Beyerdynamic’s naming scheme for headphones generally uses the prefix ‘DT’, which since the 1930ies stood for the cute retro description ‘dynamic (measuring) telephone’. Recently they introduced a new range of phones, not targeted towards professional studio applications, but aimed at the luxury home-user market. Those phones are the T 1, T 5, and the T 50 p, which I’m going to review. The ‘T’ stands for Edison’s adversary, Nikola Tesla – or, more precisely, for the SI unit of magnetic field strength, named after him.
According to Beyerdynamic’s marketing department this means, “Under the name of Tesla technology, Beyerdynamic has bundled a range of features to improve the sound and increase the efficiency of the headphones. Put simply, the magnetic ‘drive’ of Tesla headphones provides double the performance of conventional models, which is an increase in efficiency [...] This is because the efficient Tesla converters do not just provide exquisitely precise and detail-rich sound: their degree of efficiency also compensates for the low performance of mobile players. With the T 50 p, devices that often sound too quiet are given a boost in performance that can only be compared with the spontaneous acceleration and overwhelming torque of an electric car.”
Interestingly, on the one side we have headphone manufacturer Ultrasone, who brags about their ‘ULE (Ultra Low Emission) Technology’ which claims to reduce magnetic death rays emanating from their headphones – on the other hand we have Beyerdynamic, claiming to have the beefiest magnets ever in their new series of phones (and that their magnetic radiation isn’t harmful in any way). Who is right? Who is wrong? Does it even matter for real life applications, or is it all just a marketing gimmick? You decide.
Anyways – I was never one that gave much for such bold advertising claims. Let’s see how they perform in reality.
- Beyerdynamic T 50 p Specs
- Headphone type: supra-aural, closed, dynamic driver
- Nominal frequency response: 10Hz – 23kHz
- Nominal impedance: 32 Ohm
- Nominal SPL: 107 dB
- Cable: 1.2m, angled 3.5mm plug
- Accessories: nylon carrying case, 6.35mm adapter, airline adapter
Design, Build, Specs
The T 50 p sport a rather fetching retro-modern look. Their headband and swivel mechanism are made from sheet metal, the ear cups are made from plastic and aluminum. While the plastic back plates look a bit out of place on the ear cups with their fake textured mesh/grid design (compared to the real metal meshes on the Beyerdynamic T 1), the build quality appears to be solid. Ear and headband pads are made from synthetic leather. The ear pads are easily removable, but the two thin headband pads are glued on. Not sure if that is a solution that lasts overly long. On the inside of the left ear cup is an ‘L’ indicator, both in Latin lettering and in Braille, while on the right ear cup the serial number of the phone can be seen on a sticker, adding to their perceived fanciness.
Cable-wise, the T 50 p aren’t as luxuriously equipped as the rest of their construction suggests. It’s a rather thin, stiff, and rubbery cable, more fit for generic stock earbuds than for a high priced phone with a big ‘Made in Germany’ print on the headband. The cable kinks and tangles easily, and it transfers quite some cable noise (‘microphonics’) to the ear cups. The cable on my $10 Koss KSC75 feels and handles better. Nevertheless, Beyerdynamic put some more effort in designing the solid low-profile angled 3.5mm plug and the ‘art deco’ Y-splitter – both look nice, have decent strain reliefs, and appear to work well, from a mechanical standpoint. The cable length of 1.2m is optimal for portable use.
As far as comfort goes, the T 50 p are really good for a supra-aural design. They don’t clamp down on one’s ears too much; they can be worn for hours on end without getting ‘hot’ ears. Despite being comfortable to wear, their isolation properties are good – they isolate pretty much as well as most average IEMs with silicon ear tips. For me their noise rejection is good enough on crowded streets or on the bus. For airplanes and subway trains it might not be quite enough, despite what Beyerdynamic claims in their advertisements, but neither are most other phones.
