AIAIAI debuts ‘HD’ editions of its modular TMA-2 headphones

New speakers and earpads paired with the company’s existing aptx HD headband.

Since 2015, AIAIAI has offered headphone buyers something unique: a completely modular system of parts that allow you to craft your perfect set. The TMA-2 line is a collection of headbands, speakers, earpads and cables that are all designed for different use cases, sound preferences and more. Yes, you can pick a configuration for specific activities like DJing or recording in a studio, but you can also build your own from AIAIAI's selection of components. All of the options maintain the minimal, all-black design of the series. And starting today, those options include the TMA-2 HD as well as its new speakers and earpads.

The TMA-2 HD comes in both wired and wireless options, depending on which headband you select. For the wired version, the existing H04 headband provides the frame for speakers to attach. When you go wireless, the H05 Bluetooth headband the company debuted in 2017 packs in aptX HD to offer 24-bit audio that's akin to CD quality. And since it's 2019, it charges via USB-C when your 18 hours of listening time are up.

Three tiny buttons provide on-board controls for play/pause, skipping tracks, volume controls, activating a voice assistant and taking/rejecting calls. Despite their size, these work well, but my main issue is their location. The controls are on the top arch of the headband, over to the left side. Typically, headphone controls are on the earcups, and even after days of use, I occasionally still reach for the wrong spot. I understand AIAIAI's decision to relocate the controls, since all the wireless bits are in the headband, which you can swap out as needed. But I've also been trained that controls are on the earcups, so remembering where they are on the TMA-2 HD is still a work in progress.

AIAIAI TMA-2 HD Wireless hands-on

The TMA-2 HD's new S05 speaker units are built with bio-cellulose diaphragms. AIAIAI says these create "more defined" details in high frequencies, a "more pronounced" mid-range, improved overall dynamics and a natural tone. Indeed, the combination of the H05 headband and these speaker units create a sound profile that's crisp, clean and clear. Highs, mids and lows are given equal weight, and no one seems to overpower the others.

Treble cuts through without being overbearing, and the bass provides some punchy low-end tone to round out the sound. True to the company's claim, there is nice detail in the mids, and overall, the wireless model's soundscape accommodates a range of music styles. The TMA-2 HD doesn't have quite the "full" or "open" quality to the sound that similarly priced options from Sennheiser and Audio-Technica offer, but there's still a lot to like here in terms of audio.

When you switch the the wired H04 headband and new C15 hi-fi cable, the audio quality is consistent. There's still great clarity, so when you're listening to hip-hop like J Dilla's Jay Dee's Ma Dukes Collection, the hi-hat hits have detail to them, instead of just sounding like metal being slapped with a drum stick. The kick drum lays beneath the music, providing the essential backbone and ample bass. Horns, keys and other instruments shine, even when they aren't featured prominently on a track.

AIAIAI TMA-2 HD Wireless hands-on

To keep things comfortable, new E08 earpads hug your head with soft memory foam cushions that are wrapped in Alcantara. AIAIAI says the combination of thicker padding and materials offers better noise isolation, in addition to increased comfort. The isolation isn't outstanding, as I could hear ambient noise pretty easily unless I had the music cranked up loud. And at that point, everyone around me could hear my tunes too.

The TMA-2 HD feels light on your head, which also helps keep things comfy. The padding of the earcups, paired with the soft cloth of the Alcantara feels so much better than your typical leather or leatherette wrapped components. It's more breathable and cooler than either of those, so temperature isn't an issue during long listening sessions.

Of course, the E08 joins six other options for earpads that include both over- and on-ear styles. If you prefer leather, microfiber or leatherette, you have those to pick from. They all have different levels of noise isolation as well, if that's a determining factor for you. According to AIAIAI's headphone builder, the E04 leather earpads offer "high" isolation, but I wasn't able to do a direct comparison. The E08 is simply described as "better."

AIAIAI TMA-2 HD Wireless

The TMA-2 HD Wireless is available now from AIAIAI for $350. That's on par with most flagship wireless headphones these days, but almost all of those models offer active noise cancellation (ANC). You're definitely paying for the privilege of modular design here, and the ability to add new parts at your own pace. Plus, no matter how you buy things, AIAIAI ships all the parts deconstructed and individually packaged. Even if you buy the full TMA-2 HD set, you still get to assemble it -- which takes less than 5 minutes if you're worried about time. And if you prefer it, that wired version of the TMA-2 HD is available for $295.

If you already own TMA-2 components, you can buy what's on the HD model separately. The H05 headband is $125 (was already available), while a set of S05 speakers is $130. Those new E08 earpads are priced at $55 and the C15 cable is $40. You won't get the same sound I tested unless you opt for a TMA-2 HD configuration, but if you're only interested in one of the parts over the others, the power to choose is yours.