Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro vs Audio-Technica ATH M40X!

Last updated on December 30th, 2023 at 02:58 pm

The Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro and the Audio-Technica ATH M40X are two very different headphones that serve two completely different purposes, at least for most people.

In this article, I’ll give you a brief overview of each headphone, talk about their build- and sound quality, and give you my opinion on which ones you should get depending on your needs, since the DT 990 Pro are open back while the ATH M40X are closed back.

Here’s a quick explanation of what open- and closed back headphones are and how this affects sound.

Closed back vs open back headphones

Left: Closed Back.
Right: Open Back.

With closed back headphones, the driver is sealed inside of the headphones and isolated from the outside world as much as possible. This is why open back headphones have small openings which allow sound to get through, essentially providing far less isolation from outside noises but giving you a much more accurate representation of how the source is meant to sound.

Additionally, closed back headphones have a much more pronounced bass response (bass frequencies sound louder), which means that, while they won’t sound as accurate as open back headphones, if you’re into electronic music, for example, then you may find that bass boost more appealing.

I mention this because the DT 990 Pro are open back and the ATH M40X are closed back, and I wrote an extensive post comparing open and closed back headphones that you should definitely check out, since they have vastly different use cases, as well as pros and cons.

In short, closed back headphones are better for recording, listening to music in noisy environments or to be able to listen to music and not have it be broadcasted to everyone around you, while open back headphones are better for mixing music since they sound a bit “flatter” and provide a better spatial representation, and they are also great to listen to music in a quiet space.

Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro

The DT 990 Pro are open back headphones designed with mixing engineers and audiophiles in mind and are one- if not the highest rated open back headphones currently out there (considering the price, of course).

Like I just mentioned, since these are open back headphones, they aren’t really designed to record music or to listen to music in public spaces/loud spaces, since their open back nature allows sound to get in and out of the earcups with ease.

They are, however, fantastic for mixing and listening to music in quiet spaces, since their open nature makes the sound much “wider”, providing a much better stereo image than closed back headphones.

Even though the DT 990 Pro have a slightly boosted low- and higher end, they don’t sound boomy or harsh like some cheaper commercial headphones would. In fact, they sound extremely well balanced.

One pro about the DT 990 Pro, which I’d like to see being implemented on more headphones, is that if the leather on the headband gets damaged or worn out, you can easily replace it by just snapping it off (this isn’t possible on the M40X).

One feature the DT 990 Pro lack however, are rotating earcups. Sure, these aren’t as useful as you might initially think, but it’s a nice bonus to be able to quickly pick up the headphones, rotate one earcup and just push them against your ear to quickly listen to what’s going on instead of having to actually put them on.

Build Quality

Let’s start with the first two glaring issues these headphones have, which are the non-detachable coiled cable, and the little cables going from the headband to the drivers.

The non-detachable cable is definitely not the ideal solution since accidentally stepping on the cable, or just catching it on anything, could rip it out and that’s it, no more headphones (Audio-Technica has a better solution to this issue, so keep reading to find out).

The same issue is present with the little cables going from the headband to the drivers, since they could easily get damaged and can’t be replaced.

Of course, these headphones are not designed for jogging, commuting, etc., since they were made mainly for studio use, especially mixing and not recording, so damaging them should be really hard, which is why I don’t think that these two issues are that big of a deal, even though I’d like to see them getting improved.

The rest of the construction is great; The padding on the earcups is very comfortable, the clamping force of the headband might be a bit too much, at least for my taste, but that means that the headphones won’t be going anywhere even if you’re mixing the most headbang-inducing songs, and being able to remove the padding on the headband is also a nice bonus.

Lastly, as far as the looks of the DT 990 Pro go, they aren’t flashy by any means, but they do look pretty cool, especially because of the open earcups that let you see through to the gray suede padding.

What comes in the box?

  • Beyerdynamic DT 990 PRO Headphones
  • 1/8″ to 1/4″ Adapter
  • Manual
  • Carrying pouch

Again, like I mentioned earlier, no additional cables are included because the DT 990 Pro come with one that is non-detachable, limiting your options.

Sound Quality

I think that where these headphones shine is their mid- to higher frequencies. I read that some people label them as harsh, but that’s definitely not what I found since they sound very open, clear and detailed to me.

To my ears, the DT 990 Pro have a tight and deep and punchy bass with a clear, open and very detailed high end, whereas the mid frequencies aren’t as prominent but still sound very pleasing.

One thing you may notice if you try out these headphones, or any other high quality open back ones, is that when compared to closed back headphones, you’re able to hear much more detail in your music and feel a much wider and realistic stereo image.

Little effects and details become more apparent and instruments sound separate from each other (try listening to a binaural recording with these and you’ll immediately see what I mean).

