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A Review On: beyerdynamic Tesla T1

beyerdynamic Tesla T1

Rated # 9 in Over-Ear
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Pros: Good clarity, versatile with multiple music genres, comfortable

Cons: Not entirely natural-sounding, lack of upper treble, audibly slow impulse response

Originally published on September 6, 2010


Note: this review is an exact cross-post from post #1 of this thread on Head-Fi, which contains some user discussion on the review that may be relevant to read: http://www.head-fi.org/t/511201/review-beyerdynamic-t1-vs-sennheiser-hd800

- download a printable 8-page PDF version of this review
- download a printable 9-page PDF version of the notes that were written for this review. The notes contain much more detailed info broken down by individual CD tracks and will probably be worth reading for those seeking even more info to assist with a buying decision. The notes should be considered a supplement and not a replacement for this review (as the review is not straight from the notes) - I recommend reading this review first and then reading the notes.


Post-review amp comparison installments (comparing M3 vs SPL Auditor):

- T1: http://www.head-fi.org/forum/thread/511201/review-beyerdynamic-t1-vs-sennheiser-hd800/75#post_6928382

- K701: http://www.head-fi.org/forum/thread/511201/review-beyerdynamic-t1-vs-sennheiser-hd800/75#post_6943875

- HD800: http://www.head-fi.org/forum/thread/511201/review-beyerdynamic-t1-vs-sennheiser-hd800/105#post_6985524


As is typical of previous reviews I've written on Head-Fi, the review that follows below is a comparative one—because writing about only one headphone does not put anything into context and without context it's impossible for anyone to determine how a headphone might sound through inference. In fact, this review assumes that the reader has heard one of the headphones that were used as a comparative reference—be it the T1 or HD800 themselves, or the AKG K701, Audio-Technica AD2000, Grado HP1000/HP2, or Sony Qualia 010. But for those who have not heard one of those headphones, I have also tried to accommodate for that as well, drawing from my cumulative headphone experience gained since 2006 through either buying/selling or exposure at Head-Fi meets. (All gear I've heard is listed in my profile for reference.)

Reviewer Biases & Info

My view of a headphone system is "source first" followed by headphones and then amp. In other words, a source of highest quality possible (assuming recordings of high quality also) should be paired with the most preferential-sounding headphone(s), to be driven by the most technically-optimal amp. In my view, the most technically-optimal amp is the one that provides sufficient power for all headphones being used without inflecting its own sonic signature, or minimally at least.

Some portions of the review below refer to the sound of live instruments. As an FYI to put those references into the proper context, I'm a trained violinist (learned via the Suzuki method for 12 years starting at age 6, then quit lessons at 18 and have been playing on and off since, and I'm 29 now) and have had the opportunity several times to play in a symphony orchestra, and I've attended classical-music concerts as well.

Equipment Setup

- Source component: Plinius CD-101 (CD player) (power cord: Signal Cable Silver Resolution Reference - directly into wall)
- RCA interconnects: BPT IC-SL
- Headphone amplifier: Rockhopper-built Balanced M3 (used in unbalanced mode)
- Other comparison headphones: AKG K701 (re-cabled with SAA Equinox), Audio-Technica AD2000 (re-cabled with APS V3), Grado HP1000/HP2 (re-cabled with APS V3), Sony Qualia 010 (re-cabled with Moon Audio Black Dragon)

Beyerdynamic T1 vs AKG K701

Music used for this comparison:
- Alison Krauss & Union Station - Lonely Runs Both Ways - "A Living Prayer"
- Pierre Boulez w/ Vienna - Mahler Symphony No. 6 - "I. Allegro energico"
- Priscilla Ahn - A Good Day - "Dream"
- Radiohead - In Rainbows - "Reckoner"

Now that I personally dispelled for myself the idea that the K701 was not a substandard version of the HD800, a different thought came to mind: would the K701 be a substandard version of the T1 instead? Actually....incidentally that's exactly what I discovered. Yes, the T1 is a better version of the K701! Wait...what?! I had to re-check this many times to confirm, but I indeed found that the K701 and T1 actually had some overall similarities, enough that one might be able to call the T1 an improved version of the K701. But first, before getting to the sonic differences, both headphones tended to sound better loud, though it was the K701 that sonically broke apart at high volume (while the T1 maintained its sonic integrity).

Now what were the similarities? Well, neither headphone had particularly good treble and were both rolled off (preventing me from enjoying the actual bluegrass songs on the Alison Krauss CD, hence the use of only the last track), their soundstages were similarly-sized (more on that in a bit), and they both sounded less than clear (compared to the HD800 at least, let alone the Sony SA5000/Qualia 010, or the JH Audio JH13 IEMs).

