AKG makes great studio headphones that have a wide range of application. And while most of their sets are designed for studio monitoring and recording, they are equally well-equipped to handle direct instrument monitoring as well.
Moreover, they're an easy target for bass players looking for a pair to handle the low frequency of their instrument.
All of the AKG headphones we'll cover in this list have the following features:
- Over-ear pad design
- Self-adjusting headband
- Wide frequency range (more on this below)
Technical specs of both pairs are all fairly similar, if we limit our examination to the following:
- Higher impedance (measured in ohms - should be 25 or over for instruments)
- Bass-friendly frequency range and response (measurement of a headphones ability to produce certain frequencies on a graph)
- Max input power
We've narrowed our preference down to two pairs of AKG headphones that have high impedance, a wide (and low) frequency range, are incredibly comfortable and just sound particularly good with bass guitars.
AKG Headphone Picks for Bass Guitar
|#1||AKG K240 Studio Semi-Open Headphones|
|#2||AKG K612 Pro Over-Ear Open Reference Studio Headphones|
Before we look at the products, let's be sure the spec sheet makes sense to us.
Understanding a Frequency Range in Headphones
If we're looking for a "bass-friendly" pair of headphones, frequency range and response is something we should understand before we start sifting through our options.
The signal processing science involved with headphones is complex, but in so far as it applies to an instrument, there are some simple ways to visualize it.
First, when you look at specs for a pair of headphones (AKG headphones or otherwise), you'll probably see a frequency range, something like 15 to 25000 Hz.
You can think of this range as a linear graph.
Graph is frequency response measured in Hz. (View Larger Image)
This graph is how you could measure the frequency response of a pair of headphones.
Frequency gets lower (more bass) as your move to the left of the graph, while it gets higher as you move to the right.
When a company lists the frequency range, they're referring to the headphones ability to field or "broadcast" these frequencies. If your new AKG headphones are going to be used for a bass guitar, you want to make sure those low frequencies (close to zero) are included in the range.
In most cases, they are.
Technically, this does not mean that the headphones are somehow going to make the sound coming through them more "bassy." Frequency range deals with what an audio medium can project, and whether or not that medium can facilitate certain sounds.
That said, a pair of headphones that reach a lower frequency might bring out more of your instrument's low tones.
It just doesn't create or significantly modify those tones.
Testing and Evaluating Frequency Response in Headphones
The process of actually testing headphones out in this regard is often tremendously complicated and difficult to nail down, even in the more expensive headsets.
Take the following graph from headphone.com, for example:
This graph is the result of an actual test being conducted on a pair of headphones and its frequency response.
Now, were conditions completely ideal, and the test-subject headphones entirely perfect, this line would be dead straight at 0dB. The fluctuations mean it's responding with inconsistent amplitude levels at varying frequencies.
Remember how we said that headphones don't create or "significantly modify" sound? Well, you might consider these fluctuations a form of unwanted, albeit slight, modification.
All this to say, there are no perfect headphones, even if the company claims they can handle or accept a certain frequency range.
The best you can do is know what the range means and how to interpret it.
When it comes to bass guitar, the lower number is what you should keep an eye on. Anything higher than 20000 Hz is just bonus material as far as the bass player is concerned.
Shoot, even going above 5000 Hz is usually outside the range of a bass guitar's upper harmonics (see graphic below).
Typical Frequency of a Bass Guitar
So, what kind of frequency ranges will a bass guitar produce?
As we said before, the headphones are the medium and not the source of the sound. Therefore the actual frequencies are coming from the strings on your bass, which are then amplified by pickups and sent through your headset. We just need to make sure our headphones can accommodate all of that sound.
In most cases (and ignoring upper harmonics) those frequencies will be hovering between 30 and 500 Hz, depending on what fret you're playing.
Thus, a frequency range, like we mentioned earlier, of 15 to 25000 Hz would be more than accommodating to nearly any type of instrument, especially a bass guitar. And if you stick with AKG headphones, you're almost certain to be within that frequency range, regardless of which headphone set you might be considering.
If you consider other options, make sure you at least make note of the frequency range and be sure that it's low point is at or beneath 30 Hz.
Even with the cheaper studio headphones, you shouldn't have much to worry about.
First up is the AKG K240.
Its price, under $60 in most markets, is a major factor when it comes to the commercial success of the AKG K240 headphones.
