AIAIAI’s Capital Headphones Review: Portability and Functionality Meets Design
When AIAIAI first made waves onto the mainstream radar, they did so with an — oddly enough — more audiophile-geared and more technically-centered product, the TMA-1. Originally intended for traveling DJs and a more “professional” niche, the TMA-1 was highly regarded and well-received, yet its higher price point left a disparity between individuals who were interested in over-the-ear or on-ear headphones with premium sound quality, yet did not necessarily have the pockets for an upper level pair of headphones. Enter the AIAIAI Capital Headphones.
In the Danish label’s own words, the Capital Headphones are crafted for the “inhabitants of the world’s major cities.” The Capital Headphones were positioned for the on-the-go city dweller who preferred a unique audio experience yet did not want to compromise their own style and identity through overbearing headphones. Being based in the bustling city of Hong Kong with more neon lights, buses, trains and honking horns than almost any place on earth, testing out the Capital Headphones in their originally intended habitat was surprisingly easy.
Visually, the Capital Headphones maintain consistency with the same minimalism, striped down linework and clean palette that we’ve come to expect from the TMA-1 model. Designers Lars Larsen and Jens Martin aimed to capture the essence of the environment within an urban lifestyle through the aesthetics of the Capital Headphones. For the review, I was able to get my hands on a pair of the Capital Midnight Black which boast a decidedly all-black-everything aesthetic throughout every element of the headphones. For design-driven individuals and for those who appreciate the premium audio experience without having to make the compromise of looking ridiculous on the streets, the Capitals present a solid option. They’re slimmed down and understated enough to wear on the bus or subway without inadvertently proclaiming, “I’m a douche;” yet they also possess enough steez to align with that oh-so-trendy wardrobe you’ve been accumulating. The headphones are also not overtly branded — this is something that to me personally, is crucial. Aside from subtle and tonal AIAIAI embellishments along the side brace, any and all logos are absent from the design. In place of explicit branding, AIAIAI has allowed the industrial design of the headphones themselves to be the most recognizable.
My only complaint aesthetically about the headphones blurs somewhat into the realm of the next section, “Build Quality,” and is the fact that various small details of the headphones appear somewhat unfinished. Check below to see some clarification.
Sometimes, making your product more accessible comes at the cost of sacrificing construction quality. The AIAIAI Capitals are made from heavy duty, nylon-reinforced fiberglass and are rounded out with a rubber brace. Referencing back to my previous point, there are various elements such as the rubber ear cups that I feel could have been polished off a bit better. The sealed seam of the rubber ear cups are exposed — something I feel could have been easily reversed to the interior to avoid the exposed rough seal. Otherwise, the only small point I would raise is the fact that the headphones do not possess the luxury of an interchangeable cable. Although it is nice that they already include a three-button, in-line mic, the fact that the cable cannot easily be changed by its user presents an inconvenience should any malfunction occur on the cable, effectively rendering the entire headphones unusable.
I must say that it would be easy to pick up the headphones and at first assume that their lightweight build seemingly implies they were constructed from cheap plastic. The good news is that they are ultra lightweight — perfect for the on-the-go mover — yet being made from fiberglass, they are also extremely durable under a plethora of conditions. Additionally, the extremely flexible rubber brace keeps you worry free from breakage allowing you to easily throw them on and off with no concerns of mishandling. When worn, the Capital headphones also offer a level of weatherproofing and water resistance; albeit, water must be kept from entering the speaker itself which is situated inside the ear cans.
Lastly, I appreciate the build quality in that AIAIAI has made the headphones collapsible for ease of portability. Once again aligning with the brand’s direction of creating an on-the-go option for urbanites, the headphones are able to easily collapse offering the sliding bars of the ear cans as a brace for winding and storing the cable.
The Capitals possess the same 40mm driver size as its big brother, the TMA-1. Additionally they also have a similar impedance of 32 Ohm. In terms of real life sound quality, I would say that due to the more dense foam cups of the Capital, the headphones sit heavier on the head and ears providing diminished contour when compared to the leather of the TMA-1. In my opinion, this in turn give you an inferior seal and give you less bass response. The pair have a fantastic range of mids and highs, with a clear definition that allows you to easily hear all the instrumentation and intonation of the vocals, yet because the seal lends itself to less of a low-end bass response.
I find that for the price point of $100 USD, the audio is superior to the other headphone players that I have sampled within the price tier. Crisp highs, defined mids and sufficient lows, albeit they are not as bass-heavy as the TMA-1 or the TMA-1 Studio. But, considering the substantial price drop from the AIAIAI higher tier models, I would say that the low-end response is nothing to fret about. The peril of many headphones is that they focus so much on the bass response that they neglect the clarity. I would rather have more clarity in favor of super heavy bass — I think the Capital Headphones provide this balance.
For the actual audio review I ran the following songs through the headphones to get a feel for the full range and clarity of the headphones:
Bloc Party – “The Prayer”
Kanye West – “Mercy”
Purity Ring – “Fineshrine”
Water Music College – “Beethoven Ode to Joy”
Medeski Martin & Wood – “Toy Dancing”
Are these headphones a good option for you? Yes. And no, I’m not getting paid to write this. For $100 USD, I think it’s hard to match the aesthetics and audio quality of the Capital Headphones. Sure, toss in a few hundred bucks more and you can get a better audio seal, a more polished industrial design, and probably a better audio range. But for a reasonable $100 USD price point, you’re not only getting an extremely wearable pair of headphones but also some that are intended to endure your active lifestyle. Aside from a few minor nuances in the design and a slight lack of low end response when compared to other on-ear and over-the-ear headphones, it’s hard to knock the Capital Headphones at their price point.
* It should also be noted that prior to doing the audio review, a full 100-hour “run-in period” was done on the headphones in which both white noise and various genres of music were continuously streamed through the headphones to achieve the maximum audio capacity from them.