Do you long for the ultimate audio experience, but would never in a million years consider paying 50.000 euros for a pair of headphones? What about a pair of high-end headphones instead?
We’re not talking about wireless noise cancelling headphones for people on the run. We’re talking about an immersive listening experience in the comfort of your own home, a pair of headphones that you can put on and lose your sense of self. Surrounded by a huge soundstage where you’ll be able to pick apart every single little detail, almost at an atomic level.
The T+A Solitaire P-SE is a pair of open-back headphones that neither block out noise nor prevent others from hearing your music, sound will leak out. But by allowing the diaphragms to wander freely in both directions, the dynamics and musicality are that much better. Along with a good amplifier, of course.
T+A = german high-end
Anyone familiar with T+A will know that they’re not known for affordable hi-fi equipment. We’re talking high-end, best of the best, and they’re especially known for their exquisite Class D amplifiers.
In 2020, T+A launched their first headphones, the Solitaire P. A pair of fabulous planar headphones for 5700 euros with proprietary drivers. These astonished us with a delightful listening experience, truly incredible.
Well aware of its somewhat inaccessible price point, they made the decision to make a scale-down model that would appeal to more customers, the Solitaire P-SE. But they still haven’t cut any corners, and you wouldn’t expect them to at a price of 3200 euros.
Simplified Solitaire P
The Solitaire P-SE came out almost a year after its big brother. But instead of using parts milled from large blocks of aluminium, the SE version is built out of synthetic materials. This keeps production costs down, as well as reducing weight. The latter is especially nice considering that the original Solitaire P weighs 530 grams – without cable.
The drivers are new as well. The TPM 2500, as they are called, are based on the Solitaire P’s more expensive TPM 3100 drivers. Among other things, it features a special magnetic design in which the magnetic field is very evenly distributed, keeping the number of magnetic components to a minimum. Which in turn saves weight and increases efficiency. The difference lies in a new membrane and filter design, which is somewhat simpler on the Solitaire P-SE.
Each pair of headphones is handmade in Herford, Germany and looks great in black matte finish. With red sheeting on the inside of the ear cups.
Those used to wireless headphones might think 440 grams is a bit much to wear on top of your head. But it really isn’t. On the contrary, the headphones feel light and never pinch against your head. With my slightly smaller head, the Solitaire P-SE sits a little loosely. It is possible to bend the headband for a tighter fit, but I don’t dare to.
Balanced and unbalanced
Both an unbalanced 6.3mm jack cable and a balanced 4-pin XLR are included, both 3 metres long. If you want the 4.4 mm Pentaconn as the balanced alternative, it’s possible to pick that as well.
With a relatively easy load of 45 ohms and a sensitivity of 101 dB, you can use the headphone output on a laptop or a mobile phone, but it will be a bit pale. You’ll get a lot a more with a headphone output on a hi-fi amplifier. But even then you might experience it peaking a bit early, and bass control is without doubt better with an external amp.
In unbalanced mode with the Sennheiser HDV 820, the sound of the Solitaire P-SE can best be described as warm, but with a really good grip on transients and rhythm markings. They never slip, and the juicy bass is rock solid and does well whether symphony orchestra or electronic bass rhythms are on the menu.
The instruments hang in the air, in a very fine-meshed way. The cellos sound warm and delicious, and it’s nice to hear the undertones in the violins. The sound is airy, everything is as it should be.
With a balanced cable, the soundstage spreads outwards a bit more, because you don’t have the crossover between the left and right channels.
The Sennheiser amplifier is great alongside the Solitaire P-SE, even if it’s not the most vibrant and infectious I’ve heard. These headphones deserve something that can really pack a punch, especially in the midrange.
T+A HA 200
On stage comes the HA 200, also from T+A. A headphone amplifier with built-in DAC, for no less than 6700 euros. It has neither analogue nor digital outputs for other components, it’s purely for headphones. At this price, I’d like to be able to use it as a preamp. Fortunately, it’s a great combination with the Solitaire P-SE.
Among six possible filter settings, I think the Bezier 2 sounds the best. It’s not quite as tight in the rhythmics as the super-steep FIR filters, but the music flows nicely and elegantly.
The amp has a quiet playing style and it lets the headphones control the sound signature. The level of detail and dynamics is a cut above the Sennheiser amp, and there’s an X-factor here that’s hard to describe. It just flows.
The soundstage is never cramped, but rather open and airy. But it’s not as vast as the HiFiMAN HE-1000se or Sennheiser HD 800 S. This can be heard in classical music, for example, where the strings in particular are pulled less outwards and upwards. But I don’t think the T+A falls short when it comes to how clearly it manages to place the instruments in relation to each other. It’s easy to isolate the different parts of the soundstage.
I’m having a little more trouble than usual listening to different parts of the soundstage. And that’s a good thing. The sound is captivating and immersive, whether it’s Aurora singing over a strumming guitar on the quiet ballad “A Dangerous Thing” or Dagny bidding you dance with the electronic gem “Somebody“.
German hi-fi calls for German rock, and what could be better than Rammstein’s latest track “Zeit“? Here you get a big soundstage with Till Lindemann’s incredible vocals in the center and the fierce guitars blasting from side to side – right through your head! The electric piano sounds great, the drums are hard and brutal. It’s glorious!
Compared to the aforementioned HiFiMAN HE-1000se, the Solitaire P-SE is somewhat quieter at the top and doesn’t have the same energy in the overtones. The HE-1000se is more experienced and even more airy.
T+A’s headphones don’t have the same thunderous thump in the bass as the cheaper Audeze-X. I expect the top model LCD-5, which is in line for testing, to not hold back either. The T+A are more restrained and somehow settle between the two tonally. But without the resounding deep bass of either.
That aside, T+A’s headphones have other qualities that I love. Such as the glowing midrange and overall ability to play music like few others. Talking about musicality might seem a bit cliché, but at the same time it’s hard to describe it any other way. They’re simply incredible.
T+A Solitaire P-SE: Conclusion
The T+A Solitaire P-SE are a pair of very well-made high-end headphones for desktop use. Best suited for situations where you can be alone and immerse yourself in music. Whether it’s with a streaming service, CDs or vinyl collection. And in a quiet environment, because they’re open and don’t suppress sound.
Solitaire P-SE is an addictive pair of headphones with warm and delightful sound and superb tonal bass reproduction. The balance is great, and with fantastic control of the dynamics, you’ll easily get immersed in the listening experience.
You will need a good amplifier, but doesn’t necessarily have to be particularly powerful. It should preferably have XLR output, which will expand your soundstage.
If you’re used to HiFiMAN, you might want a little more energy at the top, and if you’re an Audeze fan, you’ll probably want even more powerful bass. But T+A have created a wonderfully balanced soundstage, and it’s truly magical..