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AKG K240 Studio cans - short and sweet

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May 28, 2009
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#1
Picked up a pair of AKG K240 Studio cans. (55 ohm version).

The basic design has been around forever so I won't go too far into my impressions of them. My impressions are based on NO-eq.

The pair I picked up are black and gold trim. Makes me think of the 70's Formula 1 "John Player Special" cars, or perhaps the Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am hoods. They *have* to sound great right? :)

Very quickly -
Punchy mid-bass. Might tighten up with an amp behind it.

Slight 2K midrange peak, but fortunately, my ears don't hear any ringing - especially important to not make woodwinds just melt your brain.

2K - 9K kinda recessed. Mellow. Designed for long-term listening with not much fatigue.

10K peak - a little emphasis to make my beloved cymbals and triangles sing nicely.

At 55 ohms, they seem to be driven "ok", with my little CCrane radios with 500mw amps. Using an external amp takes me into another territory completely.

Because of this, the mid-bass punch is kinda sloppy if driven too hard, so listening at normal levels, and not trying to rock out seems acceptable.

But as always, different strokes for different folks - and applications of intended use of course.
 
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#2
I "get" the Studio-Monitor thing now.

Interesting - cymbals and triangles sound like they are being hit with a brush, rather than a beater or cymbals smashed together. Ah, the grainy thing. Not unpleasant, but different.

BUT - I wouldn't recommend these for critical home theater since they are um, studio monitors, which doesn't mean they are accurate - nor meant to be!

In a nutshell, I believe the sound-signature of studio monitors, and these AKG's in particular are designed for SOUND-WORKERS, and not necessarily audiophiles!

Enough bass to make their presence known, but not altogether perfect.
A little vocal emphasis, but not ring-ey.
Mellow from 2-9K.
A 10K rise, but can be a tad "grainy" rather than total sparkle.

From this, I believed they were designed for sound-workers (and not necessarily all music!) not only to protect their hearing in general, but also not to "desensitize" their hearing for long stretches of studio work so that their ears become totally trashed and unable to make even simple changes in level adjustments. This gets you in the ballpark, but the FINAL mix will be done by other gear.

For example: How often when presented with ANY sort of desert-scene in a commercial, do you hear that over-used "eagles-cry"? Yeah, ALWAYS. Imagine dubbing or editing that track and having to play that back in your head for 300 different takes?

Anyway, I like how the 240's sound, but it's NOT the final word. Like potato chips, you can't have just ONE pair of cans. :)
 
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#3
Well, I won't be listening to these for daily musical pleasure - not that they are bad, but they just aren't for that kind of general purpose listening in my book. It's more of an audio-develepor / musician production tool.

But, I think I'll keep it around for a *fun* value. The most important is the "ghost striker" phenomenon of cymbals (and triangles for classical fans), seemingly going off without hearing a strike! Trippy. :)
 
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#4
Broke my golden rule not to EQ. Game changer now.

Interesting - Used the K240's on my CCrane Radio 2E that has simple bass and treble controls.

Fortunately, those controls don't seem like cheapo linear pots, but have some sort of log or audio taper to them from what I can tell.

Pulled back just a tad on bass. And added just a little to treble.

WOW - now I'm hearing what I like. Sure the radio just runs out of steam driving them eventually, but loud enough to be comfortable at this level. Good enough to make me seriously consider an external amp now. But the question will be if the bass/treble eq is tied into the line-out jacks, which I'd prefer to use to drive an amp... different thread for the future.

While a whole different headphone now with just a touch of EQ, there is still the initial ghost-strike of large cymbals that is missing. I think somehow the leading edge of high-frequency high-intensity waveforms is shaved off, phased-out, or whatever.

My thinking is that for a "studio" monitor, this may be trying to protect a worker / musician's ears from things like gunshot sounds. Or perhaps such things like hot-plugging in a guitar-amp. This is just conjecture, and I have not tried it. YMMV. Anonymous-internet warnings apply.

Maybe - who knows? Thing is, they have moved beyond fun-and-trippy to actually useful. Just a dash of salt-n-pepper was all it needed. :)

ROCKERS - holy cow - freakin awesome now. With a warning:

Phones like these will bring the worst and best out of the FM broadcasters. Hearing Zeppelin on my LPFM KHUG, which doesn't destroy the audio eq, makes it seem like I'm hearing it for the first time, even though it got played every 10 minutes on every station in L.A. while growing up. And the "grain" makes ZZ-TOP just even funkier.

CLASSICAL - now that the midrange has some room to breath with the bass pulled back a hair - mmmmm - awesome detail. Strings and vocals so natural - and even with the treble boosted just a hair, horns and woodwinds aren't drilling holes into my brain when they hold notes. To be sure, it has it's own unique signature so I wouldn't go so far as to say they are perfect, but they provide a totally satisfying sound bordering on the "entertaining" for classical.

Now I understand the "strange groove" some have reported about this headphone. You gotta' work it to get it to play to your liking.
 
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#5
The "hushed snare" high frequency / grain modulation ...

