When Beyerdynamic introduced their T1 top-of-the-line headphones earlier this year the company captured the attention of the Playback staff. In our review we said that, “the T1s are the best combination of midrange neutrality, vividness and transparency we’ve heard.” That’s saying a lot and isn’t one of those highly qualified “the range from 100-102 Hz is extremely accurate” kind of comments. We think for many listeners the T1 is a must-hear contender for king-of-the-hill even though several new planar magnetic headphones have come along to challenge it.
Given the mobility allowed by headphones, the dream of some would be to have the sound of headphones like the T1 in a package drivable by an iPhone or with a portable amp at least (whereas the T1, along with most other state-of-the-art headphones, needs a powerful desktop amp). Beyerdynamic has obviously been listening, the result being the new T5p. Beyerdynamic positions the T5p as the first high-end mobile headphone.
Priced at $1295, the T5p is a full-size, closed-back design that aims to minimize audio leakage and to maximize ambient noise attenuation. The T5p resembles the T1 in several ways, starting with appearance. More importantly, 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. The idea expressed by those manufacturers is to capture some of the outer ear reflections that one experiences with live music and loudspeaker. But in the case of the T5p, interestingly, 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. Other objectives are also carried over from the T1, as well, including a powerful magnetic system and a low-distortion diaphragm.
The T5p has an impedance of 32 ohms and a sensitivity of 102db with 1 mW input. That should make the T5p suitable to be driven directly by portable devices. We tested the T5p directly connected to the iPhone 4 as well as when driven by the NuForce Icon Mobile amp/DAC and the Qables iCube V2 amp/DAC.
Consider this headphone if: you’ve been looking for a high-resolution headphone that gets the midrange right but avoids excessive treble edge or splash. Also consider the T5p if you have yearned for a true high-end headphone that can be driven to satisfying volume levels by iPods, iPhones or other low-powered devices
Look further if: strong bass weight or the ultimate in bass extension are at the top of your priority list. At the other end of the audio spectrum, note that the T5p delivers a smooth but decidedly treble-forward sound, meaning the T5p is not the best choice for those who find even trace amounts of brightness objectionable.
Ratings (compared to similarly-priced headphones):
• Tonal Balance: 9.0
• Frequency Extremes: 8.5
• Clarity: 9.5
• Dynamics: 9.0
• Comfort/Fit: 9.0
• Sensitivity: 9.5
• Value: 8.5
The Beyerdynamic T5p is certainly not a sonic clone of their T1, so buyers who’ve had the pleasure of experiencing the T1 shouldn’t simply leap forth and take the T5p plunge without considering the different approach taken here. That said, the T5p is a charmer, just of a different flavor.
If you’ve read some of our other reviews, you’ll know that we view the frequency response variations of even top-of-the-line headphones as quite significant. A little study of the acoustic challenge faced by headphones shows why this is so, but in the end what you need to know is that it is really, really hard to make a neutrally balanced headphone (though neutrality is one area where the T1 particularly excels). Headphone frequency variations become obvious over time (it takes many recordings to show off the entire range), and form a basic aspect of a headphone’s character.
Overall, the T5ps sound very slightly bright, in part because they have ample but not peaky midrange and treble, but also because bass seems a little more reticent than with top-flight “desktop” headphones. I have characterized some headphones (Denon AH-D5000, Beyerdynamic DT 990) as “u”-shaped response curve, in that they slightly (or more than slightly) emphasize high and low frequency extremes. Others, like many Grados, have a more “n”-shaped response curve, with a bit more midrange than bass or treble. At first, the T5p seems to offer the characteristic sound of a product with an “n”-shaped response curve, but with closer listening it became apparent that something different was going on.