Gramophone Dreams #45: T+A Solitaire P headphones & HA 200 DAC-headphone amplifier

What I categorize as mainstream, dealer-based, fancy-pants streamers and big-speakers audio is actually only the gold-plated tip of a gigantic asteroid-like monolith that extends (underground) from New York to Hong Kong, from the Arctic Circle to Antarctica.

This immense audio-social mass is mostly invisible to the Madison Avenue mainstream, but simple Google searches expose millions of proletarian audio-gear constructers (DIY'ers) working in shops, basements, and garages, scratch-building everything from turntables to tonearms to phono cartridges, to capacitors and vacuum tubes, to amplifiers, headphones, ribbon and electrostatic speakers.

Other Google searches turn over massive intergalactic rocks, exposing worlds teeming with triode-tube tribesmen, DAC-chip hoarders, FET collectors, ham-fest stalkers, OTL activists, irradiated flat-earthers, horn-speaker engineering societies, Klipschorn cults, Western Electric worshippers, Altec-ology converts, Harbeth clubs, PrimaLuna tube-rollers, Japanese receiver restorers, and transformer-winder guilds.

One really large group that was once, not long ago, invisible to the dealer-based mainstream has emerged from student dorm rooms to small gatherings in VFW halls and on to big-city Hotel CanJams and full suites at international audio shows: headphone devotees.

Today's headphone devotees come in all types, from long-coated cyberpunk hackers to nerdy teens to retired sun-belters to remastering engineers and on to big-banking mahogany-desked CEOs. They all share a common desire for sound signals entering their brain directly, in their purest forms.

One consequence of so many headphone aficionados entering the mainstream is the increasing numbers of traditional power-amp manufacturers now selling dedicated headphone amplifiers. Pass Labs, Krell, Rogue, Bryston, Quad, Benchmark, Manley Labs, Naim, Cary, and PS Audio come easily to mind.

More recently, a slew of traditional loudspeaker manufacturers including Focal, Quad, Bowers & Wilkins, Klipsch, and KEF have put their brand on new luxury headphones. One of the latest and (to me) most interesting of these manufacturing excursions is venerated German amplifier and loudspeaker manufacturer T+A Elektroakustik (footnote 1). Their first headphone products—the new Solitaire P "magnetostat" (planar-magnetic) open-back headphone ($6400) and HA 200 DAC/headphone amplifier ($8999)—enter the mainstream audio market at its gold-tipped peak.

Theorie und Anwendung
James Shannon of T+A's export sales/marketing team explained to me via email:

"T+A was founded in 1978 and is still directed by its CEO-founder, Siggi Amft. Siggi has created the core directions of the company, and his wife Editha has managed the finances since the beginning. The Amfts have one son, Conradin Amft, who has followed his father's educational path in engineering and added a Master's Degree in Business with the goal of being groomed to lead T+A in the coming years. Conradin (now serving as Marketing Director) has already shown that he can bring the interests and concerns of the next generation of music lovers to T+A products.


"As one example, Conradin was the motivation for T+A's very early embrace of streaming audio, now in our fourth generation of T+A streaming technology. Conradin also provided the impetus for the several-year development project that brought the Solitaire P and HA 200 into being. He recognized that the new generation of music lovers are finding more interest in very high-performance headphones and associated products.

"T+A evolved from a single, modest building to today's three-building campus, with approximately 100 full-time employees including one of high-end audio's most serious engineering teams, which includes full-time, graduate-level engineers with expertise in analog design, circuit board design, mechanical design, digital processing, software design, and speaker/driver design—a full-time engineering team of 13 inhouse engineers (and a few external consulting experts), all managed and directed by Lothar Wiemann."


In pricing their Solitaire P at $6400, T+A has pitted it against leading-edge products from HiFiMan (Susvara), Audeze (LCD-4), JPS Labs (Abyss AB-1266 Phi TC), Focal (Utopia), RAAL (RAAL-requisite SR1a), ZMF (Vérité), and Stax (SR-009S).

The probability of a new-from-scratch headphone standing out in a crowd like that is slim. Nevertheless, my initial auditions suggested that the 80 ohm impedance 101dB/V (92dB/mW)–sensitive Solitaire P's are definitely in the best-of-the-best headphone game.

