When you need headphones with extreme sound quality that are also suitable for tracking, the K 271 is an excellent choice. It’s extremely comfortable, and provides excellent freedom from noise and leakage. One very considerate, and unique, touch: The headphones mute automatically when you take them off, thus making them “good neighbors” when others are in the same space.
Given that the K 271 is $100 more than the Audio-Technica ATH-M50 and $175 more than the Shure SRH440, some might consider “stretching” to the higher cost if there’s a significant difference. Well, the extra bucks do make a difference; the high end is smoother and more dulcet than the SRH440, and more defined and present than the ATH-M50. Bass was similar for all three phones, but the 271 had a “rounder” quality than the Shure. Overall, the K 271 has an extremely “sweet” response that is effortless to listen to for long periods of time.
So given the price compared to the K 271, is the K 702 twice as good as something that’s already good? Well, the K 702 headphones are remarkable. They don’t have a “headphone sound;” the experience is closer to listening on speakers— there’s an open quality that’s big, full, and realistic. Also, the fidelity is beyond reproach: The highs are crystal-clear (I’d even use the word “silky”), there’s no peakiness to the response, and the bass is warm without being hyped; there’s a tightness and ability to reproduce transients that makes these headphones stand out.
Although the phones are circumaural, they have an open back that lets some of the sound “escape” through the back. While I’m not fully tuned in to the science, one of AKG’s engineers explained (I think I got this right!) that this prevents waves from bouncing around inside the headphone. The decreased isolation makes them less well-suited to tracking in noisy environments because a little sound can “leak” out of the headphones, but so what—get some other phones for tracking, because the K 702 is exceptional for mixing or listening. It’s also surprisingly light and comfortable, which I assume is a byproduct of the oversized earcups that also place the sound drivers further from your ears than usual. This may also contribute to an extraordinary ability to pinpoint sounds in the stereo field.
Granted, these are the second most expensive headphones in this roundup, so you’d expect them to be good. What you might not expect is value: I’ve heard speakers many times the price of these phones that don’t have this level of detail. These are honest, comfortable, transparent headphones with a virtually non-existent fatigue factor.