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For years, audio creatives like musicians and DJs stood by watching wireless headphones and earbuds become so commonplace that audio jacks disappeared from most smartphones. Yet they could scarcely join in the wireless fun because of audio latency that was unacceptable when working in their studios or performing for the public. The crippling delay between sonic action and auditory arrival through most wireless headphones makes them maddeningly impractical for musical purposes. With the AIAIAI TMA-2 Studio Wireless+ headphones ($350), which use a dedicated transmitter to supply uncompressed audio with negligible latency, the wait for wireless satisfaction during production and performance may finally be over. My quest to see if the results pass muster took me from inner-city Bay Area studios to the extreme heat and punishing dust storms of a barren Nevada desert.
The AIAIAI TMA-2 Studio Wireless+ headphones’ design
Just as AIAIAI has aimed to achieve something technologically unique with the TMA-2 Studio Wireless+ headphones, the Copenhagen, Denmark-based company also gives its headphones a signature look. Their modern, stark appearance comes with materials that are smooth to the touch. The headband is minimally padded, but it’s still comfortable and light on the head. And the ear cushions, lined with Alcantara vegan suede, are soft and feel good for extended use. Another AIAIAI signature is that all major components—the H10 headband, S05 speaker units, and E08 ear cushions—are individually replaceable so that if something wears out or breaks, you don’t have to buy a whole new set.
Breakage, however, does not seem to be a top concern. I’d stop short of calling them unbreakable, but the headband portion H10 is very amenable to twisting and bending, and its ends, where the ear cups attach, feel highly durable. The H10 includes three headband buttons for powering on/off, wireless pairing, volume control, and—in Bluetooth mode only—track forward/backward and accepting/rejecting incoming smartphone calls. (The H10 includes an omnidirectional mic for cellphone calls.) An LED light under the buttons shows the status of charging, and the state of wireless pairing with its various colors, and whether it’s blinking or not blinking. The inside of the headband also has a switch for toggling between Bluetooth (the switch will be blue) and AIAIAI’s proprietary W+ Link radio-frequency band for low-latency, uncompressed audio.
The X01 transmitter sends that W+ Link signal to the headband. It compares to the size of an iPhone 13 mini or a portable hard drive, so it doesn’t intrude much on your music studio or DJ booth space. It plugs into a 1/8- or 1/4-inch (with the included adapter) audio source with an 11-inch coiled cable that uncoils to about 24 inches. For wired use of the headphones, a 1.5m (5ft) coiled cable—3.2m (10.5ft) uncoiled—is included, also with a 1/4-inch screw-on adapter. There’s no hard-shell case, but you get a cloth carrying pouch for your travels.
AIAIAI has tried to embrace sustainability—or what it calls “responsible design”—in such ways as reducing the carbon footprint of its packaging and using at least 30% recycled plastic in its speaker units, with the goal of reaching 100% recycled plastic. But as any child can tell you, reducing material use and reusing materials is better than recycling them, so AIAIAI has built all of its headphones for modularity. All of the various AIAIAI headbands, speaker units, and earpads can be replaced or mixed and matched with each other so that a customer does not have to buy an entirely new set just to change out a specific part.
For example, if someone owns one of AIAIAI’s other headphone models but wants to upgrade to uncompressed low-latency wireless, they could purchase the W+ Link Bundle—just the H10 and X01—for $180 and use them with the speaker units and earpads they already own. Or say if they just need to replace some worn-out ear cushions, the E08 earpads are available separately. AIAIAI is not the only company looking at conserving resources while also saving their customers’ money in this way, but I can’t quite express just how much I wish every electronics maker would pursue a similar philosophy.
Getting started with the AIAIAI TMA-2 Studio Wireless+ headphones
Rather than a single product, the TMA-2 Studio Wireless+ bundles a half-dozen AIAIAI products into a single box. As mentioned, the headband, speaker units, ear cushion, wireless transmitter, coiled cable, and carrying pouch are separately available as parts, so you can buy replacements or back-ups if you wish. Out of the box, some very simple assembly is required. The speaker units attach to the headband, which is perforated with eight holes on each side for adjusting the position of the speakers, and headband audio cables plug into each speaker unit. The ear cushions easily attach to the speaker units, but it’s a little stiff and difficult to adjust the ear cups’ position along the headband’s perforations, especially while wearing the headphones. All the pieces of the headphones combined (not including the transmitter, cables, etc.) total a lightweight 270g or so.
