Solitaire P Planar Headphones From T+A
26th August 2020
A rather substantial pair of high-end headphones from this German outfit. Paul Rigby reviews the Solitaire P headphones
From the off, you can see that T+A has been quite meticulous in how it’s gone about designing its open-backed headphones.
Using neodymium magnets with a segment shape, matched in length to suit the oval outline of the diaphragm, the idea, says the company is to, “…ensure that the magnetic field lines generated have a homogeneous course, and that no air turbulence occurs. The airflow remains laminar at all times.”
Hence, the retaining rings and the magnet mount have also been designed to maintain the diaphragm’s position accurately in the linear part of the magnetic field.
There are no supplementary opposed magnets, either in order to reduce weight. The diaphragm itself consists of a thin film, coated with a conductor array whose impedance is around 80 Ohms.
All sub-assemblies are attached to solid aluminium cups. Apparently, the machining of a single cup takes more than an hour, starting from a 35mm thick solid aluminium plate. The yokes and yoke connections are also machined from a solid block.
The ear and head cushions are hand-made and manufactured by a specialist company in Germany. They consist of allergen-free synthetic leather and Alcántara.
The cables are of symmetrical construction. They consist of copper (OFC) conductors with a silver layer. The four signal conductors are embedded in cotton threads and permanently wrapped in a silver-plated woven shield. The entire cable harness, including connectors and splitters, is encased and sheathed in a single manufacturing process, making it robust. The cable insulators consist of Hytrel and TPE.
Hytrel is made by DuPont and is basically thermoplastic elastomer. It’s a versatile copolyester that mixes strength with heat and chemical resistance. Thermoplastic Elastomer or TPE is used in preference to PVC these days because it’s tougher, its flexibility is high and it can better withstand temperature variations.
Two cable sets are supplied with the headphones: one with a single-ended 6.35 mm connector and the second with a 4.4 mm Pentaconn connector. I’m very happy to see that Pentaconn is included here. All contacts are gold plated.
When you open the rather substantial box, you’ll find the headphones centrally placed, flanked by each of the cables. Hooking up the cables is easy. Each connector barrel is pushed into a concealed socket. Now, you might think that connecting the barrel to a socket you can’t see might be finicky in the extreme but that’s not so. Once inserted, you slowly rotate the barrel until you feel the barrels engage the socket. Then you simply push it home.
These headphones feel premium. Well made and solid. They also feel comfortable and solid on the head coming, naturally, with sliding ear pads to locate the ear.
The company does talk a lot about retaining a light weight. They make the point a major design issue in its official website text but I would only say that relatively speaking. Not in absolute terms because they are, in and of themselves, pretty heavy.
They are light when compared to the high-end Audeze models, for example, but they’re are a touch heavier than the Final D8000 Planar Magnetics designs while there are plenty of other high-end headphones out there that are much lighter. Sennheiser’s albeit cheaper 800 series, based upon a different technology type admittedly, weighs in at around 330g for example. Hence, if you have physical issues and find it difficult to support a weight, because of a neck problem for example, then bear that in mind.
Oh and before we hit the Sound Quality section? That price. It was right at the end of January that the news of these headphones was announced. Now we’re in August of the same year, the actual release has been accompanied by an increase of £200 over the initially stated price. That’s a lump of cash in anyone’s book. Now, there’s probably very good reasons for that increase and the Pandemic is probably the main one but, nevertheless, this is a bad decision from T+A. Economically? Sure, I can envisage why the increase has occurred. PR-wise? A terrible decision that makes the company look greedy and insensitive.
I began in single-ended mode and with vinyl and played the title song from Roxy Music’s Avalon.
What I heard here was a tremendous bass performance throughout the song. The percussion was right up front within the soundstage while the bass guitar had a strong role to play here.
Lead guitar was also bolstered by the bass frequencies, giving it strength and form while the lower frequency elements of the vocals fattened and broadened the delivery, including the female harmony backing singers.
The bass certainly added drive to the music, pushing it onwards and adding real momentum to the song.
In terms of the upper frequencies? There was a slight lack of control around the midrange. You could hear this especially when the female harmony singers kicked in. There was a slight wavering, a tendency to smear a touch that sounded slightly bloomy. Although detail was certainly there. The treble-inspired ride cymbal sounded quite precise, for example.
Another example, the secondary percussive effects from the scraper, especially at the beginning of the song alongside the bongos, offered an impressive focus.
I did expect more information, considering the price, I have to say. I was very happy to hear what was presented and what was there was excellent indeed but I wanted more. I expected more. Considering that price tag.
I turned to jazz on CD and Geoff Keezer with his 1997 album on Colombia, Turn Up The Quiet.
The track I chose was his version of Stompin’ at the Savoy. Majoring on piano alongside sax with bass following up as support.
I was impressed by the big sound presentation here as the bass ran alongside the upper frequencies, allowing detail to exude from the resonance strings of the upright bass and the lower reaches of the piano. Even so, the sax found it difficult to fully present its most subtle aspects because of a rolled-off midrange while the upper frequency areas of the piano were a tad restrained in terms of reverb and upper midrange delicacy. Dynamic reach was distinctly limited.
Bass was in charge here and that headed the queue and, by being in charge, tended to restrict the freedom of everything else in the room.
Hence, while I was impressed with much of what I was hearing again, I wanted much more.
I then turned to the Pentaconn cable and Eric Bibb’s Meetin’ at the Buildin’ on vinyl. The track offers a host of backing voices, guitars, percussion and many organic instruments such as accordion and harmonica.
What was immediately apparent here – apart from the higher volume and I had to lower the gain on my pre-amp to compensate – was the improved midrange control.
In Pentaconn mode, the Solitaire P headphones sounded smoother, more relaxed and at ease within the midband. On this track vocal crescendos could bark and blare but, with the Pentaconn cable attached, crescendos flowed easily.
In single-ended mode, there was a general unevenness of the sonic presentation but here, with a balanced approach, the Solitaire P headphones sounded as if they had more control of the music. There still remained a lack of space and air within the mids as the bass tended to throw its weight around but the Pentaconn certainly made the listening experience far more enjoyable.
Listening to heavier rock from those very nice chaps from Iron Maiden and Cradle of Filth, the Solitaire P headphones managed to enjoy itself far more. Without the need to take care of finessed detail and reverb tails, the Solitaire Ps merely picked up the information and launched it at your ears with gay abandon.
Yes, the music might not have held the same midrange insight as I wanted for a set of headphones at this price but there was plenty of detail to enjoy here that was combined with strength and a real sense of purpose plus plenty of bass grunt to stamp the message home.
Heavy in physical weight and heavy in bass, the T+A Solitaire Ps might lack the expected finesse of its underlying technology but if bass is your thing then you should give these headphones a careful demo. There’s lots of detail to be had from the Solitaire P headphones and if you like a warming, meaty bass presentation and you enjoy high-energy music then you certainly won’t go wrong with the T+A Solitaire P headphones.
T+A SOLITAIRE P HEADPHONES
GOOD: well built, dual cable option, strong bass, detail, Pentaconn mode
BAD: midrange control, dynamic reach, claustrophobic soundstage, single-ended mode
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