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On-Ear item created by plailleur, Aug 11, 2010
Pros - Very comfortable, nice minimalistic vintage design.
Cons - Treble roll off, muddy mids, mid bass bump.
I got this headphones few years ago as my first Hi-Fi Headphones. I thought they were good because they did limited edition with stone throw records, a cult alternative hip hop record label.
I was very happy with them for a few years because I never heard anything more than random earbuds and iem before. Then I found out about head fi and all the amazing stuff I got for cheap, Going back to these, I can't believe how terrible they are for 180,00euro
Sound is muddy, lack of dynamics, treble roll off, small soundstage. They are overly dark and warm, very forgiving. They scale very little and sounded the best on poor source like sansa clip or fiio m3. no real benefit of going up (like the aune m1s or something)
I'd say it's a very nice fashion item, they do look very good, even thought the matter paint is coming off over time. They feel fragile but they are not, Never broke them and use them daily for years, so +1 for the durability and comfort
Beside being marketed as DJ headphones, they are not very efficient on that matter because isolation is too low, you have to push the headphones to your ears to hear the bass/beat. You can however push the sound to very high volume and it wont be painful because of it's dark nature.
People like to make fun of Beat as trash overpriced headphones. I think AIAIAI is not that different, only the target audience is more about niche of creative hipsters than the whole mainstream youth.
I fell for it many years ago and still see a lot of facebook ads of theses.
This is a friendly warning, do not pay more than 50euros for them.
Pros - Everything
Cons - Nothing
I would just like to thank the sales girl that recommended me these after i returned my Shure 840's (THEY SUCK!!!) lol ok now for my review. I LOVE the overall clarity of these, PLUS the powerful bass. I use these babies on my FiiO E07K Portable Dac, connected thru micro usb on my Samsung Galaxy S3 playing my music on PowerAmp app ^_^ with a few tweaks of the EQ & i have these babies sounding like $1M lol playing 320kbps MP3's right now, but i can only IMAGINE how FLAC files sound BIG recommendation to all you Audiophiles & Head-Fis out there. Enjoy, i know i am
Pros - Nice design, matt black color, comfortable to wear, durable and a nice all-round sound
Cons - Heavy and long headphone cord
A very all-round headphone for me. Just the right one to take on the go or on holiday. Also as a DJ, nice noice isolation. Very durable so you don't have to wonder if it will break if you throw it in your backpack.
I'm very happy with it.
Pros - These are DJ headphones designed by DJs
Cons - None... unless you are using them as an Audiophile reference or a consumer headphone
Today, I am reviewing my old partner at work, the Aiaiai TMA-1 "DJ" headphones and I am putting an emphasis on the word DJ. There have been many good reviews on this headphone, but none has actually pointed out to their true nature as DJ headphones.
Remember from day 1, these headphones are designed by DJs for DJs, not for producers, not for general consumers, not for audiophiles. This is a pure DJ headphone, unlike the Sennheisers HD25s which caters a wider variety of professional uses like broadcasting and studio monitoring.
So what's the main difference with other professional headphone monitors? These are designed and tested for the field which means mixing and DJing in a noisy club environment, not your silent-comfy-listening room or your bedroom DJ.
Value: For an asking price of $199 for a professional equipment, it is competively priced. You get a soft carrying case, although I would love to get a hard case since moving around heavy DJ equipment is a rough job. And, something as small as a headphone bag can be thrown around. You also get a removable coiled 1.7m cable which extends to 10 feet, very good professional use. A set of replacement pads with different flavors, a synthetic leather with foam and a mixed leather pads.
Packaging is very well done, aesthetics is top notch; however, if the packaging cost you a hard case, I would rather have a hard case than a very nice box.
Audio Quality: People have them compared to ATH-M50, but that doesn't give justice to this headphone. The ATH-M50s are a proper studio headphone and the TMA-1 is a proper DJ headphone. And, if you are to compare them with a headphone of the same class, then it should be the PRO700MK2.
What is the perfect sound signature for DJing? It's dark sounding, and the TMA-1s offers you this listening experience which is very good for long listening, high volume tunes, beat-matching, and beat-counting. They aren't supposed to be as detailed as your studio monitors, as DJs we are more concerned with the pacing, the rhythm, and the beat.
Lows: are very punchy, very good for beat-counting. Mids: well-controlled, has some forwardness into them, works well with your cue-points. Highs: are distant and recessed, they are made to sound like that since we play tunes at a high volume in noisy clubs which makes them non-fatiguing for long-use.
Between the PRO700MK2s, they have softer and smoother bass, better controlled. The Audio-Technicas simply assaults your senses, they work well with electronic house. Both of them are pure breed DJ headphones, and aren't meant to be your casual bassy headphones.
Design: Although this is a DJ headphone, there is no swivelling features. Some DJs do rest their headphones on the table and pick them up with one ear. Not a problem though, most DJs rests their headphone on the table because they are heavy and big, the TMA-1s are very light and small, and it goes unnoticeable.
The band is covered with a rubbery material, it looks sleek but it can get chipped off on a very busy DJ booth. The headband is stretchable and very well-built very good for cueing with one ear even better than the HD25s.
