Review: T+A Solitaire P Headphones (and HA200 DAC / amp)

xenithon

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The Dark Knight

?This is incredibly powerful?, I thought to myself the first time I heard the Hans Zimmer / James Newton Howard soundtrack to the 2008 Batman film. The brooding darkness, the raw intensity, the orchestral swells and reprieves.

?But it?s undeniably refined and oh so majestic ? it?s brilliant? I concluded. And that summation is a poignant parallel to my takeaway of the two components under review.

I want to personally thank the local importer of T+A, Elektro Akustic, for their generosity in giving me the opportunity to have the components on loan for what turned out to be a rather lengthy review period. That said, the views in this write-up are my own, and they asked for nothing in return other than my honest and unadulterated opinion.

Note - while this is primarily a review of the Solitaire P headphones, it was undertaken in conjunction with the HA200, as a complete T+A system.


Born in North Rhine-Westphalia

Before I get ahead of myself, it?s important to set some context and describe some of the history that led to the Solitaire P headphones and HA200 DAC / amplifier.

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In the lowlands between the Wiehen Hills and the Teutoburg Forest in western Germany you?ll find the town of Herford, dating all the way back to the year 789. What you will also find there is the company T+A elektroakustik (pronounced ?T plus A?) ? which stands for "Theorie und Anwendung," or, in English, "Theory plus Application."

Founded in 1978, T+A produces a full range of electronics and loudspeakers. The team of approximately fifteen designers and developers create every device in-house, driven by a passion for sound fused with precision engineering and innovative technical expertise. Their products are placed rather high up the ladder of high end in terms of pricing but are backed by the uncompromising performance that is the beating heart of the company?s ethos.


The HA200

Two roads converged

While the market has many desktop headphone amps and digital sources, combination DAC /amp devices are less common. They usually take the form of small, budget-friendly systems with limited inputs and outputs. Cheap, cheerful, but rather restricted in function. But in mid-2020, a few months after the release of their first headphone offerings, the T+A HA200 headphone amplifier was launched. Its aim was to set new standards in sound quality, performance, and versatility. That brought together the two functions of DAC and headphone amp, while also merging T+A?s innovation and heritage.

The HA200 was developed to drive almost all headphone types spanning a wide range of impedances. Innovative technology and purpose-built circuit topology cater for both low-impedance transducers which draw high currents, through to the relatively low currents flowing in high-impedance headphones (which also require tremendous voltage stability. To further support optimal matching, the output impedance is independently adjustable for each of the amp?s three headphone jacks.

Modern versatility

The analogue section uses high-performance output stages operating in Class-A, deploying special MOS-FET transistors ? no op-amps and no chips in sight. The digital section is fitted with T+A?s sophisticated and proprietary converters ? featuring separate decoder architectures for DSD and PCM, powered by four PCM1795 DAC chips. The analogue and digital sections are galvanically isolated and each has its own dedicated toroidal power supply.

The fa?ade of the HA200 features 3 headphone jacks (6.3mm single-ended, 4-pin XLR, and 4.4mm Pentaconn), a large monochrome display showing volume and various other settings (such as the selected digital filter, output impedance, and cross-feed), two multi-purpose VU meters, and an array of push buttons. Volume adjustment is based on precise resistors and features Japanese relays, and the large volume knob doubles as a menu navigation control. For those who prefer, the HA200?s full functionality can be controlled from the included FM8 remote.

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Around back you?ll find a plethora of both digital and analogue inputs. This includes USB-B which can process up to DSD 1024 and PCM 768. Also present are AES/EBU and BNC sockets, two optical, and two co-axial S/PDIF inputs. There?s also wireless input via Bluetooth which supports aptX HD. Analog inputs include balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA. There are four Ethernet sockets, though these are not used for audio and are instead employed for connectivity to other T+A devices and system control. The HA200 can come with an optional HDMI panel (two HDMI inputs and one ARC output). As an aside, while there is no analogue output, the device can serve as a preamp using an adapter (which T+A offers separately) that connects to the XLR headphone jack and terminates in either RCA or XLR.

Built to last

The chassis has a confident heft to it, built completely from aluminium, with a thick front panel machined from a single solid plate of metal. The extruded heatsinks are recessed into the profile of the case so are cleverly hidden when viewed from the front and fulfil the important function of dissipating the immense heat that can be produced by a Class-A amplifier. Despite weighing in at a healthy 6kg, the amp has a relatively small footprint of 34x10x32cm.

