Headphones and Earphones
- Written by Stephen Hornbrook
- Published on 19 November 2012
Design of the PSB M4U 2 Noise Cancelling Headphones
The PSB's come in a clam-shell box that offers a nice presentation to the, undoubtedly excited, new user.
Unpacking the M4U 2 reveals several accessories: a headphone splitter to allow a second listener, 3.5mm to ¼" adapter, and a sturdy travel case with a karabiner for hooking to a backpack. The travel case is solid enough to take a beating, yet there isn't too much mass to it. If that weren't enough, inside the travel case was a spare set of ear pads. Clearly the folks at PSB have had plenty of experience with headphones and wanted their own foray into portable sound to be well executed.
The M4U 2 looks like something The Dark Knight would wear when listening to music. The shiny black finish and brushed graphite accents on the side give these headphones a menacing look. From a fashion standpoint, the M4U 2 borrows a couple design queues from the wildly popular Beats by Dre. Like the Beats, the head band wraps around to the outside of the earphone, sticking out from the side of your head a bit. When walking around in public with these on, I felt a bit like Mickey Mouse, but I will acknowledge that this seems to be in style at the moment. I have seen enough photos of celebrities rocking similar looking headphones to conclude that this is either "fly", "dope", and/or "tight yo."
Connecting the headphones to your playback device is a slim, single-ended, detachable cable. Two of these cables are included: one with an integrated button for music and phone controls, and one standard cable. One of the nifty features of the M4U 2 are the inputs on both the left and right side, allowing you to choose which side of your body you want the cable to run along. This offers that little bit of customization to make life with the M4U 2 that much more comfortable. For transport, they also fold together to save some space and even though they won't fit in your pocket, every little bit helps. An even better way to go is to use the travel case and attach it to the outside of your bag with the karabiner. I've done this before with other gear and it adds an extra level of convenience when you don't have to dig around to find something. I, for one, always want my headphones easily accessible.
Comfort wise, the M4U 2 felt better than a lot of other headphones I have used. The headband is smooth and well padded, and never created any discomfort for me. The earpads were soft, but a smidge too small for my ears, leaving the edges of my ears a bit scrunched. With my thicker rimmed glasses on, there was too much pinching going on to be comfortable for extended periods of time. However, the snugness is beneficial when you are walking around with them on as they never felt like they were about to slide off. Again, being able to choose which side you want the cable to connect to lets you place your phone in either pocket and not have the cable cross your chest; a minor detail, but further proof of how much thought was put into the M4U 2.
When using the phone control cable, you can continue use of your phone with the M4U 2's still on and I made a couple calls where I could hear voices well, but my voice was a bit soft on the other end. This is a nice feature to have and handy in a pinch, but not overly practical.
Overall, the M4U 2 is well balanced, providing a warm and welcoming sound. It covers the basics with ease: solid detailed bass, clear and open midrange, and detailed upper octaves. It is a headphone I would have no problem recommending to a wide demographic, from a friend with no experience in the hi-fi world, to one with risers for their speaker cables. When the PSB's first arrived at my office, I immediately hooked them directly up to my iPhone. The right angle mini jack didn't play too nicely with my Apple bumper case, but I blame the Apple designers for this one. I replaced the Apple case with another brand and had no trouble plugging in the headphones. I dove straight into some M83 with the M4U 2 set to passive mode. The PSB's had no problems delivering a smooth sound with enough low-end to hold the music up, but never so much that it covers up possible flaws in the mid to upper range. I happened to be sitting outside catching some rays and nearby was a bank of AC units. This extra noise provided for an easy test of the PSB's built in amp. Moving the switch one click turns on the powered mode without active noise cancelation. What a great boost to the music it added, but the AC units were still distracting so I switched to noise-cancellation mode. It takes a moment for it to kick in, but then there was a noticeable drop in the hum of the AC compressors. I found the noise-canceling to work best with sounds that don't fluctuate much. You can still hear coworkers talking or telephones ringing, but they are muffled, like if you had a thick pillow around your ears. I haven't had any trips via airplane recently, but my sense is that the M4U 2 would do a good job at canceling out the jet engine noise. The boost in volume provided by the internal amp plus the lack of excess outside noise made for a much more pleasing listening experience. If you are in a noisy environment, the active cancelation easily trumps any nuances in a recording that might be heard via a high-end amp driving the M4U 2 in passive mode. However, when in a quiet, controlled environment with access to a quality headphone amp, the internal powered amp of the PSB's was not necessary nor was it preferred. The soundstaging and vocal timbre on Norah Jones' latest album Little Broken Hearts was much better in passive mode when listening through the Cambridge DacMagic Plus. The M4U 2's are a versatile headphone that are more than capable at home paired up with quality electronics, or taken on the go and plugged directly into a cell phone or mp3 player.
The PSB's are a very well-rounded product delivering quality sound across all types of music. Many cheaper headphones pump the bass in order to cover up a poor sounding midrange, but the PSB's have nothing to hide. However, don't fret as the low end is punchy and plentiful for those not looking for extreme levels of bass. The midrange is clear without hints of distortion, and the high-end is detailed but never harsh. Although I find headphones that surround the entire ear more comfortable than on-ear types like the M4U 2, the tradeoff in size isn't worth it since these are meant to be taken with you. At $399, the M4U 2 headphones are beyond the casual listener. As such, I hope the PSB's are not passed up in lieu of cheaper, more popular brands, as they offer quite a bit more for the dollar. Good looks and great sound along with the ability to run in active noise-cancelling mode make the M4U 2 a clear winner. This is especially impressive considering these are PSB's first headphones. Well done!M4U 2 scores