The Beyerdynamic DX 160 iE are smaller than the last Beyerdynamic headphone I reviewed. A lot smaller, since those were big title="Open-Back Vs. Closed-Back Headphones">open-back over-ears. Perhaps best known for those big over-ears, and on-ear, headphones, the DX 160 iE stand out in the Beyerdynamic lineup for their in-ears smallness.
Before we get going, if you’re curious about the value of high-end headphones, or have questions about headphones in general, first check out Are Expensive Headphones Worth It?, What Are The Best Headphones?, Noise Cancelling Vs. Noise Isolating Headphones, and How To Compare Headphones.
Fit is the most important factor in any in-ear headphone. Without a good fit and seal, you won’t get decent bass, and overall sound quality will suffer. A large part of getting a the right fit is a variety of tips, and here Beyer does fantastic. Not only are there 5 different tips, they range in not only size but style. Small through big regular round tips, a “mushroom” style tip, and even the medieval torture device “Christmas tree” tips (some people like this style, for me they’re horrid).
The headphones themselves are fairly basic, about twice the size of the foam tips, and offer little in the way of flair or design. Minimalist would be one way to say it, which honestly is fine. I don’t need my in-ears to be showy. The flat cable is excellent, though, resisting tangling.
Overall, the DX 160 iE sound fairly balanced, with a slight tip up in the bass, smooth but fairly laid back treble, and lively mid-range. I did my testing with my HTC One, Apple iPod Classic, and iPod touch.
Starting with Jared and the Mill’s “Breathe Me In,” I found the strumming of the guitars far more muted than I’ve heard on other headphones. The bass was full, but lacked a lot of definition. The stereo separation was good, with the soundstage seeming to extend a little bit out from my ears.
Up next was Iron & Wine’s “Love and Some Verses.” This wasn’t as open as I’ve heard it, reinforcing my initial impressions. However, I should be clear I didn’t dislike the DX 160 iE, in fact, quite the opposite. In this price range, I’ve heard few better (I’ll talk about some more expensive competition on the next page). Most inexpensive headphones tend to have some pretty offensive treble, making them uncomfortable to listen to. While the DX 160′s treble is rolled off in the really high end, the mid and lower treble is smooth and sound great. I’ll take that over an extended, but bitey, treble any day.
For something a bit more vigorous, I queued up the classic “Live and Let Die” by Guns N’ Roses. The overall balance of the DX 160 iE worked perfect for this, letting it play loud without being fatiguing, having a big sound, without lacking overall definition or detail.
To me, there are two main competitors: the B&W C5, and the RBH EP1/EP2. The C5s are one of my favorite in-ears (especially for travel), offering (for me anyway) an excellent and comfortable fit, and great sound. That sound, however, is definitely bass heavy. While the DX 160 iE offer great bass, it’s not nearly as much as the C5s. That may read like a negative, however it’s not. I’ve always been cautious in my recommendation of the C5s, in that while I like their sound, I wound never call them “neutral.” I’m positive many (if not most) people would like the more balanced sound of the DX 160 iE. The C5′s have a more open treble, too.
I find the C5s more comfortable, as well, with their unique through-the-bud cable design. But other people don’t find the C5s comfortable. It’s an odd recommendation, but if you like the fit and sound of the C5s, you’ll probably like them better than the DX 160 iE. Conversely, you may not like the extra bass and fit of the C5s. The B&W’s are about $50 more than the Beyer’s, which to me puts them in the same ballpark, but feel free to disagree.
The RBH EP1 and 2 (the 2 has a mic) are the current Wirecutter pick for best in-ear headphone under $200. They are fantastic, not least for their neutral sound. Back to back, the DX 160 iE has more bass than the EP2, less treble, and less of a boost in the mid range. Overall, the EP2s are probably a little more balanced. Personally, I prefer the DX 160 iE, but I had a few people try them both and I was in the minority.
Wirecutter’s headphone guru, Lauren Dragan, offered to give the DX 160′s a listen for me. Comparing DX 160 iE to the EP2, she felt that the DX 160 iE had “some high-end roll off” and that “If you like less dexterity in high end, you may enjoy the 160s. Overall, I prefer the RBH and B&W better.”
I also had John Higgins, musician and Vocal Music Director at the Windward School give them a listen. He felt that if combined, the RBH and the DX 160 iE would make a great headphone. He felt the RBH’s treble was a little “bitey” (I concur), but the bass on the Beyer’s was a little “unfocused” (Lauren and I both concurred).
This is the part of the review where I like to point you towards other professional reviews except… there aren’t any. I got this review sample at CES, and this seems to be the first US review. I’ll update with links as more reviews come in.
The DX 160 iE are an excellent headphone, at a great price. I wish they had a mic, but for $130 and this level of sound quality, that might be OK. I’ve seen many companies just put out cheap headphones just to have cheap headphones, with little concern for quality. Thankfully, Beyer hasn’t done that. The DX 160 iE sound great, and as an added bonus, are also inexpensive. Solid.
DX 160 iE – $130