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Presentation, build & wear comfort: Though doing nada for sound, fancy delivery boxes have become de rigueur in these leagues. The T-1 arrived in proper style and a stout metal box. It passed this silly hurdle of luxo cred with flying colors. On relevant items, there were real differences with the Sennheisers. Obviously, the HD800 are bigger. Around your ears, their cups leave room to spare. The Beyers encircle them more closely. By spreading clamping force over a larger ear cushion area, the HD800 thus exerts less lateral head pressure. Both headphones are very comfortable but the Sennheisers even more so.

Sennheiser's headband adjustment occurs from the top on clearly marked scales. Beyer's requires pulling out the curved metal shafts from the sheathed bridge. Their spacing indicators are dots on the inside of the bails. This general solution is quite Mickey Mouse and feels cheap. Having to pull out the shafts nearly to their ends to fit my big head, I had quite a time to later get one of the bails to slip back in again. For a statement effort, here the T1 doesn't quite make the grade.

A channel indicator and serial number are stealthily marked on the inside of the T1's left headband termination. This improves cosmetics over marking the outsides. The headband itself is cushioned but arguably not quite sufficient for really extended sessions once the crown of your head gets peculiarly sensitive to even very small pressures. In my book, the HD800 tops the T1 on overall build quality and perceived value. The latter would be indicated by the respective balance of metal versus synthetic bits. Like the dispatch container, this has nothing to do with sound. But in a comprehensive assessment, it all factors.

Both of today's titans get demerits for using dust-magnet black velour pads. What were these companies thinking? We're dealing with appliances one uses in direct contact with hair and skin. Skin and hair give off flakes and oils. What you want is smooth non-absorbent leather like audio-technica deploys for its W-5000 Raffinato. That's easily cleaned and refuses to actively Velcro fine debris. The W-5000 also rules with its supremely comfortable wing support. It touches your skull not on the sensitive crown but on either side.

On pure luxuriousness—price and sound not considered—the W-5000 leads and is trailed by the HD800, then the T1. On sound however, the Japanese is clearly bested by the Europeans. In the end, sound is our paramount concern. Here the W5000's lower resolution and lesser fidelity relinquish the stage to the other two. Sayonara.

On the head: The HD800 and T1 are both open-backed but the T1 leaks less sound. It also barely changes when your hands cover up its cups. The more efficient Sennheiser however gets notably hooded and honky then. It must breathe freely. Remember now that I'm judging both designs with high-quality cryo-braid aftermarket, not their stock leashes. This eliminates award potential for either. The HD800's supreme attraction is its upper end and fully suffused aeration. It conveys dimensionality, openness, speed and quite grandiose staging. It's about heightened resolution, litheness and true reveling in upper harmonics. The T1's focus is on a meatier lusher midrange and grippier lower bass. It shifts our attention deeper into tone, into a more relaxed feel and—on anything benefiting from b(r)assier cojones—erects the sonic scenery atop a more potent infrasonic foundation.

Well-recorded strings as on the wonderfully evocative 8-minute long "No Se Que Tiennen las Flores" track of Thierry Robin's soundtrack for La Mentale [Naïve 2007] assume a more burnished character, the low pedal points more prominence. The wispy tremolo of Titi's guitar is more silvery over the Sennheisers, the Tzigane solo violin more saucy over the Beyers.

Enter Burson Audio's class A fully discrete transistors in one corner, Woo Audio's single-ended 300B designer triodes in the other. I'm sure you can readily predict the maximum chemistry matches between these four audio actors. To have these headphones perform in closest proximity, you'd match Sennheiser with Woo and Beyer with Burson. To ham up innate voicing distinctions, you'd swap the amps to create greater polarity between the headphones.

That's the upshot of this comparison right there in a nutshell. But there's more. An incendiary singer like Yasmin Levy leaning in gives up no scintillating bite with the T1s. In fact, in the upper second octave above concert A, female voices with cayenne pepper or male voices with recorded sibilance—you know just the sort—have more fire and brilliant sharpness with the Teslas. That was unexpected but plainly repeatable. I think of that as the tamed Lowther lift. My Indian Rethm Saadhana speakers have it too. It's a controlled upper midrange elevation over a quite narrow band that adds excitement if managed properly but degrades into shoutiness if not (Rethm's designer Jacob George heavily modifies his DX-55 to banish the latter while cultivating the former).

The T1 with its highly polished slinky copper braid was clearly managed*. On the iDecco fed from iPod AIFF files, it had the beyerdynamic retain greater tonal fullness without sounding darker or heavier per se. The Sennheiser was the more lit up in the treble and overall leaner. Its transients were spikier and peeled out more of the mix. This benefited rhythmic elan and the associated sensation of drive. Despite the Tesla marketing spin and rise-time record claims, the T1 was actually shifted slightly behind the HD800 on its leading-edge focus. On the iDecco, I preferred the T1. On the Woo, the HD800 better matched my preferences. On the Burson, I'd take the T1 again. Etcetera. I think these two statement efforts are sonic equals, with the Sennheiser leading on engineered build. But clear sonic differences remain which will have listeners gravitate to one over the other. That's partly due to ancillary choices, partly due to personal bias.

* FEP Teflon jacket, 99.99998% OCC pure copper mono crystal, hand-woven 8-wire braid, individual stranded conductor bundles slightly larger than 22 gauge, 6-foot cable uses slightly more than 48 feet of wire, cryogenically treated at CryoFreeze.

