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Before we get into the Beyerdynamic DT770 Mage Audio “Black Mage” modded version, grab a snack, sit back and relax because..
You’ve come to the right place!!
What I will bring you in this review
My Video Review
Gaming (Coming Soon!)
Now without further ado, let’s get rolling!!
As mentioned in a lot of my articles, I frequent the local Audio Advice near my home to demo headphones, talk philosophy, and generally find out about new gear.
There’s a really great guy named Chip who works in the Home Theater section, and sometimes I go to the store just so I can talk to him. He knows a heck of a lot about audio, and even sold me an Oppo HA2 for a ridiculously great price! Learn more:Oppo HA2 Review!
So one day we got to talking and he mentioned a fella named Craig Boyles, who does mods on popular headphones such as the Beyerdynamic DT770. Learn more:Beyerdynamic DT770 Review!
Chip asked me if I would be willing to get in contact with him to discuss headphones, as he thought our interests would probably be in line. I’m always looking to demo new stuff, and loved the idea of trying out a modded pair of cans.
Long story short, I contacted him and he dropped off 4 headphones for demo to my crib on July 27th, 2018.
Craig explained to me that he’s gone back and forth about the 770 for sometime. “I found that I just don’t really enjoy listening to music with it” even though he thinks it does a fairly good job of exposing flaws in a recording. He pointed out the treble area, which he thought was much too harsh over a long period of time and I would tend to agree. A lot of people mention this problem in reviews and forums, but Craig was going to do something about it.
He’s been hard at work for about a year tweaking the sound of the headphone, and coming up with his own version of the ultimate closed back experience.
Does his mod accomplish what he intended?
Let’s find out, but first we’ll start with specifications as always..
This is roughly how I perceive the sound signature out of the Black Mage. It’s got a slight bump between 1-3k, a bass that’s extremely articulate and a bit rolled off, and a darker sounding treble that rarely gets out of line or becomes sibilant. What does Sibilant mean? I would say 95% of the time there will be no metallic hue to these which is quite refreshing.
Build quality is excellent, and the design is extremely practical. The ear cups rotate up and down, but not all the way down. They stop at around 45 degrees. As far as in and out, they rotate enough to get a good fit on your melon and that’s perfectly fine.
The padding is perfect, as they sport the soft velour that everyone adores.
The material of the headphone is a tough plastic combined with a button up head band adjustment and a bit of metal coming out of the ear cups.
All in all, it’s a solid, fairly utilitarian design with a dash of style. They do protrude out from your ears quite a bit, so you’ll look like a semi-nerd with these on if you decide to venture out with them.
The chord is non-detachable, terminates in a 3.5mm jack and comes with a 1/4″ adapter. Fairly standard issue stuff here. The headband adjustments are low profile as well and keep in line with the overall aesthetic of the headphone.
BUILD QUALITY SCORE: A NUMBAH ONE!!
How about comfort?
Comfort is exemplary, as they kind of remind me of a Philips SHP9500 with a better clamp force. Philips SHP9500 Review! The 9500 is a bit loosey goosey on your noggin, but the 770 strikes a perfect balance here.
The velour padding that we discussed above are what makes these phenomenal for long listening sessions; they’re open, spacious, comfortable, and inviting. Their low key, non threatening demeanor sets them apart from other headphones with a harsher character. While other cans may laugh at you over a long listening session, the 770 is here to coddle you. Go ahead, try them on for size!
COMFORT SCORE: A NUMBAH ONE!!
Now we’re getting to the good part.
If I could describe the sound of the Black Mage mod from Craig Boyles in one word, it would be: revealing.
The bad news about this mod is that it’s actually too good. What do I mean by this?
It exposes everything about a track to the point of discomfort, meaning: I get an uneasy feeling that’s hard to describe. It’s like the time I heard Over the Hills and Far Away for the first time properly through the Bryston BHA-1 and a pair of HIFIMAN HE400i’s. It scared me in the way that it revealed the band. As if I got a glimpse into each soul. The music somehow sounded different, even though I’d heard the song a thousand times.
That’s what it’s like hearing the Mage. So if you thought the HD600 was transparent, just wait till you throw these bad boys onto your big head!
In that sense, they can be disappointing because they are so brutally honest. At the same time, they are immensely enjoyable because of how many micro details they reveal with stunning consistency.
