AIAIAI TMA-2 Young Guru/DJ Stereo Headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Apr 15, 2015.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube review:


    Sources: iPhone6+ with Portaphile Micro/PA2V2/FiiO E17k amps using the LOD, various computers using Microstreamer/Oppo HA-2/v-moda Verza DAC/amps.

    Review notes: My first impressions of the sound of the AIAIAI TMA2 are based on direct comparisons to other headphones - the v-moda M100 and XS, the FAD Pandora VI and IV, the Beyerdynamic T1 and T90, the AKG K812 and K712, and notes that I've accumulated from many prior reviews. I'll describe how I relate to the TMA2 (i.e. my personal tastes and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the objective issues.

    There is no single version of the TMA2 as it turns out, since this is a modular headphone system with driver and earpad (as well as other) options that produce different sounds. I can't say at this point what all of the possibilities are, since I have the 'Warm' (S03) and 'Vibrant' (S04) driver units, and the Pleather (E04) and Microfiber (E05) earpads only. What I can say is that the difference between my two different configurations is much less than the difference between the TMA2's I have and most of the headphones listed above. My TMA2's have more in common with 'DJ' headphones like the v-moda LP2 and Sennheiser HD8DJ than they do with the above headphones. That's a positive thing, but getting the most out of these TMA2's requires proper amping. These headphones will play loudly with an iPhone or iPad for example, but adding a DAC/amp like the Oppo HA-2 improves the clarity and bass definition somewhat.

    It's when I use a desktop/computer amp like the HRT Microstreamer, or the Microstreamer DAC with various analog amps, that the TMA2 sounds its best. I'm going to assume if someone uses the TMA2** for DJ-ing and similar work, that their consoles or mixers will be designed to drive this kind of headphone properly. For those who aren't familiar with the "DJ sound" as I like to call it, headphones like the AKG K712 and Beyerdynamic T90 are at one end of the spectrum with a very lean bass and bright treble, and the DJ headphones I've noted here are somewhat toward the other end of the spectrum with an enhanced bass and soft treble. Many popular headphones such as the B&W P7 or Sennheiser Momentum occupy the middle ground, which is often referred to as a 'Lifestyle' sound. The music tracks listed below will help to illustrate the qualities that the TMA2 brings to different types of music. Note the Kellogg Auditorium track comments - the bass isn't merely strong, it delivers the fundamental tone with great realism.

    **For this review, 'TMA2' refers to my 2 TMA2 configurations only.

    Another aspect to the sound besides the signature (frequency response) and the ability to deliver fundamental tones properly is the overall sound quality that depends on a smooth transition of tones from top to bottom, as well as a lack of distortions. I don't do measurements with electronic test gear, but I have many music tracks that will stress the headphone in different ways, for example the Kellogg track where the 16 hz fundamental is not only strong, but is detailed enough to reveal the 'beats' that make up analog waveforms. Those 'beats' aren't audible unless the frequency is very low and the headphone is able to resolve them. Isolation is modest - not enough for many users on passenger jets or noisy trains, but satisfactory in my experience for use in public near average traffic zones etc. The leakage is also moderate, and unlikely to be a problem when used on a train, bus, or jet plane, but if used in a public library or a very quiet office, the volume would have to be kept below audiophile levels.

    My previous AIAIAI headphone (TMA1x), looked very similar to the TMA2's that I have here, but the TMA2's are beefier and made for heavier-usage applications - DJ-ing for example. Unlike many DJ-style headphones however, the TMA2 is ultra-comfortable with a padded headband and soft, squishy earpads that have room for average-size ears and larger. Of the 2 cables I have, one is rubber-coated and the other is fabric-covered. Both cables have ~18-inch coils, and their length is ~5 feet without stretching and about twice that length stretched out. The rubber cable is designed to be much easier to stretch out. The cables have standard 3.5 mm miniplugs on each end, and while the earcup ends have locking connectors, I found that a generic cable can be substituted in a pinch if the sleeve ahead of the metal plug is no thicker than ~6.35 mm.

