As a recording engineer and producer who’s operated a pro recording studio, at least at some level, for over a decade now, I’ve experimented with a lot of headphones for recording. I admit I don’t have a ton of experience, or any for that matter, with the $1000+ cans that are out there – but almost everything else has been stuck to the heads of my band, my clients, or myself for some period of time. From Beats to Koss to Sony, Audio Technica, AKG and more.
Around 2005 I believe it was I bought what are now my go to headphones for everything, the AKG K271 (Mk1). Basically I was somewhat used to my AKG K240 and K240df but needed more isolation and more volume, and these looked fit for the job.
Everyone loved these things; they were way louder and clearer running off my Fostex PH100 headphone amp then the other AKGs and were sealed up better so there was quite a bit less leakage into the mic(s). I wouldn’t have had to upgrade so it wasn’t for that reason that I bought the new, second generation AKG K271 Mk2.. The now 9 year old Mk1’s had been beat up, with puffy emblem stickers falling off and crazy glued foam speaker covers and all. They still work great though! The biggest problem was the ear pads had been stripped of their nice leather
, and they were flat and looked like croc skin – and clients didn’t like wearing sweaty ear muffs. When I saw the Mk2’s I was like, yeah!
At about $250 they’re actually cheaper than the Mk1’s were back in 2005, and include a spare curly phone-type cable and, go figure, extra ear pads! The fit and finish is great and the packaging is all top end AKG as normal. I didn’t even try them myself, I put them straight to work on a session with an RnB/Hip Hop/Reggae vocalist I’ve worked with for years, Karian Sang.
Without getting into a full play by play of the whole review process here I’ll just narrow down the standout experiences. I worked with 6 different artists using these headphones. Karian was singing a pop dance track, another client Zukie Joseph is a roots reggae singer, Torio Jones is an RnB singer, and the rest were all hip hop artists. Karian and Zukie, in particular, have been clients of mine since before I opened Paranoyd Sound Studios and have been using the AKG K271 (Mk1) for well over half a decade.
My first inclination that a review might be necessary was when Torio, the second client to use the Mk2’s, asked me to just grab him the old ones about 5 minutes into his recording. He said the new ones were just less present and he’d deal with the worn out pads. I was a little taken aback as I hadn’t expected a difference between these new cans compared to the old ones. I remembered that Karian had mentioned several times the day before that she couldn’t hear herself as well and that the sound just didn’t sound as “big” as she was used to. So the review was sparked.
I had six artists A/B the Mk1/Mk2, and out of them four preferred the Mk1’s! The other two artists said they liked them both and that they were different “flavours”, with one of them being reggae singer Zukie who remarked that the Mk1’s sounded more “reggae”. Very telling indeed.
Before it sounds like I’m walking all over these new headphones, I’m not; they’re great sounding, high quality, and a great deal. It’s just that I was looking for a new “go-to” set of recording headphones for my clients and these fell short of my other go-to’s. I guess you could say that the Mk1’s offer a little more midrange and high-end definition than the new ones. I don’t often mix on headphones so I wasn’t looking for a more balanced sound, although I will say I did the better part of a mix with the new phones and they worked great for that, being very well balanced, clear, and comfortable.
The problem of course is you’ll have a great deal of trouble trying to track down a used set of AKG K271 (mk1) so this review essentially leaves more questions than answers! I think a good pair of headphones is important – whatever you use them for. For me it’s to throw on in the booth or toss to my clients in the booth – and that’s it – so they have to be good for that! I hope this little headphone review helped.. But stay tuned as I try to provide a little closure in a future blog – probably reviewing the Audio Technica ATH-M50 which I hear from the likes of producer Rob The Viking are pretty nice. Cheers!