NOTE: Both these were the 600ohm variant and were tested out of my MKIII through my P1260 using a large variety of music
Build, Appearance, and Function
Obviously, the build and appearance of both these headphone will be nearly identical. And that is correct, with the only difference being the outside of the earcups. The build quality of these headphones are among the best I have ever experienced. They are made of very high quality materials and feel very hefty, despite their light weight. The cable is nice and thick and is well connected to the headphone and jack itself. Although coated in an almost stiff plastic, I have no complaints about the cable. The headband, is also incredibly durable, able to withstand horrible abuse. In fact, I conducted an experiment. I actually grabbed the two cups of the headphone, and bent them backwards so that the headphone was completely straight in a flat line form. After that, I bent the headband in a very tight loop. After all this, the headband looked and functioned exactly as it did before, with absolutely no obvious wear or damage. Although I cannot recommend doing this for stress relief, rest assured that your Beyer headband will never break. If it does, tell me how you did it. Overall build is just fantastic. Beefy parts, solid materials, resistant design, and great feel overall.
Flat out, these look really quite fantastic. They look especially good when seen in person. In fact, the DT880 is one of the best looking headphones I have yet come across. As discussed in the previous paragraph, there is only one difference in the appearance of the DT880 and the DT990. The DT880 has dotted outer earcups, and the DT990 has slatted outer earcups. In person, and in my opinion, the DT880 looks superior to the DT990. But of course, all of this relies on the users opinion and preference. Both do look great, but the DT880 simply looks better. Most will tell you there are only two differences between the DT880 and the DT990, and that would be the appearance and sound. But I am here to tell you, that there is actually a third difference in which sets these two apart, and I will go into more detail on that in the upcoming paragraphs.
Since these headphones are identical build wise, this lead to the exact same headband adjustment. The headband adjustment on these headphones, is good, but not great. So far, the D2000 is clearly the king of adjustment, with it's superior clicking adjustment device. The Beyer headphones on the other hand, are a bit harder to adjust to your desired size. On the insides of the earcup arms, you will see many dots -- all of which indicate how far out the headphone is adjusted. From what I can recall, there are eight of them, with which being at eighth dot is the headphone at full size. Pulling them out can sometimes be a bit resistant at times, but once you get the specific size you want, you don't have to adjust them anymore, so it's really not a problem. This is actually quite similar to the HD650, except the HD650 doesn't have any way to guide you into how far you've pulled them out, so balanced adjustment relies on your eyes. Although, Beyer definitely isn't the worst, but definitely not the best when it comes to adjustment. The interesting thing about these headphones though, is even fully adjusted to the eighth dot, the headphone really isn't that big. So what does this mean? This means, if you close them all the way in, the are absolutely tiny, and can be great for storage or display. For some reason, they look even more fantastic when they are in their tiny form, but again, just another opinion.
Initial and Long Term Comfort
This is where both of these headphones differ from each other. But first, let me explain their initial comfort. Most people know by now that Beyerdynamic headphones are very comfortable. And I am happy to report, this is true -- but to some extent. The earpads a very soft indeed, and feel very good while wearing them. And the headband is generously padded as well, so most will find it comfortable too. But there is a slight problem with both of these headphones in terms of comfort -- especially with the DT880. First let me clarify that this may not be a problem to users with very small ears. To those of us with medium to large ears, there is a slight problem. Both of the earcups on these headphones are really quite shallow. In which, your ear WILL most likely be touching the inner foam of the earcups. To many this isn't a problem, but to some, it is the end of the world. The interesting thing is, the DT880 has "curved" foam inside it's earcup and the DT990 has "flat" foam inside it's earcup. This is extremely apparent not only while wearing them, but by taking off the earpads, it's clear they are to what I have stated. What this means is, your ear is much more likely to not only touch, but be irritated by the inside foam while wearing the DT880, than the DT990. Putting them on back and forth reveals that this issue is obvious, and the DT990 is clearly a step ahead of the DT880 in terms of comfort -- which is a real shame, because the DT880 sounds superior to the DT990. With that said, the DT990 feels absolutely fantastic when first placed on your head. It's pillow-like feel, and the relatively soft headband makes these a joy to wear.
Long Term Comfort:
Many will overlook something as important as long term comfort. They look for the initial shock in how comfortable a headphone is, and leave it at that. Unfortunately, no headphone I have ever owned feels the same after even half an hour after you put them on -- excluding the king of comfort, the AD700. No matter how soft, or how good they feel when you first put them on, they WILL feel different after extended wear. That said, the DT880 began to irritate me in less than a half an hour. Not only did my ears not like the semi-claustrophobic earcups, but they really detested to the foam. The DT990 on the other hand, even from initial wear, is quite obvious that they will be more comfortable down the road -- and they were. Unfortunately, I have only worn these for a little less than an hour, but with that, they still felt pretty good. Most may not even keep them on that long anyway, so in that case, the DT990 passes the test with flying colors. Sadly for the DT880, it's curved foam inside the earcup disabled me from wearing them for anywhere near as long as the DT990. A sad fact indeed, as I already mentioned that I liked the sound of the DT880 loads more than the DT990. That of which I will go onto in the next section.
