Jul 22, 2014 at 5:45 AM
For larger images (1200 x 800) - please click individual pictures
At the time I wrote my HD600 vs HD700 comparison, I’d mentioned to a few people that I also meant to compare the DT880 properly with my newly purchased T1. Basically the premise I had with the Sennheiser “duel” is the same with this comparison ……
I needed to thoroughly compare, and formulate my thoughts (subjective as they may be), on the two neutral semi-open backed Beyerdynamic full sized cans – the classic DT880 and the flagship T1. Hopefully this will also provide the community with another point of view regarding the two headphones – and may help others with similar tastes if deciding between the two.
First, a little history about my experience with these headphones.
The DT880 Pro was one of the first open backed headphones I bought – and definitely one of my first mid-fi purchases. I loved them from first listen – and the only reason I sold them was that I believed the reviews stating the 600 ohm DT880 was audibly better (smoother) - and I needed to find out for myself. So I purchased the 600 ohm Premiums and sold the Pros. Eventually I got a chance to compare the 600 ohm Premium with a pair of 250 ohm Premiums – and guess what ….. when volume matched, any differences were minute, and probably more attributable to pad wear than actual sonic differences with the driver.
Around this time I also had a hankering to try some different headphones, so I sold the 600 ohm, played around with a few brands – bought, sold, bought, sold (a common Head-Fi pattern), until one day a reasonably priced pair of 250 ohm Premiums appeared on the FS section – and I realised how much I missed them. So I bought them again, and they have been part of my regular listening rotation since then. Big plus – the 250 ohm are easy to drive straight out of the H/O of the X5. Win-win.
But then – impulse struck, and a couple of months ago I managed to snag a pair of T1s at a good price. So my wonderful wife (and she is) suggested it might be time for one of the Senns and one of the Beyers to go (ie get back to two headphones again). And she’s right. So wander with me on a journey of discovery . How well does the classic DT880 perform against the flagship T1?
Quick note – I’ve used an extremely similar format to the one I used for the Sennheiser comparison – even down to using the same tracks. Please forgive the unoriginality – but it just seemed the most suitable thing to do.
ABOUT ME (or a base-line for interpreting my thoughts and bias)
I'm a 47 year old music lover. I don't say audiophile – I just love my music. Over the last couple of years, I have slowly changed from cheaper listening set-ups to my current set-up. I vary my listening from portable (HSA Studio V3, Fiio X5, and iPhone4) to my desk-top's set-up (PC > coax > NFB-12 > LD MKIV > HP). My main full sized headphones at the time of writing are the Senn HD600, Beyer T1 and DT880. A full list of the gear I have owned (past and present is listed in my Head-fi profile).
I have very eclectic music tastes listening to a variety from classical/opera and jazz, to grunge and general rock. I listen to a lot of blues, jazz, folk music, classic rock, indie and alternative rock. I am particularly fond of female vocals. I tend toward cans that are relatively neutral/balanced - with a slight emphasis on the mid-range. I am neither a bass nor treble head (you could argue that I do like clarity though).
I am not treble sensitive (at all), and in the past have really enjoyed headphones like the K701, SR325i, and of course the DT880.
I do not believe in headphone burn-in (I have never witnessed night and day changes personally), but I am aware of psycho acoustic burn-in (brain burn-in). This is a purely subjective review - my gear, my ears, and my experience. Please take it all with a grain of salt - especially if it does not match your own experience. I have used different versions of the DT880 extensively – and the T1 for approximately 2 months.
REVIEW / COMPARISON RESOURCES
For the purposes of this review and comparison, I used both headphones mostly from my NFB-12 + LD MKIV. Both headphones were volume level matched using an SPL meter and calibrated (twice) with a constant -3 dB tone at 3 kHz. This was rechecked periodically during the comparison. I used the Little Dot mainly because it was easier to swap with the correct volume matching (more precise markings on the pot).
Tracks used were across a variety of genres – and can be viewed in this list http://www.head-fi.org/a/brookos-test-tracks.
| || T1|| DT880|
| Transducer Type|| Dynamic – angled drivers|| Dynamic – non-angled driver|
| Capsule|| Circumaural – semi open|| Circumaural – semi open|
| Driver technology|| Tesla|| Standard|
| Frequency Response|| 5 – 50,000 Hz|| 5 – 35,000 Hz|
| Impedance|| 600 ohm|| 250 ohm|
| Nominal SPL|| 102 dB (1mW / 500 Hz)|| 96 dB (1mW / 500 Hz)|
| THD|| <0.05% (1mW / 500 Hz)|| <0.2% (1mW / 500 Hz)|
| Power handling capacity|| 300 mW|| 100 mW|
| Headband pressure|| Approx. 2.8N|| Approx. 2.8N|
| Cable|| 3m, dual sided, balanced 6 core|| 3m standard cable|
| Connector|| Gold plated 6.35mm Neutrik|| Gold plated 3.5mm with screw on 6.3mm|
| Weight (with cable)|| 525g|| 365g|
FREQUENCY RESPONSE GRAPH
Thanks to Headroom for the graph above.
