beyerdynamic DT 1990 PRO

descloud

100+ Head-Fier
Beyerdynamic DT1990 Pro Review - Cranking up that treble knob
Pros: - build quality and sturdiness
- design of the back cups
- cable quality feels like ones used for commercial A/V setups
- accessories it came with are great (case, cables, extra set of pads w/different tuning)
- reasonably comfortable for a few hours with the analytical pads
- very capable technicalities (detail retrieval, speed, imaging, head stage)
- bass and treble extension are great
- decent stock tonality of balanced pads
- takes EQ well and great tonality and timbre when EQ'd
Cons: - clamp force is about moderate to slightly higher than average
- balanced pads are not as comfortable long term than analytical pads (more stiff)
- really bad stock tonality of analytical pads
- treble emphasis bleeds into midrange - making timbre just wrong
Preface

I've seen in different forums mixed reactions of the Beyerdynamic DT1990 Pro. Ones who own them praise them (obviously), while others seem to resent them because of the infamous "Beyer treble" banner hanging over a good number of models they have (particularly the DT series). So this made me curious and got a pair.

You might be curious why I rated it as 3-star above? For a quick summary, it's because its stock tonality and timbre (two qualities I put significant weight on when considering headphones) I find are terrible in stock analytical pads, and only decent when using stock balanced pads.

Does this mean I hate them? In stock tuning - yes I find them terrible. But if you go to the EQ section, you'll see something different (also on the pros section above).

I will go over quick points about the build, design, comfort and accessories. I will then go over the sound quality and technicalities, as well as whether I would recommend this or not and which crowd may like this or not.

===============================================

Build and Design

  • Build is excellent in my books. There is no creaking, squeaking with the metal holding the cups as well as the slide adjustment. Better than the M50 and M70X build given those two are almost entirely plastic.
  • Great use of plastic (I think it's plastic) on the cups with the sort of matte finish. I love this feel as it's less to retain fingerprint marks or sweat.
  • Design looks like a premium studio monitor. Better than the Audio Technica M50 and M70X. I love the mesh grills shown on the plastic cup slits - makes it look elegant in a way.
  • Only issue is the wires coming out of the headphone slider. This is the only thing for me that is a knock off the overall premium design. I suppose this had to be done given it's only using a single side connection to the mini-XLR cable.

Comfort

Note: For reference, I have average sized ears and likely average sized head
  • Headband has good padding. No hotspots on my head after 2 - 3 hours of listening
  • Weight is 370 grams, so depending on which headphone you're coming from, this can take some getting used to (i.e. Sennheiser HD650, Audio Technica M50/X). For me, the weight is a non-issue compared to other headphones I currently own.
  • There's moderate clamp force out of the box, meaning it will be noticeable even after an hour or two of listening.
  • Ear pads are velour and I believe are memory foam for both Analytical and Balanced pads. I find both pads reasonably comfortable, despite being somewhat stiff. The amount of cushion takes off some of the moderate clamp force, but only time will tell before the foam loses cushioning. There are sonic differences between the pads and we'll get to that later.

Accessories

Packaging is great. It comes with the following:
  • 2 cables (1 x straight 3m, 1 x coiled 5m) - both mini-XLR to 3.5mm with a 6.3mm adapter for each cable
  • Large hard case that can carry all the accessories
  • Analytical and Balanced pads
Personally, I like the cable quality. It is similar to the XLR cables used for A/V equipment, albeit a bit thinner. It doesn't kink or bend easily and feels durable. Overall, packaging and accessories get a great rating from me.

===============================================

Sound

I will get right off the bat with this, the only other Beyerdynamic I've demoed (very briefly), is the DT 770 - and that was many monsoons ago. So I have no recollection nor ideas of how the Beyer house sound would be. That being said, there are people throwing shade at this particular model because of the 8kHz peak (seen in measurements), alongside with others trying them firsthand and finding them "sibilant".

To clear some context, I looked up the definitionof "sibilant" and found that it meant creating a "hissing" sound like that of (ss) or (sh). From what I've gathered in audio forums, sibilance usually connotes a sound characteristic that triggers our ear sensitivities (person dependent) - similar to some people who can't tolerate high pitched glass tones or metal clunks. But others have said that sibilance refers to the frequency response region of 5khz to 8kHz (sometimes even higher) that deviates higher than a particular target curve.

With these in mind, I don't have a definitive meaning to refer to for sibilance. So for the remainder of this write-up, I will go with frequency response reference. Whether I find it triggers my treble sensitivities or not (or yours for that matter), is something I'll indicate moving forward.

Tested on: JDS Element, iFi Micro BL
Average volume listening: ~60 - 75 dB

For frequency response reference, you can see the RAW measurements for both Analytical and Balanced pads from autoeq graphs.

Given there's two pads with variations in the sonic signature, I will be distinguishing the Analytical pads (AP) to the Balanced pads (BP). Between the two, I find I like the balanced pads better when stock.


Overall sound signature:

This is an aggressive sounding headphone for sure, not in the least laid back. If you're coming from something like the HD6X0 series, this is on the opposite side of the signature spectrum. This may not be something great for work since it tries to grab your attention with the emphasized treble and bass punch.
  • AP: bright-neutral. Bass and midrange are pretty linear. Over-sharpened treble that gives extra shimmer and sizzle in the drums and instruments in the upper-midrange to treble region.
  • BP: warm sounding. The mid-bass and upper-bass are a bit accentuated while upper midrage is slightly recessed. There is still a treble sharpness, but it's more subdued compared to the analytical pads.

Bass

BP:


Good extension up to ~40 Hz. More impact than AP. Mid bass to upper bass (around 200Hz large hill) is accentuated, thereby making the midrange warmer sounding. But overall, bass is tight and fast, but I feel the decay may be too quick to my liking.

AP:

Decent extension, but rolls off much faster to my ears at ~50Hz. Fairly linear, but there's a small hill going up 200Hz that sort of makes the midrange warmer than neutral. However, this is not as accentuated as the BP, so it has a *hint* of warmth, but still fairly linear overall.


Midrange

BP:


Pretty linear to my ears. There is enough weight to both male and female vocals. I did not hear any shrill or shoutiness from upper female or falsetto male vocals, but there is a sharpness quality in the consonant range (addressed in the treble region) - so higher pitched vocals tend to have this dryness quality. For the most part, instruments like electric guitars and acoustic, as well as piano tones in this region sound tonally correct. The rawness of electric guitar decay, and the sharp attack from tom toms and snare drums are definitely engaging. Vocal transition of words are smooth and cohesive.

AP:

Fairly linear, as evident on graphs and in-line with the bass region, save for the rise above 1kHz. Male and female vocals (save for higher female pitch) are about equal in level, with good weight for each. Acoustic, piano and stringed tones in the midrange area have good weight, but is overshadowed by the treble peaks. Distorted instruments from synthesizers and snare drums don't lack attack or bite, so there is that rawness quality intact.


Treble:

I will start off by saying that based on FR measurements on the 8kHz peak, these *would* be considered sibilant - regardless if it annoys you or not. This peak doesn't trigger my treble sensitivities. It might for you, and this is something you'll have to discover when trying multiple headphones. Personally, I find the Focal Clear's 6kHz and 9kHz peaks more annoying and triggering my treble sensitivities. The worst offender for me by far is the TH-X00 Mahogany. Although I will say that it only happens for certain modern recordings, not for all.

Despite the DT1990's treble not triggering my ears, I still find the treble overly sharp that renders the consonant range and instruments hitting this region as unnatural - thereby ruining the timbre of vocals whenever this treble region is covered in a track. There is this raspy/sizzle/lispy quality in the treble that can't be completely removed, but the balanced pads lowers this by a good margin - although not entirely fixing it.

With this treble quality, I see some owners describe the DT1990 as being very "revealing", "detailed" and "transparent" of a recordings' flaws. I would disagree with this notion. This type of over-sharpened treble does not extrude "flaws", but in fact masks detail because of this 8kHz peak. I welcome such people to try using a Parametric EQ software like Equalizer APO on your current headphone, apply a Peak filter at 7734 Hz and crank it up to something like 9 dB - you'll get the same effect. This is not real detail, it gives a false sense of detail. If you compare it to something like the Focal Clear, it should be obvious that the Clear does not need such a peak to have excellent detail retrieval, resolution and clarity. The best analogy for this is that an over sharpened image does not exactly mean the camera captured the finer details of a captured shot. What it does is giving an illusion of capturing the micro-details in a photo.

