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Beyerdynamic's Big Deal in a Tiny Package: AK T8iE Earbuds

“A tesla? What’s that?”

Beyerdynamic AK-T8iE Headphones at IFA 2015 Credit: / David Kender

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Most companies wouldn't ask $1,000 for a pair of in-ear headphones. But then most companies aren't Beyerdynamic, and there are no headphones quite like its AK T8iE earbuds.

Beyerdynamic announced three new models at IFA Berlin this week, including a pair of reference headphones and some open-backs, but it was the earbuds that really caught our attention. They feature so-called "Tesla" drivers—a technology that Beyerdynamic rolled out more than five years ago with the over-ear T1's.

David Bowie as Nicola Tesla
Credit: Touchstone Pictures

Nicola Tesla (as played by David Bowie)

In very simple terms, the magnetic driver that creates sound inside the headphones was able to achieve over one "tesla" of energy, a unit of measurement invented by... you guessed it, famed scientist Nicola Tesla. Surpassing 1T was a big step forward for Beyerdynamic. It means richer, clearer sound at a wider range of volumes.

More importantly for the brand's marketing team, it sounds cool and intriguing.

“A tesla? What’s that?”

Fast-forward five years and consumer demands have changed. People want multiple options for multiple headphones sizes, and they're willing to pay more than ever. In-ears accounted for 61% of the headphone market last year, according to research conducted by Futuresource, and prices are on the rise.

Beyerdynamic responded by shrinking the Tesla driver to 11mm—16 times smaller than the original driver—to fit inside the new AK T8iE in-ears. Thomas Halbgewachs, Head of Business Development at Beyerdynamic, said the process was very challenging.

“Extreme, extreme attention to detail, material, and assembly” is what makes these buds special.

“Extreme, extreme attention to detail, material, and assembly” is what makes these buds special, he added. And the fact that these are the first Beyerdynamic headphones manufactured entirely in Germany really says it all.

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But even with that in mind, the new AK T8iE's seem likely to stretch most budgets. Priced at $999, they’re easily one of the most expensive pairs of in-ears on the market. Earbuds also a present the unique challenge with regard to fit. If the bud sits too loose in the ear, low-frequency bass can escape. If they’re too tight, discomfort sets in. Of course, Beyerdynamic can’t send every consumer home with a fit specialist, regardless of the asking price.

Beyerdynamic AK T8iE silicone tip
Credit: / David Kender

The "Darth Vader" silicone tip has been entirely redesigned.

Halbgewachs agreed that it's a real dilemma, stating that “fit is everything.”

To that end, Beyerdynamic redesigned the silicone tip. This time around they’re ovoid rather than round, and have a flanged end. (The new black, domed look earned them the nickname “Darth Vader” among Beyerdynamic staff.) There are five sizes of silicone tips in the package, along with a pair of memory foam tips from popular third-party specialist Comply.

In-ears also tend to take a lot of abuse—they're shoved into pockets and coiled into untidy loops for storage. I myself own a fairly high-end pair of buds that have failed and been replaced twice in less than six months due to nothing more than daily wear and tear.

Beyerdynamic assured me that the AK T8iE’s were tested to exceed over 4,000 cable bends. However, I was even happier to see that these earbuds actually detach from their cord. That means if the cable fails, it's the only part that needs to be replaced. No more throwing out perfectly good earbuds.

Wearing the Beyerdynamic AK-T8iE
Credit: / David Kender

The cord loops over the ear like a studio monitor for optimal comfort and fit.

So how do they sound?

The crowded, noisy IFA show floor was no place to conduct a proper listening test, but I walked away with high hopes and surprisingly little skepticism. The buds felt extremely light, thanks in part to the way the cords wrapped around the tops of my ears to bear the weight. And from what little I could make out, they sounded crisp and bright, though the fit was too far off for me to hear the bass properly.

There are all sort of specs and details available for audiophiles to pore over at Beyerdynamic’s website, so we won't recount them here. But rest assured, we’ll have them in the labs for in-depth testing soon.

For his part, Halbgewachs seems convinced the company has a winner on its hands. “We believe these are maybe the best in-ear headphones,” he told me. For $1,000, they’d better be.

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