Home / Reviews / AIAIAI TMA-2 modular headphone review: You’ll pay a steep price to build your own headphone

AIAIAI TMA-2 modular headphone review: You’ll pay a steep price to build your own headphone

Think about how cool it could be to custom-build your headphone by deciding on the drivers, headband, ear pads, and cable that greatest fit your sonic preferences and funds. You’ll be able to—to an extent—with AIAIAI’s new TMA-2 headphone. And you’ll swap out or improve these parts down the street. However modular designs have quirks in addition to advantages.

Construct your personal headphone

AIAIAI affords two methods to purchase your headphones: You should buy a pre-selected bundle, otherwise you select precisely which modular components you need utilizing AIAIAI’s on-line TMA-2 configurator.

And the TMA-2 headphone configurator is cool. It permits you to visually assemble your headphone together with your alternative of speaker models, ear pads, headband, and cable. Photographs of the totally different modular components and easy-to-understand descriptions make the method a breeze—even for the novice headphone client. You’ll see a real-time pricing updates as you make your alternatives. You may as well purchase the parts on Amazon.

This evaluation is a part of TechHive’s protection of the perfect  headphones, the place you’ll discover critiques of competing merchandise, plus a purchaser’s information to the options it’s best to take into account when procuring.

When you’ve chosen your modular bundle, you possibly can evaluation your completed headphone on a abstract web page with a non-technical rationalization of the headphone’s sound and options. Scrolling down, you’ll discover detailed specs, together with a frequency response curve of the drivers you’ve chosen.

My TMA-2 headphone bundle got here with the next components: The H05 headband with Bluetooth and aptX HD; the C15 3.5mm cable; the S05 drivers that sport a bio-cellulose diaphragm; and E08 over-the-ear reminiscence foam ear pads wrapped in Alcantara. Alcantara is a sturdy, artificial microfiber with a suede-like really feel. This bundle retails for $350.

AIAIAI module packets are what you get in the headphone box. Theo Nicolakis / IDG

AIAIAI module packets are what you get within the headphone field.

When my TMA-2 headphone arrived, I used to be stunned to seek out that there was no assembled headphone within the field. What I discovered was a collection of clearly labeled grey pouches. Every pouch contained the components of my evaluation pattern, requiring me to construct the headphone.


[ Further reading: The best high-res digital audio players ]

Fortuitously, meeting was a straight-forward, tool-less endeavor. That’s good, as a result of the tiny, fold-out consumer manuals accompanying every part look as if they have been rapidly thrown collectively utilizing Microsoft Phrase.

Individual parts for assembly. Theo Nicolakis / IDG

You’ll have to assemble these parts to construct your headphone, even if you happen to select a pre-configured setup.

There’s a designated proper ear cup, indicated by a pink enter. The left ear cup has no markings to point a prime or backside orientation. However AIAIAI’s design permits you to plug the cable for corded listening into both the left or proper ear cup based on your choice. Only a few consumer-oriented headphones present this flexibility.

The drivers that got here with my evaluation pair snapped onto the Alcantara ear pads with ease. I merely aligned the 4 information pegs and pushed. I discovered the reminiscence foam-based ear pads to be considerably comfy, however the headphones by no means really disappeared on my head.  The scarf created a slight sensation of strain on the prime of my head. They created ample area round my ears, although. You’ll probably discover that the Alcantara protecting will make your ears sweat on scorching days.

Detail view of the right ear cup driver and channel for the headband to slide through. Theo Nicolakis / IDG

Element view of the best ear cup driver and channel for the scarf to slip by way of.

The mannequin H05 headband is AIAIAI’s HD mannequin and consists of SBC, AAC, aptX, and aptX HD codecs. When you have a digital audio participant that helps aptX HD, you possibly can ship high-res music (as much as 24-bit decision and with sampling charges as excessive as 48kHz) to the headphone over Bluetooth. AIAIAI sells different headband fashions that present totally different sorts of padding in addition to wired-only playback that can prevent just a few {dollars}. 

You’ll be able to cost the H05 headband’s battery, rated for round 16 hours of playback, by way of a USB-C charging port situated on the left headband arm.  The USB-C charging port is awkwardly positioned. I had some issue plugging in a USB-C cable as a result of angle. I’d prefer to see AIAIAI give you a greater design. 

Headphone controls are additionally built-in into the scarf. The controls aren’t labeled, however comply with the standard conference of play/pause within the center flanked by ahead and reverse on the ends. To pair a Bluetooth supply, you press the ahead and reverse buttons concurrently.

The Alcantara memory foam ear pads snap into the drivers easily. Theo Nicolakis / IDG

The Alcantara reminiscence foam ear pads snap into the motive force modules with ease.

The scarf’s click-adjustable arms slide right into a channel on every ear cup. I had some issue sliding the left arm by way of the click-adjustable dimple. The problem is said to the truth that the best arm of the scarf, which has a microphone on its finish, is totally flat (and simple to insert) whereas the left arm is concave. As soon as I utilized sufficient strain, the concave finish of the scarf arm would ultimately went by way of. 

Talking of the microphone, I didn’t have an awesome expertise utilizing it. Folks on the opposite finish of my calls couldn’t hear me properly. What I observed is that if in case you have the headphone arms prolonged near their most (as I did), the microphone can turn into hidden contained in the ear cup channel. Somebody at AIAIAI ought to look intently at this and both elongate the scarf or present redesign the microphone so this doesn’t.

