Visit the Beyerdynamic website, and the first thing you’ll see is its new Custom One Pro headset. In an effort to compete with the likes of name-droppers like Dr. Dre’s Beats, or Ludacris’ Soul headphones, the long-established German audio company’s latest headphones are prominently positioned, and offer a slew of exterior and sonic customization options for $200. We sat down with the new headset for some extensive testing to see how it stacks up to its celebrity-backed competition.
Out of the box
The proverbial warning against judging a book by its cover certainly applies to the Custom One Pro. Whereas many manufacturers splurge on opulent packaging and questionably useful accessories, Beyerdynamic has adopted a decidedly old-school, plain presentation. Inside the Custom One Pro’s extraordinarily ordinary carton, we found the all-black headphones mounted on a grey cardboard stand, accompanied by a ¼-inch adapter, and a single, removable headphone cable. That’s not much to offer for a headset in the $200 range, but we held hope that Beyerdynamic’s choice was to put its money where it counts most: the Custom One Pro’s performance.
Features and design
What the Custom One Pro lacks in packaging, it makes up for in features. Our favorite design point is one the simplest, yet most useful sound-shaping options we’ve seen on a set of headphones in recent memory.
Ever been listening to a playlist and have the bass response radically change with the track? The Custom One’s bass control switch was designed to address that very issue. Far from an EQ, the ingenious port switch on each earpiece allows for +/- 5 decibel attenuation or boost by simply moving the switches between 4 different positions. This kind of simple, yet comprehensive bass control is a feature we’ve wished for on multiple headsets.
At first glance, the Custom One’s large, black ear cups look a bit industrial and plain. But here the headphones once gain live up to their name, as the ear-cups’ exterior can be switched out for one of several designer plates available on Beyerdynamics’ website. The black leatherette ear pads and headband pad can also be switched out for beige, brown, or white options, allowing a fully personalized look.
The Custom One Pro sport 50mm, 16-ohm dynamic drivers with a rated frequency response of 18Hz to 35,000Hz. The headband and arms that support the ear cups are made of dull black metal that feels sturdy enough to sustain a few serious pavement drops without injury. The ear cups maneuver easily on their hinges, allowing enough movement to accommodate a wide variety of head shapes. The thick pad that cushions the headband is double layered, and fastened by Velcro for easy removal.
Though the Custom One Pro are stout in appearance, they remain light and comfortable. Fluffy ear pads rest softly against the head, easily surrounding the ears and reducing pressure, while thick headband padding ensures a pressure-free fit for comfortable listening over extended periods.
We tested the Custom One Pro by listening to a variety of different music genres through an iPhone 5, Macbook Pro, and MOTU 896 HD DAC. We spent most of our time with the headphones’ adjustable bass switch set on “vibrant bass”, but moved to the “heavy bass” setting at times, depending on source material.
We were pleased to discover the Custom One Pro provided a particularly well-crafted soundscape, highlighted by intent detail, vivid reproduction of instrumental timbre, and airy stereo field. Frankly, there wasn’t much we didn’t enjoy about the sound these headphones reproduced.
Timbre – the term used to describe tonal color and/or quality – was a word that repeatedly came to mind as we shuffled through our diverse music catalog with the Custom One. The headphones’ drivers delivered a tangible texture to instrumentation which was especially noticeable with percussion and string instruments. The multiple instrumental tracks on “Closer” by NIN were especially well-exposed. We were treated to deep, rounded tones with the entrance of each new drum beat or synth patch, all of which was spread out in perfect balance with Trent Reznor’s sparkling vocals. The song also showcased the defined power of the low end, balanced with excellent clarity in the treble.
The timbre of bowed string instruments was also delivered with vibrant color. The cello in the Beatles tune “Strawberry Fields” has seldom been delivered with such life, its carving tone reproduced with sawtooth-crunchy goodness.
Aside from the brilliant timbre of instruments, the Custom One is notable for its wide stereo dimension coupled with fine detail. One track that handily exposed the vast, spherical nature of the Custom One’s sound field was Radiohead’s “Codex” from The King of Limbs. As the song builds from its sparse, desolate entrance, we flashed back to the orchestral score of 2001 as haunting French horns entered, echoing through our headspace. At the end of the song, a wide frequency filter effect showed off the Custom One’s well balanced detail at each end of the spectrum, its drivers effortlessly transitioning from very low to very high pitches.
Seldom in our listening has a headset created such a smooth, detailed sound while maintaining such immaculate balance as the Custom One. Forced to tender a complaint, we’d say the headphones’ laid back approach might occasionally rob music of its excitement. The Custom One lays sound out before the listener so effortlessly that, at times, they had a lulling effect, especially with instruments like piano and keyboard. Also, the upper treble region was slightly lean for our taste. Aside from those minor quibbles, we thoroughly enjoyed our time with Beyerdynamic’s Custom One Pro.
You’d be hard pressed to find a better sounding set of headphones in the $200 price segment than the Custom One Pro. Detail, balance, and wide stereo imaging alone put these headphones in very high company, but when you consider the ability to finely tune bass and customize their look with a wardrobe of skins, it gets hard to image why you’d put your money elsewhere. For those looking to spend $200 or even quite a bit more on a serious set of cans, we highly recommend you add the Custom One Pro to your list. These are the real deal.
- Clear detail
- Excellent timbre reproduction
- Wide stereo image
- Bass control
- Customizable exterior
- Soft approach occasionally lacks excitement
- Slightly lean in upper treble