Part of the ear-saving technique that sets these apart from other common studio monitors is what seems like a purposeful tuning of the driver to modulate the higher frequencies.

So rather than provide a harsh sibilant sound, or a too-shiny 10K sparkle, instead of attenuating the frequency response at the high end, a modulated grain that I can only best describe as a "hushed snare" sound to highest frequencies is also supremely interesting, and leads to less ear fatigue in the long run.

Like cutting that 14-minute long drum solo. For the 150'th time today.

This is why I think it is a mistake for audiophiles to attribute more to these cans, even the near religious icons of the early "sextet" EP/MP/LP series, than anything but great studio monitors (albeit the sextets split-personality) in the final observation.

They are basically just a total blast to listen to, and will provide some real entertainment while listening to material you know like the back of your hand. The ear-saving techniques wound into the drivers bring out some interesting notes and sounds you may not have known or paid attention to before.

Most notably for me is the impulse reduced ghost-strike of large cymbals, and that smooth grain of the high end like indulging in some fine scotch.

But at the end of the day, I'd have to say that unless you are MAKING music with these, they are not always the best choice if total frequency response accuracy is your goal. The ear-protection features will get in the way of that.

Nevertheless I headbanged for hours on end today, without any fatigue, which made me appreciate and get into the details of the recording much more than I would have with audiophile cans, like Sennheiser HD 650's. etc etc.

Can's are just tools - switch them up once in awhile to prevent a stale relationship with your music.
 
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#6
Figured out the "ghost strike" on large cymbals:

Doh! That ear-saving very high end is grainy-smooth - on purpose. So a sharp, short, snappy cymbal strike goes grainy instead - and microseconds later, the cymbals, which are already somewhat grainy in nature, just hides the initial strike, and all you hear is the ring.

This is why you don't use 240's for the final mix. :) Intermediate production ok, but not so great for end-user accuracy for the finals - unless you like to just groove on that type of sound. Which I do from time to time.
 
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#7
Heh, an example of what I'm talking about of when and when NOT to use the K240's.

SiLabs is showcasing their FM radio chips, with graphic of K240's on a mixer board.

https://www.silabs.com/products/audio-and-radio/fm-radios

Mixer board - certainly. FM broadcast "end result" mix? Not always, unless you understand up front what's going on with these.

It wouldn't be my first choice in graphics to showcase their abilities, but was obviously chosen as a headphone icon. Only a small handful of people would notice this small detail. :)
 
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#8
Jazz and the large-cymbal "ghost strike" ...

Interestingly enough, with either rock or classical, the ghost strikes are most apparent due to cymbals being crash-hit for the most part.

But when jazz drummers are using the cymbals with a refined technique to almost make different notes from them, I can sometimes hear the stick-head hitting the cymbal before it rings because they are taking it slow and gently. It is really interesting because sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't within the same song.

I'm having fun listening to the venerable K240's...
 
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#9
Bought the velour pads and swapped them out from the pleather. Summertime cooking my ears off ...

Slightly smaller opening meant that I had to guide my ears inside, but luckily they fit. Doesn't fit some people. I don't notice any major difference in sound.

I guess I should have gotten the MKII's that come with accessory secondary velour pads and coiled cable. But I had to have that groovy 70's Firebird-Trans-Am hood look with gold-on-black vs silver-on-black. :)

Velour! The fabric of the future and space captains everywhere!
 
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#10
12 hour long-term monitoring - passed!

Ok, *lived* inside the K240 cans for a solid 12 hours with no problems. My best non-fatiguing champ - using the velour pads.

(Got some BeyerDynamic DT990 velours coming for a mod test in week or so....)

Observations for long-term :

1) The K240 shines with AM radio stations, especially those that have ridiculous processing that make them sound like the studio is located inside a steel-drum with digital artifacts. The "grain" of the upper mids and highs of these cans tends to lessen that steel-drum effect so that you just might make it through the traffic report without laughing at how bad their processing is. And with no need for sub-bass, and a slightly bumped up normal bass at 100hz+ gives AM radio a little warmth.

2) With higher fidelity sources like FM (those that are doing processing right) and pre-2005 CD's my closed-back pair of Sennheiser HD-280's has an overall better fidelity, even though it is *still* a studio monitor, but even with the slightly scooped bass, the extended sub-bass kinda pounds after awhile, so I can't monitor endlessly. Still, the overall bass regions are tighter and less congested than the AKG's.

Both the K240 and Senn 280 avoid putting peaks in that pesky region where sibilance and "essing" like to live. However, the 280's lack of grain means that if you push any treble EQ too far, the Senn 280's will go painfully sharp, but the K240 just gets even grainier. Overdo it, and yeah, both sound like crap, it is just that the AKG's throws up the grain so you don't bleed from the ear.

In the end, if one wanted a more "entertaining" response, then EQ it. They both only need minor adjustments if you want to rock out for example, or if you need home-theater sound, rather than studio. Push them both into the sibilance regions with EQ, and the K240 handles (hides) it better.

