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Beyerdynamic DT-990-Pro: Nearly Reference
on July 2, 2013
This was, most certainly, not an impulse buy on my part but rather the result of a very long search for a good all-around open-back headphone, light and comfortable, with near reference sound quality (yet not overly analytical) and a reasonable price. Was that too much to ask for? Apparently not, since that search led me here: to the Beyerdynamic DT990-Pro-250. Now, for those who are curious (as I was) about that extra "AMS" label as seen here on this Amazon listing: the AMS stands for "American Music and Sound" - this is the US pro-audio distributor of Beyerdynamic. So the AMS is just an unnecessary marketing label - there is just one type of DT990-Pro, which is this one, regardless whether you buy it in North-America, Europe, Asia, etc.
That aside, let me start off with the build quality: The DT990-Pro is made entirely of ABS plastic, save for the headband and the forks holding the cans, which are made of metal (aluminum, I'd say, from the weight of it). The head-band is covered with a soft black plastic material held in place by four small clasp-buttons. The DT990-Pro is surprisingly light and extremely comfortable (in this it rivals the other "most-comfortable" headphones I have here, the Sennheiser HD-598). Overall I'd rate the build quality as top-notch, save for the somewhat under-designed cable strain relief (located on the left can). The cable is about 3m log, it is coiled and it ends with a 1/8in jack. A screw-on 1/4in jack is also provided. The strain-relief of the cable at the can attachment point seems (to me) a little too small because the coiled cable is very heavy and with use (given sufficient time) I can see it failing and leading to cable/connectivity issues. Also (this is just a minor personal quibble) the silver velour pads may seem dirty depending on how the light hits them (but again, no big deal, especially since black-velour or leather pads for it are available on Amazon or elsewhere).
On to sound quality: Computer/audio gear used during my listening tests:
MacBook-Pro w/ Mac OS X 10.6.8
XMOS USB 2.0 Audio Reference Design Asynchronous DAC (44.1-192kHz/24bit),
HiFiMeDIY Sabre USB DAC (32-96kHz/24bit),
Matrix M-Stage Headphone Amp,
FiiO E12-Mont Blanc Headphone Amp
Beyerdynamic DT990-Pro Open Headphones (250 ohm, 96dB/mW)
Audio-Technica ATH-A900 closed-back headphones (40 ohm, 101dB/mW),
Superlux HD-681 semi-open headphones (32 ohm, 98dB/mW), and
Sennheiser HD-598 open headphones (50 ohm, 100dB/mW).
Playback software: Audacity, iTunes, VLC
Source quality: standard CD 44.1kHz/16bit, and native HD 88.2-96kHz/24bit
Audio cables: 3.5mm to RCA (3ft), and RCA-to-RCA (3ft), AUVIO and Monoprice brands
The Sound (overall conclusion both DACs/HP-Amps): Good dynamics, detail and clarity, well staged and with good imaging. In terms of frequency response these headphones are tuned such as to emphasize/boost the low and high ends. Perhaps the best way to summarize the DT990-Pro sound by comparison with the other three headphones I have here would be this: The DT990-Pro nearly matches the Superlux HD681 in bass impact without sacrificing dynamics, it easily matches the Sennheiser HD598 in mid-range sparkle, staging, and imaging, and gives the Audio-Technica ATH-A900 a good run for the money in terms of highs extension.
The closest of my other headphones in terms of overall SQ would be the Sennheiser HD598. However, despite the slightly more neutral presentation of the Sennheiser's, I find the DT990-Pro sound far more preferable. The DT990-Pro has a much better low end, and has smoother, more extended highs without that slight veil characteristic to Sennheiser headphones (clearly the Sennheiser HD-598 are decent cans but somehow I could never get too excited about their sound, hence my search for a different pair of open-back headphones). Also, the DT990-Pro manages to present the high end with what I'd call more "precision" than the ATH-A900 without sounding as grainy, and with just as much aplomb as the Superlux without sounding as (excessively) bright. Note: The DT990-Pro are both high impedance (250ohm) and relatively less efficient than the other cans I mentioned here (they only manage 96dB/mW) and thus amping is a must for anyone wishing to get the most out of them. For instance, my iPod Shuffle 1-st Gen (max output: 0.57Vrms) cannot drive them to any reasonable listening level (without severe clipping) and only manages a lifeless, distorted, garbled presentation, while the MacBook-Pro sound card (1.4Vrms) drives them to sufficiently loud levels but with pretty obvious distortions (for an overall harsh, fatiguing presentation.) Based on my experience with such sources I would not recommend these cans for use with portable devices without a proper amp. Also to note: the DT990-Pro do require at least 8-10hr of initial break-in to start sounding right (before that the sound is overly bassy, and somewhat unfocused/cloudy). As of this writing I have 30-35hrs on it and for sound quality I'd break things out like this:
Bass Extension: 6/10
Bass Impact: 7/10
Bass Texture: 7/10 (solid)
Mids Quality: 7.5/10
Highs Extension: 8.5/10
Highs Quality: 8/10 (vivid)
Highs Texture: 7.5/10 (soft)
Detail/Transparency: 8/10 (clear)
Dynamics: 8.5/10 (natural)
Isolation: 2/10 (open design)
Design/Aesthetics: 9/10 (classic Beyerdynamic design)
Build quality: 9/10
Portability: 5/10 (fairly large size)
Improvement w/ Amplification: 8.5/10 (Note: Amping is recommended!)
Value at MSRP: (9/10) [I gave it a 9/10 here only because, by comparison, the $30 Superlux HD681 is still a better bang for the buck!]
To conclude, the Beyerdynamic DT990-Pro are near reference headphones which sacrifice some neutrality for the sake of a more natural sounding, or rather, a more fleshed-out acoustic presentation. As far as I'm concerned, it suffices to say that the DT990-Pro is the only headphone I have here that I can listen to (with any kind of music) without EQ and not feel that I might be missing something (and that, I think, says a lot). All in all, a remarkable offering from Beyerdynamic, highly recommended!