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Beyerdynamic DX 160ie Headphones
$145 [$110 at Amazon]

Specs: 

Transmission type: Wired
Headphone design (operating principle): Closed
Headphone impedance: 47 ohms
Headphone frequency response: 10 – 25,000 Hz
Nominal sound pressure level: 107 dB
Construction: In-ear headphones
Cable & plug: 1.20 m (0.30 m without extension cable), 3.5 mm jack plug 

[audaud-hr]

I always experience a nagging dilemma when reviewing in-ear headphones. Invariably I find myself hunting for lossless (i.e., non-MP3) files to listen to on a portable music player. Like point ‘n shoot cameras that pump up their contrast to flatter low resolution photos, some headphone manufacturers tend to brighten sound reproduction, believing that most listeners will just be playing compressed low-resolution MP3s on them. (They’re probably right.) While you can’t really judge sound quality with MP3s, you do have to evaluate how both lossy and lossless file types sound. So I managed to locate a high-dynamic range video on Youtube of Mozart’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, K.466 with legendary pianist Mitsuko Uchida. It is an ideal testing piece, because of its frequently shifting dynamics and tempo, and its near-perfect miking. So how did the Beyerdynamic DX 160ie headphones fare? Read on.

First, before I mention what you hear, here is what you see. Nice looks. Beyerdynamics has designed these audiophile-grade headphones well. They have an anodized finish and textured aluminum ring. They isolate ambient noise with such Teutonic efficiency I almost can’t hear a nearby telephone ring. They are comfortable to wear, with a generous choice of ear tips: 5 pairs of bowl-shaped types, 1 pair of double-flange types and 1 pair of triple-flange silicone types. I prefer the memory foam tips they supply, made by Comply (Type T-400), which really isolate noise. With them, I can’t even hear my own footsteps. The rear housings are not flat or rounded like Shure’s, but subtly recessed so you can– ahem– jam them in as far as you like with your thumb. After that, they don’t pop out easily.

Beyerdynamics provides other accessories you may like (with caveats):

  • An adapter that allows a partner to share songs with you.
  • BeyerEarbudCablesFlat cables that rarely tangle. Unfortunately, in a nod to airline travelers, the company has made the cable to the headphones very short (0.3m). You nearly always have to use one of the extension cables if you’re not flying the friendly skies.
  • Two extension cables, one for Apple products, the other for everyone else. The Apple extension cable makes the short cable’s pause and volume buttons work with audio apps and even Youtube videos. (None of these buttons work with Android players, so consider this when buying your next phone!) Oddly, only the non-Apple cord comes with a lapel clip.
  • A sturdy zip case. Nice looking too, but I wish it were a little bigger; it’s a bit of a smush to stuff the headphones and attached extension cable in. A wind-up mechanism would have been nice, but I haven’t seen one of those since Shure stopped putting them in their cases ten years ago.
  • A VoIP cord that works nicely on computer hardware.

Of course only months of use will determine whether these extras endure. My guess is yes.

Time for the money shot. How do they sound? In-ear headphones have generally suffered from poor bass response compared to supra-aural and superaural headphones. These don’t. The bass response is above average, with little spillover to the mid-range. And while the highs are bright (perhaps to accommodate those MP3s), they have just enough zip and precious little sibilance. How do vocal works sound? Predictably, that largely depends on the recording. On one piece, accompanied by Claudio Abbado and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, famed mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter sings the Schubert lied “Der Erlkonig” and sounds sibilant. Uh oh! But… low-resolution recording! Naturally, on a higher resolution recording made of the same performance, her rendition of “Die Forelle” (“The Trout”), the headphones produced minimal sibilance. The takeaway here is that the headphones don’t add significantly to existing sibilance.

With these headphones jazz recordings sound so clear you can even hear elusive bass solos. Try Charlie Mingus, sometimes only subtly present even in the best recordings, like “Sue’s Changes” (from Live at Montreux, 1975). On this MP3 Mingus’s bass seems to have enhanced oomph. (Don Pullen’s piano ticklings ain’t bad either.) I definitely miss some details in the MP3, but not nearly as many when I use those consarned white headphones that come packaged with iPods.

In fact, most headphones costing in the two figures will fall short of the Beyerdynamic DX 160ie set. In the end, once you learn how riskless Amazon’s return policy is, you should just try listening for yourself. Comparing OEM headphones to the DX 160ie headphones is like trying to explain the difference between a Lipton tea bag and second flush Darjeeling tea from the Goomtee Estate.

—Peter Bates

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