June 23, 2020 10 min read
Review Written by Chrono
Review unit provided by Headphones.com
The DT 1990 Pro, which retails for $599, is the successor to Beyerdynamic’s very popular DT 990 Pro. Like its predecessor, the DT 1990 Pro is a dynamic, open-back headphone that is designed for studio reference, mixing, and mastering. Since its introduction in 2016, the DT 1990 Pro has been repeatedly praised for its resolution and ability to highlight errors made in the recording and mastering process. In this review, I want to find out whether or not the DT 1990 Pro lives up to that reputation.
The Amplifier/DAC used in this review was the JDS Labs Element II connected via USB to my desktop computer. For the listening tests I used music from a wide variety of genres including Rock, Jazz, Classical, Acoustic, Hip-Hop, and latin. I played tracks from my own FLAC library as well as from Tidal streaming service (HiFi/Master Quality).
The DT 1990 Pro comes packed with what us guitarists call “case candy.” Included with the DT 1990 Pro are a plethora of accessories. For starters you get a hardshell case that can keep the DT 1990 Pro’s secure on-the-go. Admittedly, the case is very large, so I would not describe it as portable. However, I still think that it is a nice addition to the package that will at least keep the DT 1990 Pro safe should you find yourself traveling with them. Also included in the box are two sets of ear pads. The first set comes installed on the DT 1990 Pro by default, and are what Beyerdynamic calls “balanced” pads. The second set of pads are the “analytical” pads, and this is designated by the number of perforations on the pad’s reverse side. Lastly, you also get two sets of cables. Both cables are 3-pin mini XLR to 3.5mm, and they each include their own ⅛” to ¼” thread-on adapter. The difference between the cables is that one is a 5m coiled cable, whilst the other one is 3m straight cable.
Thanks to the use of Beyerdynamic’s Tesla Magnet technology, the DT 1990 Pro’s are actually more efficient and easier to drive than its predecessor, the DT 990 Pro. Despite the boost in efficiency, I still find myself needing a discrete headphone amplifier to get the DT 1990 Pro to my preferred listening level. Without an amplifier there was not enough volume headroom, and the headphone’s dynamic range sounded a little compressed to me. Still, I think that amplifiers like the Liquid Spark and JDS Labs Atom will be more than enough to drive these cleanly.
The DT 990 Pro was already a very well put together headphone with the durability of the tank, and thankfully, the same is true for the DT 1990 Pro. The new design that Beyerdynamic used on the DT 1990 Pro is very impressive. It is made almost entirely out of metal, yet the headphone remains fairly lightweight at a cool 370g. Additionally, all the moving parts on the headphone’s chassis feel smooth, and they do not feel like they will begin to rattle or loosen up any time soon.
Whilst it is not as comfortable as the DT 990 Pro, the DT 1990 Pro’s comfort is still outstanding. The headband provides ample padding for the top of your head, and distributes weight very well. Both of the included sets of pads provide plenty of comfort, and they use an unbelievably soft velour. However, the density of the foam used inside is slightly different on both of them. The “Balanced” pads seem to use a denser foam inside, which makes them a little stiffer; I think that the “Analytical” pads were more comfortable. The only complaints I have for comfort is that the clamp force on these is a little high out of the box, and it put a bit of stress on my jaw. It was not as high as on 600-series Sennheisers mind you, but it could still cause discomfort for some users.
I will start off by saying that I personally found the DT 1990 Pro’s sound signature to be pretty good. However, it has some pretty serious issues in the treble that do not make the listening experience particularly enjoyable, and I felt like it really needed EQ for it to sound normal. For this sound section I will go over the DT 1990 Pro’s tonality and technical performance. For the majority of my listening I used the Analytical pads, as I found them to be somewhat closer to my personal preference target than the Balanced pads. Still, I did also test the DT 1990 Pro with the balanced pads and I will detail how they affected sound. I will also be drawing comparisons to headphones like the Audeze LCD-1, Sennheiser HD 660S, and HiFiMan Sundara since they are all close in technical performance, and somewhat close in price.
