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PSB M4U 2 Noise Cancelling Heaphones Review

by Steve DellaSala February 15, 2016
  • Product Name: M4U 2
  • Manufacturer: PSB
  • Performance Rating: StarStarStar
  • Value Rating: StarStarhalf-star
  • Review Date: February 15, 2016 08:30
  • MSRP: $ 299
  • Earcup Type    Closed
  • Frequency Response    20-20k Hz
  • Sensitivity    102 dB
  • Impedance    32/10k act Ohms
  • Weight    12.8 ounces
  • Cord Length    60" x 2
  • Airline Adapter Included    Yes
  • iPod Control    Yes
  • Volume Control    Mute
  • Built-in Microphone    Yes
  • Parts Warranty    2 Years
  • Labor Warranty    2 Years
  • Bluetooth    No


  • Good sound
  • Good battery life


  • Active noise cancelling inadequate
  • Flimsy design
  • Missing key features


When it comes to full sized over ear noise cancelling headphones, the market is saturated with more name brands than you can imagine.  In the $300 arena there are several choices from companies such as Sony, Sennheiser, PowerBeats, Bose, Plantronics and a host of others.  The options and features these headphones offer can be a bit overwhelming.  What makes matters worse is that it’s next to impossible to truly audition most of them because places like Best Buy use a house system with carefully selected music meant to exaggerate the sound quality.  There are also a large number of headphone brands not found in most stores.   If you travel, many airports have stores that sell electronics.  These places typically have some of the off brands and they allow you to audition the headphones from your own source.  In all cases, I was never able to audition the PSB M4U 2 headphones before buying them.  Instead, I read as many on-line posts and blogs as I could on a variety of headphones.  In this particular case, nearly all the comments I read stated that the PSB M4U 2 headphones were among the best sounding on the market in this price range.  Prior to my purchase, that was my most important criterion.  Especially after coming off of a pair of Sennheiser PXC 350s where the bass was almost non-existent and the overall sound quality lacked any of the dynamics that I expected to hear in my music.  What became apparent after my purchase was that I should have also paid attention to the ergonomics of the headphones, especially when considering the amount of air travel I do and that this would be my primary use for them.


When the headphones arrived, I immediately auditioned them with my best recordings.  My source was an iPhone 6S using iTunes and Pandora.  Right away, I was fairly impressed with the overall performance.  The highs and mids were well balanced and the bass, although somewhat reserved, was tight and deep.  Because I wanted a bit more pronounced bass, I searched online for EQ phone aps that would allow me to boost the bass; however, the free ones proved to be more of a gimmick than a true EQ, and they also distorted the sound.  But, after several songs, and listening to them for over an hour, I started getting accustomed to their sound and noticed that the bass was definitely better than most of the headphones I auditioned prior.  Without question, they were a vast improvement over the Sennheiser’s.  However, when compared to some of the non-noise cancelling headphones we tried, they were a bit lacking.

Noise Cancelling

I found the noise cancellation feature of the PSB M4U 2 headphones to be timid.  There seemed to be more noise cancellation from the cushions after placing them over my ears than from activating the feature.  I traveled on all types of aircraft from large jets to props.  I literally sat on every one of my flights over the course of two months switching the active noise cancelling on and off to listen for a difference in engine noise.  I can honestly say that after two months of traveling nearly every week, there was very little difference in background noise.  Some of the higher frequencies of the engine were softened, but for the most part, I could still hear a lot of what was going on around me as well as engine noise with noise cancelling engaged.  However lacking in sound quality and dynamics the Sennheiser’s were, at least they had great noise cancelling.  When I used those headphones, engine noise virtually disappeared, leaving me in my own silent bubble that not even a flight attendant could penetrate when asking if I wanted a drink. 

Battery Life

I used the PSB M4U headphones on several three hour and five hour flights for about a month.  In that time, the two AAA batteries kept the headphones performing without any degradation.  In comparison, my Sennheiser’s required new batteries every two to three flights.  I threw away more batteries with those headphones than I ever have in my life for any other product.  So, kudos to PSB for creating a headphone that doesn’t eat batteries.


