It’s a fine line between novelty and brilliant idea, and AIAIAI’s latest product – a collaboration with seminal record label Ninja Tune – treads it rather well for the most part with its modular headphone design and recycled vinyl record material.
One of the main drawcards for the brand is its modular headphone design, but the TMA-2 Ninja Tune Edition is what AIAIAI refer to as a ‘preset’, offering a package with everything you need for a pair of wireless headphones.
The modularity, in this case, means you’ll be able to switch from an over-ear to an on-ear style ear cushion (both included in the box), or even purchase a different set of speaker units separately to change the sound profile entirely.
The assembly process is mostly painless, outside of the frustratingly challenging cable-locking mechanism, and the build quality is solid enough, but may seem a little more flimsy than its price warrants.
Overall, the audio offered up from the Ninja Tune TMA-2 is full and rich, with a skew towards the lower-mid frequencies and a slight absence of presence in the upper range.
Considering the average 20-hour battery life, lack of noise-cancelling and other premium features like aptX support, there’s plenty in the way of solid competition at this price point, including the oft-discounted Sony WH-1000XM4, so you’d really need to be into the modular concept or a big Ninja Tune fan to get the most out of these cans.
AIAIAI TMA-2 Ninja Tune Edition price and availability
The AIAIAI TMA-2 Ninja Tune Edition is a limited release with finite units having been produced, available for $250 / £219 / AU$399 in the US, UK and Australia.
- Modular design
- Recycled vinyl speaker housings
- Average battery and no ANC
As has been mentioned, the TMA-2 Ninja Tune Edition is comprised of a number of components that are, for the most part, sold separately from AIAIAI or as part of a bundled ‘preset’ such as this.
Buying each of the components included in this preset would cost you around 50% more than the price of the package, not taking into account the exclusivity of elements that are specifically Ninja Tune branded (like the ear cushions and pouch).
There's also the unique speaker units themselves, which are made from recycled vinyl records produced as a waste product from the label's production. These are also said to boast a signature sound profile as compared to AIAIAI's other speaker units.
The product arrives as a box full of individual bags of components, with some minor assembly required. While this process is incredibly simple in a logistical sense, we found it physically impossible to get the cables twisted to lock into place once plugged in (unfortunately not an isolated incident), hurting our fingers with the amount of force required to engage this twist-lock.
Once assembled, the cans look incredibly svelte, with little in the way of external markings and an overall sleek, black design. The inside of the ear cups feature Ninja Tune graphics, as does the included carry pouch, and the speaker housings themselves are (as far as we can tell) the only place that the recycled vinyl has been used – appearing no different to plastic.
The padding on both the headband and ear cushions is ample, but even still we found the fit to be a little tight around the head, squeezing more than we’d like and leading to some minor fatigue after extended sessions.
The headband houses all the wireless tech – a battery capable of 20-hours play time, Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity, a tastefully hidden USB-C port (albeit, rather difficult to access), and a simple three-button array for controls over volume, playback and power.
While we appreciate how minimal the buttons are (pictured below with fingerprint marks aplenty), there are some strange choices in how they function – while you hold the middle button to power on, the top button needs to be held to turn the unit off again, which feels rather unintuitive.
Unfortunately, there’s no support for hi-res codecs like aptX either, so audiophiles may want to use the included cable to get the most out of your hi-res audio files or streaming services.
- Rich, warm sound
- Upper frequencies lacking
Julianna Barwick’s Oh, Memory from her release Healing is a Miracle arrives with its sodden piano line filling the bass frequencies with surprising clarity considering the swampy nature of the part.
Barwick’s voice fills out the rest of the spectrum when it lands, its breathy wash melting into the piano until the signature delayed harp sounds from featured guest Mary Lattimore punctuate the track with crystalline highs.
The TMA-2 handles this ambient composition wonderfully, although a stronger low-to-mid frequency presence can make it feel as there may not be as much presence in the higher ranges.
The same sensation was felt when listening to the title track from Tycho’s release, Weather, with the chiming guitar and synth plucks in the upper registers feeling subdued against the strength of the more mid-forward sounds, and even the upper frequencies of the bass.
This slightly ‘submerged’ sound signature isn’t surprising given the Ninja Tune collaboration, with the label known for such dub acts as King Midas Sound and The Bug, this rather warm-leaning audio skew suits this style of music to a tee.
It’s also subtle enough that it won’t be too imposing on other musical genres, but those seeking ultra-clear highs, a flat sound profile, or a vast sense of space may want to look elsewhere.
Should I buy the AIAIAI TMA-2 Ninja Tune Edition?
Buy them if...
You're a big Ninja Tune fan
As you may have deduced by now, these limited edition cans are a collaboration with the excellent record label, Ninja Tune, and as such are a great collectors item. Plus, it’s nice knowing that your cans are made from recycled records.
You plan to upgrade or change your headphones
The modular design of AIAIAI’s headphones means you can swap out components relatively easily if you want to upgrade or replace them – even the speaker units themselves.
Don't buy if...
You want noise-cancelling or other premium features
The TMA-2 aren’t packed out with any form of ANC, and lack other premium features like advanced, hi-res audio codecs (aptX, for instance).
You want solid battery life
While 20 hours isn’t terrible for these particularly slick headphones, it’s fairly low when compared to most of the competition these days, even including headphones that manage to incorporate plenty more in the way of tech.
You want clear high frequencies
These cans certainly sound good, but they’ve got a particular presence in the lower-mid frequencies that pushes their treble to the back.