AIAIAI Studio Wireless+: finally low-latency headphones for music producers
Wireless is increasingly the norm when it comes to earphones. Even some laptop manufacturers are ditching the headphone jack. (Looking at you, you’re freaks.) And, while Bluetooth certainly offers a lot of convenience, there’s one group of users who can’t quite take advantage of it: music producers. You see, the latency introduced by the new generation of Bluetooth devices can be as high as 40ms, even under ideal conditions. And for older hardware, this can stretch well beyond 100ms. It’s not just the hardware that can be a problem. For a long time, Android was known to have serious latency issues over Bluetooth, although the situation has changed, at least according to Google. This makes it extremely difficult to keep things on time if you’re recording and nearly unusable for live monitoring.
Then, in December of last year, AIAIAI introduced what it claims to be the “world’s first wireless headphones for music creators,” the $350 price tag. The main selling point is a special that promises consistent 16ms latency. It’s not zero latency, but it’s close enough that wearing wireless headphones in the studio feels reasonable.
Now, before we get to the wireless specifics, let’s talk more generally about the TMA-2 headphones. Like the rest of the AIAIAI range, these allow you to replace various parts if necessary, due to damage or changing needs. This also means that you must assemble them when they first appear. But it’s a pretty quick and easy process, even if it seems a bit daunting at first. It took me less than 10 minutes from opening the box to connecting the headphones to my laptop. Basically, if you have already assembled a Lego set, you can manage a pair of AIAIAI.
The Studio headphones use the company’s “,” and they sound great. They’re not the most neutral headphones I’ve ever used, but they’re not terribly unbalanced. I found that the high frequency response is a little better and the bass less accentuated on my Sony MDR-7506. AIAIAIs are still perfectly suited for mixing – go for it knowing that the tone is heading towards the darker side. But the soundstage is very open and wide.
The two biggest complaints I have about the sound are relatively minor. As did, there is some noise introduced when using them in 2.4 GHz low latency mode with the transmitter. It’s a slight static that you can start to hear with the volume at around 50%, but becomes more noticeable at over 75%. You can mostly mitigate this by changing the volume at the source rather than the headphones themselves, but it’s worth being aware of.
The second issue is that the Studio Wireless+ are oddly quiet when using them over Bluetooth. With my Jaybirds or Sonys, I usually set the volume on my phone to 75 or 80%. But even at 100%, I found myself wishing for just a little more volume on the AIAIAI. Casual conversation isn’t going to dominate your music, but it might not provide the level of masking you’d want on an airplane.
The Studio and Studio Wireless+ also come with plush Alcantara-covered ear cups. I wore them for hours without any problems. These are some of the most comfortable headphones I’ve ever used. At first, I had slight concerns about the headband, which is all rubber and has no obvious padding. But these turned out to be unfounded, as there’s a soft don around the inside of the band that provides more than enough padding for marathon recording sessions.
The battery life is also more than enough for marathon sessions. AIAIAI says the Wireless+ will last over 80 hours in Bluetooth mode. Frankly, I don’t have the patience or the time to test this claim. I can tell you that I used them almost every day, in a mix of Bluetooth and low latency modes for three weeks and still had some juice left. I tested the 16 hour battery life claim using 2.4GHz specifically, however, and got 15 hours and 58 minutes. It’s surprisingly close – and I was even able to gain a bit more life by turning them back on in Bluetooth mode.
What was both amazing and confusing, however, was that despite the low battery beep when I turned them back on, my MacBook and iPhone were showing 40% battery life remaining. I even took a 20 minute walk while listening to music, and the battery gauge didn’t budge. I was then able to sit in front of my laptop for nearly a full hour, playing the occasional video and listening to music before the headphones completely shut down and wouldn’t turn back on. But, even until the end, macOS insisted that there was 40% left, so something is wrong. I asked AIAIAI if they had any theories as to why this might be and will update this review if and when I hear again.
Oh, and even after you’ve completely drained the battery, you can still connect the headphones to your audio source of choice using a regular old TRS cable.
Of course, the real reason to buy the AIAIAI Studio Wireless+ isn’t for the epic battery life, it’s for the special low latency mode and let me tell you: it delivers. Now that’s not zero latency. You can detect it in very specific circumstances, but that’s not enough to make a difference. I recorded live using my laptop and a MIDI controller, and practiced the drums with my fingers and had no problems.
The only time I noticed the tiny 16ms lag was when monitoring live while recording in the same room as my guitar amp. Being able to hear the amp on headphone power almost sounded like my guitar was dual-tracked. But the effect wasn’t strong enough to cause me any problems.
I don’t think I was prepared for how liberating it was, though. While yes, switching the headphones on and off, or dragging the long, heavy, coiled cable from my MDR-7506s is a pain, my “studio” is extremely small. It is the front third of a finished attic, and it serves as both an office and a guest bedroom. So there’s not much space to maneuver around and it’s a bit crowded.
Still, being able to pick up my guitar, without first removing my headphones or worrying about keeping the cable out of the way, was awesome. And going back and forth to swap a pedal on my board, or a drum machine on my desk without thinking, made experimenting that much easier. A big part of any creative endeavor is getting into a state of flow and staying there. Even the smallest obstacle can disrupt this, and the AIAIAI Studio Wireless+ removes one of those obstacles.
This freedom of movement would undoubtedly be even more appreciated by people with larger and better equipped studios. The range of the 2.4 GHz transmitter is also quite solid. I was able to walk from my attic all the way downstairs before I started losing connection.
Now the question is whether this convenience is worth the $350. And I would say, for me at least, the answer is yes. Although I tend to build my studio on a shoestring budget (after all: I’m not a professional musician, life in New York is expensive and I have two children), this seems like an indulgence worth making. If you’re the type who produces music entirely out of the box (on a computer using software instruments only), the appeal might not be so strong. But being able to shoot, untethered and record, while not waking up my family in the middle of the night, is a godsend.
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