You can get going with the TMA-2 Studio Wireless+ right away with the analog cable but, for wireless operation, both the H10 headband and the X01 transmitter need to be charged. They both have USB-C ports for charging, but the box only includes one USB-C cable. If fully depleted, it takes about three hours to charge the H10 and four-and-a-half hours to charge the X01. You’ll know they’re finished when the H10’s LED turns solid green, and all four of the X01’s LED turn solid white. Once fully charged, the TMA-2 Studio Wireless+ claims 80+ hours over vanilla Bluetooth and 16+ hours over the W+ Link.
When I first powered up the X01 transmitter and the H10 headband in its low-latency mode, they paired with each other automatically, but their buttons can also initiate pairing. The headphones emit indicator sounds upon powering on or off and when they pair with a device, as well as when their maximum volume is reached or when the battery is low.
Key features of the AIAIAI TMA-2 Studio Wireless+ headphones
The TMA-2 Studio Wireless+ headphones have many qualities, but one particular trait essentially will elevate the product to glory or sink it into disgrace: transmitting uncompressed wireless audio with latency so low the brains of musicians and DJs can’t perceive it. Wireless headphones and earbuds have become extremely popular for general use, but when using Bluetooth headphones to watch videos, for example, there can be some noticeable lag between the motion in the picture and the sound from the headphones. That can be annoying but acceptable for casual viewing. However, when playing or producing music, precise timing means everything. If someone works the faders and jog wheels of digital DJ gear or plays a synthesizer or e-drums and there is latency between their actions and the sound in the headphones, it makes concentration and a successful performance all but impossible.
If musicians and DJs were presented with headphones that solved this latency problem, they would finally have the same freedom of movement around their studios and DJ booths that most wireless headphone and earbud users currently take for granted. No more trying to contort your neck and limbs to reach a keyboard while being tethered to the mixing board’s headphones or worrying about the headphone cable being accidentally caught in the DJ booth and pulled out while you’re trying to mix in a new song.
Wireless (non-in-ear) headphones that have tried to address this problem have also run into some problems with signal interference and burdensome wireless transmitters. AIAIAI developed the TMA-2 Studio Wireless+ to address all the above issues with a compact and user-friendly transmitter and its proprietary W+ Link technology, which operates on a dedicated radio frequency band to dual antennas in the H10—the goal being a secure and stable connection free of interference.
Wireless low-latency uncompressed audio and Bluetooth
Bluetooth codecs transmit lossy audio, sacrificing parts of the frequency response for efficiency. But the higher bandwidth of W+ Link enables the TMA-2 Studio Wireless+ to transmit uncompressed audio up to 16-bit, 44.1kHz resolution (the quality of a standard CD). According to AIAIAI, its latency is 16ms—half the lag of the best Bluetooth codec for latency, the relatively rare Bluetooth aptX LL codec, which goes as low as 32ms of latency. The increasingly more common (at least on Android-friendly devices) aptX Adaptive codec’s latency can go as low as 80ms. However, both of those Bluetooth figures are the ideal numbers; in practice, latency times can range higher depending on the hardware involved. Either way, 32-80ms is still too much for musical performance and DJing. Most human brains start to notice audio latency at around 20-30ms. Even wired headphones have a latency of 5-10ms, so the TMA-2 Studio Wireless+ has very little margin of error to succeed.
All this talk of aptX is ultimately only for illustrative purposes, as the Bluetooth 5.0 connection of the TMA-2 Studio Wireless+ only supports SBC (for Android/PCs) and AAC (for iOS devices) in order to assure maximum compatibility. And that’s fine in a pinch if, while traveling, you want to preview tracks you’re considering for a gig. But it’s mostly moot because the reason you’re buying these headphones in the first place is the 2.4GHz W+ Link connection (the same kind of transmission used by the high-speed Wi-Fi in your house or favorite coffee shop, but secured against similar, competing signals).
And I’m happy to report that I immediately noticed—or should I say didn’t notice—the ultra-low latency of the W+ Link. Whether I was playing a MIDI keyboard into my digital audio workstation, banging on Roland V-Drums, or DJing with a controller and laptop, the audio from the TMA-2 Studio Wireless+ sounded seamless with my actions. The low-latency mode was also great for playing PS5 games and watching movies with smoothly synced audio when I felt too worn out to do anything creative.
Like sands through the hourglass, so are the daze of our tests
As an added obstacle, my testing period coincided with the 2022 Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, where I DJed for more than 13 total hours for the Planet Earth theme camp. Infamous for its pervasive winds that coat everything in their path with fine, off-white dust, the environment of the temporary Black Rock City tests the integrity of any electronic gear. In my seven years of DJing at Burning Man, the dust has been much more likely to cause DJ controller buttons or laptop keys and trackpads to malfunction or stop working altogether than to destroy headphones. Yet it still presents a challenge that both the headphones and transmitter passed.