DT880 Retail Outer Sleeve
T1 Retail Outer Sleeve
DT880 Leatherette Case
T1 Aluminium Case
Inside the DT880 outer retail box is an inner leatherette carry case with a moulded foam insert which surrounds and protects the DT880. The T1 has the same moulded foam insert – but this time enclosed inside a very high quality aluminium case. You could drop the case from a great height, or have something dropped on it, and the T1 would survive nicely. You can tell the T1 is their flagship!
DT880 inside it's case
T1 inside it's case
BUILD / COMFORT
Both headphones are extremely well built IMO, and although not modular (like the HD600), as long as they are not abused, I believe they could easily last for decades.
DT880 side view
T1 side view
The 250 ohm Premium DT880 has a hard plastic outer shell, metal grill and yolks, sprung steel inner headband covered in very soft padding with a leatherette cover. The earpads are a grey extremely soft velour, and there is a black foam disc covering the transducers and protecting them. The single sided cable (attached to the left ear cup) is approximately 4mm in diameter and 3m in length. The cable consists of some very thin inner fabric coated copper wiring (I know because I recabled a previous pair) with a thick PVC outer sheath for protection. The sheath is a little ‘plasticky’ for my tastes – but does roll easily. It is permanently attached. The plug is a 3.5mm threaded gold plated stereo plug, and comes with a threaded 6.3mm adaptor which fits perfectly.
DT880 profile view
T1 profile view
The T1 also has a hard plastic shell – but this time it’s only the part closer to the pads. The inner shell appears to be a metal alloy (magnesium maybe?). The grill is also metal (the T1 grill mesh is a lot finer than the DT880), as are the yolks (these are also thicker and better quality). It has a sprung steel inner headband covered in very soft padding, but this time with a genuine nappa leather cover (very, very soft), and the end inserts (that attach the yolks) are also metal – the DT880 are molded plastic. The earpads are a black soft velour, but this time there is no foam cover over the obviously angled transducers. The cable is dual sided, approximately 4mm in diameter at the cups, joined after the Y split into a figure 8 configuration (8mm wide approx.) and the entire cable is also 3m in length. The cable is extremely well made, and apparently is 6 core (+/-/G for ach channel) with a thick PVC outer sheath for protection. It is permanently attached. The plug is a 6.3mm genuine Neutrik gold plated stereo plug.
For build quality, the T1 is definitely the more premium offering – however as I alluded to earlier – both are IMO extremely well built.
DT880 cup - foam cover over the drivers
T1 cup - angled drivers
As far as comfort goes, both headphones are extremely comfortable, with well thought out padding, and a firm clamp force – but never excessive. I can wear either headphone for hours with no fatigue. Despite the T1 having the softer leather headband, neither the DT880 nor T1 have ever given me issues with pressure points. For overall comfort – I’d actually give the nod to the DT880 simply because it is slightly lighter (although a lot of the T1’s weight is actually in the heftier cable).
Cord comparison - T1 top, and T880 bottom
Closer look at the T1 mesh
Build => T1 much more robustly built, but both have a design that should last for a long time with proper care.
Comfort => DT880 is a little more comfortable due to a slightly lighter weight – but both headphones are extremely comfortable for long term wear.
General frequency summary (supported by graph above):
These were my general notes before actually downloading the graph from Headroom.
I’ve come to appreciate the DT880 over time as having a very flat and balanced signature – even more so than my trusty HD600s. The difference to me is that where the HD600 sounds balanced, it also sounds very natural with a timbre that is as close to real as I’ve heard in a headphone. The DT880 on the other hand is beautifully balanced – but the very upper mids and lower treble are brighter than what I’d call normal or natural. The result is a brilliantly cohesive signature which has an etched quality about it – and sounds very detailed. IMO it tends to excel particularly with stringed instruments of all varieties, as well as brass and cymbals. The other thing I’ve always loved about the DT880 is its bass. It’s never flabby, and doesn’t exhibit a large mid bass hump, with equally large drop in the sub-bass (which seems prevalent in a lot of headphones). Instead you get the normal sub-bass roll-off associated with dynamic headphones, but it’s a slower drop off - more extended and linear through mid and sub-bass.
