Review unit on loan from Singapore retailer Clarity Group
Solitaire T is a pair of high-end wireless audiophile headphones made by German company T+A elektroakustik. This was released in late 2022 with the retail price of US $1600, and here in Singapore it's sold by Clarity Group at SGD 2590.
When it comes to buying pricy high-end headphones, I recommend testing at audio shops if possible. While I can write about the features, usability and sound, ultimately sound quality is subjective and up to the individual. And do compare with other headphones while you're at the shop.
Clarity Group has also provided a Mark Levinson No 5909 (US $999 | SGD 1620) on loan for review a few months ago. I liked that headphones enough to buy it, but mainly to use it as a reference to compare other headphones with. That opportunity is here. In this review there will be brief comparison with the ML5909 but I'll write a separate comparison in greater detail in the future.
This is a beautiful packaging box.
The presentation definitely looks luxurious. The headphones are laid in the holder that's padded with felt on both the top and bottom side. There's also foam padding the inner sides of the box.
After you lift the holder using the two ribbons by the side, you'll see the manual, safety info, warranty card, the carrying case and a three metre long 2.5mm to 4.4mm cable.
There's a smaller box velcroed within the carrying case with more cables and adapters. All the cables and adapters included are
- 2.5mm to 4.4mm cable (3m)
- USB-C to USB-C cable (1.4m)
- 2.5mm to 3.5mm cable (1.4m)
- 3.5mm to 6.3mm adapter
- Flight adapter with 2x 3.5mm jack
The cables have the typical rubber/plastic exterior. It's a missed opportunity here to make the cables look and feel better.
That little box closes with magnetic attachment. Convenient.
There's a diagram inside the carrying case that shows how the headphones should be folded in the box.
The carrying case has a hard shell and fabric exterior. The zip line is designed to keep out water.
The headphones are available in either black or white. The black is a mix of black and silver, and the white is white and silver.
When you remove the headphones, you can turn the ear cups with leather padding forward or backward. I like to put my headphones with leather padding on the table.
The design looks classy and understated. These are not bulky and do not protrude much from the side. The weight is 326g and is comfortable for wearing for long periods of time.
The design does not call out for attention and is good for people who prefer to blend in the crowd.
Anti-allergenic synthetic leather is used for the headband. There's soft cushion padding on the top and bottom. The headband feels comfortable.
The metal frame is made with aluminium and matte textured. T+A logo is prominent. Edges are beveled at an angle. The extension within is made with plastic and seems long enough.
The design behind the frame is clean and there are two visible screws.
There are circular nubs at the swivel points. That's where I press on when I remove the headphones.
The ear paddings use the same leather as the headband, and are replaceable. There are huge L and R letters inside.
The ear cups are on the smaller side for me. I could feel the leather padding brushing against the top and bottom of my ears when wearing the headphones. There is enough space for my ears but I just wish there's slightly more space. Comfort is good enough for long listening sessions.
The red inner sides are angled for the ears. And if you touch the red cloth, you can feel the hard components or parts behind.
The clamping force is just nice, not too tight or loose. I wear spectacles and still found overall fit and comfort to be good. And because the fit is good, they provide decent amount of passive sound isolation.
These headphones are foldable. The ear cups can be rotated to face the front or back, and can folded in until the ear cup can touch the headband.
The downside to the headphones being so adjustable is there are so many contact points that can create scratches. I was so careful when handling the headphones to prevent metal surfaces from touching each other. I don't think you will want to see any scratches on this beautiful and expensive pair of headphones.
Most of the controls are located on the back of the ear cup, easily accessible by thumb.
The power switch is on the left together with 4 light indicators to show battery life (15, 25, 50, 75, 100%). The Bluetooth pairing process is surprisingly fast. After you power on the headphones, the next second you'll hear "Power on, connected".
Battery life is rated at 70 hours or 35 Hours in High Quality Mode. You can get a full charge with 2 hours. Battery life is amazing for wireless headphones. The battery can be replaced in the future.
There are two buttons and a toggle switch on the right ear cup.
Mode will switch between ANC on, ANC off and High Quality (via Esstech ES9218 Sabre DAC). There's audio feedback when switching between these modes. You can also use the companion app to switch between these modes.
DA is for digital assistants such as Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa.
The little light indicator will show the type of Bluetooth codec in use:
- Blue - SBC
- White - AAC
- Red - aptX
- Yellow - aptX HD
There is no LDAC and LHDC.
When used with iPhone, iPad and Windows 11 PC, white light appears (AAC). When using my Samsung tablet, red light appears (aptX).
The toggle switch is for Bluetooth. Bluetooth can be turned off completely. Push up for 2s for Bluetooth pairing, or 5s to reset the headphones.
The chipset used for Bluetooth is Qualcomm QCC 5127. Version is 5.1, class 2. Bluetooth profiles are A2DP, AVRCP, HSP, HFP.
At the bottom on the right side are ports for the 2.5mm jack and USB-C.
There is one thin slit above each ear cup with noise cancelling mics, another thin slit on the right ear cup (shown above) for the mic.
