On the first paragraph, when I was talking about how AIAIAI is all “unique” and “passionate”, of course I was not only thinking about the design, but more importantly, the sound. As a matter of fact, the sound of the TMA-1 gets me excited far more than the design, and that is what a great headphone is all about. The TMA-1 doesn’t sound like a regular headphone. It is tuned, seemingly, primarily for club, house, electronica music and the sorts.
If you conduct a survey on how a proper DJ headphone should sound, the majority of audiophiles would probably answer “boomy bass” or some variants like that. While that may sound like common sense, it actually isn’t the correct answer. Perhaps all of the modern house and electronica music I’ve listened to have two similarities: a very hot and sibilant treble and a powerful bass. While the bass isn’t exactly an issue, the treble is, and it’s the number one reason I have never been able to truly enjoy club music on a headphone set up. This is where the TMA-1 differs than all of the other DJ headphones I’ve heard (On the closed headphone comparison I have compared several closed headphones that DJs use on location). While the other DJ headphones doesn’t quite do anything with the abundance of treble in club music recordings, the TMA-1 comes with a very strong attenuation on the treble.
Such a strong attenuation of the treble is quite unheard of in the world of audiophile headphones. Even the Sennheiser HD650 with its signature dark sound sounds like a bright Grado when compared next to the TMA-1. When I heard the TMA-1 for the first time, I was speechless. Not in the sense of awe, but more like “what the heck was AIAIAI thinking, creating a headphone that sound muffled like this?” Luckily an inspiration come and suddenly I remembered those treble happy club recordings. On the next song, I started to discover what the TMA-1 is all about. “Impressive”, I said. The guys who designed this must really know their music. There is enough attenuation on the treble that makes these recordings so enjoyable now. Keep in mind that the treble is not rolled off, rather they are not as prominent as in the other headphones. I actually think that the treble extension is very good on the TMA-1, and slightly better than on my favorite all-rounder closed headphone, the M-50 Audio Technica.
The TMA-1 is a wonderful headphone. The midrange clarity is among the best I’ve heard on closed headphones this price range, and it clearly beats the M-50 which is no slouch either. The bass is clean, tight, and powerful — far from the boomy and bloated label people often throw at it. The only thing that you need to get used to is the treble attenuation. Does it make sense to make a headphone like this? I mean, something that has its frequency balance so skewed that you will need to re-arrange your perception to be able to understand it? I think this is where AIAIAI shines from the big manufacturer. They set on a goal to create the best headphone for clubbers, and they do it. Instead of trying to compete with the big guys with the typical audiophile offering, they tapped into a very niche market of house and electronic music. Yet, when you think of it, the market is not a small one, and say if 6 out of 10 people under 30 listens to such music, then AIAIAI will have a very hard time filling up the demand. Not to mention the design that is classier than the Skullcandies, yet will attract the exact same demographics.
I truly enjoy the TMA-1 for what it is. Paired with the right music, it really sings. Hotel Costes, Chemical Brothers, Armin Van Buuren, Prodigy, Rage Against the Machine (Hard Rock listeners should try the TMA-1 out with their music) and even Jpop music such as Globe. They sound so wonderfully balanced on the TMA-1. The treble has enough sparkle, but not piercing. The PRaT, the energy, the forwardness, the bass punch, the clarity, the instrument separation, they are all there. I really can’t complain about anything as far as sound is concerned.
If there is one thing that I question, is the loose fit of the headphone. It’s comfortable for long uses, but the TMA-1 is easily the first headphone I find with such a weak clamping force, weaker than any headphone I’ve used. Perhaps DJ use them while holding on to one cup? Perhaps they want to make it easy for the DJs to slide the headphone in and out? I don’t know.
There is one other thing that I don’t understand with the TMA-1. It comes with an extra set of pads that is made of soft foam material. Now I know that some headphones like the AKG studio line and the Sennheiser HD25-1 also comes with extra pads. But the different pads material are there for ergonomic reasons, and they only changes the sound slightly. Not so with the TMA-1’s foam pads. Bass is totally gone, and now the TMA-1 is brighter than any headphone I’ve heard. I tried it with just about any recordings I have in my possession, and I still can’t figure out a good match for the super-bright TMA-1 sound with the foam pads. I give up.
Before I finish, I’d like to add in some comparison points with Sennheiser’s highly popular HD25-1 headphones:
- TMA-1 obviously have a better quality driver, being much newer in design (like 15-20 year gaps perhaps?). Detail, frequency extension, is much better in the TMA-1.
- Soundstage is better on the TMA-1. While the TMA-1’s soundstage is nothing to boast about, it’s belongs to the “better” ones in the class. The HD25-1’s soundstage is quite non-existant.
- The HD25-1 is quite forward sounding. Focus on vocals is very good. The TMA-1 is more laid back, and it doesn’t “zoom-in” on the vocals the way the HD25-1 does. The HD25-1 can be likened to a milder version of Grado’s forward sound.
- Bass texture, clarity, and low bass is much better in the TMA-1. Bass punch is quite powerful, though the HD25-1 is still the champ in bass punch. The HD25-1 is not very good in low bass.
- Ergonomics wise, I still prefer the tighter clamping HD25-1. I also feel that the pads material, either the synthetic leather or the verlour options to be better in the HD25-1.
- Cables are tougher in the HD25-1. At least it will lock more securely than the TMA-1’s.
- The HD25-1 is “brighter” in comparison to the TMA-1. It’s a semi-bright headphone actually.
- The HD25-1 has an awesome PRaT, mainly because of two things: the forward presentation, and the tight and punchy bass. The TMA-1 is not so far behind though. The bass is also tight and punchy, but overall, the HD25-1 is still better with PRaT.
I know a lot of my friends who would die for a headphone with the TMA-1’s sound. There is a lot of electronic and house music listeners out there. Not to mention the Jpop listeners would probably find the TMA-1 very fitting for their music too. Tracks after tracks, CDs after CDs of house, trance, and electronica, the AIAIAI TMA-1 is one hell of a musical journey! Truly, kudos to the guys at AIAIAI.
Equipment used for review:
Headphones: AIAIAI TMA-1
Amplifiers: Grace m902, Zana Deux, Ibasso PB-1
Source: CEC TL51XZ CD Player, Ipod Classic 120GB, Onkyo ND-S1 dock.