The Beyerdynamic DT 880: The Thorn in Beyerdyanmic’s side

I’ve reviewed the most neutral of the German company’s classic lineup

I recently posted a full review of the Beyerdynamic DT 880 over at my personal site, and you can read it by clicking anywhere on this sentence.

If you go shopping for one of the many flavors of DT 880, you might notice something: they’re more expensive than their cousins, the 770 and 990. And available in more variants.

This seems weird at first glance. Shouldn’t the highest-numbered model be the most expensive?

Yes. That’s how it works in most product lines. But not in The World of Beyerdynamic.

Their marketing and I don’t really get along. But their headphone engineering is amazing. Or at least, it was 20 years ago.

When the DT 880 launched in the dark fog of the past, it was a flagship-level product with a 500 dollar pricetag. It was Beyerdynamic’s take on the hyper-neutral audiophile headphone, with a response that rivaled other popular examples of the genre at the time, like the Sennheiser HD 600 and the AKG 701.

If you like your neutrality with a touch of sharp treble, then the DT 880 is the open headphone for you. And, because the engineering to get that response doesn’t magically decay over time, the DT 880 still works just as well now as it did 20 years ago.

I bet that some folks at the top of the company are very frustrated by this, and wish they could quietly delete this headphone from existence. Its price might be lower now, but it still demands a premium over its cousins in the same lineup because its response is so flat, and enjoyed by numerous audio fans.

How do you develop a new product that somehow pushes the bar further? Beyerdynamic has struggled with this for years, just like Sennheiser has been fighting a quiet war with the HD 600. They can’t stop selling these seminal headphones because they’re just too good. But that makes them hard to overcome.

Beyerdynamic’s big answer has been the Tesla driver, and they’ve built several different headphones on top of that platform. However, none of them have been as well-received as the classic lineup, and they all cost a great deal more. The Tesla driver tried to take a similar approach to sound signature, but with a higher sensitivity for louder volumes.

But there’s no real need for that, because Beyerdynamic also makes 32 ohm versions of the 770, 880, and 990 that get plenty loud out of a smartphone. So why not just lavish wireless innovation and new designs on that classic driver platform?

Because it’s not new. And people need new. Right?

Nope.

There’s a fundamental truth here: audio companies have to keep making new products, even if they’ve already achieved something incredible in the past with a landmark model that folks continue to buy. Many companies have these 20 year old headphone albatrosses hanging around their neck. With no clear way to beat them, definitively.

And sure, there’s some wiggle room here for personal tastes. But the DT 880 and HD 600 are so good that they represent the literal point of diminishing returns. And the drop off after that point isn’t a gentle slope.

It’s a massive chasm.

There’s much less artistry to new headphones than there is to new video games, books, and movies. They’re an industrial product with a fundamentally industrial purpose. Many companies already achieved audio “perfection” years ago, and now they’re just dressing up their products with new features in the hopes that you won’t notice.

I’m sure that Beyerdynamic’s leadership would happily drop the 880’s into a bottomless pit if they could. And that Sony would quietly burn all the MDR-V6’s and 7506’s. And that Sennheiser would crush all the HD 600’s.

They don’t want you to know that they already made everything you probably need decades ago.

You have to need the new stuff. Whether it’s better…or not.

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