There is neither a sense of opulence nor stark utilitarianism in its design, and in my eyes, it is a beauty to behold. Impeccably finished, form and function are both fulfilled with a reserved gravitas one might expect from a German component.

A finely tuned machine

The HA200 has several aces up its sleeve that I found rather useful, and at no time felt superfluous or gimmicky.

The first of these are bass and treble tone controls ? for adjustment of lower and upper frequencies respectively. I found this particularly beneficial to add weight when listening to headphones such as the Sennheiser HD800, and is conveniently defeatable using one of the front-panel push buttons which toggles tone control on or off.

The second is the balance control to alter the level between left and right channels. I used this to shift a notch or two toward the right to centralise the image ? especially when using IEMs, as they tend to exacerbate a slight imbalance in my hearing.

Crossfeed ? the process of blending left and right channels to reduce extreme channel separation ? can be enabled or disabled via the menu. This is not uncommon in headphone amps these days and aims to present the sound in a more natural manner, akin to listening to speakers. While I am not a particular fan of crossfeed in general, it has been well executed here and does not feel artificial.

The loudness setting was great when running a variety of head gear off the HA200, and there are four levels available to choose from. On the lower loudness settings, even sensitive IEMs could be played with sufficient granularity in volume adjustments and without any detectable hiss. Higher loudness settings worked a treat with harder-to-drive full size headphones.

When using a digital input, you can select from four oversampling filters, each having their own unique sound characteristics. Or if you prefer, you can select from one of the two NOS (non-oversampling) filter settings. I tended to use NOS1 for more forward and lively transducers as this renders the music slightly smoother and with more control over errant spikes in the upper registers. For everything else I defaulted to the BEZ2 filter, which per the manual aims to deliver optimal timing and dynamics.

I must add that, unlike filter settings in many modern DAPs ? in which any differences are practically inaudible ? sonic changes are readily apparent when cycling through the filters at your disposal on the HA200. This enhances the adaptability and thus facilitates achieving great synergy with your headphone of choice, and of course, your personal preferences.

Tell me a tale

The two analogue VU meters are multifunction and can be set to several configurations. This includes input and output levels, temperature (of the internal system and Class-A output stage), and stream quality (clock frequency of the incoming signal and error rate of the input). And if desired you can also disable the meters entirely.

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The changes are made in the system settings menu, accessed by pressing and holding the menu push-button. Other settings you can adjust in that menu include enabling / disabling sources, an energy saver mode that automatically switches the HA200 to standby mode after a period of inactivity, and adjusting display brightness.

You can also choose whether the display is switched on permanently or only temporarily (e.g., after pushing one of the buttons or changing volume). Call me old school, but I really liked the latter option ? it reminded me of some of my first Marantz CD players where the display could be toggled off, theoretically to reduce any electrical noise emanating from the screen.



The Solitaire P

You mean electrostatic?

Ahem, no, it?s ?magnetostatic?.

There are several transducer technologies in use across the headphone market these days ? including dynamic drivers (think Sennheiser, Focal), planars (the likes of Audeze and Final Audio), and electrostatic (Stax being the most notable). In the Solitaire P, T+A built on their tradition of using planar drivers which dates back to their active speakers in the early 1980?s, while introducing some ingenious technical designs to address the inherent disadvantages in traditional planars ? namely low efficiency, low impedance, and high mass.

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The unique magnetostatic driver further differentiates itself from electrostats in that you can drive them using a regular headphone amp ? and thus do not require a special electrostatic ?energizer?. T+A achieved this by designing a unique conductor array where the entire driver has been vapor-coated with conductive material. The driver is in turn driven by nineteen neodymium magnets which produce precisely calculated magnetic field lines. In addition to achieving sound that is highly dynamic and virtually distortion free, the Solitaire P is also comparatively easy to drive given its 80-ohm impedance and sensitivity of 101dB/V (92dB/mW).

Built with purpose

Physically the headphones are beautiful and timeless, exuding precision craftsmanship. Don?t expect exotic moon rock or mirror-polished burl wood, however. The designers took the approach of using incredibly high-quality materials and treating them with the utmost respect, as a Michelin star chef would the finest ingredients. Yokes and cups are milled from solid military-grade aluminium, the latter taking over an hour each to machine. They are finished in an understated anodised matte silver with a laser-etched T+A logo.

