I have owned the DT990-250 Pros for about 18 months and the Q701s for about 1 month. I’m pretty sure that the Q701s are completely broken in. They warmed up a good bit over the first 100 or so hours of break in, and they have leveled off for quite some time.
Equipment is Foobar playing mostly 16/44.1 FLAC with some 24/96 material à HRT Music Streamer II à Little Dot MK 3 with stock power tubes and either Mullard M8100s or Voskhod gold grids. I’m not sure if the Voskhods are entirely done breaking in yet, but the Mullards definitely are. I prefer the Mullards with both headphones. I listen to a lot of electronica, but also metal, rap, and some world and folk.
Overall, these are both great headphones. The only differences that are really obvious to me are that the DT990s have bigger midbass and the Q701s have a more spaced out soundstage and better midrange balance. Beyond sound quality, the Q701s are also appreciably more difficult to drive – they should really be used with a desktop amp and not a portable amp. However, there are plenty of more subtle differences, which I explain below. I have to say that I prefer the Q701s and will be giving the DT990s to a friend. I can easily see how others could prefer the DT990s though.
Bass – Toss-up.
The midbass of the DT990 is much more pronounced than that of the Q701, giving the bass significantly more impact. The downside of this is that its bass seems slower and less detailed than the Q701’s bass. The AKG’s bass is fast and dry, which gives it more detail and more textural variation than the Beyers. Maybe the DT990’s midbass is just obscuring the subbass somewhat, but I also get the impression that the Q701 has more extended and prominent subbass than the DT990.
I listen to more electronica than anything, and I don’t find the Q701 to be lacking bass on most well-recorded material, such as Shpongle or Wisp. The DT990 definitely convey more visceral energy, but I find that on many songs the Q701’s detailed bass is more enjoyable to me. On very bass-heavy songs like Gil Scott Heron’s “Me and the Devil” for example, what sounds like a single bass line on the Beyers reveals itself to be several overlapping bass lines through the AKGs. The Q701 definitely trails the DT990 in impact, but plenty of songs will still overwhelm me with bass through the Q701. XXYYXX’s “Forest Fires” absolutely rocks through the Q701. Overall, I find that I prefer the Q701 for songs that are recorded with really heavy bass, whereas I prefer the DT990 on songs that are more bass-light. With material that has more mid-bass than sub-bass, the Q701 can sound a little hollow.
The DT990 win on quantity, but I personally prefer the Q701 for quality. I will also note that the decreased quantity of bass on the Q701 might have me listening to them a little louder than I do with the DT990. However, the Q701 is hardly bass shy. It's bass is deep and tight. The DT990, on the other hand, is simply a mid-bass monster. Your choice.
Midrange – Q701.
Not much to say here. The DT990’s midrange is somewhat recessed compared to its bass and treble. It’s still there, but it falls back in the mix. The Q701 is much more balanced and presents the midrange very clearly. The Q701’s midrange is also warmer and smoother than that of the DT990, which is just a tad bit on the lean side of neutral IMO. Guitars and vocals have more body through the Q701, making music like Fleetwood Mac or Dead Can Dance more enjoyable.
Treble – Q701.
The DT990 has a tad more treble emphasis than the Q701, even though the reduced quantity of bass in the Q701 gives them a brighter presentation overall. This treble emphasis mostly comes from a treble peak in the DT990, which is slightly irritating compared to the Q701's smooth and more balanced treble. However, these are small differences. Both headphones have a fairly prominent and well-resolved treble that captures a lot of detail but can be fatiguing with poorly recorded or bright material.
Soundstage – Toss-up.
The Q701 has a soundstage that is much wider and farther away than that of the DT990. I like this, because there is more separation between the instruments. Different sounds have more room to breathe. The downside is that the distant soundstage sounds strange for some material, especially metal. It’s great for spacey electronic material, but not so much for in-your face rocking out. There is not as much depth variation within the soundstage as with the DT990 however. In some ways, this makes the Q701 more coherent, but I think it also makes its imaging more 2D than that of the DT990.
The DT990 has a soundstage that is closer to the listener. The DT990 also has a somewhat deeper soundstage, which gives it more specific 3D imaging than the Q701. Nevertheless, sounds are not as separated through the DT990 as through the Q701. The DT990 puts everything closer together. The thing about the DT990’s soundstage that bothers me the most is the V-shaped signature – the bass is close to the listener, while the midrange is farther away. The treble is also closer than the midrange, but it doesn’t block the “view” to the mids as much as the bass does.