Comfort: is top-notch. It sits well on your head, they have enough clamp, but not enough to bother you while you spin your way to your turntables. They are a bit-loose sometimes which is also good when you are monitoring the club. Although, they don't have a swiveling feature, they are comfortable with one ear cueing.
Overall: This is the first time, I have given 5 stars to all categories. For a DJ utility headphone, this is simply perfect. But, of course if you are reviewing them as an audiophile or casual listening they aren't perfect because they are not supposed to be used for non-pro use. If you want a proper audiophile headphone from Aiaiai, then simply wait for the TMA-1 Studio headphones.
While they are DJ headphones, I believe they can also fit for commute, with the dark sounding signature they are very nice for noisy environments and long commute hours. But, for casual listening in a very cozy and silent room, you would definitely pick out the faults on this headphone. So let's just keep it that way.
If you want to audition or buy these headphones, then you should listen to them in a place that is very noisy, you'll will experience the true value of these headphones and why they were designed to sound that way.
Update: Had to deduct one star with the design, it's been just over a year and the pegs which holds the ear cups has created a space which caused it to shake. Could've been stressed by cueing with one ear, since it doesn't have any swivel features. There were isolated cases from customers that their headband cracked, mine hasn't but when I compare them with a newer one, I notice that the band has gotten flimsy. Will let you readers know when they should break.
Pros - Just enough bass, stylish, easy to drive, removable cable
Cons - Uncomfortable after a while
As a quick overview for the reader who wants it over and done with in a sentence:
These made me love on-ear headphones again.
Firstly, they look really stylish in the fact that they're not tatted with "Aiaiai TMA-1" logos everywhere. The only branding on it is on the cable terminals, and the inside of the headband. I actually love how they look in the mirror, even with me and my big afro. They have a nice matte finish too, so you're not gonna be getting a problem with fingerprints, and if they get wet a quick wipe to get rid of the splashes will make sure it dries off uniformly and looks good.
As well as that, they isolate pretty well for the clamping force that they semi-don't have. I use them on the underground (the subway to any friends from the US) and when I have these at volume I don't notice too much of the outside noise. The only thing I'd say about using them day to day is that with the leather pads on (which IMO give you the better sound) you do get a little bit of an earmuff effect, and after a while it can get a bit uncomfortable around the ear. However, they are on-ear headphones, and compared to many others I've tried, they're very comfortable. With the synthetic pads on, you don't get this as bad, although you do lose a bit of the noise isolation.
Now for the sound, which is what made me fall in love with them. The thing about these is that they're quite a dark headphone, so if you want that brighter, more detailed sound then these might not be for you (unless you want to EQ it in.) These do, however, perform very well in the high and midrange I feel, bringing the subtleties to a lot of my tracks back in, even at lower bitrates (my crappy 96kbps files still sound great!). A lot of the guitar string sounds from some of my acoustic music is brought back in, with a lot of the drum kit sounds finally brought to my ears after at least two or so years.
Where these really come into their own is in their bass. No matter if you listen to tracks like "We Swarm" by The Glitch Mob, where you get the electronic kick drum vibrating the earcups, to new-school rap tracks like Drake's "We'll Be Fine" with it's dominating bass line, and everything inbetween, these will give you the bass like it was meant to be. Either punchy, smooth, or punchy and smooth! I genuinely listened to a track on these and then realised it was actually multiple long bass beats rather than one continuous one. It really has some accuracy in this realm which I find is quite rare. Just remember, if you put these into a laptop and push the volume up on bass heavy tracks, be ready for a free ear massage.
Quick note before I go on, the volume these things can reach is amazing, to the point you can actually hurt yourself trying to find a limit. (I nearly did by accident while stress testing them) They can go to the point that they perform like loudspeakers, and them come back and still sound exactly as you left them which is a great compliment to the quality of the drivers in these.
In terms of performance from a phone, iPod and so on rather than a laptop/computer, they do quite well, although I find that at lower volumes on portables they don't sound as good as I'd expect. There's no real absolute need to amp them, and I wouldn't suggest you jump straight in. I'd try for a week or so without an amp, and then judge from that. I just use my Mini^3 amp because I can.
As a summary, they're brilliant on-ear headphones, with a nice sound for pretty much anything you can think of with a bassline. They're also quite compact which is great if you want to take them out and about, and even come with a mic cable for the talkative. The only gripe with them is that they have the classic on-ear comfort problem, but that isn't something that takes away too much from the general experience.
Pros - Amazing sound quality (tight bass and great spectrum), low fatigue, low impedance
Cons - Bit tight on small ears (but not bad)
Well engineered with love and care for great sound quality any audiophile will attest to. They are slightly tight on small ears but that is as it should be because these are meant for DJ's who might jostle them around a bit (they don't stay super tight after a week or so but don't loosen up either). I haven't tried any of the earpads that don't come in the (remarkably classy) box. Also includes a replaceable cable for those who want something better than the already top of the line gold coated cable, although this makes it very easy to replace if put under habitual stress (many headphones are much more tedious to repair). I would suggest to anyone who can afford the price to get these headphones. Whether it be for recreation, studio monitoring, or performance these headphones have you covered.
