We review a lot of headphones at PCMag, but the Aerial7 Tank DIY marks a first. These $100 (direct) headphones are designed to be covered in your artwork—they ship with markers to get you started, but you can use pens, pencils, crayons, you name it. With such a gimmick to sell them, one might expect the audio performance to be miserable. Not so! Yes, the headphones sound a bit pinched and tinny at times, but they never distort and they pack a substantial bass response. If anything, they seem a tad overpriced, with audio performance more suited to a lower price range, but you do get swappable cables and some modest DJ-friendly design features, like flip-away earcups, which sweeten the deal.
The Tank DIY is one of the more unique, if puzzling, concepts I’ve seen in the headphone world. It’s a blank canvas, with a white surface designed to be drawn on. Aerial7 sells “Tanks” that have art already splashed across them, as well—the DIY in the product’s title refers to your chance to cover them in art yourself. As for the headphone’s actual construction, it’s a circumaural (around-the-ears) option with padded ear cups and a padded headband. Initially, the Tank DIY is comfortable, but over longer listening sessions, tension on the ears and scalp can be a bit tight, even after adjusting the headband.
I have two thoughts on the artwork aspect of the design. First: The all-white look, without any markings on it whatsoever, is pretty striking. I think I prefer it to just about any graffiti or mini-mural I can imagine, including the ones I perused on the Aerial7 website. And: What happens if you screw up? I suppose a good artist will get it right the first time, or know how to creatively fix an issue. But paying $120 to wear an accident? The idea makes me cringe. Three markers (red, blue, and black) ship with the Tank DIY, but you can use just about anything on its surface, it seems.
The all-white, blank canvas design of the Tank DIY distracts from the headphone pair’s most useful design points. First off, it’s got flip-away ear cups designed to quickly monitor room sound while DJ-ing. Of the two included cables, one is a coiled, DJ/studio-style option. The other is a standard cable intended for use with mobile devices, complete with an inline microphone and remote. The compartment housing the remote also has a shirt-clip built-in. Call clarity is not impressive with the inline mic. This is primarily due to the low fidelity of cellular audio, but the Tank DIY generally seemed quieter than most pairs I test.
One weird aspect of the cable connection: It is half-hardwired. In other words, even though it comes with two detachable cables, they plug into a dangling, hardwired cable that extends about five inches from the left ear cup. While the inclusion of two different cables is nice, the hardwired connection point negates the added value of having a detachable cable. Since cables are typically the most likely culprit when headphones malfunction, being able to replace them instead of the whole headphone pair is a true money-saver. But here, if the hardwired portion of the cable goes haywire, it eliminates the ability to simply replace the cable. Not ideal.
The Tank DIY ships with a drawstring carrying pouch that the headphones collapse down into, as well as a ¼-inch headphone jack adapter.
The Tank DIY isn’t all show—it handles deep bass response at high volumes well. On tracks with serious sub-bass content, like the Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the Tank DIY provides plenty of deep bass without a hint of distortion, even at maximum (and unsafe) volume. To balance out the pair’s substantial bass response, the Tank DIY also has highly sculpted mid-high and high frequency response. This occasionally makes things sound a bit too tinny or bright—the higher electronic percussion on “Silent Shout” can sound a bit intense.
On Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” this sculpted high-end response works well. His baritone vocal delivery has a nice treble edge to it, giving it definition and helping it stand out in the mix. On pairs that have booming low-end or low-mids, this track can easily sound muddy, with his vocals fighting for separation from the constant drumming in the background. Here, the drumming has a nice low-end resonance to it without going overboard, and the high-mids bring his vocals out in front, though there is some occasional boosted sibilance.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop seems a bit toned down—the mid-high attack of the kick drum is not quite as sharp as it often is, while the sub-bass synth hits underneath the beat are strong, but not booming. This tells us that the super-low frequencies are not quite as boosted as the frequencies just above them—subwoofer-range bass gets boosted, but not as much as frequencies that would typically travel through woofers. The higher frequencies are sculpted in a way that vocals can sound sibilant but drum attacks often have less snap.
Classical tracks, like John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances,” showcase this high frequency sculpting. While the lower register strings carry a nice, natural low frequency resonance with them, the higher register strings on this piece sound a bit pinched and nasal, sometimes tinny, through the Tank DIY. It doesn’t sound awful—in fact, the bass response sounds great here, but the higher frequencies make things sound a bit unbalanced and unnatural at times.
The Aerial7 is by no means a bad pair of headphones—it provides distortion-free audio, and some substantial low-end. It seems a bit overpriced, though, when there are similarly priced pairs like the Skullcandy Hesh 2 that do better on a sonic level. If you’re looking for a more substantial sound for DJing, for a bit more money, the Numark Electrowave is a solid purchase. And if you don’t care about the DJ features and really just want a headphone pair that is well-balanced, with rich lows and crisp highs, the Logitech UE 4000 is an excellent choice, as is the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro.
The Tank DIY, however, brings things to the table other headphone pairs can only dream of—namely, the customizable surface. Throw in the distortion-free audio, the DJ features and swappable cables, and this is a solid pair of headphones that just seems a bit too expensive.
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