In turn, the M4U 8’s noise-cancellation functions come courtesy of a powerful new noise-cancellation device sourced from the Austrian firm AMS—a device that enables the headphone to maintain very nearly the same wide-open and transparent sound, even when its noise cancellation circuit is switched on (something that could not have been said of the original M4U 2). In fact, you could even build a case to say that the M4U 8 actually sounds best with noise cancellation enabled, since you will enjoy the same basic sound quality as when active mode alone is engaged, but with a markedly lower noise floor.
The noise cancellation system uses four microphones, whereas most competitors use only two. There is also a pushbutton selectable ‘Transparency Mode’ that allows users temporarily to reduce playback levels by 30dB so as to listen in to sounds from the outside world. Mics and control switches also allow users to answer calls from connected phones or to adjust basic playback functions on connected portable devices—all via Bluetooth.
Ergonomics were always a strong suite of the M4U 2 and the same is true of the M4U 8, although the new model looks more finely finished thanks to matt black soft feel ear cup yokes, so called ‘gyro-suspended’ ear cup finished in satin black, and a pleather-covered headband and ear pads. Overall, the M4U 8’s offers a more tasteful, upscale look and feel vis-à-vis the gloss black plastic parts found on the original M4U 2. Both ear cups provide 3.5mm signal cable jacks, meaning users can make wired connections from whichever side is most convenient. The right hand ear cup also provides a mini-USB connection port (for charging and digital audio), and four easy-to-identify controls: a track forward/backward/play/pause/call-answer switch, a three position off/on/on with ANC switch, a volume up/down/‘Transparent Mode’ switch, and a Bluetooth pairing switch.
Used in passive mode, the M4U 8 sounds good but not great, in that its mids, upper mids, and highs sound somewhat recessed and softly focused. Once powered up, however, the M4U 8 becomes a sonic treat thanks to its fundamentally neutral yet also lively and highly articulate sound, which offers what many will regard as a just-right amount of bass lift (enough to give the headphone low-end authority, articulacy, and gravitas, but not so much as to sound boomy or overbearing). The more nuanced the recordings you choose the better the M4U 8 will sound. A track that nicely illustrates this point is the Persuasion’s a cappellarendition of U2’s ‘Angel of Harlem’ from The Persuasions Sing U2[Chesky, 24/96]. The M4U 8’s do a highly effective job of delineating the individual voices that comprise the vocal quartet, while showing how the group members modulate vocal textures, timbres, and especially dynamics—often in perfect unison—to create their distinctively soulful take on U2’s classic song. The bass voice in particular sounds rich and resonant with an ideal amount of depth and weight, so that it serves as an anchor for the other quartet members’ higher pitched voices. This is where RoomFeel™ voicing shows its merits.
Another track that shows the overall balance and expressiveness of the M4U 8 is Lou Reed’s classic ‘Walk on the Wide Side’ from Transformer[RCA, 24/96]. The song opens with an unforgettable loping acoustic bass line, a gently strummed guitar, and Reed’s captivating and inimitable storyteller’s voice, and the M4U 8 gives each of these elements its due—each in perfect balanced proportion to the others.