Solitaire P headphones
The Solitaire P's are intriguing because they are not designed from an OEM's "menu" and manufactured in China. T+A's first headphone is engineered and manufactured in-house, in Herford, Germany.

T+A's Solitaire P headphone incorporates a relatively large, oval planar-magnet diaphragm made of "structurally stable High-Tech polymer," which their website says is only a "few µm thick." This diaphragm "bears an array of very light conductors—also only µm thick—which are applied in a sophisticated, highly precise photo-chemical process." The Solitaire P's specs indicate that the transducer is linear out to 54kHz and capable of 120dB peak SPLs. Remarkably, T+A specifies distortion as <0.015% @ 100dB. Impedance is specified as 80 ohms with a sensitivity of 92dB/mW.


The Solitaire P's activating magnet structure, which is situated on the outside plane only (that is, the magnet assembly drives the diaphragm from behind as it faces the ear), consists of a grid of strategically arranged, aerodynamically profiled, "Toblerone-shaped" neodymium magnet rods. "These magnets are held in a precise, accurately manufactured mount which guarantees the positioning of the magnetic poles to an accuracy of a few hundredths of a millimeter," says the T+A website.

The Solitaire P's adjustable headband is made of thin stainless steel, while the yokes and cups are machined from a single block of aluminum. The foam headband and earcup pads are covered with synthetic leather and brushed microfiber suede.

The Solitaire P's come with two 3m silver-plated OFC copper cables. One uses a standard ¼" plug; the other features a balanced (four-conductor) 4.4mm Pentaconn plug. (4-pin XLR is optional.)

UWE earpads
As I began my review, Jim Shannon reminded me, "While the initial design of the Solitaire P was intended to generate the most accurate and linear response for each listener, our design team realized that some headphone listeners prefer a sound that is a bit brighter and more detailed. For this reason, we have created an alternative set of headphone pads (which we call the UWE earpads) that elevate the high frequencies just enough to add sparkle and detail for those who prefer that type of sound." The UWE earpads come in their own fancy separate box with glossy printed instructions including a link to a video demonstrating how to remove and install Solitaire P earpads.


Despite the video, my first earpad switchover was tricky. But it gave me a chance to appreciate the extreme build quality of the Solitaire P. Materials, finish, and workmanship exceeded anything I've encountered, except perhaps Sennheiser's HE 1, to which it bears more than a passing resemblance. Looking inside the earcup, I noticed that the magnetostatic drivers were mounted on an oblique angle to the ear, presumably to enhance the illusion of 3-D spatiality and move the stereo imaging toward the outside front of the listener's head.

Footnote 1: T+A Elektroakustik, Planckstrasse 9-11, D 32052 Herford. Germany. Tel: +49-5221-7676-0. Web: US/Canada sales: David Schultz Tel: (207) 251-8129.

stereophileuser2020's picture

> But it gave me a chance to appreciate the extreme build quality of the Solitaire P. Materials, finish, and workmanship exceeded anything I've encountered,

This review was clearly written before the exquisite Apple AirPods Max came out. Speaking of which, will Stereophile review those headphones? Over the last two weeks, I've found them to be great.

hb72's picture

Am really glad if you enjoy Apple's new headphone.

But (as somebody who uses android & iphone on a current sony NC BT headphone) I'd be glad if Apple would accept offering only AAC in their products isn't *enough* in 2021 (wasn't in 2015). Not even close. Sony's LDAC does ca 4 times the data rate of Apple's old & trusted AAC of yore via BT, with night-and-day sonic advantages in space, texture, delicacy, etc. Not to mention industry standards such as aptX or aptX-HD which do SIGNIFICANTLY better than bare AAC.

apologies for the rant

best regards

stereophileuser2020's picture

I use headphones to listen to music. I don't use headphones to listen to codecs.

Glotz's picture

and Hannes is very insightful about the truth.

Glotz's picture

Outdoing the HPA-4 at its own game begs a listen!

Do you think any wireless OTE headphone or wireless IEM would compare? Even close?