The downside to that loose fit is that they can’t really be used for jogging, or other physical activities that involve a lot of movement. At least not with the size of my melon (which I think is average sized), but probably not with anyone else’s as well. I am already using them on the smallest headband setting, and my girlfriend can’t get them to fit securely at all. In comparison, on my DT770, HD650, or HFI-780 I usually have the headband extended for a third or almost halfway out. Seems it’s safe to say the T50p are designed for people with really big heads – or a stylish Afro. One could attempt to bend the headband to give them a tighter fit, but that could make them less comfortable – or maybe it would break them (unlikely, but I didn’t try it).
Back to Beyerdynamic’s ‘Tesla Technology’ claims, as already mentioned in the first paragraphs of this review: I don’t get what all the fuzz and big words are about. The T 50 p are about as efficient as the next portable phone, and significantly less efficient than some other ones, like for example the AIAIAI TMA-1. Beyer’s claim of the T 50 p working with any weak portable source is true – but the same goes for any other phone rated at 32 Ohm and 107 dB. They don’t have above-average dynamics, transient response, or anything else that would differentiate a ‘Tesla’ driver from any other quality dynamic driver. If Beyerdynamic wouldn’t have exaggerated so much in their advertising blurbs, I might have been a tad less critical about the T 50 p’s real performance, as can be read in the following chapter.
The most important thing to mention upfront: the T 50 p are the most picky headphones concerning proper fit on one’s head that I’ve ever tried. It’s hard to imagine how congested they can sound when one moves them a few millimeters up or down, back or front from the ‘sweet spot’ on one’s ears – and how much they clear up once they’re properly seated. It took me a while to find out that they sound the best when I let them sit higher up and to the back of my ears. The more I move them towards this position, the better the treble gets, and the more the veil, boxiness, and nasality lifts from them. Usually it’s the opposite with most headphones – most sound their best located to the front and bottom of my ears.
This particular top/back fit benefits in seriously improved sound quality emanating from the T 50 p – but it seems to come at a cost. Soundstage, stereo imaging, is not very spacious with that kind of fit – they do project a wider stereo image when positioned in a way that their sound quality is diminished (meaning, front/bottom instead of top/back). I’ve heard a fair share of in-ear phones – such as the JVC FX700, Panasonic HJE900, V-Moda Vibe, and others – that have subjectively more expansive stereo imaging with somewhat more precise single instrument pin-point qualities than these near-full-sized phones. Don’t get me wrong – this doesn’t mean everything sounds lumped together with the T 50 p. For what they are, their stereo imaging is just not above average to my ears.
It took me quite a while to get used to the T 50 p’s sound signature. At first they sounded less than engaging to my ears: overly prominent midrange regions, verging on muddy and veiled, nasal, boxy, lacking dynamics and impact, one-note midbass, no soundstage to speak of. Treble was nice from the beginning, though. I didn’t actually let them ‘burn in’, didn’t ‘exercise’ their drivers – I let them rest for a week or two since I had other things to do. When I picked them up again they sounded quite a bit better than before. Magic? Placebo? I don’t know, I have no answer to that. It might just have been their fit, but I already experimented with that on the first day I got them.
Treble on the T 50 p seems almost a bit detached from the rest of the frequency response, in a good way – almost as if there was a separate tweeter in the housing. It’s rather forward sounding, sparkly, and precise. It’s not sibilant, just a bit on the bright side. To my ears there’s a broad peak between 3 and 4 kHz, a dip around 5 kHz, and two smaller peaks at 6.5 and 8 kHz. All in all, it’s a very good sounding, lively, sparkling treble, yet never sibilant. It’s maybe a bit too forward for some tastes, but exactly what I personally like in a phone. Some of these high frequency properties make me feel like there’s a crossover in these phones, since the midrange and bass of the T 50 p deliver somewhat different qualities than the treble.
