A little while ago I was fortunate enough to receive a 2 month review model of a pair of Beyerdynamic DT880 Pro (250 ohm) headphones to review next to my AKG K701. Both are fantastic mid level headphones that many head-fier's find themselves going back and forth on which to purchase. This review offers up my honest opinions on both headphones weighing out their pro's and con's to help these people decide which headphone is right for them. The review however primarily focus's on the DT880's as I have already written a standalone review of the K701. Also I would like to thank Beyerdynamic for this fantastic opportunity, I can't express enough how much I appreciate the chance to listen to the DT880's. Enjoy!
As always you can read the original review on my personal blog.
After being introduced into hi-fi audio I began looking into mid-range priced headphones to bring a sparkle to my acoustic and instrumental music. About 5 months ago I researched mid level cans that did exactly this, and the top two contenders that kept coming up were the Beyerdynamic DT880 and the AKG K701. Needless to say I took the plunge into the K701, and was simply blown away by what it did with my acoustic tracks, but was also disappointed in it’s performance with other genre’s. Since receiving my K701 I’ve wondered what the DT880′s sounded like and whether I made the right purchase.
About a month ago I contacted Beyerdynamic requesting a review DT880 model to compare with my K701. There arn’t any local hi-fi stores that carry Beyerdynamic headphones and I just couldn’t justify spending the money on another headphone that potentially sounds similar to what I already have. A couple of weeks ago a representative from Beyerdynamic got in touch with me and offered me the opportunity to review a pair of DT880′s against my K701. I was ecstatic when the box arrived at my door, and haven’t been able to take these can’s off since. Throughout the review I will be referencing how certain aspects of the DT880 compare to the K701, but this is primarily about the DT880. The goal of this review is to help people make that ever so important decision in purchasing their first mid-level hi-fi headphone in accordance to their personal music tastes. This review would not be possible of course without the generous help of Beyerdynamic, so before I get started I just want to say thank you for this fantastic opportunity. Now onto the review!
Design & Comfort
After having been around many high end headphones, the first thing that struck about the DT880 was their size. These headphones are quite small and compact compared to the K701. In fact I think that comparing the two the K701 feels a bit unnecessarily large. Design wise I personally prefer the DT880 overall taking into consideration size, weight, shape, and build quality. However there is no doubt in my mind that the K701 looks more impressive and gorgeous. Comfort wise, the DT880 is by far the most luxurious and comfortable headphone I have ever worn. I was expecting this from the various reviews I’ve read on them, but I have to say that the plushness really is fantastic first hand. The pad’s are absolutely perfect in terms of softness and size, and make the K701 pads feel like rubber. The only complaint I have about the pads and driveheads is that I wish they were slightly deeper. My ears tend to press up against the padding in front of the drivers, which I don’t particularly like. However this isn’t too much of an issue since the padding in front of the driver is very soft and thick. I do prefer the extra depth and room of the K701 pads, but the smaller, comfier DT880 pads are certainly on another level, sonic qualities aside.
Another aspect of the DT880 to take note of is it’s semi open design. I actually love this as it has the airiness and expansive soundstage of an open headphone with much better isolation. These headphone’s leak a very small amount of sound, but they do tend to let a good amount in. I actually prefer the semi open sound and design of the DT880 to the fully open sound and design of the K701. The DT880′s just feel more natural and less light and airy in comparison, although both have their advantages and disadvantages which I will dive into with more detail later in the review.
The real winner in the DT880′s comfort and design is the headband. Seriously other hi-fi companies please take notes, this is how a headband should be. It’s small, adjustable, stretchy, and most important is thickly padded all over and covered with soft leather. The headband padding is thick and sits perfectly on my head with little pressure. This is the only headband that I have absolutely no complaints on at all. Even my Sennheiser HD595 headband doesn’t compare to the DT880 headband, and I used to wear those to sleep. I can wear this headphone all day without even the slightest signs of discomfort. The clamping force is light and perfect. The DT880 doesn’t float on your head like the K701 does. A large part of why I find the DT880 to be so comfortable is my head shape and size, but I can’t imagine anybody finding these unbearable. Of course comfort is subjective but Beyerdynamic clearly put alot of thought and effort into making their DT line as comfy as possible. Overall the DT880 feels more solid and overall I think the build quality is better than the K701, huge props to the designers!
- Design Score: 4.6 / 5
- Comfort Score: 4.9 / 5
Amping: Before I dive into the specific ranges of the DT880 in comparison to the K701, I just want to note a few other observances. First amping – I was expecting the DT880 Pro 250 ohm to be difficult to drive with my FiiO e7/e9. I was surprised to learn that they are in fact easier to drive than my K701! I had the option between the 250 ohm and 600 ohm versions of the DT880 and I choose the 250 ohm because I simply didn’t think I could supply enough power for the 600 ohm. I guess I was very wrong about this, as the 250 ohm version seems about as difficult to drive as my Ultrasone Pro 900. I have read that between the 250 and 600 ohm versions, the treble and bass are slightly more pronounced and the overall clarity is improved on the 600 ohm version. But these differences are supposedly very very small, and I think that the DT880 250 ohm version is a fantastic midrange headphone as is. Although the 600 ohm version is harder to drive I feel that the e7/e9 could handle it, and I feel that the 250 ohm version is better suited to compare to the K701 in terms of the demographics of who typically buys it.
