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The DT 990s are a set of open-backed over-ears from Beyerdynamic.


*** We call this composition, 'DT 990s in repose with a slightly unruly cord.'***

The DT 990s' open backs let sound flow freely out (and in), which creates a larger, more 'open' soundstage. The downside is you'll need a quiet space to listen in.


These are the ear cups. The backs are open and look like gills. The padding is absurdly soft.


The band is padded and has a core of metal. The band isn't extendable, but the cups can pull out from it slightly. The cups themselves can also tilt back and forth.


As you'll see later, this band isn't very comfortable.



Here are the DT 990s on our favorite precision acoustic testing robot, HATS (head and torso simulator – torso not shown).


*** Despite not being very bendy, the DT 990s

contour to their users' head well.***


In The Box

Other than the headphones, you'll get a case and a 1/4-inch screw-on adapter.


**Durability**     (*8.00**)*

The DT 990s seem to be pretty durable. They have some moving parts, which is a wear and tear issue, and their open-backed design might let some dust in through the back door. Their band is made of metal and will definitely not bust easy, and the same is true for the part connected to the ear cups.  The cable has a nice set of cord guards, but there are thin cords extending from the top of the ear cups that could've used slightly better protection.

The DT 990s seem pretty beefy.



**Aesthetics**     (9*.00**)*

The DT 990s are a bit big, which will automatically make them look silly on a few people. The main unit we're reviewing, the 65Ω version, came in a nice blue color, which we definitely thought looked nice. The reason we're giving it such a high score, however, is because Beyerdynamic lets users customize the coloration (this service is called MANUFAKTUR). Users can also specify the impedance of the headphones as well as whether or not the cord is spiraled or straight. Though there currently aren't a ton of available color choices, this is an incredibly cool feature.


This is an awesome idea, and we really hope Beyerdynamic keeps expanding on it.




About our testing:**

For more information on our tests, read this article. It involves a head and torso simulator and an electroacoustic analysis program and a bunch of other awesome science stuff. If you like science or awesome stuff, you should, in fact, read the article.

**Frequency Response**     (*4.53**)*

What we found:

The DT 990s had an average frequency response. Since our current average is a pretty good result, consider the DT 990s to also be pretty good.

The DT 990s had a strong bass response that gently tapers off towards the middle frequencies, where it holds strong for quite some time. Then, just before the 7kHz mark (approximately) the headphones cut out slightly before getting suddenly emphasized. We often see an emphasis spike occur around 7kHz, since that's about where the attack on a snare drum is. Expect your drums to have a good presence. After this jump, the headphones maintain the boost for the most part, before tapering off towards the 20kHz mark. Typically we see the graph trend down before this point, which means the headphones aren't emphasizing sibilance well. Fortunately for the letter S, the DT 990s don't fall into this trap.

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How the Beyerdynamic DT 990 compares:

What is frequency response?

Frequency response describes how each set of headphones emphasizes any given frequency. If the headphones add a noticeable amount of emphasis or deemphasis, they're said to have a dynamic response. Some people like their bass boosted, some like middle frequencies boosted for enhanced vocals, etc. Dynamic responses are great for people who listen to a specific type of music exclusively, or know their aural preferences.

How the test works:

We test frequency response by playing a frequency sweep through the headphones. The headphones are set up on our head and torso simulator (affectionately abbreviated as 'HATS'), which records their output. This collected data is then sent to SoundCheck, our electroacoustic analysis software (developed by our buddies at Listen, Inc.). Since we know the original sound file and we have data on how the headphones alter that sound file, we can use magical subtraction to figure out what the headphones are doing to the sound.

For our purposes, a dynamic response is fine as long as it doesn't go too overboard. If the headphones boost or hush a frequency too much, it can impact audio quality. If you have a burning desire to know more about this or our other tests, then this is the link for you!

**Distortion**     (*10.88**)*

What we found:

Another set of low distortion headphones, another distortion section where we have nothing really interesting to say.

The distortion on these headphones is quite low. Average users and audiophiles alike should like these things.

How the Beyerdynamic DT 990 compares:

**What is distortion?

*Distortion refers to changes the headphones make to actual sound of your music. This could be something like adding noise or clipping the top or bottom part of the sound wave – there are plent of ways a set of headphones can add some form of distortion. Distortion will be much more apparent in some genres or songs than it will be in others. Acoustic music and opera, for example, will be impacted much more negatively by distortion than, for example, rock or punk.

