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Review: Beyerdynamic T1 with ALO Chain Mail Cable

Posted by Amine Slimani on December 10, 2010 at 4:30 PM

Introduction:

 

 Reviewing the ALO recabled Beyerdynamic Tesla 1 posed a challenge: how to evaluate a component that is perhaps more transparent than the rest of the chain that it is being associated to? How to make sure that what I am describing is a sonic characteristic of the headphone and not that of the chain preceding it?

 

During the past few months, I had to reassess my judgement on the Beyer T1s a few times. While I liked the ALO Beyer T1s a lot in the beginning (after the burn-in period), there was a period where I was totally dissatisfied with them and where I could only focus on some shortcomings I noticed with them.Then again, after a lot of optimizations and some minor component upgrades, I fell back in love again with the ALO Beyer T1s, which incidentally led me to rewrite the review that I was going to publish last month.

 

While I don’t pretend this review to be complete or exhaustive, I tried as much as possible to paint a good picture of what the ALO Beyer T1s sound intrinsically. As a result it ended up being a little longer than expected.

 

The review is divided in 3 parts:

 

Part 1 - Description of the ALO Beyer T1s and the test system: This part contains a small description of the Beyer T1s, the ALO Chain mail cable, the system and the musical selection used for the review.

 

Part 2 - Setting up the ALO Beyer T1s: This part contains my experience with burn-in, a comparison between the stock Beyer T1 against the ALO recabled version, a comparison between amplifiers and my testing methodology.

 

Part 3 - The Sound: This part represents the heart of the review. I split it into 4 sections: Timber and Tonal Balance; PRaT and Dynamics; Soundstageand Imaging; Transparency and Definition. Each section contains a few musical examples in order to give a better feeling of what to expect from the ALO BeyerT1s.



Part 1 - Description of the ALO Beyer T1s and the test system

 

 

Beyerdynamic Tesla 1:

 

Description:

 

Beyerdynamic Tesla 1 is Beyer’s flagship headphone set to compete with Sennheiser’s HD800. It is a big step up from their former top of the line headphones as it was the first in Beyer’s line to use both the Tesla and angled drivers.

 

The Tesla Drivers are said according to Beyerdynamic to be the first to break the 1 Tesla barrier among high-end headphones.

In fact, there are mainly two ways to increase the responsiveness of the drivers used in any headphone or speaker: either by lowering the mass of the drivers or by increasing the flux density of the magnet controlling the drivers. Sennheiser seem to have gone for the former while Beyerdynamic went for the latter.

The reason behind using such a technology according to Beyer is to improve efficiency and impulse response. Below is an extract from their website:

The increased efficiency alsoleaves the T 1 with greater power reserves for dynamic, undistorted sound andnearly lossless conversion of electric signals into sound waves. The extremely lightweight 600 Ohm voice coil provides transparency and perfect impulse fidelity.

The technical talk about the increased efficiency is perhaps a littlebit misleading. While the Beyer T1 might be more efficient than older 600ohms Beyer headphones, they still require a lot of voltage “swing” to drive (more voltage than the HD650, K701, and HD800... for instance). So anyone considering getting the Beyer T1s should check if their system have enough voltage gain.

 

The second interesting feature is the use of the angled drivers’ technology. Instead of having drivers firing from the sides and risking unknown interactions with the outer ear, the Beyer T1 uses drivers that fire at an angle to minimize those reflections and incidentally provide a morenatural soundstage from a headphone.

 

It also should be noted that while the Beyerdynamic T1s are described as semi-closed (or semi-open) headphones, they do offer very little isolation from (and to) the outside in practice. For all intents and purposes, they should be best considered as an open set of headphones.

 

 

ALO Chain Mail Cable:

 

The stock Beyerdynamic T1 comes with a relatively good (by ALO's own admission) 24awg Sommercable cable and a 1/4 neutrik connector. While those are already better than what youget in many headphones, ALO (and other cable makers) offer “upgraded” cables.

 

The ALO Chain mail cable uses “8 conductors each 18awg of OCC 99.9998%pure OCC copper in a Teflon FEP clear high luster jacket” and “terminated toCardas Gold/Rhodium 1/4 plug”.

 

 


Comfort:

 

I personally find the Beyerdynamic T1 to be relatively comfortable butnot on the same level as the HD800 in terms of comfort. The headband could perhaps use a thicker, softer material.

Though, I should probably note that if the ALO cable wasn’t so heavy, it would be less noticeable. Also, comfort with headphones is a very subjective matter, and it is very difficult to know before trying for one self.

 

 

 

System Used for the Review:

 

Main components used for the Review:

 

Transport: Jkeny’s modified Hiface MK1, Musiland Monitor 01 USD, Audio-gd Digital Interface

Digital cables: Hifi Cables Sobek, Oyaide DB-510

DAC: Audio-gd DAC-19 DSP

Interconnects: Deep Sounds SPS ACSS, Artisan Ultimate Silver Dream RCA

Amplifiers: Little DotMKIII, Audio-gd C2, Audio-gd C2 SA

Power cords : HifiCables & Cie PowertransPlus (x2), Hifi Cable & Cie SimpleTrans, Olflex power cords

Power filter : BadaLB-5600, Essential Audio Tools Noise Eater

Vibration Control : Aktyna ARIS decoupling feet, Maple and Acrylic Platforms, Sandbox, Various Herbie’s Audio Labs tweaks



 

Default Chain:

 

Musiland Monitor 01 USD >> Hifi Cables Sobek BNC >> Audio-GD Digital Interface (w/upsampling to 96K) >> Oyaide DB-510 BNC >> Audio-GD DAC19 DSP (w/ DSP1 v5) >> Deep Sounds SPS custom ACSS/CAST>> Audio-GD C2

 

 

 

Some of the Reference Tracks used for this review:

 

