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The second coming
James Serdechny never offered to troubleshoot the mute channel nor repair the obviously damaged one. Instead, he suggested that if I didn't manage on my own, to send them back to AKG. If you purchase his upgrade harness, you're on your own come rain or shine. Unless...

"Your honor, I swear, I didn't touch her."
"Then how come she's pregnant with your baby, son?"

That's how I felt when Vinnie Rossi of RedWine Audio notified me that the reason the unmolested channel was dead was a hairline fracture in one of the voice coil leads. That fracture was invisible to the naked eye. It baffled him initially as well but being the pro he is -- exactly why I had eventually forwarded the 'phones to him on the suggestion of a reader -- Vinnie isolated the problem. Damn. "Your Honor, I swear I didn't touch them skinny-ass wires after I'd bollixed up ear pad number one." But there's no getting around that the 'phones worked just fine before I started operating on them and did not afterwards. Can a girl get pregnant if she just hangs her coat next to yours? Certainly not.

Moral of the story? Getting the boards removed to unsolder the old leads and affix the new ones means you're working in very close proximity to those leads. Even if you think you're out of harm's way, you may not be. Your breath could be too powerful. Know what I mean? So if you don't think you're a klutz -- I didn't -- and this makes you nervous, contact Vinnie Rossi. Let him do it for you. He'll charge you $100 plus return shipping. In my book, that's well worth the peace of mind. Vinnie managed to repair the leads I had knowingly ruptured. There was enough remaining wire connected to the actual diaphragm to solder a patch to. The one I had unknowingly harmed? It had fractured so close to the diaphragm that it proved impossible to solder to. AKG's excellent and very responsive customer service to the rescue. They charged $200 to install a replacement driver. So don't say I didn't warn ya!

Vinnie does not want to become K-1000 mod central. "The key work is occasional and I only say that because I have been flooded with Squeezebox 3 mods (I have 60 to finish!) and iMods for the iPods (they have been getting a lot of buzz on HeadFi lately). I'm also looking into the Olive Symphony, am working on a new 30wpc Clari-T amp for 2006 (my own OEM board and design) and am still making Clari-Ts and am backlogged on just about everything! My wife and I will be moving to Connecticut at the end of January, so I'll be happy to have more space to work and will probably need to hire some help with all of this stuff. Business is good but I need some sleep! :-)"

For those brave souls who rightfully trust their own skills, Vinnie has the following pointers:
  • Before you begin desoldering/soldering, it is best to carefully cover the speaker drivers. If you accidentally slip with the hot iron, you can burn the drivers. Also, solder that contains flux will "spit" hot flux occasionally, so protecting the drivers is a good way to avoid burning a hole through them. The damn drivers ain't cheap.
  • Eye protection is important as there is a chance that solder flux and/or molten solder could splash in your face if you make a wrong move with the iron in your hand (especially if you touch something hot - you may flinch and splash solder)
  • When you solder the new cable ends, make sure that the wire is firmly pressed down to the inductor pad before the molten solder solidifies. The idea is to make sure there is minimal solder between the wire and the inductor connection, as the solder itself is another conductor that you want to eliminate in the path.
  • Make sure the solder joints are shiny. Cold solder joints are dull and grey and they are not as strong and conductive. You want the iron to be hot and as already mentioned, avoid prolonged contact.
  • When lifting out the circuit board, stay away from those voice coils. You can sneeze on them the wrong way and they will break. I'd say they are finer than a human hair and more fragile!
  • Make sure one speaker isn't wired out of phase. If it is, you'll certain know it when you listen.
  • Going "nude" may sound better (I couldn't try it to compare) but this leaves everything exposed, especially the voice coils. Chances of the K1000s getting damaged are great if you are not very careful handling them.

