Japan Traveling Companion: PSB M4U 2 Headphones

I travel often, and I haven't boarded a flight in the last two years without my Bowers & Wilkins C5 earphones. These earphones, in concert with Air Canada's (my usual airline) excellent inflight entertainment system, have actually made flying fun -- there's usually an outstanding selection of new and old movies, in addition to plenty of TV programs and a decent music section.

So during my May trip to Munich for High End, I caught up on three films that were recently in theaters, with the last one finishing the moment we landed. And on my recent trip to and from the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (RMAF) in Denver, I watched a fascinating documentary I didn't know existed called Paul Williams Still Alive, as well as Last Tango in Paris, the controversial Marlon Brando classic, which arrived in theaters when I was only eight.

PSB M4U 2 headphones

The C5 earphones have served me exceedingly well all this time, and I can recommend them highly, particularly for their $179 USD asking price -- their build, styling, performance, and comfort are all very good. But for my trip to Japan in three days to cover the Tokyo International Audio Show for the first time, I decided to up my listening game with some PSB M4U 2 headphones, which retail for $399. These full-size, over-the-ear cans designed by legendary speaker designer Paul Barton feature three operating modes: Passive, Active, and Active Noise Cancelling. They come in black or white, which both look good, but I chose white because I think that color makes them look a little cleaner and more stylish. (I shot the accompanying photos of the M4U 2 headphones and accessories, so what you're seeing is what I actually got.)

The downside of the M4U 2 headphones is, of course, their size -- compared to a pair of in-ear jobbies, they're huge. For traveling, that would seem to make them a hassle, which I obviously considered. Luckily, though, Paul Barton is a heavy traveler, so he understands the issues involved and he's done things to ameliorate problems, such as supplying a single case that can hold the headphones and the supplied accessories, as well as a hook, which allows you to attach the case to your carry-on luggage instead of trying to find a place for it inside. (I actually noticed the hook when I saw Paul Barton with a pair of M4U 2s at the airport in Denver when he was traveling home from RMAF. Seeing that case dangle freely but securely was the clincher for me to get these things because size was certainly a consideration for me.) Also supplied are two cords -- one for the airplane system and the other for a phone -- that offer different functions, and there's even an adapter for the old-style entertainment systems still on some planes. The M4U 2s are also purported to be very comfortable, which is important on long journeys like this one to Tokyo, since one leg is 14 hours!

PSB M4U 2 packaging

Mostly, though, I bought the M4U 2s for sound quality and noise canceling. According to S. Andrea Sundaram, who reviewed the M4U 2s for us in SoundStage! Xperience in May 2012, their noise canceling isn't quite as good as what's in Bose's QuietComfort 15 headphones, but it's still very good. More importantly, though, he says their sound quality is far superior. Being a hardcore audiophile, I obviously prioritize sound, so that made the M4U 2 headphones an easy choice over any Bose headphones.

Of course, the real test for me will happen in three days when I begin my trip to Japan. I'm already looking forward to what movies will be available on my flight, and I'm also downloading a couple of others to my iPad as well as adding some new music, since this will be the longest journey I will have ever made. I'll report on my findings with the M4U 2s in this space after I return.

Doug Schneider
Publisher, The SoundStage! Network