Ortofan's picture

... SPL Phonitor xe DAC/headphone amp.

Glotz's picture


I've been curious for months! Looks like it punches well above its weight.

DaveinSM's picture

I’m sure this T+A is all really nice, well-engineered German gear, as it should be for those prices.
But every time I see the name “T+A” , I crack up a little. As an American, “T & A” has always meant something quite different as an acronym.

It doesn’t help that the styling of their gear is quite Teutonic and not sexy and curvaceous as the name might otherwise suggest.

hb72's picture

Am surprised to read slightly critical words about T+A's exterior product design. (I guess "T & A" creates different expectations, no hifi kit can ever satisfy).

I always saw T+A devices as clean & tidy and never painful to look at (which is my requirement in this regard).

Sober appearance - yes indeed, but they are extremely consistent with their product design and thus age very well i.e. not at all, and IMHO T+A's products resemble those of the old German brand "Braun", whose exterior was famously designed by (again German) Dieter Rams from whom even more famous Jony Ive (former chief designer at Apple) copied as much as he could (ok that is an opinion, possibly ever so slightly exaggerated).

here photos of a 20 year old T+A CD player:

and here a current multi-format source:

PS: the headphones indeed look over-the-top sober, and really signal .. "no-fun-zone"..

stereophileuser2020's picture

I take it that you're not American and/or you don't understand what "T+A" means in American vernacular English. If that's the case, why are you visiting and commenting on an American website?

hb72's picture

Do you mean that?

In my comment above I (audiophile since 3 decades) almost entirely focused on hifi aspects and esthetics. Think of livingroom & WAF, e.g. mixing old amp with new steamer, without stark visual contrast. Not many OEMs support that. Mind it’s an established brand name, don’t get derailed, stay focused, this is a Hi-Fi magazine.

stereophileuser2020's picture

Here is today's lecture on American-isms:

hb72's picture

Thanks for your kind service. In DaveinSM‘s posting from 2 days ago he already alluded to the other meaning with very very little room for misinterpretation by putting the abbreviation under quotes, and yes I did look it up, then.

It is amazing, how much fun can be had in a world of so many languages & abbreviations, .. ;)

Charles E Flynn's picture

latinaudio's picture

"sounded flat and dreary with the Benchmark HPA4, the HA 200 (with its 8 ohm output impedance) was even more clear, tight of bass, and well-defined in the lower octaves than the HPA4"
So the almost "perfect", noise free, s/n champion, incredible low thd Benchmark has been outdone? By HR auditions a resounding yes.
Come on, admit it: the magic is not in the numbers!

Glotz's picture

He acquits its performance.

Spend thousands more, and parts quality goes up, and the 'unmeasurables' become more audible, as it should be.

Measurements only tell us half (or 30%?) of the picture. The preamp is amazing for the money.

Herb Reichert's picture

and I agree . . .

"Spend thousands more, and parts quality goes up, and the 'unmeasurables' become more audible, as it should be."

thank you for expressing it

Ortofan's picture

... T+A uses that are alleged to be of higher quality than those used by Benchmark?
Where is the set of measurements for the T+A unit?

John Atkinson's picture
Ortofan wrote:
Where is the set of measurements for the T+A unit?

I don't routinely measure the products that are covered in the magazine's regular columns, unless there is something that is felt worth further investigation.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

JHL's picture

Never in the market but always telling you what to review and forever demanding The Measurements.

SeanS's picture

If Herb says it exceeds the performance of the Benchmark HPA4, then I am keenly interested in how it measures.

...maybe I’m asking for a full review?


Glotz's picture

Made my day.

-Jeff Glotzer

Jack L's picture

Hi Herb.

Being a tubes old schooler, I love trodes which built best sounding OTL power amps I ever auditioned. Western Electric makes the best sounding triode tubes ever, IMO.

Again, being an old schooler, serious music enjoyment at home is sitting in front of the loudspeakers, always for me. Headphones, or earbuds to be exact, for me is strictly for travelling. Light & easy.

Like when I am happy with my darling wife, do I still need & want a mistress ????????

