PSB Speakers' new $399.99 M4U 2 Active Noise Cancelling Headphones may be the company's very first pair of headphones, but the engineers' smart design choices and superior sound put the M4U 2s at the head of the pack. They're fairly compact for a full-size, over-ear design and one of the few sets that can still play music after the batteries die.
Though the M4U 2s are on the pricey side for noise-canceling headphones, they're certainly among the best-sounding on the market and worth the money for audio-conscious music lovers who want to block out outside noise.
Design and features
The shiny black plastic-and-metal headband feels fairly durable, though I'm a little concerned about the long-term prospects of the metal hinges that allow the headphones to fold up for compact storage in the included case.
The full-size Polk UltraFocus 8000 noise-canceling headphones are more ruggedly built, but they aren't as comfortable and don't have a hinged headband. The M4U 2s' gyro-suspended earcup mounting system allows the earpads to swivel vertically and laterally for an optimal fit.
The switch on the right earcup turns the noise cancellation on and off, and its third position activates the internal amplifiers without noise cancellation so the headphones can play louder while conserving the battery.
PSB's cancellation system uses four noise-canceling microphones, two on each earcup, to provide more accurate processing.
PSB includes two 55-inch cables for Apple and BlackBerry devices with 3.5mm plugs and controls on the wire for navigating music tracks and accessing the inline microphone. Other accessories include a semihard zippered travel case, an airline adapter, a 3.5mm-to-6.3mm plug adapter, and an extra set of user-replaceable ear cushions.
The M4U 2 comes with a longer-than-average two-year parts and labor warranty. To initiate a warranty claim, you'll need to provide an invoice or proof of purchase.
The PSB M4U 2 model's "active" noise-canceling powers are above average, and it's also the best-sounding pair of headphones of its type. The bass, midrange, and treble balance is flawless, so it sounds great with rock, electronica, jazz, classical, and in fact every type of music.
On the other hand, the Bose QuietComfort 15 headphones are superior noise blockers, but not so great with fidelity. Unlike most noise-canceling headphones, the M4U 2s sound their best in quiet settings, where you can turn off the noise-canceling circuitry and play music without draining the headphones' two AAA batteries. Also, using the headphones' internal amps without engaging noise cancellation boosts the volume a bit, so you can turn it down and play longer before the headphones' battery runs out of juice. You can't do that with the QuietComfort 15s.
On the plus side, with the M4U 2s I'm less aware of the mild noise-canceling "pressure" that's a common problem with many powered noise-canceling headphones. It's usually not so different from the pressure you feel on your eardrums when you're in a plane that's changing altitude.
In my noise-eliminating tests, the M4U 2 headphones handled air conditioner whooshes, traffic roars, and bus thumps and rumbles with ease. In fact, the louder the noise, the more impressive the M4U 2s sound. True, they won't completely hush the noise (no noise-canceling headphones can), but the M4U 2s definitely take the racket down to a more tolerable level.
The Audio Technica ATH ANC-9 headphones are even more efficient at canceling noise, but they don't sound as good as the M4U 2s during music playback -- it's not even close.
I do most of my sound quality evaluations on noise-canceling headphones in noisy environments, and the M4U 2s performed beautifully; during tests, I kept noticing their beautiful midrange.
I'm doing the bulk of my M4U 2 listening tests with my iPod Classic, but the M4U 2s are also among the very few noise-cancelling headphones that sound even better in a quiet room with the noise cancellation processing turned off. I paired the headphones with my CEntrance DACport headphone amp with great results, but I'm sure you'll also get a similar experience with an AV receiver. Without a doubt, the M4U 2 headphones are the best-sounding dual-purpose (indoor/outdoor) noise-canceling headphones I have tested.
Priced at $399, PSB Speakers' M4U 2 Active Noise Cancelling Headphones may be one of the most expensive pairs of noise-canceling headphones on the market, but they're also one of the few that can still play after the batteries are drained. If you're an audiophile in the market for noise-canceling headphones, but you don't want to sacrifice sound quality, the M4U 2s are the pair to buy.