I don’t want to say these are as good as a Focal Utopia, but I’m almost inclined to compare the two. In my Utopia review, I used an analogy where the sound is akin to doors, and that the sound resembles someone sprinkling garlic powder into your ears (which represents all the fine details that you would’ve otherwise missed out on).
For instance, Door 1, 2 and 3.
Door 1 is the stuff you always hear on the surface, Door 2 is something like an HD600/650, where you start to realize how much more there is to music. But Door 3 boy howdy, is the absolute pinnacle of detail retrieval. The details even have details!
Out of the 73 (and counting) headphones I’ve heard, only the Utopia has revealed the most across the board. That is, until the Black Mage.
It makes sense that Craig has spent over a year on these, and when I found out that he used some of the best headphones on the planet (including the Utopia) as the basis for his comparison and a reference for how he was going to tune his Black Mage, it all started to add up.
In short, these headphones reveal music in a way that feels both familiar and foreign. Think you know how a track sounds that you’ve heard a thousand times? THINK AGAIN BUSTER!
The Black Mage turns all that on it’s head. I was flabbergasted listening to tracks I’ve heard many times over. We’ll get into specifics later.
“How did I miss that part before?”
“That organ sound wasn’t there the last time I listened to this song”
“It’s like another veil was removed. There’s a sound behind that sound.”
To put it bluntly: Decay, Instrument Timbre, Soundstage, Instrument separation, and clarity are all absolutely stunning to the point of it being almost too much for me to handle. What is Timbre?
Not everyone mixes or masters properly, and the Black Magewill expose it. These are honest almost to a fault. There are times when I just can’t enjoy the track and I have to skip over it. There are times when the track is just clammy and bad. It’s hard to explain. It’s like the song has this thin layer of raw egg white spattered all over it. Yuck! Man cook yo eggs fool!
Luckily, you’re going to enjoy a lot of tracks with these bad boys. They are pretty relaxing actually! They remind me of a cross between the honesty of the HD600, the warmth of the HD650, the openness of the Sony MDR Z1R, and the raw detail of the Focal Utopia. BOOM!
How Craig managed to make a closed back headphone sound so open is beyond me. Sure, the stock 770 kind of does sound open in a way, but he somehow opened up the sound so much that you get the full spectrum. It’s like a rainbow for your ears homie!
Let’s dissect the frequency spectrum.
Bass is fairly rolled off here, but does provide ample slam when called for. For the most part you’re getting an articulate and textured low end with plenty of clarity. I wouldn’t recommend these for bass heads, but I would say that if there’s a track with a lot of bass, the Mage is surprising in how well it delivers it.
For instance, I can enjoy Indie Pop just fine with these, and the bass is more than exceptional. It satisfies on all fronts.
My initial impressions to Craig were that the mid-range sounded a bit forward and he confirmed that through email:
The mid-range sounds phenomenal, and it doesn’t get out of line which I really appreciated. You can tell voices and instruments appear forward in the mix, but it gives the headphone a great sense of realism and intimacy.
Relaxed is the right word, and actually sums up the overall sound of these quite nicely. I would say relaxed and immensely detailed. The treble borrows from the greatness of the HD600/650 in that it doesn’t have that nasty bite like most V-shaped headphones or otherwise.
This is what makes the Mage great for long listening sessions – not only is it very comfortable and lightweight, but the sound is conducive for such an affair.
The treble is detailed, but not in your face like a fruit fly during the hot summer months (Man I really hate those things). I must have slayed at least 500 of them so far this summer by way of the clap (no not Chlamydia), or vinegar traps. 😛
I would categorize the treble as being somewhat darker than average, but in no way “veiled.” It’s just right like Goldilocks and her porridge. By the way, what the heck is “Porridge?” Who calls it that? It’s like when people call soda “Pop.” Ugh.
Gosh I’m rambling again..
SOUND SCORE: A NUMBAH ONE!!
My Video Review
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Click to see The Mage!
Imaging on these puppies is phenomenal, and one of their best qualities.
As alluded to above, the soundscape reminds me of a rainbow, or the natural trajectory of the sun during a full day.
You’re getting sounds in all directions, from the lower left, all the way to the lower right and everywhere in between those two points.
Up, down, and all around, so turn that frown, upside down!!
Certain tracks are better in the way that they portray sound, so be aware of your mix and master. It is important with the Mage.