Added reader Reiner Grootenhuis, "...very sorry to hear you killed your K-1000. I have also ordered the cable. The company that will do my replacement told me that they have thus far performed three replacements and killed one in the process. They also told me that the installment descriptions by StefanAudio Art suffer certain flaws." So I'm not the only one who was relegated to klutz by this operation. It shouldn't surprise you that I asked AKG to refit the grilles. After my experience, it seemed that just looking at these wall-flower leads askance could cause them to wither. The thought of replacing another diaphragm weighed heavier than the dubious promise of sonic advances going nude. Needless to say, I do not recommend you follow James' suggestion and leave the 'phones naked. It's easy for him to talk - he ain't lifting a finger should you get into trouble (and having long hair while you wear the nudies could be all it takes). But you be the judge.

Now what about the payback for all this trouble - the sound? A few weeks had passed since last I heard the cans semi-stock, with the original V-leads connecting to the XLR, then morphing into James' after-market tail. Having lived with that setup for a long time, I'm confident that I know what it sounds like. Still, if the changes were subtle, there'd be no way for utter certainty. In other words, I'd either know right away -- in which case the improvement would be significant -- or it'd be the stuff of imagination to justify the expense and embarrassment. Incidentally, the stock K-1000s just garnered Stereophile's Joint Accessory of 2005 recognition as reviewed by John Marks. "Glorious" call, John! Nice to know of another reviewer who is unafraid to admit that he enjoys listening to headphones and demonstrates first-rate taste in the hardware. Truly, cans like these can give many a high-falutin' rig the fantods (minus free-space soundstaging of course and the skin rush of LF waves propagating through a room).

Since my custom Aleph H headphone amp hasn't yet arrived from Canada, I had no XLR input to jack the 20-foot lead now successfully hardwired to the cans into. So I reverted to the original StefanAudio Art spade-terminated extension. This ran a total of 25 foot of cable into my two bridged AudioSector Patek SEs. Those otherwise drive the bass arrays on my new Zu Definition Pros. Ah, the stupidities reviewers commit. Forgetting for a few comical moments that I was running those amps through the Rane EQ, I couldn't figure how came the sound over the AKGs was murky, bereft of any top-end and even at zero attenuation on my passive pre, just barely loud enough. Could the cable length strangulate the signal this badly?

Then the upstairs light lit. Flipping two switches to bypass both Rane channels and adjusting the preamp volume to way low just in case, I was back in business to know that by golly, not only had the phones been expertly modified/repaired by team Rossie/AKG (thanks, Vinnie!) but they now killed the stocker. I will not go into any detailed reporting. Too much time has passed due to my mishap. However, I'm comfortable saying this: even at their best behavior previously -- tube preamp, FirstWatt F1 current-source amp or Patek/s -- the Ks still elicited a kind of sharpness in the presence region, a peculiar bite or ringiness that undermined complete comfort over extended or loud sessions. That's now completely gone. By way of the minor sins they now refuse to commit any longer, I'm certain that the modification must be judged a success. That's speaking in the negative, by subtraction. Approached from the other direction -- how do they actively, additively improve over what I previously listened to -- I'm hesitant. I simply don't trust aural memory to not drift and wander over three weeks.

Admittedly, that's a very brief wrap of listening conclusions after two pages of introduction and setup. But here's the real giveaway. If I could now listen to these floating earspeakers hanging off a passive preamp and transistor amp -- for hours, at any levels, no tubes -- without having any subliminally nagging or outright complaining sentiments resurface, it can only mean that the hard-wire mod has eliminated the remaining corks of this design (corks as far as my listening biases go, of course). Ultra resolution is now married to long-term ear comfort and even without valves, there's now just the right hint of midrange fullness or skoch of warmth that had always eluded the AKGs previously. For me, that inks the deal. I will never open these cans again. I'm now finally happy. As I experiment further with other amps, I'll insert brief commentary into their respective reviews. But already, I'm quite confident that the previous fussiness -- of finding just the right amp to fortuitously compensate for the AKG's tonal balance liberties -- has now been rendered a thing of the past. Any "normal" amp of sufficient power (and one that won't go into oscillation with a 120-ohm load impedance as some valve amps might) should now suffice to properly mate with the K-1000s and sound swell. In my book, that's a very good thing indeed!
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