T+A Solitaire T headphones review unit on loan from Singapore retailer Clarity Group
Here's a comparison of the T+A Solitaire T (review) vs Mark Levinson No 5909 (review). These are two high-end audiophile quality headphones priced at US $1600 and $999 respectively, and here in Singapore they are SGD 2590 and SGD 1620 and are available from Clarity Group.
The Mark Levinson No 5909 was sent to me for review a few months ago and I liked it so much I bought one. The audio quality is fantastic and I wanted to use that headphones as a reference to compare with other headphones.
These are headphones capable of producing high quality audio so it's difficult to say which is better. It's easy to hear the difference between average vs high quality audio, but when compare two high-end headphones, you're really comparing marginal gains. And as such, you may want to compare other features other than sound quality, and that's the purpose of this comparison I've written.
Both headphones score high on presentation.
The unboxing experience is something I would not describe so that you can enjoy the thrill and satisfaction of opening your box the first time.
Solitaire T's carrying has fabric exterior while ML5909's exterior feels like silicone with brushed texture. Both are designed to keep out water. I prefer Solitaire T's carrying case.
Both headphones include long and short audio cables, and USB-C to USB-C cables.
I prefer ML5909's cable because they are braided, feels nice in hand, easy to untangle and looks good. Solitaire T's cables are just your typical black cables.
ML5909 ear cups are larger and bulkier than Solitaire T's. Wearing ML5909 makes me feel like I'm wearing headsets used by aviator crew. Solitaire T's design is understated, looks better to me and does not draw attention.
Solitaire T weighs 326g and ML5909 weighs 355g. Weight difference is just 29g which is much. The ML5909 feels bulkier to wear due to the design. Both are comfortable for wearing for long periods of time.
Ear cups for the Solitaire T can turn forwards or backwards. You can remove them, turn the ear cup leather padding away and place down as shown in the photo above.
ML5909's ear cup leather padding can only turn towards you.
When I place headphones on the table, I place them with the leather padding on the table so I prefer Solitaire T's design. With ML5909, it is possible to turn the leather padding away slightly and have the edge touch the table.
The swivel part of the yoke on Solitaire T is on the exterior of the ear cup. The swivel part of the yoke on ML5909 is flushed to the exterior of the ear cup.
ML5909 use real leather and have firmer padding. Solitaire T use synthetic leather and is software.
ML5909's leather has more texture and doesn't make any sound with skin contact. Solitaire's T's leather looks more glossy and makes some sound with skin contact, e.g. leather resistance sound. Thankfully the sound is more subtle and does not sound like the Sony WH-1000XM ear cups that sound like plastic bags (no, I am not kidding).
ML5909 ear cups are larger and there's more space for your ears. The edges of my ears barely touch the inner side of ear cups.
Solitaire T's ear cups are smaller and I can feel the edges of my ears brushing the leather padding as I wear the earphones.
On the inner side of the ear cup, ML5909 has padding while you can feel the hard parts with Solitaire T. Maybe that's why ML5909 are thicker. Solitaire T's inner ear cup is angled.
I definitely prefer the leather and the larger ear cups from the ML5909.
Solitaire T has a touch sensitive pad on the right ear cup for playback controls. You can adjust volume, skip tracks, play and pause. There's also a Transparency shortcut button but that does not work effectively.
ML5909 uses physical buttons for volume control, play and pause, and Transparency.
Solitaire T has more folding parts. Both ear cups can rotated to the front or back along the vertical axis, and they can be folded in towards the headband.
ML5909's ear cup can only rotate so that the leather padding faces you (while you're wearing), and has limitation rotating the opposite side.
The extra folding mechanism doesn't actually make the carrying case much smaller than ML5909's.
If you want to store the Solitaire T without a carrying case, then yes you can fold it to make it significantly more compact.
One main downside with Solitaire T's folding mechanism is there are too many contact points where the metal parts touch each other. Hard metal edges can scratch metal surfaces. I have to be extremely careful when folding the Solitaire T so as not to scratch anything because I don't want to return the review unit with any scratches.
I'm comparing Solitaire T's High Quality Mode (no ANC) with ML5909 (no ANC)
Solitaire T's sound has slightly more airiness than ML5909.
