AIAIAI TMA-2 Modular Headphone Review
Headphones are a very personal purchase. From the way they sound to the image they portray, every DJ has their own idea of the perfect headphone. With this in mind, AIAIAI has created a fully modular headphone system enabling the user to pick their own parts to build a unique pair of headphones. With five speaker cups, seven headbands, four pads and thirteen cables available. Is this new method of building your own flat-pack headphone really the future? We take a closer look in this review to find out!
AIAIA TMA-2 Configurator
The TMA-2 Configurator is a fantastic tool on the AIAIA website that allows the user to build their ultimate TMA-2 set up. This super easy tool helps swap between all available parts, with slick animations throughout. Once the parts are chosen, the details of the headphone are displayed. This includes the sound profile, speaker specifications and the weight of the headphones. The completed headphone is then available to buy in one easy bundle at one price.
The TMA-2 Components
The Speaker Units
AIAIAI offer five speaker units at the time of writing. Sold in pairs, the speaker units are entire cups that easily attach to the TMA-2 headbands without the need for tools. Each speaker is specifically tuned for a specific purpose and sound characteristic. All speaker units currently use a 40mm driver with the same outer shell, with only the internal speaker diaphragm changing.
AIAIAI kindly sent us two speaker units to review, the first being the punchy, bass focused S02. This unit is found in the DJ Preset (more on presets later), and it certainly delivers the bass. Coated in titanium to reduce distortion, the speaker features internal vents to push more air in the lower frequencies. The bass is impressive and there is no denying that. However, we found the S02 lack any real clarity with mids being severely affected. Vocals are muddy, instruments feel compressed, and the overall sound stage feels close and very small. The S02 doesn’t allow any instrument separation, with the low frequencies dominating throughout. Brilliant if all you want to hear is a kick drum, disappointing for anything else.
The S05 speaker unit is the latest driver to grace the TMA-2 range. The most expensive option in the range, the S05 is constructed from stiff Bio-Cellulose, aiming to deliver a more natural tone. After first hearing the S02 drivers, the S05 was a breath of fresh air, the polar opposite of the earlier drivers characteristics. The sound stage feels immediately wider. The highs are full of detail and vocals are pronounced. The low’s aren’t severely affected by these changes either, still dropping low and punching hard. The S05 have a slight bias towards high-end frequencies but overall deliver a much cleaner sound, a vast improvement!
Once a sore spot for AIAIAI, with early TMA-1 headphones suffering from snapping issues, the new TMA-2 headbands are stronger and more flexible than ever. The headbands all contain the audio cables built in to connect the speaker cups and are finished in the trademark matte black.
Constructed from high-grade nylon, the reinforced H02 band features a small silicon head pad that runs underneath. The headband is ideal for DJs, being tough enough to survive flexing and feeling great around the neck. If silicone isn’t preferable, users can opt for foam, PU leather or even microfibre model instead.
Using a H05 or H06 headband, the TMA-2 can easily become a Bluetooth headset. These headbands allow the user to listen to audio or make phone calls wirelessly, ideal for when travelling to a gig. Bluetooth is still too laggy for wireless DJ use, but the traditional audio cables can still connect to the speaker units’ bottom. This allows the DJ to use the cable connection for DJ’ing and then the Bluetooth connection when travelling.
The Bluetooth headbands are slightly thicker in design than the regular units. Inside the band are the Bluetooth chip and a built-in battery, microphone, and control buttons. The Bluetooth bands also feature an inbuilt USB-C charging port cleverly hidden near the speakers’ cables which is a nice touch indeed.
The H05 headband costs £110 and features 16 hours of battery life. Inside, the band features a high-quality Bluetooth chipset that supports the Aptx HD codec. Using this codec means the headphones can wirelessly transmit 24-bit hi-res audio, equal to CD quality.
The H06 headband is visually very similar, sharing the same USB C charging port and three control buttons. However, the H06 transmits audio at a lower quality, extending the battery life to a claimed 20 hours. Costing £90 the H06 is the cheapest way to convert the TMA-2 to Bluetooth, and unless paired with high-quality S05 speaker units, the quality difference won’t be noticeable.
AIAIAI offer four choices of ear cups made with memory foam that clip neatly onto any speaker unit via four ball joints. The on-ear pads will feel very familiar to anybody that has worn Sennheiser HD-25’s headphones before. Available in either PU leather or microfibre, these pads are comfortable and offer decent isolation.
