The TMA-1 Upgrade: TMA-1 Studio
We’re back with another AIAIAI review! It’s been a while since we talked about the Danish makers of the famous TMA-1, around 2 years to be exact and at that time Mike reviewed it. This time the Copenhagen based company sent us the new closed design TMA-1 STUDIO to test out. This is a free sample we got from AIAIAI.
AIAIAI, for those who don’t know the company, is an audio design company dedicated to developing high quality audio products for everyday use, with a modern and minimalist design. Especially the design part stands out immediately when looking at the 32Ohm TMA – 1 Studio. The matte black headphone came in a very stylish box which I’m sure a lot of people will appreciate. The TMA-1S, with 40mm titanium drivers, comes delivered with two types of pads: PU Foam over ear pads and protein leather on ear pads. Next to that you get a removable coiled 1.5m cable and a very basic looking carrying pouch. The cable is finished in two 3.5mm plugs and comes with an adapter to 6.3mm. The PU Foam over ear pads are the most comfortable ones while the pleather on ear pads deliver a more defined bass but they tend to hurt after a while, especially if you’re not used to on ear headphones. Overall the TMA-1S is pretty comfy, it is very light (220gr) and its grip is just right. The Studio is very robust and can take a beating but it will leave traces on the band and cups immediately (as you can see in the pictures). Don’t be concerned about the rubber cause you won’t even notice that.
Never having heard the original TMA-1 and after having read a whole lot about it I expected the TMA-1S to be a bass and treble monster. And while in general bass is one of the strongest points of the headphone I expected it to be even more punchy. So basically the bass, the strongest point of the headphone, is disappointing. Also the treble turned out to be rather disappointing.
When using a serious desktop amp, bass and treble are better as expected (see below) but the bass will always bleed in to the mids. Overall this isn’t one of the most detailed and clear headphones and it is rather dark sounding actually. It sounds like it has this veil over the sound. I could describe it as a layer of “smooth” but then it wouldn’t be clear to anyone, there really is a veil over the sound.
So with most of my amps, I expected the treble to be more sparkling and up front for a DJ headphone. Probably AIAIAI tuned down the treble as this is the Studio version of the TMA-1 but I can’t say I enjoyed the “standard” treble using this setup. I did something I try not to do to often: EQ. It took me only a few minutes to transform the rather dull sounding treble to a much livelier one and to my surprise that actually changed the TMA-1S’s character quite a bit making it an enjoyable headphone keeping in mind the “veil” characteristics.
AIAIAI didn’t want to create a headphone that’s good in everything, they wanted to create a headphone specifically for dance music & studio use. Here’s their take on it:
Back to the review. I kept my EQ settings since then and I have been playing dozens of different styles with it. Dance music with heavy bass from Skrillex, Major Lazor, Yellow Clan, Dan Black, Kid Cudi etc. were played with deep bass & good (EQ’d) treble, fast sounding . It is the best for dance after all (and bassy pop). Rock music like The XX’s new album is also very good with this headphone, their music really fits this headphone’s style. Linkin Park’s latest “Living Things” sounds very smooth and the bass nicely compliments their new electronic style. The more heavy stuff from Metallica and Machine Head is ok too but it’s not the best headphone for the genre. The veil is more noticeable with the last mentionned style. Being a smooth sounding headphone it is nice to listen to strong vocal music and jazz, yet it would have been better had the TMA-1S been more clear. Like the recently reviewed Beyerdynamic Custom one Pro, the TMA-1S isn’t made for classical music.
Amplification & other headphones
There is no direct need for amplification of the TMA-1S, they work just fine even out of an iPod but as described above, the treble and bass without EQ’ing them didn’t sound good, same thing with most of my amps. With the JDSLabs C421, which I use most of the time as my main portable amp, power isn’t the issue but the bass and treble aren’t the best. I did not like the TMA-1S combined with the Fiio E10 either, they just sounded lifeless. With the Violecric V200 however, there is no need to tweak the treble and the bass was the deepest and punchiest of all the amps. So the better the amp, the better the Studio it seems. This is very important to remember because if you will be using this headphone with a serious amp (like in a studio?) you will notice it is a pretty good headphone, even for a lot of different musical styles. (I however fear most people interested in this headphone won’t be using it for real studio).
The down side of the review is I didn’t have any DJ headphones to compare the TMA-1S to and we unfortunately did not receive the regular TMA-1 to compare the new Studio version to, appologies for that. At the moment if I would be looking for a bass heavy non DJ headphone I would compare it to the Beyer Custom one Pro and the Hifiman HE-400 if your budget stretches that far.
In most situations (with a normal amp or without one), EQ’ing the treble part does make the headphone better, unfortunately there isn’t much you can do about the veil over the sound and the lack of detail that mostly shows when listening to non dance styles. In its defence the TMA-1S wasn’t developed with these genres in mind and was uniquely developed for DJ’s in the studio. After tweaking the treble however I found this headphone to sound very pleasing with different genres. On the Violectric V200 the Studio became a whole other headphone with punchy bass and nice treble, where no EQ’ing was necessary. Sound stage wise this TMA-1S isn’t particularly exceptional but it doesn’t need to be either for what it was made for.
One of my DJ friends I borrowed the 1S to, told me afterwards that he used the 1S when he was out DJ’ing but that he actually used my Beyerdynamic T70 when making mixes at home. The level of detail and clarity of the T70 allowed him to make far better/precise mixes he said, but the TMA-1 Studio was a very good robust headphone to use when “working”. That actually is quite surprising as this TMA-1S is supposed to be the studio headphone, but who am I to tell he’s wrong.
So in conclusion, if you listen to all kind of genres you could use the TMA-1S but it really is developed for dance/bass music, even though it surprised me. The TMA-1Studio costs 229€. You get great Scandinavian design for that money but I can’t help but feel that price is a bit steep for the sound you’re getting. Thank you AIAIAI for sending us the AIAIAI TMA-1 Studio.
When I did the original TMA-1 review, I was surprised to hear the sound of it. It was just a strange tuning with an extremely attenuated treble region. Though the driver resolution was very good (and I can tell the treble is not rolled off), but it seems they go at lengths to make sure the treble is well attenuated. Reading Lieven’s writing of the TMA-1 studio, I think the TMA-1 studio follows the same sort of tuning with perhaps some differences (I expect a bigger sound from the TMA-1 studio, looking at the bowl shaped design of the pads).
The funny thing is that though the tuning of the original TMA-1 was practically unlistenable with most genres, however it was simply brilliant with club and dance music. These genres usually sound too bright on regular headphones, even the dark ones like Sennheiser’s HD650. But with the TMA-1, the sound is perfect. You get the treble, the midrange clarity (surprise surprise!), the bass is just right and not overpowering. Most of all, the presentation, ambiance and the mood is perfect for club music. I have yet to find a headphone that does club and dance music better than the TMA-1, and reading Lieven’s review, I think the same thing can be said about the TMA-1 Studio.
Now AIAIAI headphones are not always tuned that way. For instance their portable Tracks headphone is a fun sounding headphone that’s actually one of the better all-rounder ultra-portables. Their IEMs, while not having an audiophile sort of a tuning, also works pretty well for a lot of mainstream music. So this niche we’re talking about, only applies to the TMA-1 line up.
Gear used: AIAIAI TMA-1 Studio, Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro, Fiio E10, Violectric V200, JDSLabs C421, Cypherlabs CLAS, iPod, Laptop