First Listen: Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO Headphones ReviewDecember 23, 2013
If you’re in the market for audiophile-grade headphones, you’ve probably heard of Germany’s professional audio electronics manufacturer Beyerdynamic. In the business of handcrafting premium headphones since 1924, Beyerdynamic is synonymous with hi-fi audio and head-fi enthusiasts worldwide. It’s no surprise then, that when setting out to find a headphone that would deliver high-end performance free from the esoteric claims and sticker shock that have become commonplace in the world of audiophilia, Beyerdynamic’s offerings come highly recommended.
Sitting back to enjoy a great stereo system is my preferred listening experience, but due to the fact that I spend more time in a cube farm on a regular basis, headphones have become a must-have for me. The warm sonic signature and reasonable comforts of the closed-back Shure SRH840 professional monitoring headphones that I previously reviewed fill my at-work listening needs perfectly. But, that first step into “premium” headphone sound piqued my interest in acquiring a nice pair of cans for my late-night listening sessions at home.
What I wanted: Crisp, detailed highs; moody, full-bodied mids; punchy bass; a wide, airy soundstage, and comfort to boot. As usual, I started scouring the Internet in search of the perfect headphone that would deliver exceptional sound quality, comfort, value and performance. Thankfully, I found a pair to try before paralysis from analysis set in.
Enter the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO 250-ohm monitoring headphone.
With an MSRP of $300 but often on sale for a mere $130, this headphone straddles the line of diminishing returns by delivering excellent performance at a reasonable price. While several versions of the DT 990 exist, minor changes to the headband, driver housing, cable and packaging allow the same critical internals of the higher priced DT 990 versions (MRSP $430) to be used in the DT 990 PRO application at a lower price point, making it economically feasible for pro audio business purposes while giving consumers an affordable option for those that care less about aesthetics and more about getting the best sound per dollar.
“Sound You Can Rely On”
As described by Beyerdynamic, the DT 990 PRO is their “Professional acoustically open headphone for monitoring and studio applications.” And while the box claims these cans offer an “analytical sound,” I would argue that the frequency response provides just enough sizzle in the highs and a slight boost in the bass to make it a dynamic and enjoyable headphone to listen to. In short, the DT 990 PRO uses hand-made neodymium drivers nestled inside composite open-back driver housings that help these cans deliver a quick, transparent and surprisingly wide and airy soundstage.
For those of you that know me or have been following this blog, you know that I listen to a wide variety of music that includes jazz, blues, electronica, folk, hard rock/metal, reggae and more. Well, I’ve been nothing but surprised by how well the DT 990 PRO performs. Instruments have excellent separation; vocals are crisp and clean; cymbals and horns shimmer with a nice sense of realism; bass notes are consistently tight, fast and punchy without ever being “boomy” or bloated; and the mids, albeit slightly recessed sometimes due to the bass hump around 100 Hz, refrain from being muddied or dull. Overall, the DT 990 PRO presents a rich, full-bodied, engaging sound that centers the mind’s eye well.
A word of caution, however: As you’d expect with a headphone designed for studio monitoring and mastering, these cans are revealing—bad recordings and low bit-rate digital files will likely sound bright, edgy, unrefined and unpleasant, but pair them with good recordings and a nice source and these babies sing.
Do these need an amp? Not necessarily; the DT 990 PRO can get plenty loud on mobile devices and still sound good, but if you want the best performance with the lowest noise floor and greatest dynamics, a headphone amp is recommended.
Are they boomy? No. The bass does have some added emphasis compared to the DT 880 PRO, but it is still tight and accurate.
Are they bright? They’re crisp and detailed, and if you’re sensitive to high frequencies they may come off as bright, but overall I’d say they manage to stay away from being harsh.
Should I get the DT 990, DT 880 or DT 770? That’s really up to you and your needs. The DT 990 is an open-back headphone—sound will leak, but you’ll have a wider soundstage and the presentation is dynamic. The DT 880 is a semi-open headphone specifically for reference monitoring—it has a more linear response that is very analytical compared to the DT 990 or DT 770. The DT 770 is a closed-back headphone that is pitchier than both the DT 990 and DT 770; the bass has greater emphasis, the mids are more recessed, and the highs jump more. The DT 990 PRO basically puts you between these “fun” and “analytical” headphones, leaving you with a dynamic compromise that seemingly performs well across all music genres.
“Superior Build Quality”
For those of you that are accident-prone, nearly all parts on the DT 990 PRO are replaceable, but I wouldn’t worry too much about it—these things are built for use.
Unboxing the DT 990 PRO, you’ll likely be struck with how light these cans are; including the 3-meter coiled cable (not detachable), these weigh in at 378 grams or 13.3 ounces on my scale. I’m not sure how that stacks up with other popular options on the market, but in relation to my Shure SRH840s, these sit significantly easier on my head… in fact, they’re hardly noticeable.
Beyerdynamic actually claims the weight reduction achieved in the composite driver housing lends a hand in creating the DT 990 PRO’s excellent sound quality. And while some may be struck by the light weight and composite driver housing as showing signs of weakness or lesser quality, the DT 990 PRO headphone simply saves much of its weight through its minimalist design and materials choices. The headphone is constructed from a spring steel headband wrapped in a slim, removable padding; the anodized aluminum forks are slim but decidedly solid; the composite driver housings, albeit flexy across the open back, are robust around the perimeter; and the velour ear cup pads are of good quality, free from loose seams, and the semi-soft pad conforms effortlessly to the head.
Despite being a full-size circumaural (around-the-ear) headphone constructed of composite plastics, aluminum and steel, these cans are anything but bulky or heavy. In fact, the combination of their light weight, soft headband and cushy ear pads makes these an incredibly comfortable headphone to wear for hours at a time—I’ve even fallen asleep with them on several times.
While I have a relatively small oval head (21” circumference), I found the clamping tension to be just about right, maybe even a tiny touch loose for me. Still, the headphones manage to stay securely in place while moving/tilting the head and laying down, and I never experienced any fatigue or hotspots due to excessive pressure on the ears or head. Aside from the sensation of having two velour donuts circling my ears, it’s hard to tell that these are even being worn. My ears found plenty of room inside of the cups, and while the velour ear pads do absorb body heat quickly, the open-back design lets the headphone “breathe” just enough to keep the sweat at bay.
Overall, the Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO headphone is a price-to-performance champ, delivering comfort, quality, and audiophile-grade sound at a price nearly every hi-fi enthusiast can afford.