During my time in the desert, as well as at home and at my practice room, the TMA-2 Studio Wireless+ performed consistently. Its low-latency mode never lagged in a noticeable way, and the audio connection never dropped or even crackled as long as I was within the 12m (39ft) range of the transmitter and the batteries held a charge. The headband’s charge, however, fell somewhat short of the H10’s advertised 16 hours; I was getting 10-12 hours out of the headband, whereas the purported 30-hour battery life of the X01 transmitter seemed to hold up fine.
The X01 only transmits the W+ Link uncompressed signal, not Bluetooth. If the transmitter also had a Bluetooth mode to make any audio device Bluetooth-compatible, that would be potentially handy, as it would extend battery life even if it also extended lag (and there are some times when a suboptimal signal is better than no signal). If all the wireless options are exhausted, the audio cable plugs into either speaker unit for a little old-fashioned wired listening.
Signal and sound quality of the AIAIAI TMA-2 Studio Wireless+ headphones
As headphones intended for music creators, the TMA-2 Studio Wireless+ exhibit a mostly even, unbiased sound profile that music producers and audio engineers appreciate. By contrast, it’s fairly common for headphones aimed particularly at DJs or commuters/consumers to have a more colored and/or bass-hyped sound. For example, both the Pioneer DJ HDJ-X10, one of the best DJ headphones, and the excellent, virtual surround sound-equipped Yamaha YH-L700A headphones have pumped-up bass profiles that the TMA-2 Studio Wireless+ does not. Instead, the AIAIAI’s low-distortion 40mm bio-cellulose drivers and high-grade Neodymium magnet motor system produce a smooth, well-formed bass that won’t give music mixers a misleading impression of the frequency spectrum.
It also handles stereo images really well but, again, true to the source material. It sounds spacious, but not artificially so like when certain headphones use digital signal processing to create the illusion of “immersive” or “3D” audio.
When comparing uncompressed WAV files on the TMA-2 Studio Wireless+ in both its uncompressed and Bluetooth modes, I heard the same differences I normally detect: The uncompressed sound had just a hint of extra body, more presence; it maintains a veneer you lose when compression lops the top end off, exposing jagged artifacts. These differences, however, did not reveal themselves as clearly as when listening to powerful and well-articulated speaker systems. Also, there was some audible noise in the headphones’ low-latency mode that wasn’t there in Bluetooth mode, but the noise is so slight that I didn’t detect it with any volume of music playing.
That volume, however, tops out at a noticeably lower level than many other headphones. Just like the popular Audio-Technica ATH-M70x headphones for music production, the TMA-2 Studio Wireless+ headphones have a sensitivity of 97 dB. The YH-L700A headphones are very noticeably louder, and the HDJ-X10 headphones are even louder still. Yet the HDJ-X10, with an output level of 106 dB, sit in the middle of the road for DJ headphones, some of which get at loud as 120 dB.
So, who should buy the AIAIAI TMA-2 Studio Wireless+ headphones?
A lot has been made about the TMA-2 Studio Wireless+ enabling DJs to do their thing with wireless headphones for the first time. The latency is low enough for even expert turntablists to cut and scratch as fast as they can without noticing any lag. The headphones’ somewhat low SPL of 97 dB means that it’s powerful enough to DJ in a venue where you’re not hearing the main room’s sound incredibly loudly, like when you have DJ booth monitors that you can turn down when you need to. However, there’s reason to believe that AIAIAI has plans for a low-latency wireless headphone specifically for DJs, which could include higher volume, as well as other DJ-focused features.
For musicians and music producers, there’s not much downside to the TMA-2 Studio Wireless+ other than the extra money you’ll pay for them over comparable headphones without the low-latency uncompressed wireless audio. While solving the low-latency problem may not seem like such a big deal to people who don’t encounter the same precision pacing problems as musicians do when using traditional wireless headphones, AIAIAI did set out to fulfill a pretty significant wish—and I’m happy to declare mission accomplished. With the TMA-2 Studio Wireless+, I could bounce around from an e-drum kit to a synthesizer on the other side of the room, to a mixing controller, all without the constraints of a short headphone cable or a long coiled cable that gets caught and tangled on every mic stand and other obstacles in between.
Besides a real timing innovation whose time has come, the AIAIAI TMA-2 Studio Wireless+ headphones also sound right for mixing music, feel comfortable for hours on end, and work with standard Bluetooth and an audio cable when needed. The set I tested may be stuck with a residue of desert dust forever, but I’m happy to be stuck with it too.