DT-48, Beyer DT-48E New Review

Read more on the Beyer DT-48 in our home audio section

Dale Thorn2011-05-28 23:55

I did not intend to write a second review of the DT-48E, but after spending some time studying the headphone measurements at InnerFidelity, I needed to clear some things up. I did not have any objections to the negative review of the DT-48E there, but since the actual measurements were so far off from what both test tones and music listening indicate for the DT-48E, I decided to re-test it myself and publish the results.

Getting an accurate (more or less) fix on the DT-48E's high end wasn't easy, but I think I have it down to about a 6 to 8 db maximum difference between frequencies, between approximately 4 khz and 9 khz. That 6 to 8 db maximum difference is a fraction of the 35 db difference in InnerFidelity's measured response in that range. To increase accuracy, I listened at length to tones in that range with the HD-800, comparing the perceived loudness at different frequencies and checking those perceptions against the graph. For example, the HD-800 measured response was about the same at 6 and 8 khz, but my ears said the 8 khz tone sounded about 3 db (half the volume) weaker. Applying an extra 3 db to the DT-48E's response between 8 and 9 khz compared to 5 khz for example, where the DT-48E's response was the weakest, I came up with the maximum difference of 6 to 8 db. So the perceived difference was 3 to 5 db, and stretching it another 3 db per the HD-800 example gave me the final value of 6 to 8. I stated in a previous post that the 20 db measured peak-to-dip in the DT-48E's bass from 60 to 80 hz turned out to be no more than a 3 db difference with repeated listening comparisons.

I did extensive music listening tests comparing these two headphones, to try to determine the qualitative and quantitative differences between the two, taking into consideration the measurements as well as my listening with the test tones. In the end, the HD-800 was brighter in the expected range from approximately 3 to 8 khz, but not by very much. More to the point is that while the Beyer DT-1350 measured fairly close to the DT-48E in that brightness range, the listening tests were very different. The DT-48E tracks close to the HD-800 in the brightness range in listening tests, being slightly darker, but the DT-1350 is very much recessed or darker in that range, and does not compare at all to the DT-48E. In fact, the DT-1350 has a fairly large hollow sound in the midrange, making the overall sound very dry. The DT-48E has a slightly more forward midrange than the HD-800, but none of the hollowness/dryness coloration of the DT-1350.

Compared to the HD-800, the overall bass response of the DT-48E is slightly weaker using test tones, varying from 2 to 3 db in my tests. When a good earpad seal is effected with the DT-48E, it does not sound bass-shy compared to the HD-800. However, getting that good seal may be difficult for some people. You have to understand that it's a moisture seal basically, and if your head is very dry, if you're in a low-humidity room, it may take several minutes for the seal to complete. In the meantime before the seal is achieved, users have noted a "bass shyness" and so that perception has become the standard line for the DT-48E.

One crucial difference in the HD-800's design, the rear-firing drivers that give it a bigger soundstage or a sense of "depth", makes listening tests more difficult - not so much with test tones, but definitely with music. Some very bright instruments such as the percussion crescendos in the HDTracks release of Jimmy Smith's Basin Street Blues may seem a bit more harsh with the DT-48E, but that's because it's going straight into your ear instead of from an angle, further away as is the case with the HD-800. An extreme example of pushing the sound farther out and away to increase the soundstage would be the Bose 901 loudspeakers. The HD-800 supposedly does its magic without smearing the sound as does the Bose 901, so there you are.

My conclusions are as follows:

The HD-800 is much more comfortable to use (and the comfort is instantaneous), it does not require any sort of perfect seal to the head for listening or measuring, and the more spacious soundstage all combine to make it the better headphone for the average audiophile, noting the $1100 difference in price.

The DT-48E's frequency response variations in the 4 khz to 9 khz seem greater than the HD-800's, but I cannot determine which headphone has the overall brightness that's more accurate for music listening.

The DT-48E is not only good for music listening in all genres, it is probably far and away the best and clearest sounding headphone in the sub-$500 range, again noting the need to achieve a good earpad seal. As a studio monitor I doubt that the sound quality has much if any bearing on its suitability to that task, but certain practical issues may override sound quality. For example, I note that while Gordon Holt of Stereophile continued to rate the DT-48 above the Beyer DT-480 for sound quality well into the 1970's, he was seen more often using the DT-480 for monitoring. Having used the much-colored DT-480 myself then, I suspect the ability to put the headphone on and remove it without having to make adjustments or get a perfect seal was the determining factor.

Final note: The current (2011) version of the DT-48E is what I tested - the older versions do not have "high fidelity" sound.

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