BEYERDYNAMIC DT 1770PRO & DT 1990PRO HEADPHONES
Jez Ford puts an award-winning pair of headphones through their paces, plus compares them to the closed-head-shell version of the same design.
Beyerdynamic’s DT 1990 Pro headphones won a 2017 Sound+Image Award but they’re a similar design to the DT 1770 Pro, which has closed headshells rather than the semi-open headshells of the award-winners. ‘ Would we like to compare the two models side by side?’, asked Beyerdynamic’s Australian ditributor, Synchronised Technology ( aka Syntec). Yes indeed we would—the 1770 builds upon a classic design, and the interesting contrast between similar closed and open designs turned out to be a task made still more pleasurable by their inclusion of a neat little headphone amp with which we could drive them, Beyerdynamic’s own A20, which retails in Australia for $999.
An interesting side-effect of ever-pricier consumer headphones is that professional headphones, which used to be rather more expensive, now aren’t. We often like the balance of such models—pro headphones are unlikely to fake up the bass or provide some superficially pleasing EQ, given they’re for longterm studio use, for mixing and mastering, so accuracy is a key goal. We don’t mind headphones delivering a subtle bass lift, but on the whole, accuracy is, as in all things in hi-fi, a worthy goal.
The drivers in both headphones use the company’s latest iteration of ‘Tesla’ driver technology, a neodymium magnet mounted as a ring encircling the coil, rather than the usual arrangement where the magnet sits at the centre. This allows an effectively larger magnet to deliver more powerful drive, along with lower flux losses, which the company says can be used to deliver either more power and impact, or a higher level of detail, depending on how the headphone is engineered.
The award-winning DT 1990 Pros first, then—as with all the company’s professional studio models the DT 1990 Pros are still ‘handcrafted in Germany’, and listed by Beyerdynamic under ‘Professional/Studio’, yet perfectly suited to use by consumers at home. They’re open, and with 250-ohm impedance not so suited to mobile use unless you’re adding a decent portable headphone amp. They come with a large solid case, two sets of earpads, and two cables—one straight and five metres long, one coiled and three metres long. These connect to the left earphone with a locking mini-XLR with a small button to unlock them—quick but sturdy, perfect for studio use. The inclusions with the DT 1770 Pro are identical.
The DT 1990 Pros open up a mix beautifully, with the airy sense of space that a closed headphone can (almost) never achieve. They’re highly revealing, showing up the hot reverb effect on the right-channel piano string slides during the opening of The Doors’ L.A. Woman, or the sense of the hall when Keith Jarrett stomps his foot during his Köln concert recording. While the 45mm drivers deliver all of this sparkle up top, they also manage a rapid and rich bass, achieving the full swelling bassline of Bowie’s Blackstar while still snapping those bizarre beats cleanly. They’re a delight across genres, and deliver a great sound for this price.
Switching directly to the other model does the DT 1770 Pros a disservice, as the comparison highlights their closed nature dramatically. Take a long break before judging them on their own merits. They delivered a powerful driving sound, and perhaps a more accurate if less exuberant version of the truth, keeping a tight focus on individual elements. So if those Doors piano strings didn’t have quite the openness to their acoustic, there was no lack of ting to the ride cymbal, and the bass was solid as a rock, full but sharp-edged. They roared through our usual test tracks, delivering the delicacy and resolving power required for kd lang’s The Air That I Breathe, the bass again full, the right-channel brushes delightfully tactile, her vocal just a fraction light and recessed—there seemed a small dip in response around middle C. Leonard Cohen’s wideband vocal, on the other hand, was enormous on Going Home, and almost too well underpinned on Tower of Song. Classical music was handled with accuracy and dynamic lift, though here our preference was for the ambience and openness of the DT 1990s. Still, several of our listeners—notably those with studio experience—were firm in their preference for the contained accuracy of the closed model.
We did try them directly into a mobile device, and they performed well enough, but with less sense of power in reserve, and certainly lower levels than a noisy commute might require.
In the home, then, for sheer pleasure, we’d take the DT 1990 Pro. But the closed model is another fine performer, and if you’re unable to spill sound willy-nilly, in a shared space or an office where you can keep a headphone amp, or if you need a good flat analytic musical tool, the DT 1770 Pro may be your go-to. Jez Ford