Pros: EDM friendly, solid aluminum construction, low-tangle low-microphonic cable, plenty of accessories.
Cons: Recessed treble and mids, questionable cord design.
Disclaimer: the DX 160 iE was provided free of charge by Beyerdynamic for review purposes. No monetary exchange or donations were involved throughout the process.
Starting off simply, let’s discuss the accessories that are included in the packaging. For starters, the DX 160 iE comes with a small carrying case that has a gloss-black-on-matte-black screen-printed “Beyerdynamic” logo on one side. Another inclusion is a small headphone splitter that allows you to share music with friends and a clip to keep the cable attached to a shirt or bag. They also provide 5 pairs of single flange silicon tips in various sizes, a double flange pair, and a pair of triple flange tips. And thankfully they take the extra step and include a pair of Comply T-400 foam tips as well. I personally love when an IEM manufacturer includes a pair of Comply tips as I feel they achieve a great seal and allow for better body and isolation.
Speaking of isolation, they’re not amazing by any means but they do a decent job of isolating. They don’t isolate as well as say my former set of Etymotic HF3 or my 1964-Q, but they’re no slouch either. I’m writing this review from an airport terminal and during the quieter songs I can clearly hear those talking around me. And when the music is paused I can clearly hear the music that’s resonating throughout the terminal. That said, when I’m not listening to piano sonatas they do a decent job of blocking out the ambiance around me. And if you’re looking for a headphone that can block out the sound of an aircraft jet engine then you really should look elsewhere. But if you want to drown out the sound of a bus/train/subway then I can say for certainty that these will be able to help. While riding the T around Boston this week I was able to enjoy my music in silence and escape the world around me for a short time.
And as someone who moves around constantly, I love a headphone that doesn’t have a microphonic cable. I always wrap the cable over my ear to get the most contact with my body so that it’s as non-microphonic as possible. The DX 160 iE’s microphonics are some of the better that I’ve heard in their price range. While I still prefer the exceptionally low-microphonic braided cables some IEM use, the flat cable that Beyerdynamic chose does a good job of keeping friction noise from interfering with my music. And another nice aspect of a flat cable is that it’s more resistant to tangling than some traditional cables. But even then I was able to get it into a knot on more than one occasion inside its carrying case.
But the cable is also one place I have to fault Beyerdynamic’s design choices. For whatever reason, they decided that to make it a split cord design. Now I’ve seen split cords for several years now and the reason was simple: use the shortened version when you have an arm mounted DAP and you’re exercising. That’s a great design when you’re highly active and need the headphone cable to be short enough that it’s not getting in your way. But Beyerdynamic saw it fit to place the 3.5mm headphone jack at the split for each ear. Why would you do this so near the top? Honestly with how the headphone is currently, it would have been better for them to go with a single headphone cable and completely removed the extra weight from the jack/plug combo. This is where the clip comes into play for me. I use it directly below the connection and clip it onto my button-down shirt so it doesn’t sway when I’m moving. The packaging lists that the headphone comes with an extension cable as one of its accessories but for me it’s a requirement, not an option. They most certainly get negative points for their design in the cable area.
But the most important aspect of these headphones is the sound. I ran the headphones from my MacBook Pro with an AudioQuest Dragonfly as well as from my iPhone 5S using the FiiO E12. The DX 160 iE is a fun little IEM and I’ve enjoyed getting to know it these past few days. It has a fun sound and can make certain genres and songs come alive for me. I started listening to Spanish Delight by The Bo Keys and it’s definitely making my toe tap. The keyboard had a bit of energy that gave the song a bit life. But it’s not a perfect representation of the song. At time the bongos were overshadowed and even lost within the song and the bass line was a bit too forward. Some of the upper details like the sound of fingers sliding along the guitar strings and even a bit of the guitar’s energy weren’t present like they are on my 1964-Q. I would definitely say that the DX 160 iE favors the low end and at times the mid and upper ranges suffer.
Changing genres to a bit of metal (I chose Iijime Dame Zettai by BABYMETAL) I was once again left with a moderate impression of the headphones. On this particular track I felt that the headphones did a decent job of reproducing the sound of the drum machine and the low-end energy they provide. But then I was left wanting as the vocals sounded closed-in and lacked a bit of energy. I know the girls’ voices can really sparkle on a well-balanced headphone. The guitars were also pushed back a bit due to the low end bleeding into their range.
Genre jumping once again, I put on a selection from Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. And here is where I started enjoying the Beyers. I enjoyed Giorgio by Moroder. The voice over was nicely balanced with the background music and once the song got into full swing it made my head bob along with the beat. It was one of the first songs where I really got into the music using the DX 160 iE. But that enthusiasm was restrained a bit once I moved onto Instant Crush and once again the vocals were recessed.
Another aspect of the DX 160 iE where I'd like to comment quickly is the soundstage. I feel that they do a fairly decent job of reproducing the soundstage as mastered on the track. I had on more than on occasion experienced a soundstage that surrounded me throughout the track and on others the soundstage felt congested and disappointing. As a whole, I have to say that they have a fairly medium sized soundstage. It's not large, but it's not what I'd call small either and it really comes down to the quality of the mastering. Going with a higher resolution recording will generally provide an improvement to the placement and separation of the instruments.
After listening to them exclusively during my time with them, I find that the Beyerdynamic DX 160 iE had the potential to be exceptional but as a result of the tuning they made some sacrifices that make it fall a bit short. I enjoy them for more bass-emphasized fun music, but when it comes to the treble I’d love to see it more pronounced and the mids could use a slight bump as well for a more balanced sound. You could use a little bit of EQ and pull back on the low end to achieve a more balanced presentation and for some people that may be where they go with these. If you enjoy booming bass and recessed mids/highs then these could definitely a contender in their price range. I feel that they provide a solution for those who listen to EDM and really want the low end to pop. But they just won’t hold up when playing jazz, blues, metal or several other genres where a V-shaped or flat presentation is welcomed. They’re not perfect by any means, but they’re definitely decent IEMs.
So would I recommend them to a friend? That’s a tough question. The cable is a bit of a stumbling block for me but if it didn’t bother them I could see this being a great IEM for some of my friends to buy. So yes, I’d recommend it based on the situation. For someone like me who wants a bit more energy throughout the range, it’s not a suitable choice.
I’d like to thank Beyerdynamic for making it possible for me to spend time with these headphones for a couple weeks and get acquainted. It was an excellent experience and I hope that they continue to offer this sort of loaner demo program to Head-Fiers in the future.