The headphones uses touch controls for playback and taking calls. Tap to play/pause, swipe up and down for volume, and swipe forward and back to skip tracks. These playback touch controls work well. That circular button is for the Transparency mode.
Transparency mode allows surrounding sound to actively pass through the ear cups, bypassing passive noise isolation. Transparency mode is effective.
The enable Transparency mode, you have to double tap the circular button, and single tap to turn it off. Because you have to double tap to enable Transparency mode, it's difficult to enable it accidentally.
The shortcut for Transparency mode works well enough but there are occasions where my finger touches are not registered. I wish the shortcut could be a physical button instead.
The companion app cannot be used to control Transparency mode, at least for app version v1.0.2
Noise cancelling works well is able to remove most of the low frequency ambient noise. Noise cancelling is almost on par with ML5909. But both are not as good as Sony's WH-1000XM headphones.
Noise cancelling does not create that void/pressure common with ANC so that's a plus.
The app is called T+A Solitaire Companion App and is available from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. If you just search for "solitaire app" you'll see only apps for the Solitaire card game.
The app I've tested is version 1.0.2.
The app is quite basic and limited features.
At the time of this review, you can use the app to switch between ANC and High Quality modes, and choose from pre-defined EQ settings. There's no option to control Transparency mode.
The six EQ settings are:
- Bass Boost
- Treble Boost
Switching between the different EQ settings will let you hear the difference instantly.
Flat EQ setting sounds neutral. The Vitalize setting that boost bass and treble sounds pretty good and changes the mood to more atmospheric. These are the two modes I use.
Let's look at the marketing from T+A regarding sound quality:
Our guiding conviction is that music should be reproduced in as pure a form as possible. And that is why we take great trouble to eliminate all possible interference sources - no matter how minute - right at the development stage. Undamped diaphragms form just such a potential problem: seemingly insignificant coil reflections have the potential to create a serious adverse effect on the sound. We avert this problem before it can develop by means of carefully located damping at the edge of the 42mm transducer: the damping cushions coil reflections as they develop, and prevents them having any effect on the frequency response. A cellulose diaphragm is attached to the damping. Compared with other materials, this diaphragm is extremely light and stiff, giving the advantage of agility and dynamics, without breaking up prematurely into eigenmodes. The optimised low bass system in the Solitaire T produces a completely new kind of bass matching, ensuring perfect transient response, and preventing disruptions in the frequency response. One result of this development work on the analogue aspect, combined with the Solitaire T’s finely tuned acoustic design, is that the headphones require no power supply or signal processor in order to sound superb. In active as well as passive mode, every signal, every breath, every nuance is not just audible, but perceptible.
In active mode the sound quality of the transducer is fundamentally determined by the electronics employed: components of poor quality, not matched properly to each other, have an adverse effect on the sound experience. That is why we use one of the world’s highest-quality Bluetooth chips in the form of the Qualcomm QCC 5127, which forms one of the digital bridges to the outside world. Its wide range of audiophile codecs combined with low energy consumption ensure that the traveller can rely on the availability of high-quality music even on long inter-continental flights.
The digital / analogue converter section is connected to the Bluetooth chip, and operates in a comparable way to the suspension of a sports car: its task is to convert the digital signals into analogue signals, and in the final analysis its quality decides whether the available performance can actually be utilised. The Esstech ES9218 Sabre DAC which we fit converts even high-resolution formats in the highest audiophile quality. Thanks to its high performance not one bit of the signal is lost: each nuance and every centimetre of the sound stage is reproduced in all their emotional power.
I'm not going to pretend that I can understand completely the technology or technicalities behind making the transducers or headphone drivers work the way they work. And I don't have any frequency response curve for you. I just want to say that the audio quality is excellent. Listening to your favourite music with these headphones is satisfying and enjoyable.
BLUETOOTH SOUND QUALITY
For my tests, I've used the iPhone, iPad, Windows laptop and Samsung Tab S8 Ultra.
The high and mids have good details. Each instrument can be heard clearly even when there's a lot going on. The bass has the right amount of enough energy. Vocals are clear and sound terrific. Overall sound is slightly warm, pleasing.
You can definitely get high-definition details out from these headphones. In High Quality mode (ANC is disabled), digital data is converted into analog signals by a Quad SABRE HiFi DAC and amplified by an analog headphone amplifier with analog volume control. HQ mode does sound crisper compared to non HQ mode (with ANC on, or Transparency on). Since sound isolation works well enough with the ear cups, I prefer to use HQ mode without ANC instead. With HQ mode, battery life is 35 hours.
Solitaire T has slightly less bass with passive mode, and hence is best used with ANC if you want more bass.
The sound stage is decent. I could place the instruments in my head space quite well. Soundstage is limited by these being close-backed headphones. Having said that, I don't have any open-back headphones to compare to.
Solitaire T sounds slightly warmer compared to ML5909, which is brighter relatively speaking. Vocals on ML59090 have more clarity and more crisp. If the songs you listen to are mostly vocals, Solitaire T may be a better choice as brighter vocals can be more fatiguing as time goes by. Whether you prefer warmer or crisper sound is personal preference.