The image also has very nice depth; you’re able to hear stuff in the background with relative ease. Not only that, but it comes through with crystal clear precision.
“Do I make myself clear Mr. Bender?”
These don’t necessarily need and amp, but I would highly recommend one to get the most out of them.
Out of my LGX Charge it simply isn’t loud enough, but your mileage may vary depending on your phone.
Craig himself also recommends them out of a NAIM DAC V-1 which I also love. Unfortunately, Audio Advice sold the unit that I was using for demo before I got a chance to try the Mage with it.
I would say the Mage works for most genres. Some that I like them with are:
They are going to work very well for these genres, as well as stuff like Classical, Folk, Acoustic, and generally softer genres with emphasis on detail, instrumentation, and the Timbre of instruments in particular. What is Timbre?
Let’s get into some of the tracks I tested with these bad boys!
I tried to choose mostly tracks that I am really familiar with, as it’s easier to decipher any abnormalities and methodologies of the headphones themselves in how they portray the songs, whether good or bad.
Fortunately, it was mostly incredible!
Oh God. It’s like the artist is trying to communicate something through the broken and chopped samples coming through the Mage. I’m scared. I want my mommy. I genuinely feel like this guy is trying to tell me something. It was almost like understood him on a deeper level for a second. His plight. His struggle. His desires. His emotions. Strange. The secondary melody also came through with stunning clarity and demanded my attention.
Pyramid Song. This was always the standout track from Amnesiac in my mind, and I got a truly eerie feeling when listening to it again for the first time in quite awhile. It was like every single minute detail came to life, as if you were part of some horror movie. The beginning drips with a weird sense of dread and creakiness that sounds like ghosts opening doors. On the surface it seems kind of hopeful, but under that veneer lies an almost cynical sense of Yorke mocking the absurdity of life itself, while also lamenting it’s importance as a form of growing up and accepting it on it’s terms. That’s just my opinion and it’s how the song makes me feel on a personal level. But it’s really an arrangement that ends up giving you quite an unsettling, uneasy feeling and that’s part of the reason why I have a hard time listening to it even though it’s an absolutely beautiful piece. It reminds me of a weird time in my life that’s far gone, but still manifests in dreams which is fitting considering the song has that kind of transcendent, ascending quality about it. The Mage really brings this song to life on a level that’s truly uncomfortable.
Windowlicker. I’ve heard this song at least a few hundred times, but I never noticed the weird wind effect and extreme clarity at 4:15. This is a running theme; you tend to notice a lot of intricate details that were seemingly masked over in the past. The Mage does an incredible job of lifting the veil off of music, which is funny considering it’s treble isn’t terribly bright.
I truly got a newfound sense of discovery and enjoyment in listening to this album again, and in particular the first three tracks. Again the impressions are the same: Impeccable sense of timing and detail, with a fantastic decay.
Subterranean Homesick Alien is even more emotional than I remember it, with Yorke pleading his case towards the end: “I’d tell all my friends but they’d never believe me, they’d think that I’d finally lost it completely, I’d show ’em the stars, and the meaning of life .. They’d shut me away … but I’d be alright.”
The desperation in his tone is felt to a degree that becomes incredibly profound because of the backing behind him. Everyone comes together in such a cohesive way that it’s almost overwhelming in that instant. I don’t know if Radiohead were ever in sync with each other as much as they were in that moment.
1. Estimated Prophet. I love this track for demo purposes because there’s so much going on. The Mage does a great job in handling the intricacies of the song and reveals all of the detail that I was expecting. I didn’t hear anything extra, but the lush quality of the recording came in, with everything sounding very natural and effortless.
This is an example of what happens when you combine a well mastered album with a great set of headphones. It’s basically euphoric; every note, every strum, every rhythm, and every painstakingly thought of detail becomes almost self aware. The music breathes in a way that must be heard to understand.
I’ve said this before in other reviews, but it’s as if you gain a greater understanding of the artists and how they intended for their music to sound. You garner a level of respect for what went into the album: all the effort, intricacy, and in the case of Rumours, drama! The battle between Stevie and Lindsey in the midst of their break up is all the more intriguing, because you’re now able to get an even deeper glimpse into how they were actually feeling. The headphones coupled with the immaculately produced album result in a truly breathtaking experience.
