Hands On: PSB Speakers M4U 2 Headphones
The new M4U 2 headphones from PSB were designed by the company's founder, the noted engineer Paul Barton to provide audiophiles and travelers everything they would ever want from a set of headphones.
Over the years Canada has delivered music fans some of the best musicians and consumer audio components ever to play a note. Names like Rush, Neil Young and, more in guitar circles, Rik Emmett are among those that have represented the country’s world-class musicianship, while audiophiles can tune their golden ears to Canadian electronics companies such as Bryston, Paradigm and PSB Speakers.
The latter company has been making waves recently with the continued innovation of its audio engineer Paul Barton. The talented speaker designer has been on a roll lately through the release of PSB’s Imagine T2 tower speaker and Imagine Mini bookshelf speaker. Sometime during the design process of the T2 and Mini, Barton also found time to develop an entirely new product for PSB: the M4U 2 active noise canceling headphones, which I’ve had time to listen to casually and critically.
The M4U 2 is an over-the-ear headphone that incorporates battery-powered active noise canceling, 40mm drivers, a choice of left or right cable inputs, and a collapsible headband that folds up into a carrying case. PSB also packages the headphones with an extra set of ear pads, a 3.5mm-to-1/4-inch adapter, a multi-pronged adapter for airline flights, three AAA batteries, an additional connection cable and a cleaning cloth.
PSB says the headphones offer full 20Hz to 20kHz frequency response and they can be easily be driven by portable devices such as an iPad and iPhone.
Hooking up a set of headphones shouldn’t require a degree in engineering. PSB’s owner’s manual wasn’t overly descriptive on how to insert the batteries (which go underneath a plate on the outside of the left ear piece), but otherwise the M4U 2s were no different than any other set of headphones to set up. The manual also isn’t overly helpful in explaining the differences between the active and active with noise canceling options, but one option that I really like and that I think more manufacturers should put on their headphones is the choice to plug the input cable into the left or right ear piece. Ergonomically I found this little detail helpful depending on where I was sitting in relation to my iPad, computer or iPhone.
I used the headphones for a long time listening to streaming broadcasts of Boston sports radio, and random music from my iPhone and computer before I felt the M4U 2s were broken in enough to begin my evaluation. Using a variety of test tones, music that I had recorded myself, as well as content from my iTunes library, I found the more I listened to the headphones the better they got.
Upon my initial listening I thought the headphones sounded good, but didn’t provide quite the clarity and definition I was expecting. As the M4U 2s broke in, however, they opened up nicely to deliver generous levels of detail and a smooth frequency response from as low as 20Hz all the way up to through the treble frequencies.
Further enhancing the listening experience of the headphones is the active noise canceling. I’ll admit that I didn’t hear a lot of difference between the active and active noise canceling; the noise floor seemed slightly lower with the active noise canceling engaged, but the sound was very similar. I do think that the active and active noise canceling functions offer a dramatic improvement over the headphone’s passive listening mode. Listening to a track I recorded in GarageBand of me playing an acoustic guitar and my then-4-year-old daughter talking/singing, I was able to hear my daughter’s voice in the left channel before panning it to the center of the mix. Her voice is down several dBs in the mix and it’s a subtle thing that would be easy to lose with a typical set of headphones. Doing my best to imitate Zakk Wylde, I could also hear my guitar solo in the song rise in volume, peak and fade out without losing any clarity or airiness within the mix. It also retained nice amounts of detail, which included my being able to hear the touch of delay I added to my Gibson Les Paul guitar and Mesa Boogie amplifier during the solo plus fairly heavy reverb on my daughter’s voice.
The headphones also presented the overdubs in the mix with space so as they weren’t stepping on the main guitar track which I ran down the middle of the mix. One last thing that I really like with the noise canceling mode was how the headphones responded to micro dynamics like the intensity at which I was strumming my Taylor 314ce acoustic.
The M4U 2s (MSRP $399) aren’t the most expensive headphones on the market, but they are without a doubt a premium audio product that audiophiles and travelers can appreciate.
Final Thoughts (A)
Over the past couple of years I’ve written that PSB has been on a huge roll in the world of loudspeakers. The M4U 2 headphones carry the momentum of the company’s speaker triumphs into a new category. My only criticism of the headphones is that they are a bit bulkier and heavier than some headphones, but after a while users will grow accustomed to the additional girth. Also, the carrying case is a slightly larger than some headphones and users will have to take this into account if they are stuffing the case into their airline carry-on bags. Beyond those minor criticisms, the M4U 2s sound as good as anything currently on the market, if not better.
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Bob is an audio enthusiast who has written about consumer electronics for various publications within Massachusetts before joining the staff of CE Pro in 2000. Bob is THX Level I certified, and he's also taken classes from the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) and Home Acoustics Alliance (HAA). Bob also serves as the technology editor for CE Pro's sister publication Commercial Integrator. In addition, he's studied guitar and music theory at Sarrin Music Studios in Wakefield, Mass., and he also studies Kyokushin karate at 5 Dragons in Haverhill, Mass. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Robert at firstname.lastname@example.org
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