Review: Beyerdynamic DTX 501p headphone

To reviewers, accusations of bias are just part of the gig. Commenting readers have insisted we're biased against certain brands, biased against in-ear monitors, biased against headphones with lots of bass, biased against headphones with flat bass, even biased against headphones from non-California companies.

Anyone who reads this website regularly knows these accusations are demonstrably false. If someone accused us of bias against on-ear headphones, though, I'd have to agree. I seem to be the resident apologist for on-ears; others at S+V complain that they don't have enough bass, they're uncomfortable, etc., etc.

But most of the on-ears we've tested are from mass-market brands. Could a headphone specialist like Beyerdynamic-long a fave of audiophiles and S+V reviewers-make a set of on-ears that would win over our panelists?

I didn't think so. In fact, when Beyerdynamic's Pete Carini showed me the company's new DTX 501p on-ear, I told him not to send a review sample. But he did anyway, and just for the hell of it, I threw it into one of our panel tests.

Here's the particulars: The DTX 501p is a compact headphone that folds into a carrying case that's slim enough to fit into most women's purses. It's nothing fancy: no active noise cancelling, no cool styling, not even the option of an inline mic/remote. At least you get the choice of black or white.

Opposites attract

In the year-and-a-half since we amped up S+V's headphone coverage, my fellow Tech^2 blogger Geoff Morrison and frequent headphone tester Lauren Dragan have never found an on-ear model they really liked. Yet to my amazement, they fell in love with the DTX 501p.

"These are fantastic!" Geoff exclaimed. Lauren agreed: "With the caveat of 'for little on-ears,' these are excellent," she said. And both were genuinely shocked to hear that the DTX 501p costs only $99.

"They're great for giving you a sense of the acoustical environment," Lauren continued. And instead of complaining that the DTX 501p had "NO bass," as she usually does with on-ears, she merely stated that "they're a little lacking in bass."

Geoff's comments mostly mirrored Lauren's. "The treble's very open," he said. "There's great ambience and detail, a wide soundstage, and a great sense of space." For him, the bass was well-balanced-a surprise considering that he's usually the most bass-hungry of our headphone testers.

When I put on my favorite new test track, Meshell Ndegeocello's version of Nina Simone's classic "Four Women," I had a hard time believing I was listening to an on-ear headphone. Unlike almost all other on-ears, there was no need to make excuses for the bass; what I heard was definitely full-range audio entertainment, with powerful, tight bass and a huge sense of ambience. And when I switched to "Chartreuse," from ZZ Top's La Futura, I heard some of the most kick-ass sound I've ever heard from on-ears.

Of course, for $99 the DTX 501p isn't perfect. Geoff and I both found the highs a little hot for our taste. When I played "Kriti," a maelstrom of acoustic guitar, violin, and tabla from Shakti's A Handful of Beauty, the treble-heavy recording sounded too bright for me to crank it up very loud. I noticed a little coarseness in the upper mids, particularly in the voices of Meshell Ndegeocello and James Taylor, and Geoff noted the same with voices both male and female.

My biggest complaint, though, is that I want a DTX 501p BTNC-in other words, the same headphone with noise-cancelling and Bluetooth added.