Indeed, one could say that certain groups of headphones (e.g., the Shure SRH 440 and AKG K702) exhibit “r”-shaped response curves, where the apparent aim is to achieve flat midrange and treble response, but with some degree of roll-off in the bass. I think most listeners would probably place the T5p in that “r”-shaped group.
As with mini-monitor speakers, there is a real virtue to this approach. You gain a tremendous sense of clarity and you avoid the some of the muddling resonances that reproduction of deep bass frequencies quite often entails. Thus, the mindset is that it is preferable to get most of the music (mids and highs) right, while accepting a certain amount of bass roll-off rather than struggle with potentially problematic low bass (remember that the T5p is designed for use with inherently low-powered devices whose amps may not have much bass clout in the first place).
But, and this is a really important “but”, once you’ve shined a light on the midrange and treble, the quality had better be good or you can end up with annoying ugliness more than musical resolution. Fortunately, the T5p seems to share the very low distortion of the T1 with the result that the T5p seems revealing in an engrossing and natural way. Another way of saying this it to say that the midrange and treble of the T5p is quite even and balanced. Instruments have balanced overtones and are pretty much free of stridency.
No headphone is perfect, including the T5p, and you can hear deviations from neutrality in a few places. Mostly you’ll notice that the T5p is bass shy. Vocals, cellos, and dreadnought guitars have somewhat less “body” or fundamental strength than they would when heard live. Interestingly, this may be less a matter of bass roll-off and more a matter of there being a downward “shelf” in bass response, because you do hear some rather low bass—just at a reduced level. In addition it is important to note that bass on the T5p is somewhat amplifier dependent (as it is with many headphones). You will also notice that the T5p has somewhat less dynamic “slam” than some other headphones.
There is, of course, more to music than frequency response. The charm of the T5p comes from its midrange and treble clarity coupled with very low distortion. All of which results in a level of instrumental separation and musical insight that will thrill many listeners especially those who favor acoustic music. Music that tells a story and bands with multiple superb musicians simply wants to be heard on headphones like these.
This sense of vividness requires good dynamics, and the T5p's succeed here while retaining a sense of control. Transparency requires excellent handling of low-level signals, and again the T5ps deliver. And, because these concepts are related, the excellent micro-dynamics that come from good low-level signal handling also contribute to a sense of aliveness when the music is full of layered expression.
As a final note, we found that a mobile device like the iPhone actually can drive the T5p adequately. If you need ear-bleed levels, this combo won’t be ideal, but our sane readers will do fine. Nonetheless, a good portable amp, preferably one that bypasses the mobile device’s internal amp altogether, will yield better bass and cleaner treble while increasing output capability.
On The Unthanks “Because He Was a Bonny Lad” [Here’s The Tender Coming, Rough Trade], the T5p does an amazing job recovering the acoustic of the recording venue. In addition, the vocal sibilants are very clearly resolved without any stridency. There is a triangle in the latter half of the track that whose fundamental and overtones are beautifully reproduced.
On Jack Johnson’s “Dreams Be Dreams” [On and On, UMVD], the opening bass line is very clear, but it lacks depth and the sense of moving air that it has when played through headphones that offer more linear and more powerful bass response. Later on “Wasting Time”, the dynamic clout of the rim shots and electric guitar are quite impressive. The bass again provides some warmth, but sounds as if the amp were turned down in the mix.
On Shelby Lynne’s “Just A Little Lovin’” from the disc of the same name [Lost Highway], the introductory drums and vocal give an amazing sense of space. As the sounds decay you get the idea that the track was recorded in a very big room. Every instrument can be followed clearly. The vocal can sound just a bit pushed when Shelby really lays into it, but happily the T5p is able to avoid the dynamic mush we often get when listening to headphones through mobile devices.