Beyer DT 990
Beyer DT 990 (10.3 oz./290g without cord, about $250). larger. This free website's biggest source of support is when you use these links, especially this link to it at B&H Photo-Video when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Thanks! Ken.
The Beyer DT 990 is among the world's best open-back dynamic headphones. It has been a favorite among professional recording engineers and music lovers for 25 years for its great sound, moderate price and now solid build quality. The DT 990 has unusually clean, clear, uncolored and open sound ideal for any kind of music.
The DT 990 has been in Beyer's catalog for a long time. I still use my original pair of Beyer DT 990 that I bought in 1988, when it only came in the professional 600 Ω version with a ¼" plug — but housed in a delicate plastic frame. The original DT-990 have a black plastic housing and two-piece harp that look like that era's state-of-the-art, the Stax Lambda, but with round drivers and fuzzy ear pads.
I'll mention both the 1988 and 2012 versions throughout this review. If I don't specify, most of this review refers to today's 2012 version.
Today's DT 990 looks a bit like an homage to today's state-of-the-art, the Stax SR-007 MK2 Omega II, and are mostly made out of drawn sheet metal.
Today's DT 990 has a dinky 3.5mm plug with an included screw-in ¼" adapter, and comes in 32 Ω, 250 Ω and 600 Ω versions. I am reviewing the 600 Ω version here.
The DT 990 is a Beyer DT 880 with boosted bass and treble to satisfy the home Hi-Fi market. Except for the tonal balance and cosmetic differences, they are the same.
The DT 990 is an open headphone, with no isolation except at the very highest frequencies. There is sound leakage, so your neighbors will hear them, too.
These are tough, well-built, inexpensive and great-sounding headphones. I prefer the Beyer DT 880 for more natural sound, while many people will prefer the boosted bass and treble of these DT 990.
I prefer today's DT 880 over today's DT 990, however I prefer my original 1988 set of DT 990 to this brand-new pair. A few decades of break-in may or may not change the sound of this new pair. Most people will quite likely prefer today's DT 990 over the more-intended-for-professional-monitoring DT 880, since today's DT 990 has more bass and treble.
The Beyer DT 990 comes in at least three different versions with different impedances: 32 Ω, 250 Ω, and 600 Ω. I'm testing the 600 Ω version here.
The biggest difference among the various impedances is sensitivity. The 32 Ω version will play super-loud from your iPod, while the 250 Ω and 600 Ω versions will require higher volume settings for the same level — or a dedicated headphone amplifier.
Beyer's Impedance Suggestions.
Beyer DT 990 plug. Note molded "600 Ω" marking.
Even though Beyer doesn't recommend this 600 Ω version for use with iPods per the table above, it works great from an iPod, however with pop music you'll usually have your iPod set at close to maximum volume, and with classical music, you'll always have your iPod set to maximum, and might wish you had another 5 to 10 more dB of gain. It sounds great, but you can't make yourself deaf.
(Classical music is recorded at lower average levels because it gets very loud as well as soft, so playback level settings need to be higher for accurate reproduction — and allow much higher peak reproduced sound levels. In an idiotic attempt to make every CD sound as bad and loud as the next, most other music today is severely dynamically compressed and limited to be at 100% loudness all the time, so playback levels must be set much lower, eliminating musical peaks and dynamics and half the music with it.)
Watching movies on an iPad, you'll be at full volume with the 600 Ω version.
I have not tried the 250 Ω and 32 Ω versions. I'm sure they play much louder, but I can't vouch for how well they sound.
New 2011 sample, 600 Ω version
New 600 Ω Beyer DT 990 measured Impedance magnitude (Ω), and phase angle versus frequency. (R&S UPL; +90º is capacitive, -90º is inductive.)
Original 1988 sample measured in 2011 (only version is 600 Ω)
Original 1988 sample of 600 Ω Beyer DT 990 measured Impedance magnitude (Ω), and phase angle versus frequency. (R&S UPL; +90º is capacitive, -90º is inductive.)
The actual impedance is never less than 600 Ω, and more importantly, it's almost purely resistive. These are trivially easy to drive so long as you have enough voltage from any real headphone amp.
Beware of the many expensive but wimpy headphone amplifiers with no more than 2 V RMS output, which isn't much more than the 1 V RMS output of an iPod. These wimpy amps are the ones often powered by batteries and sold with exotic DACs at high prices for use with iPods, but read the specifications carefully to be sure that they have plenty of output. Ask an electronic engineer if you need help.
