EXCLUSIVE: Beyerdynamic T1 and T5 3rd-Gen Headphones Review
Matthew Jens tries out the latest third generation of these iconic high-end headphones…
T1 Open Back and T5 Closed-Back Headphones
Beyerdynamic took the professional industry by storm with its DT770 and DT990 cans back in the day and was even able to satisfy the notoriously fussy audiophile crowd with its T5 and T1 over-ear designs. The company has been going for nearly a century and doesn't miss a trick. The first T1 was particularly memorable – handcrafted in Germany, it used highly efficient proprietary driver technology called 'Tesla'. It meant that these large and luxurious full-size flagship headphones could be driven from something as small as a humble smartphone or portable digital audio player, with ease.
The T5 and T1 duly matured into second-generation versions which included new Tesla drivers and tuning, and continued their success. Now come the third-gen designs, at which StereoNEThas a very early look. While there are some striking similarities, there are also some key distinguishing points to separate them, some of which make more sense than others…
Just like the previous generation release, the T1 is the open-back version, while the T5 is a closed-back version. Beyerdynamic classifies both designs as siblings, and so without any technical confirmation to back me up on this, I'll wager that they share drive units and internal enclosures. The tech specs on the box are identical, so I'd bet on it.
Both models are assembled by hand in Germany and feature classy looking anodised brushed aluminium yolks. The open-backed T1 has a stainless steel cup with an attractive cut-out pattern etched into it, and the T5 is the same but with a smooth, sealed enclosure. Not trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to styling, Beyerdynamic has taken this opportunity to make slight tweaks. However, the basic shape, headband and dimensions are the same as all of the company's other flagship releases for the past few years.
The pads, for example, are the same round size they always have been, and are compatible with DT Pro models dating back to the 770 Pro from twenty years ago. The key difference here is the material – the closed-back T5 has a sealed synthetic leather pad, whereas the open-backed T1 has a velour pad that's softer and less dense, but more open. Both pad types are wonderfully comfortable, filled with memory foam and interchangeable. Both weigh 360 grams, 100g heavier than the Sennheiser HD600 but 90g lighter than the Focal Clear. You'll be fine wearing them around the house, but as they don't fold or bend do not try taking these on flights or public transport.
There are lashings of luxury all over these headphones to separate them from the rest. The headband, for example, has a strip of Alcantara over the top that looks like it would be more at home on the armrest of a first-class international flight cabin. This premium styling extends to the soft textured sleeve of the removable cable which uniquely cuts into the headphone at a 45-degree angle. It transmits very little microphonic noise and is made of high purity OCC 7N copper. Oddly enough, the closed-back T5 comes with a 1.4m cable with a non-threaded tip; the open-backed cable is twice as long, with a threaded tip. I can't fathom why this would be a thing, but it is! Once again, 2020 comes up with all kinds of surprises…
Both headphones come in a velour-wrapped hard case, with a neat little brushed metal faceplate. It has snug slots for the bundled 3.5mm to 6.35mm adapter, cable and the headphones, as well as plenty of marketing material thanking us kindly for our purchase. It's also worth noting that balanced cables are offered at an additional cost only, which is a painful pill to swallow when you're paying flagship prices at this end of the headphone spectrum…
These headphones are supremely comfortable, regardless of the version you choose. I suppose this isn't really headline news – what would be surprising is if Beyerdynamic produced a headphone that wasn't nice to wear over a long period of time. The headband had a tight clamp straight out of the box, but within a few hours the gentle “ahhhh” of this company's famous comfort shined through.
Just like it says on the tin, the Tesla drivers are stupidly easy to drive. Even with my iBasso DX160 digital audio portable in low-gain mode, or via an iPad with an Apple headphone adapter, it's frighteningly easy to achieve full dynamic range and volume from these headphones. Talk about a sheep in wolf's clothing!
The sheer efficiency of these drivers means a few things; not only will they play nicely with low powered sources, but it also means that they can achieve higher volumes without distortion. This is a deadly combination and a good reason to put that OTL desktop amplifier away, in favour of a more humble set-up.
Yet even straight off the bat, these made me think twice about amplification sources that I've trusted for years. “Hissing? Really?” I won't name names, but there are a few amps that have been put in the sin bin since I tried them with the T1 and T5. It seems I've discovered some imperfections that weren't picked up with other headphones…
Firstly, pairing the T1 with my trusty Matrix Quattro, I fired up the jazzy styles of Camberwell by FloFilz. With its wide dynamic range, this song provides a good demonstration of detail, separation and realism in the saxophone and piano samples, but also an ample example of some slapping beats as well. By comparison, the Sennheiser HD800S didn't hit quite as hard with the low end but provided more space in the midrange. The T1 had less bite in the upper midrange, and the piano sounded much brighter with the Sennheiser.
Now it was time to put the closed-back T5 through its paces, with the help of The Melody by Carl Craig. Being a closed-back, the T5 isn't immune to the usual caveats of having a sealed enclosure, such as a smaller soundstage. But in return, the kicks were delivered with more body and texture, and the entire sound felt a little less analytical and more fun.
One thing is clear with both of these headphones – those drivers are fast. They have lightning-quick transients, and the gutsy upper mids do an excellent job of revealing hitherto hidden moments. With some headphones, subtle background details and effects can be tough to catch, but these drivers eat them up for breakfast and ask “what's next?”
“Live music”, I replied while leaning over to hit the play button on The Man Who Sold The World, from when Nirvana played it at the Live and Loud concert. The T1 certainly likes to lean towards being a touch drier and more analytical compared to the T5, and as such, I preferred it for this particular piece. The closed-back sibling did a great job of making the performance feel more intimate. Still, the open-backed version delivered the music in a more lifelike sense, I think.
Both headphones have a natural-sounding – albeit slightly emphasised – bassline, with marginally more low end being produced from the closed-back iteration. Yet neither version exhibits any bloating or bleeding, and keeps the low end smooth and controlled the entire time. The bass is like a good filter coffee – clean, refined, smooth and with ample amounts of caffeine to kick you when required.
Beyerdynamic is at it again, producing two excellent high-end audiophile headphones. Despite some puzzling accessory choices – i.e. different size cable for each headphone, and not including any balanced cables – this is a seriously swish package. The asking price is very high by Beyerdynamic headphone standards. Still, it can be easily justified with some mental gymnastics along the lines of “yes, but with those highly efficient Tesla drivers, I won't need any expensive amplification to drive them properly…”
The sound is terrific; elevated yet controlled bass, clean mids, and a slight dip in the upper mids, leading to a natural and smooth sonic experience. These are luxury products with luxury price tags, but both have a suitably opulent sound. If price considerations aren't critically important to you, then do try to audition either or both if you can. Beyerdynamic is undoubtedly still on top of its game, and the T family goes on to fight for another generation.
Constantly keeping himself busy, Matthew is a production manager, Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt, Head-Fi fanatic, coffee enthusiast and all-round cool Dad.
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