Sometimes, one has to be careful what they wish for. Case in point: I was given the opportunity to review the new Aiaiai TMA-2 modular headphones, I eagerly said, “Sure!” Later I received a box with every part available for the TMA-2 to help make a recommendation about what combinations might work best depending on a listener’s desires and tastes. Simple, right? How naive I am.
Let’s begin with a little history. Aiaiai (love that name) is a Danish headphone company who typify Danish design. Their headphones are simple—some might say stark—designs that are almost devoid of embellishment. It’s a form-follows-function approach. And in the case of the TMA-2 headphones, it works—mostly.
The TMA-2 headphones are a modular design, meaning that you literally choose every part you want to “build” your headphone. The choices can—and are—overwhelming. How can you know what will sound right or be comfortable? You can’t know that without a little help. Hopefully I can shed some light on those choices.
Before I get into what combination sounds the best or is the most comfortable or most useful, we need to look at the players, so to speak. Here are the choices with their code numbers and U.S. prices:
E01 – Microfiber slim on ear $25
E02 – Protein leather on ear $35
E03 – Velour on ear $35
E04 – Protein leather over ear $50
E05 – Microfiber over ear $50
H01 – Slim with foam padding $30
H02 – Rugged with silicone padding $50
H03 – High comfort with protein leather padding $60
C01 – 4 ft. straight with 1 button mic $25
C02 – 5 ft. coiled with 1/4 in. adapter $25
C03 – 11.5 ft. coiled with 1/4 in. adapter $40
C04 – 5 ft. woven coiled with 1/4 in. adapter $40
C05 – 4 ft. straight $20
C06 – 4 ft. straight with 3 button mic (Apple devices only) $40
S01 – All-round $65
S02 – Punchy $90
S03 – Warm $90
S04 – Vibrant $100
As you can imagine, the combinations are seemingly endless. However, when broken down, it’s simply a matter of choosing which one of each component works best depending on one’s preferences. Then rule out the rest. Let’s begin with the easy stuff.
Earpads: What material is preferred is strictly subjective. There is no right or wrong. Velour feels great, but can be a bit “sweaty” depending on the temperature or humidity of the environment at the time. Microfiber has the advantages of velour, but breathes better and is more comfortable with hours of use. Protein (PU) leather feels like and is as comfortable as real leather, but doesn’t breathe quite as well as the real deal—but real leather isn’t available with the TMA-2. PU leather also gives the best isolation (to my ears, anyway) which is good for office and commuting. I don’t have issues with any of the padding materials offered. My issue is the choice of on ear vs. over ear. No matter how much I tried to adjust the fit, I could not wear the on ear for more than an hour without discomfort. Aiaiai’s over ear is much much more comfortable than their on ear, regardless of material.
The pads feature four pegs that match four holes located inside the Speaker Units. They snap into place easily and are removable if you desire to have more than one material available depending on use or mood. Aiaiai claims that the ear pads provide differing levels of isolation and soundstage (how “wide” the music sounds). Isolation—or lack of it—is easily determined, but soundstage—the differences must be subtle because I couldn’t discern any appreciable difference.
Note: There are two more ear pads offered that were not included for review. The E06 and E07 are leatherette on ear and over ear designs. According to Aiaiai, the leatherette provides more soundstage at the expense of isolation. I have no idea how leatherette differs from PU leather.
Headbands: My tolerance for headband comfort is more generous. I’ve reviewed many headphones with headbands that were thinly padded, thickly padded or not padded at all. For my head, headband differences don’t matter nearly as much as the ear pads. However, given a choice, I would choose the H03–High comfort with protein leather padding. It offers the most comfort, but not by much. All the headbands pass the comfort test. DJs or studio professionals may opt for the Rugged with silicone padding headband since it can be easily slipped off the head with minimum resistance or hair tugging.
Each headband is pre-wired to be connected to the speaker units. It’s a twist and lock connection, so there’s no chance of accidentally becoming loose with use. Sizing the headband to a head is uber-easy. Aiaiai uses holes in the headband that allow it to be snapped to any size desired. Just count the holes showing so you can easily return to the same size. The headbands are also flexible and tough—always a good thing.
Note: Be careful when attaching the mini plugs from the headband to the speakers. Because of their size, they can be tricky to lock, insuring a proper connection. More than once, I could only get sound out of one speaker, finally realizing one of the plugs was not pushed in all the way and locked in place. Also, make sure the right cable (red rings on the plug) is connected to the right speaker. (red ring at the port opening).
Cables: Cables have nothing to do with comfort, but are important when you consider how the headphones are to be used. If you use headphones for commuting, go with short (4 ft.) and straight. I think 4 ft. is still a bit long for commuting, but it’s the shortest length offered. However, 4 ft. is a bit short for office use. When listening at the office, I would have preferred a 5-6 ft. straight cord (which doesn’t exist) which would allow more room to move. It’s no fun turning at your desk and having the headphones rudely ripped from your head. Home listening usually—but not always—benefits from a longer cord, like the 11.5 ft. coiled cable which also comes with a 1/4 in. adapter for plugging into a standard receiver. The coiled cables are also perfect for DJs and studio pros.
