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Sound: *********
Value: *********1/2
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Measurements can be found by clicking this link.

Reviewers' ChoiceTo date, the best science on what headphone frequency response sounds best comes from Harman Research. Although the group presented its original research at the 2012 Audio Engineering Society Convention, it has only recently begun to influence headphones and earphones made by Harman companies, such as AKG and JBL. In fact, the AKG K371s are the first passive headphones that clearly show the influence of the so-called “Harman curve.” Harman International senior fellow Sean Olive, co-author (with Todd Welti) of the 2012 paper, told me the K371s come within about 1dB of the Harman curve -- which, for passive headphones, is quite impressive, given how complicated they are to tune.

The K371 headphones ($149 USD) are targeted at professionals, but are equally suited for listening at home or on the move. What makes them “pro” is mostly the hinged earpieces, each of which can fold up 180 degrees -- a feature that not only makes them easier to travel with, but also lets DJs do that thing where they have one earpiece folded up so they can hear their P.A., and the other one down so they can hear what’s coming from their mixer. Also, there’s a coiled cord in addition to straight cords in two lengths.

AKG

Engineering-wise, the K371s are as straightforward as passive headphones get: a 50mm, titanium-coated dynamic driver in each closed-back earpiece, an industry-standard 32-ohm impedance, and a high rated sensitivity of 114dB at 1mW.

In the box

The K371s come with a gray carrying sack and, as I mentioned before, three cables. The coiled cable measures 9.8' (3m), while the straight cables measure 9.8' and 2.5' (1.2m). All are tipped with a 3.5mm plug on the source end (a 3.5mm-to-6.3mm adapter is also included) and a three-conductor mini XLR connector on the headphone end. Replacement cables are readily available, in generic and high-end brands.

Use

I actually gasped a little when I first put on the K371s. Given their design, I expected them to be uncomfortably aggressive head-clampers like the AKG N700NC noise-canceling headphones (one of the other AKG models said to be voiced to match the Harman curve). But no, the K371s were exceptionally comfortable for me. They fit completely over my rather large earlobes, and they got a great seal despite their relatively light clamping force. I do worry, though, that people with small heads may find that the rather long earcups extend below their jawline and make it more difficult to get a good seal.

AKG

They’re also easy to drive -- my Samsung Galaxy S9 smartphone got them cranking to loud levels.

Sound

I expected that the K371s would simply sound flat to me -- meaning well-balanced and natural. But from the first few seconds, and on through hours of listening, I was struck more by their exceptionally clean and clear midrange.

The first thing I heard through the K371s was “La Gran Señora,” a ranchera tune by singer Jenni Rivera (La Gran Señora, 320kbps Ogg Vorbis, Fonovisa / Spotify). I’d never heard of her (although I later learned she was a huge star before her untimely death in 2012), but I like to listen to random things that appear on my Spotify homepage, so I gave the tune a spin while I was queuing up more familiar material. After the first few bars, I was hooked. Rivera’s voice sounded incredibly clear through the K371s, with detail and intimacy that reminded me of the $3000 Focal Stellia headphones. Just as impressive was the K371s’ portrayal of the mariachi band; they reproduced the dual trumpets, the accordion, and the violins with exceptional clarity and natural tonality, and imaged the instruments precisely within a huge soundstage. I didn’t think of mariachi music as something I’d want to test audio products with -- I’ve mostly heard it on bad sound systems in restaurants -- but this recording and the K371s showed me that the genre’s more worthy of exploration than I’d realized. (And that’s exactly what drew me to audio product reviewing 29 years ago.)

AKG

When I first heard singer/songwriter Gene Clark’s tune “Silver Raven” (No Other, 16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Collector’s Choice / Qobuz) through some other headphones, I assumed it was a mediocre recording, because the voice seemed dull and recessed in the mix. But I was wrong. Through the K371s, Clark’s voice sounded clear and present. The acoustic guitars -- one in the left channel, one in the right -- sounded extraordinarily detailed, yet without a hint of treble boost, edginess, or the other unnatural tricks some headphones employ to create the impression of detail. The background vocals, which were also obscured through most of the headphones I’ve heard this tune through, also sounded much clearer than I’m used to hearing.

