Beyerdynamic T1 Review: The T1’s are a well built, class leading pair of headphones that exhibit a classic British neutral Hi-Fi tone. Whilst the T1’s are an ultra analytical and revealing pair of cans, it is crucial to pair them with the right source in order for them to sing.
Founded back in 1924, Beyerdynamic is a regimented and well versed German brand that are known for their professional and consumer grade discreet microphones, close mic solutions, studio hardware, and headphone designs; all of which are strictly conceptualised from ‘Ground Zero’.
Although Beyerdynamic has always managed to maintain a well respected position in the professional/consumer music markets, it was the recent in-house development of ‘Tesla’ driver technology that propelled the brand to new heights amongst audiophiles, causing quite a stir! In fact ‘Tesla’ driver technology is now so lucrative for the firm that many third party brands outsource their drivers from Beyerdynamic - an incredible achievement!
Before we progress I would like to point out that we have previously reviewed Beyerdynamic’s penultimate flagship model; the T90’s. With a full five out of five award we have big expectations for the circumaural semi-open back Tesla T1’s, so let’s jump right into it.
Unboxing and Presentation:
As with most Beyerdynamic products the exterior packaging is fairly closed-set and seemingly [very] German in style. I can’t say that the external packaging insights any particular excitement considering their premium price-tag, but hey… it’s just a box! Once past this seemingly insignificant exterior shell, internally Beyerdynamic have put on quite a performance with the inclusion of an impressive custom aluminium presentation and storage case. Measuring 11” x 9.5” x 5.75” it’s a good size and has an air of quality with a hinged lid, spring clasp, wave bevelled sides, sandblasted aluminium appearance, and a hand stamped Beyerdynamic logo to finish. This case is very study, certainly of a premium standard, and is very generous of Beyerdynamic to include - especially considering that it is clearly a custom made component that is not just a repurposed box. Moving away from the exterior, internally the case is packed with a 6-axis machine carved high density foam with a plush velour finish where the T1’s sit very comfortably without you needing to worry about their safety during transit or atop of a Hi-Fi stand. If we forget the boring old exterior box for a second, the presentation of the T1’s is absolutely outstanding and I have to give Beyerdynamic a big thumbs up for their thoughtfulness.
As a package the T1’s are fairly ‘straight up’ as you ‘only’ get the presentation case and the T1 headphones themselves. With that said, because the T1’s are terminated with a professional ¼” output, personally I would have liked for Beyerdynamic to have included a short ¼” to ⅛” (3.5mm) adapter so that they can be used with higher powered DAPs or non-standard all-in-one output solutions, such as the Geek Out DAC/Amp. Arguably this is a futile conclusion considering the caliber and 600Ω impedance, but, as we know a 3.5mm output is extremely common nowadays. Regardless, if you are about to purchase, or have already purchased, the T1’s and need a ¼” to ⅛” (3.5mm) converter, then my advice is to take a look a the Grado 15cm adapter cable - it’s excellent!
Design and Build Quality:
As far as overall build quality goes the T1’s are right up there, clearly they are ultra robust with German engineering at it’s finest (with only one reservation to follow). So if we begin with the headband, the construction feels solid. The material that Beyerdynamic have chosen to implement is a premium super soft black bovine leather and soft top, ‘Beyerdynamic’ stamped, black suede detailing, with support provided by a 1cm thick medium density foam padding. Beneath this is a super springy, structurally sound, very well crafted expandable headband that grips the head with security and firm comfort. Unfortunately I have noticed that the headband material is not user replaceable, so when it’s time is up (after a good few years) they will need to be sent back to a Beyerdynamic service centre. If we move onto the ear-cup padding Beyerdynamic have used thick velour material to compliment the soft skin of the outer ear, before being comfortably supported by 2cm of medium density foam which is similar to that used within the headband. Unlike the headband, the ear-cup padding is easily user replaceable and good news as that this material is fairly inexpensive. In order to link the driver housings to the headband, Beyerdynamic have opted for a secure skeletal brushed aluminium yolk design (the part that links the driver housings to the headband). Not only is this aesthetically pleasing, in comparison to the T90 design, but it is entirely functional as it cuts weight from the overall design, ultimately increasing comfort when worn. Additionally Beyerdynamic have allowed this yolk to provide a good vertical sizing extension, and a very modest degree of lateral movement in order to sit flush on the listeners head regardless of contours, although sadly, the T1’s do not have as much movement when compared to competitors designs. I do feel that in this area the ear-cups are adequately sized based on the fact that they don’t smother the ears of size of the head, they feel just about right to accommodate users of ear sizes from small to large and, in use, the headphones are exceptionally comfortable, even for longer periods of listening (two hours and above) despite their mild clamping effect on the head. As a final note for the blind, Beyerdynamic have thoughtfully printed the letter L in braille for easy identification - a simple process that the industry needs to use more often!