There were plenty of differences to note though, almost all of which could be considered improvements from the K701. First, the K701 seemed to exaggerate vocal power on both Alison Krauss and Priscilla Ahn (as neither of them have powerful voices which is why it was noticeable) while the T1 minimized this, though it too sort of had this effect, just not as much. Vocalists who don't have powerful lungs shouldn't sound like they do, right? And the T1 did the more convincing job at conveying how these two female singers should sound. The soundstage also seemed to be more accurate on the T1 (but not completely)—just a bit more air injected than the K701, but not too much to have the almost cavern-like acoustics of the HD800, while placing instruments further away (like more to the left or right) and displacing the female vocals (that the K701 routinely brought forward) for a better 3D sense of depth and width. The T1 also had more clarity overall than the K701 (but not as much as the HD800), for example allowing proper distinction of the left-channel acoustic guitar and right-channel acoustic bass in the Priscilla Ahn track. There was also a certain type of detail that the T1 routinely captured that the K701 didn't: the "resonance" an instrument like an acoustic double-bass or guitar can exhibit when the right note is played and the instrument vibrates along with the string to add a kind of "warmth" to the sound.

The T1 was also a significant step up from the K701 on classical music—with good clarity on the opening double-basses on Boulez's Mahler #6 for example, capturing their fast bow strokes and the similarly fast bow strokes from the violins. The horns filled the acoustic space more than on the K701 with a good amount of sonority and their position relative to the trumpets was better delineated too. The T1 also caught the pizzicato of the violins and the rat-a-tats of the snare drum, which were largely missed by the K701.


Beyerdynamic T1 vs Grado HP1000/HP2 (flat pads)

Music used for this comparison:
- Carlos Kleiber w/ Vienna - Beethoven Symphonies No. 5 & 7 - No. 5 - "Allegro con brio"
- Dave Brubeck - Time Out [Legacy Edition] - "Blue Rondo a la Turk"
- Julia Fischer - Bach Concertos - Concerto for 2 violins in D minor - "III. Allegro"
- Lee Morgan - Tom Cat [XRCD] - "Twice Around"
- Medeski Martin & Wood - Uninvisible - "Uninvisible", "Ten Dollar High"
- Pierre Boulez w/ Vienna - Mahler Symphony No. 6 - "I. Allegro energico"
- Steve Kuhn - Mostly Coltrane - "Song of Praise"
- Weather Report - Heavy Weather [1997] - "Birdland", "A Remark You Made"

If there was a commonality throughout all of the jazz music selections on the Grado HP2, it was that they all sounded good—but more specifically, it sounded like the featured instruments (which were mostly saxophones or trumpets) were playing at me, not just for me or in front of me, but like their directed point of focus was towards the listener. This made all of the jazz sound really personal and very direct on the HP2. Combined with the HP2's thick and very full mid-range, it was like sitting right in there with the jazz group and jamming along with them.

Throwing the T1 into the mix produced some interesting results, not all of which were positive. On Weather Report's "Birdland" for example, the T1 sounded like it had less mid-range body on the instruments, almost making them sound lightweight even, coming immediately after the HP2. The T1 also made the piano on this song sound almost like a honky-tonk piano—which neither the HP2 (or the HD800) did, it was only the T1. And on Steve Kuhn's "Song of Praise," the HP2 delivered the most closest-positioned, soulful-sounding tenor sax with a fantastically rich tone—but the T1, on the other hand, displaced the tenor sax and almost made it sound like not part of the jazz group due to its positioning. And on Lee Morgan's "Twice Around," the HP2 had the fullest- and most direct-sounding trumpet, alto sax, and drums, with a fantastic sense of the group interacting with each other. The HP2 also made it really easy to tell apart the trumpet, alto sax, and trombone too—not so much with the T1 though, and even less so with the HD800, which lost a portion of these brass instruments' textures.

The T1 was better in other aspects though, like conveying a more realistic brighter-tuned piano on Dave Brubeck's "Blue Rondo a la Turk" (it was a little too heavy-sounding on the HP2) and providing harder impacts on the piano keys (the HP2 blunted these impacts). The T1 also produced a significantly clearer-sounding bass on Medeski Martin & Wood's "Uninvisible" with a great ground-shaking bass reverberation (proving itself to have better bass extension than the HP2). And on MM&W's "Ten Dollar High," the T1 properly captured the variety of different instrumental inflections and physical movements & interactions.

And to go back to the topic of realistic tonality of violins in classical music, the HP2 eclipsed the T1. Violins simply sounded more correct/realistic/natural on the HP2 versus the T1. The T1 made them sound just a bit too dark, as the HP2 actually gave a bit more treble sheen to them. But to the T1's credit, the HP2 sounded muffled in comparison—again, clarity isn't exactly one of the HP2's strengths. For some reason though, I ended up concluding that the HP2 required the most "psychoacoustic acclimation" (compared to the T1 and HD800) to really get a transcendental experience for classical music.