The track “Dreams” on the surface seems like kind of a bare bones song with not a lot going on, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Stevie hums a little in the beginning, but I had never heard her doodling around with her voice at :12 right before the drums come in. These little moments are littered all over the album, with the steadfast and tenacious listener being rewarded the most.
The romance and heartache on “I Don’t Want to Know” is almost palpable. It has a way of tugging on your heart strings as you feel the duo of Nicks and Buckingham sing in tandem:
“Finally baby, the truth has been told. Now you tell me that I’m crazy, It’s nothing that I didn’t know, Trying to survive, Oh you say you love me, but you don’t know, You got me rocking and a-reeling.”
It just has a way of digging deep at your soul, with a sense of sorrow that their relationship never ended up working out though there has always been a love between the two.
Ah, Kid A. Either you loved it or hated it. I personally loved it. A lot of folks didn’t because it was that pivotal period in Radiohead’s career in which they branched off in a completely new and abstract direction (in large part due to Thom Yorke’s mental breakdown in promoting 1997’s OK Computer).
Long gone were the poppy guitar riffs off of “Creep” and even the traditional notion of a “band” was scrapped in favor of an electronic, pulsating type of sound like the opening track “Everything In it’s Right Place.”
Yorke felt like people were not only copying his music, but that the music itself had become stale simply as a byproduct of the commercialization of it. What a concept.
Kid A sort of reminds me of the direction Hideo Kojima took after the original Metal Gear Solid in 1998. Instead of giving fans what they wanted in 2, he purposefully sabotaged all expectations and made it a parody of gaming in general, and in the midst mocked his fans unrequited and absurd obsession with Solid Snake (Yes, I was one of those fanboys). He did that by basically making the Plant chapter a carbon copy of the original game, only this time in a sterile setting absent of any sort of heroic undertones and the dark, dense atmosphere that made MGS1 so memorable.
A lot of people didn’t get it, just like many folks don’t understand the brilliance of Kid A. The Mage again brings this album to life, by revealing details, textures, and rhythms you weren’t aware of before.
On “Idioteque” a long time favorite of mine, you can clearly hear the weird drum sounds coming in at :38 and this time they have a pulsating sense of depth and precision that I never remembered hearing before.
“Everything in it’s right place” sounds mostly like I remember, only this time the ghostliness comes to life at 2:08, and some haunting soundscapes make themselves known at around 2:18. The Mage has a knack for separating sounds for your enjoyment, and peeling back the layers in a way that demands your attention.
Impressions Coming Soon
Here are some more albums/songs that I have listened to with the Mage (Impressions coming soon!)
My final grade for this headphone is a solid A.
I can’t give it an A+ because of a couple of minor concerns that I noticed became a running trend in a lot of the music.
As good as the Mage is at revealing artifacts and textures you weren’t aware of, it’s lacking something and I’m not quite sure what that is. It could be a sense of body.
I felt like some tracks were lacking heft and weight, to the extent that it felt somewhat empty at times. The portrayal of music becomes so honest and transparent that it can be almost too much of a good thing.
The sound is immaculately detailed and precise, but in some instances it lacks weight and body. The headphone (or maybe it’s the track itself) sacrifices warmth and fullness in favor of precision.
This can be taken a couple of ways.
It won’t matter at all if you need the most accurate portrayal of what you’re hearing, and tend to do a lot of reference work.
It won’t matter much if what you prefer is this type of clinical accuracy.
It will matter a little bit if you prefer some extra bass “oomph.”
It will matter a lot if you’re looking for a sound that does tend to be on the warmer side, with added bass emphasis and a more colored sound signature.
Because the bass tends to roll off quite a bit, it would explain the increase in precision at the expense of a fuller type of sound.
Thankfully this is the exception and not the rule.
I found myself 95% of the time being amazed at the capability of this headphone to bring about a newfound sense of excitement and wonder, to the point of wanting to go back and rediscover music that I’ve long since forgotten about.
I think Craig did a fantastic job tuning this headphone, and would say that he achieved his goal of creating the ultimate closed back listening experience.This headphone embodies the character of an Open back in such a powerful way, that I have no reservations in recommending it to others.
Stu is determined to provide the truth about all things audio, and strives to deliver excellent content to you the reader! In his spare time, he likes to fish, paint, play guitar, attend church, take photos, record videos, graphic design, and more. His attention to detail and perfectionist attitude are what allow him to excel, but it can be both a blessing and a hindrance at times.