Over-sharpened treble does not indicate great detail retrieval and clarity. The inverse of this statement I find is also true, great detail retrieval and clarity does not indicate over-sharpened treble.

If you reduce that peak, the initial reaction would be "oh it's losing what makes the DT1990 brilliant". Well, this is a flaw and if you compare it to something that has a better tonal balance and more natural rendition of vocals and instruments like the HE-500, HD600, Focal Clear, or even a HE-400i, you'll notice the difference and understand which has a more realistic audio reproduction. This peak ruins the tonal balance of the DT1990. It's a matter of perspective.

With that all said, I suppose you have an idea how I find the treble for these, so more details below.

BP:

Not as airy (nor bright) as the AP, but it does not sound congested. The treble is not as overly sharpened as the Analytical pads either. Looking at graphs, there is a dip around 4kHz - 6kHz region, which lends it better to my ears and I don't find the treble as overly sharp and fatiguing. I find this treble better and gives a more accurate treble tonal balance than the AP. However, the 'SSS' region, or 8.5kHz is unaffected. With the dip at this region, this would likely become more prominent to a listener that is affected by this peak - which Resolve from the headphone show seems to be an example of. Further, there is still some of the sizzle quality in the consonant range and for cymbals and hi hats, but better than the AP in this regard.

AP:

Has a more airy feeling than the BP. However, there is a rise at 5kHz - 6kHz as shown in the measurements (which seems to align with my hearing), lending to the giant peak at 8kHz that gives the treble an over-sharpened quality which makes instruments and vocals hitting this region as being shimmery/raspy/lispy/sizzling in quality. I can't tell whether it's solely because of the frequency response that gives this quality, or it is also because the pads fail to dampen resonances in this region given there's only 4 holes on the AP. Regardless, the AP adds that sharpened treble quality that negatively affects the timbre of vocals and instruments in the midrange.


===== Technicalities =====

Detail Retrieval:

Good for the price. About on par with the HD650 from recollection. This technicality is also about the same on both pads. One point though, I find there is less masking effect with the 6kHz dip, so I can sort of determine micro-details slightly better on the BP than the AP. The AP's treble region to my ears masks the details in the midrange on a complex passage. But this is nitpicking and it may not ring true for someone else. I would say these have average detail retrieval and resolution for its price.


Speed and Dynamics:

Speed is good for a dynamic driver. About on par with the Focal Clear when I do a quick A/B test. I feel it lags only by a hair when compared to my other planar headphones, but this point isn't very noticeable and better represented by an impulse response graph comparison. Dynamics on the other hand, is good. There is a good range between the softest and loudest point, but mainly noticeable at higher listening volumes. I feel it beats out the HD650 here (can't do a A/B test now because I've since sold it), but I feel it lags just slightly behind the Focal Clear.


Imaging and Head Stage:

I will admit, these are not technical aspects I pay a lot of attention to. My main test track for this is Hotel California MTV Live performance given I've listened to that song hundreds of times, so I'm familiar with it's positioning and layering. So for imaging this gets a pass. Nothing exceptional, and no shortcoming that's noteworthy. It's not a 3 blob space, but fairly even distribution of tracks/instrument pieces across the left-center-right pan. Head stage width is about average to slightly above average - meaning stage width reaches my shoulders and can move past it a bit.

One thing I noticed is that the center image is closer to my face using BP. When compared the BP DT1990 to the Clear, the Clear has it's center image further away, making instruments and vocals seem more distant. So in a sense, the DT1990 has a more intimate stage with the BP. The AP has a further center image so it has a more even spacing of pieces in a track.


Timbre:

Good timbre from bass to midrange on both pads. Upper-midrange to treble region is where it gets skewed. To my ears, the BP gives a more accurate timbre despite the 'SSS' region still being sharp. The AP has it's treble cranked up too much, bleeding into in the midrange that voices become a bit lispy or raspy. Hi hats and cymbals shimmer more prominently that it tends to mask other instruments in busy tracks.


EQ and my profile:

The DT1990 appears to take EQ well. You can look up oratory's EQ to match the Harman curve if that's what you find pleasing.

Now, there are those who say EQing the treble peak at 8kHz ruins the sound signature or other technical aspects of the DT1990 such as sound stage, resolution, etc. To my ears, dropping that 8kHz peak does make the signature slightly darker and losing the airy feel, but NOT at the expense of losing resolution nor making the head stage smaller. At the same time, vocal and instrument timbre becomes a lot more correct and realistic to my ears - beating out the HD600 and Focal Clear.