The K371s handled more aggressive material just as gracefully. Rapper Lil Baby’s voice is somewhat obscured by the deep bass and the insistent Roland TR-808 hi-hat on his single “Woah” (320kbps Ogg Vorbis, Quality Control Music / Spotify), but the K371s brought it out more clearly than any other headphones I had on hand, including many much more expensive models -- and yet the bass actually sounded punchier and more present through the K371s. A mysterious percussion instrument that sounded like a rattlesnake rattle also seemed especially clear and audible in the mix. Here, as on many recordings, the K371s seemed to do the impossible: they brought out the voice without resorting to phony-sounding EQ bumps.

AKG

To me, though, the K371s were not as relaxing to listen to as many of the headphones I gravitate to. For example, when I listened to Ludovic Morlot and the Seattle Symphony’s performance of Ravel’s “Pavane Pour une Infante Defunte” (Ravel Orchestral Works / Saint-Säens Organ Symphony, 16/44.1 FLAC, Seattle Symphony Media / Qobuz), the K371s had a much more spacious sound than I’d expect from closed-back headphones -- and in fact, a more spacious and detailed sound than most open-back headphones can muster. But still, it didn’t have that big, wonderful, enveloping bass bloom of a typical orchestral hall. The Monoprice M570 headphones, a much larger, open-back planar-magnetic design, couldn’t match the K371s’ detail, but they gave the piece a greater sense of majesty. Call me shallow, but I really dig that majesty thing when I’m listening to orchestral pieces, because most of my listening is to jazz combos, and jazz combos just can’t do the majesty thing like an orchestra can.

Likewise, James Taylor’s voice on the live recording of “Shower the People” (digital copy from the Live at the Beacon Theatre DVD 2.0 soundtrack, 16/44.1 WAV, Sony) sounded clearer than I can ever remember it sounding through any other headphones, and the same goes for the glockenspiel in the recording. But his voice didn’t sound quite as full as I’m used to hearing.

AKG

So in terms of sheer fidelity, the K371s are nothing short of extraordinary -- even though they might not be what you choose for a long, relaxed listening session.

Comparison

Both of my usual outside panelists had a chance to compare the K371s with several other headphones. First up was John Higgins, a film composer who holds a master’s in music performance from USC and has served as a frequent contributor to Wirecutter and Sound & Vision. Next was LeRena Major, a Los Angeles saxophonist who’s held several positions in the music business and is a voting member of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences.

John basically liked the K371s, and said they compared well with the more high-end Audeze and Monoprice models he heard in the same session. “The soundstage has good width for closed-back headphones,” he said. “It’s a little ‘shushy’ -- the mids have a little more presence than I want, although I wouldn’t call it aggressive. The earpads are nice and cushy.”

AKG

LeRena, a big fan of 1980s R&B, surprised me by liking the K371s better than headphones that had a bassier sound. “I thought the sound was really rich, I didn’t have to turn them up to feel surrounded,” she said. “I could hear all the details, no matter what the mastering level, no matter how much dynamic-range compression was used. All the elements of the mix are easy to hear, and the bass, mids, and treble are all well balanced.”

Conclusion

I think every serious headphone enthusiast should at least hear the K371 headphones, and I expect many will want to add them to their collection. They deliver detail and spaciousness that at least equal what I’ve heard in any headphones I’ve heard at any price. They may not be as full-sounding as some listeners prefer, but the fact that they deliver extraordinary midrange and treble detail without using unnatural EQ tricks makes them a genuine achievement in headphone engineering.

. . . Brent Butterworth
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Associated Equipment

  • Smartphone -- Samsung Galaxy S9
  • DAC-headphone amplifier -- Lehmannaudio Linear USB II

AKG K371 Headphones
Price: $149 USD.
Warranty: One year parts and labor.