Both headphones have a fairly spacious soundstage with solid imagining, so I think it mostly comes down to preference. The Q701 has a back-row sound that is not appealing for metal and some rock, but excellent for electronica. The DT990 can do both metal and electronica, but something about that upfront bass throws the soundstage off. The Q701 is wider than the DT990, but also flatter.
Detail – Q701.
Both of these headphones are amazingly detailed but I still notice more through the Q701, especially in the bass. The drier bass and more separated soundstage of the Q701 make details easier to hear. It has a controlled clarity that opens the sound up, and its more neutral balance reveals details that are obscured by the DT990's V-shaped sound signature. To be fair though, once I’ve noticed a detail on the Q701, I can usually pick it out on the DT990 as well. The tiny details are there on the DT990, but they are just a little harder to notice. The decreased midrange emphasis on the DT990 also hides some detail. Listening to The Lone Deranger album by Hallucinogen, for example, all the different layers of synths, especially the quieter ones, just jump out more clearly through the Q701.
Amplification – DT990.
When I say that the DT990 is the winner, I mean that it is easier to drive. Both can be driven just fine by the LD MK3, but the Q701 uses more juice. With the gain switch set to 10, I listen to the Q701 with the volume anywhere between 9 and 3 o’clock depending on my mood and the level of the source material. I find that I venture past noon much less frequently on the DT990 than through the Q701, and that the same change in the position of the volume knob will produce much less change in volume through the Q701.
The Q701 does not fare as well with lesser amps. My 18V JDS Labs CMOY could drive them satisfactorily, but they required much more power than the DT990. Using the DT990, my typical volume level was around 10 or 11 o’clock, whereas it was closer to 2 or 3 o’clock on the Q701. The Q701 depleted the batteries much, much more quickly than the DT990, judging by how much time it took for me to hear clipping at normal volumes after installing fresh batteries.
Straight out of my laptop, both obviously don’t sound their best, but the Q701 shows much more of a decrease in quality. If you are really cheap or completely new to these levels of quality, you could listen to the DT990 straight off a stock soundcard and still enjoy them (I did for the first few months that I had them), but I can’t picture doing this with the Q701. Maybe I’m just too used to better components now though.
Build Quality – Toss-up.
Both are well-made. The DT990 looks a bit drab, but it could take a serious beating. I could literally sit on it or thrown it at a wall and it would be fine (not recommended though). The headband and arms are made of thick metal. The Q701 looks and feels more expensive, but also uses more plastic and doesn’t have a beefy metal frame. The headband on the Q701 is real leather that suspends the frame on your head; on the DT990 it’s padded pleather wrapped around a metal bar. The earpad velour on the Q701 also feels nicer and the drivers are covered with fabric instead of foam. The foam driver coverings of the DT990 have a tendency to collect hair.
I have the Q701 in lime green and it looks amazing, to me anyway. The detachable cord on the AKG is also nice, in case you want to upgrade or repair damage. It’s also worth noting that the DT990 comes with a coiled cord that’s around 3 ft. long (guesstimate), while the Q701 comes with a 10 ft cable and a 20ft cable. The longer cables allow you to walk around a room, but they also get tangled easily.
Comfort – Q701.
Both are fairly comfortable to me, but the Q701 wins because it has larger and deeper earpieces. The drivers and the sides of the earpieces don’t touch my ears at all. The earpieces of the DT990 are not as wide and touch the sides of my ears. They are also much shallower, so that the foam driver covering presses against my ears. The higher clamping force of the DT990 is also a factor here – the Q701 has essentially 0 clamp. I’ve never found the clamp of the DT990 to give me a headache though, nor have I found the ridges under the headband of the Q701 to be a problem.
This isn’t quite a comfort issue, but I should note that the Q701 leaks more sound. Both headphones are open so both leak, but the Q701 are much louder from the outside. At typical listening volumes, I can clearly hear the Q701 from other rooms (door open). At the same volumes, I’d have to listen very closely to notice the DT990.
It really comes down to preference. The DT990 was my first high-end headphone and I enjoyed it greatly. Over time though, I realized that I like a big soundstage more than anything. I’m happy with my move to the Q701. Its sound is a bit less lively than the DT990's, but it has a sense of speed, coherence, and separation that opens the sound up very nicely.
Edited by manbear - 7/30/13 at 2:29pm