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The drivers, which make up the bulk of the weight, are seated inside the earcups, the back of which are covered in a tasteful black aluminium mesh. This protects the transducers, reduces weights, and has the added benefit of making the rear of the drivers and assembly entirely visible. Cleverly, this mesh features an opening for the headphone cable, which slides into a barrel and fits securely into a concealed socket.

The front of the driver has a red material cover that also provides dust protection, and the cups are finished off with firm but very comfortable Alcantara pads. A cushioned headband adds to the refined finish and overall comfort. Note that this is an extremely open construction ? this contributes to stage size, imaging, and resonance control, but bear in mind it also means you?ll hear almost all sounds around you (so best be listening in a quiet room), and whatever you?re listening to will be audible to anyone within a COVID-compliant proximity.

As an aside, the headband and pads are hand-made by a specialist German manufacturer using high-grade Alcantara and synthetic leather. They are amongst only a very small number of components that aren?t made in-house at the Herford headquarters.

The Solitaire P is sufficiently comfortable, though not quite at the same level as some of its competitors. The earpads and headband are relatively firm rather than being plush and pillowy. I also found that the headphone exerts a solid clamping force. As a result, some pressure points may form with extended listening. While this is only readily apparent after an hour or two, some may wish for a little more give in the cushioning to conform to the contour of the head.

The Full Monty

The headphone sits neatly in a sturdy and functional presentation box. Following a similar approach to the headphones themselves, the box is neither opulent nor made of exotic material. Virtually all black, the box has a large footprint; the headphones sit flat within a moulded and padded cut-out, and the top is covered in a luxurious faux black leather. Inside the enclosure, on either side of the Solitaire P itself, are discretely hidden cavities ? each holding one of the two supplied cables.

Speaking of cables, the Solitaire P comes supplied with two, with prospective buyers able to select from three possible options ? 6.3mm single-ended, 4.4mm Pentaconn, and 4-pin Neutrik XLR. All are made using the same ultra-pure OFC copper and each of the conductors in the cable is embedded in cotton threads and wrapped in a silver-plated woven shield. The aim of this topology, according to T+A, is to ensure low inductivity and capacitance, and optimum impedance.

Science and alchemy aside, the cables look and feel terrific, sound wonderful, do not tangle or twist, and exhibit no microphonics. And the reserved, elegant connectors are worthy of special mention ? clearly designed specifically to match the rest of the headphone?s stellar construction. No corners cut, and nothing off-the-shelf to be found here.

While I did not get to test this myself, I would be remiss in not mentioning T+A?s "Fresh-Up-Service?. Like a fine timepiece or automobile, the Solitaire P can be periodically picked up for a professional cleaning, including a replacement of the ear pads, dust cover, and headband. The headphones will then be tested for optimal performance before being returned in tip-top condition.



 

xenithon

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And onto the sound

The write-up has up to this point perhaps been a little drawn out, albeit necessarily lengthy to provide the requisite backdrop. The nexus of heritage, build quality, and technology would mean little if the end result wasn?t any good. So now it is time to talk about the most important aspect ? the sound.

Balance is not found, it is created

I will delve into the specifics shortly, but I thought it pertinent to start off by talking about what I feel is the T+A duo?s magic trick ? balance. This comes through in many facets and across different planes, hence why I put it right at the top of its accomplishments. It took me some time to understand and appreciate the T+A?s presentation of music. But once my mind locked in, I became immersed.

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The first of these is precision with musicality. The amp and headphones exhibit an uncanny ability to extract incredible levels of detail, permeated with texture and timbre and realism. I don?t feel like I am listening to a scientific device that belongs in a lab. I could go into analysis mode if I wish, but that is note where the system transports me. Rather, it pulls me in, and I cannot help but close my eyes and get lost in the music. I?ve heard many headphone systems that have surgical accuracy but are devoid of soul. And similarly, I have heard many that are (borrowing a Netflix term) truly ?swoon-worthy? but leave me wanting for technicalities. The T+A?s somehow manage to marry both.