It currently stands as one of the most popular set of headphones on Amazon, just shy of 1000 reviews and 130 answered questions at the time of writing this.
Amazon stats for the AGK k240 headphones. (View Larger Image)
The "semi-open" descriptor refers to the back of the headphone earcup, which can be either completely open or completely closed. With the AKG K240, it's somewhere in between, which is noticeable if you look at the small holes on the outside of each earcup.
That perforation over your ears allows for a more natural-sounding resonance which, in my opinion, is often better for instruments.
With the K240, there's still enough isolation to give you a thick and heavy bass response, yet the slightly open feel does make it sound more like you're listening to an amplified bass guitar and not a heavily-isolated sterile track.
Perforation on the earcup of the AKG K240 headphones. (View Larger Image)
Lifehacker has a quick piece on the difference between open and closed headphones if you want more info.
Frequency Range of the AKG K240
As mentioned in the review card, the frequency range covers quite well going from 15 to 25000 Hz.
This is enough to make the K240 a multi-purpose pair of headphones, though completely capable of handling even the lower tunings of a five-string bass, without regard to fret position.
Most studio-quality headphones will have a frequency range similar to this one.
EQs, Bass Guitar Testing and Bass Response
Particularly when compared to past iterations of AKG headphones, the K240 is strong on the low-end of the tonal spectrum.
Thick kick drum hits and boosted dubstep effects sound percussive and not at all muddy. Even with those lower-end sound effects, it never seemed like we were testing the boundaries of the 15 Hz frequency range.
If you really wanted to push the boundaries of this pair, you could try some kind of an organ modeler, perhaps in GarageBand or some other DAW software.
The K240 and dubstep seem to work well together. | Flickr Commons Image via WeeklyDig
An organ's lowest frequency is typically around 16 Hz, while certain types of organs can go as low as eight Hz.
For our purposes, it seemed any and all bass guitars were in safe territory.
Here's what we used to test:
- Warwick Rockbass 5-String Electric Bass Guitar
- Boss GEB-7 Bass Equalizer
- iRig Pro Duo audio interface (for the headphone connection)
The Warwick Rockbass produces a modern bass tone, which is incredibly thick and deep. It's not a "slap-style" bass, but produces more of a smooth, rumbling tone that you feel more than hear.
The K240 headphones did a good job of capturing that tone and still making the notes fairly clear.
At no point was unwanted distortion an issue.
Since the Warwick bass has a universal tone knob and two volume controls for each pickup, we were able to isolate the response for both the neck and bridge humbucker at both extremes of the tone knob.
The only instance where notes seemed a little too vague was on the neck pickup with the tone pot cut all the way back.
But even here, I wouldn't blame that on the headphones.
I was also able to do some additional pushing with the Boss GEB-7 Bass equalizer pedal, which sort of took the place of a preamp (I was going straight into the USB interface without an amplifier).
Again, lows were incredibly percussive and punchy, with good definition and clarity.
The semi-open back did, in fact, give it a much more natural sound than what I got from a closed-back pair of Skull Candy headphones.
Other Features and Perks
We mentioned the cable, though it's worth noting that an eighth to quarter inch adapter is also included and ships with the headphone set.
Also note that the detachable cable is 3 meters long, which converts to 9.8 feet, giving you plenty of length to move around.
The cable is connected to the Earpads via a mini XLR connector that is wired to be easily replaced, should the need arise.
You've got a couple different options for getting your bass guitar and headphones to talk, and both are fairly straightforward.
- USB audio interface
- Amplifier headphone jack (direct monitor)
Most of you will likely be going the direct monitor route, which means you're simply using a headphone jack on the back of your amplifier or a cab simulator like the Mesa Boogie cab clone.
Headphone jack on the back of the Mesa Boogie Cab Clone.
If you opt to use a USB or Thunderbolt audio interface, the setup gets slightly more complex, and does require a computer.
Take the Focusrite Saffire USB, for example.
It has two inputs and a headphone jack clearly visible on the front panel.
Front of the Focusrite Saffire USB interface with headphone jack.
Hooking everything up will look something like this diagram:
How to setup a USB audio interface with a bass guitar and headphones. | Image via Focusrite
You won't have to worry about a MIDI keyboard or any kind of external monitors. The "COMPUTER/DAW" tag refers to software that you might be using to model or record your sound.
If you're running a Mac, GarageBand is the easiest option.
We cover how to connect a guitar to GarageBand in detail.
