PSB Speakers is a Canadian company that focuses on achieving great sound through a mix of experience, science and engineering. The PSB M4U 8 ($399) is the company’s recent entry into the highly competitive full-size noise cancelling Bluetooth headphones category. These cans promise to deliver exceptional sound thanks to PSB’s RoomFeel technology, on top of its comprehensive list of features.
It’s no secret that one of the most popular types of premium headphones are the full-size, noise-cancelling, cordless variety. This category where you’ll find Beats and Bose battling it out, but also a space containing numerous compelling and appealing alternatives like the PSB M4U 8.
These are full-sized, over-ear, noise cancelling Bluetooth headphones that use 40mm dynamic drivers. They are designed to be easy to use and of course the fold, so you can stuff them in a bag when you travel. Plus, they have PSB’s Roomfeel technology, which tunes the headphones to sound like a pair of great speakers playing in a properly treated room.
As a rule, PSB’s published specifications are hyper-accurate. Indeed, Paul is so meticulous with his designs and his measurements that if you don’t measure what the specs show, you likely need to figure out what you are doing wrong. And when it comes to frequency response, the M4U 8s promise a -10 dB cutoff of 10 Hz, -3dB from 15 Hz to 20 kHz and +/-1.5 dB response from 20 Hz to 20 kHz. In other words, full-range sound with a very smooth response curve.
The rated impedance is 32 ohms, meaning that you can easily drive these headphones with a portable device. The detachable cord can be plugged into either earcup, depending on your preference. Or you can use Bluetooth, including 24-bit HD wireless audio using aptX. Furthermore, NFC allows for automatic connection with your mobile device. Dual microphones pick up your voice clearly, so you can use these headphones to take calls.
You can also feed these headphones audio through USB, and you can charge them with the USB port. And unlike its competitors, the PSB M4U 8 uses standard AAA rechargeable batteries that are easily accessed and replaced.
You can check out the full specs on the PSB Speakers website by clicking here.
These are fairly large over-ear headphones that are well designed and easy to use. The pads are comfortable and they even ship with a replacement pair.
The right earcup has three switches and one button that are used to operate the various functions (the button is just for Bluetooth connections). You can operate these headphones in three modes—fully passive, RoomFeel turned on, and ANC with RoomFeel. That means you can still use these headphones even if they run out of power, however you won’t get the advantage of the RoomFeel tuning.
It’s an interesting choice to use toggle switches on these headphones because they are more intuitive than push-buttons; you can tell what setting each switch is set to by looking at it or feeling it, unlike simple buttons. The only catch is that sometimes when I placed the M4U 8s in a bag, it would toggle a switch. This could lead to a situation where they battery drains if you store them like that for an extended period, but you can avoid this completely by utilizing the travel case that comes with them.
Comfort is a huge factor when it comes to headphones. Overall, the fit is great and the headband is adjustable with hinged earcups, making it easy enough to wrap around most noggins. What’s key is that these headphones achieve a good seal and maintain it, and without a good seal you will not be able to hear the deep bass response of any headphones. And since these deliver excellent bass in the “subwoofer zone” You don’t want to miss out on it.
Because the pads on these cans (barely) touch my ears, I found that the pressure started to become noticeable after a couple of hours—which is very typical for me. For most uses this is a non-issue, but on the trans-Pacific flights I used to test this pair, I found I had to take a few short breaks, for example between movies. Of course, headphone fit is contingent on ear and head size plus shape, and it just so happens that I have a big head. Most people should find these very comfortable.
I like to test headphones in real-life scenarios. For the M4U 8 that included a 14-hour intercontinental trip on an Airbus A380. It was a flight to Korea, and for some bizarre reason those flights don’t have Internet. So, I had a ton of time to listen to music, watch a couple movies and play video games using both an iPad Pro and a PC.
First let’s talk noise cancelling. PSB’s solution is highly effective with the continuous low frequency drone of the jet (and also office HCAV systems). When it came to the A380 jet engines, I’d (subjectively) estimate that it reduced ambient noise by 90%, or even more. While it’s likely there a couple other headphones that offer even stronger noise cancelling, these took care of business and delivered superior sound in the process.
Prior to the flight, I downloaded the classic videogame Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas to the iPad. It’s been many years since I visited that game, but right away it put a smile on my face with that heady mix of old school rap and old-school sound effects. This diversion accounted for approximately 1/3 of the 14 hour flight.
I watched Atomic Blonde and Kong Skull Island during the flight and both of these movies proved that the RoomFeel tuning does more than just make music sound good. With movies, it delivers the kind of bass impact that you associate with speakers and subs, or perhaps with more expensive headphones than these. That is to say, the bass was solid and deep, but not bloated or messy.
I can’t quite sleep when I’m on a flight, but to relax I played music and that is where Paul Barton’s experienced hand at voicing and tuning becomes apparent. I queued up New Order’s compilation “Best Remixes” and reveled in the tight, precise rendition of the band’s distinct style. So tight!
Of course I used these cans in other circumstances aside from that flight. For example, walking my dog where the noise cancelling zaps the constant hum of ventilation fans and traffic here in Philly. And when it’s quiet, at home, I simply turned off the ANC and just used RoomFeel.
One thing I want to underline is that the RoomFeel tuning is so good, I had no interest in listening to the headphones without it turned on.
It’s the audio fidelity that sells these cans. Of course it’s great to have noise cancelling and Bluetooth, these are two of the greatest things to ever happen to headphones. The thing is, noise cancelling does your ears no good if the actual sound of the headphones isn’t any good. With the M4U 8s, it did not take long to start hearing textures and details often glossed over by lesser headphones, and despite being a closed-back model, the soundfield was surprisingly spacious and did not seem like it was stuck inside my head.
Ultimately, I found these headphones to provide such a good combination of sound quality, portability and noise cancelling that even I use them to monitor audio wirelessly when I shoot video—a task normally reserved for wired “studio” headphones. It just goes to show how versatile these headphones are. I would also not hesitate to use them to craft a “headphone mix” of the music I create in Ableton Live, that +/-1.5 dB accuracy is akin to high-end studio monitors.
The best way to think of PSB M4U 8 headphones is that they are a tool, not a toy. For your money, you get a very serious piece of audio hardware capable of accurately reproducing music, instead of distorting or exaggerating it. And yet, because the M4U 8 is a truly full-range device thanks to RoomFeel, you still get the thrills of crystal-clear highs and subterranean lows, but without sacrificing any midrange clarity.
The M4U 8 carves a niche in the $400 wireless ANC cans category thanks to PSB’s focus of performance. You can probably find more “fashionable” headphones and pay a lot more for them, too. And if you are crossing oceans on a regular basis, you might find that there’s a good reason so many airports have stores selling Bose QC. But if you are serious about good sound and seek headphones that deliver superior fidelity along with all the features you expect for $xxxx, an audition of the M4U 8 is in order. Recommended for 2019.