I thought it appropriate to focus on the annoying five foot long 3.5mm TRRS (Tip-Ring-Ring-Sleeve) cable.  To put this in perspective, if you’re on an airplane, you can sit in the window seat and have someone more than two seats away standing in the isle use the headphones.  So, what do you do with all that cable when you’re sitting on one of those tiny airplane seats?  You try to curl it up so it doesn’t get entangled…..but that doesn’t work very well.  Instead, the cable gets caught on something while you fidget about in your seat and unplugs from one end.

Cable 1 Primary.jpg      Cable 2 Primary.jpg

Notice the battery in my pocket?                 Where do I put the cable?        

But it doesn’t end there with the five foot cable.  I commented earlier about the battery life.  What I didn’t anticipate was how short the cable life would be.  Four flights (round trip) into using the PSB headphones and the cable started to short out.  On the last leg home on that fourth trip, I had to keep bending the cable at the joint in order to keep it working intermittently.  I now understand why PSB provides a second cable.  But that too didn’t make it past its sixth flight before also shorting out.  That’s less time then replacing batteries!  The 3.5mm TRRS cables have two rings on the end that plugs into the phone and three rings on the end that plugs into the headphones. I tried two other cables with this same exact configuration; however, with them the headphones only worked in passive mode.  There was no sound in either active mode with the replacement cables.  I received a quote directly from PSB on the retail price to replace their cables and here it is.  If you buy these headphones, be prepared to buy their cables.  There’s also a $20 shipping/handling fee to go along with your order.  Perhaps after reading this article, PSB will offer them on their website and reduce the shipping/handling fee while making them more readily available instead of the special order they are now.  Better yet, they should fix the problem with their cables shorting out so you don’t have to buy new ones so quickly.

  • PSB M4U HC1 - M4U2 Headphone Cable - 3 Push & Monitor (Black) - Suggested Retail Price $18.94
  • PSB M4U HC1 W - M4U2 Headphone Cable - 3 Push & Monitor (White) - Suggested Retail Price $18.94
  • PSB M4U HC2 - M4U2 Headphone Cable - Monitor Only (Black) - Suggested Retail Price $16.82
  • PSB M4U HC2 W - M4U2 Headphone Cable - Monitor Only (White) - Suggested Retail Price $16.82
  • PSB M4U HC3 - M4U Headphone Cable 5 M - No Buttons (Black) - Suggested Retail Price $25.45

Furthermore, there is a mute feature on the cable without the microphone.  But, in order to trigger the button, you have to dig your fingernail into the pad to find it.  The pad is also inconveniently located just below the ear piece, so you’re essentially reaching for your ear when muting.  What makes matters worse is that in order to keep it in mute, you have to hold the button down.  Releasing it will bring it back to volume.  The mute feature only works in both active modes.  You cannot mute when you are listening to music in passive mode.

Cable 3 Primary.jpg      Cable 4 Primary.jpg

                It keeps unwinding!                    Phone by window, headphones near isle


In addition to the second cable, which you will use fairly quickly, the headphones also come with a spare set of cushions. As mentioned above, there are two 5’ long 3.5mm TRRS cables, one with a mute pad and the other with a built in microphone.  The headphones operate in passive mode (no batteries), active mode, and active with noise cancellation. The PSB website says that the headphones also come with a 3.5mm to 6.3mm (1/8” to ¼”) stereo plug adapter, and airline connection adapter; however, the set I received did not include them.



Although the headphones are rather bulky, I’ve been on five hour flights and had no issues with them hurting my ears.  The cushions are soft and roomy, and as mentioned earlier, provide most of the noise cancellation that these headphones have to offer.  The height can be adjusted by sliding either side up or down; however, they slide in an arc.  Because they slide in an arc, the distance between the ear pads decreases as the length increases, thereby making the headphones fit tighter over your ears.  If you have a larger head than mine and need a longer distance from the top to the ear pads, you might find these headphones to be too tight and uncomfortable on long trips. 