Sennheiser HD800 vs Beyerdynamic T1

Music used for this comparison:
- Anne Bisson - Blue Mind - "Camilio"
- Beyond Twilight - Section X - "The Path of Darkness"
- Global Communication - 76:14 - "4:02", "9:39"
- In Flames - The Jester Race - "Moonshield", "Artifacts of the Black Rain"
- Julia Fischer - Bach Concertos - Concerto for 2 violins in D minor - "III. Allegro"
- Katie Melua - Piece by Piece - "Shy Boy", "On the Road Again"
- Laika - Good Looking Blues - "Widows' Weed"
- Medeski Martin & Wood - Uninvisible - "Uninvisible", "Ten Dollar High"
- Megadeth - Countdown to Extinction [MFSL] - "Sweating Bullets"
- Meshuggah - Chaosphere - "New Millennium Cyanide Christ"
- Nightwish - Once - "Wish I Had An Angel", "Planet Hell"
- Orbital - The Middle of Nowhere - "Way Out"
- Pearl Jam - Ten - "Even Flow", "Alive"
- Rage Against The Machine - Rage Against The Machine - "Bombtrack", "Take The Power Back", "Know Your Enemy"
- Symphony X - Paradise Lost - "Oculus Ex Inferni", "Set the World on Fire", "The Walls of Babylon"
- The Crystal Method - Tweekend - "Murder", "Ten Miles Back"
- The Crystal Method - Vegas [Deluxe Edition] - "High Roller"
- The Prodigy - The Fat of the Land - "Smack My Bitch Up", "Breathe", "Diesel Power", "Fuel My Fire"
- Trifonic - Emergence - "Emergence", "Transgenic"

And finally for the real showdown, the so-called big guns. Which is the better headphone, the HD800 or T1? Well anyone reading this will probably expect my answer: it's not really that simple and both headphones have their strengths and weaknesses.

I'll start with the recurring subject of violin tonality in classical music, because personally it's a big issue for me as a violinist. My position is: if the violins don't sound real, forget it! And neither the HD800 or T1 delivered realistic violin tone—the HD800 was too bright and wispy and the T1 wasn't "light" enough. What does one do as a solution then? You get the right headphones—and in my case that usually means the Stax OII MKI amped by the HeadAmp BHSE, which achieves the perfect tone. No other headphones need apply. Bam, done. Can't afford the OII/BHSE? IMO the next best solution after that is the Grado HP1000, or if that one is too expensive also, then the Sennheiser HD600.

Next subject, electronica. For ambient electronica specifically, only the Sennheiser HD800 was remotely good enough to do it justice, while the T1 was not, primarily due to the HD800's superior overall clarity, treble tilt, and faster impulse response. Ambient electronica is often buried in lots of layers (more than the average song in any other music genre) and requires a very hi-fi transducer to reveal them all cleanly and clearly—and in the case of Global Communication, Laika, and Trifonic, only the HD800 had the right amount of "clean & clear" to make these artists sound good. The T1 didn't have the silent background required for this type of music and its lack of treble and clarity worked against the type of detail inherent to ambient electronica. Not that the HD800 was perfect though, it was just better at this—as there are other headphones that have even more "clean & clear" sounds, like the Sony SA5000 & Qualia 010. For more bass-driven electronica like The Crystal Method, The Prodigy, etc, the T1 is probably a better choice than the HD800, but not the best one there is. The T1 had more bass quantity in general and delivered a good amount of bass impact and its low extension nearly matched the Audio-Technica AD2000's too. But the T1 didn't deliver a particularly strong bass overall and its slow impulse response held it back from being ideal—the Audio-Technica AD2000 probably being a better choice for people who want a powerful low bass response that's also extremely fast.

Metal is a tricky genre for headphones to handle, as it goes in a lot of different directions. But if there's one commonality in most of metal, it's speed combined with aggression, and the HD800 was consistently too passive-sounding to really get into metal and give it that needed aggression. I will say simply that the HD800 was boring with metal, and who wants boring metal? The T1, on the other hand, was a much better choice for metal, primarily due to its fuller mid-range/mid-bass and smaller soundstage, allowing every band to sound closer and more personal. The T1 simply had a very good direct and assertive sound that made it work very well for a wide variety of metal. However, the T1 wasn't completely ideal for some types of metal, like thrash metal, as its impulse response couldn't quite keep up with some of the faster sequences. For that type of metal, another headphone would be recommended instead, and I've personally gotten better experiences for thrash metal with the Audio-Technica AD2000, JH Audio JH13, and Stax OII MKI.

And finally, jazzy or pop female vocals is one of the most pedestrian forms of music, as it's typically easy for almost any headphone to sound good with and the artists spun for this (Anne Bisson, Katie Melua) didn't really reveal much that wasn't already discovered before, other than perhaps that piano was more realistic sounding on the T1 with its generally richer tone.

1 Comment:

Thanks for your time and review . I like it
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