Pros - Durability, Clear engaging sound, Good features, Comfortable, Nice looks
Cons - recessed highs, foam pads, coiled cable, not good on all genres.
~some TMA-1 eye candy~
I am not a regular at headfi but I took the time to write this review. Before purchasing these headphones I had a very hard decision to make and that was between the Sennheiser HD25-1 ii, Audio-Technica ATH M50, and the TMA-1s. I like the fact that the HD25 are so roughed and every part is user replaceable. Being a new company and the TMA-1 just being released a year ago there was not much feedback on the durability of them so I was really skeptical. I had for a very short time the Audio Technica ATHM50s and loved their crisp sound but sadly they were not mine so I had to return them to my friend. I finally made the decision to go with the HD25s and I was really excited for them to come but unfortunately they never arrived so I was faced with the decision again between these three headphones, long story short I took the chance and decided to go with TMA-1 and I am really glad I did.
When the TMA-1s arrived I was greeted with a very flashy sturdy box, from what I can tell the AIAIAI team really wanted to wow the customers with a very attractive box, I am not a fan of flashiness and I think that when a company spends more time with advertising and flashy packaging (for example Beats by Dre ) then the product might be more hype than content. Sliding of the box top I was surprised as to how well the headphones where protected, there was an overwhelming amount of padding which only made me think that either these headphones are either really fragile or AIAIAI takes extra care of their products, thankfully it was the latter of the two. Inside came a very long coiled cable with detachable ¼ inch plug, an extra set of ear pads, and finally a very soft carrying bag.
First of all when I first held these headphones I felt my 200 dollars. The headphones felt light, sturdy, and very soft to the touch due to the rubber coating. The pads that come with the headphones are among the softest fake leather pads I have felt, not quite velour pads but amazingly soft. I think AIAIAI is in many ways is very generous with these headphones, the carrying bag is very nice and they were generous enough to include extra pads that quite plainly suck but at least they are included. The cable is very thick and heavy duty, but it is coiled so although it’s perfect for desktop and DJ use, it makes it a huge hassle if you are planning to make use it as a portable headphone. The headphones are ingenious in design. Replacing the ear pads is very convenient and just pop off with a little tugging. The headband is versatile and comfy; it’s made on a very strong nylon material which allows it to bend into extreme shapes and then springing back to its original shape. The headband has a rubber underside which is not the typical foam padding I’m used to seeing on a headband but it is surprisingly comfortable. I can wear these headphones for hours on end, never clamping on my head and still staying firm on my head; the headband really conforms to your head type. They honestly feel like I strapped pillows around my noggin!
I was very impressed with the build quality; the headphones are rock solid and best of all no screws or joints that may be broken, honestly very impressed by it. To see if they were indeed as tough as they look, i took them outside to see how they preformed out in the real world. First real test was done by my friends who tried to literally break by headphones by bending the headband as much as they could. Even with my friends twisting and pulling at the headband it still returned to its original shape like nothing had happened. Seeing as the headband was a strong point and that on other headphones its either the headband or the wires that break, I am confident in saying that these will last a lifetime. As for the wire, it is replaceable as I have come to expect from any high-end headgear. The wire that came with the headphones is very thick and the contacts are gold plated so AIAIAI did not cheap out on it. The headphones do have exposed wires but they are not on the outside but rather nicely protected by the headband, AIAIAI put their mind the whole way when producing these headphones. One gripe that I have to say is that the rubber coating, even thought it protects the headphones very well, it will rub off from heavy usage. When my friends bended the headband the only thing that failed was the rubber coating which cracked under pressure. It is not a bad look when the rubber paint is off, I would say it is a finer and much smoother material under the rubber paint than the HD25s. I got real upset when the paint chipped off, enough so that I called AIAIAI to replace my headphones and they were happy to do so . The rubber coating is not that bad to the point where it will just chip off from a little bump, quite the opposite; they protect the headphones very well, with minor scratches the rubber coating performs magically. If a minor scratch appears on the paint it is completely gone the second you clean it with a damp cloth. I believe that the name Tycho Magnetic Anomaly-1 fits these headphones perfectly, from its simplistic black finish to its supreme durability you can’t complain.
~Test set up: for sound test I used my soundcard which is set to the highest sound quality possible, 24bit 192000Hz(studio quality)with 192kbps MP3, 320kbps MP3 , FLAC , and ALAC files. All these types of files were used to test in music quality on these headphones. For movie and gaming proposes DTS bass enhancement was used. For portable use an iPod nano was used.