Initial Impressions: Now the main reason I was so curious about the DT880 is because it is often described as neutral. I stand by this 100% as these sound way more neutral than any other headphone that I’ve ever heard. Many people also describe the K701 as neutral, however the K701 has a brightness and sometimes harshness that the DT880 to my ear does not. The K701 also lacks in the bass department and in some circumstances the midrange department compared to the DT880. The DT880 is very neutral, while not as analytical and demanding as the K701. That being said this is in comparison to the K701 which is infamous for tearing apart poor recordings. The DT880 is still quite analytical and flat, but the details and clarity are ever so slightly behind the K701. This makes the DT880 a much better all around and forgiving headphone that sounds great with everything that I throw at it. While they arn’t as “fun” or “engaging” as a colored headphone, the DT880 has a very dynamic and enjoyable quality to it.
Summation: To me the K701 excels past the DT880 in high quality pure acoustic, live, and instrumental recordings. The airy wide soundstage and upper sparkle simple does something special to these types of tracks. While the DT880 also sounds absolutely fantastic with these types of recordings, the K701 simply outdoes it. Only the K701 gives me that sensation of euphoric musical bliss while listening to The Antlers “Hospice” live flac recordings. While the K701′s strengths are clear, the DT880 does something special as well. The DT880 is so dynamic in terms of how it sounds with every genre it simply out performs the K701 as an all around headphone. Vocals and bass certainly sound more natural and engaging on the DT880, which has a perfect realistic balance in it’s flat and neutral response.
To test out the treble response of the DT880 I decided to listen to “M79″ by Vampire Weekend, “What do you go home to” by Explosions in the Sky, and “Atlas” by Fanfarlo. “M79″ starts off nicely with smooth crystal clear highs. When the violin comes in it takes command with pace and majesty. There is a part at the beginning of this song that always sounds sibilant at mid to high volume on my K701. Listening to this part on the DT880 at a moderately high volume shows no signs of sibilance. The cymbals are clearly distinguishable in front of the violin which show’s excellent instrument isolation. Towards the end of the song I did receive a slight amount of sibilance that I don’t get on the K701 but it wasn’t overbearing. Moving onto “What do you go home to” I immediately notice the sparkle on the piano. At first this was to much for me, and the piercing highs forced me to turn down the volume, but once I did it sounded simply beautiful. The combination of the bells, piano, and guitar make for an intimate and atmospheric sound. I certainly prefer the way this sounds on my K701 though because of the added depth of the soundstage. That being said I certainly enjoyed this performance in particular once I adjusted the volume knob. Listening to “Atlas” by Fanfarlo proved to be a bit of a different experience. I have mixed feelings about this one, there are things that I think the DT880 does better and there are things that I think the K701 does better on this track. I really love the closer soundstage of the DT880 on this song because of how clean the recording is and the combination of female and male vocals. The organ also isn’t as upfront as it is on the K701 which is another positive in my books. However the K701 adds this incredible spine tingling sparkle to the acoustic guitar that the DT880 hints at but never fully reaches. Overall I believe that the treble is very similar in the DT880 and the K701. I think that the K701 has an upper sparkle that the DT880 has aswell but in a lesser amount. Certainly the peaks in the treble are a little bit off between the two headphones, but the DT880 sounds more natural, and less imposing or forced on the upper registry. Unfortunately it just can’t pull off the upper registry magic that I feel with the K701. There is also an advantage to this in some circumstances where although the DT880 doesn’t have as much sparkle in acoustic tracks the strumming of the guitar sounds like it has more “weight” or body to it.
- Treble: 4.5 / 5
The midrange is what I believe sets the DT880 fully apart from the K701. To test out the midrange response I choose to listen to “Gold Soundz” by Pavement, “Right before your eyes” by Cage the Elephant, and “Skeleton Key” by Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s. Gold Soundz starts of with crystal clear upfront (and signature off tune) vocals. This sounds nothing like the midrange in the K701. The snap of the snare drum sounds less analytical and more upfront and engaging. It seems that the midrange is right where it should be in a neutral headphone, and is almost as forward as in my Sennheiser HD595′s but much more precise. Hitting play on “Right before my eyes” confirms this as electric guitar has weight to it again. This was something that really bugged me with the K701 as electric guitar was always given a harsh airy sound as opposed to the embodied upfront engaging qualities it’s known for. Unlike the K701 I can actually rock out with the DT880! The vocals remain crisp and narrow while the percussion sounds punchy and snappy with plenty of detail. Overall this was a very good performance by the DT880, while it is certainly not as engaging as a colored headphone for rock it certainly is enjoyable to listen to as opposed to nearly unbearable as on the K701. I choose to listen to “Skeleton Key” because the vocals are very crisp with a range of violins, guitar, piano, and tambourines in the background. Throughout the song the vocals rightfully remain center stage while the various instruments sort of melt together in the background. This isn’t quite as analytical as on the K701 where I can distinguish each instrument much easier due to the unnaturally wide and open sound stage. But that’s part of what makes the DT880 so enjoyable to listen to, it has a flat response with a fantastic and clear midrange with plenty of detail without hitting that overly analytical mark. The midrange of the DT880 is the game changer when comparing it with the K701 as it completely blows away what the K701 does with vocals. You loose some of the depth and analytical instrument separation with the DT880 but this is either a positive or a negative depending on what you are looking for.