Rachmaninoff Dances - HD Tracks - 24/96

Mahler - Symphony n 5 - Decca - 16/44

Mozart Violin Concertos - Marianne Thorsen - 2L - 24/96

Sol Gabetta - Schostakowitsch Cellokonzert Nr. 2/Cello - 16/44

Vivaldi - Concerto for 2 violins - Carmignola/Mullova - 16/44

Natalie Dessay - ItalianOpera Arias - Emi Classics - 16/44

Puccini - La Boheme - Decca - 16/44

Dunedin Consort - Messiah -Linn Records - 24/88

London SymphonyOrchestra - Carmina Burana - 24/88

Keith Jarrett - Paris / London - Testament - 24/96

Glenn Gould - The Goldberg Variations 1981 - 16/44

Hans Zimmer - Gladiator Soundtrack - 16/44

Hans Zimmer - The Dark Knight OST - 16/44

The Essential James Bond - City of Prague Philharmonic orchestra - 16/44

The Dave Brubeck Quartet - Take Five - 16/44

Jazz at the Pawnshop - HD Tracks - 24/88

Ella Fitzgerald / Louis Armstrong - Ella & Louis - 24/96

Diana Krall - From this Moment on - 24/88

Diana Krall - Live in Paris- 16/44

Diana Krall - The Girl in the Other Room - 16/44

Norah Jones - Come Away With Me - 16/44

Patricia Barber - Companion - 16/44

Johnny Cash - The Essential - 16/44

The World's Greatest Audiophile Vocal Recordings - Chesky - 24/96

The Kinks - One for the Road Live - 24/96

The Eagles - Hell Freezes Over - XRCD - 16/44

Soundrama - "The Pulse" Test CD - 16/44

Head-fi/Chesky Sampler - Open Your Ears - 24/96

 

 

 

Part 2 - Setting up the ALO Beyer T1s:

 

 

Burn-in:

 

The Beyer T1s do require a healthy amount of burn-in and they can soundpretty bad straight out of the box.

 

Actually, when I first gave them a listen, they sounded so muffled and muted that I thought that something was covering the drivers. I even sent amail to Ken from ALO Audio to ask him how to remove the drivers cover cloth which was glued to the headphones (unlike the HD-650s that have removable foam). It took a few hours of Burn-in through the Isotek CD before they started to open up. Given that I had previously listened to a burned in stock Beyer T1, I knew it shouldn’t have sounded that bad.

 

I would say that the Beyer T1s needed between 300 hours to sound verygood and around 500 hours before they settled in. I listened to it very little during the burn-in and kept mostly listening to my silver cabled SennheiserHD-650, so it wasn’t a matter of psychoacoustic burn-in.

 

If anything, I would recommend a lot of patience for any future Beyer T1user. Whether stock or recabled, those big metallic Tesla drivers need a lot “work-out” before settling in.

 

 

ALO cable vs. Stock Cable:

 

I have had the chance to directly compare the stock Beyer T1 against the ALO recabled Beyer T1 only on one occasion. Overall, I had the chance to listen to the stock Beyer T1 on 2 occasions in my own system: once before getting my ALO recabled Beyer T1 and a second after I got mine.

 

Below are some of my notes:

 

-        The ALO recabled Beyer T1 was more evenly balanced throughout the frequency spectrum. The Stock T1’s treble felt disjointed and seemed to be playing its own partition. The ALO recabled T1’s treble was better integrated to the rest of the audio band and felt smoother (i.e. distortion free);

-        The ALO recabled T1 had a cleaner and more accurate timber of instruments;

-        The ALO recabled T1 seemed to have greater clarity,with greatly increased low level details;

-        The ALO recabled T1 also sounded more focused, with sharper imaging. The Stock T1 imaging was fuzzy in comparison;

-        The differences in transparency and resolution werethe most apparent on high quality recordings.

 

Overall, it seemed like a layer of haze and fuzziness was removed when going from the stock cable to the ALO one. The better the quality of the recording, the more audible was the phenomenon. 

 

So how much difference there was between the 2 headphones/cables?

 

If I were to compare the Stock Beyer T1 to my former reference, the HD-650 with Artisan Silver Dream upgrade cable, I would rate the T1 as different but in the same category.

The stock Beyer T1 had the edge in soundstage size and dynamics while the Silver cabled HD-650 had the edge in imaging, cleanliness and accuracy of timber and low level resolution.

 

However, when comparing the ALO recabled Beyer T1 against the silver cabled HD-650, the ALO Beyer T1 gets the upper hand in almost every aspect and,more often than not, by a big margin.

 

The comparison between the stock and ALO recabled Beyer T1 is not intended to serve as a “reference” but just to show that I consider the stock and ALO recabled Beyer T1s as different sounding headphones. What follows inthe review is only about the ALO recabled Beyer T1 and shouldn’t be extrapolated to the stock Beyer T1. As an additional data point, a head-fier (Pacha) who brought along his stock Beyer T1 to compare to the ALO Beyer T1 ended up sending his pair for recabling at ALO Audio soon after the listening session at my place.

 

With those necessary warnings out of the differences between the stockand recabled Beyer T1, let’s move on.

 

 

Setting-up the beast:

 

If there were one constant that seemed prevalent regardless of the set-up on which the Beyer T1s were used, it would be their dynamic qualities. While an under-powered HD-650 can sound constricted and anaemic, the Beyer T1 always sounded “alive”. So in regards to dynamics, the Beyer T1s were easier to drive than the HD-650 as long as there was enough voltage gain in the audiochain (the volume knob has to be turned higher).

 

However, being easier to drive didn’t necessarily mean that they were easier to set-up. In fact, due to the extremely revealing nature of the BeyerT1s, it was more difficult than I had anticipated at first.

 

While the HD-650 can scale up very well with better sources, it is mandatory for the Beyer T1s to be used with excellent sources, or else they can turn up very quickly the listening experience into a tiring or boring one.

 

Regarding the amps, it seemed like the ALO Beyer T1s was meant to be ananalyzing tool for reviewers. While the 600 ohms load should have provided minimal interactions with different amps (different output impedance would yield less differences in the frequency response), the amplifiers I tried sounded very different from one another.

 

Here are some impressions on the main amplifiers I tried with the ALOBeyer T1s:

 

C2: The C2 which has been my reference headphone amp for the past few months could really be described as a straight wire with gain kind of amp.

It is very receptive to changes upstream. Using the ALO recabled BeyerT1s, and with the Audio-gd’s stock Sharkwire ACSS cables, I felt that it lacked speed relative to my old amp. After replacing the Sharkwire ACSS cables with some custom ACSS cables made by Deep Sounds, I felt that the speed was back (with improvements in other areas as well) but the sound shifted into the analytical and cold side.

I assumed for a moment that it was the C2’s fault as the Beyer T1s sounded warmer using other amps. But after I upgraded the digital filter in my main DAC, the sound became neutral and natural once again.

