T+A Solitaire T
Let’s start the new year as we mean to go on with a look at probably the most expensive dynamic closed-back Bluetooth headphones, with active noise cancelling (ANC), on the market from serial German audiophiles T+A elektroakustik.
I’m going to argue as a passive-driven pair of headphones they are up there with the best but add into this an exceptional Bluetooth package in the same headphone and the price tag begins to look a lot more reasonable.
The T+A Solitaire T is a sibling of the fantastic ‘Rolls Royce’ T+A Solitaire P, priced at around £5,000 and the T+A Solitaire P-SE, priced at £3,000. They all share similar design notes, emphasising balanced signals, the highest quality materials, and a clean, understated, functional look.
In passive mode, all of the electronics are completely bypassed offering a clean signal path to the transducer
The T+A Solitaire T is designed with three states in mind, that of a passive headphone, with a traditional analogue, though balanced, cable connection to a headphone amplifier and the like. The connector is a 2.5 mm balanced input on the earcup. In passive mode, all of the electronics are completely bypassed offering a clean signal path to the transducer. The actual dynamic driver in the T+A Solitaire T is a 42-millimetre transducer with a special cellulose diaphragm.
With the USB-C the streamed file is … converted to analogue through the Esstech ES9218 Sabre DAC inside the earcup
The other methods of driving the T+A Solitaire T are digital using either a USB-C connector or Bluetooth. With the USB-C the streamed file is delivered to the headphone and converted to analogue through the Esstech ES9218 Sabre DAC inside the earcup. In Bluetooth mode the Solitaire T has a Qualcomm QCC 5127 Bluetooth chip that supports 5.1 class 2 with the usual assortment of confusing Bluetooth profiles, like A2DP and AVRCP as well as others and the supported codecs include AAC, and aptX HD. Full details are linked here.
Necessarily the T+A Solitaire T has a 1200mAh battery that claims 70 hours of use in everyday mode or 35 hours of ‘HQ mode’ that is full HiRes, using the inbuilt SabreDAC. These are big numbers compared to say the Focal Bathys at 42 hours ‘depending on use’ or the Mark Levinson 5909s at 30 hours. The battery is charged with the USB-C cable, provided.
There is an excellent App for firmware updates and EQ management in Bluetooth connection. On the flat side of the earcups, there are the usual array of play and pause, volume and skip controls as well as ambient mode management controls. a simple tap on the right ear will answer a phone call if received via a smartphone and this is communicated through 2 microphones on the right earcup. There are also two microphones, one on each cup, for ANC control.
In addition to all of this technology, there are Digital Assistants built-in including Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant!
At these prices, you would be expecting a higher-than-average quality associated with the T+A Solitaire T and it is clearly here, from the box itself to the earcup to the headband and the connecting cables themselves.
T+A places emphasis on the pearl blasted and anodised aluminium finish and it is reflected in the earcup housing and joints in the headband, which rotates the cups into a flat position at rest and these even fold into a more compact footprint for the sturdy and classy, relatively thin, carry case. The back of the closed back cup appears to be a composite material (i.e not plastic), in my case this is black but there is a white version too.
The aesthetic slim headband on the yoke is padded with an ‘anti-allergenic synthetic leather’ material that is also found on the ear pads. The earpads are, in truth, a bit smaller and described as being ‘around the ear’ rather than the dominating over-ear design of the P or P-SE. In both cases, however, there is a high degree of comfort afforded by the overall weight and synthetic leather pads. The Solitaire Ts weigh in at a relatively light 326g (compared to say the Levinson 5909s or the Focal Bathys) which is impressive.
Overall, there is a sturdy but flexible feel to these headphones, which happily have been in full family use over these Christmas weeks to universal approval.
The claimed frequency range is 4 – 22,000 Hz with a vanishingly small THD number quoted. The T+A Solitaire T is priced at 1300€/$1600/£1200 (July 2022 RRP). They are available in black or white/silver.
In the Box
There is a slim square hard case with a removable magnetic internal cable tidy case (that incidentally makes an excellent space for a Chord Mojo 2 if you are on the move travel-wise). The cables provided include an analogue 1.4 meters 2.5mm balanced to 3.5mm jack and a longer 3 meters 2.5mm balanced to 4.4mm Pentaconn balanced jack. There is also a digital cable from USB-C to USB-C for listening and charging. You are also provided with the obligatory 3.5mm – 6.5mm adapter and a flight adapter.
I’ve been using my Pixel 6 Pro mainly for Bluetooth with the Qobuz App but I have also interestingly been using the Bluesound PowerNode Edge (review coming) which has a Bluetooth out option. The Edge is faultless, the BluOS operating platform is the best there is.
I’ve also been using an iFi Zen CAN for passive listening, it has a balanced 4.4mm Pentaconn output and is broadly, absolutely brilliant. Though the iFi is not price or quality matched to the T+As there is still a fine output from the Zen CAN.
Using the USB-C digital output, I’ve been using a borrowed iPhone 10, an iPad Air and my own Pixel 6 Pro.
… an understated look, with a subtle bit of branding on the yolk …
The T+A Solitaire T are really very comfortable indeed, the smaller cups around the ear are absolutely fine for me, with ‘medium’ ears. I really prefer an understated look, with a subtle bit of branding on the yolk, and the closed-back design works well in this respect. I’m finding the earcup controls very intuitive indeed and the skip, volume arrangement is nice to deal with. The one phone call I had, went really well and it all seems to be rather excellent.