If your diet includes a fair amount of bass workouts, the T1 has the clear edge. Without Denon excess, it pounds harder and is more massive. It's not just good for slam beats. It also greases Latin piano-chord jackhammers. Think Michel Camilo unplugged [right]. If you're a Franck Tchang-style listener who keys into tone modulations and minor harmonic shifts, the HD800 is the greater microscope. If you run deep valves, the T1's fleshier midrange could be gratuitous. If you're into transistors, I nearly guarantee you'd favor the beyerdynamic. Ditto for Rock, Pop in general and iTunes Store downloads whose compression is most apparent in the treble [Yavuz Bingöl at left].

In my recent test of Fang Bian's orthodynamic HifiMan HE-5LE, I juxtaposed it to my HD800. I predicted strong listener polarization (likely to be addressed by the forthcoming gold-diaphragm HE-6 statements). I don't remotely see the same scale of yin/yang stretch between T1 and HD800. That's because while clearly voiced different, they are matched as well-balanced top dogs. The HE-5LE was fairly outclassed by the HD800. But this was perfectly in accord with its far lower pricing. As such, it was an impressive 'debut'. The HE-6's far higher pricing will raise scrutiny. It must, on all levels, compete directly against today's titans which are from two big established players with far grander resources. And those resources show.

On the money: I can fully appreciate why Ken Ball rates his recabled T1 N°.1 (or N°.2 if the Audeze orthos weren't so physically heavy). I can also see why others would pick the Sennheiser. Given the grander picture where transistors outweigh tubes; where lesser recordings—or MP3/4 versions thereof—completely decimate audiophile-approved pressings; my final vote nominates the beyerdynamic T1. It's the design which I think will suit more listeners with less specialized systems. I still feel that Sennheiser's construction is superior and that both firms need to redo the coverings of their ear and headband cushions. They deserve greater wearability.

At present that's not in line with the otherwise top rating and high price. That aside, the ALO Audio recabled Tesla 1 is—possibly—the new king of full-size home audio headphones. It surely must be the topic of any discussion which contemplates best of class. The T1 is a wholly different animal from the DT880 stable mates I briefly owned. Those I found grayish and frankly boring. Good riddance. The AKG K-702's replacement harness from Ken Ball saved them from a similar fate but those cans do require very specific amplification to cut mustard.

The T1 is far from boring. It manages to be fleshier and warmer without giving up excitement. Bigger-is-better soundstaging freaks who were reared on splayed-out AKG K1000 will find the HD800 broader and more out of the head than the T1. That's possibly due to the Senns' lit-up spacious character. Soundstage width is the only area where I find them unequivocally better. Conversely, the T1 is superior in the bass, more toneful in the vital vocal band and manages to pack the additional body without sacrificing speed. On dynamic contrast, I found both designs closely matched except for the upper midrange where the slight forwardness of the Teslas made them seem more dynamic. While the Beyer's looks aren't as outré as Sennheiser's—the HD800 is clearly heavily styled, futuristic and out there in the cosmetic department—I believe that 8 out of 10 shoppers considering sonics would call the T1 first amongst these equals.

If I'm personally somewhat more ambivalent, it's only because possible amplification mates in Casa Chardonne span quite the gamut. I can just as properly cater to the more high-strung HD800 and experience them in their best light (Woo Audio's Model 5 tricked out with expensive designer glass will do the trick).

A CD that epitomized a particular T1 forté was Michael Shrieve's Transfer Station Blue. Aside from Klaus Schultze's synth pedals, the expansive opener is a scintillating tattoo of softer to harder transients. Into this rolling rain break, lightning-like, Michael's nearly brutal drum rolls and rim shots. They assume a quasi melodic role in this very hypnotic space number. Leashed to the NuForce HDP with—mondo overkill alert!—Stealth Indra cables, the T1 cracked hard as a whip yet completely sidestepped robotics. That's because vertical rise times were mated to dense followup. You'd not think that a nearly completely electronic album had any tone. Ha, but this setup and album put a lie to such notions. By comparison, the HD800 packed lighter boxing gloves in a lower weight class. Was this the 1.2 Tesla advantage - lightning backed by a Tyson shoulder? It's quite likely.

Clearly the T1 benefits from superior amplification just as any other top quality transducer. For unknown reasons, the HDP was particularly copasetic yet surprisingly affordable. Most in-house amps sat well in the final quarter of their attenuating range when the feed was a low-voltage iPod signal. You'll want a sufficiently powerful amplifier. In closing, the T1 pulls ahead of the HD800 in matters of tone density, mass, subjective 'displacement' and impact. That makes it adept at modern music which rides on dynamic contrasts but often lacks the timbral richness of the classics.

Clash of the titans then? Absolutely. Owning both of these makes a rematch a matter of whim. That's living large. More importantly, it doesn't require anywhere near the financial pains of a proper speaker-based system. If you take anything away from today's assessment, I hope it would be that—pile on the superlatives—top-notch listening not only remains within reach. In this category of intimate hifi apparel (compact, mobile and liberated from the usual noise pollution concerns), things have gotten better than ever. Forget silly five-figure loudspeakers so heavy that your floor joists need reinforcing while to even remotely sound the money, they'll need amps that cost more than your car. Instead wear your speakers. beyerdynamic's T1 magnificently proves how that's done properly at what must be the current edge of the art. I'll put it this way. I'm one very satisfied owner now. My Grado PS-1000 has become the overpriced dinosaur I suspected it to be. My W5000 Raffinato remains the poster child for assembly, material choices and cleverest head support system extant. But sonically, it's not in this league.

Not having heard the Audeze—its strip of open-cell foam glued to a metal headband begs for a rethink—or current Stax efforts and being aware of a forthcoming ribbon-based Bo Bengtsson effort, I don't have the complete lay of the land. From the sector I'm familiar with from reviews and ownership however, the Ken Ball-wired beyerdynamic T1 is my new heavyweight champion!

beyerdynamic website
ALO Audio website