Sound checking the Ghostly TMA-1 Headphones

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It’s important to note that I am imperfect, as a condition and as a practice. Measures must be taken to counter these shortcomings in my critical work. I checklist reminders of situational factors that might impede my decision making like audio quality (i.e. my options of studio quality headphones, earbuds, vintage speakers, iPod dock, and Macbook Air stock speakers), environment, and even mental state. Simply put, it is my opinion that control over environment is supreme in interpreting a response to an album.

As a measure of correcting past errs in judgement, particularly in deciphering the Ghostly International catalog, I acquired a pair of Ghostly Edition AIAIAI TMA-1 headphones to revisit the releases that—for whatever reason—escaped my understanding. AIAIAI notes that this edition of their signature headphones has been “engineered to deliver a powerful bass response” and “low-end tonality and dynamics.” Ghostly owner Sam Valenti confirmed this is not marketing jargon to upsell the special edition, but that his team used a “different driver to achieve a more rounded sound for this model of TMA.” In catering the product’s strengths to its intended catalog, I chose two dynamically diverse records to reconsider, debut, and rekindle from Ghostly’s past year of releases.

Christopher Willits, OPENING


Aptly coined “widescreen ambient,” Christopher Willits’ OPENING is the aural equivalent of an ear cleanse or the vacillation of pores. Transcendentalism and meditative principles run strong through the seven-song cycle and Willits’ vision for OPENING was expansive across mediums, directing seven scenic films to accompany the album and including a photograph collection. Consequently, it’s ill-equipped for instinctual (see also: cursory) interpretation during the work day. I’ll be the asshole for a moment: a five minute video of Willits’ ambient set to rippling water footage and feminine silhouettes pissed me off like being confined to a waiting room info-mercial for renewing my Christian faith. It did not help that in my haste, the footage for “CLEAR” was heard through MacBook Air speakers.

Willits does not gild or lacquer his music, nor is it catered to the common sound system. We’re meant to baptize in OPENING. There are no impurities in his record, so the more we commit to immersion, by limiting distraction and intensifying the sonic capacity, the greater the reward. The low end in “VISION” is a nuanced and softened thud of a distant sonic boom and its worth is defined by the quality of your sound system. The movement in “Ground” is subtle, a touch of label mate Tycho’s gauzy downtempo, and lucid. Willits is never tempted to disrupt his record, even at the risk of displeasing our attention deficit. This is not a record you metabolise during your day, it’s the cleanse or the diversion or the centering sound piece to renew you after the drain of those lost hours. (Just now, I proved its healing faculty by soothing my girlfriend’s anxiety with “VISION”. Curled up in the papain with the TMA-1s sound-proofing her senses, she averted a panic attack.) OPENING sustains a center of peace without lapsing into quiescence, and in reservation offers aesthetic vistas.

HTRK, Psychic 9-5 Club


Anguish is the word associated the most with HTRK’s discography. HTRK’s Work (work, work) was completed while suffering through the open wound of mourning. And that eternal toll has followed HTRK through two records; bassist Sean Stewart took his life during the recording of the aforementioned record and Marry Me Tonight was co-produced by The Birthday Party guitarist Rowland S. Howard in 2006 and its release halted until 2009, the same year Howard passed away. It is with this precedent that HTRK arrived at Psychic 9-5 Club, a stripped version of itself baring more nudity than the group once presented in an old press photo.

Past HTRK records might make more sense in testing the sound capacity of the TMA-1s, like the soon-to-be vinyl pressing of Marry Me Tonight for maximalist dirge, but sparse arrangement is fragile and therefore sensitive. Psychic 9-5 Club is laid bare like a frightened necessity, as though were there more figures involved a hex would delete them from the mainframe. “Blue Sunshine”, much like Willit’s “VISION”, tests the TMA-1s rounded low end; anchored. The TMA-1s are designed to cancel interfering noise, while maintaining a considerate attention to listener fatigue, which is a phenomenon that occurs after prolonged exposure to auditory stimulus—particularly loud music and noise. To test the capabilities of the headphones, I queued up Psychic 9-5 Club in my neighborhood’s busiest coffee shops, one that also blasts hip hop and electronic music rather than the quintessential acoustic ilk.

Morocco leather ear cushions are a nice touch, but its the bend of arch, gripping to the shape of my skull that sustains a canceled session, reducing the interference of outlying noise. The significance is that listener fatigue is less of an issue due to the TMA-1s ability to capture a full sound at a low volume level—current Macbook level is 5. By Closer “The Body You Deserve” distraction is not an issue, rather my vision is a window to the outside world, while internally I’m immersed in Psychic 9-5 Club for every synth plateau and every crevice of feedback. It’s an immersion that makes the waning seconds of “The Body You Deserve” a haunted ellipsis. There is a question left unanswered and that minute of ghostly transmissions leaves me quizzical and restless every time.