I haven't seen a full-featured A/B shootout between the DT880 Premium 600 and the 250 Pro when both are well-amped and sourced. Seems most of the questions regarding the difference between the two has to do with exactly this scenario. Enjoy!
The rig basics:
Peachtree Audio DAC it X
Woo Audio WA3
The rig cabling:
Interconnects: Signal Cable Silver Resolution Interconnects (with Eichmann Bullets solid silver plugs), Blue Jeans Cable LC-1, Prometheus Cable Stress Free Pure Silver, Audioquest Big Sur
USB: Audioquest Forest
Tung Sol 5998
The source programs:
The other stuff:
Both cans had more than 60 hours of use before the comparison.
Comfort-wise, I strongly prefer the 250 Pro. The clamping force feels just right, not too tight, not too loose. By comparison, the 600 felt a bit loose on my skull-bone. I have a narrow potato, I guess, because the 600 occasionally slid off if I turned my head quickly. The 600 wasn't as bad as the Audio Technica ATH-W100X, which is my bar for a loose headphone (you seriously need a Charlie Brown pumpkin head to make those work), but the DT880 Premium is definitely approaching that territory. Some people love the feeling of a headphone that feels very loose yet is still mostly secure, others think it just feels... Insecure. Count me in the latter group. The other difference of note was the headband pad. The pad on the 250 felt more plush and comfy to me.
FIT AND FINISH
Fit & Finish left me divided. There is no question that the DT880 Premium has a more, well, premium look than the Pro versions. Of particular note are the metal tabs above the cups which lend a nicely finished look. Ditto the metal model ID tag that is riveted onto the screens in the Premium model, vs the chintzy screen printed model ID on the Pro's screens. The headband pad was the exception, however. I felt that the pad on the Pro was not only more comfortable, but also simply looked nicer. It's constructed of faux leather, but a nicely done matte finish faux leather that looks great. There are shiny black button snaps on the top portion, which lend a sexy retro-luxury look to the design. The headband pad on the Premium looks positively cheap by comparison. The Premium uses a plasticky faux leather material that has more in common with the leather-print plastic center panel in a rental car than with actual leather. No buttons. It's a stiffer, less plush material. Beyer would be well-served to upgrade the Premiums headband to the Pro's pad.
Yes, I'm making this a category. Unlike my favorite HD650's which I can custom-cable to my heart's content, the Beyer's have a fixed cable, meaning that unless you want to get into modding territory, you get what you get. The Premium model features a long straight cable. The Pro features a short coiled cable. The Pro wins here for me. But my situation is unique- I listen at my desk, so a long cable just gets in the way. Other's experience may vary. Both cables on the Premium and Pro seemed to be of equal quality... That is very good, approaching excellent. They are the dual 1/4" - 3.5mm design, so will fit whatever setup you have barring you fancy dancers with XLR balanced headphone outs. I prefer a 1/4" for open cans, since I will only ever use them with full-size amps anyway (most of which have 1/4" outs)... But whatever. Good cables.
Here's the only part that anybody really cares about anyway. Pro and Premium aesthetic and fit comparisons aside, the purpose of this review is to really see the differences between the 600Ohm and the 250Ohm sound, specifically when both are well-amped with tubes and being fed good sources.
Let's start at the bottom and work our way up. Much has been made about the different bass signatures of the 600 and 250. Popular theory has it that the 250 hits slightly harder and deeper, while the 600 is nearly as deep, but more punchy and controlled. Based on my listening, I am happy to score one for popular theory... But with some caveats. Firstly, with regards to the Pro's greater depth, I believe most of the difference is due not to the 600 and 250 versions, but to the Premium vs Pro version's clamping force. Bass hits harder and sounds deeper when a phone is tight against your ear. Even an open phone. So right off the bat, the Pro has an advantage over the Premium. For the purpose of this shoot-out, I tested bass both as the cans sat naturally on my rutabaga, and while pressing the Premiums against my ears. Using this method, I determined that for the most part, both the 600 and the 250 were capable of delivering identically low bass. There were two tracks in particular where the 250 appeared to hit lower... Derezzed of Daft Punk's Tron: Reconfigured, and Subdivisions of Rush's Signals. Both tracks feature lots of fat synth bass, which the 250 seems to be able to sink it's teeth into better. The 600's bass is a little too articulate here, and delivers a slightly more mannered translation by comparison. Again, the difference is tiny, I would estimate that 99% of the time, the 600 is capable of hitting just as low as the 250. In fact, on Angelique Kidjo's cover of Lay, Lady, Lay off the Bob Dlyan tribute album Chimes of Freedom, I felt the 600 went just slightly lower. In stark comparison to the sloppy synth bass on the previously mentioned tracks, Kidjo's cover features a continuous booming, airy bass hit... The depth and detail of which the 600 was able to translate better. For jazz, the 600 clearly pulled away from the 250. Martial Solal's Longitude features bassist Francois Moutin at arguably his best. The bass on Tea For Two is a charging, diving thing, running from the lower to the uppermost registers of the instrument, and the 600 captured it very well. The 250 felt just slightly muddy by comparison.
