beyerdynamic DT 1990 PRO

Average User Rating:
5/5,
  1. bpandbass
    5.0/5,
    "The Audi R8 of Open Headphones"
    Pros - Outstanding neutrality, excellent bass response, not harsh, works well with any amp, accessories, excellent build quality
    Cons - Not the biggest soundstage, the ear cups could be roomier, these headphones do not come cheap
    Introduction

    To preface this review, I have owned a number of headphones prior to buying the DT1990 Pros. I owned Beyers including the DT990 Pro, the DT880 Pro, and the DT150 Pro. I also owned the Sennheiser HD580 and HD650, and until recently, I was a huge fan of AKGs, having the K702 65th Anniversary, the K612, the K7XX and the K712 Pro. Believe me when I say this: the DT 1990 Pro is the best sounding neutral headphone I have ever bought, beating out my Audioquest Nighthawk (my comparison will come in a different article) to be my open back home listening headphone of choice.

    Build

    Like an absolute tank: Hand built in Germany at the Heilbronn factory. The 1990s are among the three newest 600-dollar, 250-ohm full-size Tesla headphones, the others being the closed DT1770 Pro, and the consumer-oriented Amiron Home. This is the latest iteration of the DT design, with more touches of refinement to this tried-and-true design. The 1990 is made up of metal and high impact plastics. The ear cups are plastic on the side, with laser-cut aluminum driver covers on the face and a fine mesh metal grill beneath. The hinges are fastened with torx screws with metal swivels, and the bales are finished in dark gray metal. The headband is now made from stitched protein leather, and the ear pads are velour with memory foam padding. This is the most refined DT model to date, and it remains rugged yet elegant. I expect this headphone to last a couple of decades easily.

    Accessories

    The 1990s come with a vinyl zip-up case, two sets of ear pads (more onto that in the sound section), and two cables: one 3 meters and straight, and the other 5 meters and coiled; as well as two 6.3mm stereo plug adaptors. The straight cable does tend to keep its wound-up memory, and is not as pliable as the cable on the Amiron Home or the Sennhesier HD650, but it has a nice rubber texture to it, is properly thick, and just like the heavier coiled cable, it terminates to the output device in an aluminum jack body with rubber strain reliefs. The good news is that since these cables are detachable and terminate to a 3-pin mini XLR termination, you can use shorter custom cables or AKG cables. If you want to run these headphones balanced, you will have to rip out the interconnect wire, and drill into the ear cups. The Amiron Home is the better headphone to run balanced, since it uses dual-entry cable connectors, making it possible to use a balanced cable by plugging one in. For a headphone of this price, the DT 1990 comes properly accessorized.

    Comfort

    This is really the only stumbling block for the DT 1990 in my opinion, and I think it is simply due to the age of the design in an era where headphones are getting more advanced with their ear chamber designs (think Sennheiser HD700 or HD800, and the Audioquest Nighthawk). The 1990s are still comfortable headphones, but with a couple footnotes. Allow me to further explain.

    The velour ear pads (both pairs) now contain memory foam, and should maintain their shape nicely over time (something the Sennheiser HD600 and 650 are notorious for not doing). The only trouble is that the drivers sit flat and parallel to your head, and are not angled like the Beyerdynamic T1 or the Sennheiser HD800. This combined with the not-particularly-deep earcups means that my ears touch the driver covers, which drives me insane. To remedy this, I have to stuff in rolled up tissue paper underneath the lips of the ear pads to give my ears more room to tuck in. It's a bit of an inelegant solution, but it helps noticeably in keeping the drivers away from my ears. My other complaint is that the spring steel headband helps to keep the headphones indestructible, but it also means that these headphones clamp like a Sennheiser HD600, which contributes to the drivers touching my ears. The 1990 is still a comfortable headphone, but it never disappears when you are wearing it.