Some parts of the upper midrange seem a bit congested and nasal with some music material, especially with some female vocals, saxophone, and similar. It’s probably a design limitation regarding the closed form factor in an enclosure as small as this. That only affects certain tracks, however – in general the T 50 p deliver good clarity and a natural, euphonic sound representation. Of course only with a perfect fit, as mentioned above. With dense material such as metal or orchestral music, I would wish for a bit more midrange dynamics, but with more toned down music it’s perfectly fine. Despite not being the most dynamic phones in all aspects, their precision is fine, they’re well resolving with any kind of music. All in all it’s a ‘polite’ midrange – it’s neither overly exciting nor is it analytic or dissecting. If one stops overly critical listening or picking out single frequency ranges and starts enjoying some good tunes, it does a fine, relaxed job.
The T 50 p begin to slowly roll off at around 300 – 200 Hz by a few decibel, but below that they keep an equal level down to about 30 Hz, to my ears. Meaning, they have a somewhat recessed bass representation compared to their overall frequency response, but still a realistic one – definitely not anemic in any way. It’s not the most texture-rich bass or the most ‘musical’ one, and – despite a somewhat exaggerated peak at the above mentioned 200-300Hz range – not overly bloated or boomy sounding, as is often the case with closed headphone designs. It could use a bit more control, more definition, more oomph in the lowest octave and maybe some less midbass hump, but so do many other closed phones. I would describe it as a bit less ‘polite’ than the midrange, but the bass mostly doesn’t get in the way of the rest of the music.
Speaking of punchy – when I first read about Beyerdynamic’s new Tesla drivers I imagined they would be very efficient and dynamic at low volume levels. The T 50 p however sound better to my ears when played at louder volume levels. That way they gain more ‘speed’, better transient response, more crispness. Treble reproduction improves quite a lot as well the more the volume knob goes towards eleven. Of course this perceived sound improvement also depends on the human ear’s equal loudness contour – ‘flat’ sounding phones usually tend to sound better at higher volume levels than phones tuned to a V-shaped response.
The T 50 p are nice looking, nice sounding phones. Beyerdynamic’s ‘Tesla Technology’ is more or less marketing fluff, delivering average efficiency and precision – but the phones do their job well in general. However, their fit and some details of their build quality don’t quite reflect their not so low MSRP of EUR 249, in my opinion. Then again, they are marketed as a luxury item, and they’re made in Germany. If you’re in for a little extravagant glamour, they might be just the phones for you to splurge on. For the more cost-conscious folks, there are less expensive alternatives to the T 50 p out there, even if they might not look as classy, or are tuned to a different sound signature than the T 50 p’s neutral-ish representation.
The T 50 p are no ultra-precise studio monitoring phones, but clearly tuned for relaxed, euphonic listening at home or on the go. They are also no overly ‘exciting’ phones, reproducing a V-shaped loudness curve, vast soundstage, or spectacular dynamics – but they perform well as long as it’s understated, ‘polite’, or ‘dry’ sound you’re looking for. They are decent all-round performers. I like them for rock, jazz, soundtrack scores, and the like. They also perform well with dense material like heavy metal or orchestral pieces – but for some vocal-centric tracks or bass heavier varieties of electronic music I prefer a different sound signature. Not because of any lack of bass, but because of issues with timbre, texture, and tightness.
It took me a long time until I warmed up to the T 50 p, but lately their interesting take on neutral audio reproduction grew on me. I’ve gotten used to their somewhat extravagant sound signature, so to speak. They aren’t for everybody, but I’m sure they will find their fans.
- Generally neutral, somewhat euphonic sound signature with forward midrange, good treble
- Fairly efficient, plays loud enough with weaker MP3 players – no amp needed
- Lightweight, comfortable
- Decent isolation for a supra-aural phone with little clamping force
- Sometimes slightly muffled, boxy, nasal sound with certain music tracks, (mid)bass could be more controlled and refined
- Sound quality extremely dependent on position of cups on the ears
- Loose fit, designed for big heads
- Thin rubbery cable, somewhat microphonic, kinks and tangles easily