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Astell & Kern AK T1p Headphones

09-18-2017 | By Robert H. Levi | Issue 93

Astell & Kern AK T1p Headphones

Exciting news! Astell & Kern has some really great new headphones that you need to know about. They're the A&K T1p, and I think they're terrific!

Extravagantly made for A&K, the T1p is a modified German beyerdynamics Tesla Gen. 2 headphone that are hugely popular in Great Britain and the EU. The A&K T1p, which are Cartier-like beautiful and comfortable, are much more sophisticated electrically and ergonomically than stock beyers, and are designed to sell for $1,500. A&K is currently offering them for the cool price of $1,199 on their website and at their U.S. dealer network. The A&K Tip is partially-open-back for best sound and good isolation, and are supremely comfortable. The newest Beyer Tesla drivers are extraordinary and ground breaking, with a continuous frequency response of 5Hz to 50kHz from a single driver. Talk about coherency!

I auditioned the T1p Headphones on the hot new A&ultima SP1000 hi-res portable player (see my review of the 1000 HERE), and am surprised and stunned with their performance. I also listened to them on the E.A.R. HP4 Tube Headamp with even more dramatic results. The T1p is superior to the over-the-counter Beyer Tesla model (at A&K's engineering direction) as they are uniquely LOz (low impedance, at 32 ohms) and are designed to run more effectively with minimum distortion and maximum definition, like pro cans.

A&K T1p's 3.5 mm cable, with its 3.5 mm-to-¼" adapter

The A&K T1p 2.5 mm balanced cable

For my evaluation, I used both the included 2.5 mm stereo balanced cable choice, and the 3.5 mm terminated cable which fits all standard single-ended inputs. An included adapter ups the 3.5 mm plug to full quarter-inch stereo connector size for pro use. ​No reason to hide the results:  I have to tell you, nothing I had in the house under double the $1199 price could exceed the performance! 

Comparison Headphones

Astell & Kern T1p Headphones

Reference headphones for comparison included Audeze LCD-X plus Kimber Axios Cables and UIT Designed Cables, Audeze LE-8, Stax Lambda electrostats with 006 OTL amplifier, Sennheiser HD800 and 800S headphones, Grado PS1000e and 2000e headphones, Grado GS2000e headphones, Mr Speakers Ether Flow headphones, and AKG 1000 headphones connected to the E.A.R. 534 amplifier. 

I utilized the new A&ultima SP1000 Digital Audio Player, A&K's AK 380 and AK 240, E.A.R. HP4 Tube Headamp with both HIz and LOz outputs, and the Grado Headamp. I tried every source imaginable except R2R tape. 

(Note: The T1p headphones are rated at 32 ohms impedance, and are therefore definitely LO-z (higher current, lower voltage) compared to all of my other dynamic or planar references. This means that they should work well with any portable player on the planet, which are generally higher current, but lower voltage compared to high impedance headphones. This would include smartphones, iPhones/iPads, and so on. HI-z, or high impedance headphones, above say 100 ohms, are better with lower current, higher voltage devices. This would usually be found in studios or home listening rooms with non-portable components.)


The requirement for superb comfort is at the top of many headphone audiophiles' want list for great dynamic and planar cans. Of course it is! If you love listening to your music with headphones, you want to do that for extended periods of time. Nothing is worse than a bad case of “headphone headache" from listening for hours while wearing uncomfortable cans! The current winner for comfort is considered by many to be the Sennheiser 800/S series. After much listening time and switching cans back and forth, I must call a "Grand Headphone Comfort Tie!" The A&K T1p and Sennheiser HD800/S's are equally comfortable. You should remember, though, that the Sennheisers do cost more right now. Also, I should say that the new Grado GS2000e comes in as a very close second comfort-wise, at a bit lower cost than the Sennheiser HD800/S.

So now there are two most-comfy dynamic headphones in the world. The lightest cans are generally the most usable for the longest haul if performance is not at issue.

2.5mm connector to male headphone connectors

Here is where I get in trouble with A&K.