    The weight of the headphones is 370 grams, which is quite substantial, and likely due to the rugged design. Thankfully, the headband, which has ample-but-firm padding, helps to distribute the weight of the headphones evenly across my head, preventing me from developing any hot spots. If you want a headphone that clamps less over the head, and has a softer headband, then try the Amiron Home instead. Overall, with some modifications to the ear pads, the DT 1990 Pro remains a secure and comfortable headphone on the head.

    Amplification

    The DT1990 Pro only comes in 250 ohms of impedance, however Beyerdynamic seems to have tuned the headphone to work easily with a variety of sound systems. Firstly, the 1990 has a 102 decibel-per-miliwatt sensitivity, so it is surprisingly easy to drive loud. Secondly, the high sensitivity and high impedance combination makes the 1990 an easy headphone to drive on a variety of amplifiers. I have driven them from the headphone jack on my 2011 MacBook Pro and Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter DAC that came with my iPhone 7, and in both situations the sound quality was not half bad...may I say even decent. The 250 impedance makes the 1990s suitable for listening to on an OTL tube amplifier such as the Woo Audio WA3, Schiit Valhalla 2 or Bottlehead Crack.

    I personally run my DT 1990s on my Schiit Lyr 2 with upgraded tubes, and I find that the combination does add some treble brightness to the headphones, but the Lyr 2 helps to make the sub bass even deeper, and increases the sense of scale and largeness to the sound. The other device I run my DT 1990s on, even more so than the Lyr 2, is the Chord Electronics Mojo. While I find the scale of the sound is not as large, the soundstage is more compressed and the bass may not be as powerful in the lowest frequencies as the Lyr 2, this amazing little FPGA DAC/amp works wonders with the DT 1990, keeping its powerful bass while making the sound signature as effortless and as smooth as can be.

    The DT 1990 Pro in my opinion is a wonderful headphone to use with different setups, and its impedance reminds me a great deal of the Sennheiser HD650: a high enough impedance to use with any amp, while retaining a sensitivity and dampening factor that makes the headphone maintain its basic sound signature regardless of what you plug it into. This is an easy headphone to work with, but if you can achieve the right sound system synergy, the rewards will be well worth it.

    And finally...

    Sound

    The DT 1990 in my opinion is a neutral headphone tuned for the music we listen to today, while never compromising itself to the temptation of sounding overly colored. This is what I mean:

    Bass

    The bass on the analytical ear pads (4 vent holes) is about as flat and neutral as you can get, without ever sounding boomy, bloated or one note. More importantly, the bass doesn't fall flat at the lower frequencies, nor does it sound dull and anemic with modern genres like the AKG K7s have the tendency to do. It's the ideal balance of texture, impact and tonality to my ears for neutral listening. My only possible complaint is that the upper bass is not as warm as other headphones like the Sennheiser HD650, which does not add a sense of grooviness to the mids and rhythms, but that is what the Amiron Home is for.

    With the balanced pads (20 vent holes), the DT 1990's mid bass and lower bass frequencies pick up a few more decibels, making the headphone a fun hip-hop dance music and drum n' bass headphone. With the balanced pads on, the classic Beyer bass rumble comes back, which is what I love about the Beyer sound signature. It comes down to personal preference, but I enjoy the extra thump and rumble from the balanced pads, since I listen to a ton of hip-hop, house and drum n'bass. If you want a little more presence to the mids and you want as flat a bass response as you can get, then try the analytical pads.

    Mids

    Regardless of the pads you use, the mids on the DT1990 Pros are simply outstanding. To AKG and Sennheiser fans, they may find that the DT 1990 Pros are not forward enough, or have that Beyerdynamic "dip" to them. That in my opinion is due to the fact that the upper bass is not pushed forward, and neither is the upper midrange. This means, however, that the mids are neither stuffy, nor shouty with women singers and brass instruments. Yes the DT 1990 has a less bloomy midrange with less rawness than other headphones, but at the same time it makes the DT1990 surprisingly musical without sounding overly mechanical like the DT 880 and DT 990 could be. What I love so much about the DT 1990's midrange more than anything else is its smoothness and its tonality, which in absence of other words sounds "right". There isn't an off-sounding timbre or spot where it sounds too warm or too dry or comes off as dull. Maybe this has something to do with the Tesla magnets, but the DT 1990 has that rare ability to sound uncolored yet highly musical and fun, which few other headphones under 1000 dollars do, aside from the Sennheiser HD650 or HD600.