Overall, pairing the C2 with the ALO Beyer T1 is about speed, air,incisiveness, accuracy (and not prettification) of timber and ultra highresolution.

Provided the transport and DAC upstream are neutral, it can sound wonderful but can too quickly turn into the cold, lifeless and shortened decays kind of representation if the upstream components are not up to the task.

It was the pickiest amp but also the most rewarding I tried with the Beyer T1s. It made me want to sell the Beyer T1s at one point but it was also the amp that revealed the most qualities from the Beyer T1s during the past few months. While the C2 worked in my system when paired with the ALO recabled Beyer T1s, it is probably not a universal recommendation.

 

 

Little Dot MKIII: This relatively cheap amp was quite surprising withthe Beyer T1s. While I tried it just for the fun of it, I was pretty surprisedwith the results. The Little Dot MKIII never sounded as good as it did whenpaired with the Beyer T1s. When used with the Mullard M8100 and Aktyna Arisfooters, the LD MKIII threw a surprisingly and enjoyable holographic sound. The frequency response was limited at the extremes and the overall sound was soft.

Many head-fiers commented on the positive results of pairing the 600ohms Beyer T1s with OTL amps and I can understand the appeal of such a pairing.Given the relatively excellent results I had with the affordable Little Dot MKIII, I suspect that pairing the Beyer T1s with a high-end OTL might be the ticket to audio nirvana.

However, I have to admit that I got bored pretty quickly with the LDMKIII. It wasn’t that is was bad as much as I was missing the ultra high resolution representation of the C2 headphone amp. After getting used to being literally transported to the recording event (with the c2 head amp), it was more difficult to loose that much in resolution going back to the LD MKIII.

Though, I have to note that if I hadn’t heard better, I could be very satisfied with the LD MKIII. Its sins are of omission rather of commission.

 

 

Audio-gd C2 SA: Just as I was finishing the review, Audio-gd sent me for review their newly released C2 SA. At this point, I haven’t completely formed my opinion on it (review forthcoming) but so far, here is how it compares to my reference amp, the C2. The C2 SA is slightly less resolving than the C2. The difference is not huge but is noticeable through the ALO Beyer T1s.

The C2 SA is also slightly warmer (yet livelier) sounding, with a slight prettification of tone and a slight reinforcement in the mid bass. I suspect that most people will prefer the presentation of the C2 SA over the regular C2 when paired with the ALO Beyer T1s.

The C2 has an airier soundstage (due probably to its lighter representation) while the C2 SA has a denser, more impactful representation.

 

 

So what is the ideal amplifier? From my personal experimenting and from what I have read from people’s reports on the stock Beyer T1 on head-fi, it seems to me that the Beyer T1 has to be paired with “simple” designs: OTL amps, single gain stage solid state amps... While I had pretty good results with the C2 (after months of experimenting and tweaking), I am still in the look-out for THE perfect amp.

 

 

Another factor that might affect the sound of the Beyer T1 is the output impedance of the amp. Beyer’s own A1 amp has an output impedance of 120 ohms. OTL amps usually have higher than usual output impedance and  the Beyer T1 are specified for 600ohms and actual measurements done by headroom show an impedance over 1K ohms at certain frequencies. So there might be something to “gain” by using a high outputimpedance OTL amplifier or a transformer output amplifier that meets the 120ohms IEC standard such as the DNA Sonett. Anyways, the Beyer T1s sounded good from both solid state and tubes, so it might not be a matter of good vs. bad as it is a matter of personal taste.

 

 

Testing methodology:

 

I need perhaps to add a last comment regarding my testing methodologybefore getting to the sound.

 

I rely mainly on long term listening for writing a review. I personallybelieve that short A/B comparisons can help in the reviewing process but arenot suitable to really evaluate the intrinsic qualities of a component. Someaudiophiles sometimes get lost in comparing gear to other gear and forget tocompare the sound to the live representation. Recordings themselves are notneutral, and you get a great variation in quality and methods of recordingsfrom one album to the other.

It is important to play a wide range of albums to truly understand thesonic signature of the component under review. That can’t be done solely oncomparison basis on a limited set of tracks.

 

I try to understand the sound of the component as a whole before gettinginto the descriptions of the pieces. I also try to present as much as possiblewhat I heard and how I heard it before presenting my interpretation andconclusion.

In my experience, the same two listeners can hear the exact same thingbut draw different conclusions.

 

I believe that every listener and reviewer has their own biases andsubjective preferences no matter how hard they try to be objective.

 

Let’s move to the sound!

 

 

 

Part 3 - The Sound:

 

 

Timber & tonal balance:

 

 

The ALO Beyer has an excellent macro tonal balance, with no frequency aberration within the bass/mids/highs bands.

While most other headphones use a single driver, you can very often feel that some parts of the frequency spectrum (bass for the stock HD-650s, highs for the stock Beyer T1s and HD800s) are playing their own partition. With the ALO recabled Beyer T1, you get the impression that the sounds are cut from the same cloth.

 

Before listening to the ALO recabled T1, I always found myself comparing the sound of the reproduced instrument against a “reference” stored in my memory.

That reference can be elusive, can drift over time and needs constant refreshing.

It took me listening to the K701 side by side with the HD650 on my ownrig to understand that while the HD650 was very good at reproducing most instruments in the frequency domain, it lacked the necessary speed to reproduce instruments with fast transients at high frequencies (brass instruments for instance).

 

If I said that the ALO Beyer T1s can make most instruments sound right, it would be truthful yet it wouldn’t give the full picture. In fact, it is almost the other way around. When listening through the ALO Beyer T1s, you not only recognize the instrument but you understand how its mechanism allows the sound to be produced. So the mind is no longer trying to associate a vague recognizable sound with something stored in our minds but rather you can picture the instrument in front of you. You hear the sound being generated by the instrument and then you hear the dispersion pattern of the sound into the surrounding space.

On good quality piano recordings, you hear the hammer hitting the strings, the strings vibrating and then the wooden body of the instrument entering into resonance. With a flute recording, you hear the soloist move his hands through the holes of the instruments, and the air pressure emanating through the instrument and overloading the surroundings.

While these examples might give the impression the Beyer T1s are quite analytical (which they are) they do remain nonetheless very natural and musical sounding.

