The AIAIAI TMA-2 Studio and TMA-2 Studio XE headphones are, as the name implies, meant for studio use. They are modular, and that is to be taken literally, as every single part can be bought, and thus replaced, separately. This is a specific element of AIAIAI’s philosophy, as they state on their website:
Since 2010, with the launch of our first headphones, responsible design has been a foundational principle. By designing for longevity, and with modularity so you can upgrade as technology or needs evolve, we extend the functional lifetime of our products.
I believe this needs to be applauded. By making it fully part of their business model, AIAIAI embraces durability and turns a negative from a business perspective (the fact that a products life needs to be limited in order for consumers to upgrade to new versions) into a positive: since all parts are sold separately, consumers are encouraged to upgrade only those components that need an upgrade.
As a consequence, they will do it more frequently than they would if they had to throw the entire set out. Hell will freeze over before the likes of Apple adopt a similar approach!
A second key part of AIAIAI’s approach is their environmental engagement:
We continue to innovate and seek out recycled and better materials. From Alcantara® or vegan leather ear-cushions to our speaker units and packaging made from recycled materials. We contribute by reducing our carbon footprint and create less waste for the planet.
Again, this is a solid commitment. In the end, though, the most important part of a pair of studio cans is how they sound.
Is the sound neutral enough? Are the lows, mids, and highs well defined and easy to track separately? Are the headphones comfortable enough to use during an extended period of time? Let’s find out!
Features & functionalities
As stated above, AIAIAI uses environmentally friendly materials. People have (still) some prejudice against that, in the sense that they feel that it automatically means that the materials are of lesser quality. For example, the term “vegan leather” has for many people still a negative connotation compared to “animal leather”.
In this case, though, the tactile feeling of the materials and the build quality are really good. The structure and frame are plastic but coated with soft rubber that has a good feel in the hand.
The modularity aspect is an added bonus here, as you have the peace of mind that if one of the components wears out or breaks, you can easily replace it.
Unpacking these headphones is a particular experience since each component is packed separately. Assembling everything is easy enough.
These headphones come with a 2-year warranty, which is comfortable enough.
If you are using these headphones for music production, it means you will be wearing them for a long period of time. Luckily, the TMA-2 Studio and Studio XE are light enough so that you basically forget you are wearing them.
The TMA-2 Studio XE has a lighter headband that lacks the padding of the headband that comes with the TMA-2 Studio, which means a bit more comfort in exchange for a bit more weight. Both are however light and comfortable enough for long listening sessions, and your decision on which to buy comes down to the budget you want to spend.
The ear cups on the TMA-2 Studio XE are made of vegan leather, while those on the TMA-2 Studio are made of Alcantara. Personally I prefer the Alcantara, as it’s a bit more comfortable and it seems to enhance the quality of the sound somehow.
Then we come to the key part: the sound. Full disclosure here: I’m not a music producer, so I won’t try to pretend I can evaluate these from that perspective. As a DJ/avid music fan, however, I know how a good headphone is supposed to sound like, and I can make a (probably) fairly accurate assessment if a headphone is a good match for producing music or not.
The key thing when producing is that you need a headphone that delivers a clear, neutral representation of the sound across the frequency spectrum. Contrary to DJ headphones that usually deliver a characteristically punchy sound that accentuates the low frequencies, studio headphones need to deliver clarity across the entire spectrum.
I tested both models with different types of high-definition tracks, and I must say that the quality and clarity of the sound are quite impressive. The low end is clear but not overbearing, and the mid and highs are clearly separated. I slightly favor the sound coming out of the TMA-2 Studio, and since the drivers are exactly the same, the padding of the ear-cups (Alcantara) is what makes the difference.
Combined with their closed-back design, both models offer enough environmental sound isolation to keep distracting noises out when you are concentrated on the music.
- The AIAIAI TMA-2 Studio headphones cost 230 EUR, available here
- The AIAIAI TMA-2 Studio XE headphones cost 180 EUR, available here
Overall, I can say both models have my seal of approval. Again, if you want advice from a seasoned music producer, look elsewhere, but in my (amateur) opinion, these are great headphones to listen to music in demanding environments.
The modular aspect is a key aspect that will convince a lot of people. If you paid good money for headphones, it’s very frustrating to have to throw them away when one part breaks. In this case, you can simply go to the AIAIAI site and order the replacement corresponding part.
The ethical approach that AIAIAI embraces will finally please many people as using environmentally friendly materials, that also sound and feel good is something you can hardly escape in 2021.
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