    Treble

    Just like the mids, this is where the DT 1990 shows its improvements over older Beyers. The treble is mostly neutral with a some stored energy in the mid to upper highs. If you thought the DT 990 Pro was too metallic and spiky in the treble, then you will be in for a pleasant surprise. Beyers never in my opinion had roughness of graininess in their treble, but the problem in my opinion was that they were tuned less to human listening tastes (Harman Response Curve, for example) and more toward a Diffuse Field signature. This causes Beyers to have a metallic, sibilant treble that people more accustomed to headphones with a more neutral or softer treble will often hate. Beyerdynamic put in a considerable effort to address this problem. The DT 1990 loses much of its overt brightness in exchange for just enough treble to add the correct tonality to symbols and hi hats. It's not a dark headphone at all, just a neutral one to my ears, and I am someone who is sensitive to treble spikes. My only complaint is that there is still a small bit of metallicness in the sibilance range, but it only rears itself in on the spikiest of tracks, or when being driven on an overly bright amplifier.

    Soundstage

    Soundstage is probably the least noteworthy sound aspect of the DT 1990 Pro. That is not to say that it is overly compressed or blobby and indistinct in its precise placement like a Sennheiser HD650 can be to some people, but the soundstage does not have the width and the depth that I have been used to on my AKG K712 Pro. Nevertheless, the soundstage is medium in height and width, with accurate instrument placement. You will never mistake the DT 1990 Pro for a set of room speakers, however. And that leads me to my conclusion...

    Conclusion

    The Beyerdynamic DT 1990 to me is the headphone that is most unapologetic about being a headphone. The mids and the soundstage never try to imitate room speakers, and the sound lies solidly on the neutral side. If the Amiron Home is the next step up from the Sennheiser HD650, then the DT 1990 Pro is the next step up from the HD 600. And in many ways, the two share the qualities of what makes a headphone truly great. I find that the best headphones out there often do not master one particular feat perfectly, lacking in the other areas. A truly great headphone is one that does everything well. And that's what the DT 1990 Pro does. No it doesn't shake your head off with bass, no it doesn't scratch the inside of your head with treble, no it doesn't feel like a driving moccasin (or whatever light slipper you may wish) for your head like the Bose QC35, and no the soundstage won't trick you into thinking you are in a concert hall watching a live performance. That doesn't matter in the end, because the DT 1990 Pro is a headphone that covers all the bases, and never makes you feel as though you are missing out on something. And that is what you should get with a great neutral headphone, and something that is often ignored with colored headphones that try to suit a specific mood or genre at the expensive of everything else. The Beyerdyamic DT 1990 Pro is the Audi R8 of headphones because much like its German automotive spiritual sibling, it performs neutrally and it hangs with its more prestigious and more expensive competitors, while not beating its chest about it. While it is not cheap, the DT 1990 Pro may be all you will ever need in an open back headphone in the sub-1000 dollar price range, and that is what truly makes it a great headphone.
    Dsnuts, svetlyo and George Taylor like this.
  2. Fastnbulbous
    5.0/5,
    "Flagship Innovations Trickle Down to the beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro"
    Pros - Balanced, largely uncolored tuning for reference and critical listening, lightweight, sturdy, all parts replaceable, removable cord, Death Star design
    Cons - Could be slightly more comfortable
    Most people balk at spending more than $20 on a pair of headphones, given the disposable history of a typical portable consumer headphones for the past 35 years. Music lovers who do invest in a full size set of over-the ear cans, 9 times out of 10 they’re terrible sounding Beats or average sounding Bose noise reduction headphones. When flagships are selling for over $1,000, and more frequently more than $3,000, it’s understandable that the audiophile world can seem inaccessible to anyone but the most fervent hobbyists, obsessed music fiends, industry professionals, or just plain rich ******** with too much disposable income. However nearly every brand with a pricey flagship offers other more affordable models that benefit from the research and technology that go into the flagships. Case in point, the latest offering from venerable German company beyerdynamic, the DT 1990 Pro, which makes use of the Tesla technology first introduced to their T1 flagship in 2011. Tesla refers to the relatively large amount of magnetic force in the driver mechanism of the headphone which renders it very sensitive, and therefore efficient. The DT 1990 Pro is arguably a more accurate reference headphone than the T1, and at $600, less than half the current price of the updated T1 ($1,399). I also simply enjoy seeing images of new flagships, because they are often great looking works of art, much like loudspeakers and bicycles.