For an open-back, dynamic headphone close to the $500 range, the DT 1990 Pro’s bass is actually fairly impressive. The DT 1990 Pro’s bass actually has very good extension, it only begins to gently roll off at around 40hz. This is a very significant improvement over the DT 990 Pro, which began to roll off in a very steep fashion at around 70hz. The DT 1990 Pro’s bass is also quite fast, making its bass almost as detailed as on the planar-magnetic LCD-1 and Sundara. Additionally, the dynamics in the bass are very good for the DT 1990 Pro; they have a very good punch and slam quality. The only issue I have with this region of the DT 1990 Pro’s frequency response is that there is an elevation in the upper bass that bleeds into the lower mids and takes away some of the cleanliness in the mix. When using the balanced pads, the overall bass level was raised by one or two decibels, but at the cost of some definition. I thought that with the balanced pads the bass sounded a little bloated, and it also emphasized the upper bass elevation. Regardless I still thought the bass was very good with the Analytical pads, and I struggle to think of another dynamic, open-back headphone in this price range that can reproduce bass this well.
Whilst the bass is very good overall on the DT 1990 Pro, I do make a few adjustments with EQ. The first one is that I add a peak filter at 30hz to alleviate some of the roll off. I also use a low shelf to raise the bass’s level as it was a little on the leaner side for my preference. Lastly, I reduce the area at around 250hz to clean up the upper bass and lower mids. Altogether, these changes increase the DT 1990 Pro’s bass’s presence, depth, and sense of definition.
The midrange on the DT 1990 Pro sees considerable improvement from that of the DT 990 Pro. For the most part, I think that the midrange on the DT 1990 Pro is very tonally accurate; especially when you EQ out the elevation in the upper bass. I find the entire midrange to have a very good tonal balance, it was full-bodied and had an adequate amount of presence in the region between 3k to 5k. There were no particular areas of the frequency response that really stood out to me on the DT 1990 Pro. However, to me it sounded as though 2.5k maybe had a little more energy than it should, making some singers sound nasally, and some instruments (electric guitars and brass instruments mostly) sound somewhat “honky.” The timbre of the midrange was also very good; it was very natural, and a great improvement over the DT 990 Pro’s slightly metallic timbre. For resolution I think that the DT 1990 Pro has fairly detailed mids. They are slightly more resolving in this region of the frequency response than the LCD-1 and Sundara, although they are not quite as resolving as the HD 660S in the midrange. Using the balanced pads actually seemed to reduce that 2.5k peak, but it also made the entire midrange sound far too recessed, so I personally did not like the way it sounded; especially when taking into account the elevation in the bass that those pads provided.
Without a doubt, the DT 1990 Pro’s highs are its frequency response’s most controversial region. There seems to be two different schools of thought surrounding the DT 1990 Pro’s highs. The first one is that the treble on the DT 1990 Pro is “very revealing of errors in recordings,” so much so that if anything sounds unpleasant in a recording, it is because of their “phenomenal detail retrieval.” The second one is that the DT 1990 Pro’s treble is “drastically over-sharpened,” giving it a “false sense of detail.”
My personal opinion after testing out the DT 1990 Pro supports the latter.
I find the highs on the DT 1990 Pro to be very problematic, and fatiguing to listen to. The biggest issue is a large peak in excess of 11dB at 8.5k. This peak has a couple of different effects in the overall sound of the DT 1990 Pro. The first one is that it adds what sounds like what I can only describe as shimmer to whatever you listen to. This “shimmer” is what I think contributes the most to the perception that the DT 1990 Pro is a highly-detailed headphone. The 8.5K peak also adds a sizzle-like quality to the sound, and it becomes very obvious when toggling EQ on and off. Lastly, it makes the consonants (S and T sounds in particular) incredibly sibilant and piercing to listen to. I actually find this very unfortunate for the DT 1990 Pro because this one peak throws off the headphone’s tonal balance completely. If this peak was not there, or if it was at least smaller in size, the DT 1990 Pro would actually be a pretty enjoyable headphone. What I find ironic is that, to me, this peak at 8.5k actually hides a lot of other elements in the mix, instead of revealing them. An example of this is that I was listening to Arne Domnérus’record Jazz at the Pawnshop, which is supposed to capture the energy of a performance because it was recorded live. Naturally, this would mean that you would hear ambient sounds, as well as the audience. However, when listening on the DT 1990 Pro, without EQ, those ambient sounds would sometimes be completely drowned out by the sizzle that was produced by the overly-elevated treble.
