Beyerdynamic DT1990 PRO Headphone Review

One of my very first serious, long-term headphones was the Beyerdynamic DT880, 250 Ohm ‘professional.’ It was the first headphone I owned that cost more than $100, and I still own it to this day.

While I’ve since moved on, every once in a while I’ll pull them out again and take a listen. They aren’t perfect by any means – too much energy at 10kHz, a slightly recessed midrange, and less bass than you might want for modern pop music. But, on the right types of music – Bluegrass, classical, etc. – they can be quite enjoyable. I particularly like the super-soft microfibre-velour pads, more than even many wonderfully comfortable modern headphones. I’ve long waited and hoped for a Beyerdynamic headphone that improves on the sound quality of the DT880. At CanJam SoCal this year I was interested enough in what I heard of the DT1990 PRO to ask for a review sample.

Opening the box, I was presented with a super chunky, overbuilt travel case. There’s two cables, one coiled and one straight, and a set of replacement ear pads. The headphones themselves have even nicer materials than my DT880s; more solid, finished-metal yoke pieces, softer microfibre and thicker matte plastic. I was also quite happy to see the simple, three-pin XLR detachable-cable connectors. Comfort is similar to previous DT series headphones, though the headband seems a bit cushier, the pads a bit plusher, and the clamping force tighter. A bit overly-tight at first for some people maybe, though after some use, the pressure eased up. Overall, it was a plenty comfortable if slightly heavy headphone, though I didn’t have any problems with it in extended use. The super fuzzy microfibre-velour pads remain a favorite of mine – objectively they’re reasonably comfortable, but I just really enjoy the soft texture that feels more at home on a stuffed animal or safety blanket. So soothing.

Appearance-wise the Beyerdynamic DT1990 is a classier, blacker version of the DT headphones, with a stippled-slot pattern on the back of the headphone, and a shiny name badge. It’s a simpler, but much more polished headphone in my opinion. The detents on the yolks feel a lot more solid, and the overall heft and durability really do feel a cut above my DT880. This is a headphone costing several hundred dollars more though, so I would expect this. I liked the build quality better than my recollections of some of the old, equivalently-priced Tesla models too, for whatever that’s worth.

Sitting down for a listen there are two things that immediately stand out to me: This is both very much a Beyerdynamic, and also in some ways not at all what I’ve come to expect from Beyer. On the one hand, there is a transient clarity and sense of both micro and macro-dynamics I simply haven’t heard from a Beyerdynamic headphone before – these headphones 45-mm dynamic Tesla neodymium drivers can slam when paired with the right amp. On the other hand is that the tuning, while improved from previous Beyerdynamics, still shares some frequency response quirks that are part of the Beyer house sound.

The aforementioned quirks involve the upper treble, which is still much too hot on most modern popular recordings. It’s not quite as elevated as previous Beyerdynamics, but it’s still hot on just about any kind of music that isn’t totally acoustic. Likewise, while mid-bass is nice and punchy and higher in level, I still felt the midrange was a bit recessed and the sub-bass had some rolloff. Speaking to the treble hotness, because it’s at 10kHz or so, and lower in level than a lot of previous Beyerdynamics, it’s a much more listenable headphone, though I still find the amount of energy too much for my tastes. Interestingly I did think the treble decay and overall cleanliness was significantly better than on my DT880.

What this tuning does very well though is classical and acoustic music, because it brings forward the sense of space and treble reverberation in many distantly mic’d recordings. The same is generally true for Bluegrass, where a lot of micro-detail and treble information is present, but not heavily compressed or forward. The DT1990 lends these kinds of recordings a satisfying openness and immediacy. It’s aided by having slightly scooped mids and overall I’m given the impression that this frequency response is very specifically contoured for this kind of sound. The transient clarity I mentioned earlier really helps out here as well. I don’t detect huge or awful cup resonances, so it seems to me the open back design is a well-engineered and intentional choice. It does lean more towards a semi-open back than open presentation, but the isolation is actually somewhat good and while the sound isn’t super open, it also isn’t super closed. I think the DT1990 strikes a good compromise here, and the semi-open back design likely gives it a somewhat punchier sound than you might get from a truly open back headphone.

Speaking of which, Beyerdynamic headphones have never struck me as particularly dynamic – they certainly do airy, open and relatively resolving well, but bass and powerful transient impact have never been qualities I associate with Beyerdynamic. That said, these headphones do these better than any Beyerdynamic headphone I’ve heard to date. I suspect part of this has to do with the different ear cup design and tighter pad seal, but whatever the reason, I find it the most compelling aspect of this headphone. It doesn’t have the sometimes overemphasized transient snap of many Beryllium drivers, but separation and my sense of macrodynamic scale are actually pretty good with this headphone. If you want to hear transient detail and big shifts in relatively lightly compressed music, these headphones will give you a lot of that detail, and do it at a variety of volumes.

