Beyerdynamic DT 880 Premium 250-Ohm Headphone Review - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

 
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Beyerdynamic DT 880 Premium 250-Ohm Headphone Review

Beyerdynamic DT 880 Premium 250-Ohm Headphone Review

by Wayne Myers
AudiocRaver




MSRP: $365.00
Street Price: $349
Currently available from Amazon and Full Compass

Go to the Headphone Roundup Overview for scoring and comparison details.

Go to the Beyerdynamic DT 880 Review discussion thread.

Introduction

Audio companies that make precision microphones and headphones belong to a special category in my mind. The production of instruments like these demands a special kind of engineering attention to detail that sets them apart. Beyerdynamic is one I have long admired, and I looked forward to reviewing their DT 880 Premium headphones. These are the first Beyerdynamic headphones I have had the pleasure of listening to, and as a result my assessment of the company has moved a solid couple of notches higher.


Description

The DT 880s are high-end headphones meant for critical listening. They come with a luxury leather carrying case, an informative instruction book with details about the company and the products they make, the headphones, and a screw-on 1/4-inch adapter. The design is simple, made for comfort and made to be reasonably resilient for use in a home listening environment. The cable is straight, single-sided, coming out of the left earpiece as usual. The metal parts have a brushed aluminum finish, and the overall look is functional and simple, not flashy. The DT 880s were not made to knock you out with their looks. Their sound is another story.

A couple of points need to be noted about selection options. First of all, the DT 880s are available in two versions, the Premium in this review, and a Pro version which costs about $100 less. The Premium version is also referred to as DT 880 Edition. The product carton I received was printed with "DT 880 Premium Stereo Headphone," and had a stick-on label on the side with "DT 880 Edition."

According to Beyerdynamic's website, the Pro version is made for studio and front-of-house applications, is built tougher with thicker headband padding, and has a "compressed" sound more suited to the volumes required for those applications. The Premium version is said to have a more open, natural sound. Based on this description, the Premiums were the clear choice for this evaluation. I have not heard the Pros, but "open and natural" describes the Premiums well, and I would be hesitant to sacrifice those qualities for increased listening volume or for a lower price.

Another selection option is that there are three impedances available, 32 ohm, 250 ohm, and 600 ohm. I can imagine the pressure that was felt by the engineers who were first presented with the challenge, "Design a no-compromise high-end headphone with three available impedances and sensitivity levels, and make all three models sound the same." The voice coil design, the type, shape, and gauge of the coil wire, its resistance, the way the coil is wound, these and numerous related variables are critical to the way a headphone will end up sounding. Having to vary those design parameters to get a different impedance and sensitivity and not change the sound significantly would have engineers grumbling at the water cooler.

The reason for offering those different models, however, is good marketing. The 32-ohm model is sensitive enough for portable devices. The 250-ohm model has a higher damping factor for tighter transducer control. This makes it harder to drive, so it needs either an AVR headphone output or, ideally, a solid headphone amp. The 600-ohm model is intended for use with headphone amplifiers that have a higher output impedance, like tube models.

Here are links to the Beyerdynamic website, and to the DT 880 brochure.

Features

The Beyerdynamic website contains a wealth of information about their products, the design choices made for them, and the theories behind those design choices. The DT 880s were designed using diffused-field equalization principles, meaning they are modeled to present sounds as we would hear them in a highly reflective environment. The result is an open, natural soundstage especially suited for acoustical instruments and orchestra. It works just fine for rock 'n roll though, too.

These headphones are very comfortable. As I first put them on, I was reminded of once shopping for a suit, trying on different brands, coming upon a pricier but higher-quality suit, and immediately feeling, " Oh, yeah, that's the one." The headband has adequate thickness and fits across the crown of the head just right. The earpieces are thick and super plushy. I noticed right off that the inner surface of the right earpiece barely touched the surface of my ear, but not on the left side. The phones were reversed to verify that the asymmetry was in my own construction, not that of the headphones. This was the case.

A couple of times in either placing them on or taking them off, there was a creak from the hinge joint on one side. This was only a minor curiosity, it never occurred while the headphones were in use. Construction is rugged enough for home use; for demanding applications, the Pro model appears to be built tougher.

Features
Features
  • Semi-open back design
  • Rugged headband construction
  • Single-sided cable
  • Soft headband pad
  • Excellent sound location
  • Gold-plated 1/8" mini stereo jack plug (3.5 mm) and 1/4" adapter (6.35 mm)
  • Made in Germany



Specifications

The frequency response curve for the DT 880s suggests what I call the "Scooped" profile, with a scoop, or dip, in the curve that bottoms out between 3 and 5 kHz, then rises back to the nearly flat level at 8 kHz, rolling off beyond. The bass side of the curve extends smoothly down to almost 20 Hz before falling off a mere 3 dB, promising deep low-frequency extension. The overall shape of the measured curve looks quite smooth, and that is the way they sound.