Seeing as these headphones are marketed as DJ cans I came to expect these headphones to be bass oriented and to drown out the mids and detail, I also did not expect there to be any sound stage at all, reason being is that these are portable closed back headphones. Fortunately my predictions were not true. The first thing I noticed listening to the TMA-1s was that the sound is dark and rich. The highs being recessed quite a bit. I found that these headphones were not super balanced, that is not to say that they are unbalanced, they are just a bit more on the warm side. I decided to play a few tracks to see how well they performed on a flat equalizer setting; this is what I found out : The bass is not overpowered and it is nice and pronounced all I can say is that it is outstanding. The extension of the bass is amazing, I really felt mesmerized by the deep and detailed lows that the TMA-1 could produce, by far the nicest bass response I have ever heard on portable headphone. The mids are just as responsive as the bass; they are detailed, crisp, and forward. Mids compliment the low and high notes really well, I was able to hear details that I had never heard before outstandingly clear. Overall I am impressed with how the mids are represented I have listened to many headphones that completely avoid the mids and I am very glad the TMAs don’t skimp on that area. One thing that lacked on the headphones are the highs. I am not totally turned off by the highs but they are not as present as I would have liked, this is the main factor as to why the sound may not be as balanced as other portable headphones like the HD25. The highs are present but they are a bit recessed, if you are listening to acoustic music or high vocals you may be disappointed. Of course I am only hearing this with a flat EQ, if you adjust the EQ slightly to emphasize the treble a bit more; they sound very good but still lacks that wow factor in the highs. In terms of soundstage, there is nothing here to impress anyone but there is more soundstage than I expected from a closed back. I would say that the soundstage is great when gaming but not as airy as an open back headphone. If you are looking for a good gaming headphone the TMAs are not your best choice. Instrument separation is top notch here, nothing seems congested and overlapped. Jazz on these headphones is very fun and each instrument is represented perfectly, just as some orchestral music is in terms of instrument separation. One thing to note is that the TMAs are not your do it all headphone. The TMAs do sound better in some genres than on others although I would not say that those genres sound completely off and un-listenable. Genres that sound great on the TMA-1s are: electronica, dubstep, dance, instrumental, metal, hip hop, rap, rock, alternative, jazz. Not as great genres are: folk, acoustic, female vocals, orchestra. As for isolation I took these on my ride from work to home. I have to ride the subway and these headphones do a decent job of isolating although I had to turn them up louder about 3/5 of the way up, I’m not saying that they don't isolate well enough it’s just that the subway is a very loud place to be in and not many headphones are capable of isolating in those conditions. Walking in general is very quiet, the headphones manage to block out as much as the outside world as my IEMs, I'm sure there are better headphones that block out more but if you are walking out into the streets you might want some of that noise to get in so you are aware of your surroundings.
These headphones are a godsend for portable use. Light, comfortable, and small so you won’t look like an idiot with huge cans on. AIAIAI was able to achieve great efficient headphones. The TMA-1s use a driver that is 32 ohms Ω± 40mm, this is by no means a Tesla driver but for the low amount of power it uses to achieve its amazing sound signature it is quite extraordinary. These headphones can get loud without any distortion. AIAIAI knew what they were doing when they decided to build these DJ cans. They knew that they needed and efficient driver to make these headphones loud enough for DJs to properly utilize them under extremely noisy areas. No portable amp need here. From the IPod output there is a slight hiss because of the bad audio output that the IPod has. With a DAC like the E7 this would be easily fixed, without a DAC it sounds fine once the volume is turned up. The only bad thing about it is that the cable is so annoying to carry, but this can be easily exchanged with a straight cable.
For a relatively new company, AIAIAI has poured their heart and soul into the TMA-1, the headphones are nothing short of amazing. Its sound signature is fun and engaging , its design timeless and sure to be a classic, its features refined and refreshing, and its price point makes it a true value. Sure it may have its short comings like its limited highs, preference for some genres, and terrible accessories; yet there are too many pros to dismiss that these headphones are a force to be reckoned with.
Pros - Design, bass, speed, resolution, portability, comfort
Cons - Highs, cold sound, not an allrounder.
I got an incredible deal on the headphones and had to try them. I was looking for a pair of closed cans with a detachable cord that would be my goto cans for my commute to and from school.
Aiaiai's brand is among my circle of friends.
The story of dj's participating in the design process and the fact that the company is located in my home town and has a cool profile made my friends jump all over it. I was actually put off by the tie in with dj's as most dj's are half deaf. listening to the headphones I was initially underwhelmed and felt the people who bought the can had to be half deaf themselves to enjoy a can without any treble.
Studying the reviews (esp the eqíng advice) and getting a hell of a deal on the headphones prompted me to jump on them.
TMA-1 for the DJ.
The reason Aiaiai choose to make the TMA-1 so dark was to make them a better tool for minimal techno dj's. Most of their music is produced with pretty pronounced highs and hours of dj'ing a high volume will fatigue and then kill your ears.The TMA-1 solves this by attenuating the highs.
The coiled wire works well for dj'ing also and the detachable cable makes for a good breakaway mechanism in case the wire is caught on something.
Personally I would perfer the HD 25-1 II as they are more secure on the head and I need a more neutral presentation of the music in order to EQ correctly.
The TMA-1 one has a dark sound to them, but that doesn't mean the highs a re bad. After eq'ing very precise and fast highs are revealed. The sound reminds me of the highs found in KRK's Rokit line of studio monitors. Fast, punchy and energetic with high resolution and many details revealed.
Any music that is more uptempo and has an electronic music influence will sound good on these cans. Minimal house and techno sounds amazing. Classical music such as Samuel Barbers adagio for strings is not presented in an engaging fashion. There is alack of air around the strings and yo are not engaged by the music. Techno, hard hitting hip hop and the like sounds great though.
