AIAIAI TMA-1X Stereo Headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Feb 1, 2014.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube review: AIAIAI TMA-1X Stereo Headphone review by Dale - YouTube


    Sources: iPhone5, iPhone5 with FiiO E07k using LOD, iPhone5 with Decware Zen Head amp, various computers using the Microstreamer and Audioengine D3 DAC/amps.

    Review notes: My first impressions of the sound of the TMA-1X are based on direct comparisons to other headphones - in particular the Shure 1540, B&O H6, B&W P7, v-moda M100, Beyerdynamic T51p, and notes I've accumulated from many prior reviews. I describe how I relate to the TMA-1X (i.e. my personal tastes and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the objective issues.

    When I first put the TMA-1X on, I was surprised at hearing a full-fidelity sound with great bass support and slightly soft highs. Longer listening confirmed the overall quality of the sound, which was clear and clean with no distortions. Summing up the TMA-1X sound based on a long listen plus comparisons to the above headphones, the bass is excellent, having a good balance without looseness or bloat, but most importantly, a real weight that supports most genres of music extremely well. I realize that this impression is biased by what a person is most accustomed to, so my descriptions and comparisons should help show where the TMA-1X fits into the overall bass hierarchy. The TMA-1X midrange is clear, uncolored, not forward or recessed, and gives voices and instruments their proper tone. The earcups and earpads are small, but they contain 40 mm drivers that play loudly and cleanly with no perceptible distortion.

    The TMA-1X treble is very slightly shy of "classic neutral", but I suspect that most users will like it as is. It's clear and clean and well-balanced, and the only possible negatives would be a moderate emphasis at 4 khz, 7 khz, and a drop of about 4-5 db between 1 khz and 1.5 khz. Most headphones I've had vary quite a bit in the lower treble, so my worst-case dread is having an obvious and large resonance peak somewhere in the treble (or for that matter anywhere else), and the TMA-1X is free of that as well as any major recess. The TMA-1X has a good soundstage for a small closed headphone, but the recording makes a much bigger difference to soundstage than the headphone itself. Adding to that the influence of treble - the more highs you have (up to a point) the bigger the soundstage may seem to be. The TMA-1X is pretty small, so don't expect miracles, just excellent sound.

    Reiterating the most sensitive aspect of the TMA-1X's sound from the most common user viewpoints - the bass is as good as or better than my ATH ESW9a headphone that costs twice as much. People who do gaming and require a heavier impact, or people who use the headphone on public transport where background sounds contain a lot of low frequencies - these users usually prefer a larger headphone which can produce the boosted bass frequencies more cleanly than a small headphone, since the small headphone is typically being stressed beyond its design limits by the use of bass booster controls and EQ settings. In the case of the TMA-1X, the bass has very good weight and needs no boost, and in fact it wouldn't sound better with a boost, so for people who need really big bass I'd recommend a different headphone. Like most headphones, the TMA-1X sound improves noticeably with DACs and headphone amps as compared to driving the headphone with just a low-cost portable music player or cellphone.

    To appreciate the difference a good DAC and amp can make, play music using the DAC/amp first, then switch to a portable music player and hear the difference. That difference is usually subtle and difficult to appreciate the other way around: if you listen with the portable player first and then switch to the DAC/amp. I think that's because it's easier to hear what detail is lost in the former example instead of what's gained in the latter example, unless what's gained is dramatic. TMA-1X isolation is very good - better than 10 db at treble frequencies but less less lower down, as it is with all non-noise-canceling headphones. Leakage is low - if used in a very quiet office next to other cubicles, persons in those cubicles won't likely hear disturbing sounds unless the TMA-1X is played at full volume. There's no significant difference in bass response when wearing the TMA-1X with eyeglasses on, but when wearing glasses while listening, the leakage might be slightly higher than otherwise.

