Aiaiai's highly anticipated Capital headphones are finally out, and what a gratifying end product it is. When we last reviewed the cultured Danish company's TMA-1 Studio headphones we liked them so much that we went ahead and bestowed them our coveted Editors' Choice award. The Capital are Aiaiai's first attempt at creating a pair of foldable on-ear headphones for the on-the-go urban scene. But will they pass our ultimate test of sound quality and all that follows? Find out and much more in the full review down under!
As always we start with the packaging and work our way into all the goody goodness that awaits inside. The Capital come inside the same robust box packaging as all of Aiaiai's headphone with the exception of a less exciting to look at foam tray that safely protect and holds the headphones in place. We don't know how to break this to you, but there's nothing else inside the box. Just relax, you'll understand why you aren't getting a fancy storage pouch or some extra ear pads and a 6.3mm plug adapter soon.
The Capital are Aiaiai's most affordably priced pair of headphones retailing at $125, and just under $100 over on Amazon. They come in four different colors unlike the TMA-1 series which are only available in all-black. Ironically we've got the Capital in the all-black color scheme, and we're kind of bored with black at this point. But we're not complaining. Being that the Capital are one of the more unique and peculiarly designed headphones with an all familiar Scandinavian fusion thrown in, they most definitely look their best displayed in other colors that contrast between the various parts which make up the Capital's quirky design. These will arguably look good on you no matter who you are.
Aiaiai's iconic black monolithic structural design isn't present in the Capital, but what we end up getting instead is a collapsible design that's compact, rugged and flexible enough to be carried with you literally wherever you go. For size and design comparison sake, here's what the Capital look like besides the behemoth TMA-1 Studio. Comparing the two wouldn't be so fair; the two sets are entirely different in almost every way. Other than sharing a similar lovely foam material type ear pads, the Capital are respectively smaller in size being that they're on-ear headphones and have flat audio driver housings.
The first thing that popped into my head when I took the Capital headphones out of the box was their unforeseen build quality and construction. It's as if the Capital were made by Ikea, sold at Ikea and yes you guessed it, and then put together by yourself as if they were a DIY heaphone kit. Don't get me wrong though, the Capital do feel surprisingly solid after the fact, have good amount of flexibility to them and without a doubt feel as if they can take the daily abuse of urban living and careless individuals.
With that said, the Capital have a very odd construction and look like a pair of headphones designed to be affordable. The kind that are built well, but look like a prototype of some kind. It's hard to explain and it's something you'd understand when getting your hands on them for the first time. The joints look extremely cheap, but work as expected to say the least. I'm definitely being reminded with an Ikea vibe each time I look at these. What can I say, this whole Scandinavian methodology is at works here.
The Capital are made from fiberglass reinforced nylon body, a rather slim headband coated with the type of rubber gym machine handles have and a not too thick and not too thin audio cable for durability. The nylon body feels rough and grainy to the touch. None of that touchy-feely, soft-touch rubbery finish here. Just raw material that's even more durable and doesn't require any protective storage pouch. What's more is that the Capital are built to withstand all kinds of harsh weather from rain, snow and hail. So really, while the Capital have an unusual construction, they're not less durable than the TMA-1 headphones.
I found the Capital in particular to be subjective when it comes to comfort. Most on-ear type headphones aren't very comfortable to wear as they often times put a lot of clamping pressure on top of your ears, but with the Capital there's none of that forceful clamping pressure that becomes very discomforting after a while. However, not everyone will find the Capital to be comfortable for extended use. The cups can freely articulate up and down, but not side to side. Instead, there are little notches that help you adjust the side tilt yourself which greatly helps adjusting the Capital to fit your desired comfort point. Personally I found the Capital to be comfortable when wearing them for no longer than an hour.
The Capital's foam ear pads are like two round whoopie pies. Sadly they are on the stiff side and aren't as forgiving and soft as the ones that come with the TMA-1 and Studio models and I really think that was a bad decision Aiaiai made. Getting a good seal isn't very easy with these ear pads, and although I was able to get a good seal going that reduces background noise, I definitely see people having trouble with getting a good fit with these round foam pads. Both of Aiaiai's TMA-1 and TMA-1 Studio headphones are more comfortable to wear than the Capital for extended periods of time.
As was mentioned earlier in the review, the Capital are indeed collapsible and can quickly and easily be folded into itself for compactness. Aiaiai's ingenious idea of cable management is priceless really. The Capital's flexible construction allows the headband to bend while the long adjustable ear cup side arms slide down and provide a neat space for you to wrap the cable around while notches on either side give you a place to securely anchor down the excess end part of the cable. And because the cable doesn't tangle, the unwrapping of the cable is flawless every time. The gold plated 3.5mm L shaped plug is slim so that it can fit into tight spots such as protective smartphone cases.
The Capital also feature an inline 3-button remote and mic. It's perhaps one of the worst as well, unfortunately. The buttons have no markings on them and they are covered with thick rubber which makes for just an awful user experience when wanting to skip a song or adjust the volume. The same case was when I reviewed the Swirl in-ear headphones. It seems that Aiaiai hasn't improved on its past mistakes. As for the good, the mic is decent and provides clear audible audio when talking over the phone, taking notes and so on. The positioning of the remote is actually great where it resides right underneath your chin so you know exactly where to reach for it every time.
Coming from the TMA-1 Studio straight to the Capitals, I had very high expectations of what these should sound like. And I must say, Aiaiai did not disappoint. The Capital sound great right out of the box provided you've put them on correctly. Aiaiai has used 40mm dynamic titanium drivers again and they make the Capital sound amazingly clear and fresh across the board. Being dynamic, the sound signature is colorful and on the warm side, but it still has a blow of fresh air despite also being a closed-back style headphones mainly due to the foam ear pad design. The clarity on the highs is without a doubt the Capital's strong point making it one of the better performing on-ear headphones on the sharp clarity and high end.
The mids are slightly recessed and could have used more power to bring them forward, but overall the midrange does have decent detail especially at this price range. The TMA-1 Studio by comparison have a much wider, more detailed soundstage with an openness in sound to them. The Capital's bass performance isn't as clear and polished compared to the TMA-1s, however, it is rich on thumpyness in non-fatiguing way. The bass while it isn't very tight and has a slight softness to it which isn't a bad thing more than it's a preference, is one of my favorite aspects about the Capital.
Stacking the Capital against another one of our favorites - albeit over-ear cans, the Sonic by Incase, the Capital sound as good if not better with clearer highs, brighter sound signature and softer bass hits. Of course there's no distortion or muffleness to be heard.
In closing, the Capital may not be a well balanced pair of on-ear headphones, but at the same time we really think they have great sound for what you're paying. Granted Aiaiai does some things we frown on, though for the most part they get it right and amaze with headphones the stand out from all the rest. The Capital aren't perfect in every category we've tested them in, but at $125 we can give them our limited recommendation as a solid performing on-ear headphones for those who need a compact set of durable headphones that don't just look urbanely unique, but sound pretty great as well. If you're not on a tight budget, we would suggest that you consider Aiaiai's TMA-1 and TMA-1 Studio headphones if portability isn't an issue.