect of a flagship competitor. Staging seems to retain AKGs familiar width, depth was present but seemed artificial due to the tonality seeming to distant particular parts of the mix from others.
Ultimately, for the things that bother me about the K812, I don’t entirely dislike it. These headphones are going for fairly reasonable prices second hand and do excel in certain aspects and for certain tastes over the standard crop of K7-series, DTXX0 and HD6X0 that only cost a bit less money. I would certainly recommend trying this headphone before you buy it if you can, because I think the characteristics of this headphone can be very polarizing based on your listening and preferences. I certainly think that if AKG was aiming at the HD800 with this headphone, they’ve missed the mark because it rivals none of that headphone’s strengths, but they’ve still succeeded in creating a premium feeling product that could serve as an interesting contrast and “flavor”.