AKG K501 Headphone Reviews

Manufacturer AKG Model K501
Headphone Type Open Circumaural Headband Type Double
Weight (g) 235 Driver Type Dynamic
Enclosure Material Plastic Isolation (dB) 0
Impedance (ohms) 120 Cable Length (cm) 2500
Frequency Response (Hz) 16 - 30000  
Connector 3.5mm with 6.5mm adaptor Street Price US$150
Buy from Amazon.com  
Average reviewer scores
Bass Extension 5.3 Bass Impact 4.4
Bass Quality 6.4 Mids Quality 7.9
Highs Quality 7.2 Soundstage 7.9
Detail 7.3 Portability 2.0
Isolation 0.0 Comfort 8.2
Durability 7.8 Improvement With Amplification 8.8
Value for Money 6.6    
Overall Score 7.0 Total Reviews 9

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Reviews by our members

Review by Senior Member hYdrociTy on 08 Aug 07  15:52
Individual review
Bass Extension7
Bass Impact6
Bass Quality6
Mids Quality9
Highs Quality8
Detail9
Comfort9
Durability8
Value1

[Edited to include new amps in **]

First of all the Value for money I rated as 9 ONLY because they are discontinued and I am judging the price at the very affordable average used market value of 100~130USD.

Amplification is required based on common sense- the sensitivity and impedence calls for high quality amp. I've auditioned with the following amplifiers extensively:

** 3 Channel Beta22 with stepped attenuator
** Xin supermini iv
Gilmore Lite/DPS
Home Pimeta/Toroid+treads @ 24v AD8620, 6xBUF634
Portaphile v2^2 Maxxed (LT1210, BG1500) all switches on
LDII+ (Mullard M8161)
RSA SR-71 (High Gain)

Source: Entech Number Cruncher 203.2 with LM4562 or 2xOPA627 opamps, Elna Cerafine and Wima caps.

These headphones are picky with amplification. Lower powered amps need not apply. Transients, air, bass extension, and decay are some of the main things a good amplifier will not mask.

I found that the particularities of this sound signature suits live acoustic, progressive trance, female vocals, and particularly big orchestral works.

The bass is very neutral in the sense that it will extend as required by the source- nothing significantly emphasized- and lacks particularly the slam common to most headphones and especially the Grados'. With ample amplification, the low end can actually become very textural and you can almost reach out and grab it. The beta22 amplifier especially brings out the slam- and tightens the bass considerably so there is a very transparent window to the music that contain complex and subtle bass details.

The midrange is laid out in a way that layering is easily perceived as well as a soundstage that is by default very expansive both depth-wise and vertically/sideways. Voices retain the sheer texture you would expect from listening at close range to a singer, yet with woodwinds the liquidity is preserved and reproduced more or less with the same magic as real life.

Highs are very detailed and airy without the slightest hint of being sibilant or having thinness. There is a sweetness that accompanies these headphones that I can only describe as atmospheric in presentation. The texture still extends to the highs too when listening to strings, in particular violas- where some headphones may mask it's charm- these cans let you easily differentiate from violins in some of the most difficult compositions. With well recorded and mastered live music, the sense of microdetail, layering and decay is uncanny- the truest sense of the word "live"


** Revisiting the K501 with the Beta22 amplifier
Telarc's fine recording of Martin Pearlman and the Boston Baroque's performance of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos(CD-80368) elicited a very rare response from me- one of sheer stupor as the dynamics of the beta22 and the absolute bass control revealed a side of this disc I haven't yet heard with any headphone/amp combination. This new low end information, combined with the already spectacular spatial capabilities of the K501's confirmed that AKG's former flagship scales just like the HD580s that I still have as a reference.

The depth perception also rises a notch as the amp's higher resolution lets my system fully reproduce the fine acoustics of that recording location.

Overall, I unconditionally recommend these headphones for baroque, and they fare much better than RS-2's even for string quartets from a high end system.

There does exist a major caveat with these headphones- a slight error in tonal accuracy within the viola-cello range: a problem that is more apparent on lower end systems especially with fast layered and large scale string movements. This small problem, which could be a major turnoff for those not willing to fully invest in a system that corrects the issue, would miss the realistic tonal balance and accuracy of the HD580s in particularly stressful classical pieces.

hYdrociTy
( '-')

Review by Senior Member spike33 on 12 Apr 07  16:20
Individual review
Bass Extension5
Bass Impact5
Bass Quality8
Mids Quality9
Highs Quality7
Detail8
Comfort7
Durability8
Value9

Whoa, this thing sounds way better than the modest $150 price tag. It has a large airy soundstage and a sweet midrange with gobs of detail. The bass quality is some of the best I've heard, it is very tight and detailed, well dampened. The only problem is a severe lack of bass quantity and does not go very deep, drops off around 80hz. Beefy amp is a must.

The midrange is where these shine, especially for acoustic and female vocals. They have a slight dip at 2.5khz which gives it a surreal and airy feel, like you're floating in the heavens. The detail is excellent. Beware, it is very transparent, it will faithfully reproduce whatever you put in. Bad recordings will sound like crap. Good recordings sound amazing.