The bass in TMA-1 is amazing. Deep, precise and incredibly fast. It is not overpowering -unless the record is produced with overpowering bass. The mids are accurate, nuanced and bring out many engaging details. The highs are quite analytical but are also somewhat dead. They don't bring out the little details and the ariness you would find in DT880's or similar headphones, but the highs do work incredibly well for minimal electronic music.
EQ'ing is a must for everything but minimal techno. I personally use poweramp (android) or foobar and it works well. If you don't have access to an eq or feel it ruins the sound you should stay away from these headphones.
The earpads are detachable and I got 2 sets of pads. A semi-leather earpads set and a thinner synthetic set. The thinner set doesn't insulate sound as well as the semi leather set does and is a bit softer on the ears. The sound is very similar between the different pads. Changing the pads is very easy but I have never experienced the pads coming off accidentally.
The wire and the entire headphone is covered by a soft matte rubber coating. The coating has a very nice feel to it and greasy smudges/dust/dirt comes off very easily.
Small details like the Aiaiai logo inside the headband and on the wire provide the finishing touches to an incredibly well designed product.
Carrying bag, replacement pads, 1-7 m coiled wire.
The carrying bag is made from shiny silver nylon with yellow mesh inside + an over sized zipper. Looks great and is sufficient protection for these rugged headphones.
The wire is a pin in the ass for everyday use and i have ordered a straight 1m wire from Aiaiai for my everyday use.
I have never felt any fatigue from the sound or from wearing the headphones (neither with glasses on). They never slide around or clamp in any way. My DT 880 headphones are more comfortable, but they are not portable either.
I have used mine daily. Stuffed them in overfilled bags without the carrying bag for protection. I have handled them with greasy hands and they look like new still. I travel to and from school (1½ hour commute) always carrying the cans. They still look like new!
Whether a product is worth the investment depends on what value the consumer sees in the product.
I got my Aiaiai headphones for 100$, at the full retail price i feel the headphones for all their strengths are overpriced for some regular consumers.
For the consumer that enjoy the design they are a great find. For the person that listens to energetic electronic music they may be one the best headphones on the market for that purpose and well worth the investment.
For electronic music lovers that want a headphone that excels with electronic music and does a good, not great job with other genres, the TMA-1 is a must IMO.
Pros - Portability, Comfort, Sound (for me), Durability, Design (look amazing; replaceable parts)
Cons - If I have to complain: a little pricey, long cord, if my glasses are in just the wrong spot they hurt
*Skip the first paragraph for the actual review*
*My tastes may be very different than yours*
Alright, quick history. Went from earbuds to mediocre IEMs to PortaPros/M50s. I loved the sound portability, and comfort of the PortaPros. However, they offered no isolation. Initially, I was under-impressed by the M50s. After some burn-in they slowly grew on me. And after a DT250 pad mod they became more comfortable (but still not the most comfortable with my glasses). They were also too large for traveling and commuting (for me). Therefore, I was looking for something with competing sound and isolation, with better portability and comfort. But I did want a 'new' sound just to see what else was out there.
Now onto the AiAiAi TMA-1's. Well after reading review after review, I finally pulled the trigger. They arrived at my house and I was so excited. I immediately plugged them into my MacBook Pro. I had heard that female vocals and folk were not their strong suit, so I listened to "The Cave" by Mumford & Sons. Sounded great, more engaging than my M50s, and I was in. I was very happy with the sound. Definitely not bad, like I was afraid of. Moving on though, I played their strong suit; "Derezzed" by Daft Punk. HO. LEE. F. They got me. This was the best it had ever sounded. I just couldn't stop listening. The sound was engulfing. I kept playing other songs (both on my computer and streaming from Pandora and Grooveshark) all week. 95% of the time I kept being impressed. The 5% I wasn't, I was still really happy, just not 'engulfed'.
Another note on why the sound has been really good for me: It's really non-fatiguing. Trebles never become sibilant (although some say they are recessed, I think they're fine). I can listen for hours without my ears getting tired.
My first thought when I put them on. OUCH! Uh-oh. Did I make a mistake in thinking these were comfortable. Then as I kept them on, it slowly dissipated away and I could barely feel them. Maybe not 'clouds', but oh so vaporous. An advantage to their supra-aural design is that I can tilt my glasses on top of the cushions and they just fit. Wonderful. While working the other day, I wore them for 3 hours without realizing. Oh yeah, they definitely met my criteria. Since then I have worn them for even longer sessions. Couldn't be more satisfied.
Small package. Detachable cord. Win.
After searching and searching, several holes in my wallet, and LOTS of reading I believe (IMO) I have finally found THE pair of headphones for me. They meet (and exceed in several areas) all my requirements and expectations. I am looking forward to many years with these little wonders. YES!
Pros - Sound quality well exceeds the price of admission, responds well to EQ adjustments, scales very well with the proper equipment
Cons - Soundstage limited by closed-back design, EQ necessary to balance sound for non-DJ use
*Previously posted in the Full-Sized Headphones forum. I only recently became aware of the review section of Head-Fi.*
This is largely intended to be a review of the AiAiAi TMA-1 with using the Audio Technica ATH-M50 as a point of reference.
