Beyerdynamic T 50 p: $289; Bowers & Wilkins P3: $199
To help wade through the seemingly countless options on the market, two Discovery colleagues share their insights on 20 new and relevant headphones. Taking on a pair at a time, Scott Tharler and Alice Truong will each evaluate how these contemporary cans match up in a dueling series called Headphones Heads Up.
Headquartered in Germany, Beyerdynamic has a strong focus in the microphone and conference technology space. But they're reputed by audiophiles as having fashioned some of the best headphones ever, including the amazing $1,400 T 5 p. Although definitively luxurious, those are nowhere near petite. So we gave the nod to their little cousin, the T 50 p ($289), which themselves are quite fetching and finely engineered. They're up against the stunningly minimalist P3 ($199.99) from Bowers & Wilkins, known to most Apple/audio fans as the creative designers behind the iconic and uber-popular football-shaped Zeppelin iPod docks. With both such well-pedigreed, high quality class acts, we certainly set ourselves up for a close call in this tenth and final headphones heads-up of the series.
As far as I'm concerned, the P3 model name stands for pretty, pristine and powerful. These gorgeous on-ear headphones excel in every category. They look lean, with dual metallic lines undulating elegantly, precisely joining the two-tone headband to their similarly adorned earpads. Consistent with the inside of the headband, the earpads are covered in a soft, sumptuous, high-performance acoustic fabric. In lieu of three protruding buttons, the round, super-thin iPad/iPod/iPhone-compatible in-line remote succumbs to a gentle indent in the middle of one side. The result was an intuitive tacticle experience for changing the volume, scanning through tracks or skipping over them. They are sleek and nimble right down to the way they fold into a very compact semi-circular plastic hardcase.
But enough about the P3's physicality, how was the audio? Superb. They especially sung through classical, live and acoustic songs; but they were right at the top of their game in rock, reggae and every one of the dozens of genres I sampled with them. I heard wide, opulent bass; strong, clear mids; and crisp, well-defined treble. Although many of the headphones we tested overreached their acceptable bounds on the high end and got hissy, these never faltered. They also didn't distort at high volumes when played from a phone, tablet or laptop. At the risk of echoing the marketing copy on the Bowers website, I agree that they do sound natural, balanced and "give the best possible sound from a small set of headphones." In fact, they're easily my favorite headphones — on-ear or over, powered or not — for under $200.
Unfortunately, that leaves the T 50 p as an also-ran in this race, which is a shame on a few levels. First, UPS did everything in their power to make sure I never got a chance to experience them in person; but I finally did just a few days ago (no thanks to the folks in brown). These cans have a very cool sort of industrial look and comfy feel going on. They're great for travel, with included in-flight and quarter-inch adapters, along with a nylon carrying case that quickly opens simply by peeling back a single strap. With their soft, comfy, foam- and gel-filled earpads to your ear, they offer ample passive noise reduction. And as with all the Beyer headphones I've heard, I enjoyed their sound. It was mostly clear and open, except for a certain idiosyncratic tightness somewhere in the low-to-mid range. It was subtle, but I heard a slight muddle on a couple of different synth and vocal-heavy tracks.
Don't get me wrong, the T 50 p do pump out great audio. Probably in the top four or five best from amongst the 20 we've reviewed in this series. Truly superior supra aural headphones in general, just not over their adversary here (the P3), which I believe better epitomizes the petite luxury category. My final take on the relative values of both: If their price tags were reversed, I wouldn't hesitate to buy either headphone.
Credit: Alice Truong/Discovery
Scott Tharler writes about gadgets for Discovery News and covers travel tech for Fodor's. Follow him on Twitter, gdgt and Google Plus. Alice Truong writes about tech and gadgets for Discovery Channel. Follow her on Twitter and Google Plus.
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