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PSB M4U 8 review: The best noise-cancelling headphones for audiophiles

Christopher Minasians
30 Oct 2018
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
300
inc VAT

Bose’s QC35 II still have the edge for noise-cancellation, but the PSB M4U 8 are a sonic marvel by comparison

Pros 
Incredible sound quality
Supports Bluetooth aptX HD codec
Transparency Mode is useful
Cons 
ANC isn’t as good as the Bose QC35
Not particularly stylish
Clamping force (on the original model)
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Update: Following my concerns (and those of others), PSB Speakers has addressed the clamping force of the M4U 8. They now sit more loosely and are far more comfortable to wear; even with reading glasses on. The newer revision will soon phase out the older revision – there are no aesthetic differences between the two, and with no indications of a revised model, you'll have to hope you get the newer model from a retailer.

Below, you'll find my detailed review.

When you think of active noise-cancelling (ANC) headphones, the first brand that comes to mind is Bose. That’s because the company has set the standard for consumer-grade ANC headphones for some time. However, Bose’s flagship model, the QuietComfort 35 (QC35), isn’t sonically perfect and if you’re serious about audio, Bose’s headphones just won’t cut it.

Step forward, PSB Speakers. Founded back in 1972, the Canadian company is best known for its home theatre loudspeakers, but also does a strong line in wired and wireless headphones. The M4U 8 are PSB’s flagship model, but are they good enough to keep pace with Bose, Sony and Nuraphone?

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PSB M4U 8 review: What you need to know

The answer to that question depends very much on what you’re looking for. The PSB M4U 8 are a set of impressive active noise-cancelling headphones that are sonically superior to the Bose QC35, Sony MDR-1000X and Nuraphone headphones. However, it’s far from perfect, and it offers neither the noise-cancelling strength nor comfort of its main rivals.

READ NEXT: Sony MDR-1000X review: Now replaced by the Sony WH-1000XM2

PSB M4U 8 review: Price and competition

The M4U 8 costs £300. That might seem like a lot of money for a set of Bluetooth ANC headphones, but it’s in-line with its main competitors. The Bose QuietComfort 35 (Series I) cost £280, the Sony WH-1000XM2 cost £270, and the quirky Nuraphone headphones will set you back £349.

PSB M4U 8 review: Build quality, comfort, connectivity and design

The M4U 8 aren’t exactly the most attractive headphones on the market, in fact, comparing them to a set of sub-£50 headphones seems fitting. That’s a poor start to a set of cans that will set you back six times as much.

The M4U 8 are only available in black – there’s a rubbery material that holds the drivers and a leather-feeling headband that houses a metal headband.

Looks aside, the headphones’ design is both smart and functional. By the left driver, there’s a 3.5mm input jack to use in passive mode, meaning that if you run out of battery, you can still enjoy your music via an auxiliary cable. A matching identical port can be found on the opposite side, too.

On the right cup, there’s a microUSB port for charging; an illuminated switch to the headphones on and the ANC feature. There are also two jog dials here: one allows you to answer/hang up calls, and play/pause and skip/previous music. The other lets you adjust the volume and enable Transparency mode, which allows you to quickly listen to your surroundings without taking the headphones off. There’s a dedicated button for Bluetooth pairing, too.

For Bluetooth and ANC to work, they need to be powered. There are two removable AAA batteries housed within the left cup. This might seem archaic to some, but it actually prolongs the life of the headphones – instead of housing lithium-ion batteries that’ll degrade over time, these just require a new set of AAA batteries. Remember, they can still be charged through the microUSB port if you use rechargables.

All in, the headphones will run for around 15hrs with Bluetooth and ANC enabled, which is great to cover your long-haul flight. For connectivity, the M4U 8 uses Bluetooth, but you can use NFC to pair, too.