I recommend you check out the Head-fi forums for more opinions. There are actually people who sold replaced their Mark Levinson No ML5909 with Solitaire T. That's not something I would even consider doing because the ML5909 sounds really good, and is by comparison a bargain at US $999 vs 1600 (or SGD 1620 vs 2590) even if it's still quite expensive. Even if the Solitaire sounds better than the ML5909, it's just marginal benefit and you really need to have the two to compare side by side to hear and feel the difference, and then you have to decide whether that's worth the difference of US $601 or SGD 961.
The volume from Solitaire T with Bluetooth connection is on the lower side. To listen at the usual volume I usually listen to, I had to push the volume up further. When Transparency is on, the volume is even lower and I have to push it up to 70%+.
CABLE SOUND QUALITY
Solitaire T can be driven with the audio cable or USB-C.
Audio quality from the cable connection is excellent. Actually, it's difficult for me to tell the difference between cable vs Bluetooth HQ audio quality. And hence I'm quite impressed by the Bluetooth sound quality by comparison.
Playback touch controls only work with USB-C but not with audio cable.
Just like with Bluetooth connection, the quality of the audio source is very important. Apple Music with Bluetooth connection will sound better than Youtube Music with cable connection.
For some reason, the volume limit with USB-C and my Samsung tablet is so low that I have to push the volume to 100%.
What device are you using?
Solitaire T support Bluetooth codecs SBC, AAC, aptX and aptX HD.
Obviously to get high-res audio you'll need high-res source and technology that can transmit that source.
Here are the specs for the various Bluetooth codecs:
|Codec||Bit depth||Sampling rate||Bitrate|
|SBC||16 bit||48.0kHz||320 kbps|
|AAC (Apple)||16 bit||44.1kHz||264 kbps|
|aptX||16 bit||48.0kHz||352 kbps|
|aptX HD||24 bit||48.0kHz||576 kbps|
|aptX LL||16 bit||44.1kHz||352 kbps|
|aptX Adaptive||16 or 24 bit||44.1, 48, 96 kHz||279 kbps to 420 kbps|
|LDAC||24 bit||96kHz||330/666/990 kbps|
|LHDC||24 bit||96kHz||400/560/900 kbps|
A common definition for high-res audio is the audio should be recorded with a sample rate and bit depth higher than 44.1kHz/16-bit (CD quality). According to Sony, high-res audio files have a sampling frequency of 96 kHz/24 bit.
I used the iPhone and Samsung tablet for the tests and Bluetooth codecs used are AAC and AptX respectively. While those Bluetooth codecs aren't as high-res as AptX HD or LDAC, the audio still sounds amazing. If you want push Solitaire T to the best of its potential, you need the appropriate equipment. The thing is, even without the right equipment, because the headphones are so good, music can still so real good. With these headphones, you'll know whenever you're listening to music that requires higher fidelity or music that's poorly recorded.
Unfortunately there isn't LDAC so I could not test the LDAC from my Samsung Tab S8 Ultra.
If you stream music online, it's best to see if those music streaming services can actually offer high-res music streaming.
It is possible to connect the headphones to 8 devices with Bluetooth, but you cannot connect to more than one device simultaneously. To switch between devices, you have to disconnect the current device before connecting to the next device.
You can pick up incoming calls by touching the touchpad.
Call quality is alright, pretty standard. It sounds like you're calling from a phone. Noise canceling works fine.
For some reason, I wasn't able to use the mics to record voice memos.
T+A Solitaire T is a beautiful pair of headphones with amazing audio quality through Bluetooth connection and cable. The sound is slightly warmer, not slightly warm, and are especially great for vocals and makes it comfortable for long listening sessions. I listen to mostly instruments and I enjoyed every second.
The main downside is you have to be more careful when folding these because of the many contact points that can create scratches.
As for whether this is worth the US $1600 or SGD 2590, you can decide based on the findings I've presented. I highly recommend you test them before buying unless you have a good return policy from the store.
Oh, definitely research more reviews online. And if you're at an audio shop, compare different headphones.
Pros and cons at a glance
+ Beautiful understated design
+ Good fit and comfort
+ 326g is lightweight enough
+ Excellent audio quality for Bluetooth and cable connection
+ Can listen for long periods without fatiguing
+ Decent soundstage for closed-back headphones
+ Decent noise cancelling
+ Bluetooth connection is really fast after power on
+ All necessary cables included
+ Headphones have both audio jack and USB-C
+ Has built in DAC
+ Touch playback controls work well
+ 70hr battery life, 35hr with High Quality Mode
+ Battery is replaceable
+ Durable carrying case included
+ Headphones is foldable and very adjustable
+ Ear cup leather padding is replaceable
- Folding design has many metal contact points that can scratch
- Volume extremely low with Transparency Mode
- App has limited features
- No LDAC
Check with your local audio shop.
If you're in Singapore, you can find test the T+A Solitaire T at these locations:
Clarity Group showroom
1 Coleman Street #03-36,
T: (65) 6333 0010
1 Coleman St, #01-25