After my recent reviews of a number of Beyerdynamic premium headphones, I got yet another opportunity to take a closer look at two of their legendary DT880 and DT990 Premium models, particularly 32 ohm variant designed for portable audio use. I'm sure a lot of use are familiar with Beyerdynamic name and their high quality German engineered and manufactured headphones. Though being around for a very long time, these two particular models went through a number of fine-tuning updates over the last decade, one of which is low impedance version which in theory enables them to be driven directly from your smartphone. Also, both of these models offer either semi-open or open design which some of you might not be as familiar with due to most of the common commercial headphones having a closed back design for a more "private" listening. When it comes to overall looks/design, these two have a number of similarities and that is why I decided to combine their review together which also makes them easier to compare side by side. Let's take a closer look at what I have found.
When it comes to overall packaging and design, DT880 and DT990 look like twins with a different attitude. Arrived in a rather large box, beside a high definition picture of the headphones and a detailed technical spec, I always appreciate how Beyer guys honestly describe the sound signature and talk about the comfort without any hype or exaggeration. A lot of other companies write a flashy phrases to artificially boost their product, but with every Beyerdynamic product I reviewed in the last few months - the description was always spot on. Inside of the box you'll find a pleather case with a foam form fitting interior for storage and carrying of DT880/DT990. The only other accessory is screw-on 1/4" adapter. Out of the case, the first thing that jumped out and grabbed my attention was the velor earpads. These earpads could be considered as a luxury upgrade to bring the comfort level of these full size over-ear headphones to the best I have tested in a very long time. One of the biggest complains with over-/on-ear headphones is typically about earpads and how hot and sweaty they get after an extended listening period. Here, the breathable soft microfibre material wraps your ears in a comfort of two plush pillows. As a result of a perfect clamping force and a soft padding of spring steel headband, you get a super comfortable fitment that also feels very lightweight. The headband itself is adjustable, and has a soft click action with dots indicating the length of the extension. The earcup is attached to a headband through a brushed aluminum Y-fork construction which is typical for most of the Beyer headphone designs. This construction allows a decent angle of tilt to adjust the angle as well as a limited rotation of earcup to fit any shape/size head and ears. The earcup itself is made out of aluminum and hard plastic material which compliments design very nicely.
Regarding the back of earcups, here DT880 and DT990 twins show some differences due to their functionality. DT880 back of earcups has a fine micro-mesh cover as part of semi-open design to allow some sound leakage as well as letting a little bit of external sound in to create a wider more airy sound. DT990, being a full open back, has a unique design where back of DT990 earcups has a shutter-like opening to allow an even more sound leaking outside and an even wider soundstage. Makes me wonder if maybe one of these days they could follow a route of Custom One Pro and make this shutter adjustable to completely close the back - now that would be a fun sound tweaking!Another thing that worth mentioning is single side cable used on the left side which makes it convenient to unclutter cable management as well as helping to identify L/R when in the dark. Cable itself has a heavy duty shielding, but it's still flexible enough. Unfortunately, cable itself it not removable, but hopefully future updates will take care of that. Other design detail is an aluminum tab on each side of the headband which I found to have no functionality other than a cool look. One final thought, both earpads and headband padding are removable and replaceable, which is great when you have to take care of wear'n'tear in the future.
As much as the construction, looks, and finish had a lot of in common between DT880 and DT990, their sound characteristics is unique and stands apart. Starting with DT880, I found them to have a balanced warm sound with a very realistic delivery of every instrument timbre. I typically expect neutral headphones to have such level of details, but here I was pleasantly surprised to find a full body balanced sound that was quite a pleasure to listen to. Everything from a low end with a detailed bass extension without any artificial bloat or spillage into mids, to clarity of mids with lush vocal delivery and upper mids clarity (not harsh at all, just perfect), to a sparkle of treble without any hint of unpleasant sibilance - I would go as far as saying these could be considered as audiophile quality reference monitors. The semi-open design adds to widening the depth and height of soundstage, though it wasn't reaching the level of T5p I tested before.
Now, here is something to keep in mind. The nature of semi-open design means you will not have a perfect sound isolation from outside world, and the same refers to outside world that will not be isolated from a sound leaking out of your headphones either. Unfortunately that's a price to pay to enhance your listening experience. Another important thing I found, since these are advertised as 32 ohm headphones for portable use, they are NOT easy to drive directly from your phone. They did pair up nicely with a dedicated X5 DAP, and I was even able to drive them in low-gain mode at about 85% of max volume setting, but directly out of my Note 2 I was maxing it out in volume and internal smartphone's DAC was hitting saturation region, not the cleanest sound. Once I added A200p into that sound chain with my phone, things got back on track with a rich clean sound. What does it all mean? If you are planning to get these headphones to drive with your smartphone - not a good idea. To enjoy them to a full potential they will need some amping or to be used with a dedicated Digital Audio Player (DAP). In that case, either 32 ohm or 250 ohm will not make that much of a difference and you can look on amazon for a better deal. As a matter of fact, at the moment of writing this review, on Amazon 250 ohm version of DT880 was $33 cheaper.
Here are the pictures of DT880:
With DT990, the sound has a different characteristics. While I found DT880 to be more balanced with a shift toward the warmer sound signature, DT990 ended up sounding more revealing and brighter with a stronger bass representation. By stronger bass, I don't mean to say a dominating basshead type of delivery down to a rumbling sub-bass. This is still very intelligent bass delivery with a great control and tight isolation from the rest of the spectrum, but with more impact and a slightly higher quantity. With mids, those were detailed and clear but a little more upfront and a bit harsher toward upper mids. They actually reminded me of some of the analytical IEMs I heard in the past, and with a few of my sibilance test tracks it was getting a bit too close to a comfort level. Of course, everything could be corrected with EQ, but I do have to point it out as part of a default sound signature. Treble had a great sparkle to it and was detailed enough. With open back design, the soundstage expanded wider and deeper, and the sound became more airy and 3D. But at the same time, more outside noise was being let in and more sound was leaking out. These are definitely not suited for private listening since everybody around you will be able to hear the song you are playing. But the external sound level would be nowhere near the same level as you would experience on inside with your ears. Low impedance of 32 ohm rating in this case was also not favorable to be driven directly by my Note 2 without using A200p external DAC. Pairing it up with A200p added an amazing level of details, even edging out the performance driven directly from X5. Another interesting phenomenon, while comparing 32 ohm versus 250 ohm pricing on Amazon, 32 ohm version was $100 cheaper - another example of how you can shop around to save money since impedance rating might no longer be a deciding factor driving these cans from your phone.
Here are the pictures of DT990:
Overal, I was very impressed with sound quality, design, and build of both DT880 and DT990. Their latest Premium version is a next step in evolution to fine tune these legendary German engineered headphones to the next level of perfection. They do offer two different sound signatures, for those who enjoy a warmer more intimate sound with DT880 or more revealing brighter and wider sound with DT990. Though designed with 32 ohm driver coil impedance, they both benefit from an external AMP/DAC to bring their sound to a full potential, and this can help in you a decision especially if you are comparing prices between 32 ohm and 250 ohm models. But no matter which model or impedance version you chose, as long as you are not planning to use these in a library or in an environment to drive people around you crazy, you will be very pleased with a comfort and a sound quality of these legendary Beyerdynamic headphones.