Famed loudspeaker designer Paul Barton’s first headphone was the $399 PSB Speakers M4U 2 launched in 2012—an auspicious debut model widely acknowledged as a huge critical and commercial success. I bought a pair at their introduction and have spent many hundreds of hours with them in many different listening environments.
The M4U 2 is a tough act to follow, but PSB has done it again with its new M4U 8, a significant rethinking of the original design. Like the M4U 2, the M4U 8 is a dynamic closed-back headphone with active noise-canceling technology. But the new model adds Bluetooth and NFC connectivity, integral rechargeable batteries, and convenience features such as call-answer controls and two built-in microphones for improved call clarity. The new model is slimmer and sleeker, and has a more refined and sophisticated look and feel—much of the headband and parts of the earcups are now made from a richer, softer material. The M4U 8 is slightly more comfortable as well, with smaller earcups.
In a nice touch, cable jacks are provided on both the left and right earcups for convenience. The whole package folds nicely into a hard travel case. Despite the addition of Bluetooth and NFC connectivity, phone controls, and integral rechargeable batteries, the price remains at $399.
The M4U 8 includes an integral amplifier that can, if desired, be bypassed so that the M4U 8 functions as a conventional passive headphone. In fact, the headphone offers three operating modes: active noise-canceling, active amplification without noise canceling, and passive mode. The active modes engage PSB’s so-called RoomFeel voicing, which mimics the warmer, richer tonal balance of loudspeakers in a room. (Barton created RoomFeel voicing for the M4U 2, which was a good move because the M4U 2’s full tonal balance was one of its greatest attributes.)
The M4U 8 sounds very different when operated in passive versus active mode. In passive mode, the 8 has a much darker tonal balance than the 2, with very weighty bass and an almost closed-in midrange and treble that yield a murky sound without much openness and detail. But slide the switch on the right earcup to active mode, or active noise-canceling, and the M4U 8 takes on a whole new personality. The midrange and treble open up, the bass balance is more in line with the rest of the spectrum, and dynamics improve.
Comparing the M4U 2 and the M4U 8 (in active mode), the new model is significantly better than its predecessor. The 8’s most notable attribute is an ultra-smooth upper-midrange and treble (notably better than that of the M4U 2), which gives the headphone a relaxed, engaging character. Not only is the 8’s tonal balance more relaxed, but its rendering of midrange and treble timbres is also far better, with less hardness, grain, and “bite.” Despite its heightened smoothness, the M4U 8 gives up nothing to the M4U 2 in openness, resolution, transient speed, and detail. In fact, what makes the M4U 8 so compelling is its combination of an easy-going top end with excellent resolution of detail and transient information. While the PSB doesn’t match planar headphones in detail and snap, neither does it have the threadbare “skeletal” character that plagues some “ruthlessly revealing” planar models. Concomitantly, the M4U 8’s bass continues the tradition of the 2, with a warm, rich, full balance.
The new PSB also resolves space and depth quite well, although not to the degree of some other contenders. Listeners who value smoothness, ease, textural body, weight, and a general sense of engaging musicality rather than the last word in resolution will find the M4U 8 right up their alley.
Overall, PSB’s M4U 8 is not only a great performer, it is also a spectacular value. The addition of Bluetooth connectivity, its more luxurious look and feel, and the tremendous improvement in smoothness and musical involvement make the M4U 8 a “can’t miss” winner.
Specs & Pricing
Type: Closed-back dynamic headphone with active noise-canceling
Wireless pairing: Bluetooth aptX (2.4GHz), NFC
Driver complement: One 40mm dynamic driver
Frequency response: 20Hz–20kHz, +/-1.5dB
Impedance: 32 ohms (passive mode)
Accessories: Hard-shell travel case, dual 3.5mm adapter, 3.5mm cable, micro-USB cable
Battery life between charges: 15 hours
Weight: 322 grams (12.8 oz.)
633 Granite Court
Pickering, Ontario L1W 3K1