I felt the highs, while generally smooth and detailed, were a bit splashy. There was a peak at 3.5-4khz that made the overall sound 'hard'. This could cause some fatigue to people who are sensitive to this area (myself included).

I think I've been spoiled by HD650, HD595, and DT880 which are all more comfortable. K501 in comparison are a bit tight and the earpads are a bit hard. Due to the auto adjusting headband, everytime you put it on, the fit will be slightly different. It may take some getting used to.

If these had a bit more bass, I'd say they'd be the perfect phone for me. Still, these are one of the best value headphones out there. Although they're now replaced by the K701, which sounds totally different. If you take the inverse of the K501, you'll get the K701: alot more bass, prominent mids, smoother lower treble, more treble extension.

Review by Senior Member gunnar on 28 Dec 06  15:11
Individual review
Bass Extension1
Bass Impact1
Bass Quality1
Mids Quality3
Highs Quality4
Detail5
Comfort9
Durability6
Value1

A good headphone for the classical listener with a warm source and headphone amp but the tonal balance is so far off from neutral (especially in the bass) makes these headphones ultimately boring for any kind of rhythm oriented music. While they are analytical I find they also don't give as much tactile information as say a Grado. Their one exceptional feature is comfort, of which I think there are nearly no rivals. But, overall, I would have a hard time recommending them but a very small group of clinical classical listeners.

Review by Senior Member fewtch on 11 Dec 05  07:03
Individual review
Bass Extension8
Bass Impact4
Bass Quality8
Mids Quality9
Highs Quality7
Detail5
Comfort8
Durability8
Value5

The AKG K501 is an unusual and interesting headphone that has received a lot of lively discussion on the Head-Fi forums. The midrange receives rave reviews, but some say that they have "no bass" -- after reading the mixed impressions, I was dying to audition a pair. A friend on head-fi sent me some, and I've been using them for awhile now.

When I first heard them, I knew the "no bass" crowd was wrong. Had to verify this for myself, so I played a tone sweep from 20Hz to 60Hz (low low bass). In actual point of fact, the K501s have better than average bass extension! What they are lacking in is "thump" as well has having *no* humps, bumps or boosts in the bass. How refreshing! It's evident that some people need to hear those humps in order to perceive bass at all.

Lower bass loudness is lacking somewhat, but this works very well with the headphone's overall presentation. Essentially, along with the voluminous soundstage, it gives the impression of completing the job that Sennheiser attempted to do with the HD580/600: Give a full-scope impression of the orchestra. If the DT880 is third row back and HD580 is 5th or 6th row, the K501 is in back of the hall. With some recordings, it's back in the janitor's closet! :-) This is a good thing, giving a unique and very special sweep of the whole band or orchestra. Combine this with extremely good coherency, and you have a headphone that does what basically no others do -- gives a "reviewer's" presentation on the music, along with a better "out-of-head" experience than just about any headphone can do (K1000 excepted).

Given all this, you might think I found myself analyzing the sound quality rather than just listening to music -- nothing could be further from the truth. Detail is less here than the DT880, and possibly less than HD580/600, so you don't focus on detail. This is a relatively forgiving headphone, although not so forgiving that essential sonic details are obscured.

Listening to the K501 in bed is a great pleasure, due to its comfort and nonfatiguing presentation, as well as an ability to sound good at low volume levels. One of the most comfy cans I've tried -- I wish more headphones put the self-adjusting mechanism to good use like AGK does. Build quality is very good, although there's better out there. More plastic than I would wish for, but few headphones do a whole lot better. Unlike another reviewer, I find my Headsave Go-Vibe drives them reasonably well... a better amp would do them more justice, but here justice is served to a degree worthy of long listening sessions.

Those looking to bring out more bass or otherwise change the headphone's presentation (even via better amping) should look elsewhere IMO. Either you ride with the special presentation here, or look elsewhere. Don't put yourself through the pain of trying to turn the K501 into a Grado. Its sonic intentions are clear after some lengthy auditioning (right down to the thicker-than-normal earpads).

I find the K501 to be a keeper, although I would not want it as my "primary" headphone for everything. Classical, film soundtracks (including movie watching), jazz, new age, ambient electronica, general acoustic... this phone covers a huge range of music. What it doesn't do so well (some rock), there is a cheap Grado SR-60 that will do more than adequately. Give 'em a chance.

Review by Senior Member boodi on 24 May 05  22:06
Individual review
Bass Extension6
Bass Impact5
Bass Quality7
Mids Quality7
Highs Quality7
Detail7
Comfort9
Durability9
Value9

Wanted to add something about these wonderful heapdhones .

I use them paired also from the Karma hp out and line out Rio Karma --> ppa bass boost --> akg k501
This combination -being the Karma bassy and having the Karma a good EQ inside- can take out some bass from k501 ; I really enjoy them togheter

Anyhow if you're a bass addict stay away from them , they would get you on the endless research on how to get some bass out of them .

