AIAIAI is a Danish brand that exclusively produces headphones. The TMA-1 was an immensely successful product for them and was the product that really put them on the map. The company recently launched a successor to the popular TMA-1, the TMA-2, and while the headphones look nearly identical in design, there are some new and interesting ideas AIAIAI is playing with. Execution has been AIAIAI’s number one issue for me, so we’ll see how well they’ve done this time.
The TMA-2 has been sent by AIAIAI.
The big idea behind the TMA-2 is the idea of modularity. The headphones are made up of a variety of modular parts, which include speaker units, headbands, earpads and cables, that can be all be easily swapped out. All in all, there are 360 possible configurations possible with the TMA-2. The ability to build your own headphones is a brilliant idea and is something that AIAIAI can also expand on in the future, with additional modules.
The packaging is well done. It’s modestly folded from a nicely textured black paper stock. Everything is done tastefully; there’s a debossed pattern on the front and the graphics are printed using a grey ink. I also like how the box is held together using plastic pegs on the sides of the box, rather than fussy tape.
To make SKU management easier, the various modular parts are individually packed in MRE-like packets. The graphical treatment is attractive and the label treatment on the backside is utilitarian.
The design of the TMA-2 is pretty much identical to its predecessor, the TMA-1. This is largely a good thing; the TMA-1’s simple, Scandinavian design was key to its success. The headphones are free of any unnecessary garnish and is made up of primitive, almost toy-like forms. It's not sophisticated but it's charming.
What makes the TMA-2’s design work is the consistency of its details. Little things like the debossed L/R graphics really make the TMA-2 feel like a holistically conceived device.
Like its predecessor, the TMA-2 has a soft-touch finish. It’s something I’ve never liked because it wears poorly and almost always turns gummy over time. The soft-touch coating used here seams to exhibit the same kind of poor durability. After just a week of use, I’ve been noticing some scraping on the top of the headband (visible in this photo). It may look good in photos and feel nice out of the box but it really isn’t a surface treatment with longevity in mind.
Like all of AIAIAI's products, the TMA-2 falls short is in execution. I can only describe the quality of molding here as being mediocre. The headband has molding defects everywhere – you can see a severe case of sink marks and flash on the headband. This is unacceptable in my opinion, especially when you consider that these headphones are competing in the $200+ price range.
Even with just two pairs of speakers and earpads, I found the variety of combinations I could make a bit overwhelming at first. I wondered how people would even go about purchasing their initial configuration and it turned out that AIAIAI had a great solution. They have a useful online configurator that lets you customize your headphones presented with a dynamic graph showing a sound profile for each configuration. If you like spending time on car configurators, you’ll enjoy this.
Unlike the TMA-1, the TMA-2 features headphone jacks on both sides of the headphones - a welcome change.
The H02 headband is made from nylon with a compression molded silicone headband. It’s completely void of any mechanical features and relies on material flex to fit over your ears. This does mean that it produces a significant amount of pressure on your ears. I find that on-ear earpads become too uncomfortable for extended use with the headband.
The 1.2m long C06 is the ideal cable for those intending to use the headphones with Apple devices. It features playback controls and also an in-line microphone. I like the smooth, matte finish of the cable as well.
The first thing you’ll notice about the TMA-2 speaker units is that they’re hard to tell apart from eachother. A small label on the inside of the unit is the only way to tell them apart and otherwise look completely identical. The S03 is designed to have “warm” sound. It has a titanium coated driver, which is fully sealed delivering a rich sound with emphasis on bass.
AIAIAI says that this one is meant to be “vibrant”. It has a Japanese voice coil and a lightweight diaphragm, which are designed for high sensitivity and increased details. The S04, like the S03, are still heavier on the bass side but offer a bit more emphasis on the treble offering a better balance. As you can see here, the TMA-2 uses a spring-loaded peg to position itself on the headband. It works but the completely plastic construction makes a terrible racket when you adjust them.
AIAIAI sent me two earpads, the E02 and E05. The E02s are made from polyurethane faux leather and sit on the ear. Producing a tight seal around the ear, the E02 earpads narrow sound stage and increases isolation and bass. As I've said, I personally find them to be too tight for extended use.
The E05 earpads offer superior comfort thanks to its over-ear design and microfiber finish. The E05s make soundstage wider and help neutralize the sound profile of bass-heavy speaker units. I really don’t like the shoddy craftsmanship and how much a dust magnet they are but keep going back to them because of their comfortable nature.
The TMA-2 uses a simple popper system to mount the earpads. Modularity is a special idea so emphasizing this with something like magnetic earpads would have been a nice touch.
S03 + E02
This combination produces a rich sound that’s probably the way the S03 units are meant to be enjoyed. Bass becomes the star of the show with highs being pushed a bit to the background. I’ve found this configuration to be better in higher volumes and with punchier music like pop or hip hop. This isn't personally a combination I would buy because the E02 earpads reduce soundstage significantly and the S03 speaker units lack too much clarity.
S03 + E05
This combination feels flat with the mids becoming more pronounced than the previous combination. I prefer the more delicate rendering of bass here and also like how the E05 pads significantly expands the sound stage. Some may find the neutral sound characteristic a bit too boring but it has low fatigue and is good for extended listening. If there was a bit more detail here, this combination could have been a winner.
If bass is all that matters, this is probably the best bet. I find the sound way too unbalanced as the bass ends up overpowering everything. There’s little detail, the soundstage is too narrow, making it all feel claustrophobic. Not a fan.
S04 + E05
Probably the most detailed and vibrant configuration. This one is my favorite, with the most amount of versatility in its sound profile. Bass is well rendered and punchy but doesn’t overpower the mids or treble. The E05 earpads help widen the soundstage and also allows you to enjoy the sensitive nature of the S04 speaker units. The vibrant sound of this combination seems to make this the ideal combination for everyday, casual use.
The TMA-2 is a wonderful concept. The ability to configure your own headphones really brings out the fun of discovering the delicate nature of sound. It was eye opening to find out that my least and most favorable combinations both used the same speaker units - I seemed to have underestimated the amount of impact earpads could have on sound. If AIAIAI ups their game on build quality and design, they may have something really special here.