AKG
Phone: (888) 452-4254

Website: www.akg.com

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ragav · 4 months ago
    @Brent Butterworth Brent I got the k371’s. While it has great clarity, imaging and some spaciousness, the soundstage is limited i.e. the music is between my ears but also just in front of my eyes, so much much better than my airpods. But these headphones lack slam. I’m unable to feel the drums or synth beats in my midriffs. I kind of expected it to project sound like my UE Roll 2 which incidentally I bought after reading your wirecutter review.
    For example in the ‘Main theme from Jurassic Park’ performed by John Williams in Vienna which is an extended version of the original piece I couldn’t get the spaciousness and enveloping feel created by the UE Roll 2.

    In many cases I had increase the volume all the way to 90% to feel the impact of the music. Clarity is there at even low volumes! Should I buy an amp like the audioquest dragonfly for better performance?

    I use Apple music, Amazon music, and Spotify at 160kbps. I plan on burning my large cd collection as lossless files. Sadly we don’t have Tidal in India.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Brent Butterworth · 4 months ago
    @Ragav Happy 2021 to you, too!

    There's SO much competition among Chinese manufacturers -- any journalist who ever signed up for CES gets pitches from them every few days (or at least I get them). Changing production of a specific model from one factory to another is impractical because the factory has (and possibly helped develop) your tooling, but any manufacturer that consistently delivers poor quality is not likely to hang onto their clients.

    On the issue of failure due to climatic conditions -- that's possible, although the southeastern US and southeastern China are hot and humid, too. I have had some cheap outdoor speakers rust pretty badly,

    I would rather listen to the K371 than the MDR-7506. The MDR-7506 is good, but a little too bassy for me. I rarely use mine now that I got the K371.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ragav · 4 months ago
    @Brent Butterworth Thank you so much for taking the time to respond to my comment. Honestly I’ve learnt a lot from you in reading all of your work on this site, wirecutter, hometheaterreview, lifewire, etc.

    There is an interview of Jack Oclee Brown of KEF on youtube where he said that we need to trust the manufacturer which I might have misinterpreted as lack of QC. Andrew Jones on the other hand said he regularly visits the Elac factory in China so that means Elac is more involved. As for Polk it was in a profile in some AV magazine which come to think of I misunderstood. My apologies!

    Brent, you have decades of experience in both the technical and the business side of audio. Add to that your training in music, you’re probably one of the few audio journalists who ensures that art gets as much focus as technology. So I’ll take your words as gospel truth.

    I live in India and my hifi dealer who incidentally also follows your work, told me of many customers returning Audio-Engine and KEF speakers because they failed working thanks to the hot humid Indian weather. Other brands don’t have this problem. Also many AV brands don’t offer the same warranty here in India as in the US or Europe so I need to make sure my investment in these AKG headphones are worth it. So can I get your resounding endorsement to buy them?

    Also between this and the Sony MDR-7506 what would you pick? I listen mostly to a lot of western classical music, film composers like John Williams, Hans Zimmer, James Horner, etc....