You’ll want to concentrate to the way you insert the scarf cables otherwise you received’t get sound from the ear cups—or worse, you’ll get sound however one ear cup will likely be louder than the opposite. You’ll have to insert and rotate the cable till it clicks and sits utterly flush with the enter. Should you study the cable fastidiously, you’ll observe that there are two flat sides on the three.5mm cable’s neck that have to be aligned with the enter. The little twist supplies a minor locking motion that forestalls the cable from pulling out. 

Throughout my testing, I related/disconnected the cables a number of occasions to see what points a client may encounter. I discovered the locking cables to be a bit quirky. For instance, throughout certainly one of my plug/unplug assessments, I used to be darn positive that the best ear cup was correctly related, however whie taking part in Daft Punk’s Random Entry Recollections, I heard vocals from the left ear cup however not the best. I checked the plug and it gave the impression to be seated correctly. Giving it one last twist and push did the trick and voila! Vocals began taking part in from the best ear cup. I might warning potential consumers that if the headphones don’t sound correct, it’s probably a cable connection challenge.

The opposite factor that occurred to me was that one of many headband cables received caught. I couldn’t twist it out to unplug it. I lastly had to make use of needle nostril pliers to twist and pull the cable out.

The base of the left headband has a USB-C charging port. Theo Nicolakis / IDG

The bottom of the left headband has a USB-C charging port.

The three.5mm audio cable that got here with my evaluation pair sports activities a stupendous design and has a tangle-resistant coating that saved the cable kink- and tangle-free throughout my testing.

Modular designs professionals and cons

AIAIAI’s modular design is definitely a double-edged sword with a number of benefits, but additionally some disadvantages. Among the many many pluses, you possibly can customise the headphones to fit your style and funds. Ought to a component put on out or break, you possibly can substitute simply that one half. Furthermore, ought to AIAIAI come out with new drivers or applied sciences, you possibly can improve your cans for a fraction of the price of a brand new pair of headphones. For instance, ought to AIAIAI come out with assist for a brand new hi-res streaming codec, you’d solely want to switch the scarf. Purchase AIAIAI’s entry-level headband with foam padding at this time, and may improve to the HD Bluetooth headband with aptX HD for simply $125 down the street.

On the draw back, the AIAIAI components are largely plastic. The TMA-2 lacks the design aptitude and high-quality steel and leather-based accents you’ll discover in additional standard wi-fi headphones—Bowers & Wilkins’ PX, for instance—on this value rane.

The tip of the left headband arm has a microphone. Theo Nicolakis / IDG

The tip of the left headband arm has a microphone.

Listening assessments

I examined the TMA-2 with an Astell&Kern A&Norma SR15 hi-res DAP, which helps the aptX HD wi-fi codec. Supply materials included high-res music and Tidal streaming sources.

Typically talking, the TMA-2 sounded superb. Whereas its construct high quality, design, and supplies have been a disappointment, the TMA-2’s sound when performed wired was a very totally different beast. Highs have been crisp and ethereal and the midrange was typically clear. Instrument separation was superb. Bass response was correct, managed, and detailed.

Like most headphones, the TMA-2 sounded very totally different wired than it did whereas working wirelessly. In my testing, I usually most well-liked the wired mode. Most prevalent was when used as a passive headphone (plugged in), vocals have been extra relaxed and the music had extra element and top-end air. When performed wirelessly, the stability of the devices and vocals modified. Vocals are barely hotter however muddier. Midbass had a hair extra oomph—one thing I’ve constantly discovered with headphones adopting the aptX HD codec. The air round particular person devices and performers, nevertheless, beacame extra veiled. 

These variations have been accentuated on some songs and tracks greater than others. For instance, taking part in the high-res model of The Beatles “Oh! Darling” from Abbey Street, the electrical guitar had extra snap, realism, and element when performed wired. The identical was true of “Come Collectively” which was extra radio-sounding when performed wirelessly. After I plugged within the TMA-2, the music seemed like a veil had been lifted from the music. Conversely, I famous extra delicate variations on the high-res model of Bach’s Cello Suites performed by Janos Starker, or Sarah McLachlan’s “Push” from Afterglow Dwell. Probably the most prevalent distinction on these tracks remained a extra veiled musical presentation and barely elevated midbass when performed wirelessly.

R&B, jazz, classical, or pop—the music didnt’ matter. All in all, the TMA-2 was a maestro of any musical style with a great timbral stability from prime to backside and a strong soundstage.

Conclusion

AIAIAI’s TMA-2 modular headphone will enchantment to those that desire a good-sounding pair of headphones that they’ll simply customise, improve, and get alternative components for over time, and are prepared to tolerate a pedestrian design and plastic supplies. The tradeoff is that you just received’t get wherever near the premium supplies and a spotlight to design you’ll discover in lots of competitor’s conventionally manufactured and equally priced headphones.

Whereas the TMA-2 headphone reveals some quirks—parcicularly its locking cable design—I discovered it to be a great general performer and a good-sounding headphone in each wired and Bluetooth wi-fi modes (the latter because of its assist of aptX HD).

Whether or not or not these headphones are for you will rely upon a number of elements: Should you just like the notion of a good-sounding, build-it-yourself headphone with the potential for future upgrades and easy-to-replace components, give the AIAIAI a critical look. If, however, you’re searching for an expensive headphone on the $350 value level whose design, construct high quality, and components match its sonic items, it’s best to look elsewhere.

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