The purpose of the Scooped profile is to be easier on the ears in their most sensitive range, around 3 kHz, while preserving detail above that, in the 7 to 10 kHz range. The risk is always that too much will be lost in that frequency dip, and the upper midrange will sound dead. This was all accomplished just right in design of the the DT 880s. That dip in the frequency response allows you to move in close to the music without it becoming overbearing. More on this later.

The nominal 250-ohm impedance varies between 230 ohms and 300 ohms, so a low-impedance drive is needed for best performance. I always recommend having a headphone amplifier with near-zero output impedance (1 ohm or lower). Distortion specs are quite good; only on extreme test tracks was clarity less than first-rate.

Specifications
Frequency Response of the Beyerdynamic DT 880 Premium 250-Ohm Model



Beyerdynamic's Technical Specifications

Transducer type. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Dynamic
Operating principle. . . . . . . . . . . . . . Semi-open
Frequency response. . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 - 35,000 Hz
Nominal impedance . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32 O / 250 O / 600 O
Nominal SPL. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 96 dB
T.H.D.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . < 0.2%
Power handling capacity . . . . . . . . . 100 mW
Sound coupling to the ear . . . . . . . . Circumaural
Nominal headband pressure . . . . . . approx. 2.8 N
Cable length and type . . . . . . . . . . . 3 m / straight cable
Connection. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Gold-plated 1/8" mini stereo jack plug (3.5 mm) and 1/4" adapter (6.35 mm)
Weight without cable. . . . . . . . . . . . 290 g

General Impressions

The Beyerdynamic DT 880 Premium 250 ohm headphones sound fabulous! They scored extremely well in all categories, and listening was simply a treat. Track hopping turned into full album sessions which went on for hours at a time. This evaluation experience goes down as a new favorite on my list of headphone listening experiences. The frequency response goes deep into the bass, is strong but never overemphasized, the mids and highs are smooth, and the dip in the upper-mid frequencies only drew attention to itself on a few tracks, but never enough to be annoying or distracting.

They run clean and smooth, really shining on vocals and acoustical instruments and orchestra. They perform just as well on rock tracks. Their unassuming look might give the impression that they are nothing special, but their sound will quickly tell you otherwise.


Individual Test Scores

Measurement Methods

Go to the Headphone Roundup Overview for scoring and comparison details.

Imaging
  • Test Scores
    • Very-High-Frequency: 10
    • High-Frequency: 10
    • General: 10
  • Weighted average (x1, x1, x2): 10.0
  • Weighting in Overall Performance Score: x2
Soundstage
  • Test Scores
    • Bluegrass track: 10
    • Funk Band track: 10
  • Average: 10.0
  • Weighting in Overall Performance Score: x2
Clarity
  • Test Scores
    • Cymbal, loud track: 8
    • Bass, loud track: 9
    • Cymbal, quiet track: 10
    • Cymbal, loud track: 8
    • Strings, loud track: 10
  • Average: 9.0
  • Weighting in Overall Performance Score: x2
Speed
  • Test Scores
    • Deep bass track: 10
    • Lows track: 10
    • Mids track: 10
    • Upper-mids track: 10
    • Highs track: 10
  • Average: 10.0
  • Weighting in Overall Performance Score: x2
Frequency Response
  • Frequency Response Profile: Scooped
  • Test Scores
    • Deep bass track: 10
    • Lows track: 10
    • Mids track: 10
    • Upper-mids track: 10
    • Highs track: 10
  • Average: 10.0
  • Weighting in Overall Performance Score: x4
Overall Listening Experience
  • Score: 10
  • Weighting in Overall Performance Score: x4

Listening Tests

Imaging: 10.0 - Imaging with the DT 880s is as good as I have ever heard with headphones, giving a sense of reach-out-and-touch reality to acoustical performances. Never was there a hint of smearing, never a sense of broadness or vagueness, all imaging was distinct and precise.

Soundstage: 10.0 - The soundstage is open, wide, thoroughly relaxed and natural. The sensation of the soundstage moving out of the head and in front of you is fully convincing.

Clarity: 9.0 - Not quite perfect, but very good. On heavy rock tracks with cymbals, those delicate individual cymbal tones could get slightly fuzzy. The DT 880s handled the loud orchestral string test passage wonderfully with no sense of harshness, taking advantage of that upper-mid-frequency dip.

Speed: 10.0 - The DT 880s handled these test tracks admirably. Published square-wave response plots show ringing to be average for high-end headphones, and I never heard any lack of snappiness while listening.

Frequency Response: 10.0 - Frequency response is very smooth, with excellent deep bass extension, a good sense of detail in the high frequencies, and just enough of that scoop, or dip, in the upper mids to avoid harshness with the volume turned up.