 

Regarding the tonal balance, and to give perhaps a well known reference to the readers, I would say that the ALO Beyer T1s have more deep bass, less midbass and better high frequency extension than the HD-650s. But that doesn’t tell much since the overall tonal balance will vary much depending on the associated equipment.

With some oversimplification the ALO Beyer T1s sounded fuzzy and bloated on the FUN, slightly thin and edgy on the C2 amp (when not properly set-up) and thick and full sounding from the C2-SA. Those are 3 different solid state amps from the same manufacturer yet each one of them gives a different flavour. The tubed Little Dot MKIII gave me yet another (softer) flavour.

 

Once you sort out the coloration of the associated equipment, you are left with the coloration of the recordings themselves. And I believe that when you reach the level of the HD800/Beyer T1 and other high-end cans, the majority of the recordings can seem “coloured” in some way or the other.

 

The Beyer T1s can absolutely morph from one recording to the other, from one track to the other and even within the same track if different miking technique swere used.

 

Is it perfect? Of course it isn’t.

 

From what I could tell, the Beyer T1s do have a particular sonic character.The ALO Beyer T1s could be described as very clear sounding, sharp, focused, incisive and very slightly on the cold and analytical side.

While the stock HD800s seemed to have a slightly exaggerated high frequency response, they still felt warm sounding. The ALO Beyer T1s don’t have any inherent warmth. So it has to rely solely on the components upstream to make good tone.

 

While I describe the ALO Beyer T1 as being (very) slightly on the coldside, it is important to keep in mind that they don’t subtract anything from the signal. If there is warmth in the signal being transmitted, the ALO BeyerT1 won't suppress it. Also, you don’t need a coloured DAC or the amp to make sound right and natural, but it is important to avoid edgy or bright components.

 

Also because of the highly fast nature of the Tesla drivers, it is imperative to have a good balance between the attacks, sustain and decay of the notes. Its high transient speed will be unforgiving of either dry or overly warm components upstream.

 

So pairing a bright DAC with a warm amplifier won’t extract the best from the ALO Beyer T1. Frequency compensation is not enough in this case and time coherence factor is of utmost importance factor here. “Slower” headphones are a lot easier to work with as you mostly have to worry with the tonal balance and not so much with the time coherency of the signal.

 

But once everything falls into place, the ALO Beyer T1s are very rewarding as they are very coherent from top to bottom, are highly resolving of the tiniest tonal shifts and can still be very musical to listen to.

 

 

Musical Examples:

 

Concerto for Two Violins - Mullova & Carmignola: This is a recording I have used a lot recently to evaluate equipment as it can quickly show if there are timbre anomalies or simplifications. Carmignola and Mullova use two different (and exceptional) violins, a Stradivarius and a Guadagnini. With the Beyer T1s, you can hear very clearly the two sonic signatures of the two violins. Never have I heard those two violins so beautiful and as distinct as it was the case with the Beyer T1s. The accompanying instruments also sounded wonderful and very distinct (as they can sound blurred with lesser headphones).

 

Rachmaninoff Dances - HD Tracks 24/96: if I had to choose one recording to evaluate equipment, this would be it. It is from an objective point of view the best recording I have in my library. It has a wide gamut of instruments and it is a true test for timber accuracy and differentiation. Every group of instruments is well in place and distinct. Depending on the headphone amp and the source, you get a greater differentiation between performers. Timbral accuracy of instruments is unmatched and diversified.

It was pretty interesting to try different equipment on this album. The best results were obtained using the most neutral components: using warmer amps decreased the specific beauty of each instrument (but adding the same pleasant tone over every instrument), while using bright and overly analytical sources (such as the emu 0404 usb) didn’t add anything to the representation and actually subtracted information.

With the proper set-up, the ALO recabled Beyer T1 was about high resolution beauty. However, what was even more surprising is how the Beyer T1could transmit the emotions. It wasn’t just the best recorded album, but one of the best representations I heard through a reproduced system.

Having a whole symphonic orchestra in front of you where all the instruments sounding “right” and real is not something I was ever expecting to achieve from a headphone system.

 

Natalie Dessay - Italian Operas: The very difficult to render glass harmonica sounds natural. Listening to the choir, you can distinguish both male and female voices while they were rather mixed and blurred together with the hd-650s. The timber of the voice of Natalie Dessay is absolutely fantastic: her voice comes out as clear, powerful and nuanced at the meantime. You get the impression of having a real talented exceptional person singing in front of you. Every vibrato and shift of her singing is clearly audible. However trying to analyze any further the performance would be doing injustice to what I heard and the way I heard it. Each time I listened to that album, I was drawn to the song and it was difficult to go into the analytical mode.

 

La Boheme - Puccini - The ALO recabled Beyer T1s showed excellent timbral balance from such an old recording. The tape hiss is there but you don’t noticeit a lot. You would expect from such a clear and resolving headphone to overemphasize the artifacts of the recordings but it is quite the opposite. The ALO Beyer T1s seem to be able to extract the singers from the background noisesand from their surroundings and you get once again an eerie sense of realism,of having real people in front of you.

 

Diana Krall - The Girl in the Other Room: On the “Temptation” track, the Bass is fantastic; you hear the string being plucked and then the whole body ofthe instrument resonating. The guitar has all the necessary “bite” while every slight tonal variation in Diana’s is clearly audible.

 

Glenn Gould - The Goldberg Variations, 1981: This is one of my favourite piano recordings. With the ALO recabled Beyer T1, you not only hear the humming of the pianist but you actually feel his presence. The sound of the Steinway and Sons Grand Piano is superbly rendered: and each is very well delineated.You get a good distinction between the hammer hitting the cord, the cord vibrating and the wooden body entering into resonance (as mentioned earlier when describing instruments).

Using my usual C2 amp, the representation wasairy with a great differentiation between the upper harmonics. Switching to theC2 SA headphone amp on this same album, the piano was more grounded, there was more body to the sound (think HD650 kind of piano representation) and the decays seemed to be (artificially?) prolonged over the C2. Honestly, I don’t knowwhich representation I prefer and I can’t say which one is the closest to the intent of the album maker. However, both were very good.  