The T1 in comparison is immediately noticeable as being an extremely similar signature – but with slightly more bass (very similar tonal quality to the bass though – and equally as linear), very similar mid-range, but a more detailed and euphoric (it’s hard to put into words) vocal range. The T1 sounds more vibrant – also clearer and more articulate. Both have a cohesive and balanced signature resulting in as slightly etched and detailed presentation. But where the DT880 paints its tonal picture in clear water colours, the T1 takes it one step further with vivid and vibrant oil based paints.
Cup and yolk - DT880
Cup and yolk - T1
Soundstage / Imaging:
To test soundstage and imaging I use Amber Rubarth’s “Tundra” track from the album Tales of the 17th Ward. The track is binaural – so it gives good queues anyway – but can be very good for a combination of imaging and soundstage width and depth. I was expecting the T1 to excel here (with its angled drivers) – and it definitely delivered. But, I was surprised how good the DT880 was in comparison. The T1 gives a definitely better impression of space and air overall – but it’s not a landslide victory.
Next track to test was Loreena McKennitt’s “Dante’s Prayer” (live). I know this track well, and have seen the video of the stage layout, and the miking of this particular track on the album is pretty close to the actual stage layout. The really nice part of this track is the delicate dance of the piano and cello, and the DT880 portrays it effortlessly. But switching to the T1, and the immediate impression again is how vivid the portrayal is – and especially how the T1 handles depth and width. At the end of the track there is an interval when the applause kicks in – and it’s become one of my benchmarks for realism and depth (I close my eyes, and see if the presentation puts me in the audience). Both headphones manage it.
Summary – both T1 and DT880 perform well with sense of air, space and imaging – but the T1 gives slightly more sense of space, and more separation and vibrancy. The DT880 holds its own though and it’s by no stretch a landslide. T1 by a small margin.
Specific Genre Notes:
Rock / Classic Rock / Prog Rock
Tracks tested included:
- “Away from the Sun” – 3 Doors Down
- “Art for Art’s Sake” – 10CC
- “The Diary of Jane” – Breaking Benjamin
- “Hotel California” – The Eagles
- “Sultans of Swing” – Dire Straits
- “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” – Green Day
- “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town” – Pearl Jam
- “Immortality” – Seether (unplugged)
- “Money” – Pink Floyd
- “Trains” – Porcupine Tree
The DT880 actually sounds pretty good to me for most Rock tracks – I’ve always loved it. The first thing I notice is the balance – nothing is overdone for my tastes. The presentation is crystal clear. Switching to the T1, and the first thing I notice is an increase in clarity and vividness – and whilst the signature between the two is very close, the jump in definition is not subtle. I’m also noticing an almost holographic presentation – and I guess that’s the angled drivers coming into play. And this is not necessarily increased soundstage – as a lot of times the DT880 actually sounds a little more distant. No – the difference for me is space between instruments. It’s actually quite amazing with some older recordings like 10CC’s “Art for Art’s Sake”, as it gives such a lively presentation that it’s almost like breathing new life into the track.
And this is the feeling I’m getting repeatedly moving from track to track. The DT880 by itself is lively, balanced, renders acoustic instruments (especially guitars) beautifully. But as soon as I replay the same track with the T1, I find myself not wanting to switch back. In fact I’ve had to check the SPL meter to make sure I don’t have the T1 unwittingly louder. The T1 is just more refined, less polite – more present.
To mix things up a bit I stayed with the T1 for Hotel California’s intro – then switched back to the DT880. The most noticeable differences are the loss of comparative vividness of the guitar, and also the slightly lesser bass impact on the DT880. The excitement I’m getting from the T1 just isn’t there with the DT880 (when direct A/Bing).
One of my all-time favourite tracks is Pearl Jam’s “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town”. This track has become my litmus test for male vocals – and the T1 is outstanding for this track. Vedder’s voice simply has more timbre and presence.
So for Rock I’d conclude that the DT880 is incredibly capable, and when not in the presence of the T1, it continues to shine as an incredibly balanced and refined headphone. But as soon as the T1 is there for comparison – the shine disappears quickly, and the spotlight moves. Whilst they share the same basic signature – the T1 is clearly the star.
Opera / Classical
Tracks tested included:
- “Nessun Dorma” – Pavarotti
- “Flower Duet (Lakme)” – Netrebko and Garanca
- “Moonlight Sonata 1st & 3rd” – Wilhelm Kempf
- “Op.8, No.1, R.269 "La Primavera" - 1. Allegro” – Anne Sophie Mutter & Trondheim Soloists (Vivaldi’s Four Seasons)
- “OP 35 1st Movement from Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D” – Julia Fischer
With the opera, the first thing I’m noticing is that although with the DT880s there almost seems to be a little distance sometimes with the vocals – the T1 are now giving me more space with the orchestra. This is particularly so with Netrebko and Garanca in Lakme’s Flower Duet, and for the first time I’m noticing just how well the T1 is able to portray female vocals. I’m a big fan of female vocals generally – and the T1 is stunning in this regard.