Build Quality

The headphones are comprised of mostly hard plastics, so don’t drop them or they might crack.  The sides of the headphones havepsb-m4u-2-headphone-right-clip-macro-325x325.jpg metal hinges so that one side can be collapsed when storing in the bulky case.  Each hinge has two locking tabs that click loudly when engaged.  I question how long these tabs will continue to lock in place without breaking.  What concerns me much more than the hinges are the side panels.  One side houses the batteries, the other opens to some of the electronics.  Neither are labeled so you have to guess which one is which in poorly lit places, like an airplane at night.  The side with the batteries has two very small indents on the bottom, but they are not easy to find at first because of the surrounding frame.  You have to push back on the ear pad to verify if you’re on the correct side.  If you pick the wrong side and pull the panel from the bottom you’re touching a fairly sharp edged piece of plastic.  On more than one occasion, I cut the tip of my finger trying to pry off the panels.  The side with the batteries has tabs that are supposed to lock it back in place after changing the batteries.  Unfortunately, after the second time pulling that panel off it no longer fits snug and now easily falls off.  On a recent flight I had a fellow passenger tell me that my side panel was about to come off, so I now use a piece of tape to ensure that doesn’t happen.  For $300, I really would have expected more.  The Sennheiser’s, for example, had a small easy access battery compartment that never accidentally opened.

Side Panel 1 Primary.jpg           Side Panel 2 Primary.jpg

Surprise. This side that you pried open is the electronics.  Oh, here they are.                              

The Case

The whopping 3 ½ “deep x 6 ½” wide x 8 ½” long case is another major annoyance when traveling.  It does not fit in the back of an airplane seat and it stretches the width of my already oversized carry-on computer bag.  What’s worse is that there are no compartments to store batteries, connector converters, or the cable.  There’s a mesh net; however, there’s no Velcro to hold it down like other cases I’ve encountered.  Instead, everything just flops out when opening the case. 

Case 1 Primary.jpg      Case 2 Primary.jpg      Case 4 Primary.jpg

                                            I need another bag for my case                     Sennheiser vs PSB          Cases No place for batteries / cable is loose / No secure tabs                            

I typically travel with spare batteries and the case for the Sennheiser’s had tabs where you can secure them.  Since the massive case does not fit in the back of the seat, I have resorted to putting the headphones over my neck before sitting, and placing the case in the overhead bin.  I then keep the spare batteries in my pocket.

Case 5 Primary.jpg      Case 6 Primary.jpg

Sennheiser case in bag                            Massive PSB case in bag


My primary criterion for buying noise cancelling headphones was sound quality when listening to music.  And when it comes to sound quality, the user comments and blogs were correct.  The PSB M4U 2 Noise Cancelling Full Size Headphones perform well when compared to other active noise cancelling headphones in their price range. As mentioned earlier, this was especially true when coming from the musical duds by Sennheiser.  Unfortunately, nobody wrote about the actual ergonomics of these headphones from the perspective of someone who travels.  I absolutely hate lugging these monsters around and using them on the airplane.  The case is too large to store in the backseat, forcing me to have to put the headphones over my neck before sitting in the plane and to carry spare batteries in my pocket.  If you have a normal sized computer bag, the case probably won’t fit.  You will then have to keep the case in your luggage where it will take up a ton of space, or carry it separately and put it in the overhead bin during flight.  The excessively long five foot cable is constantly getting in the way, pulling out, is tough on the fingers while muting, and will very quickly short out and needing to be replaced.  The side panel where the batteries are stored doesn’t fit tight enough to ensure it won’t fall off in flight, so you may end up needing to use tape as a backup.  Then, when you add the fact that the noise cancellation is timid at best, it begs the question of why even bother?  In our experience, taking away the noise cancellation feature of the PSB M4U's leaves you with many better sounding options for full-sized headphones in this price range.  Do the PSB's sound good?  Sure.  Are they practical for traveling?  When considering the timid response from the noise cancellation, cable life and their bulkiness, not really.