Amp Settings and a Couple GarageBand Examples
There is no such thing as an "optimal" headphone setting. Though it's often true that with different types of headphones (say with either earbuds or the over-ear design headphones) it can be worth playing with the EQ to get a sound that you like.
For what it's worth, we found that a bit of a heavier bass EQ sounded better in the two AKG models and used this setting in GarageBand:
Heavy EQ settings for a modern bass tone (good for headphones) in GarageBand. (View Larger Image)
We did notice some faint buzz when the GAIN was too high, which just meant that the signal from GarageBand was clipping. This was easily fixed by cutting back GAIN and the master volume on the channel.
The EQ has bass at about 70%, mids about 50% and treble below 50%.
To play along with a track, we tweaked it just a little bit.
We cut the mids back a bit and evened out the EQ for playing with a track. (View Larger Image)
This is the bass riff for Roger Miller's "King of the Road."
Now, some advice about chasing settings:
Take it all with a grain of salt.
There are a thousand different ways to set this up and to get a good sound through these headphones, because they're made to be accommodating of a wide-variety of environments.
But this worked for us, so if nothing else it gives you a place to start.
The AKG K240 Overall and Upgrade
AKG also makes a model called the M220, which is visually and technically similar to the K240, though is a bit nicer and a modest upgrade.
The price bump puts the M220 around $80 retail.
Now, to conclue the K240:
With a tight and percussive bass response, that maintains note clarity, we've found little to complain about when using this pair as a bass guitar monitor.
Keep in mind that we ran everything through a USB interface and not a headphone jack on a bass amplifier. While results should be similar, it's worth noting that this arrangement will present a slightly different set of variables.
In either case, the K240 pair makes a solid investment in your bass rig.
Of the two we've picked, it's clearly the budget option, but a solid choice nonetheless.
I'd be tempted to go a step up and recommend the AKG K712 pair, if it weren't for the fact that they're nearly double the price of the K612 (which retails around $160) and doesn't actually sound drastically better.
They're great (and they look cooler) but they'll cost you around $300.
If money is no object, feel free to take the 712 upgrade.
However, as a matter of making smart recommendations, we've got to point you towards the 612 instead.
For bass players, the comfort and slightly more snug fit (better for moving around) is enough to stave off an expensive K712 recommendation.
The K612 is, in our opinion, the optimal high-end compromise from AKG.
Some Relevant Specs
The frequency range extends that of the K240 slightly, covering from 12 to 39500 Hz.
Again, this gives your bass playing more than enough headroom and range to capture all the auditory features of your instrument's tone.
With impedance at 120 Ohms, you've easily cleared the 25 Ohm benchmark mentioned earlier.
Like the K240, an adapter is included with the 3M (9.6 foot) eighth-inch cable, which is routed into the 3-pin connected that feeds both speakers. Unfortunately, the cable itself is not detachable, as evidenced in the above photo.
Like the K240, the K612 has a semi-open back design, allowing noise to flow both in and out of the headset.
While this isn't ideal for situations that require noise isolation, it's preferable for instruments, since you'll get a more natural-sounding resonance that feels more like you're listening to an amplifier out in the open as opposed to using a pair of ear buds.
Open earpiece design is a big part of the AKG headphone appeal. (View Larger Image)
Sound Quality and Bass Response
One of the reasons AKG headphones tend to handle low-end EQs so well is how they shape low mid-range notes, which are roughly in the same range as most male vocals.
Adding a tight mid-range to any bass-friendly headset gives you a distinctly clear and unambiguous resolution to low sounds.
It's like a having a tightly-wound kick drum.
You get a firm "thud" instead of a muddy mess.
This immediately adds clarity to your bass playing, and is extremely helpful if you're playing bass along with a track or perhaps trying to record and mix with other instruments.
Everything just sounds more separate.
The cushioned earpads seem to have a positive effect on the response as well, as higher treble notes are clear, but still warm and not too harsh. This plays well with those high bass notes that go past the 12th fret.
Like most AKG headphones, the K612s are designed as a studio and mixing tool which means they should be at least partly evaluated as a multi-purpose product.
We found them quite friendly/comfy, in the following scenarios:
- Music streaming and playback from and iPhone and Macbook
- Playing bass guitar through a USB interface and GarageBand
- Recording and mixing bass guitar along with other instruments
- Playing bass guitar along with a full MP3 track
Broadly, the AKG K612 should get a firm green light when it comes to any task that is related to music production.
