PSB M4U 8 BLUETOOTH NOISE-CANCELLING ‘PHONES
Bluetooth headphones with noise-cancelling
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