    The TMA-1X's design is minimal - all black plastic, but it seems well-made and durable. The headband has a moderate clamp and stretches much wider than my average head, the earcups have click detents that are very secure, and the earcups can be extended at least an inch further than where they fit my ears. The TMA-1X's earcups don't contact my chin when they're extended all the way down and I'm wearing the headphone around my neck, which makes the TMA-1X the perfect portable headphone, because I don't need a carry case in everyday use. The earpads are soft and not likely to pinch most ears, especially since the headband clamp is moderate. The headband has almost no padding, but it is covered with a foamy fabric, and since the headphone is very light it won't bother most users. In case there is a comfort issue, I recommend pulling the earcups down one more notch on either side to shift more weight to the earcups.

    The cable is single-sided (left side) and looks like it sits in an assembly that can be snapped out, but I wasn't able to find information on that on AIAIAI's website or in any reviews, so I'm assuming it isn't detachable. It's a rubber-coated cable and looks strong, but tends to twist its own way instead of just hanging free. The cable has a small box 4 inches from the earcup with a start-stop button on it. There's a mic in that box but I haven't tested it. The plug is a right-angled Apple-style miniplug with the extra connector for the start-stop control and the mic. There's no carrycase supplied with the TMA-1X, but being a very light and rubbery headphone that can be carried around the neck with no bother or stowed in a backpack (as long as nothing can penetrate into the drivers), I don't think a carrycase would be important enough to justify adding that to the price of the headphone as a standard accessory.

    The music tracks below have been listed in a number of prior reviews, and are a selection of my most revealing tracks for headphone testing. Since these tracks cover a wide range of genres and were selected from my tests of very different headphones, there won't be a bias toward the TMA-1X with this music. My suggestion is instead of reading each comment below as an absolute unto itself, you could compare these notes to the prior reviews and see how the TMA-1X compares with each individual track.
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    TMA-1X review part 2 - music samples

    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has excellent detail, tone, and weight, and both male and female vocals sound natural, without favoring either. The TMA-1X plays this perfectly.

    Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead (~1980): Strong midrange sound effects - this is a good worst-case test for resonant-type sounds in the most sensitive midrange area. Handled extremely well by the TMA-1X.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note for the TMA-1X are the strong bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts won't astound you since they're well in the background, but you can really feel the weight they carry.

    Black Sabbath - Iron Man (Classic Rock): Very good instrumental detail and the vocal sounds very natural. As with most classic rock tracks, there is very little or no deep bass. The TMA-1X plays this music very smoothly, and the lack of deep bass doesn't unbalance the treble.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Good sound quality - this is a great test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled very well by the TMA-1X.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The TMA-1X plays the voices with enough low end warmth and weight to sound very natural, yet there is almost no added emphasis of the lower register of the male voices on this track.

    Cath Carroll - Moves Like You (1980's New Wave/Techno): This track's percussion and voice are crisp and well-balanced, and there's a good sense of space or soundstage around the voices and instruments. The TMA-1X reproduces the space and detail convincingly.

    Catherine Wheel - Black Metallic (~1991): Goth with industrial overtones - I like this since it's a great music composition and the sound effects are smoothly integrated into the mix. This may sound distorted or mushy with some headphones, but the TMA-1X renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The TMA-1X plays this high treble energy recording very smoothly - the voice and instruments are detailed but not sharp or edgy.

    Chromatics - I'm On Fire (Synth-Pop, female lead): This track has a good amount of space around the voice and instruments, making for a very pleasant stereo image. The voice is excellent, and the tambourine is clearly identifiable.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The TMA-1X reproduces the instruments smoothly with a spacious ambiance. The wire-brush-on-cymbal harmonics are very extended and detailed.

    Grieg (Beecham-Royal Philharmonic) - Peer Gynt-Solveig's Lullaby (Classical): This very old (late 1950's) stereo recording must have been made on the most expensive gear in the world, since the overall sound quality and especially Ilse Hollweg's amazing voice are as close to "being there" as I've heard with some of the better classical recordings made since the year 2000. The TMA-1X plays this music perfectly.

