As far as inscrutable, difficult-to-pronounce company names go, Aiaiai may have cornered the market. (It’s “eye-eye-eye,” for the record.) The Copenhagen-based manufacturer doesn’t build artificial intelligence droids, it makes affordable headphones. The $60 Aiaiai Tracks are a blend of retro nostalgia (think the on-ear, metal frame headphones that came with Walkman cassette players in the 80s) and modern, spare Scandinavian design. Are they all about the look, or do they deliver quality audio, as well? We were pleasantly surprised by the bass response these unassuming headphones can dish out, as well as the balance of lows with high frequency response. If you’re into the design and the price, the Tracks are unlikley to dissappoint, though there are better-sounding, but less cool-looking, options in the same general price range.
Available in white or black matte plastic, the Tracks ship with tiny replaceable plastic pieces that the headband slides onto—the pieces themselves come in pairs of yellow, white, or black, so you can switch up the look of the outer panel to a degree. The plastic sliders are what keep the earpieces attached to the metallic headband, which slides through grooves in the plastic tips. This result in plenty of removable parts, as both earpieces can also slide off the headband.
Looking at the spare, stylish design, it seems almost a given that the supra-aural (on-ear) headphones will not be comfortable. After all, they use the tension of the metallic, completely unpadded headband to press against the ears. However, they can be worn so that the headband doesn’t exert much pressure on the scalp, and though there will always be pressure on the ears, it is surprisingly not uncomfortable experience over long listening sessions. That said, they don’t offer anything like a plush, cushioned feeling in the slightest. We’ll call the comfort level neutral, with the foam earpads doing little to sway things in either direction.
The inline remote control and microphone compartment rests at chest level, and features a single button that handles playback, track navigation, and call management depending on how many times you tap it. There’s no inline volume control, so you have to adjust volume levels on your mobile device itself.
The left and right earpieces don’t appear to be demarcated in any way at first. But instead of L and R appearing on the earpieces, the labels appear where the two cables join into one. The remote is on the right channel’s cable, however, which also helps to separate them.
It’s also worth noting that it’s relatively easy to have one or both earpieces sitting just off kilter on your ears—it may feel like you have the headphones on correctly when, in fact, the drivers are not lined up properly with your ear canals. This can result in an uneven stereo image and diminished bass response, so it’s a good idea to fiddle with them until you feel that both sides are on properly and you’re receiving equal audio levels in each ear.
Other than the interchangeable plastic slider tips that snap onto the outer panels of the earpieces, the Tracks do not ship with any accessories. Given the potential for the sliders to snap off the the earpieces and the earpieces to slide off the headband, an inexpensive drawstring tote to hold the various loose items would have been a nice inclusion.
One last note about the design: It definitely leaks some sound to the outside world, so your office mates might hear your music if you’re in close quarters. Conversely, it lets sound in, which some may view as a positive, as you’re able to hear what’s going on around you while listening to your music—a rarity with most modern headphones, even in the on-ear realm.
If the look of the Tracks harkens back to the Walkman era, the audio performance is a thankfully more modern affair. You wouldn’t expect headphones this size, style, and price to provide much in the way of bass response, and that’s one area in which the Tracks genuinely surprised us. The bass response is substantial, and it’s also well balanced with the highs. On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the Tracks deliver an impressive low frequency response at moderate listening levels, and even more impressively, at top, unwise listening levels, the drivers do not distort. These headphones simply don’t look or even feel like they deliver rich, deep bass, but they are capable of more than you might assume.
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Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the overall sound signature. Do the Tracks invent deep bass where it doesn’t exist? Not really. The drums on this track get just the ideal amount of bass presence, rounding them out and giving them a fullness and body. Callahan’s baritone vocals have a natural richness to them that the headphones highlight well, while the high-mids are dialed up a bit to provide some treble edge and clarity. This also brings out the attack of the guitar strumming, as well as the percussive hits. The tape hiss in the background is especially noticeable, however, and we start to realize just how boosted and sculpted certain parts of the higher frequency range are. The Tracks provide bass depth and match it with some serious high frequency boosting.
This is most apparent on Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild”—the vinyl crackle that typically serves as a subtle backdrop for this layered track is vaulted to the front of the mix. The boosted highs and high-mids also help accentuate the sharpness of the kick drum loop’s attack. Meanwhile, the sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with plenty of power, and the drum loop’s sustain also gets plenty of thumping of bass presence. The vocals on this track flirt with sounding overly sibilant at times, but generally speaking, they come through brightly and clearly.
On orchestral tracks, like the opening scene in John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, the lower register instrumentation gets a slight push forward in the mix, but the higher register brass, strings, and vocals own the spotlight. They’re already a bright presence in the mix through most headphones, but the Tracks really dial that up. This is one genre that can benefit from a little less brightness in the sound signature, but things never sound harsh or brittle.
Essentially, the Aiaiai Tracks offer a highly sculpted but pleasantly balanced sound signature, with surprising bass depth. There’s added presence in the highs that can sometimes be a little too much, but generally sounds crisp and clear. In this price range, you have some solid on-ear and over-ear headphone options, all of which offer fairly different listening experiences. We’re fans of the Editors’ Choice Coloud No. 16 and Shure SRH145m+—and if you’re really looking to save money, the Scosche Lobedope SHP451M is about as cheap as we’re comfortable recommending, and they deliver a solid audio performance for the price. The Aiaiai Tracks may not be the absolute best sonic option in this class, but for such a stylish, affordable option, there’s not much to complain about.