The aging drivers of the Sennheiser HD25-1 beg for a replacement, and if Sennheiser isn’t giving one to us, I would gladly accept a good replacement from Beyerdynamic. But is the DT1350 really has what it takes to put the nails in the HD25-1′s coffins? Let’s take a look.
I’ve noticed for a long time that the HD25-1′s aging drivers are no match for the resolution of modern portables. Anything from the AKG K181DJ, the ATH M-50, the AIAIAI TMA-1, and even the Sennheiser PX100-II (gasp!) clearly had a more resolving, finer quality driver than what the HD25-1 had. But none of them simply had the proper voicing, the forwardness, the punchy bass, the focus and the energy of the HD25-1.
LAST YEAR: THE BEYERDYNAMIC T50P
Last year Beyer tried to take on the HD25-1 with the T50p headphone, the first portable headphone fitted with the Tesla drivers. It was a good attempt. Solid design on the outside paired with a portable version of the Tesla driver found in the flagship T1. Sound like a lot of trouble for the HD25-1. However, fitting problems among other critical issues (i.e midrange, bass) make the T50p a very difficult headphone to recommend.
Not so this time, as Beyer has corrected many of the issues that I found to plague the T50p. Better clamping force results in a more proper isolation of the earpads. Thicker earpads also helps to cure the one big problem the T50p had: bass. Better bass, in addition to a more linear frequency balance from top to bottom and a less problematic midrange. I think the DT1350 has got all the right ingredients. Not only is the Tesla driver fitted into it are years ahead of the old HD25-1 drivers, but the build quality and design are more in sync with whatever Apple product you’re eyeing.
POSITIVE VIBES WITH THE DT1350
My initial impression was very positive, so positive that I decided to buy a DT1350 for myself. The Tesla driver had this clinical precision that the HD25-1 can only dream of. Think of a classic Ferrari Dino with a V6 engine: very nice sensual lines and quite a desirable car even today. Then take it to a nearby racetrack with a bunch of high revving Ferrari F430s, and the classic Dino is just going to look dumb on the track. This is the reality with the HD25-1 and the DT1350. The DT1350 was able to resolve every complex bass passages I threw at it, from Prodigy to Muse. Every note was clear and articulate, very clean sounding with zero grain on it. Not so the HD25-1. While the bass remained fairly fast, it just didn’t cut through the notes as sharply as the DT1350 was. Think of the sort of knives sushi chefs use to cut the sashimi, and compare it to the stuff you use in your kitchen. The HD25-1 was really sloppy. Funny, because I’ve never associated the HD25-1 with the word sloppy before, but now it becomes really apparent.
Gosh, the drivers on the HD25-1 are really getting old.
I was almost ready to publish the article at that point, and title it “Beyerdynamic DT1350: HD25-1 slayer” or something along those lines. But I decided to take more time to listen to them before making my conclusions final.
Now, it seems that great things happen when two different elements work together to produce a championship-winning teamwork. Schumacher and Ferrari in Formula One. US Postal Service Team and Lance Armstrong. Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. You get the idea. Well, that ain’t quite happening with the DT1350′s Tesla driver and the tiny little housing. I can’t help to think that the ability of the DT1350 has been heavily limited by the dimensions of the driver housing which in turn puts severe limits on the acoustics. Seriously, when was the last time you see a good hi-fi headphone in the DT1350 size? And come to think of it, all the $1k headphones seem to come in oversized housings, except for (guess what) the Beyerdynamic T1. I don’t know who thought of a housing dimension that small for the DT1350 (and the T50p), but the marketing department probably has something to do with it.
Many of the issues that I found the DT1350 to have seems to be associated with the housing properties. One is the housing reverb which is in far higher levels than the HD25-1. Second is the fairly unaccurate timbre. Third is the way the soundstage is even more compressed than the HD25-1, and the imaging all over the place, even when the instrument separation is much clearer than the Senn. Fourth is how the bass still lacks some low frequencies even compared to the HD25-1. I also suspect that the Beyer engineer had to find a compromise between producing enough quantities of bass and making a good sounding midrange, which is why the midrange can be an on/off thing depending on the recording you’re listening to.