The larger over-ear pads are more expensive but excel in comfort, offering better sound isolation than on-ear variants. Aimed more for longer listening sessions, these cups are available in either PU Leather or Alcantara. Producers will especially enjoy the Alcantara over ears which instantly turns the TMA-2’s into the most comfortable headphone we have ever tested.
Finally, we have to mention the isolation offered by these headphones. Although we had no issue using these headphones in loud environments, the speaker units’ bleed is especially noticeable. The back of the cups transmits your music out to everyone nearby. Something that can get frustrating when using the headphone in an office or public space.
AIAIAI’s cable has proven excellent quality throughout our testing. There is a cable for almost every use case and colour variations of those too. DJs will be most interested in either the coiled C02 cable or C05 straight cable with both features featuring a 90-degree jack plug. Perfect for use on a DJ mixer.
Other cables include inline mic options with a lightning port for iPhones, USB type C for Android, and finally a Triad hi-fi cable. The triad hi-fi cables feature better shielding for reduced interference although we’re unsure how noticeable this difference will ever be. Robust, durable and nicely finished, we have no complaints with the TMA-2 cable options, with a cable to suit every need.
Packaging and Build
AIAIAI are making a very conscious effort to reduce their impact on the environment, and their philosophy can be seen throughout the TMA-2. The modular design not only allows users to create their ultimate headphone, but it enables the same pair to be used in various situations. Rather than having three pairs of headphones, one for DJ’ing, another for travelling and finally a pair for producing. The DJ can now have their TMA-2’s, use the Bluetooth connection whilst travelling and then connect a cable when at the gig. Once home, switch the speaker units for a more balanced sound profile and use the headphones to produce.
Another significant advantage of the modular system is the ability to upgrade or change individual parts rather than purchasing a full new pair of headphones. AIAIAI are currently building complete repair guides for users to fix their damaged headphones easily should the worst occur.
Finally, the self build modular system reduced packaging and shipping. Each piece of the headphone comes sealed in packaging made from 100% recycled material. Each part inside its bag is then placed into a smaller box than a fully assembled pair, again saving on CO2.
“Building” the headphones takes a matter of seconds to complete with minimal fuss. The red insert on the right speaker cup ensures the headband installs correctly. The cups push onto the headband with a tiny bit of force, no tools necessary. All cables lock-in with a 90-degree twist, to ensure nothing comes loose. Finally, the ear pads lock to the speaker units via a simple ball joint. A simple and elegant solution, we’re a big fan of the environmental benefits AIAIAI have brought to headphone design.
The AIAIAI TMA-2’s are seen on the heads of some of the biggest DJ’s around. The matte black finish and minimal aesthetic perfectly suit the current fashion trends at the moment. But are these DJ’s wearing these headphones because of their image or because of their sound? Well, that depends on the set up you choose. To take some of the fuss out of selecting your own parts, AIAIAI have created presets. These are pre-selected parts built around specific individuals needs, for example, the DJ preset.
The DJ preset consists of a S02 speaker driver with on-ear PU leather pads and a rugged H02 headband. We were sent the DJ preset alongside the range-topping HD wireless presets to review by AIAIAI. And we’re grateful to have received both pairs as it allowed us to swap between the individual parts to find what suited us best. The HD Wireless included the S05 speaker drivers, which sound far superior to the S02 units and massively changed how we approached this review.
For us, the DJ Preset feels superb in hand and on the head. Being lightweight, comfortable and rugged, we’d trust these headphones to last a very long time. However, we don’t like the way they sound. The S02 drivers are super bass-heavy, ideal for beat matching sure but the rest of the tracks detail suffers massively. Sennheiser HD-25’s have proven for decades that a strong bass profile isn’t necessary to make a headphone good for DJ’ing, so we’re surprised the S02’s sound as muddy as they do.
That said, swap the S02 for the far superior S05 units and our opinion of the TMA-2 changes instantly. Now we have a well built, versatile that sounds as good as it looks! We strongly advise DJ’s take the time to head to a local store to listen to the difference between the speaker units before making a choice. The flatter S04 and S05 units being head and shoulders above the other units offered by AIAIAI.
Overall, we’re impressed with the TMA-2’s when configured correctly. They stand unique in the market, and we can fully understand why more and more DJs are switching. We’re a big fan of the concept, not only for the benefits brought to the customer but also for the environment. Rather than telling you what you need, AIAIAI allows the DJ to make their custom headphone with minimal fuss. A great situation in which everyone wins.