PSB Speakers gets up close and personal with your hi-fi. We've taken our 40 years of bringing real sound to real people and packed it into our exciting new Music for You (M4U) series of high performance headphones. You're listening to music more than ever before, but now you can do it in comfort and style with PSB's true-to-nature sound quality. The latest M4U addition is the M4U 1 Over-Ear Headphone, which offers our Room Feel™ technology and the same musicality of our award-winning M4U 2 Active Noise Cancelling Headphones, but without amplification or noise cancelling. The M4U 1 brings the precise true-to-nature sound of PSB's in-room loudspeakers to affordable personal listening.
|PSB M4U 1|
PSB M4U 1
- Average User Rating:
Recent User Reviews
"Great headphone, but huge!"
Pros - Accurate, detailed, and neutral. Responds to EQ
Cons - Too damn big!
This has been called beats for audiophiles. It has great sound, is neutral and detailed, but they are glossy and fairly fashionable. In general, I like a V shape and listen to hardcore, metal, metalcore, so treble and bass add a more lively sound. This headphone does not emphasize those without an EQ. I have the DT770 and UE6000, as well. Those are ultimately better for the genres I listen to if left without EQ, but the PSB's are more detailed and can be EQ'd through Poweramp or other software.
A big plus for these (at least for me) is the replaceable cups, 2 detachable cords, and the hard case. These even come with an extra set of cups, which is awesome if you damage yours.
There is a clamp to them, but it is light. They will stay on your head at the gym, unlike the UE6000's, which have a lighter clamp and tend to slip off.
I have not heard the ATH MSR7's, but these are consistently rated higher. The only reason to look at the MSR7's is possibly that they don't look as goofy as these. These are attractive stand alone, but they are just so big.
I would also add that the DT 770's have a wider sound stage, with better musical separation. That has to do with the huge cups, I believe. These don't have that, but comparably are still damn good sounding.
Got mind on Ebay for $137. $230 new
"Great overall sound quality, but..."
Pros - Midrange purity, superb soundstage, excellent bass extension
Cons - Heavy, somewhat uncomfortable for long listening sessions
These attractive 'phones are a mixed bag for us. The bright red color is certainly distinctive. Build quality, while mostly shiny plastic, feels fairly robust. Many aspects of their sound are truly outstanding, but (and it's a fairly BIG but) they simply aren't comfortable for extended listening sessions. Since everyones' head and ear shape is obviously a bit different, as is their tolerance for discomfort, these are a pair that should be test-worn at length if possible prior to purchase in our opinion. The price point these fall within puts them up against some very serious competition from the likes of Grado, Sennheiser, AKG, Denon, Sony, and many, many others.
Now--the good stuff! Bass response in our highly-optimized system is nearly beyond reproach, with admirable pitch definition, dynamics, and extension down well into the 30hz range, which is partly due to the excellent seal of the cups against your ears, as well as the substantially-sized drivers. Sensitivity is middle-of-the-road, fairly easy to drive. Most popular portable devices shouldn't have trouble pushing the PSB's to acceptable volume levels. Moving on to the midrange I find nothing noteworthy to complain about, with the M4U1 exhibiting suitable neutrality as to not draw attention to themselves (that's a major compliment). The treble region isn't devoid of defect, but is smooth and certainly less 'tipped-up' than for example, most Grados. If you're a soundstage and imaging nut though, in our rig these had a VERY wide throw, giving that uncommon 'outside-of-your-head' sense with real instrument placement in space, along with a good sense of depth. This, to our ears, is probably their most striking trait and compares favorably, at least in that regard, with models from other manufacturers selling at much higher prices. As usual, YMMV, but these are well worth a good listen before plunking down your hard-earned dollars. If they're comfortable enough for you, then you have a definite winner.
"Fantastic balanced sound and probably Giant-Killers"
Pros - Sound Quality, design/accessories, reasonable price, good comfort
Cons - Comfort requires some break-in, smallish earpads, optimized for devices not home-listening
***Others have provided ample images / specification overviews, so my review is focused on convincing you to try these out, with some comparisons to headphones in and out of its price range.