    The headband's range of adjustment is nearly 7/4 inch on each side - about 3/4 inch larger from where it fits me and one inch smaller, which is better than average for full-size headphones. Note that when using the TMA2 as a portable headphone, or just walking around the studio etc., a carry case isn't essential since the headphone can be pulled off the head and worn around the neck comfortably with the earcups fully extended. In previous reviews I've included the following music examples with comments about how the headphones sound with each track. My suggestion is instead of reading each one as an absolute unto itself, you could compare my notes here to those other reviews and see how the TMA2 compares with each individual track. Note also that I used the 'Vibrant' drivers for these tests, and my primary amp was the HRT Microstreamer playing with a MacBook Pro and iTunes, using CD-quality lossless tracks, with no equalization or tone controls.
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Active Member

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

    Animotion - Obsession (1980's New Wave/Techno): The upper bass synth has excellent detail and tone, and both male and female vocals sound natural without favoring either. The TMA2 plays this extremely well.

    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 perfectly by the TMA2.

    Beethoven Symphony 9, Solti/CSO (1972): Excellent overall sound. Of special note here are the bass impacts beginning around 10:30 of the fourth movement. Those impacts are soft and well in the background, but you can feel the weight they carry with the TMA2.

    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 TMA2 plays this music smoothly, and the lack of deep bass doesn't unbalance the treble.

    Boz Scaggs - Lowdown (1976): Great sound quality - this is a good test for any nasality in the midrange. Handled extremely well by the TMA2.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The TMA2 plays the voices with enough low end warmth and weight to sound very natural, yet there is no excessive 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 TMA2 reproduces the space and detail very well.

    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 TMA2 renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The TMA2 plays this high treble energy recording very smoothly - the voice and instruments are very detailed but not edgy - very musical in fact.

    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 recognizable.

    David Hazeltine - Fur Elise (Jazz): A very high-quality recording from HDTracks. The TMA2 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 TMA2 plays this track 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 a solid deep-bass response. The TMA2 plays this music extremely well.

    Heaven 17 - Let Me Go (1980's New Wave/Techno): The bass instrument (guitar?) has excellent detail, and the voices and ambiance have a "you are there" quality that's uncommon in early 1980's pop music. The TMA2 plays this perfectly.

    Hugo Audiophile - 15-16 (Electronic): I'm not sure what the 15-16 stands for - perhaps track numbers from a CD album. The deep-bass tones that start around 33-34 seconds into the track reproduce very well with the TMA2. 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 TMA2 provides great detail. Listen particularly to the second crescendo at 15 seconds in for best-case detail. I'd like to emphasize that these crescendos are probably the worst-case test I have for instrument separation and detail, and the TMA2 does those very 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. The TMA2 plays the fundamental tone so well that you can hear/feel the 16 cycle per second "beats" that make up that tone.

    Mantovani - Sunrise Sunset (Easy Listening, ca. 1972): A master musician and conductor who specialized in light classics and orchestral pop music, Mantovani's accomplishments were overshadowed by music critics who couldn't tolerate the notion of "light classics" or "semi-classical" music, even when those recordings were no threat to the classical music genres. In any case the later Mantovani recordings from the mid-1960's through mid-1970's had the advantage of being mixed for much better hi-fi systems than those which the music critics possessed at the start of the Long Playing (LP) record cycle. Here in 2014, at least some of those digital remasters have improved the sound further, although it's not always the case. This track as played on the TMA2 is a perfect example of the sheer musicality lurking in those later recordings, and is highly recommended for soundstage, instrumental tone, and musical balance.

    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 impressive with the TMA2.

    Pinback - Non Photo Blue (Pop-Rock): Crispy sound with "crunchy guitars and bashing drums" - the TMA2 renders this music with good impact but less "crunch" effect than many of the brighter consumer headphones.

    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 should sound like they were made with wooden blocks of some kind. The TMA2's reproduction is very good.

    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 TMA2 conveys as much of that experience as is possible on a typical full-size headphone. The tympani also have good impact here.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Major K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is fairly bright and detailed, and the TMA2 renders the tones and transients clearly.

    Tiger Okoshi - Bootsman's Little House (Jazz): The trumpet here is recorded fairly close up and is somewhat bright with a significant "bite". The TMA2's reproduction is quite good, and the close-miked piano is also a treat. For comparison, I have several Maynard Ferguson tracks that feature a similarly strong trumpet with lots of brassy bite.

    Trombone Shorty - Backatown (Jazz-Funk): The deep bass impacts here are strong and work extremely well with the horns and other instruments. The TMA2 delivers the impacts with great weight and detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a very realistic sound.

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