WARNING: this post contains audio geekery. if you experience vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, shortness of breath, or temporary loss of vision from geekery, please look away from this post right now.
the humble headphone––nearly everyone sports a pair now, most likely the one bundled with that mp3 player or smart phone. but with advances in audio technology, headphones are not just something that transmits sound anymore; it is a device that, at its best, can transport you to a different world with its startlingly realistic sound. conversely, a crappy pair of ‘phones can be absolutely boring to listen to. for those who enjoy good sound but don’t want to spend a big load of $$ on stereo gear, headphones are a economical way to get the most out of your music. for a cheapskate like me, headphones are a welcome alternative to a typical stereo setup.
for casual use, i generally grab the apple ear buds because it’s inexpensive, fairly durable, and easily replaceable if you do break a pair. plus, they are compact and highly portable, a boon if you’re on the move a lot. but like anything in life, sometimes you want more (moar!). for that reason, i’m typically on the lookout for better cans.
if you ever shopped for headphones, you’ve probably heard of akg headphones, one of the better brands in the ‘phone business. (akg was an austrian company, but now owned by harmon international.) one day i came across a pair of akg k422 online for a good deal; long story short, i ended up buying it after some research.
it seems that the k422 is specially made for the euro retailer Fnac, so you won’t find the k422 on akg’s website. (i’m not too familiar with Fnac, but it’s a french company that operates primarily in europe & has an international presence. i’ve heard that the Fnac is kinda like a combination of best buy and barnes & noble.) i found the k422 on Fnac’s website for around $25 before shipping, and ebay listings sell it between $40-$45 on average. price-wise, the k422 can be considered a budget headphone. below are the basic specs.
style: semi-open-back, supra-aural, folding headphone
impedance: 32 ohms
sensitivity: 125 db/mW
max input power: 30 mv
freq. response: 13 Hz – 27 kHz
weight: 3.7 oz
after i unboxed the ‘phones, i kind of expected the cans to sound just okay, because i thought i might have to burn them in first. i was wrong though; the ‘phones sounded great from the start. the sound was fast, warm, detailed, & pretty transparent, and the soundstage seemed to be quite neutral. there was a very very slight harshness, but i expect that to go away with use. one drawback: because it’s semi-open, your plane/train/bus neighbors will hear your music. if you don’t give a crap about your commute neighbors, go ahead and take the ‘phones with you; otherwise you may wanna leave them home or turn the volume down. i was surprised at how warm & airy the ‘phones sounded; i was expecting a cooler, clearer sound. for budget headphones, the k422 blew me away. and it has bass! very cool.
i don’t have a whole lot to compare with, so i dug out my old sony fontopia mdr-ex81 in-ear headphones (replaced with newer model, no longer made) as well as my sony mdr-v150 supra-aural cans (ditto). here are pics of the fontopia and v150. the fontopia pic is first, & the v150 is second.
for some reason, both the sony ‘phones have this darker, slower sound. while the fontopia was very bass-happy and quite detailed, it couldn’t match the akg’s speed and airiness. and my v150? it was basically like fontopia, but with less of everything. however, the v150 was only $20; at that price, the v150 is a killer bargain. i messed around with some nicer sony ‘phones and they sounded very neutral and beautiful, so this darker slower sound i heard on my sony ‘phones is probably not representative of sony headphones.
next up: those fancy grados with wood earcups, plus headphone amps to power the grado. will look into selling kidneys.