The second which comes to mind is detail with listenability. I differentiate this from the musicality element above, in that this balance is around how detail is presented. It is not forced, it is not aggressive, it does not call particular attention to itself. There are headphone and IEM experiences I can think of that simply overwhelmed by ears and my brain ? the detail was pushed forward prominently; a spotlight shone on minutiae which come across as unnatural. The T+A approach is more reserved, far more eloquent, and undeniably refined. With highly resolving systems I can fatigue quite quickly ? it all gets a little too much. Fatigue doesn?t feature in the T+A?s vocabulary. But don?t confuse this with laid back ? the system can, when called for by the material, be incredibly lively and dynamic.

The third and final balance I want to mention is weight and clarity. The speed of the Solitaire P together with the sophisticated smoothness of the HA200 create a beautiful sense of space, one in which all elements are so well delineated and yet which are not light-footed or ethereal. It?s almost as if the bass is emanating from within the room by a totally different transducer, creating both the required punch and sustained body to both the bass and lower mids, while never getting in the way or, hiding, muddying, or otherwise tarnishing the midrange and treble.

I should also add that, across the frequency range, there is a subtle and intrinsic warmth that is just north of neutral. This tone is done tastefully ? that is, the Solitaire P is not cold or brittle, and it certainly isn?t coloured or euphonic. What this achieves is the ability to draw you in rather than detract from the music. This type of sound is, admittedly, right up my alley.



Diving Into Specifics

Bass

Authoritative is the first word that comes to mind. The T+A?s extend deep into the sub-bass and while they do not rumble the skull like bass oriented systems, they have noteworthy texture and a punchiness when called on (a good example is the thumping drums in Meggie Lennon?s Mind Games and The Accidentals? Vessel).

What I truly enjoy is how they exhibit such powerful conviction while retaining sufficient discipline to not induce bloom or unwanted resonance (one of the tests which the T+A passed with flying colours is Reb Fountain?s Together). It is neither lean nor bloated. On many occasions, I was taken aback by the visceral thump of a kick drum, the weight of acoustic bass, or the dynamic body of an EDM drop (be it mainstream electro house like Deorro?s Five Hours or classic trance like Karen Overton?s Your Loving Arms).

Also worth special mention is the solidity that the bass has even at low volumes (9Bach?s Pa Bryd y Deui Eto? ? the version from the album Ar y 9 ? a great example of this). I think this is one of the defining characteristics of the driver used in the Solitaire P. It exhibits linearity and beautiful weight even at lower levels, which rise proportionally as you increase the volume, without a hint of distortion even at elevated volumes well beyond my loudness appetite.

Midrange

This mids of the T+A are beautifully harmonic, with an overarching sense of cohesion that is addictive. I find instruments to be expressive and nuanced, with an authentic timbre. I especially enjoyed the production of acoustic guitar (Myrtille?s Ramer), cello (Leyla McCalla?s Little Sparrow), piano (Catt?s Patterns or Hania Rani?s Glass), and violin (Hilary Han and the LSO?s Elgar: Violin Concerto In B Minor Op. 61 ? 3, Allegra Molto is a spiritual journey on the T+A system). The cracking thwack of a drum is also properly impressive (such as on Red Hot Chili Peppers? Charlie).

Vocals are natural, with eerie realism. Female singers are incredibly clear, and you are rewarded with great recordings ? be it smoothness in folk (Kate Rusby?s Awkward Annie), indie pop (The Bird and the Bee?s My Love), or indie rock (Rilo Kiley?s I Never); sultriness in jazz (husky French vocals like Carla Bruni?s Raphael are among the best I?ve heard, as was Shelby Lynne?s title track for the album Just A Little Lovin?), or the exhilarating power of modern divas (illustrated by Adele?s Easy On Me). And yet, while bad recordings make themselves known, I would describe the T+A as being on the more forgiving side of the spectrum (something like Sara Blasko?s Lost & Defeated was rendered beautifully, without the harshness and shoutiness many systems produce).

While I do not listen to a lot of male vocals, these are rendered very well. I experienced this across different types of male singers ? ranging from pop (like Bruno Mars?s Locked out of Heaven), to rock (Bon Jovi?s Someday I?ll Be Saturday Night a particular favorite), to melancholic folk (the impassioned and solemn performance of Mandolin Orange / Watchhouse?s Time We Made Time) to the heavy metal that is my guilty pleasure (the whole of Pantera?s Far Beyond Driven album was justly aggressive and in-my-face, one of the more powerful tracks of which is Slaughtered).