In terms of amplification, the DT1990 doesn’t seem particularly fussy – it’s the same 250 Ohms as my DT880 and is likewise quite sensitive, not requiring a real excess of power. The DT1990 really seemed to respond best to tube amplifiers and lower powered Class A solid-state amplification. High powered solid-state amplifiers, even very smooth ones did little to hide the treble forwardness. By contrast, the Manley Absolute headphone amplifier I have in for review right now makes a superb pairing with both Beyerdynamics. The touch of warmth many tube amps bring to the treble and midrange help to even out the perceptual response of the headphone. If you’re using this headphone for personal listening pleasure, I would not be afraid to use EQ or other tools to wrangle it into compliance with your desired signature.

So what gives, why am I reviewing this headphone if all I’m going to talk about is the elevated treble? Because as much as we audiophiles like to consider ourselves final arbiters of what ‘good’ tuning is, I believe this is a case of a product where we are distinctly not the target audience. I actually think this is a superbly good professional-audio headphone. Let me explain.

When at the mixing board, 10kHz is an area of special interest, often used as an ‘air’ frequency for manipulating harmonics. Likewise the midrange around 500Hz is usually where extra energy is not needed, and likewise mid-bass bumps between 60-80Hz are useful to help determine how kick drums and bass guitars will sound when played on bass-limited systems. I did a few test mixes with these headphones and ended up with results that sounded pretty similar to what a modern radio-ready V-shaped pop music mix is expected to sound like. In this respect, the DT1990 has a kind of ‘pre-eq’d’ sound that works quite well for giving extra detail and information at these critical frequency ranges. This kind of frequency spotlighting, while less than totally desirable for casual listening, functions really nicely as an ‘audio microscope’ of sorts. The distinctness of these frequency response peaks also make it quite easy to get a handle on the specific ‘sound’ of this headphone, which is another important consideration for pros who need to learn and integrate new gear quickly with their workflows.

So what to make of all this? I think the ‘PRO’ part of the Beyerdynamic DT1990 PRO really does deserve an all-caps emphasis. This headphone is a strong choice for audio professionals, vloggers, video-editors and amateur producers. It gives these folks the info they need to do their job and gets out of the way with a pretty reasonably-resolving sound and good dynamics for its price. On the other hand, as a casual listener, it would not be my first recommendation unless your catalogue of music is heavily skewed towards classical, Bluegrass and other acoustic music that emphasizes low-compression levels and lots of natural ambience. Often my experience is that a good headphone that is well-built and tuned for a wide selection of music will work for anything. In this case, I do feel that the tuning caters specifically to a certain kind of professional workflow, something that won’t necessarily be immediately apparent in frequency-response measurements. At the $599 USD price point though, I think for the kind of audio professional who needs decent isolation and uses headphones a lot, these would certainly be a compelling workhorse option.


Rillion's picture

Thanks for the review. The DT880 is one of my favorite headphones. I find your assessment of it to be spot-on. Emphasis above 5kHz does not really bother me much, but I do usually EQ my DT880 anyway. I have found that bringing up the bass on the DT880 makes music a bit more "enveloping" but the bass still lacks any sort of impact. From your review, it sounds like the DT1990 PRO bass impact and detail is somewhat better than the DT880, even without EQ. I'm not sure I would spend $599 just for that, however, since I am tired of my EQ obsession and already have "pro" type headphones offering good detail (beyer DT770 and AKG 702). If I traveled with them a lot (I don't), I might spend more for solid construction.

crazywipe2's picture


Does not even mention that the pads gives a different tuning to the headphone. The balanced pads are more for listening pleasure because they give more bass and midrange body, the analytical pads more neutral for mixing and mastering.

It's hard to understand on which pads the review is done.

1990 got some peaks in the treble, but it's not too bad in my opinion.
It has a monitor like aggressive presentation, like the Sennheiser hd25.
You can pair the dt1990 with fast paced music (like metal, alternative) and you'll get rewarded by a dynamic snappy sound. PRaT is really happening. Try the same playlist with the hd650 and you'll put to sleep.

For me, under 500 Eur, probably is the headphone to beat. The driver is very resolving, more so than the hd600. Tuning, as i said, it's aggressive, very different from the hd6xx series.
It's good to have more option, many metalhead will love the 1990.
If someone likes his music a bit forward and energetic, it's the kind of headphone that can play anything.