Beyerdynamic AK T8iE In-ear Headphone Review
Beyerdynamic's Tesla drivers sound great, but can they justify the $1,000 price tag?
In the world of headphones, earbuds come in all shapes and sizes. They also come in at price points across the spectrum, from the $20 near-disposable ones you buy at the airport to, well, the Beyerdynamic/Astell & Kern AK T8iE ($999.99 MSRP)—$1,000 hand-assembled, made-in-Germany in-ear monitors that feature Beyerdynamic's exclusive Tesla drivers, miniaturized like never before.
As impressive as that is, "Why on Earth would you pay $1,000 for earphones?" is still a natural question to ask. We get it. But let's be real: This is a luxury product, through and through. Sure, maybe you've got deep pockets and want a nice pair of in-ears for the gym on your second yacht.
But the value here is less about the price-to-performance ratio and more about two top-shelf audio companies flexing their creative might. So while we can't possibly suggest that $1,000 in-ears are worth buying, with groundbreaking technology like this, they're certainly worth admiring.
It's what's on the inside that counts.
I have to say, my first experience with the T8iEs was something of a disappointment. Usually with a sticker price this high, the headphones come in some kind of giant, opulent case with a built-in charger or something. Here, there's no remote, no crazy features, no noise canceling, no diamond-encrusted leather case. Just a set of brownish in-ears, a ton of tips, and a carrying case.
There's a reason for that. While you're spending a lot for these in-ears, it's clear that the design here is laser-focused on functionality, and not spectacle. The austere outside of the bud is fairly standard, with Beyerdynamic branding and a brownish metallic casing. Triangular in shape, the AK T8iE is configured to loop their wires over your ear, distributing their (admittedly feather-light) weight very well over your pinna and not solely on your ear canal. On top of that, the oblong nozzles of the AK T8iE are a great fit for most ears, and the strangely-shaped silicone tips included in the packaging are the result of a ton of R&D with a range of real human ears.
That's all well and good, but as we noted in our first impressions of the unit, the insides are where things get really interesting. This is the very first set of in-ears with Beyerdynamic's Tesla drivers—elements so magnetically strong, they have a strength of over one Tesla—helping them move at speeds generally reserved for far more expensive—or impossibly thin—speaker types. Though small in size, it's a big deal: these buds are able to reproduce extremely subtle details with just a single driver.
The AK T8iE's cables are also detachable—a rare sight in the in-ear world. Detachable cables are the single most important durability feature for headphones, because that thin wire is almost always what breaks first. Though the standard cable has a 1/8th inch 3-channel plug that works with just about any smartphone or MP3 player out there, also included in the packaging is a 2.5mm connector for use with Astell & Kern devices (should you own any). You'll probably never use it, but better to have it an not need it, right?
Included in the packaging is a hard leather case that will prevent your earbuds from meeting a terrible tangled fate—assuming you coil them up like a sane person would, anyway. The case is beautiful and big enough to house all of your sleeves and accessories, but you may find it a bit girthy to stuff in a pocket. Once you find the right size sleeves, you can jam them into the felt pocket in the lid so they don't hang loose with the earphone cables.
Because the AK T8iE doesn't have a microphone onboard, this is probably not ideal for use with your smartphone. However, that shouldn't dissuade you from listening to your tunes on that device if you're like me and rarely use your mobile for calls. The AK T8iE has a relatively low load requirement, so your smartphone will be able to drive these no sweat.
Making the perfect in-ears is no easy task, and we've seen companies pour vast sums of time and money to achieve this goal. From what we've learned over the years, sensitive ears tend to pick up tiny echoes that result from a sealed ear canal, and those are extremely tough to dispel. Most in-ears don't make much of an attempt to control for this, because most people don't really notice it. However, Beyerdynamic is not one to shy away from a challenge.
Though our test results look a little odd, our listening impressions are quite good. There really aren't any genres of music that the AK T8iE struggles with, and Beyerdynamic's Tesla drivers are exceptionally good at moving fast enough to catch soft details in recordings.
For headphones, there can be no higher praise than "plays music the way the mixer intended," and for the most part it's true with the AK T8iE. Distortion is inaudible, channel balance errors are minor and infrequent, and the frequency response is more or less what you'd expect for a set of high-end tune blasters. However, it deviates away from the consumer standard used by most manufacturers to provide a more or less "signature" sound.
What that means is that harsh, sibilant sounds like cymbals and static will be reduced in volume a bit in comparison to the base notes we call music. Though bass is emphasized a little bit, it's not crazy—it's a little emphasized but it isn't going to overwhelm your music. Most notes from strings, winds, percussion, synths et cetera are going to be emphasized at about the same volume as each other, while harmonics more or less mimic how a human ear would hear them.
Consequently, you may not like these in-ears if you're fan of a more dynamic response, or are used to the more Beats-style high-end/low-end overemphasis. Though the AK T8iE is plenty bassy, it avoids bumping the highest pitched sounds. For example, in World Order's Machine Civilization there's a really grating whine at 11.8 and 12.4kHz that's reminiscent of metal scraping metal. Though artistically it works, listening on headphones that bump the high end can be painful. Thankfully, this range isn't terribly strong in the presence of other music.
I'll point out again that we got the best results in our labs with the memory foam tips. Because they're standard tips made by the audiophile-attested Comply, you can simply buy more if you lose or damage yours. Additionally, they provide much better isolation overall; though they didn't quite block out the jackhammer that so politely rattled the Reviewed.com offices from 8-11am this morning, the AK T8iE was able to dull its noise to an impressive degree. These are much better isolators than the vast majority of headphones.
The Bottom Line
You already know if you're buying these or not.
While we don't think many people will actually buy the T8iEs, they're absolutely a luxury item to drool over. Nobody needs a set of $1,000 in-ears, but there's something to be said for a company pushing the limits of performance like this. After all, you won't find a Ferrari at your local used car lot, but that doesn't stop you from turning your head when you see one.
And to their credit, the T8iEs don't have a sky-high price just because of their name or because somebody sprinkled meteorite dust on them. The Beyerdynamic AK T8iEs truly perform at a level that sets them apart from the rest of the market. They're technological wonders, reproducing your music beautifully and without any audible errors or shortcomings. Though their isolation probably could be improved by some flanged tips, the combination of a lightweight, well-distributed design and memory foam tips makes for a supremely posh set of earbuds.
Still, this is the real world, and spending $1,000 on a set of in-ears—no matter how cool—isn't something we can justify. As impressive as these are, there are plenty of in-ears under $200 that are nearly as good. That doesn't diminish what Beyerdynamic and Astell & Kern have accomplished, though. They're not for everyone, but you're not going to find in-ears anywhere, at any price, that quite match what the AK T8iEs provide.
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