A 5 Point Scale – 1 being Bad, 5 being Excellent / Industry leading
Design and accessories (4):
The combination of gloss plastic and metal bits are “modern” and while they are still a bit too chunky to look truly “cool”, they are a far cry from ugly. No squeaky parts or creaks out of the box, and the folding mechanism is useful. The Cables are obviously a tad budget, but they are flexible and good lengths – though the right angle connectors are clearly not for home amp use (but work just the same). The cables don’t snag at all however, a big plus, and I can move them from the L cup to the R cup if I please, a really nice feature.
The included accessories, travel case and spare pads are real nice to have at this price point, and certainly make me feel more comfortable with the idea of traveling with these if desired. Highly efficient, I wouldn’t hesitate to use them with my phone or computer – they are easier to drive than my HD-595s, which have much higher impedance swings. They play much louder on these typical devices than my HE-400s, which are nearly 10 dB less efficient. I imagine users of iPods and other dedicated players would have no trouble with the PSB M4U1’s. My Sansa Clip sounded plenty loud, though midrange sounded a tad nasal and bass and treble lacked the same presence. Ultimately, these sounded their best out of a dedicated amp - but my O2 is total overkill as the PSB's need well under 1 good mW to get real loud.
My first pair of used PSB’s arrived with a blown R channel and a lot of signs of wear and tear. The second used pair arrived with original packaging and appeared flawless (hopefully just a “didn’t like it” return), so I do hope these prove to be reliable and well made. I doubt they will leave the house much if at all, but I’ve violently dropped my other headphones and so I expect these to take some punishment too! Hopefully the 2 year warranty will not be needed. In short, an attractive, and far more “complete” package than many headphones available at similar (and much higher!) price points. Additionally, these seem very well made - I fear the internal wiring as a possible "weak point" in these, but otherwise they seem well constructed.
Fit and Comfort (4):
The most controversial part of my initial impression, I am dissenting from other reviewers to emphasize that these have become far more comfortable with daily use – to the point that I can wear them for an hour or more without any obvious pressure points or fatigue. As my first pair of closed “audiophile” cans, these seem to have relatively high clamp force – not painful, but I am aware of it. The ear pads are probably at the absolute minimum for what I would call “circumaural” – though they do measure similarly to my HE-400s and HD-595s, the former being round, the latter a more extreme oval shape. My ears are fairly small, though it seems they’ve fit fine on the heads of some kids and another adult. The memory foam feels nice, though they get warm relatively quickly. I do prefer velour 90% of the time, if only because it breaths and overall tends to be more comfortable for longer listening sessions. Memory foam is, as a general rule, hard and cold in the winter and smooshy and hot in the summer, so it would be nice to see manufacturers pursue better, more consistent materials. I swivel the cups around to spread the pad pressure better (they don't seem to "self-adjust"), and have had no issue maintaining a good “seal”.
Cup depth seems to be minimal as well, placing the drivers close or against my ears, and I believe that is what causes me some listening fatigue. That or perhaps the sound pressure of having such a tight seal and small cavity, I am not quite sure which. As I have gotten more used to these, that issue has relaxed somewhat. My HE-400s have never been ideal – the velour pads are hard, and the headband creates a pressure point on my head (I feel the headband bearing more of the weight, and the clamp force is lighter by comparison after having bent it a tad). But the pads have always been of a good depth and the seal has tended to not be a problem. The HD595s are superior in all comfort respects, soft velour pads with slightly more generous clearances, and light weight that never really fatigues in my experience. They are, however, more sensitive to placement – the sound can shift a bit depending on their position. Were the PSBs lighter, and if they used velour pads, I am sure they would become more comparable to the Sennheisers.
After a longer listening session, I am typically breaking the seal of the PSBs or trying to slightly shift the “racetrack” pads around looking for a little relief, but once these are on there is not really “wiggle room” so while they feel secure they also come across to me as slightly claustrophobic – they just never truly disappear. I think it would be helpful if the “gyro-scoping” cups were a bit looser, to make finding the right angle easier.