 

 

Dynamics & PRaT:

 

PRaT:

 

I personally think that the biggest strengths of the Beyer T1s are there high dynamics and rhythmic capabilities. The first time I “heard” the T1s, they were on someone else’s head and what I was hearing was the leakage of the semi-open cans. Even through the leaked sound, I was shocked about how much the PRaT was improved over my older reference the HD-650. That first impression was confirmed and even reinforced after I had the chance to spend more time withthe T1s.

 

I have read a few reviews on head-fi before and after acquiring the Beyer T1s. In keeping with the usual comparisons (bass/mids/highs/soundstage), people objectively prefer the HD800 but subjectively prefer the Beyer T1s. My personal guess is that the Beyer T1s (whether stock or recabled) have excellent dynamic capabilities that make the music come alive.

 

The speed of the Tesla drivers allows the Beyer T1 to track every change in the music like no other headphone I came across.

 

 

Macro-dynamics:

 

Compared to the HD-650, it seemed to me that the dynamic range of most of my recordings increased considerably.

Some might argue that HD-650 is perhaps the least opportune headphone to compare to in terms of dynamics and I agree to some extent. A badly amped HD-650 sounds anaemic and dynamically challenged. A well amped HD-650 can have actually pretty decent dynamics that are good enough to not ruin the listening experience.

 

The Beyer T1 brought me to a whole new other level. While it is the most dynamic headphone I have heard (including AKGs, Grados, Sennheisers...), it also seems more dynamically capable than any speaker I have had the chance to listen to, including THX certified movie theatres.

 

As I mentioned earlier those dynamics did improve when going from my “weakest” amp to my “strongest” amp. It is possible (and probable) to perhaps squeeze even more in that department but I am not even sure it is something worth pursuing (for me).

 

I have though a little reservation about the bass. While the Macro-dynamics are utterly impressive when taken as a whole, it seemed to methat as the volume increases, the lack of air displacement from the Tesla drivers becomes more evident. The Tesla drivers seemed more agile from the midbass and up than they are at displacing massive amounts of air at ultra low frequencies. Perhaps that if the frequency response extended to well below what is necessary to make instruments sound right and natural, we could have abetter “feel” of the deep bass. This an area where I suspect that the Audeze LCD-2 will be superior thanks to its very linear frequency response (up to10Hz) and to its unique capability of producing decent square waves at 30hz.

Though, I should note that this lack of physical impact was more noticeable before I upgraded my DAC into the dsp1 V5. After the upgrade, the issue was farless objectionable. So overall, I don’t know how much of the lack in physical impact I noted at times was due to my equipment and how much was due to theBeyer T1s themselves. It was probably a little bit of both.

 

The weird thing is that if the Beyer T1s weren’t so quick from the midbass and up, I would probably never felt anything was missing in the ultra low frequencies (dynamics wise). Switching back to the slower HD-650s, which have amore speaker like representation, you get a slightly more impactful mid bass but far less dynamics throughout the rest of the frequency spectrum. So in the end, when compared side by side, the Beyer T1s had a lot more impact than the “bassier” HD-650, especially on good recordings.

 

 

Micro-dynamics:

 

Coming from the HD-650s, I first thought the Sennheiser were better at following small dynamic changes while the T1s were better at larger scale swings.

After a few weeks of use, listening to different recordings and listening through different set-ups, I came to understand that it was very recording dependant.

Given the limitations of the HD-650s in macro-dynamisms, my mind focused on its “relative” strength

The Beyer T1s are less “systematic” (or repetitive) in their representation due to their superior rhythmic presentation: on one song you find yourself focusing on the vibrato of a voice, on the following you find yourself surprised by the rawness of the dynamism of a large scale orchestra movement.

 

 

Musical Examples:

 

Norah Jones - Come away with me & Not too Late: I have listened to those two albums hundreds of times in different set-ups, from entry level earbuds to high end speakers systems in the 20K range. Through the Beyer T1s, I discovered new subtleties and intonations in Norah Jones voice and the accompanying instruments. The excellent handling of micro-dynamics and PRaTcapabilities led me to rediscover these favourite albums of mine.

 

Hans Zimmer - Gladiator OST: When I first listened to the Battle track from Gladiator OST (to check for macro-dynamics capabilities), it was the first timeI “chickened out” and turned down the volume half way through the track.

I have always used that track to test possible compression in my tested equipment but my ears hit “compression” before the Beyer Tesla 1s did.

The Beyer T1s seemed to have throughout the Gladiator OST album surprising amounts of dynamic reserves.

 

Rachmaninoff Dances - HD Tracks - 24/96: This album has been recorded at a lower volume than most recordings and doesn’t seem to have applied any dynamic range compression. Through the ALO Beyer T1s, you get avery lifelike representation as they can follow pretty easily from the smallest micro dynamic shifts to large scale full orchestra swings. The drums are particularly impressive as they are able to convey a sense of physical impactthanks to the combined effect of the frequency extension and transient speed of the Beyer T1s.

 

 

 

Soundstage & Imaging:

 

Soundstaging through headphones is a very personal experience. Given that each one of us has different HRTF (Head Related Transfer Function), there is no general rule to be made about what will work best.

With the Beyer T1 specifically, I found that the positioning of the headphones on the head had a big impact on how the soundstage was perceived.The width, depth and height (and tonal balance for that matter) changed considerably from one position to the other and it took me a few days (evenweeks to be honest) to find my preferred position.

From the little time I spent with the HD-800s, the latter seemed to have a more consistent soundstage regardless on how you position them on your head. So if you ever get a chance to audition the Beyer T1s, make sure you try a few different positions and headband settings. All the comments below are based onthe best position I could achieve with the Beyer T1s.

 

So how does the ALO recabled T1s soundstage and image?

 

When set-up properly, the soundstage produced by the Beyer T1s is simply glorious.

It still surprises me after months of listening to the Beyer T1s to havea whole symphonic orchestra unfold before me in such a big and believable way.It doesn’t try to mimic a speaker but rather tries to give a closerrepresentation to the real thing.

I can’t stress enough though the importance of the source (transport/DAC) and the associated amplifier in order to achieve the best possible performance from the Beyer T1s.

 

Before getting into more details regarding the soundstage, I should perhaps introduce a new concept, the “intrinsic soundstage of a headphone”.

When we are describing the soundstage of a headphone, we are actually describing 2 combined phenomenons: the intrinsic soundstage of the headphoneand its rendering of the actual soundstage of the recording.

