AKG K361 Review: The New Champ of $99 Studio Headphones
Please stop buying the M40Xs
Earlier this year, audio industry stalwart AKG launched the K371. It’s a true benchmark headphone, offering peerlessly accurate sonic performance for its $149 price, alongside a design that blends aspects of consumer and professional gear. It seems poised to dethrone all other comparable studio headphones, most notably Audio-Technica’s stalwart M50X.
After loving it so much, it was only a matter of time till I checked out its cheaper brother, the K361. It launched the same day for $99, and it too seems pointed brazenly at the entrenched competition, most notably Audio-Technica’s M40X.
The K361 retains much of what makes the K371 such a winner, though it has a leaner sound, and the build changes made to trim the price down are immediately apparent. Still, it’s another excellent offering from AKG, and other companies in this fight should either be very worried or quickly designing updates to their old models.
The AKG K361 is a wired, closed-back studio-style headphone that has an MSRP of $99. I got mine on sale from Amazon for about $89, and I’ve seen frequent discounts on this pair which is impressive given how new they are.
You get two detachable straight cables in the box (1.2m and 3m long), and a nice canvas carrying bag. The bag is identical to the one included with the K371, but the cables use a 2.5mm twist lock connection instead of the 371’s less proprietary mini-XLR connector.
In spite of their “professional” aim, their nice sound quality and small size mean they’re also appropriate for home users looking for a good portable pair of wired headphones.
I haven’t been this excited by an M40X competitor since Pioneer’s HRM-5.
On first listen, I immediately noticed that the K361’s don’t sound quite as robust or rich as their more expensive counterpart. They’re a little bit thinner, leaner, and brighter, though they have a similar overall character and tuning.
That impression has held up over many hours of listening tests. The bass is reasonably accurate, but it’s never overstated or dominant. The essentially perfect bass energy I loved so much in the K371’s isn’t present here, but that said the bass still has a nice quality to it. It’s dialed back in relative intensity, but still thumps along with a clean texture, free of any mud or bloom.
The modest reduction in bass energy means that the midrange feels a bit more forward, and fortunately it’s still clean and awesome, with a realistic tone that bests most other headphones at this price point.
The upper midrange and treble stick out as the most prominent features of the signature, and although they’re never fatiguing, they might be too sharp for listeners used to more bass and warmth. But if you give your brain a little adjustment time, other headphones may sound dull by comparison.
Treble is tight and reasonably detailed, without the sibilance issues of the DT770 or the extreme fatigue potential of the MDR7506. Cymbal hits can sound messier and more “splatty” than on the K371's, but it’s something I only noticed in direct comparisons and not a major issue.
Overall, the sound is just to the cold side of neutral, and after a few days of brain burn-in, the K361’s impressed me nearly as much as the 371’s did.
They’re cleaner-sounding than the M40X’s, and much wider- sounding as well. You won’t mistake their soundstage for that of an open-back pair, but there’s still a nice sense of air and room presence.
I’d rate the overall quality of the sound just one notch below the K371’s, both for their overall tone and for how they compare to my personal preferences. That said, the 361’s are still one of the best-sounding studio headphones on the market today.
You won’t need any special amplifier to drive them either, thanks to their high sensitivity and low 32 ohm impedance. You can drive them correctly with just about any headphone jack on any device, and they’ll get plenty loud too. I had no volume issues on a Nintendo Switch or a MacBook, and noticed no major jump in quality using a desktop amp.
Here’s the one area where the 361’s actually slightly improve on the more expensive model. That’s not a knock against the 371’s; they’re perfectly comfortable for long sessions.
However, the 361’s are built with lighter materials, and that has shaved off 36g of mass. The 361’s have a mass of just 219g, making them one of the lightest studio headphones currently available.
When combined with the same exceptional memory foam ear pads from the more expensive version, and a modest clamping force, the result is a headphone that sits gently on the head from minute one and stays comfy until you take them off.
