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AiAiAi TMA-2 MFG4
With the TMA-2 MFG4, AiAiAi released the first set of USB-C headphones that work well.
That’s the headline here, and it’s been a long time coming. The market for USB-C audio accessories has been appallingly, and remains so today, but the AiAiAi TMA-2 MFG4 is important in that it’s the first set of on-ear USB-C headphones that is the real deal. It has a DAC in the cable, and it works with just about any USB-C source you may have. As I may have mentioned before, this particular market has been a trainwreck so far.
Editor’s note: this AiAiAi TMA-2 review was updated on December 20, 2021, to address the headset’s eco-friendly appeal, expand the list of buying options, and add context to the sound quality section.
Who is the AiAiAi TMA-2 MFG4 for?
- Current Android phone users will appreciate the ability to listen to music without using the proprietary dongle.
- If you want to use your headphones with your laptop, owners of brand-new laptops will be able to use these without any fuss or apps.
- Tinkerers will love the ability to swap out parts and experiment with the headphones.
What is it like to use the AiAiAi TMA-2 MFG4?
In short, the AiAiAi TMA-2 MFG4 is the very first Made For Google set of on-ear USB-C headphones. It’s an amalgamation of interchangeable parts for the AiAiAi TMA-2 series, comprising of the standard headband, the S01 speaker units, the E01 earpads, and the C60 USB-C to 3.5mm cable. If you want to add or swap out parts for this headset, you can absolutely do that without a second thought, as these are completely modular by design. Due to the modular nature, the TMA-2 series is also one of the best eco-friendly headphones available.
If you’re unsatisfied by any part of the AiAiAi TMA-2—or you’re just a little rough with your peripherals—you can repair or replace any component without losing the whole unit. That’s a pretty incredible value right there, considering most headphones are right and properly trashed when the band or cable breaks. Not so with the TMA-2 MFG4. This is good because the housings are made of inexpensive plastics, meaning they may not be able to take too many tumbles before giving up the ghost.
By offering an in-cable DAC, the headset doesn’t need anything but a standard USB-C port to plug into. Of course, this isn’t always a given on devices, so you may be in for a stupid surprise depending on your device—through no fault of the headphones. However, that digital audio processing is a treat if you use a modern smartphone. There’s only a very small number of headphones that use USB-C audio.
The stock setup isn’t exactly to my tastes, as I’m not a fan of on-ear headphones at all. But credit where credit is due: this is decent for what it is. The cloth padding snaps into the ear cups, and can be removed for easy cleaning. Additionally, the band provides a consistent (but not overpowering) clamping force to keep these things on your head. You may get uncomfortable after an hour and a half but that’ll vary from person to person. The TMA-2 is a little on the heavy side when compared to models like the Jabra Elite 45h, for example.
How does the AiAiAi TMA-2 cable connect?
My biggest gripe with the AiAiAi TMA-2 of any flavor is the 3.5mm connection. While I’m happy they’re there, I loathe the proprietary system of twisting and locking the connections into place so you can’t use generic components should something break. Being unable to connect cables to your headphones due to a tiny plastic thing breaking defeats the entire purpose of having a removable cable, so it’s more than a little frustrating when companies do this.
You might find that the connections are a little finicky at first. If you can only get one channel working, you’ll need to re-twist the hookups. Once you do, however, you won’t need to take them out unless you’re going to swap a component out for another.
Does the AiAiAi TMA-2 MFG4 block out noise?
On-ear headphones are popular because they’re usually pretty comfortable, but they come with their own drawbacks inherent to the design—namely, they don’t isolate all that well. While the AiAiAi TMA-2 MFG4 sounds great when everything’s perfect, it’s not always possible to get that result.
By far, the most important factor for how on-ear headphones sound is how well you can get the things to fit on your head. If you manage to get a perfect fit, the AiAiAi TMA-2 MFG4 sound pretty nice, with only a few foibles. No notes fall more than 10dB below others, which is surprisingly decent for any set of headphones. This allows you some latitude to equalize your tunes, as well as hear mixes the way they were intended to sound.
However, because on-ears are notoriously difficult to fit, you’re likely going to run into some issues with getting the TMA-2 MFG4 to sound the way it should. If you get an imperfect seal, you may wind up losing bass notes because of the poor fit. You can see what I’m talking about on the chart below in the pink range. Your experience will vary based on the shape and size of your head.
Does the AiAiAi TMA-2 MFG4 block out noise? How does it sound?
You might find that you can’t get a perfect fit with these headphones, and that’s normal for on-ears. If you can’t hear the bass in your music, this is likely why: because no outside noise in the underemphasized ranges is being blocked out. If any noise (masker) is present that’s almost as loud as the music you’re listening to in those frequencies, they’ll be masked. If you don’t like the sound of the headphones, it’s neither your fault, nor AiAiAi’s. It just may be that you need to seek larger pads from the AiAiAi store, or look for another model that’s right for you.
Lows, mids, and highs
I’m a fan of the flatter (all notes the same power) kinds of frequency response, but bassheads may want to try their hands at using one of the other headphone modules that AiAiAi offers for the TMA-2. However, the upside to a flat response is clarity. You can easily hear things you may have missed in the mixes of your songs, and that’s a big plus if you’re a fan of older songs like I am. You’ll actually be able to hear the bass and lowest piano octaves in Barry White’s Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up.
To get the best sound of your TMA-2, make sure to find the proper fit.
Mids see an ever-so-slight emphasis over all other notes, but that’s really not a bad thing. For one, it adds a little more punch to vocal features important to immerse yourself. For example, language will sound “off” or strange if you can’t hear the initial impact of a plosive, for example. A response like the TMA-2’s will lend itself well for vocal-heavy mixes, much like the mother of the MP3: Tom’s Diner by Suzanne Vega.
Much like mids are important for vocal clarity, highs are important for guitar, violin, woodwind, and snare drum clarity. While the track Lump by The Presidents Of The United States Of America has a few loudness issues, it sounds fairly clear for what it was mixed to be. Great job, AiAiAi!
Should you buy the AiAiAi TMA-2 MFG4?
If you’re in a position where USB-C audio is preferable to Bluetooth, this is currently the set of headphones to get. The AiAiAi TMA-2 series isn’t amazing, and costs anywhere from $150 USD to $250 USD without any killer features. However, it works well—without an app—on both Android and Windows. That’s enough to be the king of the USB-C hill for now.
When it comes to objective performance, these headphones are pretty solid if you’re a fan of a middle ground between clear sound and bassy consumer cans. Of course, that somewhat flat response lends itself to rather easy equalizing, so you should feel empowered to take a few risks with your music player’s equalizer, or your system-level one.
But is this a better set of headphones than others at the same price? Not really. This absolutely has its audience, but for under $100 you can get some damned decent options. USB-C may yet provide a killer audio product, but the TMA-2 isn’t enough to justify the death of the headphone jack.