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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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 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...
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.