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Meet the DT 860s, a pair of open-backed over-ear headphones from Beyerdynamic.

First up is a glance at the speaker element of the , pictured below. It is guarded by a thin foam padding that can be wiped down should you expel large quantities of bio waste.

Here are the open backs of the s, protected on the outside by a smallish black plastic grate. Keep in mind that these leave the sensitive electronics on the inside more or less exposed to environmental hazards, so you must take great care to not put them in a situation in which they are likely to be damaged.

The band of the s is made of a thick plastic, and a small yet rigid padding, and meets the ear cups with a swivel point that allows the cups a great range of motion.

Dropping from the left ear cup is the 9.6-foot long cable of the , ending in a straight 1/8th inch plug.

The straight 1/8th inch plug of the has a very thick rubber casing, making it sturdy enough to handle daily use. Included in the packaging is an adapter for home audio systems requiring a 1/4th inch connection.

The lone cord guard of the seems sturdy enough, as it's relatively the same one used by the super high-end Beyerdynamic over-ear models as well.

Upon opening your package, you'll discover the s, a rather bulky-looking carrying case, and a 1/4th inch adapter for high-end home audio systems.

Despite their open backs leaving their electronics more or less bare to the elements, the s are fairly durable. At any potential breaking point, they adequately protect their components, and they're made of a somewhat more robust plastic than most headphones. These cans will withstand you if you use them in their intended environment.

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Beyerdynamic is not exactly known for its wild and cutting-edge designs, but that's really okay. These headphones have a very standard look to them, but at this price range, you're not buying to be seen: you're buying to listen.

Here we see the beauty on the inside of the s. No, it's not just a line these headphones tell themselves when they don't snare their dream date: they actually deliver where it counts. For the vast majority of frequencies tested, they managed to maintain a response that was very flat, and didn't underemphasize or overemphasize anything too much, minus some higher harmonics. Oddly enough though (and really, this is the only blemish we thought worthy of mention), the s do have a giant swing throughout the range that sibilants (s, sh sounds, the upper end of cymbal shimmer) live in, so you may hear some really bizarre shifts in volume only in those very specific frequencies. However, chances are good that you will never ever hear that shift.

A thing of beauty, the DT 860 does not over or under-emphasize many frequencies over each other, though there is a decent bit of variance in the high end.

Click here for more information on our frequency response test.

The s aren't distortion-free, but they don't seem to have any issues here.

Virtually non-existent distortion. Certainly not audible.

Click here for more information on our frequency response test.

The s aren't perfect in their tracking response, but that doesn't mean that they disappoint here. On the contrary: they maintain an even channel preference, and don't really swing more than 2dB on either side except for one very short range of frequencies. You won't hear this.

Near-perfect, the tracking errors are so minor as to be inaudible.

Click here for more information on our frequency response test.

Before continuing onward here, it's worthy of note that open-backed headphones like the s by their very design do not isolate well, and that's no accident. With closed-back headphones, it's possible to get tiny echoes from sound reflecting off the back of the casing, but with open headphones, this not only cannot happen, but you also gain a wide-open soundstage that doesn't make you feel like your ears are underwater.

Consequently, the s do not isolate you from the outside world. Observe: these cans only blocked out a little bit of high-frequency sound.

These cans just do not block out any appreciable level of outside noise.

Click here for more information on our isolation test.

With open backs also come big leakage. Though this result isn't too surprising, be aware that if you have someone next to you, they will probably hear what you're listening to pretty well.

Click here for more information on our leakage test.

The s have a maximum usable volume of 114.5dB before it outputs more than 3% total distortion. While it's nice that they can do that in theory, we strongly advise you NOT to test this out for yourself, as you will damage your hearing. Really, if you're going to be using these at home, like you should be, you will never need to push these cans to that volume.