I'm happy with them mainly for the comfort and the overall nice smooth sound / stage , but I'd also like to say they're not really hi-end ,even if very musical they fail in separate and define as well as other hi-end pieces voices/instruments , even when well amped ...

soo..
a nice musical *very* compofortable and well balanced can with some limits.

all in all , for the price : adivced

Review by Senior Member BigD on 26 Dec 04  23:00
Individual review
Bass Extension5
Bass Impact4
Bass Quality6
Mids Quality9
Highs Quality8
Detail9
Comfort10
Durability9
Value8

K501 requires more than just amping thus pretty picky. These AKGs need good synergy between amp and fons to really shine. Mind you also they're not very tolerant with bad source and recording. BUT if matched correctly, these fons provide far more than the money.

By far the best fons under $200 open category for classical and jazz listeners overall. The details on cymbal, piano, femal vocal and horn instructments are unmatched in its price range. Very smooth transition, silky midrange, airy soundstage and transparent details are its fortes of these cans. Did I mention liquid and crystal? Yes they tend to be little analytical and sterile at times, but warmer source or amplification could really make these fons grow on you.

Review by Senior Member TrevorNetwork on 16 Dec 04  21:35
Individual review
Bass Extension4
Bass Impact4
Bass Quality6
Mids Quality8
Highs Quality7
Detail6
Comfort6
Durability5
Value8

A very interesting headphone. When well powered (PPA, Gilmore, Dynahi) I found it to be among the best for vocals, and jazz. The transparency, and soundstaging are phenomenal. It does however suffer from a severe lack of bass impact. The headphone is not suitable for rock / alternative rock, or techno.

Review by Member strogg on 27 Dec 04  21:12
Individual review
Bass Extension5
Bass Impact4
Bass Quality7
Mids Quality8
Highs Quality8
Detail8
Comfort8
Durability8
Value9

here's what it sounds like:

bass: the lows are... well, low. they can extend down to 2 Hz if need be (tested with bass mekanik cd and my eye watching the diaphragm go back and forth). they are also very low in volume. if you're a basshead, you'll definitely want to turn on the bass boost up a couple notches. even non bassheads should put it up a notch if they don't like near transparent bass. the bass quality, though, is very good. i can't tell you with certainty where it rolls off audially, though, since my ears aren't good with low bass extensions, but my guess is around 20-30 hz.

Mids: just... wow. for $150 headphones, these things have incredible detail in the mids. the volume is very good too. They improve even more with an amp (more on that later)

Highs: the highs are another issue. i personally find the highs a little annoying at times, since it's the most probable cause of headphone fatigue on these babies. but the detail on this is extremely good.

the soundstage:
Imagine football-head from the cartoon "Hey Arnold". that's what the soundstage is shaped like. it's a full 360 degree soundstage around your head, but it's so wide that the soundstage feels like it has no depth.

the detail:
the detail is there, and it's extremely good for such cheap headphones. but the main problem with it is its slowness. it just doesn't reproduce things fast enough for me. so if you're into classical or possibly jazz, this is the right set of cans for you. just as a note: after i replaced my stock cable with some 22awg silver wire, the headphones became faster, allowing for some good rock music to be played (albeit mainly light rock)

build:
it's built very well allowing for easy cleaning and easy replacement of broken parts... as if it will ever fall apart.

comfort: just look at the picture. now imagine the pads are silky smooth and soft with hardish padding inside. that's what it'll feel like

headbangability:
none. it'll just fall off. trust me.

other things:
it's very airy and liquidy. basically, these things sound as if you have some nice warm loudspeakers right by your head. the only thing harsh you will hear is your bad recording.

amplification:
although it's possible to have these things run without an amp, it's highly advised you buy an amp for these things. most devices are *just* powerful enough to drive these headphones, so when your mother-in-law drops by, you're screwed. I've tried these with a go-vibe, and honestly, the govibe isn't cut out for the k501's. all it really does is make the headphones louder. that's it. the S5 K-12M (with modifications), though, has synergy. it softened the audio some more (never thought it could!) and extended everything out, even the detail! So be prepared to spend $150+ on amps after the $150 on the headphones.

overall: great non-portable headphones at a not-so-budgety price. imagine the HD650s and its upgradability. this is just the same, really, in terms of upgradability, so the $150 price tag won't be the last thing you'll spend your money on, but headphones alone, these things rock!!!

Review by Member kiwirugby on 26 Dec 04  23:00
Individual review
Bass Extension7
Bass Impact7
Bass Quality9
Mids Quality9
Highs Quality9
Detail9
Comfort8
Durability9
Value9

The 501s are really a headphone to use with classcial music, but work well with jazz . They must be used with an amplifier to attain their full potential and may well require some form of eq or bass boost to really address the shyness of the bass with these headphones.

The soundstage is the true signature of this headphone. With a good amplifier the positioning and placement of instruments is as wide as you can get and provides for an alomost 360 degree soundstage.

The clarity, crispness and cleaness of the 501s is a perfect compliment for the soundstage, and adds to the enjoyment of listening with this headphone.

AKG K501