Over the years, in the quest for better-sounding headphones, different “Target curves” emerged through various methods of research and development.
These curves, or sound signatures, serve as theoretical ideals for headphone sound, and most of them seek to replicate the experience of listening to music on perfectly-calibrated speakers in a treated room.
The theory is that if your headphone closely matches a well-calibrated target, you’re getting a more “neutral” sound, or sound that most closely presents to your ears the original signal you’re pumping into the headphones.
One of the most popular target curves is the Harman Target, developed throughout years of research headed by Sean Olive. It’s the most modern and very extensively developed, and has been regularly updated alongside new technology.
Although it doesn’t claim to be “perfect,” the Harman Target has enough reliable data behind it that most people will probably think it sounds great.
The new AKG K371 headphones are designed to follow the sound signature target of the Harman curve as closely as possible, and whether you decide to delve into the measurements or not, the results are undeniable:
This is the most accurate-sounding closed back pair of headphones you can buy for $150, and they are a phenomenal product with only a few little issues.
The AKG K371's are closed-back professional studio headphones with a focus on sonic accuracy, but they’re so nice to listen to that you could use them for just about any sort of listening, whether casual or work-related.
They sell for $150 through AKG’s web site and various partner retailers. I bought mine through Amazon, and although I like the mostly-recyclable packaging they came inside of, the backs of the ear pads on my personal unit were pretty crushed inside the box. Fortunately, they’re made of a dense memory foam and they recovered in a few minutes.
Alongside the headphones, you’ll receive three detachable cables in a configuration made famous by the Audio-Technica M50X: A 1.2m straight portable cable, a 3m coiled cable, and a 3m straight cable.
Unlike the locking 2.5mm connector used by Audio-Technica and other companies, AKG employed a mini-XLR connection on the K371's. This provides a secure fit with a robust connector, and finding third-party replacements shouldn’t be too tough as a few others have moved on to this connection.
The extras package rounds out with a simple cloth carrying bag.
If you’re looking to save a few bucks, AKG also produces the K361's for $99. They use slightly lower-quality materials, contain only two cables in the bag, and don’t promise as high of a degree of accuracy to the Harman target. I’ll eventually review that model as well.
I’ve been working in audio for a long time.
For the last thirteen years, I’ve done professional mixing and recording work for radio, TV commercials, and video. And over the last four years I’ve been on an epic headphone odyssey, trying models at all sorts of price points and reviewing them on the internet.
This AKG K371's offer perhaps the best price/performance ratio I’ve ever witnessed in terms of raw audio accuracy, and are my new personal pick for critical listening, and my new comparison standard for other models as I write reviews going forward.
They’re exceptionally flat and neutral-sounding. The bass response is well extended, but tight, clean, and precisely accurate to the source. There’s just a little extra fun in the lowest frequencies that only really comes out in more aggressive material, but the sound maintains precision and bass never bleeds into the midrange.
The midrange is delightful. This is where a large chunk of music lives, and vocals in particular have a realistic, “live-sound” vibe and tone on these headphones. There’s no sharpness, or scooping, or other obvious common flaws.
With the right material, you’ll feel like the band is playing directly for you.
The treble has a similar level of extreme control and nuance, which is impressive. A lot of studio headphones lean into their treble, which helps in theory with detecting hiss, distortion, and other recording flaws, but also causes fatigue over time and means they’re not as well-suited to home listening environments.
These just…don’t do any of that. It just all sounds really good. I don’t have any other way to describe it.
Width and image are impressive and light. The soundstage is not oppressive, and floats gently outside my head. It’s still not as open as many open-backed pairs, but it reminds me of the nice soundstage on the famous Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro. As a result, these are a pretty good movie and gaming headphone in addition to being wonderful for music and production.
Oh, and you don’t even need any special equipment or amplifiers to hear the benefits of this pair as these are hilariously efficient. Their 50mm titanium-coated drivers are rated at 32ohms and 114dB of sensitivity, and I believe those ratings.
Whether plugged into a phone, a laptop, an amp, or a console controller, they’ll give you plenty of volume to go with their sound quality.
I was worried about my squished pads when I opened the box, but fortunately, AKG’s marketing claim about slow-rebound memory foam isn’t wrong.
The pads here are quite thick, and resemble those on recent consumer-targeted JBL headphones…which isn’t a shock as JBL and AKG are part of the same corporate family. The openings are large enough to totally surround my ears, and although the drivers aren’t really angled inside, the pads are thick enough that this shouldn’t be an issue for many.