I guess the HD25-1 is lucky in this instance because without those issues the DT1350 would’ve really slaughtered the HD25-1 in this review. Really, the HD25-1 would’ve deserved it, and I really wish the DT1350 would’ve done that. Those of you who follow my Twitter can also testify that at one point I tweeted about being sick of making recommendations for the HD25-1. And the DT1350 really had what it takes to take on the HD25-1. The Tesla driver is a killer and everytime I take a listen to it, I wish things would’ve been as clear sounding on the HD25-1. But the issues, especially the way the mids are voiced, and how bass doesn’t go as low, makes me sort of 50-50 on which really is the better headphone.
The bass is actually not bad. When I moved from the HD25-1, I can notice that bass punch is a little lesser in impact, but once my ears adjusted to it, I think the bass is good and the PRaT is happening. With the smaller housing, the DT1350 was able to focus the energy of the bass and so the pace and the energy is happening pretty well. Besides, as I’ve mentioned, the Tesla driver had such a clear articulation on the bass and it was nice to hear. But I think the more serious deficiency comes in the area of the midrange. It didn’t have the proper timbre, it didn’t have the proper presence, and the lower to upper mids transition is not as linear as it should be. In short, though the HD25-1′s mids is not the best thing in the world of headphones, it still manages to give a more enjoyable presentation for your average Rock vocalist. You know, but if you happen to be a die-hard fan of Techno or Electronica, I think the mids are fine for those music and the clearer articulation of the DT1350 makes it the more definite choice over the HD25-1. But for Rock, I’m still holding on to my HD25-1.
I don’t think that these headphones, both the HD25-1 and the DT1350 are meant to be technicalities giant. I never expected them to have full-size cans level midrange, timbre, or soundstage. But there is a certain limit that I would tolerate and the DT1350 failed to meet some of that. If I were reviewing a Marshall Major or an Audio Technica SJ-55, I would’ve simply ignored those issues. But Beyerdynamic designed this to be a high quality portable headphone, and so I should be more critical of it, especially since it’s $300.
I think that many of the fault seems to be early in the product design stage, where the marketing guys decided that they wanted to make a high quality, compact, portable headphone with stylish designs. I think they may have set the housing size a little too small, hence putting all these limitations on the acoustics of the housing. Had they set the housing to be a little bigger like the HD25-1, it would’ve been a sure win for the Beyer.
I do think, however, that the DT1350 would be a superb headphone for Techno and Electronica. The bass is tight and the pace is right. The articulation is superb and everything sounds crystal clear without being harsh or dry. I don’t think vocal is that critical in Techno or Electronica, and so you can sort of overlook the midrange issues. The fact that I don’t recommend it for Rock, Acoustics, Indie, Classical, Hip Hop may seem limiting, but if you think about it, the younger age group tend to listen to a lot of Techno and Electronica, and so that’s a big percentage of the market. And the DT1350 is the headphone that I would recommend to those crowd. But a wide-genre bandwith headphone the DT1350 is not. It’s not bad, and it can play Rock and Pop tunes pretty good, but it’s not going to be that good for it. Timbre issues also make it un-ideal for Classical and Jazz. So, there you go.
It was a strong attack from Beyer, but I think the HD25-1 still has a few years left in its lifecycle.
The Beyerdynamic DT1350 and the T50p
The DT1350 reviewed here is supposed to be an improved, professional variant of the T50p, which is based on the same housing design and also fitted with a Tesla driver. When I received the T50p, I was very enthusiastic about it, as you can tell from the tone of this article. But after spending more time with the T50p, I finally concluded that it had many issues in the sound and that I ended up not being too enthusiastic about in when I did the Closed Cans Shootout.