Astell & Kern has had a history of collaboration with various headphones and earphone makers to produce custom-tuned products for their brand. With the introduction of the AK T5p 2nd Gen, this is the company’s seventh team-up with Beyerdynamic in total, the fourth on a headphone.
Astell & Kern AK T5p 2nd Generation Headphone
- Combines Beyerdynamic’s Tesla Driver technology with AK’s tuning.
- Handmade in Germany.
- Big, enveloping soundstage.
- Full sounding bass response although it might be much for some.
- Comfortable fit.
If the attendance at CanJam NYC was any indication, the headphone/personal audio market is still a pretty hot one. And it seems to be the one slice of the audio marketplace that successfully attracts the broadest array of demographics. Anecdotally I saw the most diverse spread of age, gender and financial means at CanJam than I’ve seen at any other Hi-Fi show. The array of products on offer to satisfy this segment of the market is also broad, with seemingly a little something for everyone available. I don’t have a clue if the headphone space is anywhere near the point of oversaturation yet, but I would guess it helps if a product has a little something to it to help it stand out from the crowd. Astell & Kern has partnered for a second time with German audio brand Beyerdynamic to release a limited edition version (1000 units) of Beyer’s T5p 2nd Generation headphones. While looking very much like the Beyerdynamic headphones that they are based on, there are some custom features exclusive to Astell & Kern’s version to otherwise differentiate them. Are they worth the $1199.00 price tag? Let’s find out.
Circumaural, Closed-back Headphones with Dynamic drivers
45mm Dynamic Driver with Tesla Technology
Manufacturer Freq. Response:
5Hz – 50kHz
340 grams (12.0 ounces)
Black with Silver trim
1.4 meter (4.9 Feet) Balanced Headphone Cable with 2.5mm plug
2.5mm balanced to 3.5mm unbalanced cable adapter
¼ inch phono plug adapter
2020 Headphone Review, astell & kern, headphones, tesla, dynamic, over-the-ear, closed-back
If you are looking for a little flash or something that makes more of a visual statement then these are not the headphones you are looking for. The Astell & Kern AK T5p 2nd Generation very much match the stock Beyerdynamic T5p 2nd Generation from which they are based. Save for the custom labeling on the outside of the earcups and the top of the headband, the headphones look identical. And that look is very Teutonic, understated and purposeful. The only bit of flash that differentiates the Astell & Kerns from the Beyerdynamics is the slick-looking copper and silver braided wire.
Starting with the build quality, it is above reproach. Unlike some headphones where the mass of the materials used is associated with quality, the T5p 2nd Generation use smarter, lighter high-quality materials to keep the overall mass to an easily manageable 12 ounces. The headband is nicely cushioned and comfortable while the extension arms extend and retract with solid reassuring “clicks”. The earpads are well-padded and covered in soft leatherette, completely encircling my above average sized earlobes and making a solid seal. The black laser-etched finish with logo on the outside of the earcups looks stealthy and sharp.
From a technical standpoint, the closed-back earcups each house 45 mm Beyerdynamic Tesla drivers, known for their high power and efficiency. The drivers are also inset at an angle within the cups helping to create a wide soundstage with all kinds of program material. The custom braided balanced cable, exclusive to the AK T5p 2nd Generation, uses a combination of copper and silver-plated copper wire braid. It’s terminated with a 2.5 mm 4-pole balanced plug but comes with a short 2.5 mm to 3.5 mm unbalanced extension cable for use in standard single-ended jacks. Since the included cable is balanced I wish Astell & Kern would have seen fit to add a 5-pin XLR adapter as an accessory. For the asking price, I would have expected this. What is included is a rather bulky hard-shell case that is wholly unsuited for travel. That and the fact that the AK T5p 2nd Generation don’t collapse or fold up in any way mean that these are headphones you keep around your house.
With a 32-ohm impedance, these headphones can be reliably driven from most portable devices. Although a good quality DAP or portable DAC/AMP will really bring out the best in these headphones. The Astell & Kern AK T5p 2nd Generation are limited to 1000 copies and are approximately $200.00 more expensive than their Beyerdynamic brothers. Astell & Kern states that these headphones are tuned a little differently than the Beyerdynamic versions they are based on although there are no specifics as to what those sonic differences are.
For this review, the Astell & Kern AK T5p 2nd Generation headphones were primarily paired with either my iPhone 6S Plus using the Onkyo HD Player app or a Shanling M0 DAP connected to a Topping NX4 DSD portable DAC/AMP for portable use. For home use, I used the Benchmark Media Systems HPA4/DAC3B stack.
