XLR8R Review: AIAIAI TMA-2 Modular Headphone System
XLR8R takes a look at the forward-thinking headphone system.
In a product category that rarely sees much in the way of notable innovation, AIAIAI’s TMA-2 Modular Headphone System brings with it a significant new twist: the ability to functionally customize the headphones to one’s own needs. By letting users choose from a host of given parts—ear cups, drivers, cables, and headbands—the rather bold approach has resulted in perhaps the most flexible headphones around. The TMA-2 is particularly ideal for users who spend their lives on the road, and require headphones that perform well in different roles: studio headphones for extended production sessions, DJ headphones for monitoring in crowded club environments, and a decent set of cans for simply listening to music.
How It Looks
The TMA-2 follows in the tradition of what has become the AIAIAI house style: clean, unadorned minimalism; it is the low-profile, Scandinavian entry into an extremely crowded headphone market. Ear cups and headbands range from smaller, more portable components designed for crowded subways and leisurely dog walks, to bigger, cushier parts geared towards sustained comfort over longer mixing sessions. Materials range from matte plastic to memory foam, and cables can be ordered in the standard or coiled varieties.
The experience of buying the TMA-2 headphones is, clearly, a bit more involved than your standard headphone purchase. While our review allowed us access to a bunch of available parts together in a single box, the consumer experience has buyers choosing their parts online using a cool web-based configuration tool that provides clear, thorough descriptions of all the parts and their prescribed applications. There’s enough here for enthusiasts to dig their teeth into, and for the rest of us, “presets” based on genre, function, and desired use case (All-Round Preset, Monitor Preset, Young Guru Preset, etc). Everything comes in an IKEA-style flat-pack packaging, and it should be noted that slotting all of the components together is far easier than anything from the Swedish furniture megastore. To take a bit of the pressure out of the process, there’s also a 30-day return policy, should your creation not live up to expectations.
How It Plays
Clearly, the sound of your particular TMA-2 headphones will depend largely on your component choices. The standard $145 “All-Round” preset is based on AIAIAI’s own TMA-1 X headphones, and things go up from there to nicer materials and components.
Of course, there’s a direct relationship between cost and quality: specific ear cups are designed for use with particular drivers, and the cost can add up considerably when you start plucking these multiple fruits from the upgrade tree. You can switch from the standard on-ear cups to the over-ear variety to increase bass, for instance, and pairing these with a brighter driver helps to compliment that bass with more detail in the higher frequencies.
The combinations here are technically in the hundreds, but will ultimately boil down to far fewer than that for most users. The H03 headband, labeled as “high-comfort,” has more padding than the H02 headband; the C02 cable uses a sturdy, nylon housing that’s geared towards reliability and durability in the DJ booth. Perhaps one of the most interesting factors here is the way in which the different bands adjust the fit of certain cups to your particular head; finding that happy medium between the snug fit that almost always improves sound quality and isolation, weighed against the pressure it puts on your ears and cranium over the course of long sessions, can make all the difference.
The Bottom Line
The folks at AIAIAI have come up with a smart, innovative concept with the TMA-2, and deserve a great deal of credit for doing so. The company has honed in on one of the most significant cultural trends in the world of music production—namely, the move towards modularity, customization, and upgradability—and pushed into new territory for one of the most central commodities in the lives of music producers, DJs, and listeners. It’s a particularly appealing opportunity for those who find themselves traveling between gigs, or who simply want less clutter in their lives: the TMA-2 can transform fairly easily from commuter headphones to studio, DJ, or “deep listening” cans, and back again.