Steven Rittey | 22nd February 2021
Before I started at AV Online, I’ll admit that I was quite naive to the world of sound. I didn’t have a great understanding of how sound quality can be greatly altered through the use of different equipment.
I was quite happy with my retro Technics Hi-Fi and a pair of good-quality headphones. Like most of the uninitiated, I’d play around with the bass and treble or the built-in EQ until I was happy with the output. The situation changed when I started to review DAC USB accessories as one of my first projects and a whole new world of sound upgrades was discovered.
I’ll be honest with you. If you’re listening to music through any type of headphones, whether high-end or budget, then you are not experiencing ‘true sound’ when using a phone or computer.
This is the sound that the studio, the artist, or the sound engineer wanted you to hear. Adding a DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter) will make a big and almost immediate difference to the output and improve your overall listening experience.
Through using a DAC, you’ll enjoy music more and appreciate the little sound intricacies that are seldom heard. Whilst your phone camera might have improved to be of almost equal quality to a mid-level SLR, sound quality is still basic in comparison. Therefore, consider investing in a DAC if you listen to music or stream frequently.
To complete my series of DAC reviews ranging from budget to high-end, Nick, our Sales Manager, said that he had arranged a special warehouse delivery for me just after Christmas and that I’ll need to handle the expected arrivals with care when they arrive. They’ve only been plugged in for the first time today...
Over the past six months, I’ve reviewed several popular DAC models ranging from the EarMen Sparrow and the DragonFly Red from AudioQuest that plugged into my Mac.
To ensure continuity, this is how I intend to conduct this review about the T+A Solitaire P headphones and HA 200 Headphone Amplifier from the German brand T+A (Theory + Application). This is the first foray into headphones by T+A who are known more for their top-end speaker range.
The Solitaire P and HA 200 combination costs over £11000 in total and puts the T+A equipment into a different category altogether. The top-end audio segment is one that I am not entirely familiar with, but I know from my background in the world of cycling that spending thousands of pounds on the latest carbon bike from a top German brand like Canyon or Storck is not unheard of. £5K for a pair of German-engineered headphones is another story for me though...
I’ll admit it. I’ve been nervous about opening the boxes ever since they arrived. This could be the audio equivalent of taking a BMW i8 out on a wet and windy Tuesday night along the M62 so all drinks, desk clutter, and pens have been removed from the immediate area. They are still heading back to the warehouse as soon as the final word is typed though!
The packaging is a selling point in itself and adds to the overall premium feel. The all-black box with matching slots for the leads is a nice touch.
You can tell that this is a ‘Deutsche’ product as the presentation has an industrial feel with the use of silver and black more akin to a sports car from Ingolstadt or Stuttgart and then displayed in a showroom near Alderley Edge.
The technical build aspects of the Solitaire P are incredible. The materials evoke images of the type of equipment that NASA would have used to put the latest Rover on Mars. Phrases and words like ‘planar-magnetostatic, neodymium and vapor-deposited special membranes’ are used to describe these headphones and deliver sound into the intricately designed aluminium mesh cups.
They weigh approximately 490g, so are comfortable to wear even on my small head. These aren’t the type of headphones to walk around in, but read, work, relax and enjoy wearing whilst sat down.
I have a varied taste in music, but as with all of my reviews so far, I like to listen to things that I enjoy and understand how they sound to build a comparison. This will horrify true audiophiles, but I’ve been using a YouTube stream in 4K at high-resolution to test these headphones as this is how I would have used them if they were mine. I’ve even flirted with 8D sound, but that’s another story...
Using the Tomorrowland 2019 festival videos that stream in 4K UHD resolution, I’ve connected the recommended T+A HA 200 amplifier to my Mac and plugged in the recommended Pentaconn balanced 4.4mm cable to the Solitaire headphones. The volume was also set to an acceptable level. Previous experience has demonstrated that plugging in a DAC can lead to a real blast of sound, so I’ve played safe and muted the video to safeguard my ears and also the Solitaire headphones.
The set-up was simple between the Solitaire and HA 200 and I adjusted the sound settings on the HA 200 amplifier with an up tweak of the bass. I like the sound to be on the loud side, but with a bass level that replicates an early 2000s ‘Superclub’.
The amplifier has many built-in functions that I did not explore but has virtually every connection including an optical output and Bluetooth functionality to ensure versatility. The LED is crisp and clear with one-button access to the menu options.
More experienced and knowledgeable audio experts will appreciate the hidden benefits of the amp working in tandem with the Solitaire headphones. I’m sure that if I was allowed into the AV Online showroom, an expert would break out the even better sound possibilities and use HQ audio streams for a demo.
Instead, the headphones and the amp feel a bit over the top whilst sat on my computer whilst hovering over Microsoft Teams instead of really appreciating the music. The afternoon flew by when using the Solitaire headphones and they remained comfortable after 3 hours of continual listening.
I’ve enjoyed using the T+A Solitaire P headphones and the HA 200 headphone amplifier over the past few days. I can see why they have been held in such high esteem by review sites with a showering of accolades and awards throughout the audio world.
I know that many readers of this review would love to have a set of these headphones to enjoy and listen to especially during lockdown, but in reality, they will only appeal to a select few and not just because of the £5K price tag.
The open-back design does mean that the sound escapes and makes the Solitaire P the ultimate headphones for someone who sits in their lounge or listening room, solo and without distractions to ponder life and ambitions. They ultimately act as a filter to the outside world and are a chance to escape day-to-day realities surrounded by comfy synthetic leather and Alcantara suede.
Like the sleek German sports car that sits in the garage for most of the year, they will probably only be used on a Sunday or late at night with limited distractions.
Despite this, when carefully unleashed from the box, the Solitaire P headphones have been a joy to use and every time the power button on the T+A amplifier was set to the on position, using the Solitaire P headphones has felt like a genuinely special occasion.