A forum member asked for this comparison in the main TMA-1 thread. I ordered the TMA-1 as a possible replacement for my M50 as my "banger 'phone" (i.e. a multipurpose headphone that could come along with my MacBook Pro wherever I go, use to just throw on unamped for a quick listen in the living room or bedroom, and wouldn't necessarily mind if it incurred any damage in its travels) so I figured it would be a good opportunity to put both through their paces to see what came out on top. In addition, whichever headphone I didn't prefer would be gifted to a friend, so I needed to asses their respective performance carefully to determine a conclusive "winner" in respect to my own preferences and needs.
Concerning the M50 it's a stock, straight cable, white box version. I'm the second owner of it, although it was barely used by the original. When I received it it hadn't been broken in yet and still had "boomy" bass. It was broken in with pink noise, frequency sweeps, and periodic low volume listening sessions. I would estimate that they now have in excess of 250 hours on them. The SQ is definitely more balanced and more refined from when I originally received them.
The TMA-1 was purchased new and went straight from the box to my ears. No break in has been performed apart from the head time I've put on them since they've arrived. (12/4/10) I've been using them both in my home and at work to get as much head time a possible. I will update this article should there be a post-break in sound change. All impressions below are based on use with the stock "semi-leather" pads. I have yet to try the foam pads but, based on others' impressions of them and my own experience with the semi-leathers, I don't really see the need to.
I have tried to give equal head time to both for this review, but I'll concede that I definitely gravitated to one more than the other. Also, I tried to take at least a few hours off between switching headphones to let them each shine on their own while taking notes. This was done so I didn't have to adjust to the the SQ discrepancies between the two. I did, however, spend a few hours today switching back and forth on the fly simply to reaffirm what I had written in my notes.
All unamped testing was done on the latest model Macbook Pro. For amped testing, I added an Apogee Duet running in DAC mode connected to a PPAv2 with dedicated STEPS power supply. The PPA also has variable bass boost and a Sigma Acoustics custom cable was used as the DAC-amp interconnect. iTunes was the preferred application with MP3 rips (nothing less than 256kbps and mostly 320kbps) and CDs. FLAC files were ran through Songbird. Audio output was set to 96k/24bit.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS
Frivolous? Maybe, but something should be said of the TMA-1's packaging. Whereas the M50 supplies the standard windowed cardboard box with plastic insert, AiAiAi obviously hired a team of fashion-forward graphic designers to make the buyer feel an increased sense of value. The exterior of the box contrasts standard gloss black printing with a matte finish that matches the headphones themselves. Custom cut foam holds the headphones in place and, underneath, the cable and foam pads have dedicated compartments and are labeled in the same font that appears in the outer logo. It's all very coordinated and well executed. The mesh-lined fabric zip-up bag that comes with the TMA-1 is also far superior to the pleather draw string one that comes with the M50.
Again, I own the straight cable version of the M50, so I'm unsure if there's a difference in quality between it and the coiled version. With that said, while the finish is nothing out of the ordinary on the M50 I still find it to be superior to the TMA-1's. The latter sports a grippy, almost grimy finish. In addition, while the coiled design may be welcome for DJing, it's somewhat of an inconvenience for general listening. I also think the M50's termination is more well designed. Both have a threaded 1/4" adapter, but the way the M50's clicks into place when it's fully fastened is a subtle but welcomed bit of engineering.
The design of the headphones themselves are both top-notch and obviously built durable enough to handle the stresses of professional use. While the M50 is primarily plastic, it in no way feels cheap and has no perceivable point of weakness. The headband has a bit of flexibility and the overall build is a reasonably comfortable circumaural design. It does have slightly more clamping force than ideal for my head and I can always feel that it's there, but I can enjoy it for at least a few hours before any discomfort sets in.
I have to admit, I traditionally don't like the fit of supra-aural headphones. This made picking up the TMA-1 a bit of a gamble before I ever pumped sound into them, but the reports of a "loose fit" intrigued me. I've read reports of AiAiAi changing the headband to one with more tension for the latest production release and, if this holds true, I probably received one of them. They're far from "falling off" as others reported as I can shake my head to an unnatural degree without them budging. However, their clamping force is not excessive at all. Due to the composite material the headband is made from, they have enough tension to stay put without putting any extra stress on the ears or cranium. The semi-leather pads are also extremely plush while the earcups themselves are on a bit of an axis increasing the level of comfort. They don't quite disappear the way my Sennheiser HD600 used to, but I've worn them for up to 4 hours straight without any sort of discomfort. (and have yet to experience any, for that matter) I'm wearing them on the second to smallest setting but would've preferred a setting just between that and the standard. The whole headphone is protected by a thin rubberized coating that feels very smooth and clean in contrast to the finish of the cable. It also seems to be highly protective as I've already bumped it into my coffee table and desk a few times with nary a mark. It does, however, accumulate fingerprints a bit easy, but a quick wipe on the shirt or sleeve restores them to their pristine, monolithic glory. Interestingly the unfatiguing and durable nature of the design carries over into the TMA-1's sonic principles as well...