The AKG K612 Overall
They're more expensive, but the K612s beat out the K240s in just about every category, even while the 240s are a solid mid-level pair.
They're also what we'd consider an ideal compromise between the "cheap" option and the "high-end" option.
When buying headphones, you're primarily looking for comfort and sound-quality, both of which seem to hit perfectly with the K612. The additional snug-fitting design makes them particularly good for instrument use and even live performances.
You can move around a lot without having to worry about the headphones sliding.
Both bass and eletric guitar players should consider this one of their best options in the $120 price range.
Settings for your Bass Guitar
When you're using headphones, the settings for any guitar, particularly bass, are going to be fairly simple and straightforward.
In most cases, you'll have (at a minimum) the following controls:
- Volume for bridge pickup
- Volume for neck pickup
- Tone that controls both pickups
A fairly typical configuration would look something like this:
While there can be some benefit to rolling back volume (particularly on the neck pickup) with a bass guitar, I'd advise putting both volume knobs at 100%, and rolling the tone knob back to about 70%.
Rolling back the tone control will give you a slightly smoother sound on your headphones.
The difference will be nuanced, but it'll give you a good place to start working with the rest of your EQ, if and when you feel changes need to be made.
Volume should be wide open, while cutting tone back a bit can give you a smoother response in the headphones. (View Larger Image)
Bass guitars can also be configured with two volume knobs that control two separate coils on the same pickup.
Take the Music Man's passive configuration, for example:
You can see that each coil (each row of dots in the single pickup) gets its own volume control.
If this is your situation, it might be beneficial to tinker with the volume and see what sounds better in your headphones.
Again, having everything all the way up is fine and any change will be subtle, but being able to control both coils gives you a lot of fine-tuning power, which might help smooth out your sound a bit more and make it a bit more clear in your headset.
What about an amplifier's headphone jack?
We're not crazy about this arrangement, simply because it drastically reduces the amount of control you have over your headphones.
This is because in most bass amps (those that do have headphone outs, which are less common) you don't have any kind of volume control for the headphone jack.
It's essentially a raw, line-level output.
With most USB or Thunderbolt audio interfaces, you'll have the following controls:
- Headphone volume
This lets you control a lot about what goes into your headphones and can turn them into a legitimate monitoring tool rather than a glorified speaker cab. For example, let's say that you're playing your bass along with a track that's streaming from your computer.
Phones and Mixer controls (inputs and playback) on the PreSonus AudioBox USB interface. (View Larger Image)
The MIX knob on something like the PreSonus AudioBox allows you to control the volume balance between your instrument and the MP3 playing on your computer.
Moreover, the headphone's individual volume can control the overall output coming into the headset.
This is similar to having an individual headphone amplifier.
All this to say, we'd recommend going with a USB audio interface and not a bass amp headphone jack.
If you must use a headphone jack on a bass amp, your options are limited. You could purchase a separate headphone amplifier, though it's not going to be much cheaper than a USB audio interface, which will then give you the option of direct monitoring and recording through a computer.
Even if you set it up this way, you can still run the signal into a USB interface after it has gone through your amplifier.
Questions, Thoughts or Concerns
There are a lot of great headphones out there, both for bass players and otherwise.
If you have questions about these products, something to add or other thoughts, please leave it in the comments section below and we'll respond.
You can also tweet to @guitarchalk for questions.
Good luck out there.
Headphone.com. "Evaluating Headphones." Headphone.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2017.
"What Is Headphone Impedance?" Turntable Lab. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2017.
"The Audible Frequency Range and Describing Tone." Guitar Site. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2017.
Pouska, Andrew. "Bass Frequency Range." StudyBass. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2017.
"Frequenc Response." Wikipedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2017.
"Acoustic Impedance." Wikipedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2017.
"Frequency Ranges." Zytrax Info. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2017.
"K240 Studio Manual." (n.d.): 1-2. AKG. Web. 23 Feb. 2017.
Lachlanlikesathing. "AKG K712 Pro 'Reference' Headphone Review." YouTube. YouTube, 08 Dec. 2014. Web. 23 Feb. 2017.
"Professional Headphones." AKG. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2017.
Metlay, Mike. "EarsOn Headphones on Review." AKG. Recording: The Magazine for the Recording Musician, n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2017.
Flickr Commons Image Courtesy of Cerephoto