Beyerdynamic DT 1990 PRO Review: Best Headphones Under $1000?
High End Headphones for Hi-Fi Listening
One of the most difficult tasks to undertake as a product reviewer is to compose a review for a product that you really like. Actually, let me correct that: for a product that is so good that it changes your perspective. I can only imagine that the first automotive journalist who made the first lap around the Fiorano Circuit in a Ferrari F40 had to simply walk away and wonder how pointless any other test drive in his life was going to be from that moment on.
The Beyerdynamic DT1990 Pro headphones may be that watershed moment in my own life when it comes to evaluating audio products. Perhaps it’s best to take a step back and tell you a bit about these cans first.
Beyerdynamic is a German audio equipment engineering and manufacturing company that has been family owned since it was founded in 1924. Their product range extends from professional studio recording and mixing to business focused tele- and video conferencing. Currently their top end headphone products use a dynamic style driver which was designed in house and is referred to as a Tesla Driver (not to be confused with that snobby guy you know with the Model S). This design has several technical advantages, but Beyerdynamic themselves can explain these far better than I, so here is a link to their page about this driver. What I can relay about this driver, I’ll go into when I get into the sound and listening experience.
- Transducer type: Dynamic
- Operating principle: Open
- Frequency response: 5 – 40,000 Hz
- Nominal impedance: 250 Ω
- Nominal SPL: 102 dB SPL (1mW/500Hz)
- Max. SPL: 125 dB SPL (200mW/500Hz)
- T.H.D: <0.05% (1mW/500Hz)
- Nominal handling capacity: 200 mW
- Sound coupling to the ear: Circumaural
- Nominal headband pressure: approx. 6.6 N
- Weight (without cable): 370 g
- Length and type of cable: 3 m / straight cable or
5 m / coiled cable (stretched), each detachable with a 3-pin mini XLR cable connector, single-sided
- Connection: Gold-plated mini stereo jack (3.5 mm) & 1/4″ adapter
The Beyerdynamic DT 1990 PRO
First, let’s get into the more physical and measurable aspects of these headphones. The DT 1990 Pros are an open back, dynamic driver headphone that is designed for professional studio use and discerning home users. They come with a very nice, hardshell case, one 3 meter straight cable with a 3.5mm connector and ¼ inch adapter, one 5 meter coiled cable with a 3.5mm connector and ¼ inch adapter, and two sets of velour ear pads (again, we’ll get into those a little further along). The cable connection to the headphone is a 3 pin Mini XLR, so these can’t be run balanced without modding.
MSRP on the DT 1990 Pro is $599 US, but they can usually be found for less than $500 at your major electronics retailers.
When you examine the headphones closely, there is immediately something very German about them. They are built extremely ruggedly. The only hard pieces I could find that are not made of aluminum are the retaining rings for the ear pads, which still appear to be a high quality plastic. The headband appears to be genuine leather, but it could be a very good synthetic. All the external parts are held together with Torx screws and the unit can be disassembled pretty easily in case you did need to replace a part that you somehow damaged. Seriously, these headphones are one of the best built consumer electronics products I’ve ever seen.
The headphones weigh 370 grams, so they’re not what I’d consider lightweight, but they aren’t particularly heavy either. Neither set of ear pads is memory foam, but they are both still quite comfortable. I found the clamping force to be firm, but not overly firm like you find on the Sennheiser HD600 family. Still, after three or four hours, the DT 1990 Pros can feel a little tight and you may need to take a break, if you can pull yourself away.
This is where we come to the point. What do they sound like? To put it simply, they are amazing. The DT 1990 Pros have an impedance of 250 Ohms, so they require more wattage than what is provided by most mobile devices to work properly. For three weeks, I have listened to these headphones on a variety of DACs and headphone amplifiers. I’ve fed them everything from lossless FLAC files to 128 kbps MP3 tracks. I’ve analyzed them using a wide variety of musical styles, including Metal, Classical, Techno, Opera, Trance, Classic Rock, Blues, Pop, and even country (because Johnny Cash was the man.)
If you have poorly recorded, or heavily compressed tracks, these headphones will be borderline unforgiving and let you know that the recording is junk. The detail in these headphones is incredible. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that with these headphones I heard details in the music that I’ve never heard before in songs I’ve listened to thousands of times in my life. There is accuracy in the music that I’ve never encountered before in a headphone.
As mentioned previously the headphones come with two sets of pads. The pads that are mounted out of the box are referred to as “balanced”, while the additional pads are called “analytical”. In the attached photo, the analytical pads are on the left, the balanced are on the right:
The foam of the analytical pads is slightly softer, which makes them more comfortable for long listening sessions. Changing the pads can be a little tedious, but once you get the hang of it it’s not bad. Removing the pads is achieved by a gentle pull outward. Reinstalling them is easiest by slipping the edge of the ring into a notch on the retaining ring of the headphones, and then rotating the pad all the way round.
According to Beyerdynamic, the balanced pads simply bring up the low end and lower mid range. They recommend the analytical pads for studio mixing and mastering. Out of the box I was blown away by the balanced pads. I didn’t try the analytical until the second day, and to be honest, I initially did not care for them. I found them to be too bright, aggressive, and a bit fatiguing. With that said, after about 40 hours of use, the brightness eased in both sets of pads. The difference in the sound signatures of the two sets of pads is pretty dramatic, but both are astounding.
As these are open back headphones, they do have a wider sound stage than most, though not as wide as some I’ve used. Also being open back, they do leak some sound, but to a smaller degree than many of the more open headphones I’ve used over the years. I like to use Take it Easy by The Eagles when evaluating new equipment because the chorus of that song is extremely bright will almost always cause the drivers (either headphones or speakers) to mildly distort. It was crystal clear on the DT 1990 Pros. Vocals are clear and forward, with either male or female vocalists, though they are not quite as forward as you might find with members of the Sennheiser HD600 family.
Still, separation between vocals and instruments is outstanding, and separation between instruments is even better than that. When listening to orchestral recordings you can just pick out where the horns are, where the strings are, where exactly in the back row that guy striking the triangle is. Again, the detail is just phenomenal. On good recordings, I could hear the sound of the plastic pick striking the metal strings on an acoustic guitar. If you’re using these for gaming, the imaging, sound accuracy, and separation means that when you hear footsteps coming up on you from 8 o’clock, you’d better spin that way and fire before you get knifed. All you’d really need it a separate microphone and you’d be set.
Like Beyerdynamic describes, the balanced pads do have more bass and lower mid presence than the analytical pads, but there is much more to it. With either set of pads, the imaging is incredible and it is very easy to pinpoint the direction and placement of sounds within the soundstage. The biggest difference I found between the two pads is the ambience. The analytical pads are exactly as they should be with a name like that. There is just the music. With certain recordings, mostly older where the acoustics of studios were not as transparent as they are now, you can hear the small reflections of sound from the studio. To me, the balanced pads created a much more natural, live performance, sound. They create a space and the music is being played in front of you. There are no unnatural echoes, or coloring of the sound, and certainly no loss in detail, just this feeling of music being performed by the artists for you.
Yes, these headphones are built like tanks, and are just comfortable enough for long listening or gaming sessions, but that’s not their purpose. Their purpose is to provide the wearer with music that is accurate, detailed, and revealing, and when it comes to that purpose, there is no other way to say it; the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro headphones are glorious and one of, if not the absolute best headphones you can buy for under $1000.