Here again the 600 shines over the 250. While both cans have wonderful lower mids, the 600 is really something special. In fact, this may be what the 600 does best. Poise is the word here. Lower register guitar notes are delivered with a power, punch, and resonance that is truly top-grade. Both the Beyer DT880 250 Pro and the 600 Premium are, shall we say, obtainable headphones. I picked up the 250 for $195 shipped, and the 600 for around $270 shipped. But the way the 600 handles the lower mid range is absolutely reference. There are many headphones in the $1000 and up category that could take a lesson. Listening to The Life Aquatic soundtrack on the 600 was fantastic. This is an album that lives in the lower mids. Seu Jorge's cover of Bowie's Life On Mars? was perfectly captured by the 600.
Mids perhaps represent the biggest difference between how the 250 and 600 present music. In short, the mids on the 600 are a bit recessed for my tastes. It's a shame, because it creates a pretty noticeable gap in the 600's overall presentation. Here is this wonderfully articulate bass, these truly world-class lower-mids, and then the frequency seems to just drop out, before picking back up in the lower treble. The 250, by comparison, is a more balanced (if slightly less articulate on the lowers) can. Cat Steven's Maybe You're Right off Mona Bone Jakon is one my favorite songs in his entire catalog. I'm a piano player, and the song has such a simple and pretty piano in it. It's a pretty well-balanced song, featuring equal parts bass, lower mids, mids, lower treble, and treble. Overall, the 250 handled it better... Simply because there was a mids-gap with the 600. To be fair, this is a song that requires fairly simple bass duties, so there was no room for the 600 to outperform the 250 with better articulation.
I have some unusual references for lower treble. Perhaps the oddest is the warbling synth line that shows up around 2:57 on Daft Punk's Touch off the fantastically recorded Random Access Memories. It's a strange bird, that synth line. When presented perfectly, it will run like a winding brook in your ear, going from honey-smooth to electro-edged in milliseconds. It's a damn difficult line to translate well. Both the 250 and 600 did an excellent job with it. I'd call it a hard-draw. In fact, I'd call all the lower treble listening I did a hard-draw between the two phones. I doubt anyone would be able to tell the difference between them in a blind test for lower treble.
This is another that people love to talk about when comparing the 250 and the 600. Popular theory holds that the 600 does a much better job here, with the uppers being bright, but never harsh, while the 250 can kind of dissolve into a harsh and shiny sound. While I see where that thinking stems from, I believe both the 250 and the 600 can sound very well when amped and sourced properly. Make no mistake, the Beyer DT880 is a bright phone, in any of it's Ohm iterations- but with a nice warm tube amp and the right tubes the unpleasant aspects of that signature can be tamed, revealing more of a detailed and airy sound. This is where cable selection becomes important (more on that later). Both cans handled Joshua Bell and Sting's version of Come Again off Bell's At Home With Friends very well, without a hint of harshness or overt unpleasant brightness. Even the note that begins around 2:56 and ends around 3:06. So what about the million-dollar question? All things equal- both phones amped, sourced, and cabled to their individual strengths for optimal treble- does the 600 produce smoother highs? I would say no. I think the disparity that's tossed around the forums has more to do with the fact that people with a 600Ohm headphone are more likely to find proper amplification for it (just out of necessity) compared to people with a 250Ohm phone... Which, while it won't sound optimal, can be used with most phones or smaller portable amps.