ML5909 sounds brighter and is particularly noticeable with vocals having more clarity. As a result of the vocals being crisper, vocals also stand out slightly more and sound more centralised (as opposed to broader) Listening to bright vocals for long periods of time can lead to fatigue faster. ML5909 is not exceeding bright but still bright. Vocals on Solitaire T are slightly warmer. So it's between warmer vs crisper vocals. As for the details in the sound, both headphones deliver fantastic high-definition sound so which you prefer will come down to personal preference, and budget of course.
Solitaire T is less fatiguing for long listening sessions compared to ML5909 as the latter is brighter, and this will be especially true when listening to vocals, at least for me. There's no way to EQ ML5909's sound to have warmer vocals. For instruments and soundtracks perhaps the ML5909 is better. I personally enjoy the extra clarity with vocals on the ML5909 but I don't listen to music for extended periods of time.
Solitaire T is absolutely silent when connected and nothing is playing. ML5909 has this faint noise (electric current related?) when connected digitally with Bluetooth or cable. The difference between true silence can be heard when you connect and disconnect the cable. This faint noise isn't something that's perceptible until I had something to compare with. Or maybe it's something that developed over time, in which case I have to head to a shop to test their ML5909 against mine.
Solitaire T's sounds mostly similar with ANC, Transparency and Passive mode. ML5909 has slightly less bass with passive mode, and hence ML5909 is best used with ANC.
Solitaire T cable connection
Solitaire T has 2.5mm audio jack and USB-C port. Both deliver much louder volume compared to what you can get with Bluetooth connection.
When used with the 2.5mm audio jack, the playback touch controls will not work. Headphones do not need to be powered on.
When used with USB-C, headphones also need to be powered on, and playback touch controls work.
ML5909 cable connection
ML5909 only has USB-C port and no audio jack.
With 3.5mm to USB-C connection, playback controls do not work. Headphones do not need to be powered on. There's total silence, no faint noise, when using 3.5mm connection and nothing is playing.
With USB-C connection, headphones do not need to be powered on, and playback controls do not work. There's faint noise with USB-C connection (and with Bluetooth).
Bluetooth codecs supported by Solitaire T are SBC, AAC, aptX and aptX HD
Blueototh codes supported by ML5909 are LDAC, AAC and aptX Adaptive (compatible with older aptX and aptX HD codec but not with aptX LL)
Below 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|
Both companion apps have limited features.
ML5909's app can be used to adjust ANC, transparency, head detection and EQ. The EQ modes only have bass adjustments. As the sound is already considered bright, having treble adjustment is not necessary.
Solitaire's app can be used to adjust ANC and EQ (6 modes including flat). Hopefully T+A can update the app to include transparency adjustment because the touch sensitive button on their headphone does not work consistently.
Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) and Transparency mode
Transparency mode is also sometimes called Voice Pass where ambient noise is passed through to the headphones, bypassing passive sound isolation.
ANC and Transparency mode for Solitaire T and ML5909 are evenly match. One is not significantly better than the other.
ML5909 has Bluetooth multipoint connection for 2 devices
ML5909 can connect to two devices with Bluetooth simultaneously.
The connection will switch automatically depending on which device is playing audio. This is incredibly convenient, at least for me since I use my iPhone and iPad often.
I'm just gonna name the pros and cons that I think matter for each headphones.
Bear in mind that both are capable of producing high-res audio.
+ Sound is slightly warmer and less fatiguing for long listening sessions
+ Beautiful, understated and more compact design
+ Absolutely no electric noise
+ Built-in DAC
+ Very fast Bluetooth connection
- No LDAC
- Foldable designs has many hard contact points
- Significantly more expensive
+ Sounds brighter, has more clarity, relatively speaking
+ Better leather
+ Slightly larger ear cups more comfortable
+ Better looking cables
+ Can connect to 2 devices with Bluetooth simultaneously
+ LDAC included
+ Significantly less expensive
- Design is more bulky
- Faint noise with digital connection (Bluetooth and USB-C)
- Battery not replaceable
Which do I prefer
Mark Levinson No 5909 provides more value for money simply because you still get amazing audio quality at a much lower price point. I find ML 5909 to be more comfortable with the leather they use and the larger ear cups. And I really appreciate Bluetooth multipoint that will switch connection automatically to whichever device that's playing audio. Main downsides for ML 5909 are the bulkier design and faint hissing sound with digital connections.
Thee are just my take on these two headphones. It's best to test them yourself in person to hear the difference.
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