While we spend a lot of time reviewing plugins and hardware tools that help you generate sound here on DJBooth Pro Audio, there's no more important element of your studio than the equipment you use to monitor and mix your work; I've learned through experience that the money I invest in my monitoring setup (both headphones and speakers) has a far higher ROI than anything else, as high-quality monitors help me make quicker, more accurate, and more universally translatable decisions while producing, mixing, and mastering.
ROI aside, few things get me more excited than trying out a new pair of ultra high-end headphones. Whereas monitors can sound quite different from room to room due to studio acoustics and treatment, headphones are a more straightforward affair; drive a pair of high end headphones with enough power and you'll hear them the same no matter where you are, whether it's a home studio or a million-dollar professional facility—and this is precisely why they're such a critical part of a well-rounded mixing process, especially if you're on the road and moving around.
While Beyerdynamic might not get quite as much name recognition among consumers as fellow German manufacturer Sennheiser, their name is well-known and highly revered in mixing and mastering engineer circles; needless to say, when they sent us pairs of their flagship DT 1770 PRO and DT 1990 PRO headphones, I was eager to put them to the test against my Sennheiser HD600's, which have been my (and countless engineers) go-to mixing headphones for nearly a decade now. In this review, we'll put the DT 1770 PRO and DT 1990 PRO to the test to see where they rank amongst our favorite headphones for mixing and mastering (hint: very, very high up on the list), as well as explore a few subtle but crucial differences between the two models.
First Impressions and Setup
Both the DT 1770 PRO and DT 1990 PRO come in identical-size packaging and with the same large protective plastic carrying case; opening the case for the first time, I was instantly impressed by the build quality and care that went into crafting these headphones. You know the feeling you get when you open a product that has been meticulously engineered and designed from top to bottom? There's a whole lot of that here. Both models are beautiful to look at, and they're the type of headphones to attract a lot of "whoa, what are those?" questions from artists and engineers who visit our NYC studios.
While both models are quite similar in many regards, the most important difference is also the most obvious once you give them a quick once-over; the DT 1770 PRO is a closed back headphone, suitable for use during vocal recording sessions, while the DT 1990 PRO are open back cans, featuring a beautiful silver mesh and black metal design. All things being equal, open back cans will always give you a higher degree of precision when using the headphone for critical mixing and mastering purposes, as sound is able to escape from the headphone enclosure and dissipate it's energy naturally, resulting in a more transparent and clear picture of what exactly is happening in your mix; since I'm personally quite familiar with Sennheiser's HD600 and 650 units, which are both open-back, I found the DT 1990 PRO to be a bit of an easier direct comparison than the 1770 PRO.
A few other things become readily apparent rather quickly with both models: they are large ****(these are not headphones you'll be walking down the street with), they are beautiful, and they are heavy—not uncomfortably so, but these are definitely not the lightest cans you'll ever use. Despite their substantial weight and size, both models are exceedingly comfortable to wear, especially the DT 1990 PRO's; I place a lot of value on headphone comfort, as the best sounding cans in the world won't help you mix well if you can't stand wearing them for long periods—and the 1990's may be the most comfortable and luxurious feeling headphone I've ever mixed in. I've worn them for hours during mix sessions with no bothersome effects, no overly-warm ear pads, and no ear fatigue—these are truly headphones that allow you to become immersed in your work.
Both the DT 1770 PRO and DT 1990 PRO plugin via an easily-removable cable, making cable customization for true audiophiles a breeze. The included cable not only makes either pair sound great but is seriously durable; I've had a number of issues over the years with my HD600 stock cable wearing down (I know I'm not alone here), leading to multiple replacements—and while I haven't had the DT 1770 PRO and DT 1990 PRO's for long, I'm confident there will not be similar issues here. The supplied cable can be run over by your studio chair, closed on by your studio door hinge, or endure pretty much any other form of cable torture you can fathom without any obvious wear and tear; it's also highly flexible without being overly long thanks to a tightly-coiled design, something I've seen other headphone manufacturers attempt but never pull off this well.
While we're on the topic of first impressions, there's no getting around the real first impression you'll likely have with either model: the price. It's high. Really, really high. At about $600 per pair, these are some of the more expensive mixing and mastering headphones you can find, leaving aside the truly astronomical Sennheiser and AKG models that run $1,500+. Whether or not $600 for a pair of headphones is a sound investment for you is something I can't advise on; what I can say is that if you are supporting yourself by producing or mixing professionally, and you're in the market for the best mixing and mastering cans, I do think you've found it here—they are expensive but worth every penny if quality is what you're after.
Reviewing any monitoring tool—whether studio monitors or headphones—is always a difficult exercise; how do you explain to a reader what exactly something sounds like? We all have different perceptions of adjectives like 'bright', 'bassy', and 'mid-heavy', and in my experience monitoring preferences can vary wildly from producer to producer. I'll do my best here to summarize my experience with both the DT 1770 PRO and DT 1990 PRO, compare them to a few other headphones you're likely to be looking at (or that you've been using for years), and let you come to your own conclusions.