As large a deficit as was presented in the mids is also presented in the soundstage, this time favoring the 600. However, similar to the bass-depth situation, I must add the caveat that I believe this has little to do with the 600 and 250 Ohm versions, and more to do with the mechanics of the Premium and Pro versions. If you take two identical cans (identical as in no Ohm difference, the same phones) and clamp one tightly and the other loosely... The looser clamped phone will sound more open. And some people construe that as having a larger, more natural soundstage. Personally, I liked the soundstage on both the 250 and 600. The 600 definitely had a more airy sound that I liked better with classical and rock. But the 250 had a natural intimacy that I liked better with jazz and electronica.
This is a bit like comparing how flat two dump-trucks can make a squirrel. The DT880 is a bonafide legend of detail, a bar that headphones costing three to four times as much strive to achieve. I cannot tell with absolute certainty which was the more detailed between the 250 and the 600. If I had to guess, I'd say perhaps the 600, just for it's outstanding bass delivery and stunning lower mids. But then the 250 catches up with it's more forward (and in my opinion more balanced) presentation of mids, and it's either can's game again. What I can say for certain is that anybody claiming the 600 is "much more detailed" as I have read (albeit without direct A/B comparisons, ha ha) is full of it. Both cans are detail ninjas. The battle for detail supremacy here isn't a fight between Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee... It's between Bruce Lee in his Enter the Dragon outfit and Bruce Lee in his Game of Death outfit.
As many have stressed before, the 600 comes alive with proper amping, particularly tube amping. I can attest to this as well. However it should be noted that the 250 also responds well to amping. The difference is that in my experience, the 250 is probably going to deliver close to 80% of it's potential out of, say, an iPod with a Fiio E12 (terrific mobile setup by the way, not knocking it). So when the 250 is sourced, cabled, and amped out of a proper tube desktop setup, you're really only seeing a 20% increase in performance. Not a bad thing, obviously. 20% is a very healthy bump. The 600, on the other hand, is basically a terrible headphone until it's amped well. Perhaps that's not fair to say. It's a tough load to drive. Some tough-load headphones put on the stiff upper lip and soldier on when they aren't driven well, and others whine and complain. In this sense, the 600 is a prima donna. But treat it well, and it's night and day. The 600 out of an iPhone is low-volume, anemic and tinny. And harsh. So, so harsh. But proper tube amplification yields an Optimus Prime-like transformation. I'd estimate the 600 gains perhaps a 40% performance increase, compared to the 250's 20% bump. But these numbers don't really mean much. As the listening tests above reveal, the end result of good amping is two very, very similar headphones, with only marginal differences in performance.
I ran a variety of interconnect cables between my the DAC it X and the WA3 with the 250 and 600. My favorite was the Signal Cable Silver Resolution with solid silver (Eichmann Bullet) plugs. Some people maintain a silver or copper/silver blend cable is bright. I disagree. I think a properly executed silver cable can be enormously dynamic, offering deep, detailed bass and crystalline highs that finish smoothly. Signal Cable makes a great copper/silver blended cable in their Silver Resolution, and it was my favorite cable overall. It really smoothed the brightness of both the 250 and the 600 without diminishing a drop of their famous detail and clarity. Next up, the Prometheus Audio solid silver cables. These were wonderful as well, although they didn't have quite the bass extension of the Signals. The Blue Jean LC-1 has been a go-to cable of mine for years. It's just a solid, well-built, nice-sounding cable. While it didn't offer the treble detail of the Prometheus, I felt it handled the bass better, particularly with the 600. So I would tie the Prometheus and the BJC LC-1 for second place with these phones. I included the Audioquest Big Sur because I wanted to see how the 250 and 600 compared when fed by a terrible cable. Seriously. I dislike most of the cables AQ makes. I find most of them to be thin and anemic, yet without the detail that is usually the silver-lining for cables like that. Just... Awful. And over-priced. The fact that the Big Sur costs more than the (base model plug) Silver Resolution is absurd. It's outgunned on all fronts. But I digress. Long story short, the 250 handles bad cabling much better than the 600.
So which do I prefer between the Beyerdynamic DT880 600 Premium and 250 Pro? Simple. My Sennheiser HD650. Ha. Seriously, it's a tough call. I can honestly say each has their own strengths and weaknesses, and those various strengths and weaknesses are often tiny, tiny margins when considered rationally. If I personally had to live with just one... I think it would be the 250 Pro. But if they made a 600 Pro, I'd probably go for that.
Edited by Earbones - 5/5/14 at 2:35pm