Now, the 8.5k peak is the DT 1990 Pro’s most prominent peak, but it is not the only one. There is also a small peak at 5.5k that adds some audible glare and also emphasizes some of the “honky” quality I mentioned in the midrange. Frequency response aside, the resolution in the DT 1990 Pro’s highs is not actually that bad. Still, it lags behind the LCD-1, Sundara, and HD 660S for clarity in the highs; all those other headphones are more resolving, and have a better tonal balance. The Balanced pads do not really affect the highs all that much. However, they sounded a little more forward to me because the mids sounded so much more recessed.
Soundstage is an area where I think the DT 1990 Pro performs very well. It has a very spacious and evenly distributed soundstage. In terms of width, it easily outclasses that of the LCD-1, Sundara and HD 660S. The imaging on the DT 1990 Pro is also very good, as it makes it very easy to accurately discern the direction from which sounds originate. Like the DT 990 Pro, these two qualities in particular make the DT 1990 Pro an outstanding option for those looking for an open-back solution for gaming, especially for first-person shooters. Surprisingly I found instrument separation on the DT 1990 Pro rather unimpressive. Whilst its ability to image is great, the layering of elements in tracks was not always the cleanest; particularly when there were several tracks originating from the same direction within the soundstage.
Dynamics is another area where the DT 1990 Pro performs really well. The driver in the DT 1990 Pro actually has very good excursion, giving the bass an enjoyable, immediate impact. Micro dynamics are also very good. Listening to things like piano keystrokes, guitar string plucks or xylophone strikes, they all have a good sense of pressure and tension behind. In a way you can kind of feel the weight with which the instruments are played; it makes for a more engaging listening experience. In this category I think that they actually outperform the Sundara, LCD-1, and HD 660S.
I have mentioned EQ extensively throughout the course of this review, and it is because I sincerely think that the DT 1990 Pro both needs and drastically improves from it. As previously noted, the bass and mids really do not need that much EQ–for those regions it is mostly fine-tuning. However, the highs really need some adjustment before I can actually enjoy listening to them. Luckily the DT 1990 actually takes really well to EQ, and they do not retain too much of its original characteristics in the treble. This is my EQ for the DT 1990 Pro, which you can input into your EQ software of choice:
Peak at 30hz, +1dB Q of 1
Low Shelf at 100hz, +2dB Q of 0.7
Peak at 250hz, -2dB Q of 1.8
Peak at 2500hz, -3dB Q of 2
Peak at 5500hz, -6dB Q of 4
Peak at 8500hz, -11dB Q of 4
I will be completely honest and say that I actually quite enjoy the DT 1990 Pro after EQ. However, getting it to the point where I find it enjoyable and close to my personal target curve requires a lot of EQ. Still, I think that even after EQ, it does not really perform as well as other headphones in the $500 price range. Furthermore, at its MSRP of $600 it gets dangerously close in price to the Focal Elex and price-dropped HiFiMan Ananda; both headphones that handily outperform it in nearly every category. Now, you have to keep in mind that this is from the perspective of someone who is only listening to them with music-listening in mind. The DT 1990 Pro’s are aimed more for studio use, which I am unfamiliar with–they might be amazing for that application. Nonetheless, if you can find the DT 1990 Pro at $450 or under, I think it might still be worth considering. After all, it greatly improves with EQ, has incredible build quality, and it does provides good technical performance.
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