As I am used to open-backed headphones, the added isolation is somewhat new. I would find it dangerous for outdoor listening (one should be able to hear what is coming at them, SQ be damned). I do like the way it almost kills the sound of the fan blowing on me and computer whirring, however, for quieter listening sessions. Low-tech noise canceling is certainly a nice thing for home use. But while I can listen and converse with my open-backed cans on, I can’t do that with these. Not a big deal, but a point to make.
Sound Quality (5):
Without question the sound quality of these phones is probably the finest I have ever heard. I assumed I wouldn’t like the “warmth” of the NAD HP50s (slight tilt toward the bass and smoother treble), or the higher price and tight fit of the Focals which are similar to these, and I think I made the right choice. These headphones can really punch, are extremely detailed, and possess the best upper midrange / treble I’ve heard on a pair of headphones, hands down. The basic character of the headphones seems to hold at very high / painful volumes, not something I can say about all the headphones I’ve tried. That suggests to me very high sound quality with good dynamic range and low-distortion.
I made my assessment in a number of ways, jumping from Tablet / Phone devices to my O2/ODAC setup, and running all manner of music from Pandora to Spotify, to High-Quality Mp3, FLAC, and CDs. I never used any EQ. Typically once I “get to know” a headphone’s sound, I might EQ them to render out any problem areas I feel I’ve found or to just suit my mood. I should be clear in noting that, while these sounded very good out of my Phone (currently a Lumia 640), and a Nexus 7 Tablet, in comparison to my O2/ODAC, both devices took on a slightly more mid-centric sound – I think bass punch and treble extension were both dampened by the “inferior” electronics (quite true of many headphones, I would add). The sound quality of the PSBs would likely seem less sublimely “balanced” or impressive to the casual observer if only heard ONLY in this way. If you are not using a good amp with your pricier headphones, know that you are likely missing out on the best sound they have to offer. Modern devices sound great in my experience, but they still lack that extra bit of amplification quality that can be had relatively inexpensively. The “easy to drive” flat and low-impedance of the PSB’s is, unfortunately, not a guarantee that they will sound optimal with today’s typical devices. But in a pinch, these have a far more valid claim to being "efficient" than the HE-400s, which are only adequate on the same devices.
To describe sound quality I will mention a few albums here and there, but my collection is large, and I won’t bother commenting on all of it except where I felt it might be worthwhile. Suffice to say, I didn’t find a genre that the PSB’s couldn’t do justice – these would be a first choice for classical, and they work great with jazz as well (a usual first test for detecting flawed speakers). Modern recordings sound punchy and energetic, without tending toward harshness, and these headphones can “party” with the best of them. With their inherit balance they won’t “hype” the sound any further than it may have been hyped at the recording level. If you are new to headphonia, understand that this is a very good thing in the long-run. I’ve not felt an urge to do anything other than boost the bass from time to time, which straddles the “lean/perfect” line for me on occasion and recording-depending. Then I find myself listening to them again and wondering why I would change anything – they are that good.
The headphones may be “closed”, but the sound is not. Call it PSB’s “roomfeel” if you want, but certainly these impart a sense of depth and space that is just lovely. Gorgeous treble pours forth from these with refreshing ease, cymbals finally splash instead of “tsst” to my ears, and the sense of depth and air is fantastic and permeates the bass, midrange, and treble. Insofar as a headphone can do it, these sound very “open” to me, with good channel separation and a fairly wide stage. The midrange called attention to itself immediately, with gorgeous vocals in particular grabbing my ears. Lead singers and their backups were clearly delineated with a light “airiness” between them. The quality of the midrange has helped me to once again peer into my old music collection marveling at all the “new sounds” I can hear. It is a very seductive midrange to my ears reminiscent of my Pioneer Andrew Jones speakers. The treble adds to the listening experience rather than sizzling or disappearing behind upper-midrange heat. The balance here is always smooth and detailed, and the PSB’s certainly come far closer to sounding like an “ideal” full-range speaker to my ears. I’d make a small note that crowd clapping, a sound I felt only my HE-400s really resolved in Bill Bruford’s Earthworks The Sound of Surprise album, was convincing on the PSBs. Sounds moot, perhaps, but that is a big testament to the resolving power of these headphones –not many I’ve heard sound like something other than static. I could almost count the hands, and heard exactly what they were yelling. Yup, I think they actually beat the planars on that note, having the resolution, neutrality, and probably speed to flesh it out.