Bass, Treble, and Overall Sound
And now comes the section in which the DT880 and the DT990 differ most. The sound. Let's start out with the basics and begin with bass. Between the two, it's quite apparent that the bass is indeed different. Instead of putting it into confusing terms and long descriptions, I'll put it nice and simple. The DT990 has MORE bass, the DT880 has LESS bass. Yup, it's that simple, and is that self-explanatory. The DT880 has very "safe" bass, in which most will be happy with the bass it has to offer. It's not too much, nor is it too little, thus it's the perfect amount. I will definitely agree with that to some extent. Between the two headphones, the DT880 has the more favorable bass. In some songs, it had too little, just as the DT990 had too much. But the DT880's bass is safe -- in which it sounds perfectly acceptable and it won't be fatiguing, at all. It's deep, it's balanced, and it's clear. The DT990 on the other hand, is a bit more risky. It does indeed have more bass, but some can find it fatiguing, just as some will love the addition of more of it. To play it safe AND if I could keep one for bass alone, I would choose the DT880 no question. For fun listening, rock sessions, laid back, or analytical examining, I would still pick the DT880 for all of those categories.
Treble and Overall Sound:
This is where the storm begins. The treble is without a doubt, the trademark of Beyerdynamic headphones. They are bright, energetic, and detailed -- thanks to their overemphasized treble. But where they get their strength, is also where they get their weakness. Too much treble. Far too much. I'm writing this comparison to obviously compare and review the DT880 and DT990, and not to criticize it's sound based off listening to the HD650, but what I hear is what I hear, and I will share my findings. The DT880 and the DT990 are simply too bright for my tastes. With it's brightness also comes it's detail and energy, but also comes it's dryness, lack of body, and hollow sound. It actually reminds me of Grado headphones in a way that it has a very upfront and engaging sound. Due to this, I find it not only fatiguing listening to both, but find it not as enjoyable due to something being "left out" in the sound. To describe this, I will give you a mental image of their general sound signature. With "higher" equaling "treble" and "lower" equaling "bass", the Beyer's sound resembles an "upside down pyramid". Little support at the bottom, and too much weight up top. Due to this shape, the sound like I mentioned, sounds very dry, lacks body, and has a relatively hollow sound -- but with that has a very sharp and detailed sound. But, with all this information describing Beyer in a general sense, or more so the DT880, I will now give you a glimpse into the strange, twisted world of the DT990.
After discovering my DT880 was too bright when compared to my reference HD650, I completely forget to also compare it to the DT990. I tested the DT880 vs the HD650 extensively, and only tested the DT880 and the DT990 briefly in the past (I quickly came to the conclusion I found the DT880's sound superior to the DT990, so I discarded the DT990 temporarily). So, after my extensive tests between the DT880 and the HD650, coming to the conclusion the DT880 was too bright, I went ahead and threw the DT990 back into the mix. Let's just say, I was blown away with the sheer amount of treble they presented. It was, in short, appalling. It was so incredibly bright, it rendered them almost unlistenable with all the variety of music I threw at it. With brightness comes sibilance, and with sibilance comes fatigue. The sound of the DT990 was so bright, it felt as if it was covering up all the other details in the music. Instead of the sound being "veiled" it was more like being "tinned", as everything in the sound had such a bright shimmer, which seemed to detract from the overall enjoyment. But, to make things even more interesting, the DT990 has enhanced bass as well. Now we have a bit too much bass that can blur into the mids, and WAY too much treble that eats the rest of the spectrum! An incredibly twisted sound if you ask me, but many may find it amusing! Overall, both of these headphones are extremely bright and lack bodied, balanced sound. The DT990 just takes that to the next level -- by offering an even brighter sound, and bass that can also render fatigued listening. In all, the DT990 is a very strange (and not preferred) headphone indeed. Getting fatigued by bass and treble at the same time is really quite the experience! The DT880 is a "tamed" DT990, and for that, it sounds much better for all kinds of music.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Message to DT880 owners:
Between the two, you definitely have not only picked the "safe" headphone, but the "better" headphone. The DT880 is a fantastic headphone if you love a brighter, more upfront sound, and to that I couldn't think of a better headphone for the job. It's a fantastic looking headphone and even looks better than the DT990, but unfortunately, the DT990 has beat you on comfort. Build is fantastic and will allow use for many years to come. All of this for the incredibly cheap street price, and with all that, I can't help but be impressed! Although, if you find the sound too bright or you find it lacking body, I will go ahead and suggest the amazing HD650, a headphone that fixes most of the DT880's flaws, and provides an overall better sound and sound signature. (I refer to the HD650 as MY perfect headphone).
Message to DT990 owners: (Please read this with a sense of humor. I realize everyone's tastes differ)
What on earth have you done? I'm not sure if it's possible anyone could like the insane sound the DT990's put out, but I'll just tell you this. If you like the bright and clear sound of Beyerdynamic headphones in any way, shape, or form, I highly suggest you pick up a pair of DT880's in the future. Once you compare them, I'm sure you will come to the same conclusion I did and get rid of them ASAP. The DT880's highs are much more controlled, and the bass has more balance to it. It's overall sound is simply more pleasing. On the contrary, you do have the edge in comfort, but don't get too smug, as I'm sure the sizzling treble will wipe it clean off your face! (If you are thinking about becoming a DT990 owner, you aren't thinking hard enough. Think DT880 instead, if you are set on Beyerdyanmic).
Whatever you do, try them first if that's an option. Beyerdyanmic headphones give me more mixed reactions than any headphone I have ever tried, and to that, you really should try to listen to them and possibly compare, before you buy. If that's not an option, and you think the words: bright, dry, upfront, energetic, and detailed might engage you, then go ahead and buy the DT880, unless you are feeling extremely courageous and want to risk it with the DT990. But, if you feel like you want a more: balanced, emotional, full bodied, complete, unobtrusive, and smooth sound, then I strongly recommend the fabulous HD650. Whatever you decide, remember, I warned you about the DT990, so if you still choose to get it, may your ears endure such a sound...
Edited by Katun - 5/12/11 at 9:31am