The adjustment range is nigh-identical to the more expensive version, and it should fit a wide variety of head sizes without issue. I have three spare clicks on my large dome.
The only downgrade to the comfort here compared to the higher-priced version is that the headband pad isn’t as thick or plush. It’s still a soft piece of silicone with some nice give to it, but it’s not as pillowy to the touch as the 371’s heftier pad. Fortunately, with the lighter weight of the 361’s factored in, this is essentially a non-issue.
Comfort is night-and-day better than the M40X’s. The clamping force is much more reasonable on the 361’s and the pads are roughly a million times nicer.
I’m famous for not minding the small pads on Audio-Technica’s studio series, but there’s no contest compared with AKG’s pads. They’re big, with holes large enough to surround most ears, and use a slow-rebound memory foam that’s the same density as three Audio-Technica pads stacked on top of each other.
Apart from the small lack of richness in the audio compared to the 371, the 361 also suffers in the materials department.
That $50 price difference had to come from somewhere.
That’s not to say the cheaper pair is badly built. But all of the premium touches are gone.
The top of the headband is now a basic plastic instead of a nice leather material. As mentioned above, the headband pad is thinner. The ear cup backs are made of a cheaper-feeling plastic. The ear cup supports are now plastic instead of metal, with a coarse matte finish. The ratcheting multi-step rotation hinges that fold the headphone down are gone, replaced with a mushy-feeling hinge that only locks into one of three places. And the mini-XLR connector has been cut in favor of a basic twist-to-lock 2.5mm connector.
In spite of all the changes to material quality, the overall design is nigh-identical, blending studio and style headphones into one modern look. And, if you’ve never held a K371 for comparison, the K361 still feels nice in the hands. It’s comparable to the reasonable build of the all-plastic Sennheiser 500 series.
All of the color accents in the design are lost, in favor of a whole lot of black. The screened-on AKG logos provide the only hint of contrast. And like the K371, the K361 doesn’t have any easily-accessible repairable parts outside of removable pads. That’s fine for consumer gear, but many studio headphones have established a precedent of full user-repairability.
On the plus side, the headband doesn’t make the slight protest noise that my 371’s make when I place them on my head. And the more subtle color scheme and lighter weight make the 361’s an awesome portable pair, perfect for remote work sessions or take-to-the-office use.
You get two cables in the box, in another clear jab at the M40X. Unlike the Audio-Technica model, AKG doesn’t include a coiled cable here, instead opting for 1.2m and 3m straight cables.
The cables are of decent quality and the plugs are thick and durable-feeling. The 2.5mm twist lock plug on the headphone side isn’t the same as the plug type used on many of Sennheiser and Audio-Technica’s models, so finding third-party replacements could be tricky.
Rounding out the features package is a nice canvas drawstring carrying bag and a 6.3mm screw-on adapter.
The AKG K361’s feature sound quality that’s 85 percent as impressive as their more-expensive counterpart, and shave everything they can off the build to get the price down under $100. The K371’s are undeniably better-sounding in direct comparison, with enough accuracy to the presentation that you could probably mix on them in a pinch. But the K361’s are still an excellent professional headphone, and great for tracking, monitoring, or personal listening.
They are also hands-down better in nearly every way than the M40X’s. They’re better-sounding, lighter, and have much larger ear pads that offer much greater comfort.
If you’re in the market for a studio-style headphone with a neutral sound signature, the AKG K371 and K361 are now the first two pairs you should consider. They don’t have the easily repairable build of other classic models, but you can’t argue with their stellar audio performance for the price.
And don’t let the word “studio” scare you off if you’re looking for a home consumer music-listening, game-playing, or movie-watching experience. While other consumer pairs will provide you with larger quantities of bass and may use digital tricks to widen the sound field, these two AKG models will give you a similar listening experience to the one had by the talented folks that made the content you’re enjoying.
Both of these will remain permanent fixtures in my personal collection, and they’re my new benchmarks for performance in studio-style headphones.