Just when I thought I had reached my HiFi Headphone nirvana with the exceptionally wonderful Meze Empyrean headphones last year, these T+A Solitaire P Headphones come along. Hilariously two years previously I thought I’d got there with Focal’s Utopias. Now I have a different view of headphone nirvana and my HiFi journey continues. These are exceptionally comfortable, long listening, high-quality headphones that deliver a wonderfully warm sound with such detail and they have a soundstage to stand up for.
The T+A Solitaire P Headphones are circumaural, open-backed and have a planar-magnetic delivery. T+A have made the three important choices, correctly in my view, for a superior sound in these “no compromise” headphones. Over-ear headphones benefit from comfort, particularly over extended periods of listening. I prefer open-backed headphones too, they generally deliver a wider feel in my experience, with no reflected pressure waves from a closed cup. Although noise bleeds to the surrounding area, this is not a big deal for me, you’re hardly going to be commuting with these, you’re phone will melt trying to drive the transducer! Finally, the headphones are planar magnetic giving them the advantage of a superior sound delivery system characterised by less distortion from the diaphragm, better response and cleaner delivery mechanism, versus the usually dynamic driver headphones.
T+A has clearly gone for the very finest materials it can lay its hands on and the overall feel is very comfortable indeed. It has to be said the look of the headphones is less luxurious and stylish than, say, a Focal Utopia headphone which really does look expensive but any aesthetic shortcomings are made up for in the most important department, that of sound quality, not to mention comfort. We are talking about style and substance here, and the Solitaires are all about substance. I believe these headphones are the most comfortable to wear I have experienced, even ahead of the Meze Empyreans (I do mean that) and the gorgeous Focal Utopias.
Technically, these headphones have a higher Impedance, at a claimed 80 Ohms, this means they demand more juice to drive them but the pay-off is the quality of the sound output. Careful amplifier matching is needed with these T+A Solitaire P headphones: at this point, T+A decided to build their own HA 200 headphone amplifier. The HA 200 has an impedance matching function, ensuring the best control of your T+A Solitaire P headphones.
Out of the (improbably massive) Box
As befitting these slightly boxy T+A Solitaire P headphones, the boxing is huge, totally over packaged in every way but why not? There is minimal luxury about the packing, just functional delivery of the precious cargo with no faux silk touches to pander to your ego. There are two cable sets supplied with the headphones: one with the usual 6.3 mm barrel connector, and the second with a symmetrical 4.4 mm Pentaconn connector (therefore a balanced cable) which offers optimum transfer resistance for the best possible sound quality, all contacts are gold-plated and the cord is of the no-knot variety. Quite honestly, the packaging will end up in the loft so the box, on this occasion, is purely functional, in a good way.
There is a hint of the ‘no compromise’ statement from the T+A site in just about every component off these headphones. The solid cups are machined from a 35 mm thick solid aluminium plate block using “a precision 5-axis milling machine”. The machining of a single cup takes more than an hour, the yolk and the yolk connections are made of the same materials, the brushed finish is luxurious, to say the least. The ‘open’ bit of the back of the earcups is covered in a fine black aluminium mesh that enables you to see right into the high-performance neodymium magnets driving the diaphragm.
The ear and head cushions are hand-made and manufactured by a specialist company in Germany. The cushions consist of allergen-free synthetic leather and Alcántara. They are rather soft and they are very pleasant in contact with the skin even when the headphones are worn for long periods. I spent a whole Covid-19 pandemic lockdown Sunday with these headphones on whilst it was raining and the headphones were not fatiguing in the least, though I fell asleep for a good hour listening to Miles Davis (if you search Miles Davis in Tidal or Qobuz there are so many albums it is astonishing, the quintet stuff is my personal favourite!).
The cables provided consist of ultra-pure copper (OFC) conductors with a carefully defined silver layer. There are four signal conductors embedded in cotton threads that are permanently wrapped in a silver-plated woven shield. This construction isolates electromagnetic influences and damps mechanical resonances. The terminals in the cup (one each) are new to me but work really nicely with a satisfying click.
I note in the manual there is a ‘Freshen Up Service’ that seems to link in through a QR Code which is a neat and easy way of doing it.
I’m listening to the T+A Solitaire P headphones with the new T+A HA 200 headphone amplifier, which is a really rather special piece of engineering in its own right, the impedance matching function makes the Solitaires sing beautifully. The amplifier has no streaming module but has a comprehensive set of inputs including XLR and RCA as well as other digital options. In my testing, I’m using the rather excellent Auralic Altair G1 as a streaming source with Atlas XLR cables to the amplifier and the new Atlas Hyper Ethernet cable to the streamer, as featured in this review.
T+A HA 200 headphone amplifier
A word on the T+A HA 200 headphone amplifier. It is beautiful and gets an ‘Outstanding’ recommendation from me. It has everything you want, though there is no analogue output. It is also not a streaming source but the DAC onboard gives you the option of streaming from a computer via USB which I will look at more comprehensively in a review of the amplifier. There is also an aptX Bluetooth input which is pretty interesting. The T+A HA 200 headphone amplifier has backlit VU meters on the front that can show a range of channel levels including output level (of course) or the streaming quality or even the temperature inside the amplifier! There is a rather classy remote that is appropriate for this level of quality.
This is a generic headphone playlist that I’ve gathered from all the What HiFi type lists that abound the airwaves, I do dip around this list but the main ones I listen to critically are at the end and the beginning. I’ve found myself, what with one thing and another, putting together my Top 5 songs too that sound unbelievable with such a fantastic system.
