||25 hours (18 with ANC engaged)
PRICE R6 490.00
SUPPLIED BY Cinema Imports (Pty) Ltd t/a AV Imports 082 571-6568
I’ve had an awesome few months since Publisher William Kelly invited me to join the AV News team. Not only because I was going back into familiar territory, but more so because finally I was getting my hands on kit to review, whereas at AVSA I spent 99% of my career stuck behind a desk editing things. It’s a bit soul destroying having to spend so much time reading contributors’ reviews, but rarely getting the chance to take an actual listen to the product.
Most recently I’ve had the opportunity to listen to a stunning set of headphones: PSB’s M4U 8 Mk II headphones. With a price tag just north of 6K, I admit I was a tad intimidated, because my current reference headphones are only in the +-3K level. And with a bit of completely understandable defensive resentment from my ego, I doubted there would be that much sonic improvement, and blamed the price on the array of extensive technology that comes with these headphones. No doubt that’s partially true, but I was proven very wrong about the improvement in sound quality…
PSB hasn’t skimped when it comes to the packaging and accessories. Like anything in this sort of price range, the packaging is solid quality. Inside is the solid-looking carry case. Open it and you can see the PSBs on one side, and a mini cargo net on the other half, which contains numerous accessories such as an airplane adaptor, ¼-inch stereo adaptor, 3.5 mm stereo analogue cable and a lengthy USB-C cable. It should be mentioned that PSB has allocated two 3.5 mm inputs on the headphones, so you have a choice of which choice suits you best – left or right. Great idea.
The headphones are plain black, broken by a small chrome badge with the model number on it, yet exude a sense that you have a quality product in your hands. Everything in their design has clearly been done to ensure a lengthy listening existence. Indeed, for a nervous reviewer of product at this price level, the strength of the hinges that allow you to unfold the headphones unnerved me to the extent that I started researching if there was a latch or button you had to press or slide to open them up!
I’d never live down the ignominy of breaking a product before I’ve even been able to listen to it…
After I got over that initial trauma I plugged the PSBs in and let them charge up before listening. Once charged, I hurriedly dispensed with my family chores, read some hideous bed-time story to my daughter for what felt like the 800th time, turned off the lights and settled down for some listening.
Now, historically I’ve been in two minds about wireless listening, and let’s be honest here: previous versions of Bluetooth have been…well…adequate. And if you weren’t listening critically. Cool for the gym bunnies who don’t want to get their cables stuck in the equipment or detracting from their poses in the mirrors, but basically pretty yuk quality.
Of course things have changed somewhat since those Dark Ages, and case in point here, the PSBs’ Bluetooth version offers wireless 24-bit HD Audio. That should sound impressive to you…and well, it does in practice, too.
I have a wide selection of music that I listen to with MP3, FLAC, WMA and WAV codecs, as well as Spotify and Tidal MQA tracks, and over the months of listening to the various DACs and headphones I’ve come to hear how the different headphone/DAC combinations work with wired vs. wireless. Or don’t.
With the PSBs, on wireless, to be honest it was the best I’ve yet heard. But I have to temper this with the observation of what the PSBs claim to be – on-ear or over-ear. I read a few reviews on them, and there seems to be some sort of confusion on the part of the reviewers. I’m not fond of on-ear headphones, because I find the sound too immediate, whereas I find over-ears to give a bit more space to the music I’m listening to
If the PSBs are on-ear, then they certainly didn’t sound like it to me. Everything sounds just like you’d expect it to if you were there in person. The sound isn’t in your face, it’s around you, and concentrate enough and you can pick up this almost surround-like atmosphere that allows you to hear where the various instruments are. Just as it should be.
And this is just the basic impression.
Then there’s the PSB’s App’s Audiodo. It’s a lot more complex than how I am going to explain it, but it’s essentially a hearing test to detect how your ears experience the various frequencies, and then the App tweaks the headphones’ delivery to give you the best possible listening experience. I guffed it up on the first try and had an awful, unbalanced result, but second attempt was spot on, and it truly does make a noticeable difference.
But as much as the wireless listening was impressive…wired. Oh my.
I had already started working out how much I’d have to save to purchase these headphones, but after this listening session I started asking questions on the Dark Web on how much I could ask for one of my kidneys in order to raise the necessary funds. Apparently for my age, not much.
This is honestly the first time that Tidal’s MQA tracks have really stood out for me. Look, let’s be honest and admit that not just a few of those so-called ‘Master’ recordings are duds and a complete waste of time to listen to. But the good ones!
I’ve previously spent a lot of time listening to Tidal using my FiiO Q3 MQA DAC/amplifier, and while there was a definite audio improvement with my Sennheisers and the AKGs, I never really felt blown away. Very nice, but. Not likely I’d have spent money on investigating further down that road.
It’s not easy to explain, but it’s honestly as if everything you’re listening to has become clearer, as in crystal clear. You feel as if the high frequencies could shatter glass…yet the clarity doesn’t hurt your ears. The mids are equally clear and full of detail, and punch where needed, while the lower frequencies growl throatily, but never overwhelm any of the other frequencies, which is vital for a good performance.
The PSBs make their cost a solid investment here alone, and I could have spent hours listening on them with no listening fatigue at all, especially with the super comfortable earcup padding.
Now it would be remiss of me not to mention the other features of the PSBs, which include being able to receive and send phone calls, their Adaptive Noise Cancelling and more.
I took and sent a few calls to test this aspect out. It’s (dependent on signal quality of course) a nice feature to have as an ‘extra’, although personally when I settle down to listen to music the last thing I want is someone calling me to offer a free subscription to Invasive Plants SA. It sort of ruins the vibe, hey?
Noise cancelling seems to work best on consistent noises, such as the rumbling of aircraft engines – especially for us plebs stuck in Domestic Class. In countries that actually have a functional public transport system, I’d suspect that it would work a treat on buses and trains as well. Alas, it was no match, as I’d hoped so desperately it would be, for the chaos that unfolds around me at times while I’m trying to work, compliments of Paw Patrol, my excited daughter and my 92% deaf mother who insists on describing what she is seeing on TV to my daughter. But I doubt such a device exists at the moment.
Pretty much all the controls you should need are on the one headphone cup, such as On/Off/ANC, volume up and down, accept/reject phone calls. If pressed in, the volume switch also activates the external microphones of the headphones, cancelling the ANC and allowing you to hear someone speaking to you without having to remove the headphones.
All the buttons work well and I don’t know if it’s simply my complete and utter lack of co-ordination or old age, but after accidentally cutting off three calls in a row, I gave up and resorted to using my phone.
In summation, as much as it may disappoint PSB (hopefully not!), these headphones are, in my humble opinion, worth their asking price for their sonic delivery alone. From my experience with them, I’d happily pay the price tag even if I never used most of the bundled technology (save for Audiodo, of course!), because for me it’s the music that matters, and these headphones tick all the right boxes.