Published on March 23rd, 2012 | by Greg0
beyerdynamic Headphones: A Definite And A Maybe
Yes, the lower case ‘b’ is intentional. We don’t always follow the desired style guidelines for companies, but we’ll make an exception for this one: beyerdynamic prefers a slightly quixotic capitalization. They’ve been around for almost 90 years, bringing German craftsmanship to audiophiles around the world, and have certainly improved our lives- some of the very first high-end audio products that some of our writers tested were from the brand. We caught up with them at CES earlier this year, and requested two sets of headphones that our audio enthusiasts have been lusting over. One of them is quite possibly the best set of headphones, especially considering the price, that we’ve ever seen. The other didn’t make us quite so happy.
We’ll start off with a fairly rare rave review: the beyerdynamic T50ps are the headphones we’ve been waiting to see and hear. Seriously: we defy you to find a better set anywhere near this price. Pretty much everyone can enjoy them, not just audiophiles, thanks to the obvious quality of design, the comfort, adjustability, and the sterling good looks. DJs, college students, professionals of all stripes can fit these into their style, plus they’re small enough to be suitable for travel, even on the subway. We don’t always test our audiophile gear on the trains here in Manhattan- beyond worries about theft, it’s just harder to appreciate music over the noise. But in this case, we wanted to test out isolation in harsh conditions, as well as on aircraft, and in a more refined traditional setting- at home, alone, with a solid amplifier handy. In fact, we paired both of today’s sets with several of our on-hand amps from Graham Slee, Music Hall, Creek Audio, and perhaps our favorite for warmth solid sound, the HiFiMan EF5. We generally use digital sources such as our iPhones, but test across multiple music genres including audio books and also vary the encodings and bitrates widely, throwing everything from 92kbps MP3 to lossless FLAC files at any given piece of hardware.
The T50p headphones are a closed design, but aren’t as isolating as you might expect. Part of this is sheer weight, as they are surprisingly light at only 6 ounces or so, and are on-ear instead of the traditional over-ear style. This is a tricky balance, since it’s easier for fatigue to set in with the pads bumping directly against your ears, but it also means that they are lighter and tighter. In fact, this was the first thing we noticed- the sound is pulled closer to you, feels almost internal at first, in a way that is immediately impressive. The space between these and any pair of earbuds is wide, as the extra space for drivers means more, fuller sound. Leatherette instead of leather pads often feel cheap, but not here, and the polished aluminum finish is classy. And whether it’s the ‘Tesla’ technology, or the fact that the 32 ohm impedance meant driving these from portable devices was much easier than with most headphones, we found ourselves literally absorbed, blown away by the clarity, separation, soundstage, and balance of these, regardless of music. The only exception was hip-hop, where the bass response was less than impressive, but for genres like soul, classical, jazz, these are definitely the way to go. Instruments are layered- strings from Mozart, the acoustic guitar from Bhi Bhiman, Andrew Bird’s whistling hooks, whatever combination of samples that Phantogram elevates. And when we looked them up online, we were fully prepared for a price tag of $400 or so. After all, we checked out the MMX 300s, and these outshine those, musically if not in noise isolation. But Amazon lists them at $200, which means we have a new winner- an incredible deal on an amazing set, perhaps the last headphones you’ll ever need.
You can’t win them all, though, and it’s really only in comparison to the praise heaped upon their sibling model that the beyerdynamic T70s suffer at all. Offering a similar size and style to the MMX 300s, they are an over-ear design with velour pads that were cozy in the extreme. We didn’t feel the finish was quite as stylish or luxurious as the T50ps, but the black and grey is subtle and certainly nice. They weigh about twice as much- 11 ounces or so- and are definitely meant for at-home rather than on the go use. We mostly confined them to this purpose, and they did stack up well in pure listening tests to the aforementioned models. Ignoring the pricetag, we couldn’t come to a clear decision on sound- some identified these as offering richer, deeper bass and warmth. Others liked the more dynamic, punchier T50p, and most thought they would choose based largely on listening environment (portable versus at-home). But when the price was added to the mix, the choice is clear- at more than twice the price, these simply didn’t feel like they were punching in that category.
Again, that’s no slight against them. Any audiophile should consider these, and especially those who listen to classic rock tracks and truly vocal-focused songs, who might have an amazing tube amplifier setup and who don’t mind spending a bit more. The quality is uniformly excellent but overall, we felt the B&W P5s, with a cost situated in between, offer better styling and comparable tonal and audio quality. We burned ours in for a few hours and did notice a bit of a change- we got a little more used to the T70 sound, and it grew on us. But for $450, our standards are quite high- especially when pitched against the superb T50ps.