- Midrange: 4.8 / 5
Now bass is something that many consider to be the critical flaw of the K701. I disagree to an extent as I love how analytical and accurate the bass is, although it’s true in some genres and songs you can actually forget that there is any bass at all. Just from my initial impressions I can say that there is certainly “more” bass in the DT880, the question is how does the quality and extension compare. To answer this question I choose to listen to “I will posses your heart” by Death Cab for Cutie, “Teardrop” by Massive Attack, and “Codex” by Radiohead. “I will posses your heart” is a fantastic song to listen to just bass guitar as there is an easily distinguishable bass rift that repeats throughout the entire song. The bass sounds very natural, and as the song picks up I’m not finding it difficult at all to keep focus on it. The strumming of the bass guitar is distinguishable which shows a good amount of detail and clarity. It doesn’t sound to my ears that the extension is quite as low as on the K701, but it just might be the song on this one. “Teardrop” is a fantastic song that I have loved ever since I watched an episode of House for the first time. The bass in this song is clean, deep, and professionally produced. It sounds punchy and a little bit more upfront and louder in relation to the entire sound spectrum on the DT880 than on the K701. But I can definitely see now that the bass extension on the DT880 is not as deep as on the K701. What the DT880 seems to be lacking in extension it makes up for in detail and mid level bass. It sounds very punchy and detailed, never falling into the background yet never demanding your full attention. It’s simply accurate and sterile bass at it’s finest in this price range. “Codex” confirms this as the bass line is very very low and I’m finding it a little bit hard to distinguish on the DT880. It’s definitely there and it sounds great but it’s a little bit hard to pick up on at first. Much like the K701 the mid bass and upper bass sounds incredibly lush and detailed. I would say that the slight gain in emphasis on the mid level bass in the DT880 over the K701 makes it a much better all around headphone. When this is combined with the fantastic mid range you get a truly accurate and versatile neutral headphone.
- Bass: 4.3 / 5
The style is really the first thing that made me love the DT880, they simply look and feel right to me. When I’m wearing the DT880 it feels at home, and whenever I can’t decide what I’m really in the mood to listen to I find myself constantly reaching for them. The AKG K701 is truly special to me and I’m certainly a little bit biased when comparing it with the DT880. While I’m saying that the treble lacks detail I’m talking in comparison to the K701. What it really comes down to between these two headphones though is which is better suited towards your music preferences. If you are looking for an uncolored neutral mid priced headphone then you should be considering either the DT880 or the K701. Personally I love the K701 because of the sense of space and airiness that it creates and the incredible sparkle and detail it gives to acoustic, instrumental, and especially live recordings. But I cannot stand to listen to anything else but those specific genres and a handful of artists on the K701. The DT880 fixes this by bringing forward the mid range to the same level as the treble while keeping a strong and punchy bass response. There is a very slight dip of overall crispness in the DT880 compared to the K701, but this makes the headphones more forgiving and versatile. With the DT880 you have a headphone that sounds clean and clear with just about any genre, while the K701 is very limited. I find myself reaching for the DT880 more often than I do for the K701 simply because of this versatility and it’s fantastic mid range. Seriously, vocals sound absolutely incredible on the DT880 because of this clear and forward midrange. Because of this the DT880 completely trumps the K701 in the vocals and mids department with the exception of certain female vocals, though it does seem to come at the cost of clear instrument separation. You loose the airy wide sound stage of the K701 in the DT880 but you also get a much better all around mid level headphone. I really enjoyed my time with the DT880 and I found it helped me listen to the broad scope of my music library as opposed to simply the tracks that my K701 does justice to.
It pains me to think that I have to ship these headphone’s back to Beyerdynamic in a few days, but I am satisfied having heard the Beyerdynamic sound and the ability to compare them side by side with my K701. Having Heard the DT880 I would love to purchase a pair of Beyer’s someday when my bank account recovers from the purchase of my Pro 900′s. The DT880 is a fantastic headphone and taking into consideration it’s design, comfort, versatility and smooth neutral presentation I would say that it is well worth the investment as an entry or mid level headphone in the world of hi-fi audio.
- Overall Score: 4.7 / 5
*I’d like to note that I did all my listening on my FiiO e7 DAC + e9 amp system, with recording at either 320 kbps or lossless FLAC. I also put about 150 hours of pink noise and music through these headphones before this review.
Edited by colmustard - 5/5/11 at 6:42pm