For audiophiles who are worried about losing quality over wireless, you’ll be pleased to know the PSB M4U 8 are among a select few headphones to support Bluetooth aptX HD, enabling 24bit/48kHz to be transmitted over Bluetooth. To benefit from this, you’ll need a device that’s capable of transmitting such a signal. A list of supported devices can be found here, and it includes handsets from the likes of OnePlus, Huawei and LG.

They’re not the most comfortable in my experience, with the clamp being a touch on the strong side. If you’re going to be listening for long periods of time, or wearing glasses, I suspect you’ll run into problems, though your mileage may vary.

On a positive note, a newer revision of the headphones has now been released, and from my tests, I found the clamping force a lot weaker that makes them far more comfortable to wear. I'm pleased PSB Speakers has taken constructive criticism onboard and improved their headphones.

Still, the newer revision still isn't as comfortable as Bose QC35, which feel as if they’re floating on your head – the QC35s retain the gold standard of comfort.

READ NEXT: Best headphones - our pick of the best wired headphones

PSB M4U 8 review: ANC performance

Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) is a key aspect of the headphones’ capabilities, and the PSB M4U 8 is competent at cancelling out ambient noise. Thanks to four external mics, the headphones cancel out plenty of frequencies that ensure your listening experience isn’t interrupted by the outside world.

However, in comparison to the Bose QC35, Sony 1000X and the Nuraphone ANC headphones, the PSB M4U just aren’t as effective at blocking top-mid or high frequencies. If you want to block out noise on the train or on a long flight, others will do a better job.

READ NEXT: Best Bluetooth headphones: The best wireless in-ear, on-ear and over-ear headphones to buy

PSB M4U 8 review: Sound quality

As an audio enthusiast, sound quality is something I’ve always been critical about on wireless headphones. It’s no exaggeration to say that the M4U 8 have completely changed the way I think about wireless headphones.

The headphone’s bass response is incredible. With the PSB headphones on, you’ll not only hear the mid-bass slam in DJ Khaled - No Brainer, but you’ll also feel the sub-bass rumble around your head. It’s far from overpowering, but it’s incredibly well reproduced.

Comparing the same song on the Bose QC35 or the Nuraphone headphones, there are clear differences immediately. The Bose headphones soften the frequency band and make the sound appear far flatter than it is, while the Nuraphones lack a bit of control.

With a strong mid-bass response, you’d think the PSB would have a very recessed mid-range. Wrong. The mids are forward-sounding, accurate and aren’t overly dipped. Sure, they won’t compete with the level of clarity and precision of the Audeze LCD2C Classic or HiFiman Sundara, but the PSB’s are impressive.

If you love the strumming guitar on Maroon 5 - Girls Like You, you’ll enjoy the high-end extension of the M4U 8. The headphones extend well into the highs but don’t sound sibilant at all: exactly what you’d want from a set of headphones. By comparison, the Bose QC35 and Sony 1000X have a slight roll off at the top end, making James Valentine’s guitar sound less impressive.

In the soundstage department, the PSB M4U 8 are head and shoulders above its rivals; they have a deep, wide soundstage, and the instrument separation is simply sublime. Hearing those individual instruments in Michael Jackson - Liberian Girl (Master Chic Mix), is an amazing experience. Michael Jackson’s voice is also beautifully accompanied by a smooth decay – it doesn’t quite match up to the warm sound you get from headphones with wooden cups, but it’s still impressive.

READ NEXT: Bose QuietComfort 35 review: The blissful sound of silence

PSB M4U 8 review: Verdict

The PSB M4U 8 headphones don’t provide the same level of active-noise cancellation as the Bose QC 35Sony WH-1000XM2 and the Nuraphone headphones; they also don’t look or feel like premium headphones.

With these drawbacks, you’d think the PSB M4U 8 would fail to stand out in a crowded marketplace, but the incredible sound quality saves them. Before this review, I had not come across a set of wireless headphones that could replicate what I have at home or via my custom earphones, but the PSB M4U 8 achieve what no other wireless headphone has been able to do – have audiophile-grade capabilities. For that alone, the PSB M4U 8 deserve a hearty recommendation.

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