 

Thanks to its angled drivers, the Beyer T1s have good intrinsic soundstage for a headphone, at least in comparison with most conventional headphone. The only headphone I had the chance to listen to that had a superior intrinsic soundstage was the HD-800 which seemed to be able to throw consistently an image in front of the listener, regardless of the recording.The AKG 701 also had a big soundstage but it sounded fake to these ears.

 

So if you are coming from more conventional headphones, such as theHD-650s, you might be then amazed about the 3D soundstaging of the ALO recabledT1, especially when listening to low quality recordings that can sound 2 dimensional on other headphones. In that regard, I felt that the ALO recabledT1 was doing a pretty good job.

In some ways, comparing the angled drivers ALO Beyer T1 to aconventional headphone such as the HD-650, it is like comparing a 3D TV with a1080p HDTV. While you can have an excellent perception of depth on a “normal”1080p HDTV, it is no where near the experience you can have with a 3D TV where images pop out in 3D.

 

On well recorded material of orchestral pieces, it is simply glorious.It does not only give an accurate mapping of where the different performers are positioned but also an idea of the size of the instruments being played.

On good recordings, you could also see and feel the soloist (or even background performers) moving and playing their instruments.

 

There is an upside though to that pinpoint imaging that is related to the density of the soundstage upstream.

When I was evaluating Deep Sounds Cables interconnects, I felt that the imaging was too thin with my reference amp. Until then, I was used to have good imagingin the width and depth but never as much focus in the height. It was verydisturbing until I understood the phenomenon.

The recabled Beyer T1s are in a certain way “thin” sounding (soundstagewise) but don’t like fuzziness. I first tried to cure the problem byintroducing “meatier” sounding amps (the Little Dot MKIII and ST3 head amps) but I got quickly tired by their persistent coloration. Granted they added morebody to the representation but there was some relative fuzziness that becameboring on the long run. I then switched back to my usual C2 amp and started fiddling with the transport side (usb to spdif). I will spare you the details but as an example the last step was to choose the “right” power cord for the external power supply of the usb transport.

 

So with the proper set-up upstream components you get not only excellent soundstaging but that soundstage is anchored in space and not floating around.

When I auditioned the stock HD800 (with a high end CD player as asource), I was very impressed by how big and spacious the soundstage was but Iwas constantly reminded I was listening to headphones because the representation lacked weight.

While that experience with the HD800 was the best “soundstage” experience I had with a headphone, it comes no where near what I am experiencing now with the Beyer T1s.

That is not to say that one is objectively better than the other but just to explain that with the proper set-up, the possibilities of high end headphones such as the recabled T1 can be pushed very high.

 

With the ALO Beyer T1s, you can not only hear the soundstage but also “hear” the recording venue boundaries very clearly (thanks to its superior low level resolution). You can also hear the space being “overloaded” in intense passage.

If it weren’t for the lack of physical bass impact on the body, you could be fooled being there at the recording venue.

A state of the art tube amp will probably expand the soundstage even more but it might not provide the Beyer T1s with the necessary extension in the deep low frequencies to make the representation even more impactful.

 

So in a paradoxical way, by getting closer than ever to the real thing,that relative limitation in the low frequency extension is even more obvious.

 

One funny thing related to the soundstage is that when watching moviesor series with the Beyer T1s, you clearly hear that the music has been recordedin a different space than the action that is being taken place. It is notsomething you need to concentrate on and can be often distracting.

Whether listening to music or watching movies the recabled Beyer T1s just transport you into another acoustic space.

 

 

Musical Examples:

 

Natalie Dessay - Italian Operas: Listening to Lucia di Lammermoor, you can clearly picture the way Natalie Dessay was facing the microphone and you can follow her pretty easily as she moves in the stage. The accompanying performers and instruments are also very well defined into space with a lot of “air” in between.

 

Rachmaninoff Dances - HD Tracks - 24/96 : Using this reference album once again, you get a better understanding of the excellent soundstaging capabilities of the ALO Beyer T1s. Instruments are discrete, instead of being a mashed mass, and there relative size is well preserved (different instrumentsdo have different recognizable sizes). And while the imaging is pinpoint accurate, the representation is not on the dry side as the instruments can still bloominto the air. With my reference chain, I could almost count different instruments one by one if I weren’t so drwan by the music.

Overall, there is a good sense of the recording venue which isfurthermore accentuated by the excellent rendering of different reverbs ofinstruments. On this particular track you get the feeling that instruments play the room and can “overload” it in intense passages.

 

Mahler - Symphony number 5 - Decca: This is my go-to-CD album for imaging and depth analysis. While the silver cabled HD 650 was already good at showing you an excellent sense of depth, the ALO recabled Beyer T1s go further by allowing the representation to be in front of you with a greater sense of depth and layering of the soundstage.

You can clearly feel the recording venue with the ALO Beyer T1s. Every instrument is well located and can bloom into space. Reverbs are more easily followed.

You don’t only hear the room, but you are in it and hear its resonance through the excellent low level details retrieval and superior low bassresponse.

 

Hanz Zimmer - Angels &Demons OST. On 160 BPM, the soundstage is truly hallucinatory on this track. It is unlike any speaker or headphone representation I have heard previously. You get a strange 3D surrounding effect where you are in the middle of the representation. Thereis still depth but you get sounds coming from all over (including slightly fromthe back). Whether that was the intent or some weird thing happening with thechain I was using, I actually liked the way it sounded better than throughspeaker and or any possible live experience as I would unlikely be on stage,instead of being a simple spectator.

 

 

 

Transparency & Definition:

 

Raw Resolution:

 

When moving from the HD650s to the Beyer T1s, I was a little bit disappointed detail wise at first.

I was expecting to hear new details that I had never heard before. This wasn’t entirely the case. There was indeed an increase in perceptibility of information in the frequency extremes and less time blurring, smearing of transients... but I wasn’t hearing “new details” and I wasn’t “blown away” by this flagship headphone.

 

What I realized with the time passing was that the change was in a different nature. There was an increase in resolution instead of the “details” I was expecting to hear. Instead of listening to just a voice or instrument in a recording, you get the perception of hearing the real instrument in front of you.

With a properly amped and recabled HD-650, you hear a lot of details.With the ALO recabled T1, you stop hearing the details and starting hearing the whole thing. It is an effortless rendition of details that I have rarely heard by any reproduction audio system. If I were only relying on short A/B comparisons, I could have totally missed this point.

