Just as important, the K702 seems to roll off the upper treble very slightly. This characteristic might at first glance seem a drawback, but in practice it may in fact be a blessing in disguise. Let’s face it; a lot of music signals are a bit distorted or noisy in the treble region, so that it is not necessarily a bad thing for a headphone to de-emphasize those flaws. AKG’s choice fits well with the realities and quality limitations both of modern recordings and of some D/A converters. In short, the K702s reproduce treble problems in music or associated equipment, but without rubbing your face in them.
In addition to their slightly warm upper frequency balance, the K702s sound very well controlled and damped on transients. Cymbals or guitars rarely sound ragged or splashy, while vocals sound unfailingly smooth. This could be characterized as low distortion (that's certainly how it sounds), an important quality made even more important because it yields excellent instrumental separation. That sounds kind of analytical and geeky, but it means complex music doesn't get all congested and muddled.
At the same time, this smooth, well-controlled transient behavior also points, at least indirectly, toward two limitations of the K702. First, micro-dynamics, while not exactly MIA, are less vividly reproduced than they are with some competing headphones, such as the similarly priced Grado 325is or more expensive Sennheiser HD800s. The result is that the sense of the acoustic space in which the instrument or band is playing can get lost, as can the small but significant sonic details that give music its character and life-like feel. It is tough to say whether this loss, or the gain from the sense of low distortion is more important. Ideally one would like both, though over the long haul -- assuming one has to choose -- the AKG approach makes sense.
Next, when we come to macro-dynamics, we’re also in an area where the K702s are good but not great. On drums, power guitar and vocal swells, the K702 sound reasonably lively judged against reproduced music we often hear, but they don’t quite capture the punch of the real thing (and there are other headphones that get closer). The 702s can sound reticent in the bass, which may be the reason for these observations.
These limitations are mainly subtractive, so without direct comparison to other headphones you might not notice them. That’s because the even tonal balance and smoothness of the K702 sounds realistic, and the K702s lack the obvious distortions that shout, “This isn’t real music.” Given that many headphones do have additive or distracting distortions, this fact alone might make the K702 a top choice for many listeners.
On Alison Krauss and Union Station’s song “Never Got Off the Ground” [Alison Krauss & Union Station – Forget About It, Rounder], Alison’s voice occasionally gets into a range where there is some slightly sibilant stridency from some other headphones, but K702s sound clear and smooth. Maybe too smooth, because in the introduction to that song, Jerry Douglas’ Dobro sounds too much like a guitar–lacking the full resonator ring and attack that is intrinsic to the Dobro.
On Betty Olivero’s “Neharot Neharot” (Kim Kashkashian–Neharot, ECM), the chamber orchestra sounds like it is recorded in a studio, with very clear and lovely sounding instruments, but little sense of the acoustics of the recording venue. But in fact this piece was recorded in the Himmelfahrtkirche (I’m not making this up), a church in Munich. If you’ve been in European churches, you will know well that they typically offer rich, resonant acoustics—not the comparatively “dead, ” studio-like sound the K702s presented on this track. You might not miss the acoustic cues the AKGs have omitted (again, we are talking about subtle, subtractive errors) because the orchestra itself sounds lovely (or pained as the case may be).
Another example of information loss comes on the Brandi Carlile track “Turpentine” [Brandi Carlile – The Story, Columbia], which opens with an acoustic guitar (a Collings 01SB) that is rendered clearly but with the emphasis mostly on string sound. In short, the AKGs give you less body sound than you would hear from a real guitar, meaning you miss out on some of the resonance and the ringing sound of the top of the instrument. Later in that song a cello enters and once again we hear more string, with fewer low-level body and overtone components than you’d hear with live sound (or than you can hear on this recording through some other headphones).