Track Hopping

Once I realized how nice the DT 880s sound, there was very little track hopping. Many albums were listened to end-to-end. The first, Cosmic Thing by the B-52s, was chosen because of its clean, simple recording style, its mix of male and female vocals, and the variety of instrumentation. The resonances of drums were felt as much as heard. Cymbal crashes were bright and clear, crisp and clean, with impact. The soundstage was wide and effortlessly natural.

On The Tubes' Love Bomb album, it became apparent how nicely the DT 880s handle vocals. The airy quality of close-up vocals really stood out. Drum resonances seemed to be bottomless and detailed enough to show the dimensions of the individual drums.

Joni Mitchell's Blue album ends up being included in every one of my listening tests. Her voice was still very young and fresh at the time of its recording, and the small-ensemble acoustical arrangements match the intimacy of the way her voice was recorded. That vocal airiness added to the feeling of closeness to her as she sang. I could almost see right down her throat at times.

At this point, the sense of intimacy of these headphones became crystal clear. The ability to move in close, closer, really close to the performance, where private details are revealed, with no sense of harshness, was nothing short of delightful. The acoustical instruments were right there within arms' reach. This kind of listening demands the use of FLACs or lossless files, as so much of that detail is contained in the frequencies that get compressed out of MP3s.

The only potential problem with hearing that kind of detail is being able to hear compressors pumping, a buzz in the piano action, imperfections in your favorite tunes that you might not want to know about. I love the sense of reality it gives you. And there are discoveries to be made. I did not realize that "California" had such an interesting drumbeat before.

This album sounded so beautiful on the DT 880s that I listened to it end-to-end twice in a row, and two more times later on. The DT 880s were made for this album. I could picture a boxed set of the two together.

On Beth Nielsen Chapman's "Beyond the Blue," the deep, thumping low drum could be felt in the chest, those low frequencies making their way through the head and air passages clear down into the lungs. This was also the case with the deep stand-up bass tones on "Glory Bound" by the Wailin' Jennys. Nice. The low-frequency extension and smoothness really stood out on these tracks. Other tracks on Chapman's Sand and Water album, as well as the tracks on Handsome Moves by the Peach Kings, also with well-recorded female vocals, kept bringing that word intimacy to mind.

You know you have been smitten by a set of speakers or headphones when you find yourself tuning into music that you normally do not listen to, simply because you know it will sound really good on them. There were tracks to be enjoyed by Lucinda Williams, Little Big Town, and Shania Twain, mainly to hear how their voices sounded on the DT 880s, and none were disappointing.

For a change of pace, the Rev. Horton Heat's "Galaxy 500," a dose of barely-contained psychobilly chaos, gave the DT 880s a chance to show how balanced they could sound with driving drums, distorted guitar, deep standup bass, and a strong male singing voice.

Listening to Todd Rundgren's Healing album was the first time I noted any shyness in those upper-mid frequencies. Some brighter guitar and synthesizer sounds were pulled back in the mix by that scoop. The effect was noted and quickly forgotten. Higher register bells and triangles were not affected.

At this point it was becoming apparent that having different headphones specifically for different kinds of music could be a lot of fun. The DT 880s held their own on other rock tracks, only occasionally feeling slightly subdued. Each time, the effect was noted but never distracting. The voicing of the DT 880s was so perfect on so many tracks that it was impossible to subtract points for that upper-mid dip. To me it is a carefully calculated design choice, not a design deficiency or error.

Symphony number seven, by Beethoven (F. Reiner, Chicago Symphony), all four movements, gave me another chance to see how close I could get to the action. With the volume up, it felt like I was standing right beside the Maestro, the soundstage wide, relaxed, and natural, the imaging precise, and details apparent that you would not hear from out in the seats. The tap of a fingernail, the crackle of a page turn, the hint of scratchiness of violin bowing up close, the little collisions and frictions involved in playing an instrument, these occasional little reality sounds could be heard from this vantage point, not distracting from the performance but giving it a human quality. More than once one of those sounds had me looking around to see if it had been made by something in my room.

The strings sounded beautiful, never shrill even at high volume. I noticed a little solo melodic handoff from oboe to flute to clarinet to bassoon that had never caught my attention before. Thumps of the double basses were felt deep in the chest. A timpani strike had me turning my head for a look, and the finale with all the strings being plucked at once had me seeing individual fingertips on strings. Each instrument's location throughout was imaged with the precision that temps the psycho-acoustical brain to believe you have been transported somewhere else.

After a listen-through of the complete Symphony, a replay of the second movement with the volume turned very low allowed the DT 880s to show how dynamic they could be. Even with the quieter passages at the edge of hearing perception, there was no sense of anything being lost, rather the movement seemed fully dynamic even at that level.

