Recent price increases in flagship wireless headphones have been one of the more notable changes to that market. We’ve abandoned that long-lasting ‘natural’ cap of £500. Models are now arriving brandishing four-figure price tags. The £1,200 T+A Solitaire T is the most expensive wireless headphone I’ve yet tested. I imagine that won’t be the case for too long.
What makes the Solitaire T notable, though, is that the on-paper specification doesn’t appear especially remarkable. A Qualcomm Bluetooth QCC 5127 5.1 platform supports aptX HD and AAC codecs on top of the standard SBC. This combines with a Sony-derived noise-cancelling program. Unlike some rivals ‘ more advanced reactive options, it allows it to switch on or off. This suite acts on a pair of 42mm drivers made from cellulose. Once again, you find cellulose drivers at terrestrial price points. It’s a far cry from the flagship Solitaire T’s extraordinary planar magnetic units.
Look a little closer though and the T+A becomes more interesting. The decoding path listed above is not the only one the Solitaire T possesses. Select ‘HQ mode’ and the decoding configuration changes markedly. The Sony chip powers off, and the Bluetooth signal heads to an ESS DAC for decoding and volume adjustment. It then proceeds to different amplification stages to those used in Bluetooth mode. An interesting secondary feature of this mode is that USB sources can connect to the T+A. This works via a USB C cable and decodes the signal as a USB DAC.
Nor is the Solitaire T done there. It has USB C (for charging and signal) and analogue input as a 2.5mm connection. T+A supplies the Solitaire T with a balanced 2.5mm to 4.4mm cable and a more conventional 2.5mm to 3.5mm one. What T+A is at pains to stress about this arrangement is that it is both entirely passive and that the signal path is different again to the powered ones for noise cancelling and HQ modes. Connect the Solitaire T to a respectable headphone source; you will experience its performance and character.
The fact that the Solitaire T is effectively three headphones in one goes some way to explaining the asking price but a more definitive answer comes from unboxing them. Here, they are closer to the flagships regarding approach and aesthetics, and I think the decision is good. The Solitaire T is made from conventional substances rather than going after the more exotic ends of the material spectrum. Instead, it focuses on putting them together wholly confidently and inspiringly. The result manages to feel solid and ‘worth’ their significant outlay. A decent carry case is supplied as well as the two cables.
How T+A assemble the Solitaire T gives wearers – and listeners – a reassuring feeling. Comfort is excellent, helped by a decent range of adjustments and well-judged spring force on the head. You can exclusively control the Solitaire T from the headphones, too. A control app is in the works but I prefer the means to make quick alterations without reaching for my phone and the Solitaire T is simple too.
The battery life is also impressive. T+A claims no less than 70 hours in standard mode (and a still pretty reasonable 35 in HQ mode) which should be enough for all but the furthest trips into the unknown. Bluetooth stability is also extremely good, and the re-connection is flawless when powered on. Crucial to the proposition the T+A makes is the Solitaire T doesn’t leave you wanting when you need to commute somewhere and limit your exposure to other people.
How Solitaire T blocks out voices is as mechanical as software-based. The noise cancelling is effective enough but the significantly less expensive Bowers & Wilkins PX8 is realistically better. The basics of drowning out cabin noise and avoiding altering the music’s tonal balance are all handled well, though. The frenzied piano work in Nils Frahm’s ‘Hammers’ on his Spaces live set keeps its richness and intensity, even in noise cancelling mode. Absolute bass extension feels slightly curtailed compared to the most talented rivals but is articulate, detailed and well-integrated into the upper registers.
No Processing Here
There is more to be had from the Solitaire T though. With no processing at work, the T+A does an excellent job of cutting ambient noise, and it makes more sense here. On a train with lower noise levels, you can switch the Solitaire T to HQ mode, still not hear the guy on the phone next to you and start to reap some of the benefits of the Solitaire T’s split personality. Frahm’s piano gains weight and presence and the space around him becomes something you are more palpably aware of.
With vocals, the effect is even more pronounced. Emily King’s acoustic version of ‘Can’t Hold Me Now’, has an immediacy and sheer realism enough to make you forget there’s no wire between you and the source. The standard caveat that not all Bluetooth is created equal applies. This means Android owners with aptX phones will be more impressed than iPhone owners making do on AAC. But it’s still a seriously impressive performance.
And there’s more…
And we still aren’t done there either. I have no idea what the size of the market where people come home and wire their cans to an existing system is, but the Solitaire T is exceptional. With most of the T+A’s significant rivals, the use of an analogue to USB cable tells the story the decoding of the headphones will be involved and, however transparent it seeks to be, that will have an effect. The T+A completely avoids this.
With a Chord Hugo2 and 2Go in play, how the Solitaire T handles Fink’s ‘Maker’ reflects the pair’s potency. Play the same track via the rather warmer Yamaha R-N2000A and this makes itself felt in the presentation without any alteration on the part of the Solitaire T. I suspect it would be possible to use it as a device to test a group of headphone amps and make an objectively sound decision as to which one is best.
Worth and Value
Judging the ‘worth’ of the T+A as a value proposition comes down to how many configurations you see yourself using. I’m willing to stick my neck out and say that, treated strictly as a passive, wired headphone, the T+A will keep Focal’s Celestee honest. Given that the Celestee is a significant chunk of the total cost of the T+A, that’s no mean feat. Both are closed-back designs that give enough of a feeling of space and three-dimensionality to their performance to make them viable for home use. The idea that the Solitaire T can mix it with the Focal – headphones I like very much – is deeply impressive.
Like the T+A, the Focal has more than respectable mechanical isolation. However, I do no doubt which of the two I’d pack for a flight. The Solitaire T has become the (current) peak of wireless headphone pricing. But that headline obscures that it isn’t the wireless functionality that is the real story here. T+A has built a headphone that genuinely warrants the term ‘multirole.’ Used passive wired or with wireless noise cancelling, the most talented dedicated rivals will realistically best it. But even they have no response to the T+A’s ability to switch to become something else entirely. Then, in its highest-quality wireless mode, the Solitaire T raises the bar further. It genuinely gives the best wireless performance I’ve yet to experience. This is a fascinating and deeply accomplished headphone that can do many things and excel in most.
- Type Closed-back, over-ear wireless and wired headphones with wired, wireless and ‘HQ Wireless’ modes
- Weight 322g
- Features 42 mm ‘Low tolerance’ dynamic driver
- Supports Apt-X LL, AAC and SBC Bluetooth
- Frequency response 4Hz 22kHz
- Price £1,200
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