For people curious on my EQ profile for Equalizer APO:

Preamp: -6.6 dB
Filter: ON PK Fc 17 Hz Gain 3.5 dB Q 0.69
Filter: ON PK Fc 43 Hz Gain 1.0 dB Q 0.61
Filter: ON PK Fc 19961 Hz Gain -2.5 dB Q 0.1
Filter: ON PK Fc 911 Hz Gain 1.0 dB Q 1.52
Filter: ON PK Fc 7734 Hz Gain -8.5 dB Q 2.5
Filter: ON PK Fc 10000 Hz Gain 1.5 dB Q 2.01

With this EQ applied, I would rate it at a 4 or even a 4.5 star. Overall timbre is more realistic, the tonality is better tuned, and the technicalities goes toe-to-toe with the Focal Clear in stock form.

=================================

Quick Comparisons:

Audio Technica M70X:
- Why compare it with a closed back studio monitor? Mainly because of similarities in the midrange and treble region. The DT1990 wins on bass hands down. For midrange, the DT1990 is more linear, while the M70X has this extra weight on upper-midrange that gives female vocals more body (once I EQ'd the treble down). Over-sharpened treble is fairly similar - giving vocals and instruments in the upper midrange an unnatural quality, but I would still say the DT1990 has the more sharper 'SSS' sounds than that. Build quality also goes to the DT1990.

Sennheiser HD650/HD6XX:
- The DT1990 is like the opposite of the HD650/HD6XX. One is aggressive and sharp sounding, while the other is laid-back and smooth sounding. If you wanted a compliment to the HD650/HD6XX, this is a contender albeit with asterisks. For build, I give the nod to the DT1990, but the HD650/HD6XX has proven to be durable - this is just my pick if I were to choose based on that factor.

Focal Clear:
- Unfair fight at $1499 MSRP, but I think it's still worth comparing. Clear definitely has the better treble tonal balance in stock form. But to my ears, the 6kHz peak is more annoying than the 8kHz DT1990 peak - YMMV. Bass and midrange are similar. Dynamics and bass impact goes to the Clear. Head stage goes to DT1990, but imaging I might give the nod to Clear by a hair. Detail retrieval is a toss-up between the two; the DT1990 is very competent here. Design I think is also a toss up, do you prefer elegant fashion over elegant studio look? Build quality, I might give the nod to DT1990 by a hair because there's less creaking. Comfort, Clear has a half step lead.


=================================

Conclusion

For around $600 price at MSRP, is this headphone something I can easily recommend personally? No, this has a lot of check marks before I can recommend them, especially at that price where competition is high. You have the likes of cheaper options like the Sennheiser HD6XX and Hifiman Sundara to contend with.

If you're not ready to EQ, then this is not something I'd easily recommend. If you are, then these are very competent and IMO goes toe-to-toe with the Focal Clear in almost every category from a sound quality perspective. In fact, I sold my Clear when I finally found an EQ profile that I find is better than the Clear - plus overall cost of maintenance is cheaper so it's a no-brainer in my case.

This is not to say that you won't enjoy these in stock form - some owners already indicate liking it stock or mixed with [name their type/brand of dac/amplifier setup here]. I'll keep it simple, I'm not one to go about using and recommending tube amps despite their popularity in this forum. You can ask the DT1990 thread for that and others who explore that space.

I'd rather stick with a good SS amp and EQ as a more cost-effective option :). So this is something at the top of the list of "Try before you buy".

Who do I think would like these in stock form? Maybe a few potential candidates who meet any of the following:
  • Someone coming from V-shaped lower tier headphones
  • Someone not sensitive to an 8kHz peak (SSS region)
  • Someone that likes a fairly neutral sound signature and is willing to EQ
  • Someone coming from the lower DT series like the DT880 or DT990 and looking to upgrade
Of course, this is one random member's opinion. Take it with a huge grain of salt.

[Pictures may come at a later date when I get to it]
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audiobomber
audiobomber
It appears you bought the wrong Beyerdynamic. The Amiron is voiced for consumers and has the more euphonic presentation that you seem to prefer. The DT 1990 Pro, especially with Analytical pads, is designed for professional users, who want to hear everything in the mix. Unfortunately this exposes any weakness in the ancillary gear as well. I guess that's what I prefer, because I consider the DT 1990 a great headphone. I don't care for the muffled HD 650 sound at all.