    Hans Zimmer - Dark Knight-Aggressive Expansion (Soundtrack): The percussion in this track hits really hard, and the bass tones beginning around 0:45 have the ultra-deep "shuddery" kind of sound and feel that indicates an excellent deep-bass response. Overall, the TMA-1X plays this music extremely well.

    Hugo Audiophile - 15-16 (Electronic): I'm not sure what the 15-16 stands for - perhaps track numbers from a CD album. The strong deep-bass tones that start around 33-34 seconds into the track reproduce very well with the TMA-1X. This is a great recording for evaluating whether a headphone's bass will be sufficient for most environments, since for many headphones that have a weaker bass, the deep bass gets absorbed and mostly lost when the environment contains a lot of low-frequency energy.

    Jimmy Smith - Basin Street Blues (early 60's): This track has several loud crescendos of brass and other instruments that don't sound clean and musical with some headphones. The TMA-1X provides very good reproduction. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in for maximum detail effect. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrumental separation and detail, and the TMA-1X plays them well.

    Kellogg Auditorium, Battle Creek Michigan, Aeolian-Skinner Organ (1933) - Pedal, 32', Resultant, Arpeggio: This 16 hz organ pedal tone differs from other music tones in that you won't "hear" the tone - you'll only feel it. Although most music tones have harmonics (including this one), the harmonics from this tone will be too weak to provide any "feel", so whatever you actually hear would not be part of the fundamental 16 hz tone. There are ~30 hz sounds in the outdoor environment in big cities, generated by large trucks, buses, and subway trains, and they have a quality of "rumble" that's similar to some deep-bass tones found in music. This 16 hz organ tone is easily distinguished from those sounds when compared on a headphone that has good undistorted response at 16 hz.

    Michael Tilson Thomas - Rhapsody In Blue (20th Century Classic): Great sound and soundstage, and terrific piano playing and tone. There are some very deep bass impacts starting around 38 seconds into the 17:24 length track, and the weight of those impacts is subtle but appreciable with the TMA-1X.

    Phaeleh - Afterglow (feat. Soundmouse) (Electronic/Vocal): The instrumental sounds that begin this track are played very nicely by the TMA-1X, but the voice tends to overwhelm those background sounds - until the heavy bass impacts kick in. If there is any doubt about whether the TMA-1X will play heavy impactful bass with good detail (if such sounds are really in the recording), this track is the proof. If you were to begin your TMA-1X listening with this track, you might think you were listening to a headphone that has a very boosted but tight and detailed bass. Simply amazing.

    Porcupine Tree - Trains (Pop-Rock): This track opens with some nicely-detailed string sounds and a forward-sounding male voice with a higher-than-average register. There are a series of "clip-clop" effects starting at 3:19 that lack clarity and proper harmonic detail on some headphones, and although the TMA-1X doesn't ace those sounds, the end effect is a useful facsimile.

    Richard Strauss (Mester-Pasadena) - Also Sprach Zarathustra (opening) (Classical): The granddaddy of bass is in the opening 1:50 of this recording, and I've heard it only once on a large and expensive loudspeaker system in Cleveland. For most people, that experience would be indistinguishable from being in a fairly strong earthquake. The TMA-1X conveys as much of that experience as is possible on a hi-fi headphone. The tympani also have good impact here.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and highly detailed, and the TMA-1X renders the tones and transients very well.

    Trombone Shorty - Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The deep bass impacts here are unusually strong, and work very well with the horns and other instruments. The TMA-1X delivers the impacts with proper weight and great detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.

    William Orbit - Optical Illusion (Billy Buttons Mix) (Electronic): This is about as close as I want to get to easy-listening music. The string tones beginning at 0:18 are fairly soft, and while the bass isn't very deep, it still adds a good underpinning to the music. The short poetic rap at 4:14, preceded by an etherial female voice, works very well with this track.

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