First off, I’d like to welcome you guys to a new column entitled Anime and the love of Headphones, which I plan on running for a couple articles. As a short introduction, I’m actually a big personal hi-fi audio geek. It’s probably a hereditary thing since each guy in my family seems to have their own personal preference for audio. For my father, it’s home audio systems; my brother is an expert in car audio (and he even serves as a professional judge in some gigs); for me, it’s headphones and other high-performance audio recording equipment.
Which makes watching anime all the more fun when they cameo real-life equipment in a show. It’s a fact that the headphone market has seen a marked boost in popularity after the release of Beats by dr. dre, and other commercials/celebrities that promote these headsets as forms of fashion statements simply add to the whole headphone craze. And though it might serve as a touch of class in anime for the casual viewer, it’s a pleasant little easter egg for headphone enthusiasts like me when I see a model that I’ve either tested in the past or better yet own myself.
So in these next few articles, I’ll pay tribute to some of the great headphone models that have made their cameo appearances in well known anime (and even manga). I’m pretty sure some of you might have spotted some of these models before, but here’s the point where I share a little extra trivia on what you might not have known about these wonderful pieces of ear jewelry. Heck, you might even be inclined to buy them yourselves!
So enough chit-chat and let’s get started!
Round 1: Easy
Let’s begin with something easy. People in my circle often ask me if a certain headphone they’ve encountered in an anime is real, but this particular one is perhaps the most commonly asked headphone that has ever appeared in a show:
That’s right. It’s Mio Akimiya from none other than Kyoto Animation Studio’s 2009 hit K-ON! Taken from a scene in Episode 5 of the first season, Mio is seen here wearing the AKG K701, a well-respected set of high-end, prosumer audio, reference quality headphones! Great taste, Mio!
The K701 is a very distinctive set of headphones owing to its dual wire arc headband and unique color scheme of white and red leather with silver trimmed accents, which is finished off with a grey, single-sided audio cable. The design ethos embodied by this particular model was a modern outlook on the older, retro designs that AKG was known for in the 70’s. The textured “speaker-like” surface also harks to this headphone’s roots in audio recording studios, but this design also has some role in creating the quality of sound that makes these headphones so special. All-in-all, the K701 is a very well-loved set of headphones, praised for its remarkable neutrality and expansive soundstage.
But wait, what do you mean by Neutrality? And what is a Soundstage?
Before we go on, it might be informative to check out this site for a very useful glossary of terms, since we audiophiles tend to lull people to sleep with our highly technical jargon.
But to continue, these headphones were made for Referencing, which refers to how recording studio technicians require a certain reference sound that serves as the basis for remastering audio tracks. I won’t burden you with the specifics here, but it basically allows audio technicians to create a similarly neutral sound, which serves to cater to a wider spread of audio equipment (i.e. the ones we use) that may not necessarily be as neutral-sounding. You may have noticed that headphones all sound a bit different even if you’re playing the same recording through it — and much of this has to do with the way the headphones were designed. Some headphone manufacturers intentionally boost certain parts of the sound spectrum depending on the tastes of their consumer base — think of it as how you like your coffee served, or how well you like your steak done. One particular sound signature isn’t necessarily the “best” because we all have our own tastes. But we can all enjoy our music thanks to the fact that recording studios mastered these tracks “neutrally” to begin with.
So that makes the K701 quite useful if you plan on remastering audio tracks, and it’s a great set of headphones for people who listen to songs that have a wide range of sounds in the audio spectrum, like classical music or acoustic tracks. But it might lack the thump required to make you tap to the beat of electronic or dance music, and its tonal characteristics might be a little too shrilly for rock and heavy metal.
But if you’re planning on investing in these headphones (yes, they’re not cheap), there is one important thing I’d like to point out: the K701 is ridiculously difficult to drive.
In a nutshell, “driving” a headphone refers to the amount of energy required to power the headphones. All headphones draw their power from the device it’s attached to, and not all devices deliver the same amount of electricity (this is dependent on the design of the device, which is beyond the scope of this article). This is the reason why different headphones seem to have different volume levels when plugged into a device (i.e. one is louder than the other), even though you didn’t change the volume.
And when I say that the K701 is notorious for requiring A LOT of energy to drive, I mean it. Try stick the K701 into an iPhone and you’ll wonder why everything sounds so soft…
And to make things trickier, the termination of the cable (the part you stick into your listening device) is the larger 1/4″ connector type — the one you might have seen used for karaoke microphones. So if your don’t own a device with this type of input, you’re gonna have to buy one of these first. But assuming your device can even power the K701 to begin with, you might even have to buy a dedicated headphone amplifier!
So yeah, Mio makes it look so easy, but the K701 is like a new born baby that requires a lot of tender loving care and attention if you want it to treat you well. They produce a marvelous sound that has pin-point accurate soundstage and is an excellent choice for someone into high-end audio remastering, but is still a great set of cans for the critical listener who enjoys the feeling of being enveloped in high-definition sound. But these demands come at a very high price. My K701 set-up probably cost me a little over $500, so this is probably only something you’d get if you were REALLY serious about it.
But don’t despair. There are still so many great headphones out there, and even if Mio might seem to be a little out of reach, there are many other anime shows out there with headphones that are just as iconic and still great to the ear.
And that’s it for this installment of Anime and the love of Headphones. It’s probably obvious that I love headphones, but we’ve only just started! Stay tuned for more audio X anime love!