AIAIAI TMA-1 headphones, first thoughts after a few hours use

Update 10/7/2011 : Amazon are now selling the TMA-1s, and at a great price too. Currently you can get them for £127.46, stocks look to be limited so head over to Amazon and save yourself almost £40 on the Apple store price.

I’ve had the AIAIAI TMA-1 headphones for a few hours – here are my initial thoughts…

(This is coming from someone who will be using these mainly for music whilst working (on a Mac) as well as during train/plane journeys etc. My listening is varied and eclectic, all my music is in iTunes mostly ripped from CD’s at as high a bit rate as I can get).

The packaging is quite something. I hate to say it’s Apple like, because they didn’t invent or patent well packaged things, but it’s certainly on par with anything from them.

The headphones are the first things you come across as you open the box. Upon taking them and the foam panel out you are met with two sealed cable bags. One has the iPhone compatible cable (has mic and vol up/down + end call buttons on it, this is around 3” inches from one end of the cable), the other is a standard straight cable with around 18” of coils around two thirds of the way along it.

The iPhone cable has standard 3.5mm jack bent to 90 degrees on the iPhone end, and another 3.5mm jack (this time straight) on the end that fits the headphones. The standard cable has a 3.5mm on one end (for the headphones) and a threaded 3.5mm on the other that comes with a 6.35mm adapter fitted, which can be unscrewed to reveal a 3.5mm jack.

Having these two cables is perfect for me, the coiled standard cable will stay almost permanently connected to my iMac, the other to be used for iPhone/iPad duties.

All the jacks are gold finished.

Next to the two cable packs are the instruction book (you need instructions to use headphones? Hang fire on that, there is some interesting stuff in there), the nifty storage sack and a second set of ear pads.

The pads, Protein Leather on one set and Semi-Leather on the other, offer (according to the TMA-1 sales sheet) slightly different frequency responses – mainly that the Protein Leather has a slightly better top end, drops of by a few dB on the mid levels then pretty much matches the Semi-Leather on the high end.

It’d be difficult for me to comment on this as I’ve only unwrapped one set of pads to date.

The storage sack is pretty cool – it’s has a mid grey finish with the chunkiest zip you’ve ever seen. Inside is a yellow mesh finish. All very high quality and plush.

The instruction book has a bunch of technical info in it, some details on fitting the different ear pads and and explenation on where the name ‘TMA-1’ came from. The crux of it is, TMA-1 (Tycho Magnetic Anomaly-1) is taken from Arthur C. Clarke’s science fiction novel “2001: A Space Odyssey” and refers to a black Monolith, which is extremely long-lived and reliable – just as the TMA-1. Nice.

All this packaging stuff and extra goodies is are well and good, but at the end of the day it’s really all about the headphones.

They are superbly put together. The quality of the headphones and pads is excellent. If you’re into labels, Day-Glo colours and branding these really aren’t for you. There isn’t (that I can see) any manufacturer or model names on them at all. The only text I can see is the L and R to tell you which side goes on which ear (scratch that, I’ve found a manufacturer name – it’s on the inside of the headband, not somewhere anyone is going to look in a hurry). The finish is a very slightly rubberised matt.

Size adjusters on each side of the headphones smoothly, but with a reassuring clunk, adjust the fit to suit your head. The coiled cables on the inside of the headphones ensure that whatever size you set your headphones are at you don’t end up with loops of surplus cable.

The fit on the TMA-1’s is pretty much perfect for me. On my previous over ear headphones, a rather battered pair of Sony MDR-V300’s (not in the same league as the TMA-1’s but all I have to compare with) the fit was on the tight side. As I wear glasses the tight fit meant that after an hour or so it would get rather uncomfortable with the arms of my glasses and my ears being put under pressure from the Sony headphones.

A few hours in and no such problems from the AIAIAI headphones. The fit is light but firm and the pads are, well, padded. Padded enough to mean there is no unnecessary noise leakage (great for late night Spinal Tap, ‘up to 11’ moments when you’re partner is asleep) but still no ear ache from glasses etc.

On the inside of the headband there is a soft rubber padding. Neither big enough or soft enough to make a huge difference in the comfort or fit (though it doesn’t need to be as they are more than comfortable enough as they are), but certainly good to stop the headphones slipping.

Up to now, I’ve listened to a handful of albums (all CD’s ripped to iTunes using Apple Loseless Encoding), they would be:

The Killers – Live at the Albert Hall
Iron Maiden – Flight 666 -The Original Soundtrack
Seasick Steve – I Started out with Nothin’ and I Still Got Most Of It Left
Paul Weller – Fly On The Wall (B Sides & Rarities)

The sound right now is what I’d call (from a muggles point of view) tight. The bass is there (Steam by Paul Weller, the bass is unreal!) as you’d expect from headphones with a pedigree on the TMA-1’s. Mid range is loosening up as I listen more, but has a little way to go yet. The top end is not quite where it needs to be, everything is a little on the warm side – but from what I know from my B&W speakers, my first foray into decent hi-fi equipment, this only really kicks in once the speakers have had a bit of use. I’ve read a few reviews on the TMA-1’s that suggest they bed in nicely and the pair I listened to in the Apple Store (that’d been used by every pre-pubescent kid in Gateshead) showed what they’ll offer when run in.

To claim the TMA-1’s as a success I’m looking for them to compete (or beat) my Sure SE215’s. Different beasts in the headphone world, the Sure’s being in ear as opposed to the on ear AIAIAI’s on ear. But I’d hope after running them in the TMA-1’s would sound that little bit better.

I’ll add some pictures to this soon, as well as an update once things have settled down. As it stands the verdict is very good, with a potential to be excellent, certainly worth the money.

» Audio · Hi-fi

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