First Listen: Beyerdynamic T90 Tesla Headphones ReviewFebruary 02, 2015
A lot has been written about Beyerdynamic’s T90 Tesla headphone. It’s easily one of those headphones that falls in the “love it or hate it” category. The sound signature is interesting, it’s involving, but it’s definitely not for every ear.
The T90 is often referred to as the DT990’s big brother. In a sense that is true and in many ways it is so much more. Having had both, I feel confident saying that you will love the T90 if you like the DT990. While the frequency responses are relatively similar, the T90 is a truer reference level headphone. It takes everything good about the DT990 and makes it better: Smoother treble, wider soundstage, tighter bass, more space and depth, and, of course, better build quality (particularly when compared to the DT990 PRO).
In all, the T90 is much more refined, and it should be when you consider the price difference. Compared to its higher priced sibling, the T1, I truly believe you are getting probably 80-90% of the performance for a fraction of the cost. My particular gripe with the T1 is the angled driver that makes performance very dependent on the cup placement on your head. The T1 will sound very different depending on how the driver is lined up with your ear, and this is something I personally can’t stand. Otherwise, I’d say the T1 is simply a touch more refined across the frequency range, but this is a classic case of diminishing returns as prices rise.
Anyway, all that said, I find the T90 to be one of the pickiest headphones I have ever used. I’ve gone from absolutely loving it... can’t stop listening, “Just one more song,” to “Get these things off now.” So I guess I have a love/hate relationship with it. The T90 is quite sensitive, it gets loud very easily, it’s incredibly revealing, the treble can get peaky easily and what all of that means is that without a high quality source with the power to get the drivers really moving and recordings that match the T90’s characteristics, they can be incredibly unpleasant to listen to.
For example, mated with my Ray Samuels Audio “The Raptor” tube headphone amp, the T90 performs admirably. Despite some background gain hiss, the T90 balances out the Raptor’s warm, lush tube sound to create a dynamic, full-bodied atmosphere that engulfs your ears and transports you into the concert hall. This combination always has my toes tapping and head bopping across all of my preferred genres. It’s easily one of my favorite headphones with that amp. The T90s driven by my Woo Audio WA6-SE on the other hand is absolutely underwhelming at best, and this saddens me. I can’t technically explain why, but the sound is thin, the treble is incredibly sibilant, and they lose all of the gusto that they had with the Raptor or the solid state Grace Model 901. With the terrific little ALO Audio Pan Am I use on my PC, the T90 performs somewhere between the Raptor and WA6-SE, regaining some warmth and a mellowed out high end with nice treble extension. But my point here is that the T90 is very amp dependent and it will likely take some trial and error to get the T90 performing to its full capabilities, and this is why I believe it is often loved or hated.
I’ve owned a lot of headphones: AKG K701, Beyerdynamic DT990 PRO (review), Beyerdynamic T90, Brainwavz HM5, Grado GS-1000i (review), HiFiMan HE-500, Sennheiser HD650 and Shure SRH840 (review). Each of these is unique in its sound signature, but the T90 is one that I think can really excel at everything and every genre, but it’s all about getting the synergy right with your amp/DAC. Get it wrong and you’ll likely hate every second of your listening session. Get it right and the T90 absolutely sings. It shimmers; it has soul. It’s engaging for all of the right reasons and it will take you another step closer to Audio Nirvana.