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AIAIAI TMA-2 Studio Wireless+ review

Offering better sound quality and lower latency than the usual Bluetooth options, AIAIA’s new wireless headphones claim to be the first serious option for studio use. Greg Scarth puts them to the test.

Over the last decade, wireless headphones have come to dominate the consumer market, thanks in no small part to the success of Apple’s AirPods and their legions of imitators. For producers and DJs, the story is slightly more complicated. There are plenty of situations where the convenience of wireless connections is useful when producing, mixing or performing, but there are inherent downsides to most wireless ‘phones. That’s exactly where AIAIAI’s new Wireless+ models come in, promising to offer far superior sound quality to standard Bluetooth models.

AIAIAI already make wireless versions of the TMA-2s in the form of the Bluetooth-equipped Move models, but there are inherent limitations to Bluetooth audio which make it sub-optimal for serious applications like studio use. What you get with Bluetooth is convenience, but the compression employed when transmitting audio via Bluetooth means that the signal is inherently lower quality than a wired connection. By contrast, the W+ Link technology uses a 2.4 GHz connection similar to Wi-Fi, allowing for lossless transmission of a 16-bit, 44.1 kHz audio signal. Other benefits include much lower latency (i.e. the delay between transmission and playback) than Bluetooth, plus a much more stable connection less susceptible to dropouts and glitches.

Thanks to AIAIAI’s modular design philosophy, a lot of the components of the W+ model are identical to those found on other AIAIAI headphones. The S05 MKII speaker drivers and E08 alcantara over-ear cushions are familiar from the standard TMA-2 Studio model. Constructing the headphones is much the same as all other TMA models, a simple case of unpackaging the various components and attaching them together. The big difference is in the H10 headband, which is unique to the W+ model, incorporating both Bluetooth and Wireless+ options. A standard cable can be attached via either of the drivers.

A separate X01 transmitter is used for W+ Link, plugging into your audio source (i.e. a headphone socket) via a short cable. The transmitter itself is a little smaller than an iPhone, but much lighter, with a simple pairing button and LED battery level indicator. Pairing is a simple case of holding down the buttons on the headband and transmitter for three seconds each.

Given that the basic driver technology is identical to the wired version, the Wireless+ model sounds identical when used with the included C02 coiled cable. We’re familiar with the AIAIAI sound at this point: detailed and precise, with solid bass weight and natural midrange. Swapping back and forth between a cable and wireless mode, the clarity of the W+ Link is obvious. At a stable 16 ms, latency is low enough for the vast majority of studio tasks, including precise timing for things like playing drums using a MIDI drum controller or recording keyboard parts. The Wireless+ Studios are impressive not just in terms of sound but as a noticeable step up from Bluetooth in terms of latency and stability.

A small slider switch on the H10 headband gives you the option of switching between 2.4 GHz low latency mode (W+ Link) and Bluetooth. The decision to include Bluetooth as well as 2.4 GHz might appear counterintuitive, but it makes sense in practice; Bluetooth can’t match W+ Link for quality, latency or stability, but it’s quick and easy to pair with mobile devices, as well as not requiring the separate transmitter. An added benefit is that it’s much easier on battery life, giving up to 80+ hours of use from a full charge. For most general day-to-day listening, Bluetooth is a good option, giving you wireless freedom for listening to music from your phone or making calls (the H10 headband has a built-in microphone and buttons for volume and call/music controls).

On the matter of charging, both the H10 headband and X01 transmitter charge via USB-C sockets, with the X01 taking three hours to charge from empty and the H10 two hours. As previously mentioned, battery life varies depending on how you use the headphones, but you can expect around 16 hours from the headband when using W+ Link and 30 hours from a fully charged transmitter.

As an aside, it’s worth considering the suitability of the W+ model for DJing, which arguably requires even more precise timing than most production tasks. There are already DJ headphones on the market which include a wireless option, but Bluetooth’s inherent latency means that we’d generally see it as a way to add convenience to DJ headphones rather than to use it for mixing. Even a good DJ-focused headphone like the Pioneer HDJ-X5BT, which uses Bluetooth’s AptX low latency codec, will have a latency of around 40 ms. (Pioneer themselves don’t recommend using the Bluetooth connection when DJing, instead suggesting that it’s for general listening.) Whether W+ Link offers low enough latency to work for DJ applications is debatable. At around 16 ms it’s very very close to the precision that you need to lock in a mix, but some might still find it a little imprecise. In practice, the use cases for wireless monitoring while DJing are quite unlikely, but it’s impressive that we’re reaching a point where the technology is getting there.

At the time of writing, the only all-in-one W+ bundle AIAIAI offer is this Studio package, which offers effectively the same sound profile and comfort as the wired TMA-2 Studio model. Given the modular nature of the TMA series, you can pick and choose components to adjust the sound and suit your own personal taste, while AIAIAI will also offer the H10 headband and X10 transmitter separately to upgrade existing pairs of headphones.

With the integration of W+ Link, AIAIAI have hit upon the best of both worlds here. You can use the TMA-2s with a cable when portability isn’t an issue, with W+ Link for high-quality wireless sound, or with Bluetooth for convenience. Sound quality is as good as we’ve come to expect from AIAIAI, as is build quality and comfort. Owners of wired TMA-2 models should investigate the forthcoming TMA-2 W+ Upgrade Bundle, which includes the headband and transmitter required to add W+ Link to any pair of TMA-2s. For newcomers to the brand, the TMA-2 Studio Wireless+ are proper flagships, the best that AIAIAI offer. It’s no exaggeration to say they’re the best wireless studio headphones on the market.

Greg Scarth

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