The C01 (4 ft.) cable has a 1-button mic for any non-Apple phone. The C06 (4 ft.) comes with a 3-button mic for Apple iPhones only. None of the other cables come with mics.
Speaker units: This is the fun part and is where headphones either soar or fail. Aiaiai has done an admirable job of explaining each of their speakers with short, descriptive words. The speakers connect to the headband with those connecting plugs mentioned in the headband section. There are also locking ports that connect to the cables. All-in-all, having cables that lock in place is a nice touch.
The speaker units are made of hard ABS plastic and feel solidly built. That’s not surprising because the whole Aiaiai TMA lineup is built like a tank. Once the speaker unit is connected to the ear pad, headband and cable, you’re ready to rock.
I listened to many songs in many genres testing each TMA-2 speaker unit. I narrowed the selection down to just one song—OMD’s “Metroland” from their “English Electric” album. Why only one song? This is a long review and I needed to make it somewhat manageable. “Metroland” has it all: High electronic frequencies, great vocals and a big, bottom end that is felt as well as heard. I decided it had the ingredients I was looking for to do the testing.
The All-round (S01) speaker is for those who have no idea what kind of sound they’re looking for, which is probably the vast majority of headphone buyers. That being said, there are some specific reasons you may want to consider the All-rounder. The main reason is because it is flat across all frequencies, meaning there is no emphasis on any one frequency. However, most headphone users today prefer boosted bass. Because the S01 is “flat”, it’s the most accurate speaker. This is a good thing if you want to hear what the artist intended.
With the S01, “Metroland” had power and energy. The vocals were spot-on and the bass had just the right amount of kick to be fun without overpowering the other frequencies. I really enjoyed how this song sounded with the S01 speaker.
The Punchy speaker (S02) highlights bass over the mid-range and treble frequencies. Basically, this is a speaker similar to the S01, but with what sounds like more bass—except that it has the same amount of bass as the S01.The S01 does have a bit more treble and that is what makes the difference. However, the S02 can be used over an extended period with little to no listener fatigue, which can happen when there is more treble. In other words, this speaker is perfect for office work where distracting background noise is minimized over an 8-hour workday. Keep in mind that the over ear pad is also best for office work, especially if comfort and isolation is important.
“Metroland” sounded a bit muffled on the S02 speaker compared to the S01. Even though many may prefer the “added bass”, it comes at the cost of clarity in the middle and higher frequencies. As such, it just didn’t have the power of the S01. I’m usually not a fan of added bass—real or imagined. It gives me a headache. However, I’m aware that I am in a distinct minority here, so you may disagree with me on this point.
If you want to go with even bigger bass, Aiaiai says that the Warm (S03) is your speaker. Like the S02, it’s good for office use. Unfortunately, that’s about all it’s good for. The S03 was surprising because it sounded like the bass was weaker than the S02, which should not be the case! The middle and higher frequencies were set identically to the S02 by Aiaiai, so that’s not the reason. I’m baffled.
The S02 and S03 are good for club DJ work where loud music driven by a bass beat is important to keep the party going. Despite what Aiaiai says, if bass is what you desire, I recommend the S02 over the S03.
The Vibrant speaker (S04) is probably the most powerful sounding of the four offered. Bass is not dialed up, but the middle frequency is lowered a bit. It sounds more balanced (if you can call it that) than the S02 or S03 even though there is no increase in the treble. The effect of lowering the middle frequencies allows the S04 speaker to sound purer at a lower volume, but frankly, all the choices sound fine at low volume.
“Metroland” sounded fuller and yes, it did sound more “vibrant”, but I kept coming back to the S01 speaker as the one to listen with.
It may be surprising that I prefer the S01 speaker over the others when it’s much less expensive than the S02, S03 or S04. The bass I heard on Metroland was sharp and punchy (sorry, S02). Plus the vocals had presence the bass overshadowed on the S02, S03 and S04.
Keep in mind that other tweaks were done to each Speaker Unit which also affects the sound. It’s not all tweaking frequencies. It can be much more complicated that that. However, we are not an audiophile site, so I won’t go into those kinds of details. Aiaiai provided good explanations about each speaker unit on their web site. Also, trust your ears. What I prefer, you may dislike. I try my best to explain my rationale and describe as best I can what each speaker choice sounds like given limited parameters.
So, here’s my recommendation of what I consider the best combination of the TMA-2 parts offered by Aiaiai. Note that I chose what works for me. As I stated earlier, the cord and headband choice is determined by how the headphone is used. The ear pads and speaker units are what I prefer hands-down.
C05–4 ft. straight $20
H03–High comfort with protein leather padding $60
Ear pads—It’s a toss-up between these two:
E04–PU Leather over ear $50
E05–Microfiber over ear $50
My choice sells for $195 U.S. Aiaiai offers four pre-set combinations for those who are intimidated by all the choices. However, my preferred combination is not offered by Aiaiai as a packaged deal.
Half the fun of deciding to buy from Aiaiai is mixing and matching all the parts to achieve what the you feel best suits your needs and tastes. I only wish more companies allowed customization with this many choices.
Source: The sample for this review was provided by Aiaiai. Please visit www.aiaiai.dk for more information.