Bass is excellent in all respects that matter (texture, punch, tone, extension), but I still felt it was a bit of a sticking point. While these punch great when the recording calls for it, and they have obvious extension, I’m not 100% sure I’m in love. I hear excellent tone and good texture, particularly with some Jazz music I tried (indeed these rival the HE-400s which are Jazz masters in some respects). “They hit all the notes” to borrow from a guy named Moe who was an audio genius when I was a kid. While no headphone has ever sounded like a “real speaker in a real room” to me, the HE-400s do, in my opinion, generate a more convincing “sub bass” feel, particularly on electronic music. Perhaps the combination of a great sound with the tacit feel is what is missing in the final equation for all headphones. Don’t get me wrong, the bass of the PSB M4U1 is excellent, and well balanced with the quantity of bass probably right on the money for my tastes, but planars just seem to do it better –a little more punch and a tad more convincing in the regions below 60 hz or so. Perhaps a larger driver would improve on this comparison (40mm is large, but sometimes there is no replacement for displacement). As part of the big picture, however, I find little complaint here, it is a simple fact that my planars reach another level of bass quality.
My recent adoration for Joss Stone’s Water for Your Soul shined on the PSB’s – they peered into the recording in a way the HE-400s and HD-595s could not. From the opening moments of the intro track “Love Me” the balanced presentation struck me as providing a relaxed and yet finely detailed performance. While the bass punch, texture and extension place these ahead of the HD-595s, they lack that last bit of refinement that I feel I hear with the HE-400s. But where the HE-400s come across as a bit “dark”, the more balanced presentation of the PSBs provided, to me, a more exciting and informative top end – the HE-400s notorious “treble peak” was clearly a few dB too high, while the PSBs rendered instruments and backup vocals more faithfully without coming off as “hot” in comparison.
The HD-595s deliver, to their credit, a very similar sound, but the same sense of detail and “depth” in the recordings was ultimately not there, and they lack the same detailed and fleshed out treble. Both the bass and treble sounded rolled off, and Joss’s vocals were to larger extent blended with the backup singers. It is a “forward” sound without the richness, resolution or added texture of the PSBs. The 595s ultimately did not deliver the same ultimate clarity, punch, textures, of depth. But the sound is still a comfortable one, and I can still listen to these for hours. It is just that the Senn’s simply never truly “come alive” like the PSB or HE-400, the term I might use is a bit of a “papery” sound in back-to-back comparison. If this is what “listening comfort” is, I suppose I’d rather suffer some fatigue than settle for a less engaged sound.
“Love me” on the HE-400s had a rich and textured bass line. Vocals were better than the 595s, but the slightly pumped “tsst” treble was distracting – clearly a few clicks too high, and vocals were well resolved but a tad flat sounding. If the PSB sound like a “good room”, the HE-400 sounded like a “dead room” – any sense of air or “reverb” is suppressed. They continue to deliver on the Bass with a good “punch” and similar, if not more convincing extension. “Space” and “air” are not on display, despite being open-backed. I should note that I did my listening with velour pads, which are better than the stock pleather by far, but did not EQ, which typically improves on the sound of these meaningfully – bringing the treble into better balance.
While the PSB’s revealed a bit of the over-hot “hisses” and “clips” of some albums, like on Norah Jones’ Little Broken Hearts, it was ultimately a tad more forgiving than the HE-400s while less forgiving than the Sennheisers. It was here that I wondered if the Oppo PM3s, being very similar to these but using a planar driver, might add the last bit of resolution that the PSB’s seem to not quite achieve. Had I not already invested $400 in the HE-400s, I am certain those would probably add resolution to the balanced performance of the PSB’s that would be simply gorgeous.