In my mind the K240 is the perfect tool for radio operations, and entertainment with a *little* EQ. Not much - if all you have is simple bass / treble controls, just pull the bass back a hair, and the treble up a hair. That's it.

Either way I look at it, if you don't use the K240 professionally, it is a really FUN headphone for casual use / entertainment. You'll run through your library and just have a blast hearing trippy little things you never really heard before.

I don't regret grabbing these venerable cans, even though I looked down my nose on them at first.
 
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#11
K240 mod with Beyer Dynamic 990 velour pads

Put the BD 990 velour pads on the K240 and without EQ, "meh".

Comfort is improved over the AKG velours, BUT the main difference, other than a slightly larger internal size on the BD's, is that there are perforated holes in the BD velours, whereas the AKG's are solid backing.

With the bd's on, it made the bass just go away for the most part. Mids and high's seem ok, but I'm not going to spend much time with them on. Makes sense - the perforations just open it up TOO much. So for you headphone modders out there, some sort of backing material on the BD pads to close up those holes might be an interesting mod.

But will you just end up back at square one and might as well have kept the OEM akg velour pads?

Here is a way to put on the slightly smaller BD 990 pads non-destructively with no tools:

1) Fold the plastic lip back onto itself onto the velour.
2) *GENTLY* stretch the pads by pulling them slightly apart in a circular motion. GENTLY is the keyword.
3) Starting at the top of the 240 driver, fold the earpad lip back over the driver edge. Gently.
4) Gentle tugs once on, will center the plastic lip over the edge for a neater fit.

In the end, unless you absolutely need the larger opening that the BD velours provide, AND you are willing to EQ the sound, I'm not sure you'll be happy. Unless you get into "modding".

That was fun - but back to the OEM AKG velour pads for me.
 
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#12
Need more cowbell!

Hah - another demonstration of the ear-protection the K240 provides about knocking off the leading edge of high frequency super fast transients ....

Us older rockers might remember Procol Harum's "Whiskey Train", and of course Robin Trower's masterful guitar. Mustache, sideburns, and bell-bottoms optional when listening at an appropriately loud level. :)

Now listen to the cowbell's being stuck like no tomorrow. No strike - just the "ring" if you will of the cowbell. Really funny to hear a kind of disjointed cowbell solo being performed throughout the song on the K240's....
 
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#13
You might recognize these popular Sennheiser studio headphones from the 80s. That's me wearing them while cuing up Jimmy Hendrix on the original stereo master tapes from the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. This pic was taken around the early 90s at Lou Adler's house while he was putting together a movie about the pop festival.

My head is painted out to hide my huge dreadlocks at the time, ja man.
 

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#14
Wow - what an honor to be able to even touch those masters!

Looks like the venerable HD 414's to me. Love the patch of sonex foam on the wall. I absolutely love that stuff. Now that I think about it, maybe I should pick some up for the shack.

Great pic! It makes me laugh because it looks like someone wearing a sonic foam cover over their entire head on purpose. :)
 
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#15
Yea, it was quite an honor to play with the master and I was warned not to do anything abrupt and F it up! I don't remember if I was using a headphone driver in the Ampex or if it was outboard but the sound was really nice.


Wow - what an honor to be able to even touch those masters!

Looks like the venerable HD 414's to me. Love the patch of sonex foam on the wall. I absolutely love that stuff. Now that I think about it, maybe I should pick some up for the shack.

Great pic! It makes me laugh because it looks like someone wearing a sonic foam cover over their entire head on purpose. :)
 
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#18
I remember those Sennheiser headphones quite well. I've had a few pair over the years, probably my first "open air" set. You do realize that if we see anyone walking around with a big black blob on their shoulders, we'll know who it is, don't you? :)
 
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#19
Long term report on the AKG K240's ...

With the velour earpads, putting them on is like jumping into a favorite pair of jeans.

I have access to other more accurate phones at work, but I have to agree with others about this set having it's own unique tasteful character to the sound. I dig it.

I'd say to anyone who might be bored with their old playlists, where you know every note and detail burned permanently in your memory, to try listening to them with these. Even if you don't intend to make the '240's your main set of cans. It is at least VERY entertaining in a tasteful way.

It goes beyond just mere frequency response, there is something so intriguing about them. My old classics have new "life" being just a tad different, and new stuff I haven't memorized, but it still sounds great. Different - without going over the top.

A shout out to my local college station, KCSN 88.5 for having a VERY nice signal and a very cool format. Old and new, and not just the standard "oldies" for us geezer-indy, but a lot of "B sides", which sometimes are the better tune!

My enjoyment comes not only from the K240's, but unless I'm losing my mind, KCSN seems to have a tasteful compression setup, and may be using less compressed source material to boot. I could be wrong, but it seems that way. At least if I met some of the artists aired on the station, I can say that the station compressor hasn't totally ruined the performance. Even some of the material I don't particularly get into, I can enjoy the transmission quality of it, unlike some other stations here in LA, which sound like low quality data streams, shrieking at me.

CCrane dsp radios - AKG K240's - and some local stations who take pride in their sound : a LOT of fun.
 
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