Let's start with the DT 1990 PRO—these have become, bar none, my favorite headphone I've ever worked on. I've been attached at the hip to my HD 600's for almost 10 years now, and I've mixed almost every track I've ever released on them; whether or not they're the absolute best cans in the world, I know them inside and out, and they are really quite brilliant for mixing and producing on, and I didn't think I'd find another headphone to replace them anytime soon. The DT 1990 PRO's, however, did exactly that—they've become my go-to mixing headphones over the last two months, and my headphone mixes are translating substantially better when I return to a studio to check my work on monitors.
The best way I can describe the DT 1990 PRO sound is honest and crisp; the frequency balance is superb, with brilliant but never sibilant highs, a strong midrange, and powerful lows that are the best I've heard in a headphone to date. Kicks and bass punch through with serious snap and impact, and much of the low end that made Beyerdynamic's DT770's famous feels like it's here as well.
The DT 1990 PRO's do a better job of being open, airy, and spacious without flattering the source material than any other headphone I've tried; while they sound great, they're also quite transparent and honest, and if something is mixed incorrectly in your track, you will hear it clearly. The soundstage in the DT 1990 PRO is among the widest I've ever heard in a headphone, and spatially they do a phenomenal job of letting you place elements accurately in the stereo field; reverb tails are clearly defined, delay effects become easier to place in your mix, and working on the DT 1990 PRO feels more like working on monitors than headphones, where the stereo field often feels disconnected between your left and right ears.
A key strength of the DT 1990 PRO, to my ears, is that they manage to be neutral, honest, and yet exciting to listen to; in my experience, many ultra-high-end headphones (those costing $1,000 and up) are clinically accurate but also exceedingly lifeless and boring to listen to, and they make mixing challenging because the music feels sterile, not alive. With the DT 1990 PRO, Beyerdynamic has managed to create a reliable mixing headphone that also is a joy to work on and exceedingly comfortable to wear for long periods of time.
Ultimately, the real test for any monitoring tool is whether or not it actually helps you create mixes that translate more predictably across a range of systems, and the DT 1990 PRO do this masterfully; while I wouldn't want to mix a record entirely on any headphone, the combination of the DT 1990 PRO and my SubPac S2 comes very close to approximating my favorite monitors, and I no longer have the rude awakening I'm used to when playing a headphone mix back on my studio monitors.
Sonically, the DT 1770 PRO offers much of what makes the 1990 great; there's a seriously impressive soundstage, brilliantly punchy and lively transient response, and heaps of low end without muddiness or excessive rumble. Much like the 1990's, the 1770's are also capable of getting seriously loud, with a very high max SPL of 125dB—and they can get extremely loud with minimal distortion, which is a testament to the high-end components and engineering used by Beyerdynamic here. As a closed back headphone, the DT 1770 PRO also do a remarkable job of ambient noise cancellation without ANC—they're built like a tank, and simply putting the headphones on with no signal passing through feels like stepping into a well-treated or isolated environment. While the 1770's are a phenomenal closed-back headphone, they simply can't recreate the über-wide soundstage of the DT 1990 PRO, so those looking for the ultimate mixing and mastering headphone will probably want to opt for the latter. If you're working in live sound or studio recording, however, it's hard to name a rival headphone that offers what the DT 1770 PRO's do, and we'd highly recommend them for either task.
One final note on both models—the DT 1990 PRO and the DT 1770 PRO need some serious juice to be driven properly. While you can run these off of a mobile device or a laptop 1/8'' output, we would highly recommend investing in a better output source, whether that's a high-end audio interface or a dedicated headphone amp. The difference in every attribute of these headphones—soundstage, frequency balance, and overall output quality—is markedly different if they are not being driven properly, as is the case with any serious studio headphone.
In Conclusion/Recommended For
We couldn't have come away from our testing more impressed with the Beyerdynamic DT 1990 PRO and DT 1770 PRO: these are the finest headphones for mixing and mastering that we've found to date, bar none. As a fan of open back designs, I've gravitated more towards the DT 1990 PRO myself, and they've replaced a stable of headphones from other high-end manufacturers in my studio; put simply, I get better, faster, more reliable results using the DT 1990 PRO than any other headphone I've ever mixed on, and they're also the most comfortable high-end mixing headphone I've had the chance to try.
While neither model is cheap at $600 per pair, sometimes you do get what you pay for, and that is certainly the case here—Beyerdynamic has hit a home run with the DT 1990 PRO and DT 1770 PRO, and we'd recommend any engineer or producer looking for an ultra high-end headphone give them a try.
- The most accurate, reliable headphones we've found for mixing and mastering.
- Phenomenal engineering and design; built to last for decades.
- Easily removable and highly flexible stock cable.
- Superb sound quality. Heaps of bass, beautiful highs, and focused mids.