Well, here we are. SQ. What everyone wants to know about. Most already know about the M50. It's become somewhat of the people's champion: a highly affordable but competent headphone with all genres that's easily driven and punches well above its weight. By my ears, it presents an overall balanced sound with maybe a slight emphasis on bass. The soundstage is decent for a closed headphone and it's reasonably detailed.
On first listen, the TMA-1 seemed overly dark. I believe that this may be a similar observation to what one vocal critic had to say about the overall presentation being "muffled" in the main thread. The mid range is robust and forward while the bass is emphasized and punchy. The treble, on the other hand, sounded recessed to my ears. While it's plenty detailed across the spectrum and well extended at both ends, there was definitely a sort of ceiling on the volume of the high end. Of course, these are meant to be DJ headphones, so this is obviously by design. Under their intended use, these headphones would be demanded to output at extremely loud levels. Backing off the treble is an effective way to attenuate fatigue. After about ten minutes of skipping around to various tracks, I decided to try some EQing. Now, I usually don't like to use an EQ. In my experience, more often than not putting an EQ at anything but flat creates a sort of artificially enhanced sound that kills whatever magic a headphone may be capable of delivering. I know that's not a great description, but it's sort of an indescribable X-factor. In this case, however, the TMA-1 was extremely responsive to EQing.
I basically set it to "Treble Booster" and backed it down from there until I found what my ears consider to be a (the?) "sweet spot." WOW! What a difference! Just this relatively slight EQ adjustment really made a big impact on overall tonal balance! Not only did this expose great attack in the highs that never become brittle or harsh, but it seems like the entire spectrum received in increase in overall clarity and punch with smooth mids and tight, textured, varied bass. The overall presentation is extremely robust with insanely clear details and ZERO distortion across the board... even at much higher than comfortable listening levels. It all adds up to one of the most dynamic and exciting experiences I've ever heard while being, BAR NONE, the least fatiguing headphone I've ever used! (seriously, I've gained a whole new perspective on Merzbow's catalog) With the M50, (and most other headphones I've used for that matter) it has its ways of letting you know that you're going too loud. Whether it be distortion, sibilance, or nasty peaks in the sonic spectrum, you know when to back it down. The TMA-1 challenges you to go louder. Without these obvious indicators it could be a gateway to rapid hearing loss, but after a bit of time you realize where your limits are.
Soundstage and imaging are surprising. While not at all akin to an open back can, the TMA-1 definitely has an above average soundstage for a closed-back headphone with plenty of spaciousness in terms of instrument separation. Highs, mids, and lows are all relegated to their respective homes without any noticeable blending or bleed. Instrument placement, again, is some of the best I've ever heard and, in contrary to it being non-fatiguing, the presentation is very forward. Albums like the Dodos Visiter places the vocals directly in front of you while instruments are clearly placed to either side. Porcupine Tree's Coma Devine puts you right on stage with the rest of the band. In contrast, there seems to be quite a distance to the stage through the M50... and that stage seems a lot smaller... with much cheaper amps.
Switching back and forth between both headphones reveals that the M50 sounds more bright, (in actuality maybe closer to neutral given the TMA-1's slightly warm post-EQ signature) thin, and muddy. Complex rock and metal like Caspian's Some are White Light sound brick-walled with harsh, sibilant treble and no real body to speak of. The TMA-1, however, sorts through the clutter and, despite the lack of low end, maintains its clarity and reveals the subtle nuances in the ambiance. The increased dynamics of the TMA-1 allows the dimensionality of songs with a black background like Black Milk's Bounce and edIT's Crunk de Gaulle to sound incredibly 3D and completely outclass the M50. The tightness and extremely fast decay of the TMA-1's transients allow it to nimbly cut through tracks like HECQ's Steeltoungued and Clark's Kin Griff with ease while the M50 sounds a step behind the music by comparison. Speaking of Kin Griff, it's produced louder than the average track. I accidentally clicked it while listening to a softer recording (forgot exactly what it was) and, to my surprise, despite being excessively loud I didn't jump off the couch and reach for the volume the way I had with other 'phones during similar experiences in the past. Chalk up another plus for the non-fatiguing sound!
The TMA-1 also holds up better under the challenge of having to produce results on both ends of the spectrum. The National's Conversation 16, for example, maintains its bassline throughout the duration of the chorus whereas the M50 chooses to reproduce the upper mids and highs while the bass goes through a disappearing act; sparsely presented under particular conditions. The lows on Bomb the Bass' Burn the Bunker and Mistabishi's Lean are nicely textured, varied, and extended while the M50 comes off as one-note by comparison. On the TMA-1, Blixa Bargeld's distinct vocals are produced in all their guttural glory on Einstürzende Neubauten's Zampano and the punctuations of percussive bombast are as impactful as they are listenable. The M50 adds a glossy sheen over Panda Bear's Take Pills while the TMA-1 comes off as strikingly musical and liquid. This sense of musicality carried over into the various Steve Reich compositions I demoed and, while the M50 still sounded good with it, one headphone presented the instruments as they were being played live with a lively strings and a stirring brass section. Guess which was which.
