Beyerdynamic T90 review: Pricey headphone with remarkably accurate sound

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The Good The full-size Beyerdynamic T90 uses advanced Tesla magnetic flux technology to produce remarkably accurate sound and its open-back design creates more spacious stereo imaging. The T90 is also very comfortable to wear for long periods and measures up well against headphones that cost $1,000.

The Bad It's expensive and definitely not suited to on-the-go use; the open-back design will leak sound.

The Bottom Line Sure, the Beyerdynamic T90 is pricey, but no other less-expensive headphone can match the T90's combination of comfort, sound, and build quality.

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8.2 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Sound 9
  • Value 7

Beyerdynamic offers a broad line of headphones, but it's the company's midprice and higher-end headphones that are sought after by audiophiles and record industry pros. Needless to say, some of these models, including the flagship $1,399 Tesla T1, will set you back some serious dough.

Introduced in 2010, the T1 has a closed-back design and features the world's most powerful headphone magnets. Those ubermagnets dramatically improve efficiency and lower distortion. Every subsequent Tesla model has had a closed-back design until the T90 reviewed here was released in June of 2012. It's the first open-back Tesla model.

That's a significant change, because an open-back design allows the user to more easily hear outside sounds and also produces more spacious stereo imaging than closed-back headphones. The end result is impressive. The T90 delivers extraordinary resolution of fine detail, and since it's unusually comfortable, it's a pleasure to wear for hours at a time.

The bad news is that while it may be about half the price of the T1, it's still expensive at around $650 online. The good news: it more than holds its own in comparison with $1,000 audiophile headphones.

The T90 is the first Tesla model to have an open-back design. Sarah Tew/CNET

Design and features
The T90 is a full-size, over-the-ear headphone. The center section of the outer earcups is covered with a textured grayish-brown fabric, which allows the user to hear outside sounds. Like every other open-back design, the T90's sound will be heard by anyone near you, so it won't be a great headphone to use in bed. The understated look is a marked contrast to the more typical high-gloss plastic sheen on Beats and other popular headphones. The T90 is hand-crafted in Beyerdynamic's plant in Germany.

The Tesla design strategy isn't just about using bigger or more powerful neodymium magnets; Tesla systems are optimized to minimize magnetic power losses that would reduce efficiency. With the Tesla headphones, a ring magnet encircles the driver; in more conventional headphones the magnet is smaller and contained within the driver.

The T90 is a very comfortable headphone. Sarah Tew/CNET

Quality is first-rate, and when you hold a T90 in your hands it feels more solidly built and impressive than Sennheiser's considerably more expensive HD-700 headphones. The T90's plush, velvet microfiber-covered ear pads are comfy and are less likely to make your ears sweat than more common leather or vinyl 'pads. The headphone weighs 12.3 ounces, which is moderately heavy for a full-size home headphone, but we found the T90's comfort well above par.

The headphone has a much higher than normal rated impedance, it's 250 ohms, which hinders performance with portable devices and phones, but the T90 was primarily designed for home use with AV receivers and headphone amplifiers that can easily drive high-impedance headphones.

The 10-foot headphone cable, mounted on the left ear cup, isn't user removable. The cable comes fitted with a 3.5mm plug, and Beyerdynamic includes a screw-on 6.3mm adapter plug. The large faux-leather, heavily padded carry bag is the only included accessory; its beautifully finished, luxurious feel is commensurate with the T90's high-end price. Better yet, it should do a good job protecting the headphone if you need to squeeze it into a cramped travel bag.