How the test works:

This test is similar to the previous one in execution: we play a frequency sweep through the headphones, HATS listens, and we use these two data points to figure out what the headphones are doing to your playback. In this instance, however, we're not comparing volume levels: we're comparing the overall shape of the sound wave at each frequency. You should read more about our fascinating tests: link.

**Tracking**     (7.81)


What we found:

The DT 990s had good tracking overall. They stay within a few decibels of dead even up until the higher frequencies, where the left channel suddenly gets a bit louder before see-sawing to the right. This 11dB shift is where the DT 990s lost the most points. In terms of user experience, this shift isn't a gigantic one. The vast majority of users won't notice it at all.

How the Beyerdynamic DT 990 compares:

**What is tracking?

*Tracking might be better recognized as 'balance': it refers how well the left and right channels on the headphones are balanced, in terms of volume. If you've ever worn headphones that consistently play louder out of their left ear piece, then you know how important tracking can be. Ideally, if an 8dB sound is being played through the left and right channels, both channels should output 8dB. For this test, however, it wouldn't even matter if both channels output 25dB, as long as each both channels were outputting the same level.

How the test works:

For this test, we play back a frequency response again. This time, however, HATS uses its robot ears to detect any volume differences between the left and right channels. If you find this description intriguing, we invite you to read more.

**Maximum Usable Volume**     (6.97)

What we found:

The DT 990s were capable of outputting about 107.26 decibels. This will be sufficient for most users, but we would've liked to see a slightly higher number. We award max points for 120dB or greater, since it's a very, very loud output and anything louder will ruin your ears.

**What is maximum usable volume?

*As you boost the volume of your playback, it will tend to get more and more distorted. Why? Because your headphones suck. Ideally, increasing the volume will increase just the volume and not the distortion. Most headphones can't do this, however, which is why we run this test.

How the test works:

For this test, we play back our trusty frequency sweep, each time boosting the volume. We keep doing this until we reach 3% distortion, which is when your playback will start sounding gross. If a set of headphones can reach 120dB without hitting 3% distortion, congratulations, they win. Any more than 120dB is pretty redundant, and is actually quite dangerous for your hearing. Since we like pretending we're your mom, we punish those nasty, hurtful headphones by not awarding them any extra points. For more on this test and our inappropriate maternal instincts, read this link.

**Isolation**     (*1.60**)*

What we found:

The DT 990s are open-backed headphones. See those vents on the back of the ear cups. Those are just for show; they let sound escape and enter. Why? To create a more open soundstage.

Open-backed headphones have terrible isolation.

How the Beyerdynamic DT 990 compares:

**What is isolation?

*The short answer: isolation refers to your headphones' ability to block out external noise. The slightly longer answer will begin after this 'slightly longer answer' introduction, in order to allow the short answer people to flee the paragraph. Ok, now that those jerks aren't reading any more, allow us to elaborate. There are two types of isolation: active cancellation and passive isolation. You've probably heard of active cancellation, because it's a buzzword at the moment. Headphones with active cancellation use a microphone to listen to external sounds. They then use fancy computer chips to reverse the amplitude of this external noise and play it through the headphones. When a sound wave meets up with a sound wave of an inverse amplitude, both are negated. This is a great solution, but the technology isn't perfect yet. You'll likely get some noise as a result, and active-cancellers tend to only cancel out bass frequencies. Passive isolation is the brute force method. Plug up your ears with any old object and you'll have achieved passive isolation. Passive isolation doesn't block out much bass, but tends to block out more external noise overall.

How the test works:

Our isolation test has an ingeniously simple test. We put the headphones on HATS, then blast them with a bunch of noise. The trick? We know how much noise we're playing. We subtract the initial noise from the amount that HATS hears and we're left with the amount the headphones block out. You can find out more in this article.

**Leakage**     (*2.88**)*

What we found:

As we mentioned above, the DT 990s are open-backed headphones. They therefore leak like crazy as part of their design. If you are in a library, at the museum, or attending a wedding, you should refrain from blasting the volume on your DT 990s. Not only will you cause a scene with your buffoonery, but everyone will laugh at you for unironically listening to a techno remix of the Inspector Gadget theme song.

