Headphone reviews go like this: everyone disagrees about what’s good, audiophiles go nuts about cable quality. Beyerdynamic released these two hand-assembled headphones at the same price point. How are they?
What are they
The DT 700 Pro X is a closed-ear cup headphone, produced in entirely in Germany. The driver is a 45mm neodymium magnet type, with copper-clad aluminum for its windings.
The CCA was chosen because it is lighter-weight than pure copper, while retaining the conductivity traits of copper. The headphone band, the part that holds the cup to the band while allowing it to rotate, and the cup are all made of metal, for superior durability.
The hand assembly is interesting: each 45mm voice coil is modular, and snaps into the ear cup. The ear cushions are hand installed. The voice coils and headphone are serialized so that the manufacturing process can pinpoint when they were assembled, hand tested by the assembler, and used for QC and warranty issues.
The cable connection uses a 3 pin connector with a release catch button, not unlike a miniaturized form of XLR.
DT 900 Pro X is the same headphone, with the same modules, same cable connector, same hand-assembly, and an open-ear cup.
Who are they for?
The DT 700 Pro X are said to be for DJing, recording and monitoring. The 900 are said to be for critical listening, mixing, and mastering. The sense I get from Beyerdynamic’s targeting is that the 900 are going to be more accurate.
Just by their closed back nature, the 700 Pro X are going to reduce external noise. It should come as no surprise that the same voice coil modules, in nearly identical enclosures, sound about the same in a listening environment that isn’t overwhelmed with unwanted noise.
How do I listen
Every audio reviewer has their own rituals, their own collection of songs, and their own way of listening. I’m going to lay out mine, so that you can decide whether or not to trust me as a reviewer.
First, and this is horrible, I make sure my ears are clean. Ears produce ear wax. Ear wax both blocks the ear canal, or waxes up the follicles that make hearing work. Obviously, I don’t clean my ears daily, but before listening seriously about a product that I want to evaluate, this seems only responsible. I apologize for grossing you all out.
Secondly, I select some music. Norah Jones’s “Don’t Know Why”, Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”, Gary Clark Jr. & Junkie XL’s cover of The Beatles’ “Come Together”. I’ll also add a few other songs that catch my ear from time to time.
Thirdly, I listen to some test tones. I have 40Hz, 1000 Hz, and a sweep from 28Hz to 780Hz. I also listen to a sweep from 8kHz to 22kHz. No, I can’t hear 22kHz. No one can, really.
What I want to know is, can a system produce a balanced response from both low and high frequencies, where it starts to get quieter in either of those ranges, and if it’s able to reproduce staccato notes in these ranges. It’s one thing to be able to produce a sound, another to be able to reproduce it crisply.
The problem with trying to describe audio with words is, while words mean mostly the same thing to you and I, we may hear the same thing and describe it differently.
Additionally, people have different goals for different listening environments and music. Car AV nerds frequently want to get loud, with lots of bass, and are willing to compromise sound quality to get there. (Some will say sound quality is a priority, but if we’re honest, the car is full of tradeoffs: tire noise, road noise, wind noise, non-optimal seating position, non-optimal speaker position… it’s challenging.)
If you’re listening to bass-heavy music, listening with headphones that have an even frequency response may not be as pleasurable as listening with ones that have a bass-heavy response. Some of this is subjective. Hell, much of it is subjective.
My preference is to listen using an even frequency response and then go from there.
A word on specifications
Historically, specifications lie. The biggest of all lies are specs that list watts, or peak watts, without listing watts RMS.
The second biggest lie is frequency response, where specs list 20-20kHz, knowing that the device can’t reproduce anything below 50 without significant volume drop-off.
Beyerdynamic lists the DT 900 Pro X with a frequency response of 5 Hz to 40 kHz. And no, no one is really hearing 5 Hz, or anything above 20 kHz. Honestly, if you listen to a lot of music loudly, you may have hearing loss and have an even harder time with frequencies nearing 20 kHz.
Norah Jones, “Don’t know why” is a great track, with distinct bass notes, piano, and high-range voice. In the middle, there are some subtle guitar notes that are low in the mix. I’ve found that lesser headphones don’t really show the guitar notes.
Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an exhibition” is a whole work, not a specific piece. But the Gnomus as arranged by Vladimir Ashkenazy is a great one, and has dynamic range. Bombastic trumpets followed by flute, huge dynamic range, everything echoing the same motif, with woodwinds taking over the secondary phrase, and percussive hits. There’s bass, there’s treble, there’s soft, there’s loud. It’s got everything, and you none of it competes – much of the instruments are playing the same melody, so you can hear what the headphones are capable of.
Gary Clark Jr. & Junkie XL “Come Together” is a guilty pleasure. Take a great song, and open it with an airy alto line fading between left and right, then follow with a hot bass line doubled in octaves, and a guitar that imitates Jimi Hendrix. Add vocal harmonies. It blows my mind, early and often.
Devices used: The MacBook Pro 2014 with FLAC lossless tracks, connected to the 3.5mm jack. The iPhone 12, connected to the CEntrance HiFi-M8 v2 DAC. (Using the balanced and unbalanced outputs made no difference. This is expected in this case.) The same FLAC lossless tracks were used on the iPhone as with the computer. Hi-Res ALAC at 24-bit 192kHz was also used, for the same tracks, just to see if a difference was noticeable.
What I heard
Here’s the part where you disbelieve me, call me names, call my ancestors names, call their ancestors-ancestors names, and throw out anything I have to say.
The Beyerdynamic DT 700 Pro X and DT 900 Pro X sound flat and thin. To paraphrase Stephen Sondheim as sung by Bernadette Peters, “they’re not good, they’re not bad, they’re just nice”.
When listening to them across all of the tracks and tones, they reproduced them. The tones were reproduced evenly, but not impressively.
As I listen to tracks, it’s important to separate how I enjoy the track from how it sounds. These tracks were picked both because I like listening to them, I’m familiar with them, and because I’ll subjectively hear when I’m disappointed in how they are rendered.
When listening to the tracks, one of the things that was uniform was that they reproduced the tracks, but the bass sounded weaker, and the treble didn’t resonate. The guitar in “Don’t Know Why” was the level as the piano, and didn’t really seem present. Its role in the song is to provide transitional phrases, accompanying the piano.
Pictures at an Exhibition’s Gnomus lacks the soul-grabbing bombast that the horns are known for when the whole orchestra crescendos, at about a minute in. When I’m listening to these pieces, they grab me by the shoulders and shake me, demanding my attention. Beyerdynamic’s rendering of them is precise, and on their own merit, pretty good. But not great.
“Come Together” has a specific guitar tone, and it’s just not right over the Beyerdynamic. It’s more thin and nasal, not as full a tone. Just for fun, I added some more songs to the mix. “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley, and “Bellbottoms” by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. The guitar hit in Bellbottoms just sounds like a *honk* *splat* sound. “Crazy” almost sounds alright.
Where the Beyerdynamic really shine is listening to music recorded live. Live recordings present challenges: the environment isn’t perfect, the microphone placement isn’t perfect, there’s audience noise, and the room or stadium isn’t amazing, either. Live recordings tend to be boomy. The Beyerdynamic cut the worst of the audience noise and bass, making it more listenable.
How are they, besides the sound?
The assembly is excellent. I feel like they’re going to survive years of handling without breaking. The metal swivel and Y that hold the ear cup to the headband is robust.
The ear pads are soft and comfortable. They both seal the ear cup to the head, and are well-cushioned.
The headband is springy, and too tight for my head. They amount of pressure that it places on the ear cups is just too much. Beyerdynamic specifies this as 5.3 newtons of force. It’s just a lot, and makes me want to take the headphones off relatively quickly after putting them on. Stretching the band out helps a little.
The cable uses a 3 conductor round connector, like a miniaturized XLR, but not. There’s a button to release the cable from the ear cup for removal. On both the 900 and the 700 headphones, the first time you try and remove the cable, it’s nearly impossible. Pressing the button, and pushing sideways on the connector away from the button, and then pulling with enough force that you’d think you’re going to break it will cause it to come out. Subsequent attempts to remove it get easier… mostly. A few tries out of ten still require that extra force. It’s not a good feeling on precision-made headphones.
The Beyerdynamic DT900 ProX and DT700 ProX are well made. They’re well constructed. They function, but the audio doesn’t inspire. The ear pads are comfortable, but the headband makes the headphones uncomfortable. And, I hurt my hands trying to remove the cable that doesn’t remove easily. It’s possible that I’m spoiled, but for $299 I want a little more. Beyerdynamic.com