If we now move on down to the driver housings, the T1’s sport a 4” plastic/aluminium semi-closed back design with a single acoustic space and a classic looking patterned kevlar design. Internally the 2” driver units are offset and mounted at an angle to ensure that the resultant sound waves follow the least path of resistance into the inner ear, meaning that the correct left and right orientation needs to be observed during use. Now what makes the T1’s so special is that they employ Beyerdynamic’s own Tesla technology. Released in 2010 and named after the great ‘Nikola Tesla’, this pioneering neodymium technology reaches an extraordinary magnetic flux density of 1.2T (Teslas), which far exceeds the strength of other competitors transducer designs and is actually around the same magnetic force as found in a small loudspeaker. What all this technical information essentially means is that the drivers inside the T1 headphones can deliver an ‘nearly lossless conversion of electrical signals into sound waves’, where distortion from the drivers is kept to a minimum, dynamic range is greatly increased, transients retain their individual qualities, and the ultra low mass composite diaphragm helps to manage the accuracy across the frequency range with an incredible 5Hz - 50kHz performance - far outside the human range of hearing. Unlike the T90’s, Beyerdynamic did not want to take any unnessacary design risks that could potentially impair the superperior performance of the Tesla drivers, so in accordance of their rational ethos they decided to keep the space between the drivers and your ear as clear as possible. They also wanted to bring the drivers to an optimum distance away from the ear to give the best soundstage possible so, instead of a heavy material masking the air gap, a very thin sheet of silk is used to inhibit debris from entering into the driver design and inhibiting their function. For this reason alone it is vital to correctly store the T1’s, which is where the included aluminium case comes in, and you really should be vigilant if you have substantial ear piercings. Overall though the driver housing appears to be constructed extremely well and it is evident that the Beyerdynamic engineers took a lot of thought into designing the best acoustic space, whilst allowing the design to be as comfortable as possible for longer periods of listening.
Following our natural progression we finally arrive at the cable design, which, unusually for Beyerdynamic, has been outsourced to Sommer Cable… in fact the exact name of the cable is the ‘Peacock Mk. 2’ [AES/EBU]. At 3m long the cable length is rather extensive and will come as a shock to some who don’t quite need a heavy cable dragging down across a floor and potentially becoming a hazard to yourself or the headphones. If we inspect the cable design notes this particular cable is okay, although not outstanding by any means, and sports two independently housed Oxygen Free Copper (OFC) conductor paths with a bog standard PE foam insulator before being spiral wrapped in spiral tin shielding before being adorned with a black PCV jacket. I do have to say that, yes, exterior construction ‘appears’ very thick and durable to the hand and eye, but my reservations lie with the cables ability to carry a signal without degradation and/or influence from external interference, which is probably why there are so many cable mods knowing around on the internet. Typically I would have expected a higher quality custom cable design for the current retail price, either way it is up to the job but, as I said before, it’s just not what I expected. Moving away from this particular point now, the cable is unlike many other designs in that it has two cylindrical conductors laid side by side with a ¼” Neutrik branded jack. Inspection of the soldering shows no issues whatsoever, but unfortunately with the review model that I’m currently investigating the cable has split in half past where the original Y-Splitter was placed. The reason for this is that there wasn’t really a good enough Y-Splitter ever installed, instead what we have is a small piece of heat shrink tubing that is shrunk to its intended position which, of course, over time looses its grip and slides down the cable allowing it to be torn in half, potentially all the way down to the ¼” jack. In my book this is not really good enough so I feel that something needs to be done about this, it’s actually the sole reason for why the T1’s are only getting a four and-a-half star rating.
A wide variety of lossless tracks ranging from 44.1kHz 16Bit to 192kHz 24Bit, MacBook Air i7 Early-2014, Sonic Studio Amarra, Chord Electronics Hugo, Aurender Flow, Lynx Hilo, Arcam irDAC, Byerdynamic A1, Beyerdynamic A20, iBasso DX90, and Epiphany Acoustics EHP-O2D.