A proper headphone amp should be able drive these to about 7 V RMS or 20 dBm or 100 mW into 600 Ω, which is more than deafening.
I auditioned these with various amplifiers, and the sound didn't vary — just the maximum output, which of course will vary the perceived bass response.
The DT 990 sounds clean and open right out of the box without any break-in, however compared to the DT 880, the DT 990 has its bass boosted a few dB around 60 Hz, with less bass below that. Most people will probably prefer this boosted bass, but it will annoy careful listeners, making us look for a 60 Hz slider to dip a few dB. The DT 990's bass bump obscures deeper bass, which isn't hidden in the DT 880. The 1988 DT990 is less boomy. I don't know if a few deceade of break-in will change the 2012 DT 990.
The "boomy" bass of the DT 990 is boomy only in comparision to other very fine headphones like the DT 880. It is nothing like the boom from your neighbor's kid's car stereo; the boom is just a few dBs of boost around 60 Hz, not 15 dB.
This 2012 DT 990 is solid to 30 Hz, and bass is still still audible at 16 Hz. Of course below 20 Hz "audible" is more the room noise modulating itself from intermodulation with the headphone's subsonic input, but that's the way it works in live sound, too. Even driven to deafening levels with a real headphone amplifier, I can't get sine waves to buzz, rattle or distort with the 2012 DT 990. (My 1988 DT 990 always buzzed a bit if driven too hard in the bass.)
This bass and treble boost appeal to most people, and of course make the midrange less pronounced in the DT 990 compared to the DT 880.
This new 2012 DT 990 is a little brighter and more brittle than my 1988 set of DT 990s. Only decades will tell if this is break-in, or the very real differences in housings between the two.
This 2012 version is a lot tougher, but less comfortable than the soft and fluffy muffs of the 1988 DT990.
This 2012 version is a little less sensitive than 1988 DT990.
The DT 990's sound is far more clean and open than the closed Ultrasone Edition 8. The Edition 8 sounds treble-starved and comb filtered by comparison.
The DT 990's bass is boomier and more obnoxious than the Edition 8's boosted bass. This is because the DT 990's peak is around 60 Hz, and the Edition 8's peak is deeper at around 40 Hz, so the Edition 8's boost sounds great, and the DT 990's boost sounds cruder.
The DT 990's soundstage is the same as most headphones. Only the Ultrasone Edition 8 do much of anything different.
The original 1988 DT 990 is much more muffled, but the old DT 990 has sparklier (smoothly boosted) highs.
The Beyer DT 990 are a very well made, no-surprises traditional headphone.
The earpieces tend to keep moving up into the harp by themselves when put away.
The earpads are semi-soft and covered with fuzzy velour.
The pads ride around your ears, not touching them.
They stick well on my head as I move around.
The padded harp cover seems like plastic fake leather over padding.
The DT 990 are comfy and not stuffy when worn all day.
The DT 990 use moderate to low spring pressure.
They have a long straight cord. I left most of it still coiled up, a trip hazard otherwise.
The DT 990 is made of almost all metal, and real metal, no pot metal like much of the Sennheiser HD800.
This DT 990 is much sturdier than Sennheiser HD800. It's not delicate.
The DT 990's pointy 3.5mm plug pops right into a cased iPad 2.
Dynamic stereo headphones
Open-back, no isolation.
Circumaural: sits around the ear on your head.
2.5 meter (8 feet), straight.
Screw-in ¼" adapter included for use with real equipment.
5 ~ 35,000 Hz, no conditions specified, making these numbers a meaningless waste of ink.
Rated 32 Ω, 250 Ω or 600 Ω.
The 600 Ω version is tested here.
96 dB, no conditions specified, making this number a meaningless waste of ink.
100 mW, no conditions specified.
Free included case (same as DT 880, shown). enlarge.
Well-padded case included, claimed to be leather.
10.290 oz. (289.8g), measured without cord.
12.220 oz. (346.4g) measured with cord, but no adapter.
10.2 oz. (290g), rated.
8.460 oz. (239.8g) measured without cord.
11.810 oz. (334.8g) measured with cord.
DT 990 headphones.
Gold screw-in ¼" adapter.
Zippered case with foam insert. Claimed to be leather.
No instructions and no warnings, thank goodness. It just comes with a flyer talking about Beyer's history.
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