Buying Guide: Beyerdynamic Professional Headphones
Matthew Jens looks at one of the world's longest-established headphone manufacturers, and assesses the company's current model range…
Manufacturing headphones since the 1930s, it's safe to say that beyerdynamic knows the market back to front. Indeed, the DT suffix in the company's line-up stands for 'Dynamic Telephone', first used when the company's founder Eugene Beyer created the original DT 48 headphone. This sturdy workhorse remained in the company line-up for almost three-quarters of a century, until it was discontinued in 2013!
I have owned quite a few beyerdynamic headphones over the years. First was the legendary DT 770 PRO, which is regarded as an obvious upgrade from the venerable Audio-technica ATH-M50x. At one stage I also owned an extraordinary 600-ohm Manufaktur version of the DT 880 PRO, nicknamed the “all black everything” edition. So I know that with an extensive range of models with specific applications in mind, it can be difficult for the newcomer to establish which beyerdynamic headphone to buy.
OPEN OR CLOSED?
First, we need to get back to basics. As with any over-ear headphone purchasing decision, your initial choice will be between an open, non closed-back earcup design that allows outside noise to pass into your ears, or a sealed closed-back design that shuts off the outside world to you, and you to it. The debate has raged for decades about which is better for critical listening in a home environment. It will never be truly resolved because ultimately it's a matter of taste – like reflex-loaded versus infinite baffle loudspeaker design. Yet ultimately each type suits some needs better, and beyerdynamic has a basic rule of thumb that open models have a more spacious and transparent sound, whereas the closed-back versions are more vibrant and powerful.
In a professional environment, I have personally used both open- and closed-back beyerdynamic models. The open-backed variety can be a helpful guide for precise localisation of sources and can give the listener a good sense of how things sound in the current space. Closed-back versions have the bonus of sound insulation, which will not allow for noise pollution from outside sources during the mix. Beyerdynamic generally recommends open-backed models for mixing, mastering, and streaming. Conversely, closed-back versions should be relegated to monitoring, recording and live performance duties.
Rated in ohms (Ω), impedance is the measurement of a headphone's resistance to alternating current. A lower impedance rating means that the audio source has to supply less voltage – but more power – for a headphone to reach sufficient volume. This is not to be confused with sensitivity of course, which is often hand-in-hand with beyerdynamic headphones.
Lower impedance headphones are easier to drive from smartphones, laptops, tablets and inbuilt sound cards from computers. A higher impedance design develops its the best sound from mixing consoles, dedicated headphone amplifiers and sources with better driving capabilities.
Just be careful when matching a lower-impedance headphone to a device with a higher output impedance source. As is the case with all dynamic drivers, you may succumb to the downsides of an impedance mismatch, and experience bloated bass, a lifeless sound and a wonky frequency response. Choose your headphone impedance based on the source device you own, and the circumstances you plan on enjoying your beyerdynamic headphones.
Beyerdynamic has developed a proprietary driver design called Tesla. The company says that the headphones “sound more precise and transparent. They are also much more efficient, which benefits the sound, especially on low-level playback devices.” This effectively means that headphones that employ the Tesla technology will be able to reach higher volumes under the same conditions as other headphones.
So, you can pack away that monster headphone amplifier you've been using for planar-magnetic headphones; beyerdynamic headphones with Tesla drivers are far less demanding. That said, they also can achieve higher volumes without distortion – so do be careful, unless long-term hearing damage is something you're into! These drivers also come with an increased weight, easily mitigated with the super comfort that beyerdynamic headphones are known for. Tesla drivers are made from a precision fabric, as opposed to the non-woven material of the standard DT series drivers. They are also “equipped for symmetric connection” and have a higher field strength, says the company.
DT 240 PRO
StereoNET reviewed this little guy back in 2018, concluding that, “beyerdynamic's DT 240 PRO has a strong and sturdy frame, reliable neutral sound, and local pricing of just $139 RRP. It's an easy choice for either a professional choosing a new set of cans or anyone who takes their audio field work seriously.” From the current line-up, it's the only model not made in Germany. It is also the lightest of the bunch, coming in at just 196g. Its thin yet sturdy headband makes it a great portable companion, and its low impedance will pair nicely with the average smartphone or laptop.
DT 770 PRO
Ah, the classic crowd favourite! This is the oft-recommended reference standard for audiophiles, live engineers and studio professionals alike. I owned a pair for years, and used it as a live mixing tool – and from this experience, I can tell you that the design is bombproof. While it does not sport a detachable cable or Tesla driver technology, it makes up for this in comfort and weight. Weighing in at just 270g, the DT 770 PRO is only a whisker heavier than its open counterpart, the DT 990 PRO. Born for professionals, it comes in three different impedance options – 32 ohms, 80 ohms and 250 ohms – so you can choose the version to suit your requirements.
DT 880 PRO
In my opinion, this is one of the most exceptional reference headphones available on the market. It has a unique semi-open design that combines the best of both open and closed-back worlds, having been designed with mixing and mastering in mind. With a substantial 250 ohm impedance and a huge soundstage, the frequency response curve of this fine beyerdynamic phone is famously similar to the exponentially more expensive Sennheiser HD800. Indeed, the DT 880 PRO has a huge soundstage and a bright, punchy sound that makes it characteristically suitable for detecting any recording errors in a mix and magnifying them. It's great for domestic music replay too, but you'll need a good source…
DT 990 PRO
The open-backed version of the DT 770 PRO, this not only shares the same drivers as its sibling but also the same headband and assembly as well. The DT 990 PRO has the added benefit of being slightly lighter at 250g. It only comes in a single 250 ohm version. The high energy, detailed drivers and open design make this a handy resource for acoustic recording, as it can pinpoint any hairy parts of your mix. It's also a terrific headphone for home use, assuming amplification with enough power is available. It sounds excellent with a wide range of music and scales well with a variety of source devices.
DT 1770 PRO
The crème de la crème of beyerdynamic closed-back offerings, this sports the latest in Tesla driver technology. Created from the ground-up to be a premium choice in studio environments, its sturdy construction and easily replaceable parts lend this unit to being a fierce road-warrior as well. With a high-resolution top end and plenty of punch down low, the 250 ohm Tesla drivers add a bit of weight to this 388g headphone – and with this extra weight comes extra volume headroom and extended frequency response.
DT 1990 PRO
Positioned as the flagship of the open-back range, this boasts the same frequency response, impedance and Tesla technology as its closed-back DT 1770 PRO sibling. That's where the differences end, however, as this open-backed variant manages to shave off 18g to weigh in at 370g. With a design that was made for lengthy mixing and mastering sessions, the manufacturer claims that it packs, “a natural, exceptionally spatial sound” which is achieved thanks to the open-back design of the circumaural headphone.
Indeed, when StereoNET reviewed this beast back in 2016, we found that the DT 1990 PRO “looks great, is comfortable, and sounds excellent, with emphasis leaning towards midbass and upper mids, rather than being completely flat response. We would be happy to recommend it to engineers, audiophiles and beyerdynamic fans alike.”
For more information, visit Beyerdynamic.
Constantly keeping himself busy, Matthew is a production manager, Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt, Head-Fi fanatic, coffee enthusiast and all-round cool Dad.