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    My love for headphones, as it is with many people, is rooted in a formative experience from my childhood. I grew up in an extended family of music lovers with pretty diverse record collections. However like a lot of sensible working class folks, they did not spend much money on fancy stereo systems. Well, my grandparents’ TV-record-player-shortwave-radio-bourbon-glass-storage combo might have been pricey for them back in the day, but it wasn’t exactly hi-fi. So the first time I put on my uncle’s full size Koss headphones (probably a 1974-76 model), I felt like I was in Oz when it flips to full color, or I’d fallen through the looking glass. I’d never heard music so intimately and with such detail before, and the experience played a big part in my becoming such an insatiable music fiend. Ironically my own headphone purchases started with an early cheap Sears knockoff of the Walkman, so basically the nadir of headphone history. It wasn’t until after college that I invested in a pair of Sony MDR-V6 to spare my housemates from my music late at night.

    15 years later it was time to retire the worn out Sonys, and I joined the Head-Fi discussion forum to research what was new and exciting. I looked at the Sennheiser HD 650, beyerdynamic DT 880, Audio-Technica ATH-W1000, and Sony MDR-SA 5000 but went with AKG’s latest flagship the K701, which, remarkably cost less than half of their previous flagship the K1000 ($895) at $449, and I got it for $318. That was a decade ago, probably the last time a new flagship would debut at well under $1,000. The average price of flagship headphones has at least tripled since then, but I don’t really see that as a problem. It started with the Sony MDR-R10 in 1989, which sold for, $2,500, and then of course the 1991 Sennheiser Orpheus system, with the HE90 / and HEV90 tube amp, that originally sold for about $16,000, and went for up to $41,000 used (as there were only 300 made). Since 2009, flagships have regularly been coming out at between $1,800 and $6,000. And of course there’s the new Sennheiser Orpheus 2 HE1060/HEV1060 was revealed on November 3, 2015, at the price of $55,000. It rests on a solid marble base, when you turn it on the buttons come out, the tubes rise up (“and SLAY THEIR OPPRESSORS!” joked a friend when I posted this on FB), and the case opens revealing the headphones.

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    I’ve peripherally paid attention to the audiophile speaker industry, which remains much larger, with many, many more brands available, with literally dozens that sell for more than the cost of a luxury car, some even a house. They represent not a shift, but an expansion from consumer-oriented product, to limited edition benchmarks to show what all their research, technology and resources can come up with, unlimited by cost, just as many car manufacturers have their limited flagship models. I will never own most of these headphones, but regular people do get opportunities to try them out in listening rooms, Head-Fi meets and trade shows like CanJam London last month, and coming up, the 13th annual Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in Denver, October 7-9. There should be at least a couple new exciting flagships announced. I’m most excited to learn more about two new flagships from ZMF, which I will get back to at the end of the article.

    It’s gratifying to see the growth and enthusiasm in this industry the past ten years, when so many are prematurely lamenting the alleged death of albums, CDs, and high fidelity. Clearly there are still many people who believe music is worth spending money on, both on the physical artifacts and the gear. And the fact is that the technology has been trickling down, so that many of the most inexpensive IEMs sound much better than they did previously. So while I may never own the new Focal (a French company that has made $180,000 loudspeakers) Utopia flagship introduced in June for $4,000, or Sony’s new flagship MDR-Z1R ($2,300), which will be available in October, headphones are improving all the time at all pricepoints.

