AIAIAI Tracks On-ear Stereo Headphone review

Discussion in 'Headphone Reviews' started by dalethorn, Jan 8, 2015.

  1. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    Youtube review:


    Sources: iPhone6+ with Portaphile Micro/PA2V2/Decware Zen Head amps using the LOD, various computers using Microstreamer/Beyer A200p/v-moda Verza DAC/amps.

    Review notes: My first impressions of the sound of the AIAIAI Tracks 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 Tracks (i.e. my personal tastes and how I use the headphone) only after covering all of the objective issues.

    I've avoided most low-cost headphones at this point for several reasons, the biggest reason being that the low cost of manufacturing doesn't allow the kind of detailed quality control in driver matching etc. to guarantee that the sound will be exactly the same (or close to it) from sample to sample. A second reason is the approximately 24 work hours required to test the headphone, make a video, process a couple of photos, and write the report - a lot of work if customers purchase the item and it doesn't sound very close to what the review describes. But, I had a Tracks in my Amazon "Save for Later" basket for a long time, so I went ahead and ordered it, to perform the tests necessary to create this review. My previous experience with the AIAIAI TMA-1x didn't help to prepare for this review, since the TMA-1x has a 4.5 db recess at 2.5 khz and an 8 db recess at 10 khz, whereas the Tracks has an opposite sound with a 4.5 db recess at 2 khz and a huge broad peak stretching from +11 db at 3 khz to +6 db at 9 khz.

    The primary utility I'm using for this review is the Audioforge equalizer, which allows me to 'flatten' the sound (to reduce resonance effects mainly), which in turn produces a chart that shows how the sound of the Tracks varies from the average of the best headphones I've had. This review is aimed at audiophiles with extremely limited budgets, who use portable music players, and who need the very best headphone they can get in this price range. All other users should skip the critical analysis of the sound in the next paragraph, and read on from there.

    Out of the box, the Tracks sounds fairly smooth, since the treble peak is very broad with only a few small bumps. What's really unusual about the Tracks is that nearly every small on-ear headphone I've had has a significantly recessed treble, and several of those are so recessed that I couldn't even review them. Another oddity with the Tracks is how the open-back design could produce such a strong peak at 3 khz. So I can't imagine who this headphone was designed for, other than a replacement for the equally bright Apple Earpods, for someone who wants an actual headphone rather than earpods or earbuds. The good news is that the bass is very good, with only a small (~2 db) emphasis around 100 hz, and with the magic afforded by the Audioforge equalizer, the treble flattens nicely and the soundstage becomes very lifelike.

    The Tracks has no isolation and leakage is total, so this headphone wouldn't be acceptable in offices, libraries, and possibly not even on noisy trains and buses etc. Both the overall weight and earpad pressure are very light, and I'd judge the Tracks to be one of the most comfortable headphones I've ever used. This is an ideal portable headphone in the sense that it can be pulled off the head when not in use and worn around the neck with no comfort issues, but of course the isolation and leakage are the limiting factors for portable use. The range of adjustment for different head sizes is good - at least 1/2 inch up or down on each side, where my average size head fits in the middle of that range. The cable is double-entry and non-detachable, and while it's thin, it looks to be durable enough given the extremely light weight of the headphone. The music player controls (volume up/down, start/stop, microphone) work OK with the iPhone at least.

    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 Tracks compares with each individual music track. Note that the comments below apply to the Tracks' sound played with the Audioforge equalizer as noted above.
  2. dalethorn

    dalethorn Obsessive Auditor

    Jul 3, 2011
    Charleston South Carolina
    AIAIAI Tracks 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 Tracks plays this very 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 Tracks.

    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 some of the weight they carry with the Tracks.

    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 Tracks 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 Tracks.

    Cantus - Danny Boy (Traditional/Male Choral/Acapella): The Tracks plays the voices with enough low end warmth and weight to sound very natural, yet there is 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 Tracks 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 Tracks renders the deliberate instrumental distortions clearly.

    Chris Isaak - Wicked Game (Pop/Rock): The Tracks 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 Tracks reproduces the instruments smoothly with a spacious ambiance, and 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 Tracks 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 that indicates a solid deep-bass response, although the weight of those tones is somewhat light. The Tracks 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 Tracks plays this track 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 Tracks. 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 Tracks 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 Tracks 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 Tracks plays the fundamental tone with some weight, but the distortion components are obvious.

    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 Tracks 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 very subtle with the Tracks.

    Pinback - Non Photo Blue (Pop-Rock): Crispy sound with "crunchy guitars and bashing drums" - the Tracks renders this music as perfectly as I've heard an energetic pop-rock recording played with any headphone.

    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 Tracks reproduces that sound effect perfectly.

    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 Tracks conveys that experience to some extent, but with less impact than the better headphones I've used. The Tympani have good impact here.

    Scarlatti-Kipnis - Sonata in E Tracks K381 (Classical, Harpsichord): The harpsichord here is normally bright and detailed, but the Tracks raises that brightness to a new level.

    Tiger Okoshi - Bootsman's Little House (Jazz): The trumpet here is recorded fairly close up and is somewhat bright with a significant "bite". The Tracks' reproduction is near-perfect, 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 Tracks delivers the impacts with decent weight and detail, and the horns have the kind of bite that gives them a wonderfully realistic sound.

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