I understand the purpose of these small 2.5 mm connectors, and I get the concept of a fully balanced signal such as the new 2.5 mm supplies. The problem is simply they are both too small to connect superior wire to them. The quarter-inch stereo phone connector is the smallest audiophile connector, and I think that the other tiny connectors are here until connector-less attachment is fully realized. That said, I compared the sophisticated looking cloth-covered cables supplied with the T1p, one with the 2.5 mm connector and the other with the 3.5 mm connector, in the A&ultima SP1000, AK 380, and AK 240, using hi-rez material. The definition produced by the T1p with both connectors was spellbinding, and so very close musically, as to make assigning one the winner over the other impossible for me to do. I cannot say that the 2.5 mm is anything truly superior, just smaller in its physical form factor.  I am sure balanced is better than single-ended over long-wire lengths, since there is a definite difference in power output (2.2 volts rms in unbalanced; 3.9 volts rms in balanced), but less than two meters of wire is a moot question in my mind. 

T1p vs. Sennheiser HD800 with 2.5 mm connectors with A&K A&ultima SP1000

Close call folks, but on the best jazz and classical material, and using the 2.5mm connector, the T1p edged out the Sennheiser HD800 for clarity. I heard more focused imaging, superior vocal textures, and more linear continuity in frequency balance. I also heard somewhat less air with the Sennheisers.

T1p vs. Sennheiser HD800 with 3.5 mm connectors with the A&K A&ultima SP1000

Ditto. I heard textural changes and some shifts in coloration, but the T1p had more clarity. Shifts in sonics were due more to use of different wires, I think, than to the connectors. Overall ranking did not change. All other cans I tried had the 3.5 connectors or adapters, and demonstrated varying degrees of less clarity or linearity when compared to the T1p. The only cans on hand that fully achieved superior definition and imaging while maintaining the clarity of the Tesla drivers were the Grado PS 2000e, at a cost of $2695, using the 3.5 mm adapter.

The Best Connector

Utilizing the stereo quarter-inch adapter over the 3.5 mm connector, I heard what I would call the best sound of all from the T1p! Using the E.A.R. HP4 Headamp with the A&ultima SP1000 as the source, and the E.A.R. Acute 3 CD Player as another source, the T1p was a monster.  I heard dramatic heart-stopping bass, life-like midrange images, and super-extended highs while utilizing the LO-z output. Once again, the T1p's supplied more clarity than the other references, including both the HD800 and HD800S Sennheisers. I did notice, though, they improved with the big phone plug, too. The 600 ohm Sennheisers were maximized in the HIz output on the HP4. Only the big Grados excelled beyond the other cans, also utilizing the LOz output.

I did not have the Utopias on hand to compare. I have heard them and they are excellent. They should be at $4000 per pair. Both are extremely impressive and similar in overall openness and clarity of presentation.

In one other way I adjudged the T1p to be clearly superior. They are more efficient. The Tesla drivers give you more sound with less power. Based on the level settings of each DAP or headamp I tried with my references, the T1p is 15 to 20% more efficient than all of my other references. They are about 20% more efficient than the Sennheisers and Audeze offerings.

I cannot imagine running out of juice using the T1p. They will play in everything, certainly any decent portable DAP. Obviously, utilizing any of the A&K DAPS with the T1p will yield superior results, particularly on hi-rez material. Based on the facts that these cans are super linear, super comfortable, super light, super powerful, super neutral, and super detailed, makes their addition to the A&K line an extremely fine choice on their part. 


The Astell & Kern AK TiP Headphones have three overwhelming attributes that make them classic headphone offerings for both the audiophile and music producer.

  1. The T1p is strongly dynamic and quite full range.
  2. They are clearly neutral and class-leading in revelation of detail.
  3. They are comfortable to the max.

This is formidable evidence of superiority when the entry fee is $1199. I enjoy headphones with my portable A&K DAPs and with massive head-amps, and these cans just fit the bill. I do believe the incredible Tesla driver is a real break-thru, akin to the diamond tweeter, or to the Accuton speakers without voice coils, offering superior performance with greater efficiency. All of this accelerating research in personal listening products is yielding amazing results, and we are enjoying those benefits right now with the Astell & Kern T1p headphones. These are killer cans and receive my highest recommendation. 

The handsome A&K T1p carrying case

A final thought

I read the Astell & Kern "About Us" section, which is their mission statement. They talk about their goals and gear, but what was intriguing and compelling to me was their repeated use of the word "music." They used the word "music" twelve times in their statement. Since the days that Marantz was at Marantz and McIntosh was at McIntosh, it has been quite a while since a new and cutting-edge manufacturer of high-end gear put music first and foremost in the very statement of its purpose for being.

This is the real reason A&K chose the T1p. It was for the music.

T1p Headphone

Retail USD: $1199

Astell & Kern

Owen Kwon, President

[email protected]


All photographs courtesy of Astell & Kern.