T+A Solitaire P headphones – Detail
These headphones are built for the best sound possible and the detailed presentation is a feature of these headphones. Calexico’s What Heaven’s Left is a beautifully produced track on the album ‘Years to Burn’ and it is on Qobuz in proper HiRes 24 bits. The guitars at the beginning of the track are revealed in such fabulous detail and you notice the odd trumpet in the detail of the track, tambourines layered and previously unnoticed are further delivered from this beautiful sound. Further layers of detail are revealed in one of my all-time favourite tracks, Helplessness Blues, by Fleet Foxes. What a track, and in these headphones it really is sublime, the guitars in the intro are so soft and the harmonies are glorious. When the guitars kick in in layers you’re able to listen to each one with your eyes closed. It is such a wonderful experience.
Finally, of course, there is so much detail in Sgt Pepper’s and so play with A Day in the Life on Qobuz with the Deluxe release in 24 bits 96 kHz reveals the bass detail, and Lennon’s voice is perfectly centred in the middle middle of my headspace. Finally, I have to mention the fantastic rasp of Jamie Cullum’s voice in Gran Torino
T+A Solitaire P headphones – Soundstage
These T+A Solitaire P headphones have a soundstage for the price tag. Again, you need a really well produced track and Find the River by REM is right up there, the individual strings and the warmth in the track deliver a wonderful soundstage. Another great soundstage is presented by Mr Blue Sky, ELO’s definitive track.
One album that really benefits from the soundstage is the heavily layered and complex Crack Up, also by Fleet Foxes, the Third of May is particularly special in these headphones.
T+A Solitaire P headphones – Long Sunday
On one particular rainy Sunday in the Lockdown I actually ended up listening with the headphones for several hours on end, drifting along with the biggest playlist ever! What was particularly noticeable was the lack of fatigue I had during the extended listen, this is testament to the comfort and the warmer sound from the headphones where there is really no hint of harshness in the presentation. Indeed it is the warmth of the headphones I will take away from this experience.
Update – T+A Solitaire P headphones with Questyle CMA 400i headphone amplifier
I have latterly had a play with the Solitaires with my own Questyle headphone amplifier (CMA 400i) instead of the HA 200, I’ve had to use the 6.5 mm jack because I don’t have a 4pin XLR cable (this will be an option I gather soon in the UK with the Solitaires). The Solitaires come with the Pentaconn connector as well as the usual 6.5mm jack because T+A deem the Pentaconn delivers a better contact connection. I guess this will overtake the 2.5mm balanced connector soon that I have on my Questyle HA.
The T+A Solitaire P headphones have a very similar feel to them, warm with huge amounts of detail; I’m using my DELL XPS as a source with the Atlas USB Grun cable, as detailed in this review. All of the resolution is here, for example, in my 24 bit 48kHz copy of Radiohead’s The Numbers, the sparkling detail is there. I’m turning up the volume on the amplifier as it stretches to drive the 80Ohms of load but it is fine, I feel I may be getting a fraction less from the headphones but this is almost certainly due to the amplifier being less spacious than the HA 200. The key thing though is the headphones retain their detail and poise and I am very happy listening to my latest find, Chris Montague’s Warmer Than Blood, at my desktop (thanks to the amazing Jamie Cullum’s Jazz Show for this album, awesome).
Update – T+A Solitaire P headphones – Impedance Matching
After listening to the interview on YouTube there was a section on impedance matching with T+A engineers and designers Lothar Wiesman and Max Kirsche. They were actually discussing the impedance matching function on the HA 200. Lothar was suggesting playing with the impedance starting at one-fifth of the headphone’s rating, in the case of the Solitaires this would be roughly 18 Ohms. Naturally, I assumed the HA would be tuned to the rating of the headphones but this appears not to be the case. So with an impedance of 18 set on the amplifier, the output is louder than at an 80 Ohm setting; quality wise it is hard for me to discern a difference. I still prefer the 80 Ohms setting on the amplifier, driving it and the headphones harder but clearer and developing the space for the music to move into (in other words it sounds better for me with the higher impedance setting!)
these T+A Solitaire P headphones are the Rolls Royce of headphones….they are designed for the longer journey, enabling you to arrive without fatigue, knowing you’ve experienced the best your money can buy
At this price level, we are talking supercars; dreams that are barely affordable. T+A use a car chassis analogy on their site and in every sense, where the Meze Empyreans were a Lamborghini (the Romanians don’t really have a supercar heritage) and the French Focal Utopia before that was a leather-lined Bugatti, these T+A Solitaire P headphones, made in Germany, are the Rolls Royce (also German now, of course) of headphones. Whilst not particularly svelt to look at they are designed for the longer journey, enabling you to arrive without fatigue, knowing you’ve experienced the best your money can buy.
In substance, as I have already stated, the T+A Solitaire P headphones deliver a wonderfully warm sound with such fabulous detail and they have a soundstage to stand up for. I can award these headphones nothing less than ‘Outstanding’, 5 stars.
Long listening comfort
Choice of cables
For a Lottery Win
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Retailing at £4,999. The HA 200 is retailing near £6.600
Technical specifications for the T+A Solitaire P headphones
From the site.
Transducer principle – Planar-magnetic, open
Coupling to the ear – Circumaural
Frequency response: 5 – 54000 Hz
Nominal Impedance – 80 Ohms
Sound pressure level – (1 kHz, 1 V rms) 101 dB
Max. rated input power – 750 mW
Total harmonic distortion – (1 kHz, 100 dB) < 0,015 %
Static magnetic field (maximum value) – 35 mT
Contact pressure – ca. 3,2 N
Weight – 545 g (without cables)
Temperature range During operation: +10 … +40 °C
Storage: 0 … 45 °C
Connection cable with 6.35 mm stereo jack plug (unbalanced)
Connection cable with 4.4 mm stereo jack plug (balanced)
Optional accessory XLR-4 connection cable (balanced)