When the Aiaiai TMA-1 first came across our review desk, our first move was to figure out how to properly pronounce the name (we’re just now beginning to agree on how to pronounce Phiaton). With that out of the way, we turned our attention to the company itself because, frankly, we’d not heard of them before. It turns out Aiaiai is a Danish company that was originally conceived in a club at the top of a building in Copenhagen back in 2005. Aiaiai seems to be propelled by creativity and design, drawing on the expertise of artists and designers who are masters of their craft and, therefore, reads like a company with a lot of passion for what they do.
That said, ingenious marketing does not a wonderful-sounding headphone make. So, we found ourselves eager to give the TMA-1 a try. In this review, we’ll take a closer look at the TMA-1 and see how they compare against similarly priced and positioned headphones.
Today’s headphone market has created a certain set of expectations from priced over $200. Pride in ownership has become an important design point, and this has managed to trickle right down to the product packaging. Annoying, difficult-to-open clamshells are being left in the dust (thank goodness) in favor of plush cases and ornate boxes. Aiaiai didn’t phone in the TMA-1 packaging, but thankfully, designers didn’t go overboard either. The large box that contains the headphones is heavy gauge. Inside the black box, we found the TMA-1 nestled upon a plastic-backed piece of acoustic foam with cutouts to accommodate the headphones. With the bottom portion of the box rested inside the lid, the box could double as a display or storage case for use at home.
Along with the headphones, we found the headphone cable, a threaded 1/8-inch-to-¼-inch headphone adapter, a spare set of ear pads, a microfiber storage pouch with an oversized zipper and a user manual, which we found to be more informative than most.
Features and design
The TMA-1 certainly suit the role of a DJ headphone, as they are clearly built to be resilient and durable. At first glance, the omission of any sort of label or other branding tactic is obvious. The TMA-1 look unique enough not to need flashy badges or printing in order to be easily distinguished.
The removable headphone cable, which attaches to the lower part of the left headphone, is stout, tangle resistant and provides a pleasant, “grippy” feeling that keeps it from sliding around.
The headphones themselves are entirely matte black, and provide the same sort of anti-skid texture which feels simultaneously rugged and classy. It also seems impervious to fingerprints and scratches. We wouldn’t be at all surprised if these cans were to come out unscathed after dragging them along the sidewalk, though we didn’t wager to test that theory.
The ear pads are soft, supple and very well padded. Replacing the ear cups, or any other part of the headphones’ innards, is a cake-walk due to the TMA-1’s modular design. Aiaiai claims it took this approach to facilitate easy and cost-conscious part replacement, should it be necessary.
The two headphones are connected by a coiled cord sheathed in the same material as found on the main headphone cable. Inside each ear-cup is a 40mm driver, which is large enough to produce significant bass response. It is worth noting that the closed-back ear cups may be the smallest we’ve seen to accommodate that size of driver.
While many headphones in this class, DJ-focused or otherwise, can be folded down or the ear-cups otherwise rotatable, the TMA-1 are fixed. That said, they are extremely malleable, and can be bent into pretty much any position to suit one-ear listening if desired. We really worked these headphones around but they returned to their original shape every time.
The ¼-inch headphone adapter is threaded so that it can be locked into place at the end of the cable. If an unwary passer-by were to trip or strain the cable in any way, the cord will pop out from beneath the left earphone, a feature that ought to sit well with DJs.
A version of the TMA-1 is available with an Apple microphone and controls for those who wish to use them with iPhones, but that version is only available through the Apple store.
We tested the TMA-1 with our trusty headphone test bench of equipment comprised of an iPhone 4, iPod Touch, Marantz SR6005 A/V receiver, Pioneer turntable with Ortofon OM5E cartridge, Bellari phono pre-amp, HeadRoom micro DAC and HeadRoom micro amp.
We started our testing by plugging the TMA-1 directly into our iPhone and hitting the shuffle button. From there we went through 10 different songs and let the headphones deliver our first impression. To be perfectly frank, it has been a long time since a headphone has managed to arrest our attention so quickly. Given that we test a lot of headphones, we usually have to relax into the sound, allowing for ears to become accustomed to some of the nuanced differences that separate different models and designs. The TMA-1 sounded incredible right out of the box and just as beautiful in the first 10 seconds as they did 20 listening hours later.
Our first test track ended up being I gotta feeling by the BlackEyed Peas. On this track, the bass was remarkably punchy, and we had a moment of concern that this characteristic would be replicated on subsequent tracks; that wasn’t the case, though. The TMA-1’s bass performance, song after song, was indicative of the song’s intended mix. When asked to do so, the TMA-1 could punch a hole straight through your head, which should be appealing to DJ’s who need to hear a song’s tempo clearly against outside noise. As we moved through more test tracks, we found that the TMA-1’s bass response tracked right in line with what the song was delivering.
Midrange response was lush, uncongested and extremely dynamic. We found vocals were full of texture and drums, particularly the smack of a snare drum, had a remarkably realistic attack with lightning fast separation. The sound we experienced with the TMA-1 was as good, and better in some respects, as what we’ve heard with some of the most expensive studio monitors we’ve tested.
High frequencies, much to our thrill, were just slightly laid back. We still got plenty of sizzle and splash from cymbals, though, and transients on string instruments were very well pronounced. Brass instruments sounded remarkably accurate, too. As always, we acknowledge that taste in high frequency response varies greatly, but it just so happens that the TMA-1 nailed our preference in this regard to a tee.
The TMA-1 don’t provide a whole lot in terms of passive noise isolation. This design point may have taken a back-seat to sonic accuracy, which is just fine by us. Besides, with music at a moderate volume, we were sufficiently isolated from the noise around us and our music, even at healthy volumes, didn’t bleed from the headphones enough to disturb others.
Our only complaint, and it is a minor one, is that the headband could stand to be better padded for long listening sessions. Since the TMA-1 are pretty light, they didn’t put a lot of pressure on the top of our head, but a little padding would have made the headphones disappear on our head and help facilitate long-term listening with outstanding comfort.
Aiaiai’s TMA-1 are an excellent sounding set of closed-back headphones that stay true to the recordings they reproduce. These cans may be marketed to DJ’s, but they have such fantastic midrange and treble response we think that audiophiles with a secret love for guttural, punchy bass will fall in love with them. We also appreciate the fact that the TMA-1 manage to look classy without a bunch of glitzy branding plastered all over them. Their industrial-grade construction also gets our nod for making this set of headphones tough enough to take anywhere. No doubt, the TMA-1 are amongst the best $200 headphones we’ve tested to date.
- Excellent, lush sound
- Great sensitivity
- Durable build
- Classy design
- No padding on headband
- Don’t fold down
- Not much sound isolation