Review: Goldilocks and the New Beyerdynamic T 51 i Headphones

On-Ear headphones are making a comeback. Once banished to the 80s with the foamy-coated walkman-style ‘phones, the audiophile set are once again embracing the power of the tiny cans. I’ll admit, at first blush I didn’t get it. Over-ears, in-ears? They made sense to me. Over ears with their full, lush soundstage for home and studio, and in-ears for portability… those were my two needs fulfilled. So where do on-ears fit into the picture? Answer: In Goldilocks territory. For those who hate that stuffed in-ear feeling, but don’t want to be stuck sporting full-sized and possibly heavy over-ear headphones while out and about, on-ears can be a really great option. And the market has caught up, with some great higher end options. I’ve written already about the V-Moda XS, and now Beyerdynamic have a brand new offering out this week, the T 51 i. Are these baby Beyers a good fit?

Let’s talk about first impressions. The solid yet light brushed metal chassis feels expensive, and the earpads are squishy and comfortable, resulting in a fit that’s effortless to wear. The permanently attached cable is textured to help reduce acoustic noise, and the in-line remote has both volume, track and call controls. Included in the semi-hard fabric carrying case are several jack adaptors ranging from ¼” to a non-Apple device ⅛”, plus an airplane adaptor. The padded metal headband has a mod-industrial vibe and feels as though it can take a beating without breaking. The earcups swivel to make the headphones lay flat, but they don’t collapse in. To me, this is an issue as the result is a thinner carrying case than my over-ears’, but one that length- and width- wise still takes up just as much real estate in my bag. That aside, they are comfortable enough that I can’t imagine them spending much time stored away.

Beyerdynamic has done a great job recently in releasing headphones with a signature sound. From the MMX 102ie to the DT 990 (250 ohms), when you pick up a pair of Beyerdynamic headphones you can expect three things: tight, forward highs, clear, mellow lows, and a mid range with depth. The T51i are indeed part of the family. The bass is present and smooth, without overpowering the mix. The mids have detail, with small boosts around 95dB and 113dB. The signature highs are very crisp with delicate attack and decay. They are however, rather forward in the mix. While they do have the foundation of the mids and lows to support them, they also may not be to everyone’s taste, especially if you’re already sensitive to higher frequencies. I tend to be one of those people. For me, too much high end in the mix (even if very well executed as is the case in the T 51 i) can lead to an almost metallic sound profile, which can take some of the warmth out of acoustic instruments. That said, folks who like a little top and bottom bump will really enjoy them.

Beyerdynamic attributes the clarity of the treble to their Tesla technology, which they say creates an efficiency to sound reproduction and enables the T 51 i headphones to be clear even at low volumes. They’re right. I turned the volume way down, and I was surprised at the lack of distortion. I have to admit, anything that prevents the need to crank the sound up and potentially damaging my hearing is a plus. Add to this the memory foam in the earcups that seals against your ear shape gently and comfortably, and does a decent job of isolating external noise. I can see how someone who just can’t stand in ears (and I know folks who do) could really fall in love with the T 51 i as their favorite grab and go headphone.

The T 51 i carry a heavy $314 price tag, which I know some folks could see as being really high for portable headphones. That said, if you spend most of your listening time on a subway, at an office, walking to class, etc the cost could easily become more justified. Consider also, that to get a pair of over-ear Beyerdynamics with this same Tesla technology you’re looking at a price range from $595-$1,399. So as an entry level to high end audio, it’s not nearly as steep a step up when compared to the next-highest offering.

Overall, the Beyerdynamic T 51 i are a great choice. They’re so comfortable to wear, sexy looking, and are a great option for high-end on-ear headphones. Would I like a little less treble, a replaceable cable, and a smaller size when they’re collapsed? Sure. But bear in mind, Goldilocks, nothing’s perfect for everyone. Maybe the T 51 i are just right for you.