Looking at the box containing the Aiaiai TMA-1 headphones, one would expect flashy, “Look-at-me” headphones to be packed inside. After all, they were developed by and for DJs, and DJs like to be noticed, right? What you may not know is that Aiaiai is a Danish company… Scandinavian. Lets face it, Scandinavians are design minimalists as in “form follows function.” The TMA-1s are about the simplest, least adorned headphones available today: Matte black with not an ounce of chrome, shine or pretense. Even the simple, embossed logo is almost invisible hidden on the underside of the headband. At first glance, the TMA-1s are so plain as to be generic looking. Put them on and you begin to understand the concept. They almost remind me of Grado, with that company’s retro ethos. Aiaiai’s (don’t you just love that name) approach is much more modern and stark. Think IKEA on your head, and you get the picture. There is genius in the minimalism, because these are also some of the best looking headphones I have seen.
Because DJs work in dark, noisy, beer-laden environments, the headphones are built to take abuse. You can bend them, twist them and just about stomp on them and they snap back into place. The curly, old phone-style cord provides a lot of freedom without getting in the way. The phones can easily be pulled down around the neck as well as wearing one ear on, one ear off quite easily and still be comfortable.
The TMAs are fairly light in weight. They’re snug on the ears without pinching or pressing too hard. The headband has preset holes for sizing. This approach makes adjusting the headband easy as there is an audible click as each selection is set. By counting the holes, it’s easy to remember your exact size each time. Again, Scandinavian simplicity.
There is a choice of leather or foam pads on these closed-back, on-ear phones. The pads come with four small, bulbous knobs that pop into place making them easy to attach and remove. I much prefer the leather for a couple of reasons. The foam itches my skin and leaks sound. There is a distinct difference in aural quality between the two pad choices. Bass was much fuller and richer with the leather pads and the foam sounded anemic in comparison. However, in a little over a month, the leather is starting to look dry and worn. Let’s hope it’s just a look and not a precursor to cracking. Time will tell. Along with the choice of pads, included is a stereo plug converter and a soft, zippered pouch that is designed to keep the TMA-1s clean but not much else. Maybe Aiaiai figured that since the phones can take abuse better than most, a hard case wasn’t necessary.
I originally used the TMA-1s straight out of my iPod Classic, which worked well since the phones are efficient and amping is not absolutely necessary. The Classic also has a decent digital audio converter (DAC) built in. However, when the TMA-1 was plugged into my new iMac, they sounded awful. Distortion, noise and just a dirty quality to the audio was all over the music. I then connected a NuForce uDAC-2 in between the iMac and my phones; I will review this in the coming weeks. The difference is astounding. I can only give a fair review using the uDAC with the iMac. Whatever sound card Apple put into the iMac is worthless.
The first thing I noticed listening to the TMA-1s is the warmth. These are very forgiving headphones, meaning that they are not excessively accurate. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. On some recordings, you don’t want too much accuracy, because the recordings – not the performances – are themselves garbage. Much of my favorite music is from the 60s – 70s and some of that music is so poorly recorded or engineered, that I honestly think that back then, the music was treated as a disposal commodity. No one dreamed that anyone would care 35+ years later. Well, I care and I am always looking for that pair of headphones or earphones that do this musical era proud.
One clear example of great music and lousy recording is the first Mason Proffit album, “Wanted.” Every song on this almost forgotten country-rock masterpiece sounds like it was recorded underwater. The bass is boomy with little definition and the highs can be harsh and painful, even after tweaking the equalizer. The mids are just … never mind. Lets just say that the TMA-1s smooth the rough edges off the recordings. I can just sit and relive my younger years without cringing. The album is fun again.
This aural forgiveness only goes so far with more demanding music. “Long Distance Runaround” from the Yes album, “Fragile,” suffers from a little distortion on the high synth notes, but the bass is handled nicely, which rounds it all out. You have to watch the volume on this one. The same issues apply to the OMD album, “Dazzle Ships.” I ripped this remastered CD into one long sound file because all the songs blend (I did the same with “Dark Side of the Moon”) and it demands to be listened to as a whole. It is also one of my go-to albums for headphone testing. Here also, I encountered a bit of unpleasantness on the high end and again, it was balanced by full and rich mids and bass. For instance, the song “Telegraph” kicks … hard. The drums can be felt and the TMA-1s capture the bass synth notes without wimping out. I now see why these phones were designed by and for DJs.
Even though I never was and will never be a club DJ, I can appreciate why headphones like the Aiaiai TMA-1s exist. They are rugged, cool to the extreme – in a European, minimalist way – and quite fun to listen to. I wouldn’t call the TMA-1 a true audiophile headphone. This price range requires too many compromises for that. However, for the money, if there are tougher made phones out there with the sound quality these have, I haven’t seen them.