 

There was an enhanced sense of realism due to many factors: excellent top to bottom coherency, excellent transient speed and high contrast ratio which allow for more vivid images. I described previously the ALO Beyer T1s as being sharp, focused and incisive and those are exactly the qualities that allow them to offer a superior resolution without resorting to a tilted high frequency response, which only give the impression of artificial and fatiguing sense of resolution. Actually, the ALO Beyer T1s are less upfront with thed etails in comparison with the HD-650s which, seem to be struggling and "forcing" the details at the listener ears.

 

The ALO Beyer T1s are unforgiving with bad upstream components but can meanwhile offer a relaxed high resolution representation when properly set-up.

 

 

Quality of the files:

 

Using a computer as a source, I had the possibility to compare the same files in different formats: MP3s, 16/44 lossless and 24/96 native formats. The results were pretty unexpected and intersting.

While you would expect from a “transparent” headphone to show you evenmore clearly the flaws of MP3s, they sounded actually better than they did onthe HD-650.

There was a distinct difference between moving up the encoding the rate.The higher the bit rate, the higher went the resolution, the soundstage clues and richness of timber.

MP3s and 16/44.1 files are mostly subtractive in comparison to the native 24/96 files, and this exactly how it is shown by the Beyer T1s (and obviously the rest of the system). My guess is that the ultra fast Beyer T1s drivers do not worsen the already slowed and messed transients by low bitrate encoding. In some ways it reminds me of what I feel when comparing the edgy sounding EMU 0404 usb with the smoother and more resolving sounding PCM1704ukbased DAC-19 DSP. It is indeed possible to gain both in resolution and naturalness when things are done right.

Though, I have to stress that while it relatively “forgiving” of bad recordings, it is ruthlessly revealing of bad sources.

 


 

Conclusion:

 

The ALO recabled Beyerdynamic Tesla 1s are not for everybody:

 

-        They don’t impress on first listen (especially if the upstream components are not up to the task, or if they are not properlyburnt-in);

-        Even on long term listening, they can fail to impress as their performance is very system dependant (any change in the components orset-up upstream is very audible);

-        They are not very consistent in their sound depending on the recording: if you expect to hear a great soundstage, great bass or super smooth highs regardless of what is on the recording, look elsewhere;

 

However, if you are looking for a highly resolving and dynamic headphone that doesn’t consistently remind you that you are listening through headphones (i.e. constricted headstage) but rather let you be drowned totally and fully by the music, the ALO Beyer T1 might suit your tastes.

 

Personally, as cited previously, I have had mixed feelings about the ALO recabled Beyer T1s. At one point, I was about to sell them and try the Audeze LCD-2 (which I have never heard). Now, that I have found a “good enough” balance, I am definitely going to keep them.

Many head-fiers reported excellent results with OTL tube amps, and given the relatively excellent results I achieved with the entry level Little DotMKIII, I believe that an upgrade in the headphone amp might improve the results further in my system.

 

I believe that audiophiles are unconsciously looking for something better than the real thing. In some ways, they secretly want their gear to transcend the real live experience. When we are listening to live events, there are many visual and psychological clues that help us besides the sounds whereas those things are missing when listening to reproduced music. Hence, reproduced music “has” to be paradoxically better than the real thing in some aspects inorder to approach even approach it.

In that regard, the Beyer T1 is better than the real think in a few areas: imaging, low level details and analyzing capability. It might seem counterintuitive to say that reproduced music is better than the “real thing” but through a good placement of microphones, we can actual hear more than what we do in "live" performances, sitting relatively farther away from the recorded instruments.

 

During the past few months, I asked a few people to give me their opinion on how the Beyer T1s sounded in my system as it always good to have a “fresh” opinion on audio related matters. Whether they were audiophiles or non audiophiles, regular concert goers or iPod listeners all were very impressed bythe Beyer T1s and an unexpected description seemed to emerge: “better than thereal thing”. Unlike the HD-650s for which I used to explain that “true”audiophile bass or highs “had” to sound like this or that on the recording, the ALO recabled Beyer T1s didn't need any explaning. It seemed to be able to convey not only the sounds but also the intent behind the music. Its colorations, if there were any, seemed to be low enough that no listener seemed to care about it. I even tried to “trick” people by asking them to describe any variations in the bass/mids/highs department (after they listened to a few different tracks) but the answer was again unexpected (from non trained critical listeners): they quickly heard that recordings had far more variations than the intrinsic coloration of the BeyerT1s. Of course, they didn’t phrase it like that but usually it was something like: “There are a lot of differences between recordings” or “you can clearly hear the faults of the recordings”.

The same remarks held true for movie listening. Most people agreed that listening through the Beyer T1s gave them a more immersive and thrilling experience than any movie theatre they had been to, despite the obvious lack of physical bass impact.

 

I realize that this might seem contradictory with the fact that I described the ALO recabled Beyer T1s as non impressive on first listen. The thing is that when I personally first listened to the ALO version, they weren’t burnt-in and my system wasn’t optimized for the Beyer T1s. Once the burning-in and the set-up were sorted out, the Beyer T1s became very impressive on short and long listening sessions.

 

 

Speaking value:

 

In a matter of months, the ALO recabled Beyer T1s relegated my former reference, the HD-650s into mere mid-level cans. In my reference system, I would say that the difference between the ALO recabled Beyer T1s and the stock HD-650 is about the same as there is from the Sennheiser CX-300 to the HD-650 (I used the stock HD-650 as a reference so that people could easily relate toit).

So while I was expecting to hit the law of diminishing returns at the level of the HD-650s, it seems that upgrading from the HD-650 to the ALO BeyerT1s was well worth it. This means that the ALO recabled Beyer T1 is a very good value product in my personal opinion and experience.

Though I have to admit that a (good) silver cabled Sennheiser HD-650 represent a better value. In comparison, I personally find that the stock BeyerT1s are compromised by their cable and represent a poor value in comparison with a (good) silver cabled HD-650.

 

 

In the Grand scheme of things:

 

After spending a while with the Beyer T1s I am surprised and impressed by the level of performance it is possible to achieve from these headphones.