On my large head, I’ve got about four extra clicks of adjustment extension, so the adjustment range here should fit most people. And in spite of lacking the rotational flexibility of some other pairs, the cups still swivel enough on small gimbals to assist with finding a fit.
Once the memory foam has done its thing and conformed to my head, these are exceptionally comfortable headphones in spite of a high level of clamping force. That sort of clamp is common in studio pairs, and I think the pads here are thick enough to mitigate it. But you might need a break-in period if you’re sensitive to high clamp.
Like everything else discussed so far, isolation is wonderful, and right in the range you’d need for a studio pair.
They’re not going to beat an active noise-cancelling pair in a commute situation, but they do a great job of passively separating you from your environment. It’s easy to disappear inside them without cranking your music too loud.
If you were worried I was going to get to the end of the review without disliking anything, then this is the section for you.
The design of the K371's is a little funky. I’ve come around on it over the last week, but it definitely sits awkwardly between consumer style headphones and studio headphones.
On the studio side, the color is an austere mix of gunmetal and black parts. The adjustment sliders are solid metal. The cups feel dense and have a matte coating. And it says “Professional” right on the side in little white text, calling to mind other older studio pairs.
From the proverbial consumer parts bin, the main bit that sticks out is the rubberized silicone headband.
You can find a nigh-identical part on most Beats products, and on the Bose NC 700’s among many other current headphones. I don’t ever think I’ve seen a headband like this on studio headphones.
On the top of the headband there’s a nice leatherette coating with the AKG logo, but the bottom is just squishy rubber.
That rubber works better than you’d think for comfort, but it also picks up dust and other particles the second you expose these to air. Unless you plan to use your headphones in the vacuum of space, expect them to get really dusty.
The overall visual profile of the headphones is sleek as it sits on your head, but the curve of the headband, the second curve of the sliders, and the third curve of the cups makes it look a little like you’re wearing a cross-section of an octopus alien.
It reminds me at a glance of the profile of the old Blue Mo-Fi headphones, but more subtle.
I still think they look nice, and indeed their look is a stark difference from the tank-like appearance of most studio gear.
They live right on the border between “style” and “pro,” and depending on your personal tastes they might not work for you visually.
The build also isn’t quite what I expected from a studio headphone. The pads being crushed by their own packaging was a disappointment. The adjustment sliders are looser and less resistant than they probably should be. The headband makes a little protest sound every time I place these on my head.
And, while the ear pads are easily removable and replaceable, the rest of the headphone isn’t easy to repair.
Unlike many other studio headphones, some of which even have full schematics available, the sleek design of the K371's means every screw is covered and every part is hard to access.
It’s theoretically nice to be able to break down your studio headphone into its components, buy parts for it, and fix it yourself. It’s part of what makes a studio headphone “pro-grade” in my head.
These don’t have that feature.
Now, it’s true that I’ve hardly ever had to do that sort of repair personally in the last several years. And I think that the AKG’s feel nearly as solid as most other popular pairs. Just know that if you were planning to buy these and carry them through the next fifty years with only your screwdriver and a parts catalog to guide you…you might be disappointed.
The headphones fold down into a compact shape for storage, and use a rotational ratcheting hinge instead of a more typical mechanism. It works well.
I like the choice of mini XLR connector, and although the cables are a little bit springy, particularly for the first day or two after you unpack them, they work well. I’ve been using the short cable on the go, and the coiled cable with my amp at my desk.
The included bag looks really nice, but has a strange crinkly feel to it that reminds me of old cheap Halloween costumes. It crackles under my fingers like it’s filled with crepe paper, which immediately dampens its otherwise premium look.
I do enjoy the grey color scheme.
The extras package here is an exact mimic for the M50X package, and it’s pretty obvious this headphone was designed to destroy the market for that one.
I love the AKG K371’s, and I plan to always own them.
Sure, they’ve got a dust-collecting headband and I can’t unscrew them until they’re a million pieces on my floor. Sure, my pads were crushed in the box. And sure, they look a little like they were built out of leftover parts from a bin full of rejected or cancelled consumer headphone designs.
But they sound and feel amazing.
They’re not going to appease hardcore bassheads. They don’t have a built-in mic for phone calls or gaming. You can’t wear them flat around your neck. They aren’t going to do the job for those that love the Grado sound, with all its treble madness. They’re not the widest, most-spacious things in the world.
But they’re exceptionally accurate, and you can wear them for days.
If you have $150 to spend and you want a great-sounding closed back wired headphone for pretty much any use case, this is the new default recommendation I’ll speak eagerly at you until my voice wears out.
And then I’ll write it out instead.