Written by Chris Dolak
Recently I got a chance to try out some really good headphones ranging from $150 to $250, and as someone who previously only used cheap earbuds that would come shipped with my phone, I was completely mesmerized by the sound I was introduced to. I personally tried a couple of Audio-Technica and Beyerdynamic models, and eventually walked out of the store with a pair of DT-990 Pro acoustically open headphones.
Now, before I get into sharing my experience with these headphones, I should say that I’m by no means an expert when it comes to this subject – but I think that I do have a pretty good feel of what sounds good and what sounds bad. I’ve been playing guitar for most of my adult years, and I had a chance to try some really expensive and high-end audio equipment, although this is probably the first time I’m personally spending money on a professional grade piece of gear (excluding guitars). I obviously won’t be using audiophile lingo, but I will try and explain my experience and impressions using language everyone should be able to understand.
Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro 250 ohm Professional Acoustically Open Headphones
DT-990s were really nicely packaged, although nothing felt particularly premium about the box itself I must say, but this is not something I personally care about too much. As I grabbed the headphones and pulled them out of the box they felt pretty solid and they were surprisingly lightweight – which is not the first impression you get when looking at some of the pictures. The earcups are built from what looks like a really heavy-duty plastic, and the cushions felt really soft and smooth to the touch. The frame itself is built from metal of course, and the only thing that bothered me the first time I opened the box were these wires connecting the two earcups which are just hanging there unprotected and exposed. I was worried at first and tried figuring out way how I could hide and protect them, but eventually realised that the design of these headphone doesn’t allow for such thing.
I was excited to get these headphones for quite some time, so I naturally prepared a playlist in advance of lossless audio files featuring some of my personal favorite songs, and also some classic as well as some modern music. I plugged the headphones directly into my computer, without using an amp – which is recommended by many since the headphones run on 250 ohms and require a little more power. Volume was high enough for me even at 40%, so I don’t really plan to invest in an amp – at least not till I personally try one out.
I think the first song I put on was ‘Brothers in Arms’ by Dire Straits, and I could immediately tell that something was different. Before going into my impressions, it is important to note that these headphones feature open design – meaning that you can still sort of hear things around you if you’re listening at the lower volume, and people around you should be able to hear what you’re listing. They are also recommended for critical listening and mastering – which is the thing I was aware of , and it was exactly what I wanted – but some people may be put off by this, and let me explain why.
So the first song I listened is one of my favorite songs, and I pretty much have every tiny bit of it memorized in my head – at least that’s what I thought. Couple of seconds into the song the guitar part comes in, and I can’t believe the sound that I’m hearing. For the first time in my life I’m able to hear every vibrato and I’m able to follow every note right to the point it dies, instead of it being sucked into the mess created by some of the earbuds I was previously using. It’s almost as if you’re able to isolate every single instrument in the song if you focus your attention on it, and you’re able to hear things which are hidden and muddy on most of the cheap headphones.
But, you also get to hear some of the bad things – like microphone ‘buzz’ on some songs when a singer makes a pause between the verses, and also all of the white noise when instruments go silent – and especially in the intros of some older songs recorded in the old times of analog mastering. To me personally this is not a bad thing – it was what I actually wanted from these headphones – but to some of you it might be annoying, depending on what you want.
I’ve had some friends come over and try the DT-990s, and although most of them shared my enthusiasm, some actually went to argue that their earbuds sound better – so let me try to explain why they said that. I’ve used earbuds for most of my life, and if there’s one thing they are made for – it’s pleasure listening. This has nothing to do with the sound quality itself, but with the way the sound is presented to you. Sound quality to me means ability to hear something as closest as possible to the way it was supposed to sound in the first place, and most of the popular headphones/earbuds don’t really deliver on that field. They are made to sound pleasing to an average listener, and that often means altering the signal in a way that’s unacceptable to people who really care about the sound.
So to conclude this personal impression, the pair of headphone that I bought for myself are made specifically for critical listening and mastering – and to me they sound awesome and beyond anything I’ve heard before. There are professional headphones out there made for pleasure listening, and if that’s what you want – go for it! I invested close to $200 in these headphones, and I don’t feel any regret at all about spending that money. We all buy unnecessary things and on some occasions we end up disappointed and feeling stupid if the product doesn’t meet our expectations, but this is one of those rare times when I’m actually happy that I didn’t back out and went for a cheap product as I did in the past.
If you share similar interest with me – meaning you play an instrument, you listen to music almost all the time, and you’re interested in studio work/mastering/recording your own stuff – I really see no reason not to invest into good headphones. They will change the way you think about music, and they’ll train your ears to be able to know what sounds good and what sounds rubbish – beyond just obvious things like technical skill of a player, or vocal range of a singer.
There are lots of great headphones out there, and it seems that $150 is the sweet spot when it comes to value/price ratio though. DT990s fall into that category (if you get a good deal), but if you want closed headphones you can always go for DT770 model which should be around the same price. Also, don’t forget to check out Audio-Technica and Sennheiser – both making great sounding headphones!
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