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Astell&Kern beyerdynamic AK T8iE Review (First Impressions from IFA 2015)

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  1. Since the introduction of its AK100 high-res portable music player a few years back, Astell&Kern has been pushing high-end portable audio forward hard, completely reshaping the premium portable digital audio player market. In addition to their audio players, Astell&Kern has also done some very nice collaborative headphone projects with a few different high-end headphone manufacturers. First were their AKR01 and AKR02 in-ear monitors, based on Final Audio Design's Heaven IV and BA-SS, respectively. They collaborate with JH Audio, to provide the universal-fit versions of JH Audio's Roxanne, Angie, and Layla IEMs. They've even released a custom-voiced version of beyerdynamic's over-ear T5p called the AKT5p, which (as a T5p owner) I feel is a significant improvement.
    Today, at IFA 2015 in Berlin, Astell&Kern and beyerdynamic are announcing their latest collaboration, the AK T8iE, which is a high-end IEM that is (in my estimation) a direct shot at Sennheiser's popular flagship IE800 in-ear monitor. What makes me think this? As Sennheiser does with their IE800, beyerdynamic will be handcrafting the AK T8iE in Germany, with extra attention given to testing and quality control. The AK T8iE is also a single-driver (per-ear) design, using dynamic drivers (not balanced armatures). beyerdynamic describes the AK T8iE as the first IEM to use Tesla Technology, with drivers similar to its full-size Tesla siblings, only about 1/16 scale.
    (Above) Exploded view of Astell&Kern / beyerdynamic AK T8iE
    Also like the IE800, the AK T8iE's cables are Kevlar-reinforced. The AK T8iE comes in a dark chrome color that reminds me of the IE800's color (but the housing material is different, which I'll get to in a minute). And finally, like the IE800, the AK T8iE is priced at $999.
    On balance, though, the differences between Sennheiser's IE800 and the AK T8iE actually outweigh their similarities. First of all, the AK T8iE is a concha-type, cable-up design. I actually really like the AK T8iE's form factor, as it has, for a concha-type earphone, perhaps the most comfortable size and shape of any such earphone I've yet used. Also, in combination with the fact that the standard silicone eartips are not deep-insertion types, the AK T8iE is very comfortable to wear for long periods of time--it reminds me of the Bose QC20's shallow-insertion eartips, which I wear on flights halfway around the world without issue. Whereas some universal concha-type earphones require fiddling to insert correctly, I’ve found the AK T8iE to seat with minimal effort, as quickly as I get my customs in. Also, cable-up designs allow the cable to rest over one's ears, reducing cable noise and microphonics. In terms of comfort (and microphonics), then, the AK T8iE has the advantage versus the IE800. The AK T8iE also has the advantage of detachable cables (using what look to me like MMCX connectors), versus the IE800's permanently affixed cables.
    Though the IE800 and AK T8iE have similarly colored housings, the IE800's are made from a zirconium oxide ceramic material that is so hard it can essentially only be scratched by diamonds. The AK T8iE's housing doesn't feel quite as robust--but still feels very nice, and with a beautiful finish--and is described by beyerdynamic as being finished "with special alloy used in hightech medical products." Also, while the AK T8iE's design is very attractive, it's more conservatively styled than the IE800, the latter with the gorgeous contours and aerospace-thruster-looking dual vents in each earpiece. In terms of feel (in the hand) and styling, the IE800 has the advantage, in my opinion--versus just about every other universal-fit IEM, including the AK T8iE.
    (Above) A photo from beyerdynamic showing the AK T8iE being worn.
    Of course, the most important thing in all of this is the sound, and this is where these two German rivals differ in the most important way. I only received the AK T8iE a few days ago at CanJam London 2015, so I’ve only had a chance to briefly use it with the Astell&Kern AK380 (both with and without the AK380’s optional amp module).  Also, these early impressions are of the AK T8iE being used only in balanced mode (it comes with both unbalanced 3.5mm-terminated and balanced 2.5mm-terminated cables). I also have a specially configured Sennheiser IE800 with balanced cable, so all comparisons were with the IE800 are also with it being driven balanced by the AK380.
    (Impressions will continue when I get back to my hotel tonight. No, I'm not trying to create suspense--I literally haven't written the impressions yet, and I'm out of time at the moment--I have to run to the Showstoppers event at IFA right now.)
    joe, Gilly87, kms108 and 3 others like this.
  2. AxelCloris Administrator
    No memory wire, oh what a glorious day!
    Something else I'll need to demo at RMAF. My list keeps growing.
    ssrock64 likes this.
  3. Hisoundfi Contributor
    +1 on the memory wire.

    I wonder how they will stack up in a very flooded market for IEMs.
  4. RedJohn456

    Awesome stuff from Beyer. Thanks for the update! Do you know if any other headphones were unveiled at IFA? 
    Looking forward to the sound impressions vs IE800. One small request, can you also include how it sounds out of more mid tier DAPs or amp/dacs as well? 
  5. raypin
    Mmm......slap the word Tesla and I'm on it like a heat-seeking air-to-air missile: Tesla cars, Tesla headphones, Tesla batteries and now this little Tesla. Very much looking forward to the impressions......
  6. baritone
    it was a matter of time until beyerdynamic developes a miniature telsa earphone transduser 
    they have the technology so it can be used in many ways t1 >>> t51 >>> AK T8iE >>>> ?????
    fabian005 likes this.
  7. Ivabign
    Trippy looking silicone tips - but the presentation box is nice and it comes with two cables....
  8. Nomax
    The first interesting Product from Beyer since many years for me,i hope they fits very well in my Ears?!

    Regards Nomax
  9. audionewbi
    Long live dynamic drivers. IE800 is a lovely iem but its small soundstage and horrible fit does not make it a hard iem to better.

    For me comfortwise EX1000 remains the very best. Soundwise it is a close second to my kaede II, depending on the music.

    I look forward to hearing it. AK380 is a nicely colored dap, is it possible to test this with something more inline of pico power amp or the objective O2 amp? Thanks in advance.
  10. designmaniac
    I never listened to these - ever, anywhere - but they sound amazing!!! :wink:
  11. oschon
    I wish I had known about you... would love to meet at Showsttoppers...
    but I met AK T8iE instead and wow, i have just thee words to say: THAT SOUND STAGE
    I was promised a review uunit but to be honest, I cant believe it will happen, that would be beyond my wildest dreams.
    I also loved their selection of music - i was able to listen to music I use when evaluating headphoones. Rebecca Pidgeon, would you believe that?
  12. TPSRA
    Did I miss something here?
  13. WayneWoondirts
    very interesting iem, would love to give them a spin.
  14. vnmslsrbms
    IE800 small sound stage?  Horrible fit  yes.  Small sound stage...  I'd beg to differ.  
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