With Moonlight Sonata, both Beyers performed with real distinction, and there wasn’t a huge amount of difference – not enough to justify the large price difference. For this recording they are very similar sounding. Finally – onto the Tchaikovsky and Vivaldi pieces, again the signatures are so very similar, but with strings I personally get a greater sense of involvement with the T1s. I do think that both Beyers excel with classical music though.
Tracks tested included:
- “So What” – Miles Davis
- “Gaucho” – Steely Dan
- “Safer” – Gabriella Cilmi
- “Love Me Like A Man” – Diana Krall
- “Ruins” – Portico Quartet
This one (like my findings with the HD700 vs HD600) became all about presentation and preference. Both headphones are so similar sonically, and they’re fantastic with Jazz, able to convey the cohesion and contrast that makes jazz such an excellent genre. The DT880 give most of my Jazz tracks a little more of a laid back feeling, whilst the T1 is again a little more vibrant. And for the tracks I’ve listed, I’m finding mixed preferences. For anything with vocals, I’m continually drawn to the T1’s. But with Miles Davis and also Portico Quartet’s “Ruins”, it’s the relaxed presentation of the DT880 which I’m actually preferring. Overall though the margins are small – and I could live happily with either one. Both are refined, airy, balanced, and marvelously coherent.
Pop / Rap / Dub / Electronic / Indie
Tracks tested included:
- “Turning Tables” – Adele
- “You Know I’m No Good” – Amy Winehouse
- “Lose Yourself” – Eminem
- “Aventine” – Agnes Obel
- “Electric Daisy Violin” – Lindsay Stirling
- “Little Man” – Little Dragon
- “Royals” – Lorde
- “Tui Dub” – Salmonella Dub
- “God Is Speaking” - The Flashbulb
- “Cannibal King” - Yesper
For my particular tastes, this is where the T1 pulls away from and simply eclipses the DT880. Both have clarity. Both have balance. Both have an ability to pull me into the music and captivate me. But everytime I switched to the T1, everything just lifted a notch. And the only way I can really explain it is a sense of vividness – which I don’t notice isn’t there if I try the DT880 with a certain track first, but I readily notice is missing when I go back from the T1 to the DT880. With female vocals in particular there is a sense of euphoria in the vocals that is captivating with the T1s.
AMPING / SENSITIVITY
Using the T1 and DT880 with my LD MKIV OTL tube – both headphones were actually very close on the pot to achieve the same SPL. The DT880 despite being much lower impedance required just two more clicks higher to match the T1 SPL. Test tone used was a constant -3 dB tone at 3 kHz so that I could match vocal presence.
With the X5 – again the DT880 from the same volume setting achieved a very slightly lower SPL, but again very close (5 points down on the digital volume scale). Both headphones sounded excellent with the X5 – and I have no qualms about using it as a source straight from the headphone out (no further amping). This did surprise me a little with the T1 as I thought initially it would require a higher voltage.
Whilst I’ve used both headphones for gaming – and I used to use the DT880 quite extensively over the previous 2-3 years – since getting the T1’s they have become my go-to headphones. For FPS particularly, they are both immersive plus have the additional staging, imaging and clarity to give me the edge in situations that require it. I know it’s an expensive way to go for gaming – but the combination of long term comfort, positional accuracy and gaming immersion make them a real winner.
VALUE + CONCLUSION
T1 foreground - is it worth the extra money?
DT880 foreground - does it eclipse the T1 for value?
If we take the street price for a 250 ohm DT880 at USD200-250, and the T1 at USD650-750, the T1 come in at 3 times the price of the DT880. So how does that influence my decisions going forward?
There is no doubt to me that the DT880 are very close in sonic signature. In fact they are far more similar than they are different. If I was on a budget, then the DT880 delivers (IMO) around 75-80% of what the T1 presents sonically. In fact to me, the DT880 (like the HD600) represents one of the best value headphones available today. They are both all-rounders, both incredible sounding, and both potential end game headphones for many.
But the T1 does deliver superior sonics, and after comparing the two side-by-side, I know already which one I am keeping. At its current price level (remember that the T1 used to be well over USD 1000 not long ago), if you can afford it, the T1 offers a genuine upgrade to the DT880, whilst retaining the basics of the sonic signature which makes it so wonderful. Along with the more intense and vibrant sonic presentation, you also get a nicer build quality. For me, the additional that the T1 is delivering is well worth the asking price - and I can see myself sticking with the T1 for a very long time.
Sadly I’ll be saying goodbye very soon to my last pair of DT880s. They have been wonderful headphones over the years for me – but a new king is here. The T1’s IMO are definitely worthy of their flagship status.
Time to say goodbye to the DT880 and welcome the new king - T1