If we wanted to replicate the same level of performance, we would be looking at 10K+ speakers in properly treated rooms paired with high performance power amps. Even with such pre-requisites, you would be faced with some though decisions: you could go with a single driver speaker that has excellent top tobottom coherency but is clearly limited in the frequency extremes, or you could go the multi-driver way and risk loosing some of the coherency and accuracy of timber that high end headphones such as the ALO recabled Beyer T1s seem to have.

Granted I have heard a few speakers that had more impact in the low frequencies and a bigger soundstage, none of them had the same level ofresolution, the same top to bottom coherency, the same cleanliness of timber and purity of tone, the same pinpoint imaging and the same dynamics as I experienced with the Beyer T1s.

 

While I have previously listened to other competing high end cans (such as the HD800, the Grado GS1000i...), I never had them for extended period of times, so I can’t say if one is better than the other, not that is of any importance to me as I believe that all those cans can shine in the appropriate set-up.

 

But what seems to characterize the Beyer, relative to its direct competition, from my (limited) own experience (which seems to concur with different comparisons I could read on them) is that they are quite “balanced” cans.

They are relatively neutral (low coloration) while sounding quite vivid and dynamic. They have a pretty big soundstage while retaining very sharp imaging capabilities. They are quite transparent to the recording without over-emphasizing their flaws. They also have superior PRaT capabilities that make them suited for a wide variety of genres.

They might not be objectively the best at each category (save perhaps for Dynamics and PRaT) but they offer an excellent and coherent representation of the music that requires little effort from the listener.

Indeed the increase in resolution doesn’t induce a “sensory overload” but induces quite the opposite; the details are presented in such a manner that it requires very little effort to the brain to do the work. Here, high resolution means increased naturalness and fewer efforts required to listening.It is painfully obvious when stepping down to lower resolution headphones or speakers and where the brain has to do so much more work during listening sessions.

 

 

Final words:

 

To sum up, I would say that the ALO recabled Beyer T1s are terrific headphones. They are very picky but extremely rewarding when properly set-up. More specifically about the ALO recabled job, while I haven’t compared different aftermarket cables (like I did with the Sennheiser HD-650s), it was clearly apparent the ALO recabled Beyer T1 was clearly superior to the stock cable and that the ALO Chain Mail Cable paired with the Beyer T1 has very little coloration that I can detect.

So I am assuming that either both the cable and the headphones are very low coloration devices (the most probable scenario) or that the cable and headphone cable cancel each other colorations (least probable), or perhaps a little of both explanations. In any case, the ALO cable doesn’t seem to be inherently flawed and the premium over the stock cable is well justified (given the cost of materials and the high level of craftsmanship).  

 

The only reason I would look right now for a different upgrade cable would be for comfort reasons and not for sonic performance ones (i.e. to have a lighter cable).

On paper, there are a few interesting cables such as the lighter Aphroditecu29 Zeus replacement cables (based on Wireworld OCC cables) that I would considerif I were in the market again.

Though, I have to point out that I am not currently considering taking the risk right to change cables as it is not “guaranteed” that a lighter cable will be as satisfying from a pure performance point of view.


Given that I can only vouch for what I have listened to, I give my highest recommendation to the ALO recabled Beyer T1s which are, to these ears,the best headphones I have had the chance to listen to.

 


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2 Comments

Reply JDFlood
4:08 PM on February 23, 2011 
Thanks for the wonderfully detailed review. I have recently been struggling to get my "at work" system up to what I would consider an "audiophile" level of performance. I have been changing, DACs, Headphones, and amps for a couple years. I had finally gotten close about six months ago with set of unmodified Beyer T1s, (other equipment, Ayre QB9, Woo WA6 (upgraded inside and with tube upgrades), and Ridge Street USB and Nirvana interconnects. But had come to the conclusion I was still missing good upper end. Acoustic gitars were missing the detail harmonic interplay, violins missed the bowing details, spacial cues were sparse. I deducted my only hope was upgrading the T1's cables. I live across the river from Ken at ALO, so called him up, and we discussed the problem. He thought maybe the LCD2 might fit the bill. The words he used when describing the the LCD2 versus the T1 all pointed right at the problem area I had. So, I got them, with ALO cable. He was right, it completely eliminated the lack of detail in the upper reaches, also got me more detail in the midrange, and deeper bass. Problem solved, without another round of Amp / DAC upgrades (well, just in case, I hava a Vioelectric Amp on order). So, after reading your review, I am inclined to think the the ALO cable upgrade of my T1s, will likely close the gap somewhat with my LCD2's, improving the high frequency detail of the T1's in my system. Since you didn't not find that a shortcoming. I'll be interested in hearing the difference. Anyway, thanks for the great review. JD
Reply Amine Slimani
2:26 PM on March 7, 2011 
JDFlood says...
Thanks for the wonderfully detailed review. I have recently been struggling to get my "at work" system up to what I would consider an "audiophile" level of performance. I have been changing, DACs, Headphones, and amps for a couple years. I had finally gotten close about six months ago with set of unmodified Beyer T1s, (other equipment, Ayre QB9, Woo WA6 (upgraded inside and with tube upgrades), and Ridge Street USB and Nirvana interconnects. But had come to the conclusion I was still missing good upper end. Acoustic gitars were missing the detail harmonic interplay, violins missed the bowing details, spacial cues were sparse. I deducted my only hope was upgrading the T1's cables. I live across the river from Ken at ALO, so called him up, and we discussed the problem. He thought maybe the LCD2 might fit the bill. The words he used when describing the the LCD2 versus the T1 all pointed right at the problem area I had. So, I got them, with ALO cable. He was right, it completely eliminated the lack of detail in the upper reaches, also got me more detail in the midrange, and deeper bass. Problem solved, without another round of Amp / DAC upgrades (well, just in case, I hava a Vioelectric Amp on order). So, after reading your review, I am inclined to think the the ALO cable upgrade of my T1s, will likely close the gap somewhat with my LCD2's, improving the high frequency detail of the T1's in my system. Since you didn't not find that a shortcoming. I'll be interested in hearing the difference. Anyway, thanks for the great review. JD


Hi JD,

Thanks for your comments. Please let us know how the LCD2 (with ALO cable) compared to the rewired Beyer T1 when you get a chance. The LCD2 is on my list of things to purchase in the future but I am currently so satisfied with the ALO Beyer T1 that I don't feel the urge/need to try something else... for the time being at least :)