    Happy New Year to you! Best wishes for the year ahead!
  • This commment is unpublished.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Brent Butterworth · 4 months ago
    @Ragav To say that I am extremely skeptical when I hear you say that companies like Polk and KEF have "no say" in the manufacturing process is putting it very, very mildly. That is an extraordinary claim to say the least. In order to believe that, I will need to know exactly who said it, exactly what they said, and exactly what their credentials are. Furthermore, while I have no doubt that SVS is heavily involved in their manufacturing process and does two-step QC (which is actually pretty common--I have set up a couple of companies to do stateside QC), I am always skeptical when any manufacturer claims some sort of superiority over another. I've been hearing that stuff for 30 years now. The standards of proof here are much, much higher than on forums -- where any anonymous dude can say just about anything.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ragav · 4 months ago
    @Doug Schneider On reddit, head-fi, youtube. Just google ‘AKG K371 build quality’.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ragav · 4 months ago
    @Brent Butterworth I didn’t intend to stereotype any nationality, it was never my intention. What I meant was quality control has more or less disappeared among many so called ‘audiophile’ companies. Polk & KEF for instance have no say in the manufacturing process. On the other hand on a query to SVS audio, I got a reply informing me that SVS engineers are heavily involved in all aspects of the manufacturing process in China. Furthermore all SVS products go through two QC checks, one in China and the other in the US presumably from where they’re exported globally.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Brent Butterworth · 4 months ago
    @Ragav I do not agree that "made in China" is necessarily worse than European- or American-made. Most audio products are made in China now, and my K371s (bought off Amazon, not cherry picked) are sturdier than most of the headphones I own. Please ignore those comments. They are not based on actual knowledge of manufacturing, they are just generalizations about countries and nationalities by people who I strongly suspect have little or no international business experience.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Doug Schneider · 4 months ago
    @Ragav Interesting. Can you point us to any specific threads about it?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ragav · 4 months ago
    @Ragav Many online hifi forums are filled with comments about terrible build quality. Looks like I’ll be buying ‘Made in Germany’ Beyerdynamic and Sennheiser headphones.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ragav · 4 months ago
    @Brent Butterworth I won’t be buying these or for thar matter any AKG headphones. They’re not made in Austria anymore. Harman shut down all of AKG’s offices and facilities in Austria in 2017 moving them to california which is fine but like all harman products is now made in china!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Brent Butterworth · 4 months ago
    @Ragav I haven't heard that many of them, unfortunately. I like the Q701--big, open sound, but it's pretty light in the bass.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ragav · 4 months ago
    @Brent Butterworth Thank you so much for your prompt reply! What other AKG headphone would you recommend that is twice as good as the K371 in terms of stereo/imaging, clarity, depth, spaciousness, soundstage, and detail? Say in the 200 to 300 dollar range?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Brent Butterworth · 4 months ago
    @Ragav Yes, I use it with my phone all the time.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ragav · 4 months ago
    Does one really need a headphone amplifier for the k371’s? At 32 ohms will not my Iphone 7 be enough to drive it to its full potential?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mauro · 1 years ago
    @Mauro I think I was wrong relating the NAD HP50 to the desired RoomFeel target curve.
    Actually, the NAD HP70 which allowed more tweaks, being active, is quite in line with Harman Curve.
    So I have to assume I like a warmer sound in the midrange...I guess! :^)

    Time to think about my beloved KEF LS50s and their sound which is quite different than the sound of the AKG K371. Actually there is a valley in their frequency response between 1-2kHz as of my liking? Maybe...Who knows! :?

    NAD HP70
    https://www.soundstagenetwork.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1934:nad-viso-hp70-bluetooth-noise-canceling-headphones&catid=263&Itemid=203

    KEF LS50
    https://www.soundstagenetwork.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=941:nrc-measurements-kef-ls50-loudspeakers&catid=77:loudspeaker-measurements&Itemid=153
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mauro · 1 years ago
    @Doug Schneider Yey!! It would be explosive! (bomb) :D

    PS: Brent Butterworth I checked the graphs of course after reading the review as I always enjoy doing and I agree that the AKG is more V shaped. But I would say that the AKG is more W shaped. Something is going on in the mids to treble region. They seem to have traded quite a bit of tonal balance to have them forward-sounding. Or maybe is just my unit of course
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Doug Schneider · 1 years ago
    @Brent Butterworth I think it would be fascinating to talk to them to both know where they're at. I know Paul has been continuously working on refining his curve.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Brent Butterworth · 1 years ago
    @Mauro I'm a little late jumping into this because I've been traveling. From what I can tell in the measurements (there's a comparison graph included on the measurements page), the HP50s have less bass and less treble, so a basically flatter response. This would be worth an article somewhere down the road ...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mauro · 1 years ago
    @Doug Schneider Interesting! I really enjoy reading interviews with designers, as Home Theater Geeks used to do..their design process would be an interesting topic! Also to know if new products are on the way..

    I know that Barton was working on a more refined model than NAD HP50/ PSB M4U 1 and was studying treble using ear canal molds and ear simulators with better acoustic impedance to get it right..who knows if he will come out any time soon with it? It would be interesting to know where is at..

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