Blue­tooth head­phones with noise-can­celling

Australian HIFI - - CONTENTS -

Don’t let the sheer size and weight of the PSB Speak­ers M4U 8 head­phones put you off lis­ten­ing to them, be­cause their sound qual­ity—and noise can­celling—is su­perb.

ASwedish head­phone re­viewer, an Amer­i­can head­phone re­viewer and an Aus­tralian head­phone re­viewer walk into a bar. As the drinks evolve into din­ner, talk turns, un­sur­pris­ingly, to head­phones. ‘If you could have only one pair of head­phones,’ asks the charm­ingly elfin Amer­i­can re­viewer, ‘what would it be?’ All three con­sider care­fully, be­fore the Aus­tralian (your writer) sug­gests the M4U 2 head­phones, made by Canada’s PSB Speak­ers. ‘Yes!’, con­cur the Swede and Amer­i­can, who of­fer no fur­ther ad­vance on this sug­ges­tion. So that’s quite the in­ter­na­tional rec­om­men­da­tion then.

But times have moved on. The M4U 2 was—and still is, since it’s still avail­able—a ca­bled head­phone that can play in a pas­sive mode, or with ac­tive cir­cuits en­gaged, and thirdly ac­tively with noise can­celling. But with the mar­ket now firmly fo­cused on wire­less op­er­a­tion, the new M4U 8 adds Blue­tooth to the equa­tion, along with con­trols to op­er­ate your source de­vice when in wire­less mode. The Blue­tooth in­cludes the higher qual­ity aptX codec for An­droid de­vices which in­clude it. There is no men­tion of AAC.

The de­sign of the M4U 8 ap­pears iden­ti­cal to the M4U 2, which is a good thing for au­dio qual­ity, though does main­tain the one thing which likely puts peo­ple off those fine head­phones—their size. The M4U 8s are un­de­ni­ably big, and they do ex­ert a light in­ward pres­sure on the head which ef­fects a good seal for their leatherette cush­ions, but which can feel slightly op­pres­sive on an Aus­tralian sum­mer’s day. But that’s it for the neg­a­tives. Even their size is neatly fi­nessed for stor­age, with the head­band al­low­ing the head shells to fold in­wards on each other to make the head­phones nicely com­pact either loose in your bag or in the sturdy case that is pro­vided.

Oth­er­wise ev­ery­thing is a de­light. Take the con­trols when in Blue­tooth mode—none of your tricky-to-mas­ter touch­pads here, PSB has put a pair of lit­tle rocker switches on the right head­shell. The bot­tom one can se­lect last/next track or you can push it for pause/ re­sume; the same switch an­swers or ter­mi­nates in­com­ing phone calls. The top rocker switch is for vol­ume up/down (with no an­noy­ing beeps un­til you hit max­i­mum), and an ex­tra trick—when you press it the ex­ter­nal mi­cro­phones are fed through in what PSB calls ‘Trans­parency Mode’, so you can hear what’s go­ing on around you.

The M4U 8 uses four mi­cro­phones for noise can­celling, and a fur­ther two for clar­ity in mak­ing calls.

The noise-can­celling is highly ef­fec­tive at re­mov­ing low fre­quen­cies to si­lence the roar of a ‘plane cabin or a train com­part­ment, and it passed also the hard­est com­mute test of deal­ing with bus noise, with nei­ther jud­der nor vari­able en­gine noises caus­ing the noise-can­celling to break down, as is com­mon even on pre­mium de­signs.

Best of all is the sound in NC mode, which is rich and full, al­most en­tirely free of bloat in the bass, and won­der­fully mu­si­cal.

The noise­can­celling is highly ef­fec­tive at re­mov­ing low fre­quen­cies to si­lence the roar of a ‘plane cabin

PSB’s Paul Bar­ton was the first de­signer I know of to in­tro­duce the idea of ‘RoomFeel’, where the ac­tive modes aim to add the warmth and space which loud­speak­ers would nor­mally de­liver through room re­flec­tions, but which head­phones con­ven­tion­ally re­move from the lis­ten­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. This is not sim­ply equal­i­sa­tion, rather it im­parts a trans­fer func­tion which en­er­gises and drives all gen­res of mu­sic rather thrillingly. With the M4U 8 the ef­fect was a lit­tle heav­ier than from the M4U 2, which sounds a lit­tle cleaner in di­rect ca­bled ac­tive com­par­i­son, but then most will use the M4U 8s wire­lessly, so I did my main lis­ten­ing that way. PSB has done a great job mask­ing any qual­ity is­sues from Blue­tooth. Vo­cals are crisp, mu­sic big and en­er­getic with­out tran­gress­ing any fre­quency band. Matt John­son growled his woes stage-cen­tre on The The’s Global Eyes, un­fazed by the mas­sive bass and gui­tar riff-build­ing be­neath. And there was very lit­tle dif­fer­ence in tonal qual­ity when en­gag­ing noise-can­cel­la­tion—a frac­tion ex­tra deep bass per­haps, but noth­ing sign­f­i­cant at all. And the noise-can­celling it­self was ex­cel­lent, while the M4U 8 also proved good at re-con­nect­ing BT au­to­mat­i­cally when pow­ered up. Other thought­ful fea­tures—in pas­sive mode the cable can plug into which­ever head­shell is most con­ve­nient. They can Blue­tooth-pair via NFC to save you go­ing through your phone’s set­tings. They’ll quickly re-pair au­to­mat­i­cally with your phone when you switch them back on. They can play via USB from a com­puter, which lets you charge them back up at the same time. Very unusu­ally you can ac­cess their in­ter­nal AAA recharge­able bat­ter­ies and, in years to come, re­place them if need be. Also a longevity bonus, you get a spare set of earpads.

So the only ques­tion is whether you like the size and fit of the PSBs, be­cause for sound qual­ity, ease-of-use, noise-can­celling, wire­less op­er­a­tion—these M4U 8 head­phones proved en­tirely unim­peach­able. Jez Ford

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