Treble

I have read several impressions that describe the T+A as ?dark?. I posit that this might be the feeling you are left with after a brief demo. I too, did not experience a ?wow? moment initially, and as previously alluded to, it can take some time for the true character of the system to be revealed, especially in the treble region. It may be what some would call safe, but it is unreservedly natural and controlled (as heard in Tintinnabulum from Adiemus).

I found the treble to be gracefully extended ? never shouty nor aggressive. It is subtly subdued which is conducive to long, fatigue-free listening sessions. Fine detail is almost infinitely discernible; presented in a refined manner that evades excessive sibilance (A Fine Frenzy?s Liar, Liar was astoundingly well portrayed).

I would say I prefer the T+A?s sturdy yet delicate portrayal of upper frequencies, as opposed to a treble response that is inherently wispy or sparkly ? these tend to accentuate brightness and in turn tire my senses. I would use the word ?poised? to describe the balance struck (as discovered in Whitehorse?s Tame As the Wild Ones).

Technicalities

This probably took me the most time to figure out and articulate. I would not call the soundstage remarkably wide, but neither would I say it is restricted. Eventually, I grasped the two key capabilities that really made the T+A stand out and stand head and shoulders above other systems I have had the pleasure of hearing in my many years in the hobby.

The first is the staging ? as noted above the stage has commendable width, but more impressive is the depth and height achieved. The way I describe it is like a cube ? equally large along all three axes. This produces a vividly three-dimensional soundstage with perhaps the most realistic portrayal of spatial information that I have encountered. To a large extent, it is reminiscent to listening to very, very good speakers in a well-treated room (a great example is The Weather Station?s Robber)

The second is the stellar layering and separation. Somehow things never felt congested, even with particularly complex material (a must-listen on this system is The Mandalorian theme song from Ludwig Goransson). Coupled with the room-shaped stage, this sets a benchmark for immersive sound, which I attribute to the soundstage?s depth and pinpoint imaging (Morcheeba?s Women Lose Weight is a perfect example of channel separation and being surrounded by a multitude of elements flying around the head).

Adding to the sense of ?cubic? dimensions is the way it highlights the details it extracts on the stage ? with seemingly equal levels of volume and emphasis, whether central or at the extremities (such as on Zero 7?s Throw It All Away or Karen Elson?s The Truth is In The Dirt). This sets it apart from many of the traditional headphone systems that have more of an oval stage, with details softening and becoming less discernible the further they stretch either way.

The T+A has a few more magic tricks up its sleeve. It produces superb macrodynamics ? from the quietest of strings to explosive drums and chorus and symphony (Daft Punk?s Giorgio by Moroder comes to mind); as well as nuanced microdynamics ? transients such as lively hi-hats, punchy drums, and rhythmic cymbals (The Cranberries?s Zombie and Queen?s Killer Queen are good examples). And another quality that really struck me was the speed with which sound appears, as if out of nowhere, like an apparition (like in Heidi Talbot?s Bedlam Boys). It achieves this feat while somehow possessing great weight of tone and depending on what is called upon in the material, it can vanish suddenly, or linger like a fragrant perfume.

I must state that the above technicalities are achieved by both components in the T+A system. I tried running the Solitaire directly from my HiBy R8 DAP for example and, while the detail and tone was there, it came across as flatter. It lost the deep layers and holographic nature I heard when pairing the headphones with the HA200. I also found the HiBy to be slightly more forward and not quite as refined and smooth as the HA200 ? possibly due to the advanced and polished DAC section, though this could be a factor of ?compression? in the soundstage.

As a counterpoint to the above, I have read several impressions of the Solitaire P not having a background that is quite as dark as other similarly priced flagships. To my ears, I found it close to pitch-black and feel that any more emphasis on the edges of voices and instruments would exaggerate the contrast.

I will concede that the slightly subdued nature of the sound, notably in the upper frequencies, may leave some wanting for that final sliver of air that other high-end electrostatic and planar headphones seem to eek out. Personally, I feel this would come at the cost of some warmth and body and may push the sound closer to being sterile or harsh ? two words I can neither associate with the T+A nor wish as a sonic characteristic when I listen to music.

The sight of music

There is one characteristic of the system?s sound that I thought merited carving out under its own heading. This is the insight that the T+A combo gives into the music. This is especially the case with vocals and with real instruments.

