2015 marked the ten-year anniversary of Boysnoize Records, the eponymous record label from founder Boys Noize. The German producer and DJ celebrated by playing a myriad of parties highlighting the record label and its various signees, and releasing volume one of the two-part album Boys Noize Presents: Strictly Raw. As the year comes to a close, Boysnoize Records finds another way to honor its legacy: a partnership with renown Dutch audio design company AIAIAI that resulted in a limited-edition pair of BNR headphones.
The BNR Edition of their TMA-2 line is the latest of the company’s partnership headphones. The TMA-2 line are modular headphones, meaning their individual components are highly customizable. The speaker units, headband, earpads and cable can be swapped out for different pieces depending upon one’s use, making the TMA-2 line fit for DJing, producing, casual listening, and more.
For this limited-edition pair, AIAIAI based its configuration upon the original TMA-1 (the predecessor to the TMA-2) design. Its design perks include mid-range bass, limited high frequency to enable comfortable high volume listening, noise-cancelling capability, and a BNR design unique to these particular headphones. The headphones themselves come in a sleek box, and building them comes as easily as assembling a LEGO set. Since this marked my first time using modular headphones, I watched a handy instructional video provided by AIAIAI to make sure I built the headphones correctly.
I argue sound quality stands as a pair of headphones’ most important feature, and the BNR TMA-2s deliver adequate sound for DJing purposes. As mentioned previously, the headphones offer several key aspects fit for DJing. A DJ can crank the volume of these headphones 75 to 100 percent without reeling in pain or suffering through hours of ear ringing, a great perk for those performing at clubs and festivals.
AIAIAI promises these headphones offer efficient noise cancellation, and the company delivers well on its promise. These headphones blocked keyboard strokes, a neighboring party’s booming music, and other obtrusive outside noise almost perfectly. DJing requires a certain level of noise cancellation, and BNR and AIAIAI really excel at immersing one into the music. Mid-range bass complements the listening experience, and all levels emerge in equal measure.
In terms of casual listening, a few aspects of the headphones fall short. While the decreased high frequencies fit DJing, they don’t work well for people listening in enclosed spaces or quiet environments. The sound bleed from the speaker units could turn off many people from this particular design, and even though the headphones are modular, the speaker units come affixed with the BNR logo on their sides. The design is likely the main reason a fan would purchase these headphones, and their potential for sound bleed prevents many from using these in a wide range of casual settings.
Despite that flaw, BNR and AIAIAI spared no expense in outfitting the headphones with sound suitable for casual listening. These headphones soar when playing music with electronic production, notably EDM, hip-hop, and modern pop. Pretty much any well-mastered track will play well through the speakers, although some details in the high levels get lost among the bass and booming of the lower levels. Vocals in particular can suffer, making a confusing listen when the electronic production comes out so clearly.
Many TMA-1 owners criticized the weakly designed band of the line, which often broke and cracked. AIAIAI made great efforts to improve the band’s build, and their new design paid off wonderfully. The TMA-2 band sits comfortably on one’s head, and its reinforced nylon prevents accidental damage and portable wear and tear. A $250 pair of headphones should last a while, and this improved build quality will go a long way in preserving the life of these headphones.
The pads for the speakers feel comfortable to touch, but caused some ear aching after a few hours of use. Given that most DJ sets range from one to two hours, this wouldn’t pose much of a problem for DJs, but could really affect those looking to make these headphones a casual pair of listening headphones. Thankfully the speakers and pads can be switched out, but one would lose the exclusive BNR design as a result. The modular design of the TMA-1 line works wonderfully for customization, but poses no benefit for owners looking to switch out parts and to wear headphones with the BNR design.
One major flaw with this design becomes apparent after a few hours of use. The headphone jacks sit close to the band if adjusted to a certain size, and the two parts rub together and create a grating noise if the owner turns their head to the side facing the headphone chord. The problem persisted most frequently when I wore them while sitting down, yet another sign this pair isn’t the most conducive to casual listening. When I stood up, the noise rarely interrupted the music; because of this, we strongly recommend this pair of headphones for DJs over casual or studio listening.
The TMA-2s come with a sleek appearance, and the limited BNR design only makes these headphones more appealing to the eye. The BNR logos on the speakers fit right into the black coloring, popping out but not overwhelming the speaker. The red finish under the top of the band provides a nice contrast to the largely black headphones, although this can be obscured by the person wearing the headphones since it rests atop the head. Given so many headphones compromise sound and build quality for aesthetics, we applaud AIAIAI’s ability to balance all three elements to produce a quality pair of headphones.
For Boys Noize and Boysnoize Records fans, these headphones are a dream come true. For DJs who want to pay tribute to the record label, these provide a great on-the-road pair of headphones for mixing at parties. For casual and studio listeners looking for a new pair of headphones, we’d recommend looking elsewhere. AIAIAI’s love letter to BNR is a limited edition treasure for fans and DJs, but critical flaws prevent the effort from appealing to everyone. If you don’t mind losing out on the BNR design to swap out some parts, though, this line has much potential for all sorts of listening experiences.