I only use the Analytical pads, as I prefer the faster transient response (attack/delay) vs. the Balanced pads. Contrary to your experience, I (and others in the DT 1990 thread), find the Balanced pads more likely to exaggerate sibilants than the Analytical pads. Some people suggest using Dekoni Elite Velour pads, but I find the dulled transient response of these ruins the sound, and they are more likely to exaggerate sibilance than the Beyer pads.
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descloud
descloud
Not sure about "buying the wrong Beyerdynamic" statement. I gave my reason of why I bought it if you read the end of the very first paragraph, if you care to check again.

Sure the DT1990 is marketed as "reference headphones for mixing and mastering (open)" as per their site. I get that. But the tuning of the treble is completely wrong that it actually masks details - not expose them. This is the notion I disagree with majority who express that - and you seem to be on that camp. If you compare the stock tuning of the Focal Clear to the DT1990 - the Clear presents detail retrieval a lot better and does not mask it, unlike the DT1990's treble tuning. Like I said in my write-up above, try cranking up the 7.8kHz peak to any headphone up by 10 dB and you'll get the same treble effect that the DT1990 Analytical pads has. This is not "exposing weaknesses in the ancillary gear", it is an exposed weakness in the gear (DT1990) itself.
descloud
descloud
As also I said above, turning down that treble peak removes the masking effect and presents micro-detail as good as even the Focal Clear - which is already an established resolving headphone. With that peak, it masks those micro-details. It doesn't make sense how this treble tuning is conceived as "exposing flaws" when the tuning they set here is a flaw in itself.

What you mentioned about the Balanced pads exaggerating the sibilant seems to mirror Resolve's experience - and I can kind of understand why. Looking at the FR graphs between the two, the Analytical pads has a small peak between 5kHz - 6kHz prior to the rise at 8kHz, thereby compensating some of the treble brightness that a single 8kHz peak can convey. On the Balanced pads, it is free from that 5kHz - 6kHz peak, thereby highlighting only the 8kHz - which can be bothersome to those who are treble sensitive to them.

BitWolf

New Head-Fier
Beyerdynamic DT 1990 PRO - Sound Engineering Workhorse!
Pros: Very comfortable
Robust build
Very efficient
Sound being very detailed
Cons: Hinge makes cracking noises
Your ears can get pretty warm
Treble peak not for everyone
For work only.
Beyerdynamic headphones are known for being heavily used in studio production. This time we’re presenting to you their newest iteration of an audio workhorse – DT 1990 Pro priced at $599!

Packaging


Typical for Beyerdynamic we’re getting plenty of accessories. First up, huge and thick case for travel with plenty of space for other gear like field recorders for example. 2 sets of cables, one coiled and one straight, both 3m long, ended with Mini-XLR and additional set of pads.
If I’m supposed to describe those cables. They are nothing special. Thick rubber, well made, typical design for studio-focused cans.

That additional set of pads isn’t just for replacement though. DT 1990 Pro comes with Analytical as well as Balanced pads. Analytical ones gives you much flatter frequency response where Balanced ones are for making 1990’s little more exciting with added low-end. Both sets are velour.

Build quality

I wouldn’t describe 1990’s as premium in terms of build quality. I’d rather use term – robust. They feel pretty solid in the hand, yet moving parts tend to make some cracking noises from time to time. Although don’t think that they’ll break anytime soon. I know at least 5 pairs that my friends have that went through literal hell. Sitting on them, dropping off of a staircase from level 4, trying to bend them backwards, throwing them with anger at the wall because of lost round in CS:GO. They survived all of that.

Comfort

1990’s are VERY comfortable. You can sit in them for long hours without any sort of pain or headache and that’s all because of huge amount of foam in headband as well as very big velour pads. Your ears will be wrapped up in them very comfortably. There’s only one issue with them. Heat. They can also get your ears pretty warm after an hour or two.

Sound

When I saw DT 1990 Pro for the first time I had only one thought in my head:
I’ll buy them strictly for work. – and it actually turned out to be true.

If we’re talking about previous series, DT990 despite it being well known in a studio I also know a lot of people who daily drive it as their personal pair for musical experience. I don’t think there’s such case with 1990 Pro because to me it sounds like Beyerdynamic really cranked audio production aspect to 11.