To explain: You get systems that extract a lot of detail. You get systems that create a big soundscape. And you get systems that achieve great levels of realism. What the T+A manages to do is produce a sound that is convincingly lifelike. It?s very different to, say, an 8K television on high-contrast demo mode at the electronics store, which is unnaturally saturated. Nor is it blunted or muted, appearing to be behind a fine haze, such that you know it?s a reproduction at best.

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This comes across in the tone of a singer?s voice ? be it natural imperfections, vibrato, melisma, grit, and the breath between words and verses. It?s the resonance in the body of an acoustic guitar. The fundamental tone of a violin and wave-like overtone of the vibration. The compression of air inside a drum or the pulsation of the surface of the skin. The shimmer of cymbal pedals striking each other. The distortion formed by the flow of excess electricity through an electric guitar amp.

What does the above achieve? It paints the image of the music in my mind. I don?t need to force it, nor pretend, to strain my imagination. It does so equally through the sound produced and the pitch-black backdrop in between notes. In a way it reminds me of a Caravaggio masterpiece ? who painted with both light and darkness to create a faithful, dramatic, yet natural portrayal of reality.



 

xenithon

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Comparisons

For this section I compared the Solitaire P to two other flagships that I use and own. To minimize the number of factors that changed, I used the HiBy R8 as digital transport, feeding the HA200 which served as DAC and amp. I only adjusted the impedance to match each headphone, keeping all other settings and filter configurations the same.

Sennheiser HD800

It?s been well over a decade since its release, and there have been a few newer iterations, but I still hold the original HD800 in high regard.

To start off with, I find the Sennheiser the most comfortable headphone available to this day to this day. It exerts less clamping force on my narrow head, and the large pads sit well away from my ears and keep them sufficiently far away from the inner mesh.

It?s also a particularly finnicky headphone. With a large dynamic driver and high 300-ohm impedance, it may be relatively easy to get it loud, but it takes careful matching to sound good (if you are into tubes, the HD800 off an OTL tube amp is a must-try). Fortunately, the HA200 is up to the task. It has great control over the driver, and the slight warmth, fuller bodied-sound, and refined upper frequencies keeps the treble from gnawing your eyes out.

That said, it is clearly a brighter-tilted transducer than the Solitaire P. Vocals are leaner in comparison, with female vocals a little drier and more pitchy. It?s a less forgiving headphone that can be etched and sibilant with poorer material. The sibilants are not as controlled, and the 8kHz spike can make its presence known. So, while ergonomically the HD800 is more comfortable, sonically it fatigues my ears a lot quicker.

I was quite surprised with the bass of the HD800 in comparison. It has great body and authority, though it cannot match the punch of the Solitaire. I also found the dynamic driver to have a quicker decay, converse to expectations. As a result, the bass was softer and cannot sustain prolonged, deep bass signals in the way the T+A can.

Staging wise the HD800 still reigns supreme in terms of width. Fortunately, on the HA200, this does not come across as too exaggerated or sparse. The Solitaire P counters this with superior depth and layering. This means that, despite being narrower, the elements on the stage are better delineated and it handles complex passages better. The HD800 stretches left to right really well, whereas the Solitaire stretches horizontally, vertically and deeply in equal measure.

Detail retrieval remains world class on the Sennheiser, but I must admit that when comparing it to the T+A, these can come across as artificial at times. They lack the absolute authenticity and realism the Solitaire P musters. The Sennheiser?s more elliptical stage size also means that detail is less apparent toward the edges.

Choice of music is important to talk about at this juncture. I you listen to a lot of classical, folk, jazz, and acoustic music, the HD800 does well. But it is less convincing when it comes to music like modern pop, classic or indie rock, and EDM. It lacks the punch and weight required, sounding comparatively too thin. In this regard, the Solitaire is more versatile.

So, if I must be brutally objective, I give an unreserved nod to the Solitaire P as being the better headphone. That said, putting into context the fact that the Sennheiser came in at about a quarter of the price, it puts up a helluva fight and performs admirably.

Meze Elite

A more recent release, the Elite is the new flagship from the Romanian brand Meze, who continued their partnership with Rinaro and use the unique ?Isodynamic Hybrid Array? driver. It is without doubt one of the prettiest headphones around ? intricately designed yet sturdy, the true essence of timeless appeal.

In terms of ergonomics, the Elite is up there with the HD800. The pads are a little smaller and shallower, so I can feel my ears touch them lightly, but not uncomfortably so. The headband design means the Elite almost floats, exerting very little pressure, and practically disappearing after a couple of minutes on the head.

