It’s always refreshing to review a pair of headphones that appears to have a dubious gimmick, only to discover that the gimmick is actually a useful tool. Musicians, engineers, and home audio enthusiasts have plenty of reason to check out the Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro, which at $249.00 (direct), delivers a very accurate, flat response-style sound signature. And it also delivers a booming, heavily bass-boosted sound signature. And it also delivers two other modes that split the difference between the two extremes. It’s easy for the user to select which mode they like best, with the headphones on, while listening to music. All four modes have their merits, and even the middle modes deliver a dynamic, crisp, musical balance that’s ideal for pro and home audio listening.
The Custom One Pro headphones are a chunky, pro-level pair geared towards studio use, but they’ll work just fine for any music lover who prefers circumaural (over-the-ear), cushioned ear pads. The fit here is plush, comfortable, and secure—it’s easy to see these being a solid studio headphone pair for both musicians and engineers. Sound leakage is not a real issue at rational listening levels, and they remain comfortable over long listening sessions.
The Custom One Pro is pretty light on accessories for a headphone pair in this price range, but the cable (which has no remote or mic for mobile phone use) is removable. This increases the overall value of the headphones tremendously, since you don’t have to replace the whole system if the cable wears out or malfunctions. Besides the removable cable, you also get a 1/4-inch headphone adapter; there isn’t even a cloth carrying pouch. The headband and ear pads are also removable and replaceable, however, which should add to the pair’s longevity.
The aspect of the Custom One Pro that makes it “custom” is the listener’s ability to adjust the bass response. There are sound sliders on each ear—at position one, they offer a “Light Bass” response. At position two, they offer “Linear Bass,” position three “Vibrant Bass,” and position four “Heavy Bass.” I think most listeners will typically prefer positions two or three, but bass lovers can really crank it up if they wish, and studio engineers trying to listen in a more clinical, flat-response manner will find the “Light Bass” setting useful. What is odd is the inclusion of a slider on both ears; you can have the left ear and the right ear at different settings, and I’m not really sure what good this does anyone. It could have some useful studio applications, just as long as you pay attention to these sliders and don’t accidentally give yourself a lop-sided mix
Another interesting feature of the sound sliders: When they are closed and outputting the least amount of bass response, they also block out more ambient room sound passively. Compared with actual noise cancellation, this is a very subtle attenuation, but it’s still useful if working or listening in a noisy environment.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like the Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the Custom One Pro provides a very solid response, distortion-free at even the highest listening levels in all four of its listening modes. With the “Heavy Bass” mode enabled, the deep synth drum hits on this track are delivered with a serious thud, but the overall sound is still not as bass-heavy as many consumer pairs regularly are lately. The bass response here is powerful, but reigned in and given contour by the strong definition through the mids, high-mids, and high frequencies. In the less bass-heavy modes, the deep low end of this track is still present, but obviously very dialed back—the “Light Bass” setting does more implying than actual delivering of the sub-bass frequencies, but you’d never call the sound brittle or thin.
Bill Callahan’s voice on the “Drover” sounds edgy and cuts through the mix to the forefront with ease when we listen in “Light Bass” mode, while the drums that on a bass-heavy pair can sound too boosted are delivered with almost no low-frequency presence here. Flip to the “Linear Bass” mode, and the rich baritone aspect of his voice gets a bit fuller, and the drums also get a subtle layer of low and low-mid presence. Climbing up the ladder to the “Vibrant Bass” setting, we get even more lows on the drums and his voice starts to sound a bit too bass-boosted, but the treble edge that keeps things balanced is always present and in charge of the mix. At the “Heavy Bass” setting, things start to sound a bit unnatural—the drums sound powerful, but they throw around a lot more low frequency presence than they need to. His voice doesn’t get too much more bass in this mode, but we notice an overall shift in balance from the mids and high-mids that were in charge in previous setting to the low-mids and lows. It’s not a bad sound, and some listeners will prefer it, but it does involve quite a bit of low frequency boosting.
Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild” follows similar patterns in the various listening modes. At the lowest bass setting, the kick drum loop’s attack slices through the mix with crisp mids and high-mids, while the heavy sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat sound more like weak bee stings here with little low-end presence at all. At the maximum bass setting, we get a complete shift—the kick drum loop still has that nasty attack, but now it has some deep sustain to give it more body, while the sub-bass synth hits sound gloriously powerful and provide a new dynamic aspect to this dense mix. Vocals never have trouble staying out in front of the mix, which is impressive given the elements they must contend with. Again, the middle settings were the ones I favored—you get more bass presence, but balance still brings out the mids and high-mids the most.
Classical tracks, like John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances,” sound a little clinical and brittle in the “Light Bass” mode; these types of recording usually have only subtle EQ, if any, applied during mixing and mastering, and so they tend to lean more to the mids and highs naturally. The third mode added a nice richness to the lower register strings and brass, while the “Heavy Bass” setting brought it out even more, while never sounding unnatural. For classical music, I might actually prefer the “Heavy Bass” setting, as it really doesn’t boost sub-bass to an obscene level when it’s working with a subtly mixed orchestral recording. The extra presence given to the low strings and big percussion is subtle and fairly natural-sounding. Purists may not love it, but they’ll find something in the lighter modes they’ll favor instead.
If the Custom One Pro’s sound sliders are too much for you and you’d rather have a pair with a consistent sound signature you know you can trust when mixing or recording, it’s hard to go wrong with the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro—don’t expect booming bass from this pair, but you’ll get a very accurate depiction of the mix. If your budget allows, the Shure SRH1440 is an excellent, dynamic option and a great recording and mixing tool. For the non-pro, home-listening crowd that has less to worry about in terms of sound leakage near mics, the Sennheiser HD 558 is one of my favorite headphone pairs for under $200. Also in this price range, the lighter-weight, very cool-looking Marshall Monitor delivers a rich sound signature that is ideal for home-listening, but it’s definitely not a pro-level pair like most of the others we’ve discussed.
It’s hard to say anything bad about the Custom One Pro—for the price, it truly delivers solid, clean performance, and it delivers an adjustable sound signature in an easy-to-control manner. If you’re the type of listener who likes to mess around with the sound a bit, adding a bit of bass here, taking it away there—this is your pair.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc