Alistair McGhee reviews the DT 1990 PRO from Beyerdynamic, which sit proudly at the top of the company's range of studio headphones.
Beyerdynamic has a long and distinguished history in studio microphones and headphones.
The DT100, 770 and 990 headphones are ubiquitous enough to be considered industry standards and so any new product from Beyerdynamic aimed at the studio user is bound to be of interest. And when that product is pitched into the burgeoning market for high end cans then a positive frisson of excitement is guaranteed.
And that brings us neatly to the new Beyerdynamic DT1990 PRO, which sit proudly at the top of Beyer’s range of professional studio headphones. First the DT 1990s are open backed so you’ll be sharing a little of your audio with the room, if you are on location or need more isolation then the DT 1770 PROs offer a closed headphone featuring the same driver as the 1990 model.
A quick whip round the spec sheet provides some interesting design features. I wept tears of joy (nearly) when I discovered that Beyerdynamic had opted for a mini XLR connector on the headphone end of
detachable cable, probably familiar from Sound Devices gear. The TA connectors are exactly the right choice for a professional headphone connector: locking, reliable and standard. In the box you get a choice of curly or straight cables, both high quality items with commendable ruggedness.
Also in the box is a choice of ear pads - and a choice that offers audio options. If you fit the dark grey EDT 1990 B ear pads and you get what Beyerdynamic describe as a ‘balanced’ presentation, swap on the other hand to the EDT 1990 A pads in light grey and you get the ‘analytic’ expression. One obvious difference between the two pads acoustically involves the number of holes in the pad, twenty in the balanced option and only twelve in the analytic. More of the sound options later.
The finish of the DT 1990s is of the highest standard, Beyerdynamic claim they are ‘hand crafted in Germany’ and they certainly exude quality in assembly and materials. Having broken the yoke on an expensive pair of headphones from a well known competitor I was particularly impressed by the anodised aluminium yokes on the DT 1990s. The attention to detail can be seen in design details like the method for replacing the ear pads which is simple yet beautifully effective. The DT 1990s are a higher impedance headphone at 250 ohms so you’ll want to drive them with something that has a little grunt, or a big grunt if you listen to Back in Black and would like to share the love with your neighbours. Driving them with the Marenius DAC-S2 was not a problem.
Plug DT 1990s into DAC-S2, set volume to stun…. Initially we got off to an inauspicious start, I struggled with the sound, there was something about the DT 1990s that I couldn’t immediately process. They were ‘dry’ - was there something missing? No, no, after a little more considered listening I realised there were two things going on. First like all great transducers the DT 1990s ruthlessly expose failings in the source material. If your mix is crap, if you’ve squeezed the compressor to the last dB, then the DT 1990s will faithfully unveil the flatness of the finished product. If your mic placement was poor and you put audio soup on to tape - then you’ll get an earful of mulligatawny.
Secondly the DT 1990s have low end energy at the bottom that is simply startling.
As already noted the high end headphone game is a competitive field with huge dynamic range, you can get excellent headphones for under two hundred quid, but then can six hundred quid headphones be good value? What about sixteen hundred quid cans? Well, I have a really good pair of headphones that cost about half the price of the DT 1990 PROs - and two minutes side by side listening assured me that the Beyerdynamics are nearly twice as good!
Value can be a slippery fish. I reached further up the food chain for cans from a similar price band. Ultrasone Signature Pros. The Ultrasones’s have established a fearsome reputation at a slightly higher price point. And for this stern test I fitted the DTs with the analytic pads which keep the bass a little more honest. Talking of bass, the headphones have authoritative low end presentations, not sagging like a veteran props pot, but taught and firm and low, low, low. I dug out the Sound Devices headphone amp and the Castle SPL meter to more closely match levels.
Having moved to the analytic ear pads I felt two aspects of the DT 1990s performance stood out a little more. First their dynamics - which are absolutely top notch, their is a crispness to the transients that is outstanding, if your recording has dynamic range then you’ll feel the benefit on the DT 1990s. And secondly a more exposed top end. Of course these two things are probably connected, but more noticeable with the analytic ear pads. The open backed DT 1990s spread a soundstage that makes isolating instruments and voices a morsel of madeira, they are a first rate studio mixing tool. With a finish and comfort fit that are absolutely top notch the DT 1990 PROs declare that Beyerdynamic have still got their mojo. You should hear them.
Key Features:Choice of ear padsMini-XLR connectionComes with two cables: 3-meter straight and 5-meter coiled.
Alistair McGhee began audio life in Hi-Fi before joining the BBC as an audio engineer. After 10 years in radio and TV, he moved to production. When BBC Choice started, he pioneered personal digital production in television. Most recently, Alistair was assistant editor, BBC Radio Wales and has been helping the UN with broadcast operations in Juba.
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