For me, wearing the Astell & Kern T5p 2nd Generation is akin to wearing the proverbial “well-worn pair of blue jeans”. They feel naturally comfortable and unobtrusive, even after extended listening periods. They feel familiar because I own a pair of Beyerdynamic DT-880 250-ohm headphones and, while significantly different in design, the familial feel they share is strong. Clamping force on the AK T5p 2nd Generation is sufficient and totally acceptable, and I did not find my ears getting sweaty or overheated after prolonged use. As I mentioned before, these headphones are not flashy; their appearance is understated and purposeful as if they were engineered for a singular task. They exude classic Germanic design, in the same way, that you’d look at a classic Porsche 911 or a Braun razor.
The first thing that I noticed when I started listening to the AK T5p 2nd Generation was the spaciousness and exceptionally large soundstage they put out. This is uncharacteristic of most closed-back headphones that I have sampled over the years. Here, the imaging was impressively wide, a trait that I would associate more with open-back cans. And without the outside noise leaking in as open-back cans allow, the effect was quite immersive. I should also say that this spaciousness did not sound artificial or synthesized at all but more like a natural component of the music. Oftentimes when I listen to headphones with similar expansive sound qualities there is a sacrifice somewhere else in the audible bandwidth. The upper-bass to lower-midrange will sound unnaturally pumped or the treble response will sound too soft. That was not the case in this instance. Regardless of music genre that I would listen to I kept coming away with the sound of a nicely detailed midrange with a hint of warmth and a smooth, but still detailed top end.
These two characteristics were strong enough to contrast against a powerful low end that these Astell & Kerns were blessed with. The bass response on the AK T5p 2nd Generation was potent and comes right up to the limit of what I would find enjoyable in a headphone. I have not heard the stock Beyerdynamic versions of these headphones so I can’t make any sort of meaningful comparison there. I remember the first-generation Beyer T5p and remember it being bass shy. Other reviews have indicated that the situation is rectified in the 2nd Generation Beyers. Somehow Astell & Kern, with Beyerdynamic’s help, has walked the fine line of giving us maximum bass punch without overwhelming anything else, and a wide, immersive soundstage that is also harmonious with the other sonic elements. I’m sure the bass might be a bit much for some people’s taste, but I enjoyed listening to all manner of Jazz, Classical, Rock, and even some Electronic music and I didn’t once find the bass level to be objectionable. Both my Topping NX4 DSD DAC/AMP and the Benchmark HPA 4/DAC 3B stack that I used in my evaluation proved to be perfect matches to use with the AK T5p 2nd Gen. I would probably hesitate using a tube amp with these headphones as I’d expect the typical warmer, euphonic tube sound might push the headphones into overly saccharine territory.
Moving on to some musical examples that helped shape my opinion:
Bill Evans Trio, “Live at Shelly’s Manne Hole, Riverside Records, 24/96 FLAC File.”
Playing the track “Round Midnight” through the AK T5p 2nd Generation reveals the lovely sense of space from the recording venue that was captured on tape. You can hear tinkling glasses and other associated bar/nightclub sounds all through the background. On the left side, I heard Chuck Israels’ thick, deep standup bass keeping time and sounding powerful, yet I could also hear the detail in the reverberation of each bass string as he plucked.
Bill Evans on the piano was situated right in front of my face as opposed to between my ears. The ring of his lyrical and tasteful piano playing reverberating through the space sounded impressively authentic. On the right side is Larry Bunker on the drum kit with sublime brushwork on the drum skins and cymbals. I could make out the nice brassy sheen of the cymbals and the distinct sound of the skins being worked. At about 5 minutes into the song, I can distinctly hear a dropped drumstick hitting the floor which just adds to the impression of sitting in on a live performance while wearing these cans. Everything sounded very alive, and yes while the bass is slightly “juiced” it didn’t feel like it was overpowering any of the other elements of this track.
Jimmy Page & The Black Crowes, “Live at the Greek, Classicberry, 24/96 FLAC via Qobuz.”
The Astell & Kern AK T5p 2nd Generation will also thoroughly “rock” when called upon. During my time living in the Los Angeles area, I’d seen a few shows at the renowned outdoor Greek Theater and spinning up the track “Oh Well” over these headphones brought me right back there. Again, I go to the soundstage these headphones put out.
The imaging extends well beyond the earcups and I definitely got a sense that I was listening to music being played outdoors versus the music simply sounding thinner and un-reinforced because it wasn’t recorded in a room. The kick drum during the opening of the song is just thunderous and these headphones give it all the weight and impact it deserves. Jimmy Page’s manically cackling guitar solo came across full of edgy distortion and biting tone. Lead singer, Chris Robinson’s vocals sounded like they were well out in front of me and I could make out the natural live echo from the venue as he sang.
Sir Georg Solti and the LSO, “Mahler: Symphony No.2 “Resurrection”, Decca, 24/96 FLAC File.”
The opening “Allegro maestoso” track opens with an intense swath of cellos and bass playing with depth and fervor. This part sounds deep and encompassing through the AK T5p 2nd Generation. But playing concurrently in this passage is a background violin part that still sounds detailed and tonally correct without getting overwhelmed by the cellos. Right after this, a big mass of horns comes in from the right sounding clean and clear and without any apparent glare to them.