In short, if you’re looking for some great bang for your buck open back headphones for mixing and listening to music in quiet spaces (external sounds won’t be cancelled out), then the DT 990 Pro are a great choice.

Audio-Technica ATH M40X

The ATH M40X are Closed Back headphones that are mainly designed for tracking/recording music since they do a fairly decent job at isolating you from outside noises as well as keeping the noise itself coming from the headphone drivers inside the headphones, which would otherwise be picked up by the microphones near you (this could potentially happen with the DT 990 Pro).

One thing to note about the ATH M40X, or any other closed back headphones for that matter, is that the sounds you’re hearing won’t feel as “open” or as “wide” in the stereo field when compared to the DT 990 Pro, resulting in what I can only describe as an “in your head” sound, instead of a more natural and open sound.

Not only that, but since they are closed, your ears will get hot after using them for a couple hours, which isn’t too comfortable in warm weather.

The ATH M40X have one interesting feature, which I both like and dislike, and that would be their rotating earcups, which allow you to store them more easily, have them flat on your chest instead of perpendicular, easier monitoring with one ear, etc. (more on this in a second).

Build Quality

The ATH M40X have a very understated design that won’t have people turning their heads, which to me is generally a good thing, since they are completely black and don’t have any flashy colors on them, except for the silver logo on the earcups.

The clamping force on the headband is a bit too high in my opinion (it’s 1.1 lbs), and after an hour or two of using them, you’ll probably need to take them off for a second since they will become uncomfortable, and as I mentioned earlier, your ears will get quite hot in warm weather and even sweat.

As far as the padding on the earcups go, they are fairly large and will cover most ears. Sometimes you’ll need to wiggle them a bit to get them to fit properly, but if you’re getting any painful feelings on your ears, it’s probably because you didn’t put them on properly.

The headband could be a bit larger; I have to adjust it to its absolute limit in order to get the headphones to fit, and someone with a larger head won’t be able to, but for most people it’s more than enough.

Audio-Technica uses a proprietary cable connection system which locks the cable in place once you insert it into the headphones, which is both good and bad; Good because you can swap out the cable and because you won’t accidentally pull it out, bad because if you step on the cable and pull too hard from it, you’ll rip it out and probably damage the headphones while doing so, not just the cable, and this means buying new headphones (in general).

Lastly, the only other con with the ATH M40X’s build quality is the rotation mechanism of the earcups; These headphones allow the earcups to be rotated 90-degrees for easier monitoring with one ear, or for better storage. But this mechanism feels extremely flimsy to me, and every time I accidentally rotate the cups and go to straighten them, I feel as if they could break.

What comes in the box?

  • Audio-Technica ATH-M40x Headphones
  • Carrying pouch
  • Audio cables (1 x Straight, 1 x Coiled)
  • 1/8″ to 1/4″ Adapter

It’s worth noting that both cables are quite long, way longer than the cables of most commercial headphones, and this is because they are designed for recording and moving around while doing so.

The con to this is that these cables tangle up fairly easily, and if you’re going to be using these headphones for commuting to work, going to the gym, etc., you’ll probably need to use a rubber band to tie the cable and make it shorter, or just get Audio-Technicas’ shorter cable.

Sound Quality

Since the ATH M40X are closed back headphones, the bass response will be slightly exaggerated, which means that getting a “flat” response out of them is virtually impossible (actually, no headphones sound flat, closed or open back) and they won’t give you the most accurate representation of the sound.

Many people seem to enjoy that lower end boost however, especially those who are into electronic music.

As far as the mids and the highs go, they sound phenomenal; Very clear, precise, and everything can be heard perfectly.

One thing to note, is that even though they have a pretty substantial low end boost, the ATH M40X are considered to be one of the “flattest-sounding” closed back headphones out there, which is why I would recommend them for people interested in recording and mixing over the ATH M50X, which cost like 50% more.

When compared to commercial headphones, the ATH M40X just blow them out of the water since they sound better in every way no matter how you look at it, and thanks to their huge earcups and great padding, you should be fairly isolated from the outside world.

In short; The ATH M40X are great all-rounders that are mainly designed to record music, but you can use them while commuting to work, going to the gym or jogging, as a second headphone set to check how your mix is doing, and even for mixing as well, even though I’d recommend open back ones for that.

Conclusion (which one should you get)

I’d recommend the ATH M40X for most people simply because of their overall versatility, since with the DT 990 Pro you can’t really use them anywhere else but your home/studio since you’ll either be hearing all of the outside noise, or you’ll be making everyone around you listen to your music as well.

If you’re getting headphones mainly for mixing or just for home usage, go with the DT 990 Pro, for most other use cases go with the ATH M40X.

I hope this information was useful!

Have a nice day!

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