Saturday, May 14, 2011

AKG K430

For once, time to listen instead of playing. Since I do listen to a lot of music on the move, I badly needed a new set of headphones. After reviewing the options on the 30-60€ price bracket, I went for the K430 from AKG, a brand I already knew for the professional microphones and the (very good) K314P earphones I was currently using.

Let’s cut to the chase : they are excellent.

The building feels solid and trustworthy, with a head band that won’t feel uncomfortable or slide. The white design is slick, with a smooth leathery inside.
The cable is very short. That’s something you'll want to keep in mind if you’re considering getting one to listen on a hi-fi or TV or computer. You’ll need an extension cord. The K430 were clearly designed for nomad use.
The volume command on the cable is quite big, and I have to say, feels a bit wobbly compared to the overall build quality.

The sound : full and cohesive. It clearly emphasizes the low frequencies, providing powerful but well-defined basses and generally adding a lot of energy to the songs. As usual with bass-heavy headphones, one loses a bit of clarity. I certainly didn’t find the crystal clear clarity of my previous AKG earphones, but those were actually a bit weak on bass and often harsh.
That said, the K430 basses never overpower the mids and highs, and the stereo image remains clear and crisp enough. I especially loved how detailed the mid frequencies are, and how the K430 tends to smooth the highs in a very musical and pleasing way. You can push up the volume and feel immersed in the sound without ever being annoyed by hiss or sibilance, or having your eardrums crushed by overwhelming basses.
In conclusion, excellent headphones well worth the price.


Depeche Mode – “Wrong”
The band’s last single to date was a great one but the analog lover in me tended to consider the synths a tad cold sounding. This is alleviated by the K430. Simply put, it sounds fantastic : there’s tremendous energy coming from the aggressive synth bass, the drums and the vocals, and the ability of these headphones to coalescence the sound in a natural way truly shines, without sounding muddy. Rocking.

King Crimson – “Vroooom”
This is an instrumental track with intricate hard prog guitar parts, with an unusual mixing style : there are virtually two bass-guitar-drums bands playing, one panned to the extreme left, one to the right, with occasional additional parts in the middle. This mix is crisp and edgy, with a cold, clinical feel. Thus it is a good test to check out if the K430 will respect the original mood. As it turns out, this is one case of the K430 slightly altering the spirit of the song : while it still comes out pretty edgy, the headphones do warm up the sound and smooth the highs, so that it the instruments sound "closer" than they really are. I wouldn’t say that it’s a problem : the track sounds awesome on these. But it definitely shows how the K430 isn’t totally neutral.

Stevie Wonder – « Superstition »
Now we’re talking serious ! Entangled web of clavinet, funky bass, blaring horns, it all pops out in 3D in my ears with the K430. This is one of the best way to listen to that classic stuff. The K430 enhances the bass line nicely, overall bringing great energy to the rhythm section.


Sting Nordenstam – “Everyone Else in the World”
Nordenstam's vocals are often mixed up front with a very bright, sometimes even harsh, sound.
Another example of the K430’s tendency to smooth the high frequencies. The vocals here sound more natural and soft than they usually do.


Nine Inch Nails – “The Big Come Down”
Here’s a track with some complex, heavy industrial groove going on, which comes out really good on the K430. Iinstrument separation remains excellent on this mammoth rhythmic section and I’ve heard some background haunting synth parts I had never noticed before, proving that the energy the headphones brings to the low frequencies doesn’t actually shadow the mids and highs.

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