The DT 880s had no trouble handling rock 'n roll. Radiohead's Amnesiac album had some previously hidden imperfections to show, but the new details heard in the jazz band on "Life In A Glasshouse" made it feel like a freshly-found tune.

The prominent and well-miced cymbals on Around the Fur (Deftones), Undertow (Tool) , and Dancing Undercover (Ratt) give plenty more chances to test for clarity. Only when running well into the upper 90 dB SPL zone was there any hint of the complex cymbal tones beginning to lose some clarity, and even then they still sounded pretty good. Even the density of Meshuggah's Nothing did not phase the DT 880s' ability to resolve detail and image with sparkling clarity.

Porcupine Tree provided the finale. Their Deadwing album is such a favorite that it is only played on special occasions, and I had to hear it on the DT 880s. Porcupine Tree's music covers a range of styles and sounds and levels of heaviness. They are more dynamic than most rock bands, even those in the Progressive genre. "Arriving Somewhere But Not Here" is a prime example, and with the DT 880s you can turn up the volume to move in close on the quieter passages and have it remain comfortable through the metal-heavy parts moments later.

The string crescendo in, "Collapse The Light Into Earth, " an excellent recording by rock standards, gets a little shrill at its loudest due to compression and clipping, but the DT 880s' frequency response profile attenuated that shrillness and made it barely noticeable.
Overall Listening Experience: 10 - I almost felt guilty not being able to find anything to complain about with the DT 880s. As mentioned, the upper-mid-frequency dip was apparent on a few tracks, but never really detracted from their enjoyment.

Non-Listening Scores

Comfort: 10 - Comfort is second to none. You can wear these all day and forget you have them on. The tightness level is just right to keep them in place without excessive pressure.

Design: 9 - The design is adequate for home use. The provided carrying case has enough padding that a drop onto bare concrete would not have you concerned. The occasional creak in one hinge was a curiosity, but not really a concern about reliability or possible breakage, and it never made noise during listening. They are easy to put on, easy to adjust, and will stay in place with normal movement. They are more compact than many high-end headphones. They do not fold, but collapsed down to about as small a size as you could hope for with its design, the two ear pads fitting snugly together.
Overall Performance Score: 9.8 out of 10

Other Factors - not part of the Overall Performance Score
  • $100 reference headphone: No
  • Drivable with portable media devices: No. The 32-ohm model should be, but was not tested. The 250 ohm and 600 ohm models need plenty of drive level, plan on a headphone amplifier.
  • Usable without equalization: Yes
  • Isolation (if closed design): n.a.


Conclusions

By now you have figured it out. I fell in love with the DT 880s. There were times during the scoring when I felt like I should take a point off here or there out of principle, to not seem like a soft reviewer, but I could not do so with honesty.

Other reviewers have taken off points for the scoop in the upper-mid frequencies. I recognize it as a design choice. Some headphones are designed to have heavy bass for those who like it. To penalize them for having stronger bass would be like declaring that there is only one way to enjoy listening with headphones, a silly notion. There you go, I am a liberal in this regard, thus the frequency response profiles and categories used in this scoring method. For the Scooped frequency response category that the DT 880s are designed to occupy, I cannot imagine it having been accomplished more expertly.

While the 32-ohm and 600-ohm models were not tested, Beyerdynamic hints that the 600-ohm version sounds very much the same as the one tested, while the 32-ohm version provides stronger bass.

The Beyerdynamic DT 880 Premium 250-ohm headphones are not for the budget conscious. They are in good company at the $350 price point, where discounts are hard to find, so I have to call them a good value regardless of the serious dent they will put in your A/V gear fund. I highly recommend the DT 880s for your consideration, especially if your listening tastes favor vocals and acoustical instruments. They handle rock 'n roll just fine, too, and let you push the volume a lot further than you normally might with other headphones or with speakers. Watch those SPL levels and please keep your precious hearing safe.

The Pros:
  • Sound great with any style of music, particularly well-suited for vocals and acoustical instruments
  • Allow intimate close-up listening without harshness
  • Laser sharp imaging; wide, natural soundstage
  • Very comfortable design, good for long listening sessions
  • Leather carrying and storage case
The Cons:
  • A headphone amplifier or AVR is needed to drive them to a good listening volume

Performance Summary and Overall Performance Score
  • Imaging: 10.0
  • Soundstage: 10.0
  • Clarity: 9.0
  • Speed: 10.0
  • Frequency Response: 10.0 (Scooped Profile)
  • Overall Listening Experience: 10
  • Comfort: 10
  • Design: 9
  • MSRP: $365.00
  • Street Price: $349
  • Overall Performance Score: 9.8 out of 10

Go to the Headphone Roundup Overview for scoring and comparison details.

Go to the Beyerdynamic DT 880 Review discussion thread.

by Wayne Myers
AudiocRaver




Last edited by AudiocRaver; 03-21-13 at 06:08 AM.
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