Out of the box, the battery was well-charged. I tied in the App straight away and a firmware update was needed which is always good to see and this took minutes. There is an EQ in the App for bass boost (not needed) and other options, but I have remained on Flat, for the sake of it really. For me the easiest way to get the ANC working has been through the App, there are 3 options of varying ‘intensity’, though really if you’re turning it on, you’re either all in (3) or not in my view. I personally would like to be able to disable the touch pads in the App and the frustrations of skipping a track whilst trying to adjust the volume would disappear, as you’d know to go to the smartphone. Transparency Mode, however, is excellent with a lingering tap on the right ear touchpad if you are wanting a quick chat with someone offering a cup of tea.
Battery life, it appears to me, seems to be nothing short of incredible considering the usage the headphones have had over the last few weeks over the holiday period as various people have wanted to hear a pair of headphones over a thousand pounds! In all cases, the pairing has been faultless.
The headphones store nicely and the foldable earcups rest flat and snug in the carry case.
Pixel 6 Pro Bluetooth
Bluetooth listening with the T+A Solitaire T is top drawer comfortably, in HQ mode. HQ mode lifts the soundstage a level up and it is a fine experience. The App EQ is fun but once you’re over it, you’ll go HQ mode for formal listening and normal mode for walking around or travelling on a train, ANC is either full-blown or not worth bothering with, in my view. Note, I’ve not heard the Focal Bathys yet (they’re coming) though I have heard the Mark Levinson 5909s. The Bathys seem to be the talk of the town at the moment.
For me, Bluetooth aptX HD via the Bluesound Edge is impeccable with an excellent mid-range and vocal performance. The low end is also all there in Benson Boone’s bass-heavy GHOST TOWN (Qobuz 24-bit, 44.1kHz) and there is plenty of it without the need for the EQ. The hi-end is sharp in my view, not shrill but just enough to keep you interested but not fatigued. Overall, in Bluetooth mode, this is an excellent performance. Mucking around with the bass boost delivers a substantial bass response proving the flexibility of the transducer and the ability of the App.
The Pixel 6 Pro does not currently support aptX HD very annoyingly and I even have Developer Mode enabled on my phone.
USB-C Digital is a really great option in this modern world of no headphone output from smartphones. You do need to turn the headphones on. HQ again lifts everything up and you can turn BT off on the right cup. With my Pixel 6 Pro, the signal is quite quiet but I think this is a Pixel thing, which is quite frustrating. The USB-C is sending the naked file to the Solitaire Ts where the ESS DAC is doing its business. Although the USB-C is not loud enough on the Pixel it is perfectly excellent with an iPhone with USB-C and with my iPad and the Qobuz App. Turning to Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues (Qobuz 24-bit, 96kHz) the performance is as clean as you would want it to be. As this is my most listened-to review track due to its complexity, layering and lyrics, this is my reference, and it is as good as I’ve heard in a pair of headphones for a good while.
… all of the electronics are bypassed and the inherited learning from the T+A Solitaire P and P-SE is there to listen to.
In my view, the USP with these T+A Solitaire T is the passive, analogue-only, performance where all of the electronics are bypassed and the inherited learning from the T+A Solitaire P and P-SE is there to listen to. Initially, with my distinctly average Naim NAC-N 272 6.5mm headphone output, I was thinking that the performance was not too bad and with the Audioquest Dragonfly from the laptop, there was an uplift. But switching to the Chord Electronics Mojo2, there it was: kaboom. A tighter bass, an improved soundstage and space. Terrific. If you want to hear resolution listen to Thanatos’ cover of Bloodbuzz Ohio (Qobuz 24-bit, 96kHz). Though they are a Dutch ‘extreme’ heavy metal outfit their interpretation of this The National track is so delicate, and it is simply a showstopper. Try Melody Gardot’s Over the Rainbow (Qobuz 24-bit, 48kHz) from her live album and the ambient audience buzz and the odd cough are so clear it makes you look around (especially in full ANC mode!).
Switching the source to the iFi Zen CAN headphone amplifier that has balanced 4.4mm Pentaconn output into the balanced input in the T+A Solitaire T and you have as clean a signal path as you could hope for. Another run-through of Taylor’s All Too Well (Qobuz FLAC 24-bit, 96kHz) offers the rhythm and pace you’re looking for in any piece of music.
… the ANC is as good as any out there
These T+A Solitaire T are expensive but if you have this kind of budget, these are your headphones. Having finished the review, I’m just listening to these with the desktop Chord Hugo 2, I don’t even feel I need the Bluetooth. Even if you use them as ordinary passive headphones, you’ll be happy in your lounge or at the desktop but the ability to use them on the move in Bluetooth with 70 hours of listening is a real plus point and it adds to the value on offer, the ANC is as good as any out there. On balance, having heard Mark Levinson’s No. 5909s, I’d spend the extra and go T+A German over ML Korean and at these price levels, the price difference is fairly small.
As passive headphones, with the added balanced signal path, these are headphones deserving of a proper headphone amplifier solution if you have it anyway. The portable flexibility offered by these headphones is just another value point in my view. The USB-C digital solution in the right company is the icing on the cake in respect of clean digital signal paths and all around, these headphones are well worth a listen if this is near your budget and they are worth the stretch.
App & EQ
Earcup controls intuitive
You could turn off the cup controls
Full details are in the instructions on the company’s site.
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