Lana Del Rey’s newest CD Honeymoon was not an enjoyable first listen in my car (component Polks + a JL/Audiomobile subwoofer system). While her vocals were on full display, they seemed to hang high above the orchestral and mixed beats, with a preference for reverb/resonance largely “muddying” the sound on my imperfect component set. Pacing was slow and while I never get tired of her voice, the album as a whole seemed oh-so-boring. Not being one to let my first impressions rule, I looked forward to listening to it on my PSBs, and on my (as of 9/20/2015) sorbathane-modded HE-400s. The album became a rich and intimate experience. Something about the “balance” of the album seems off, the musical arrangements pushed ever so slightly too far below Lana’s vocals, or maybe the bass lines are too “stretched out” and slow, making the pacing unusual for a “pop” album. But despite the sorbathane curing the HE-400s of their glare and resonance problems (which add fatigue and a sense of “clutter” particularly to the midrange), it is on the PSBs that I feel I had the best moments with the new album.
Where the HE-400s now sound like they run out of steam in the treble, the PSBs resolved it all, and proved once again that Lana is more than just another pop princess, she is a real talent. The whole album is in many ways a more consistent ride than her previous works – I can enjoy every track over and over. I’ve been on a hip-hop kick lately also, and aside from commenting on mastering quality / bass quantity, I find that the PSBs make it a smidge easier to actually follow the lyrics. Bass “slam” is largely a wash, though I can make the HE-400s have a much fatter bass sound with a slight boost in the 50 hz area. Both phones are great, but probably a tad lean sounding to those who might ONLY listen to hip-hop / dub-step, and other bass heavy genres. But to sum up, I can't find much fault with the PSBs, at all. They are sublimely balanced but not boring at all, on the contrary, they are extremely satisfying. It would seem that only a planar driver or perhaps a slightly better damped ear cup could take the sound to a higher level. But even then, do we want resolution and the recording blemishes that will probably go with it?
Movies and Gaming (4):
Movies certainly sounded great on these, as expected. The main issue being a question as to whether I could wear the headphones for 2 hours or longer, and I think not really. But then again I would tend to use headphones only as a last resort, or if using a device. The Winter Soldier has a great scene where Cap America single-handedly wipes out a boat full of hostage-taking terrorists. I heard things I’d missed before, like the sound of his shield clanging when he rolled on the boat deck. Details like that make me appreciate the thought that goes into movies. That ability to really hear deeply into the sound effects is interesting, as with movies the visual feast is usually my focus as a passive snacking spectator.
Typically any headphone that renders music very well is going to handle games just fine – and certainly I find these to work very well – I could pick out the Nazis in the distance with ease and dispatch with extreme prejudice. But given that movies and music tend to have higher dynamic range than “pop” music, you will find yourself twisting the volume dial quite a bit more. In fact, this is a reason why movies and games, along with classical music, tend to benefit the most from big amps with plenty of “headroom” – the volume swings essentially require it. I should note that while the “neutral” sound of the PSBs works great for gaming and movies, I found myself fondly remembering my HD-485s, which had a much bloomier bass that was lousy for music but always sounded awesome with films and games. A few more dB of bass would make the PSBs a better match for the hyped sound of modern games and action movies. Mainly, I can’t give them a “5” in this respect as having better comfort would go a long way to making them a great companion for today’s 2+ hour movies.