Click here for more on our maximum usable volume test

Probably the biggest glaring shortcoming of these headphones (and there are not many flaws) is comfort. Though Beyerdynamic usually impresses in this arena, the s seem to want to pop your eyeballs out of your skull if your head is big enough. If you're lucky and can adjust the band to fit, they will grip your head firmly, but the plush padding will allay much of the force of the clamping effect.

Over time you get used to the feel of the headphones on your skull, so long as you make sure the band isn't tight on your head, as the smallish padding can dig in quite a bit.

Unless you decide to paint them yourself (editor's note: don't actually do that), there is nothing you can do to customize your s. The only option you really have to change their appearance or functionality is to employ the 1/4th inch adapter for home theater systems or amplifiers. That's about it.

Extending 9.6 feet, the cable of the is robust, ending in a 1/8th inch plug. The plug is then in turn guarded by a super-thick casing. Also interesting about the plug is that it is threaded to allow you to screw on the adapter and not accidentally pull the plug and adapter apart when you disconnect your headphones from whatever you have them plugged into.

These cans were not made for walking, so that's just not what they'll do. Seriously though, even though there is a carrying case, they weren't meant to brave the elements, as even high humidity could work its way into the ear cups via the open backs. This is a huge problem, because that would mean that the electronics of your s would be exposed to water. No good.

The s are simple enough to maintain, as you can remove the element guarding the speaker, and the ear pads are removable for easy cleaning.

As you can see, both the DT 990 PROs and the s are extremely similar in design. They are both open-backed headphones with very similar appearances and features, right down to the band and colors.

Both headphones are extremely similar in terms of frequency response, though the DT 990 PROs don't have the same swing in the sibilance range that the s do. The s do manage to have a flatter response throughout the bass frequencies though, so users looking for a more even response may prefer the .

Neither set of cans has an issue with distortion, but the DT 990 PROs have less.

Both headphones have their minor issues in tracking, but overall both do very well.

Neither set of cans was designed to isolate you from the outside world.

Having pairs of both at the office, we're going to posit that the DT 990 PROs have a little better comfort, if only because they don't squeeze your head as tightly as the s. Still, different people have different heads, so give each a shot before deciding on which to buy if you narrow it down to these two.

It's tough to decide between these two, as each are exceptionally good headphones. Though it's true that the s don't score as well in some categories, the differences between the two are so relatively minor that the human ear will have a hard time discerning the difference between the two. Because both are so close in price point at the moment, this comparison may come down to simple aesthetic or comfort preferences, so as cliche as it sounds, this one is entirely up to you. You can't go wrong with either here.

Each of these cans are built around different design philosophies, and it shows even at a first glance: the s prize function over form, while the opposite is true for the Beats Pros. Though they are primarily designed to turn heads, the Beats Pros have closed backs, which have the tendency to echo a bit sometimes while listening, while the s suffer from no such shortcoming. Still, this does make them more durable, so if you need your cans to go into the outside world, the Beats are closer to what you'd want.

Absolutely no contest here, the s blow the Beats Pros right out of the water. Though neither strayed too far from our ideal limits, the Beats Pros have an unreasonably high emphasis on bass frequencies and erratic response, where the s have a beautifully flat response for most of the bass and mid tones. To add insult to injury, the s are much closer to the "studio quality" the Beats Pros advertise than the Beats themselves.

Neither set of cans had a problem with distortion, but the Beats Pros technically have more.

Neither pair of headphones have a perfect response, but nothing you'll notice in your listening.

This is probably the largest departure in performance here: where the Beats Pros are closed-backed over-ears, the s are open, so the Beyerdynamics do not attenuate as much outside noise as the Monsters. Still, this does not mean that the Beats Pros are "good" at isolation by any stretch of the imagination.

Though the s are guilty of having a firm grip on your skull, the Beats Pros have a tendency to try to kill it. Normally a firm grip is fine, but the padding of the Beats Pros does not lend itself to reshaping, like that of the s. We'll give this one to the s.

