Although most full-size headphones with audiophile pretensions have open designs that allow the listener to hear outside sounds, a few models are closed to hush ambient noise. The Beyerdynamic DT 880s have a semiopen design that combines the attributes of open and closed headphones. The DT 880s let you hear the outside world, but their external, radiated sound isn't as loud as it would be with open headphones, so it won't bother people around you. The headphones carry a $420 list price, but you can find them going for around $300 online.
Svelte perforated-aluminum ear cups, velvety ear pads, and a thickly padded headband contribute to the stellar looks of the Beyerdynamic DT 880s. The headphones come packed in a foam-padded aluminum storage case that's almost as pretty as the headphones themselves--you definitely won't want to hide them in a closet. The DT 880s weigh 9.5 ounces and come with a single-sided 9.5-foot cable terminated with a gold-plated miniplug. Beyerdynamic provides a screw-on, gold-plated 1/4-inch plug for home use and throws in a 15-foot headphone-extension cable with 1/4-inch connectors. These headphones are intended as stay-at-home models--they're too big and bulky for on-the-go use. The headphones are also power hungry, so puny iPods and MP3 players won't supply enough juice to produce much volume. High-end headphones are typically best suited to plug into an A/V receiver.
Comfort levels were among the best we've experienced. The pillow-soft ear pads barely seemed to press against our ears. Even after long hours of use, we were hardly aware we were wearing headphones.
The Beyerdynamic DT 880s weren't shy about putting us in the middle of the climatic disturbances of the DVD The Day After Tomorrow. The extremes of wind, hail, torrential rains, and pounding tsunami were chillingly visceral. The ($300) provided a more spacious soundstage, but the DT 880s were no slouch in that department, and we imagine some buyers might prefer their more "close-up" sonic perspective.
The Beyerdynamic DT 880s sounded rich and natural on Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927" track from the Our New Orleans benefit CD, in which Newman is on piano and has members of both the Louisiana and New York Philharmonic orchestras backing him up. The DT 880s did justice to the ravishing strings, and Newman's vocals and piano sounded wonderfully realistic. Moreover, we preferred the DT 880s over the K 601s on Phish's Billy Breathes CD.
While the sound of the Beyerdynamic DT 880s may have been a bit narrow at times, the K 601s put a little too much space between the music and our ears. Though their perspectives are different, the quality and the price of both headphones are remarkably similar.