What is leakage?

Leakage, as it pertains to headphones, is the amout of sound that escapes into the world around you. If you have headphones that leak like crazy, those sitting near you will be able to hear whatever you're listening to. If you have headphones with low leakage, you can boost the volume very highly and those around you will be none the wiser.

How the test works:

For this test, we play a bunch of noise through the headphones, which HATS is wearing. We have a mic set up a few inches away that listens for any of this noise to escape. Now that we know exactly what's escaping, we get to do some math and assign a score.

**Short-Term Use**     (8.00)

For short wear sessions (about an hour) the DT 990s are very comfortable. Their cup padding is soft, but firm, and the padding is covered with a plush fabric. The band has some padding on it that'll keep your head happy. Overall, we didn't really have any complaints. We thought the DT 990s were very, very comfortable.

Standard comfort caveat: comfort is subjective. Try the headphones on yourself.

**Extended Use**     (*3.00**)*

After a few hours, the DT 990s betrayed us. The band started to hurt our head and we had to readjust them. We're not sure if it's an issue with the padding or the weight of the DT 990s, but chances are it's a combination of the two. Because of this issue, we must again stress the following: try these on before you decide to keep them.


This is going to hurt you in the long run.


**Customizability**     (*1.50**)*

The DT 990s don't have a lot users can do to customize the fit. You can pull the cups away from the band slightly, but only by an inch or so on each side. The cups don't really swivel from side to side, although they do tilt back and forth slightly.

The only other customization feature is handled via Beyerdynamic's site, which is where you can customize your headphones before you buy them. This is an awesome feature, but the changes are aesthetic for the most part (this is why we discussed it in the Aesthetic section, you see).


**Cable Connectivity**     (9.90*)*

 The straight cable option (remember, using MANUFAKTUR you can choose either a straight or curly cable) for the DT 990s will stretch out to be just shy of 9 feet, 11 inches. This is a very decent length of cord, and most users should have no problem hooking up to a system across the room. If you want a longer cord, opt for the curly cord, since you can squeeze another foot or so out of it.

The DT 990s also come with a 1/4-inch adapter that screws onto their 1/8-inch plug.


This is the straight cord option along with the screw-on 1/4-inch adapter.

**Portability**     (*0.30**)*

 These headphones are not meant to be portable. First of all, they're huge. Second of all, their cord is comically long for such use. Further, their open-backed design makes them unfeasible for use in public, unless you like hearing a lot of traffic with your playback and annoying passers-by with your loud music.

Still, the headphones come with a case for keeping them safe in transit.


If you looked at these pictures and thought, 'hmm, this looks like an open and shut case,' then bravo.


**Maintenance**     (*2.50**)*

 The DT 990s don't give you a lot of options for maintenance. You can pop off the padding, both on the ear cups and the band, but that's about it. Typically you can dismantle over-ears easily with a screwdriver, but the DT 990s, like the DT 990 PROs, aren't that easy. Once you take off the cup padding, you're confronted with a flat plastic surface that has slots and kind of looks like a puzzle, but doesn't have an intuitive solution. We pried at it and bashed it around with our useless screwdriver for a while, but nothing worked. If there is a simple solution, please email us about it. Until we get that email, consider the DT 990s to be a hard nut to repair if cracked.

**Other Features**     (*5.00**)*

Battery Dependency

The DT 990s are a battery-free device. This is awesome because batteries run out and that's annoying.


The ATH-W5000s are classy headphones. The DT 990s are more youthful and 'fun.' Since we're classy people and are currently wearing a monocle and top hat as we write this, we tend to think the ATH-W5000s win the aesthetic contest (also, don't go to our ATH-W5000 review because we made a bunch of monocle jokes there too and now they won't have as much punch or pizzaz).

Durability-wise, the headphones are about the same. Both have moving parts, both use metal instead of plastic in a lot of places, and both hav great cord guards. The ATH-W5000s probably scoot ahead of the DT 990s here, too, because they use wooden cups instead of plastic.

