PSB M4U1 Headphone Review

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After quite a bit of research, I think I’ve found my perfect pair of headphones, designed right here in Ontario. The PSB M4U1 offers a fantastic listening experience.

After reading a pair of excellent reviews of higher-end headphones, I started looking around for something to replace my Shure SRH 440s. They were my first foray into quality headphones. I bought them based on a recommendation in a Wired magazine years ago and have been quite happy with the purchase. However, they aren’t the most comfortable to wear for extended periods of time, and with the popularization of iPods and smartphones, headphones are once again an area of intense research and development. It’s amazing what improvements can be found in the last few years.

Enter the plucky Canadian company PSB. They’ve been making fantastic speakers that are an unbelievable value for the money for decades now. Most recently, Paul Barton, the founder and chief engineer of PSB, has focused his efforts on headphones. Are we ever lucky that he has chosen to do so. The results thus far are the PSB M4U2 and M4U1. I purchased the M4U1 and have been just thrilled with the purchase.

The M4U2 and M4U1 have been out for a couple of years now, and have been well received. (Notably, The Wire Cutter has called them the best $300 headphones for several years straight. I don’t doubt it.) These things sound great! I recently purchased a set of Sennheiser PXC 250s for travel. They sound good too, but the M4U1 blows both my Sennheiser and Shure headphones out of the water. With respect to the look, fit, and finish of the M4U1, they’re pretty good.  The build quality is totally fine, but based on what I’ve read, isn’t in the same league as B&O’s BeoPlay H6 or B&W’s P7s, which both look exquisite. Still, it’s a solid improvement over my old Shure SRH 440s, and is certainly a contemporary style, bearing more than a passing resemblance to a set of Beats headphones. (No coincidence, I’m sure.)

However, any concerns about the aesthetics quickly fly out the window when you start listening to music on the M4U1. For starters, they just disappear on your head. They’re pretty large to look at, but man are they comfortable. The ear cups fit comfortably around my ears and do a stellar job of passively isolating the sound.

Speaking of the sound. Wow. The headphones are very natural sounding. Everything is present and accounted for, and no sound range is over-represented. (This is a polite way of saying that they aren’t tinny, nor is the bass overwhelming.) Everything sits in perfect balance and harmony. I’ve been listening to some of my favourites and am constantly picking up nuances and details that I’ve never heard before. What a joy!

I thought Lina Allemano’s “OK Joni” was good before. Now it’s transcendent. Listening, it’s as though I’m sitting in the room with the musicians.

I’m the president of the Kingston Jazz Society, so it’s fair to say that I’m a music enthusiast and a jazz fan in particular. I also play bass. (Rather badly, but still…) As such, I particularly like to listen to jazz bass solos. For me, nothing is worse than a bass-heavy set of headphones to muddy things to the point where you lose all definition. Not so with these headphones. On a good recording, I can hear every quiver of the finger on each string of the upright bass. It is truly spectacular. It’s a joy to hear the likes of Dave Holland, Brandi Disterheft, and Charles Mingus anew. Honestly, listening to recorded music has never been this rewarding for me. They are that good.

Higher-end headphones tend to have high gain and are often coupled with an amplifier to boost the volume. I was a bit worried about that with these. I shouldn’t have been. The volume has been great on my BlackBerry Z30, an iPod Classic, and a Nokia 808 PureView. When I crank the volume, I don’t lose any clarity or hear any distortion.

The PSB M4U 1 comes with quite a few nice accessories in the box. These include a semi-rigid case, a spare set of ear pads, two extra cords, a cleaning cloth, and adapters for older jets (I’ve not seen these double jacks on Air Canada or WestJet. Perhaps they’re common elsewhere) and quarter inch. All together, it’s a pretty nice package.

These headphones tend to retail for around $300. I haven’t listened to too many headphones in that price range, but these are spectacular. Lucky me, I was able to snag a new pair on eBay for $150 taxes and shipping in. Coupled with the price and the fantastic quality of the listening experience, I am just tickled with the purchase. PSB is an outstanding, if relatively obscure, Canadian brand. Top quality at reasonable prices. The PSB M4U 1 is a welcome addition to their stable of speakers, and a welcome addition to my home.

GoSaBe Blog - Jan 4, 2015 | Hardware