In terms of revealing recording quality, I decided to test a number of records in J.G. Thirlwell's discography for a number of reasons: it covers recording tech from 1981 to 2010, he's always been ahead of his time in terms of production quality, and I just enjoy his records a hell of a lot. So, starting with the OKFM/Spite Your Face single and Deaf I went to Nail, then Thaw, then Flow, then Love, and finally Hide. (not the entire albums but skipping through tracks of each) The less articulate sound of the M50 helped it to be the easier 'phone to listen to on the earlier recordings, but then was bested by the TMA-1 about the Thaw mark and then finally outclassed on Love and Hide. But the TMA-1 has another trick up its sleeve...
For my A-B session, I let the M50 make the first impression. As I've always experienced with them, amping gains a bit of clarity and allows them to better maintain details while strengthening the bass presence a tad. A nice improvement, but nothing that would make me get off my comfortable couch to sit on the pedestrian computer chair in my office. But then I plugged in the TMA-1. My thought process: where did my musicality go? Why do these sound so dark compared to unamped? Oh... I forgot to turn the EQ on... OH MY... WOW!!!
As good as the TMA-1 is unamped, adding my fairly modest Duet-PPAv2 setup takes them into the stratosphere! For a low impedance headphone, these scale EXTREMELY well. It's not as pronounced a difference as, say, adding an amp to an HD600, but those already great dynamics and textures are definitively kicked up a notch. Those old recordings now sound definitively cleaned up and, what was once merely listenable, is now respectable. A marked increase in soundstage leads to an increased sense of scale. All of a sudden, instead of being on stage with Steven Wilson I'm sitting front row-center. Switching to Mistabishi's White Collar Grime, (a bass test staple for me) reveals an exhilarating low end presentation with insane extension at my usual just-past-halfway variable bass setting on my PPAv2. Putting it further to the right with the M50 did very little but create distortion as the drivers hit their bass-output peak at just past that point. However, with the TMA-1 plugged in the knob just kept going... and going... and going until the cups were literally vibrating away from my ears! More impressively, THEY MAINTAINED THEIR CLARITY WITH ZERO DISTORTION! I, of course, backed it back down to my usual position, but holy cow are these drivers quality! Remember how I stated the durability of the TMA-1's physical build quality carried over into other facets of the headphone? Well, I was referring to the drivers.
The TMA-1 outputs more volume at undistorted levels and more bass than I think one could ever hope for. If Jeremy Clarkson were writing this review, I believe this would be about the point that he would exclaim "MORE POWERRRRRR!!!"
HUGE Advantage: TMA-1
I more or less purchased the TMA-1 on an intrigue-fueled whim. Being that I've never actually heard one of their headphones, I always expected AiAiAi to be a aesthetics-first manufacturer with questionable dedication to quality engineering. What I ended up with is the most exciting headphone I've heard since obtaining my first high quality headphone with my first amp ever. (namely a Headroom Portable Desktop powering an HD600... see why I referenced it twice in this article now?) It was a reminiscent feeling from the time I modified the EQ. I'm rediscovering records I've already heard countless times and am excited to seek something new.
In addition, make no mistake about the M50. It's an amazing headphone in its own right and is still, in my opinion, one of the best bangs for the buck out there. (I purchased mine for $80 all in) I would, for most purposes, recommend it over the TMA-1 to someone who does not have access to an EQ for whatever reason. The TMA-1 cost me nearly twice as much, so it should have comparably better performance. Still, for the level of enjoyment I've received thus far from the TMA-1 I would unreservedly say that I would pay much, much more than its MSRP. If AiAiAi made a consumer version of it that balances the tonality a bit and marketed it to the Beats-centric mainstream, we'd have a lot more people listening to good headphones, they would be a much richer manufacturer, and I would own another pair of cans... just because.
I was expecting to replace my recently sold Headphile ((( V4 ))) with another "main" can. After realizing how surprisingly well the TMA-1 scales to better equipment, I'm starting to think reallocating the funds to purchase a better computer chair is a better decision. Either that, or maybe I can talk the fiancee into letting me take over one of the end tables in the living room with my headphone equipment. In any case, there's probably an argument with my significant other in my future.
12/8 Update: My new happy place with obligatory headphone porn.
A bit cramped at the moment, but the 15' firewire cable I have on order will allow me to place the MacBook on my coffee table and I'll be able to do a bit of browsing whilst listening through the amp.
Despite all that this headphone has to offer, I have a strong feeling that the TMA-1 will garner somewhat of a cult following on Head-Fi with most not having any intention to listen to it and some simply rejecting its huge, colored, dynamic sound in favor of pure clinical neutrality. If you're reading this, I hope this write up encourages you to at least consider putting on a pair should you ever get the chance to do so. You could be pleasantly surprised...
*Audio Quality: half-star deducted for limited soundstage, (inherent of closed-back design) half-star deducted for the need to EQ (although this is a benefit for the intended use, this review applies only to the TMA-1's capability as an all-around listening headphone)*
*Design: half-star deducted for the cable design, half-star deducted for the ease of the finish to accrue handprints*
Edit History: Cleaned up some grammar mistakes, (sorry, I was multitasking when I wrote this) changed title to better reflect that this is primarily a TMA-1 review, added pictures.