At CES 2010, Beyerdynamic introduced a new pair of top-of-the-line headphones. Due to a planning glitch, Playback Editor Chris Martens and I separately stopped by the Beyerdyanamic booth and listened to the T1. Later on, when debriefing, we both agreed that the T1 seemed to have promise. Of course, listening to headphones at a tradeshow while thousands of hungover geeks and executives walk past talking on their Bluetooth headsets isn’t ideal. So, we phoned the accommodating people at Beyerdynamic and asked for a review set. Our test T1s just arrived, so we’ve started our listening. This report covers initial impressions (which we will revise later on with a full review).
Priced at $1295, the T1 is a semi-open back design. The T1 involves several departures from Beyerdynamic's standard practice. The driver is entirely new, with a metal diaphragm, machined metal structure, and new magnetic geometry. The drivers are also placed at an angle to the ear, a strategy we've seen with the Ultrasone Edition 8 and the Sennheiser HD800 among others. But Beyerdynamic’s engineers say their objective in the offset driver placement was to avoid creating reflections from the outer ear—the opposite of the objectives of other offset designs it would seem. The earpads have been designed to reduce reflections as well.
Beyerdynamic says the new transducer in the T1 is the first model to break through the one-tesla barrier of magnetic induction (hence the T1 designation for this model). Measured in tesla (T), magnetic induction is an indicator of the strength of the magnetic system in headphones (or other dynamic drivers). Beyerdynamic claims this system generates currently unequalled impulse performance. The T1 is the first in a new generation of headphones that the company has planned.
For this first test session, I used the Grace m902 headphone amp and the Esoteric DV-60 universal player to drive the 600-ohm T1s. The Grace m902 has very low output impedance for a headphone amp. That may or may not prove to be ideal for the Beyerdynamics, but it is a logical starting point since it is one end of the spectrum.
My first impression of the T1s involves their overall frequency balance. The T1s sound very slightly warm, in part because they have ample but not excessive bass output. Said another way, vocalists on the T1s seem a little farther back on the stage than they do with many other top-flight headphones. Along with this goes the observation that the T1s do not emphasize treble in a way that would make you call them bright; if anything you hear less treble energy than on other top headphones.
But we have to consider these remarks in the context of the absolute sound (the sound of live music). In that context, I’d say in these early days that the T1s are actually pretty close in overall balance to what you hear live. In this regard they seem more accurate than the lightly balanced AKG 702s or Audio-Technica 5000s, or the (seductively) bass-heavy Denon 5000s.
Those comments are about overall bass/midrange/treble balance. We also have to consider deviations within the frequency spectrum that lead to colorations on certain instruments even though overall balance seems just fine. The lack of these colorations is often more important to a realistic presentation than overall tonal balance. Fortunately, the T1s also perform rather well here, in that their colorations seem quite low. No headphone is perfect, including the T1s, and you can hear deviations from neutrality in a few places. First, there is a bit of upper bass emphasis that can lead to some smearing of plucked bass, for example. Second, there appears to be a very slight upper midrange depression that smoothes out vocals (especially female vocals) a little too much. Finally, the treble probably has a peak that emphasizes some transients more than others.
We need to put these remarks in context, though. The colorations of most other high-end headphones are noticeably larger by comparison. The upper midrange dip on the Sennheiser HD800s, for example is quite a bit larger than the one I hear on the T1s. The transient treble blip of the T1s is microscopic in comparison to the more alpine-like peak you can hear on the Denon 5000s.