You can describe 1990’s in 3 words: detail, detail and last but not least… DETAIL.
There’s so much detail that many of my tracks just sounded like recorded sessions of some people and instruments instead of a wholesome musical experience that combination of those specific parts can provide. You exactly hear where specific instrument is in the track, you hear if their microphone they recorded it with was properly set, you hear if mastering of the track simply sucks or not. Those headphones just approach every single tune just like your CPU in a computer does calculations. There’s just big list of ones and zeroes it has to compile. 1990 just have a big list of soundwaves to provide to our ears and that’s all it has to do. They are also my pair for Gaming and gotta say I was becoming paranoid for first few days because in military simulations where sound effects are just very well made everything was so distinctive that I thought someone is throwing a grenade under my character every single minute.

Speaking about driver and drive’ability – simple. It’s Tesla. It has 250 ohms of impedance yet they are very power efficient and pretty much can be powered even with budget DAPs. It’s just that they will really gain in overall sound quality if you plug them to something nicer.

Talking about other aspects, soundstage isn’t particularly large which is to be expected in studio cans. Mentioning frequency response, lows and mids are pretty much dead flat. Speaking about treble though well… it’s Beyerdynamic. There always has to be a treble peak, although I’ve never had a problem with that. Only sounds to me like it adds even more detail to whole package.

Summary

Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro is a very specific pair for specific users. You’re supposed to use them for work and that’s exactly what they are made for. If you prefer a pair that helps music being more sensible and more emotional, go look somewhere else. These cans job is to show every single aspect of what you gonna throw at them and they are very good at it. $599 is pretty penny, not gonna lie, although I think about it more as an investment because I don’t think those will break anytime soon.

Gear used during this review as an accompanying equipment:
  • Audio sources – Cayin N3 Pro, Luxury & Precision L4, Audient iD4
  • Headphones – Shure SRH840, Audio-Technica M60x, Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro, Beyerdynamic DT 1770 PRO, Hifiman Sundara
For more audio reviews visit ear-fidelity.com
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Hay2104

Head-Fier
Pros: - build quality
- presentation
- detail
- clarity
Cons: - highs can be fatiguing and sibilant
- clamp force and comfort may depend on the size of the wearer’s head.
I recently had the dt 1990, and after having them for around 3 weeks I was able to determine their strengths and to who exactly they were targeted for. I’ll keep it short and simple while making comparisons to the largely revered Sennheiser hd 600.



Build
- Simply amazing. From the earpads, to the box, to the cups, this headphone was built to last. The pad change was a bit frustrating but is a small price to pay for the build quality one receives. Clamp force may not be suitable for unusually large heads.

Targeted Audience- professionals, people who want to mix with them. Definitely NOT for the casual afternoon listener wanting to relax.

Bass
- The semi closed nature helps create a nice bass thump. Slightly less punchy than the hd 600, but with significantly more impact and presence.

Mids- a slight downgrade from my hd 600. The dt 1990 do not have the smoother more pleasant mids of the hd 600. Instead they are a bit further out of the headphone and into the cups.

Highs- Here lies the controversy. If anyone complains about “treble veil” from hd 600, they should definitely move to these. Highs are significantly more present, and brighter. I’d argue just slightly too bright and peaky in certain parts. This aspect was definitely made for pros in mind who want to hear the sibilance and highs.



Overall, an excellent offering by beyerdynamic. But I’ll state it again, this is a headphone you concentrate with not a headphone to relax with at the fire place.
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bpandbass

100+ Head-Fier
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.
audiobomber
audiobomber
I really like your writing style; informative and on point, and backed by personal experience. This review states almost exactly my views on the DT 1990 Pro, with a couple of little exceptions. I much prefer the Analytical pads, and I don't have a problem with the size of the ear cups.
szore
szore
Surprised you feel that way about the sound stage.
Syver
Syver
+1 for the analytical pads.

Fastnbulbous

500+ Head-Fier
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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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.

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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.

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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/
Vulpe5
Vulpe5
Sorry but these colors give me headaches, i can't read it like that.
LayLay
LayLay
Word. Good thing I can invert colors on my monitor with a single keypress.
conquerator2
conquerator2
FYI, you have the HE1000 weight wrong. I believe it is under 400g. Otherwise great review1
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