Sound Quality and Source Synergy:
Whilst I would go as far to say that the T1’s are easily one of the finest pairs of headphones in their class, I also have to say that they are one of the hardest to source match. Failing to appropriately pair the T1’s will result with an dynamically insipid performance and fatiguing top heavy signature. This is most likely due to the fact that the T1’s have such a transparent and revealing treble presence that, typically, benefits from a warmer source to get the perfect component synergy. I completely understand that some may say that you can just play around with a multi-band equaliser to artificially warm things, but it’s far from ideal and doesn’t have the same analogue artefacts that make the T1’s sing. With that said I, rather predictably, found that the T1’s really didn’t pair at all well with my Chord Electronics Hugo or Epiphany Acoustics EHP-O2D because the magic of the beautiful ‘Classic British HiFi’ sort of tuning that Beyerdyamic opted for with the T1’s had lost it’s liveliness and body. However, when paired with the Aurender Flow, Lynx Hilo, Arcam irDAC / Beyerdynamic A20 combo, the T1’s relished their pairing and became outstanding - creepily good, particularly with the Lynx Hilo!
Having said the above it nicely leads me onto our next topic; Impedence. So, with the T1’s, Beyerdynamic opted for an single 600Ω impedance design and, as the T1’s were always intended for desktop listening, typically a less efficient design would be acceptable. However, the T1’s are probably one of the hardest pair of headphones to drive. To put this into perspective, almost every single piece of technology that we have here was needing to operate at 86% - 100% of their total volume capacity to deliver an average listening volume for a well recorded classical performance (Dunedin Consort - Mozart Requiem in D Minor). One of the main reasons for why such a high resistance design is favourable in this circumstance is due to creating a stronger magnetic force, which ultimately can result in a higher degree of accuracy and potentially more dynamic contrast. Either way the T1’s are very hard to drive well and do require a powerful dedicated headphone amplifier. Funnily enough, as a side note, during a shootout between the Beyerdynamic A2 and A20, I found that the cheaper A20 headphone amplifier better paired with the T1’s, whilst the T90’s were the opposite and paired well with the T1 - either way the rig amounts to approximately the same value.
As said previously the T1’s really seem to have a neutral classic reference British sort of Hi-Fi sound to them and, without a doubt, are one of the most revealing pairs of headphones that I’ve ever come across. Listening to Classical with the T1’s is such a joy and is one of my favourite genres to pair with the T1’s because they just have a inherent ability to effortlessly reveal all of the tiny nuances without any noticeable distortion whatsoever on the low or super high end. If we go one step further, voices with the T1’s are so well translates and crystal clear accurate that you can almost smell the soprano standing right there in front of you. In fact regardless of genre pairing, the T1’s are a beautifully three dimensional pair of cans that can virtually become forgotten as they hard wire you directly into the action. In terms of dynamics, the T1’s range is broad and super fast across the entire frequency bandwidth without ever feeling fatiguing or harshly imposing their ability on the timing accuracy of the music itself. In short, the T1’s are a bit of a chameleon thanks to an unbounded dynamic range where, one moment, you can enjoy a softly spoken word, and the next the T1’s can explode with life with absolutely no limits, the T1’s are really are a force to be reckoned with. I do, however, have to note that if you are somewhat of a bass lover, then even though the T1’s have knife edge precision bass control they don’t quite have the body and grunt to do your taste justice, in this situation you’ll be wanting to look at the T90’s.
In terms of soundstage I would have to say that, again, the T1’s are outstanding with a beautifully wide image and excellent depth, almost like no other pair of headphones that I’ve ever heard before. With a well recorded 192kHz 24bit live performance the air around the instrumentation is held as an extension and not a separate entity, ultimately creating an almost holographic performance. Concerning this specific point I have to use the word ‘almost’ as the T1’s come very very close to demanding the ‘holographic’ descriptive, but still the image is most positively striking when Acoustic genres are concerned (Opera and Classical). In this area of genre interest the T1’s are, perhaps, the current be all and end all when paired well, just don’t expect to get this breathtaking precision executed soundstage with a less than worthy source; it won’t happen. You will just have to take my word that if you are looking to source match with the T1’s then you really should be looking at the Lynx Hilo, the synergy between the two components is atomic.
Despite exhibiting a fairly understated design aesthetic, Beyerdynamic have put together a well thought out package that is a true testament to the bullet proof German engineering ideal. In terms of comfort the T1’s can be enjoyed for many hours without becoming awkward to wear and, in terms of sound quality, it is evident that they really do need to be paired with the right source. Providing that the source matching is correct, the T1’s exhibit a class leading classic neutral British H-Fi tone that is dynamically rich, articulate, highly analytical, and free from any distortion artefacts whatsoever. With only one minor grievance, being the overlooked Y-splitter design, The Pro Audio Web Blog awards the Beyerdynamic T1 headphones with four and-a-half stars.