Like it or not, not many serious music lovers, I am being one, want to enjoy music with a load topping their heads. Headphone music may sound however good to some who can afford to drop a bundle for it. It still can't touch loudspeakers performance being closest to LIVE!
I know too well as I frquent live music performances.

Besides, I don't want to be deemed anti-social by my family at home !

That's why I want to have my home sweet home upstairs & music
sweet music downstairs in my basement audio den since day one decades back when we first moved in. Not many housewives (nor their families) REALLY love music like their other halves. Headphones may be a solution but family anti-social !!!

Jack L

PS: Herb, keep on yr good work on headphonr reviews. Fully unerstood this is your job as a reviewer.

friccolodics's picture

Though Herb notes otherwise in his nice review, the HA-200 can be used as a preamp.
For that purpose, T+A offer a special adapter from the balanced XLR-4 Output to 2ch RCA.

Jack L's picture


First off, this $8,900 "preamp" does even get a gramophone input. So I don't know why Herb was assigned to reveiw this line-amp in his "Gramophone Dream" forum ???? This review, IMO, should have been published in "As we see it" or "Analogue Corner", right ??

Might be this German line-amp designers not interested in the ever growing vinylist markets !!

Back to yr suggestion using this line-amp as a balanced XLR to unbalanced signal converter, who wants to spend such big bucks simply for such conversion ?No other more affordable choice in the marketplace ??

For HDMI inputs, ARC(audio return circuit) is a $600 additional item ! What a rip-off ? FYI, my 1st generation 1K HD Sony 40" TV which I paid only $300 from Best Buy 4 years back, already got 2 HDMI inputs, with one got ARC features for home theatre audio.

Give me a break, please.

Jack L

Jim Austin's picture

First off, this $8,900 "preamp" does even get a gramophone input. So I don't know why Herb was assigned to review this line-amp in his "Gramophone Dream" forum ???? This review, IMO, should have been published in "As we see it" or "Analogue Corner", right ??

As every regular Stereophile reader knows, Herb often covers headphones in Gramophone Dreams. (He also decides what to cover in his column; it is not assigned to him.)

Michael Fremer, who writes Analog Corner, never covers headphones--it is more vinyl-centric by far than Gramophone Dreams is--and As We See It rarely covers hardware of any kind. (The one in the March issue is a rare exception.)

It's a big, wide world, with many products. If you want a headphone amplifier with a built-in phono stage, at a lower price, I'm sure you can find one. I will never understand why some consumers are hostile toward components (or their manufacturers) that don't meet their particular needs. If you don't like a product, then don't buy it.

Jim Austin, Editor

Jack L's picture


Please calm down, take a deep breath & then retread my above post in response to Mr Fricolodics.

He suggested the headphone amp can be used as a preamp as he read my post addressed to Herb to learn I never use headphones for serious music listening.

I went straignt to address to his suggestion of "preaamp", & never mentioned one word about "headphone" in my above post at all !!

So I really "can't say I follow your logic" in bringing in the subject of "headphone" which was not the subject of my post at all!

My logic as a reader of audio journals (been 2 decades if not more)
is to read something relevant to the forum category. Herbs "Gramophone Dream" logically leads me to expect reading reviews relevant to gramophones. Yet I did not read anything related to gramophone in his above review. Surely it was not my intention to challenge Herb & I only responded to Mr. Fricolodics' post to me.
FYI, I've been an electronics handyman & a classical music addict for decades. I never NEED & therefore want to finance any amp vendors as I've been design/built/upgraded audios for decades, particularly triode tube phone-linestages. I auditioned enough huge-ticketted audio amps, e.g. excellent sounding USD125,000 Auido Note Japan all triode power amp. I simply borrow their design CONCEPT to design/build my own amps.

From the circuitry design alone, I can tell whatever brandname amps would sound musically correct or not, price irrespective.
This is my design logics, backed up by my addictionn to vinyl classica music & my craze for musically correct circuitry design.

Jack L

PS: No need to buy any amps for headphones which I never use for serious music listening. Should I need such amps one day for some quality headphones as a gift. I can always build one using simple circuitry of 2 high-gain twin triodes,eg ECC83, 6922 etc. For me, it's a piece of cake !