If you want a set of headphones for home audio listening, there is no functional reason to choose the Beats Pros over the s, as they have a poorer audio performance across the board and cost almost 100% more. Unfortunately for the s, their open backs make them unable to go outside, so if you want to take your cans out in the world, the Beats Pros are more able to perform that function.

Obviously, over-ear and on-ear headphones have some fairly huge differences in design, and as such, there are certain advantages and disadvantages to each. For instance, on-ears are a bit more difficult to get a good seal or fit on your ears than over-ears, but they are also much lighter and far more portable. The Sennheiser PXC 250-IIs and the s don't do anything to buck this trend, though the open backs of the s make them even less portable.

Without a doubt, the s have a flatter overall frequency response, but that isn't to say that the PXC 250-IIs don't fare well in our tests: they may be slightly erratic, but they do fairly well here. Still, we're going with the Beyerdynamics on this one.

Neither set of cans had any major issues here, but the s have less distortion.

Here too, the s have fewer issues in terms of audio performance than the PXC 250-IIs, as the Sennheisers seem to have many more erratic swings in channel preference.

Here is the one clear advantage that the PXC 250-IIs hold over the s, and that's isolation. Because they are closed-backed active noise cancelers, they manage to attenuate much more sound than the s do.

Though different folks like different things, the ultra-light and ultra-portable PXC 250-IIs are more comfortable than the bulky and tight-fitting s.

If you want a pair of headphones to stay at home, stick with the s. However, if you're looking to go into the outside world and want to do so with a high level of comfort, the PXC 250-IIs are not a bad bet at all.

In-ear headphones and over-ears are wildly different by design, and as such, they're meant for wildly different uses. Where the over-ears will offer greater comfort and usually better sound quality in home use, the line of Etymotic Research in-ear monitors (IEMs) are unique in that they don't sacrifice much audio quality for their portability. Let's see how the s stack up against the Etymotic Research mc5s.

Here's a difficult matchup: both frequency responses are great, but the s do maintain a higher emphasis over a greater range of frequencies, but that of the mc5s is still very impressive, especially for a pair of IEMs. We'd say that between these two performances, it's a matter of personal preference here.

Neither set of headphones have any difficulties worth reporting in terms of distortion.

Here, the entry-level mc5s have a better tracking response than the mid-range s. Still, the difference in performance here looks bigger on a chart than it is by listening. You won't notice the difference.

Here is the biggest draw to the mc5s: isolation. Built to go outside, the mc5s block out anywhere from 25 to 45+dB of outside noise, which is absolutely astounding. For reference, standard earplugs attenuate 10dB on average, and headsets sometimes sniff 15dB of attenuation. When you wear the mc5s, you're actually making a good step in protecting your ears from noise-induced hearing loss. The Beyers, on the other hand, do not attenuate much noise at all.

This is a clear win for the s, as IEMs typically aren't known for their comfort. When you ram IEMs into your tender ear canals, it's not uncommon for your headphones to make you feel like you have an ear infection. Though the s aren't winning any trophies for their comfort level, at least they aren't IEMs.

Both headphones offer clear advantages over the other, but if isolation and the ability to go outside are important to you, you're going to want to pick up something like the mc5s. Oh, and by the way: they're $80. Though the s are impressive in terms of audio quality, the mc5s aren't a massive step down, and they give you such a huge step up in portability. In the end, it's up to you, but each set of cans has their upsides.

If you're a longtime reader of, you know that Beyerdynamic makes some of our best-tested headphones, and the s are no different. They aren't perfect, but they stomp a lot of other headphones out in terms of performance fairly handily. With a great frequency response, even tracking, and low distortion, the s perform at a level higher than their price point would suggest. If you want a set of open-backed cans for home, the s are a great choice.

Meet the tester

Chris Thomas

Chris Thomas

Staff Writer, Imaging


A seasoned writer and professional photographer, Chris reviews cameras, headphones, smartphones, laptops, and lenses. Educated in Political Science and Linguistics, Chris can often be found building a robot army, snowboarding, or getting ink.

See all of Chris Thomas's reviews

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