Woodwinds and strings follow suit from the left and we get a large sweeping full-orchestra passage that just sounds big, vibrant and alive on these headphones. The piece then spends much of it’s remaining time with far quieter passages, alternating from clarinets, French horns, strings, harp, and flute. Even in these lower intensity parts, the instrumentation remains clear with the individual sections easy to place in space. And the sense of space from the recording venue gets accurately relayed through these headphones.
Steely Dan, “The Royal Scam, ABC Records, 16/44 FLAC File.”
I submit to you that there are no bad Steely Dan albums and the Royal Scam contains one of my favorite Dan tracks of all time, “Kid Charlemagne”. Steely Dan’s production values have always been scrupulously good but sometimes, depending on the speaker or headphone in use, I’ve found that this album can sound somewhat flat and a little lifeless to my ears. The AK T5p 2nd Generation gives the album and “Kid Charlemagne” in specific a bit more dynamic groove with its lively bass response.
The kick drum has more impact and punch while the bass lines have some meat on their bones to grab on to. This added sense of “shove”, if you will, adds that missing life back to the music without overwhelming the other parts. This meant Donald Fagan’s synthesizer still has that funky edge to its sound and his vocals sounded natural without any undue tubbiness. The drum cymbal work sounded particularly crisp while Larry Carlton’s amazing guitar solo sounds as detailed and effortless as you could want.
Diana Krall, “Turn Up the Quiet, Verve, 24/192 FLAC via Qobuz.”
Yes, I’m using a Diana Krall song to help me convey to you how good these headphones are. But since we aren’t at an audio show and I’m not forcing you to listen to it we are good. That being said, playing “No Moon at All” through the AK T5p 2nd Generation is an absolute treat. The piano notes ring with such clarity of tone and the acoustic bass is so rich and thick sounding.
The interesting trick on this song is how the Tesla drivers enhance the sense of spaciousness on this track while Krall’s voice is mic’d in such a way as to seem that she is singing suggestively in my ears, allowing every little inflection and lip smack to be clearly heard. It’s pretty great sounding.
The Three Tenors, “The Three Tenors In Concert, London, 16/44 FLAC.”
This album was everywhere when it was released back in 1990, so much so that it became almost cliche in my mind. The three biggest opera tenors of our generation singing an “Opera’s Greatest Hits” album. I mean my mother sang a bunch of these songs while listening to the local Italian radio station when I was a kid. Still, there is a reason Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo, and Luciano Pavarotti achieved the heights that they did.
They were absolute masters of their craft and all that vocal firepower on one CD makes for something truly special. On a home system, this album requires speakers with some serious lung capacity to do it justice and as for headphones, they tend to flatten the life out of this music, by and large. The AK T5p 2nd Gen’s enhanced spaciousness and powerful bottom end actually free the midrange and the high end sounds by providing enough dynamic contrast so that Pavarotti’s vocals in “Torna a Sorriento” actually stand out more along with the harps and the airy flutes and woodwinds. Ditto for Jose Carreras singing “Granada” and Placido Domingo performing “No Puede Ser”. I couldn’t detect a hint of strain or breakup on any of the voices when I turned the volume up as high as I dared. Vocals don’t get more powerful than this and the Astell & Kerns make these guys all sound seriously bigger than life, which in fact they were.
The Astell & Kern AK T5p 2nd Generation headphones are a supremely good sounding set of cans. Since they are only making 1000 pairs, do check them out before they’re gone!
- Superb dynamic sound with strong bass response.
- Big spacious soundstage.
- Very comfortable when worn for hours.
- Easy to drive.
- Ability to collapse for travel use.
- Include a 5-pin XLR adaptor.
The Astell & Kern AK T5p 2nd Generation headphones were a delight for me to listen to. They did everything I expected a high-quality set of headphones to do. They looked good; they were light and comfortable to wear for long stints, and they sounded exceptional to my ears. The bass response is certainly potent but I found that it didn’t overwhelm any of the music that I listened to through them. If anything the bass response and the spaciousness afforded by the use of Beyerdynamic’s Tesla drivers always enhanced whatever it was that I was listening to. The low impedance, easy to drive design meant that I could wear them while walking the dogs and, being closed-back cans, none of the outside noise leaked in. The only open question is how do these limited edition (1000 pairs) headphones compare to Beyer’s standard T5p 2nd Generation and are they worth the $200.00 premium to you? I haven’t heard the Beyerdynamics yet so I can’t be of much guidance here. Based on what I’ve read, I assume that the Astell & Kerns have been tuned for a stronger bass response over the matching Beyers. If you like strong bass then I would say that the Astell & Kerns are certainly worth the money. If you like a more balanced response in your headphones, then I would say to sample both if possible before making up your mind. In any event, I strongly recommend you give the Astell & Kern AK T5p 2nd Generation a listen. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with them and I would put them on my shortlist of favorite headphones ever.