Beyerdynamic T5 Headphones (3rd Gen) Review
I was recently sent the third generation beyerdynamic T5 headphones to review. I felt particularly comfortable reviewing the next generation T5 because I have owned both previous models and still have the previous pair of headphones in my current collection. Right now, someone new to headphones is saying "but I can't find any information on the earlier T5 models." I understand that level of frustration. The previous models were called the T5p to denote that they were portable. The times have certainly changed.
When the T5 was first introduced, it was one of a pair of flagships for beyerdynamic using their new "Tesla" technology. The T1 were an open-back model with a 600-Ohm impedance. The T1 begged for a tube amp to feed it properly and certainly was beyond the capabilities of most portable players at the time of its introduction. The T5p was a closed-back design with a 32-Ohm impedance and came with a shorter cable with a 3.5mm termination and was much more suitable for portable use as it was easier to drive well.
An additional third model, the T90 arrived to fill the middle ground with a 250-Ohm resistance, a higher sensitivity, and was an open-back pair of headphones. The T90 came with a 3.5mm jack and a 6.35mm adapter since it was suitable for either portable or home use.
With all the changes that have come in recent years to the portable market, it is no wonder that beyerdynamic decided to drop the 'p' from the name as today things like the Lagoon, Aventho, and Amiron wireless fill that niche.
The T5 still occupies the closed-back flagship space in the market though and as such is still a very relevant product in spite of the changes to its market positioning. The T1 and T5 are the models that beyerdynamic's engineers spend the most R&D time on and the most effort in handcrafting with other models receiving trickle down technology from the T1/T5 platform.
It can be argued that the advances beyerdynamic has made in driver design, such as improved sensitivity, lowered impedance with better stability across the audible spectrum, improved tuning, and mechanical changes in driver angle to the ear — all started with the T1/T5 and it continues to be the first platform to be released with each new development cycle.
I have been a fan of the T5 since its inception and still have a 2nd generation T5p in my personal collection because they offer fantastic performance for the asking price. While other competitor's flagships can cost upwards of $3,000, beyerdynamic has held the price of the flagships below $1,000.
That makes the T5 a relative bargain when compared to similar performing models from other brands. When one considers what Audeze, Meze Audio, Grado Labs, and HiFiMan charge for their best headphones – the beyerdynamic T5 are downright affordable.
One thing that probably hurts beyerdynamic is that all of their models look very similar in design and structure. Don't get me wrong here as the design is well proven, comfortable, and durable. The T5 uses aluminum for the cups, gimbals, and other high stress parts, and protein leather and Alcantara for the pads and headband.
Internals are equally high quality as well with 7N OCC copper used throughout. The issue is that the current generation of Head-Fi users want people to recognize what they have. That sounds shallow but when a person spends a lot, they generally want those around them to recognize the item. For example, the Sennheiser HD800s and HD820 that compete with the T1 and T5 respectively are instantly recognizable.
So much so that a recent Drop of the HD800 Series were leaked due to the silhouette being recognized. With the T5 looking very much like several other models in the beyerdynamic line, some of which cost as little as $169, there is no cachet that comes along with the T5. Those who are willing to forgo that panache are rewarded with flagship quality sound at a much more affordable price.
The current generation of T5, per beyerdynamic, "achieves better, more natural reproduction of high mid-range frequencies" which makes me think that most of the effort was put into updating the mid-range and treble while the bass remains largely unchanged.
Some will find fault with that but remember one of the biggest changes from the 1st to 2nd generation models was the improvement in low end performance, so effectively that territory is already covered.
I found that A/B testing the 2nd and 3rd generations using my most resolving desktop setup (Bel Canto DAC/ Pass Amp) did let me pick out some of those changes fairly quickly. There is still a treble peak at roughly 4.5 kHz but the rise to that peak is much steeper and starts much later on the new model.
It can be argued that the second generation T5 headphones had an upper-mid/lower treble push that began around 1500 Hz and peaked at 4500 Hz before trailing back off a bit above that. The 3rd generation shows no upper-mid push with the rise to that 4500 Hz peak starting close to 3000 Hz, well contained within the treble region.
This does indeed give the midrange a little more even tonality on the 3rd generation and provides enough energy in the treble to bring vocals out from behind the instrumentation but stops short of sounding treble forward as even that mild elevation at 4500 Hz is exactly that – mild.
The other thing one will notice with the 3rd generation is an improvement in soundstage size and width. Again, the previous generations were good, but the 3rd shows another step-up. The soundstage in a closed-back headphone always seems much more limited than with similar open-back models and the T1 is still the king of the beyerdynamic line; but the new T5 gets a step closer to the T1 in this respect.
To my ear, the most notable change was more height. Imaging also gets a boost with position being very well defined and movements easily tracked around the soundstage.
The previous T5p (2nd generation) has been one of my favorite closed-back headphones for serious listening as it does a great job of revealing how the rest of the equipment is coloring the sound. The new T5 is even better as beyerdynamic has successfully removed what little coloration was added to the mids in the previous version so now the T5 is even more linear and even cleaner sounding.
The other really nice feature of the T5 is that despite being linear through most of its range, it avoids the common pitfall of being lifeless. I've had to write several times that a headphone or earphone was technically very good, but boring. There's no excuse for a headphone at this price level to be boring and lack emotional engagement.
The beyerdynamic T5 was able to handle every genre I threw at it without one moment of strain. Its delivery was equally effortless regardless of how complex the tracks got and full orchestral works with lots of moving parts and lots of dynamics showed no hint of congestion or thickening.
I think the case could be made that the 2nd generation T5 was the best reference/monitoring headphone available on a cost/performance basis. Having said that, I think the 3rd generation has raised the bar and is one of the best reference/monitoring headphones available on that same scale as performance is even higher and the price is not.
If you want a headphone that shows you every detail the artist intended without adding its own spin to it, you owe it to yourself to try the new beyerdynamic T5 headphones before spending hundreds or even thousands more on something else.
In many of those cases, you're not getting what you pay for. With the beyerdynamic T5, you're getting excellent engineering and sound quality for a lot less money and there is enormous value in that.