You could be forgiven for thinking the new X edition of the TMA-1 by Aiaiai is more of the same but in actual fact at $120 the X edition is a much more modern-sounding headphone than the older TMA-1.
It also displays a high degree of flexibility that might just feel like a more attractive option to the “pick up and go” headphone-wearing igadget generation.
Aiaiai had a stab at this before with the Capital but it didn’t have quite the same impact and complaints about the impossible seal and disjointed sound kept the Capital forever lurking in the TMA-1 shadow.
Bringing the look and coming down to this price point feels more likely to succeed and certainly, the X edition, from afar, looks like the twin of the TMA-1.
So are we getting a good deal or a budget TMA-1?
The TMA-1 X is pretty much the junior twin of the stock TMA-1 from afar but up close you begin to see some minor adjustments that have allowed Aiaiai to market the X edition at $120 including a non-detachable straight cable, shallower non-replaceable cloth type cup pads, and a similar cloth type wrap over a slightly thinner headband.
The mechanics are the same on the X edition though and it still has the same feel of indestructibility as the older TMA-1. The X is still fundamentally a rough and tumble design for outdoors and heavy movement and usage. It is not weathered sealed like the Capital and also, unlike the Capital, it has no folding capability.
Sadly, and for no explicable reason, the X has no carry pouch which, given the fact it is not weather sealed or foldable, makes the omission all the more perplexing other than price sensitivity.
I do think it’s a very tough-looking headphone but without any environmental protection, bad things may happen. Anyone buying this I suggest you grab a small cloth pouch or bag for it if you intend to wear it in iffy conditions.
The major concern I have with the TMA-1 X is the shallow cup depth which can’t be more than a few millimeters above the plastic cup shell itself. I would really like to have seen a bit more depth to the pads.
Now how this would have affected the sound signature I am not too sure and I suspect this may be one of the reasons a shallow pad was used but overall it really takes a lot away from the X’s ability to isolate as well as the older TMA-1. This is particularly noticeable with outdoor noise making this loss of choice for a noisy commute and more of a grab-and-go in the office environment.
The cable as mentioned is non-detachable and sports an igadget mic and remote which is almost the defacto cable now in many mid-fi portable cans.
The X edition straight cable is also finished with a right angle gold plated 3.5mm adapter and comes with an added quarter jack adapter which I would have traded for a pouch in all honesty.
The last TMA-1 I reviewed was the Young Guru Studio Edition which I found to be very lively and dynamic but had a bit too much sizzle and peakiness in the lower treble giving the whole presentation a somewhat disjointed feeling.
So although the TMA-1 X tonally is more in league with the livelier Young Guru sound, it still retains a bit of the old smoothness from the original TMA-1 and the more placid Studio edition.
The X edition is still dark though certainly, it is not as dark as the original TMA-1, and it does build on the Young Guru’s clearer and more articulate lower treble though this time though it seems to me they have smoothed out the lower treble a bit more making the TMA-1 X a little bit more coherent.
The X still displays some peakiness though in the lower treble and there are some displays of slight sibilance in female vocals though given the smoother overall presentation it doesn’t feel over fatiguing or distracting.
What will strike you most is the relatively successful transition Aiaiai has made from the restrictive but very cool original TMA-1 to this much more mainstream X edition.
The dance and house legacy is still there with a snappy and fast mid-bass hump that though never quite extends that deep due to the shallower cups and iffy isolation could never be accused of being bass shy.
The mids are also less recessed than the similarly priced Capital and more forward than the stock TMA-1 giving the X edition are a degree of flexibility, much like the Young Guru, on other non-dance or beats genres.
The X’s dark yet clean presentation doesn’t quite have the same liquid feel like the more fluid presentation of the old TMA-1 and in some instances, it did feel a bit dry and grainy, especially on acoustics. The sound stage is certainly more intimate than expansive also with average image depth and separation.
Yet for all this, the TMA-1 X retains a high degree of musicality and PRaT that completely slays the awkward and disjointed Capital. It’s also pretty easy to drive out of most sources, with the AK100 driving at volume 60 with no issues, around 195 on the iBasso DX50, and 75% on an iPod Classic.
Chances are a TMA-1 X is going to be paired with an iPod, a Sansa Clip, or a DX50 rather than an AK100 but straight out of the jack should not present any diving issues.
Though not the most resolving of headphones it certainly has a very forgiving nature for compressed or lossy tracks. The TMA-1 X sounded particularly impressive with artists like Dash Berlin on the Ipod Classic which sounded expansive, clean, and very smooth despite the lower bitrate and “so so” DAC in the iPod.
I did find amping colored the sound a bit depending on the amp you used with the VorzAmp Duo giving a degree of warmth and added smoothness and a slightly richer sound on female vocals whereas the ALO Audio National opted to drop back the midsection just a tiny bit in favor of slightly boomier and deeper bass note.
Switching the TMA-1 X to the ALO Audio International and keeping the setup at low gain the same extended bass note was present as the National but the darkness of the National was gone in favor of a more expansive and livelier top end.
Right at the top end, the Cypher Labs Theorem was majestic, controlled, and detailed with the TMA-1 X and iPod setup. Then again who is going to spend $800 on a $120 portable can?
The TMA-1 X sits but $20 above the Capital but unlike the Capital, the tonality and presentation of the X edition are a whole lot more compelling and coherent.
The dark but cleaner tones of the TMA-1 X represent more of a progression of the Young Guru sound than the older TMA-1 sound and most likely is a continuation of the use of the new driver technology present in the Young Guru.
It possesses a lot more dynamics than the older line but at the cost of some peakiness in the lower treble. It has a likable presentation that is equally at home out of a portable amp or straight from a source setup.
It is not a complete win though with the shallow pads taking some of that impact away and allowing background noise to creep in too much for my liking and the fact they are not replaceable means that can invariably possess a finite end date when the pads die.
Overall though I think the TMA-1 X is a well-executed budget version of the TMA-1 in looks with the more modern dynamic Young Guru type sound Aiaiai are now aiming for. If your sitting looking at this or the Capital then it is a ‘no brainer’ for me unless you intend to play it day after day under a rain cloud.