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    [​IMG]For example, beyerdynamic has trickled down the Tesla driver technology originally introduced in its T1 flagship into two of their arguably best headphones, the DT 1770 Pro closed headphone which came out last year, and the open DT 1990 Pro, out recently on September 19. I previously had a great run with the closed DT 770 Pro, as seen in “Cans Of Doom” in 2013, but sold it in order to try another open headphone, the Philips Fidelio X2, which I wrote about here.

    [​IMG]I decided I wanted a more neutral reference quality open headphone, and reviews indicated the DT 1770 Pro was exactly what I’d been looking for, and I ordered it just a couple days after it became available. Beyerdynamic certainly has an impressive history, starting in 1924, and creating the first dynamic headphones in 1937, the DT48, which stayed on the market for an amazing 75 years. They experimented with quadrophonic headphones in 1973, electrostatic in 1976, and in 1980, did what they did best in making another great dynamic headphone, the DT 880, which they claimed competed with the best of the latest electrostatic headphones. They may have been right, and that model still remains in production 36 years later. Beyerdynamic clearly know what they’re doing. They intended the closed back DT 770 Pro for studio and stage use, the semi-open back DT 880 Pro for reference monitoring, mastering and mixing, and the fully open back DT 990 Pro for critical listening.

    [​IMG]My DT 1990 Pro was delivered ahead of schedule last Saturday morning, and I was pleased right away with it’s look and feel. They had the sturdy build similar to the DT 770 Pro, but with slightly more heft (370 g vs the extremely light 270 g DT 770 that is ideal for musicians in action). The cable is removable, and both straight and coiled cables are provided. They also give two options for velour earpads, one for analytical listening and another that’s balanced with slightly more emphasized bass and rolled off treble. The pads seem a bit softer and more comfortable than the 770 Pro, and my AKG K701. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to me that these are velour, and not leather or lambskin. I don’t care if they feel like your ears are being cuddled by tiny baby otters, I would never buy headphones that don’t at least give a non-animal skin options. So I will never own a Focal as long as they use lambskin, but kudos to companies like Audeze (who offer vegan pads) and beyerdynamic.

    While the model number indicates it’s a successor to the DT 990 Pro, I wonder if it means something special that the Star Wars death star-patterned grill harks back to the 880. While there is more clamping force on the Pro series than consumer due to practical purposes, it’s still plenty comfortable, and I experienced no physical fatigue in my 2 to 4 hour session. I wondered if I would miss the lack of bass emphasis, but the truth is that there is plenty of bass, just as it was intended. It simply doesn’t artificially increase the bass like some other headphones.

    The closed DT 1770 Pro does reportedly offer more bass, just like my Fostex TH-X00 and Denon AH-D2000 do. There’s nothing wrong with that, as the bass is naturally emphasized in a lot of live performances. Criticisms of the treble being somewhat annoying in previous models appears to have been solved in the 1990. The result is truly the most transparent, neutral sounding open headphones I’ve ever owned, the kind of headphone that makes you forget you’re wearing a headphone, and are just fully immersed in the music. I’ve sampled plenty of other headphones, but I have not personally experienced anything that has done this better. From what I have read, the EnigmaAcoustics Dharma D1000 ($1,190), OPPO PM-1 ($1,200), Mrspeakers Ether Flow ($1,800) and Focal Utopia ($3,999) are likely candidates to surpass it. So nothing else close in that price range except possibly the Audioquest Nighthawk ($599). I exclude the popular models from Audeze and HiFiMANbecause they’re just so heavy (LCD-2 is 570, HE1000 V2 is 688 grams), that they are not a comfortable option if I want to listen for more than 30 minutes. While I will continue to switch to my Fostex TH-X00 to enjoy bass heavy rock and doom, the DT 1990 Pro should serve as an excellent reference for critical listening and reviewing music from all genres for years to come.

    Historical Timeline: http://fastnbulbous.com/beyerdynamic-dt1990pro-headphone-timeline/
    stalepie, Light - Man and headpfizer like this.