Sound-wise, while they are both clearly flagships, I don?t think you could find a more different approach than the Meze and the T+A. The former has terrific technicalities but places more emphasis on being melodic. It has a charming sound with a hint of more warmth. Vocals are fuller and wetter, sounding a little more organic. Drums hit with more heft, and sustained bass sounds are more bodied.

That is not to say it is muddy at all. On the contrary, there is no bleed of bass into the midrange, and no bloom. In direct A/B comparison, the Solitaire P has more speed and quicker decay. The Elite is a little more rumbly and weightier, seemingly closer to what one may traditionally associate with a dynamic driver.

Stage is good on the Elite but falls short in terms of sheer size and depth compared to the Solitaire P (and width of the HD800). It does not come across as congested, but you get a sense of its limitations. I suspect the imaging contributes to this ? with the Elite being a little more diffuse and ?smokier?. The T+A is more accurate and focused, and it is easier to pinpoint the placement of instruments, vocals, and other elements of sound.

Detail retrieval on the Elite is excellent, I?d say as good as the HD800. However, some of the detail requires a little more attention to pick out, having a slightly smaller stage and not being quite as holographic as the Solitaire P. But the Elite is perhaps even more adaptable ? it seems to sound better with a wider variety of music and is a little more pleasant sounding when tasked with playing poorer recordings.

There is one attribute though, in which I would say the Elite edges the others out on ? and that is unadulterated musicality. It draws me in like a moth to a flame and fires up the ?feel-good? synapses of my brain. I know in my head that it doesn?t achieve the height of technical excellence that the Solitaire P does, and truth be told that is something that is a bit of a letdown given its $4k price, but this is compensated for by the way it can feed my soul.

Without a doubt, that is a compromise that some may not wish to make, especially at flagship level. And at times, listening to what the T+A can do, it casts a shadow in my mind about whether the Elite is playing in the same league. But that I believe is, to some extent, due to doing the direct comparisons through quick flipping between headphones.

In summary, objectively, the Solitaire is the more competent headphone. It is more accurate, more resolving, more controlled, and more three-dimensional. And yet, I cannot state categorically that it is the more enjoyable headphone. That is in the eye of the beholder. And despite the shortcomings, I would not feel short-changed with the Meze. On the contrary, to me, I make more of an emotional connection to the Elite.



In Conclusion

Mj?lnir

Why the reference to the enchanted weapon wielded by an Asgardian thunder god, you may ask? Well, while it may be used as a devastating weapon, in the right hands, it is a divine instrument that provides everlasting blessings. Simply put, in my analogy, the Solitaire P is the hammer, and the HA200 is Thor. The two should not be separated, which is also why this review focused on both as a system, rather than two standalone components.

Unboxing the two T+A components was a strangely cathartic experience. I had read a lot about them but did not think I?d ever get the chance to hear them, let alone experience them for several weeks ? thanks to the generosity and trust from my local dealer. And to be honest, I wasn?t sure what to expect.

At first listen I was not blown away, but I was not disappointed either. The sound I was hearing was rather enigmatic, like a conundrum that needed solving. And with time, once it was, I was richly rewarded and nothing less than enthralled.

If you happen to be in the market and are sufficiently well-heeled, add the Solitaire P and HA200 to your shortlist. Your brand-matching OCD will love you, and you attain the rarified feat of perfect synergy in matching components. In turn, it saves you the time, effort, and tribulations of the trial and error that so many audiophile enthusiasts need to put themselves through to find the ideal combination of source, amplification, and transducer.

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These components are undeniably expensive, on the upper echelon of luxury. And even so, they somehow pull off being discrete, and are neither ostentatious nor bombastic in their physical form or the sound they generate. If you are looking for alluring, lush, or a sound that is warm and fuzzy, this isn?t for you. If you want analytical, airy, and ethereal, this isn?t for you.

But, if you want a sound that is spectacularly detailed and realistic, yet organic and non-fatiguing, do yourself a favor, and demo the T+A system.




Side note 1 - I put together a playlist on Tidal of the songs mentioned in this review. You can find it here. There are two songs that I could not find on Tidal for some reason, so I am including YouTube links for these two: Reb Fountain's "Together" and Kate Rusby's "Awkward Annie".

Side note 2 - A big thanks to for [member=19111]gLer[/member] for his incredible photography in capturing the images used in the review.
 
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