Conclusion: So Close to Perfect (17 / 20 = 85 = B)
What I don’t like about these phones has nothing to do with SQ and everything to do with my suspicions about comfort and build quality issues. Having gotten more comfortable with wear, I must ding the PSBs for being a little imperfect in that sense. Having worn other headphones without major comfort issues I recognize room for improvement. Were I to rate the Sennheisers and HE-400s I compared them with, the mix of SQ / comfort / design issues would probably put them both at solid “C”s or so. If I could have only one, the PSBs definitely “win” the overall, the sound quality largely trumping other issues. I bought these primarily because of curiosity about the Sean Olive / Harmon Curve and Wirecutter reviews. I know that a solid neutral sound is typically going to be close to an “end game” sound, in the sense that it will tend to flatter all music genres and is the right ideal to strive for (the basic best practice for speakers was settled decades ago, headphonia has tended to be a “wild west” IMO – with manufacturers producing headphones without knowing necessarily what to strive for). The headphone world is replete with sound signatures that function, in my opinion, like mechanical EQs that drive a lot of us nuts. The PSB M4U1’s, as a first take on a new approach feels like a giant step in the right direction, and puts a lot of pressure on “high end” headphone makers to consider what kind of sound should be possible at any price. I am so confident in the sound quality of these that I would put them up against the most expensive headphones in the world, and expect to still prefer access to this sound – discussion of “pairings” to amps and “cables” be damned. How about an open-backed version of these, with velour pads and fewer accessories for $200? Count me in.
Yet I am still on the fence about the M4U 1’s in some respects. They are clearly aimed at a “mobile” user in terms of design / accessories, yet they make good use of a “desktop” audio setup (and need one for absolute best sound IMO). They are certainly efficient enough to not require a big amp, my O2 at 2.5X gain is total overkill (and I don’t feel like going to unity gain just for these but may need to). On the other hand, one is definitely not getting the best sound without a device that has a solid amp, and most don’t. On the basis of overall Fit, Finish, and Comfort I wouldn’t really want to pay more than the $200 I got these for – they just doesn’t quite scream “premium” to me. To be extra critical, I would pay far less – maybe $100. Ditto for my HE-400s. If Sennheiser can get comfort right with virtually every pair of them I’ve put on at low prices (that lovely “barely there” feel and solid construction and attention to detail), surely it can be done cost-effectively by others. Primarily I would improve the comfort with slightly larger and deeper pads. I would offer a straight plug and reduce the weight – these are not what I consider “heavy” but they are not light either. Clamp force could probably be reduced a tad and they would still seal just fine. Angled pads might actually spread pressure a bit more ideally, as the cups themselves have a limited swivel range (and 2 axis of travel despite claims of “gyro” movement – the vertical travel was stiffer). Get me a Sennheiser-like fit with this sound quality, and I have a headphone that I could use all day long without an issue. Because believe me – I want to use these all day long.
Like the HE-400s the sound quality of these headphones forces me to forgive most of their sins. These are probably flagship-beating headphones in that respect, sublimely neutral but with good speed, energy, and resolution. They are fun to listen to, easy to drive, and can be cranked right up. In fact, these are the sort of headphones I find myself wanting to notch up all the time, something to watch out for. If these are what good speakers sound like in a good room, than I have no question we have got a thousand dollar sound here, which is exactly what I love about headphones in the first place – they can, and should be, the cheapest, best hi-fi one can get their hands on. At $200 (I bought used), they are a steal SQ wise. For $300 asking, the price of entry is steeper and competition is fiercer, and I am unsure I am willing to put down that sort of money considering how satisfying I find my Pioneer speakers to be, and 2 bookshelves and a sub were a mere $200, and that is a very nice sounding full-range setup. To be fair, the PSB’s are available online typically for $250, which is probably a fair price.
As a step-up, I am sure the Wirecutter is spot on recommending the Oppo PM3s – after hearing these, I can only imagine how beautiful the planars with a similar sound signature would sound. Were the comfort also superior, it would be a no-brainer. But alas, my HE-400s were my first $400 pair of headphones, I am not sure I am prepared to put up that kind of coin again, considering the strong sense of guilty regret I experienced! When and if the Oppo’s become available for a little less ($200-$300), I would probably pounce on them with no hesitation. The Harmon-curve, even in its “beta” phase, is no joke, and these PSB M4U1s, like the NADs and Focals to which they relate, are all perhaps some of the highest value headphones on the market right now, and an easy recommendation for those interested in sublimely-balanced high quality sound.
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