**Sound Quality**

The DT 990s easily take the ATH-W5000s cake here, then eat it as the ATH-W5000s are left wondering where it all went wrong (warning: actual headphones can't eat or claim ownership of cake). The DT 990s have a small dip towards the high end, but the ATH-W5000s' response graph looks like it falls down a hill.

Neither set of headphones have a lot of distortion.

While neither set of headphones have perfect tracking, the ATH-W5000s' high-end blunders make them less balanced than the DT 990s.


Neither set of headphones have particularly good distortion.


The ATH-W5000s are slightly less uncomfortable. They feel like they're way too big for your head, whereas the DT 990s' band makes it feel like you have a weight on top of your skull.


While the ATH-W5000s certainly provide a better ownership experience in that they're slightly classier, more comfortable, and worthy of bragging rights, the DT 990s have better audio quality. Also the DT 990s won't utterly bankrupt you. True audiophiles shouldn't discount the ATH-W5000s; anyone who balks at the ATH-W5000s' $1000 price tag should feel free to do so.


Oh man, sibling rivalry. The DT 990s look cooler, but also appear slightly less professional. Of course, with MANUFAKTUR, you can tweak colors and whatnot and attain the all-gray look.

Overall, the headphones are equal, both in terms of aesthetics and durability. If it surprises you that the DT 990s and DT 990 PROs are remarkably similar, then we, in turn, would be surprised.

**Sound Quality**

The DT 990 PROs have slightly better audio qualty. They don't have as much of a dip before their emphasis hike.

Low distortion all around. Technically the DT 990 PROs win here, with virtually no distortion whatsoever, but no one will notice the difference between the two.

The PROs look like they win this match-up, but they actually lose according to our testing robot. We're guessing they had a spike somewhere that these normalized graphs aren't really depicting.


These headphones both have poor isolation.


Both headphones are about the same. They're comfortable at first, then get uncomfortable pretty fast.


These headphones are basically the same. We'd highly recommend listening to them both, because the differences are so minor that your opinions and proclivities will be the deciding factor. We will say following two things, however:

    • We thought the DT 990s had slightly better articulation than the DT 990 PROs

    • It's been a very, very long time since we listened to the DT 990 PROs.


The DT 990s win the design competition, with their superior aesthetics and metal. The HD 555s are plasticky and don't inspire much confidence in their durability.

**Sound Quality**

The DT 990s had a better frequency response. Though both headphones had questionable high ends, the HD 555s' response suffers a much more dire fate than the DT 990s'.

The HD 555s have quite a bit of distortion towards their low end. The DT 990s, on the other hand, don't.

The DT 990s have a better tracking result. Both headphones have problems in the frequency range, but the HD 555s' were much worse.


Neither one of these things has good isolation.


The HD 555s are much more lightweight and feature more padding. They're far more comfortable overall.


This is a budget and comfort match-up. On a budget? The HD 555s are a far, far better option for you. Think the DT 990s are super duper uncomfortable? The HD 555s will probably be more comfortable. If you're looking for great audio quality, however, with reckless disregard for the wellbeing of your skull, the DT 990s are probably the better choice.


The DT 990s look like a nice set of headphones. The SR60s look like you're being ironic.

**Sound Quality**

The SR60s have more issues with frequency response than the DT 990s do. If you'll look at the SR60s graph, you'll see the left channel falls a bit below the lower limit at the bottom of the little divot in the high end. This isn't as big an issue as the divot itself.

The SR60s have a lot more low-end and high-end distortion.

Both headphones had a similarly average tracking result. The SR60s fall a bit behind here by being slightly more erratic.


Though neither set of headphones isolates well at all, the DT 990s do a better job.


Both headphones are uncomfortable in their own way. The DT 990s feel heavy, making their band feel like it's a vice grip on your head. The SR60s have foam padding, which is scratchy. The SR60s are technically more comfortable overall, however.


This is another issue of budget. The SR60s aren't bad for their price bracket, and they have Grado branding, so wearing them will net you a bunch of audiophile friends. The Lengend of Grado nonwithstanding, however, the SR60s aren't very good. The DT 990s, on the other hand, are.

Meet the tester

Mark Brezinski

Mark Brezinski

Senior Writer


Mark Brezinski is a senior writer with seven years of experience reviewing consumer tech and home appliances.

See all of Mark Brezinski's reviews

Checking our work.

We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.

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