Mesmerizing IEM Sound Without The Annoying Wires!
Hifiman’s TWS800 is part of a new trend in true wireless earphones, namely those created primarily to satisfy the critical ears of audiophiles. It joins the Grado GT220 we recently reviewed and the recently announced Cambridge Audio Melomania Touch, scheduled to hit stores at the beginning of next year.
These new earphones incorporate robust amp circuits and high-impedance drivers to provide sound quality that surpasses mass-market earphones (the type you see at Target and Best Buy). Instead of packing them full of bells and whistles like noise-canceling or a wireless charging case, they put that money into a sound that matches the wired IEMs.
Even a year ago, a wireless earphone with sound capable of competing with wired ones would be unheard of. However, wireless buds have come a long way.
Specifically, the $299 TWS800 True Wireless Earbuds is one of the best sounding True Wireless Earphones I’ve heard to date, matching up well with the Grado mentioned above, which has a slightly more detailed sound. Still, the Hifiman earphones best them in scale and dynamics. They play bigger and bolder, which makes them sound more lively. They’re also a little more comfortable since they don’t go as deep into your ear.
The only cons are the earpieces shaky fit inside the charger, which requires a little extra care when inserting them, and the lack of “high-resolution” Bluetooth codecs. The last one is interesting because the TWS800 may still be the best sounding True Wireless Earbuds on the market.
One can only wonder how much better they would sound with a high data-rate codec like aptX HD or LDAC on deck. I hope they come out with an upgrade down the road that incorporates them.
The TWS800 is a stunning pair of metal earphones, and the same goes for their metal charging case. They both have the same satin chrome finish, with a curvy design that looks chic and upscale.
The chrome exterior of the earpieces is translucent, with led lights that flash underneath the shell. Those lights glow blue and red to indicate the charging/pairing status. Hifiman claims the stiffness of the earpieces’ metal casing allows for less distortion, similar to a high-end speaker with a metal enclosure.
Inside the earpieces are high-impedance 150ohm drivers, which are out of the ordinary for wireless earbuds. High-impedance drivers use a lower mass voice coil, which allows for a stronger magnetic field and less distortion in the playback (i.e., more transparent).
However, to get optimum sound quality, a high-impedance driver requires a better amp that produces a higher current, and that’s what Hifiman has inside the TWS800. You won’t get that in those $50-$100 buds they sell in department stores.
Hifiman also augments the sound by using a proprietary driver diaphragm called a “Topology Diaphragm.” These diaphragms have an extra-light coating applied to them in a geometric pattern, which allows for fine-tuning of the drivers.
As far as wireless capabilities are concerned, Bluetooth 5.0 is on deck, along with the AAC and SBC codecs. I would’ve liked to see at least apt-X for better data rates with android phones, but with the driver and amp section these earbuds are equipped with, I must say I didn’t miss it.
BT 5.0 allows for good range; in my case, with many trips up and down the stairs from my 2nd-floor office to my 1st-floor kitchen (about 30 feet), the signal stayed nice and strong.
Battery life is decent when you account for the high-current amp onboard. You get about four hours of playback time per charge, along with six additional charges from the case.
I’ve seen other buds without the TWS800’s upgraded amp range anywhere between 3-7 hours of playback time.
Speaking of charging, I did have a couple of issues with the charging case. One is the inability to see the charging status without opening up the case (the charging level lights are on the inside), which is a slight nuisance. The other is the shaky fit of the earpieces.
The case has extra space at the bottom to hold larger-sized ear tips (like double-flange tips), which is good. But, if you’re not using a larger tip, then you have to make sure the earpieces are seated properly when you insert them. That’s because they have room to shift around a lot. It’s not a major issue, but worth mentioning.
Hifiman’s TWS800 comes with a wide variety of ear tips (8 pairs in total), including double and triple flange tips, to ensure a good fit. I got an adequate fit with the pre-installed tips, but there are many more to try if you don’t have the same luck. BTW, like any IEM, correct fit is important since it will provide a decent amount of passive noise cancellation and the full-range sound you are paying for.
Along with the tips, you also get a USB-C cable to charge the case, and a velvet drawstring bag, which should help to protect the case’s satin finish.
The TWS800 uses touch controls to play music, switch tracks, and change volume. A series of taps on either the left or right earpiece activates the functions. Unlike some TWS earphones that use touch, I found the Hifiman buds to be very responsive and intuitive. The triple taps needed for volume gave me a little trouble at first, but after getting the timing down, I could do it pretty easily.
As this is an audio site, I don’t put a lot of weight on phone call handling, but I like to briefly cover it in the review. In the case of the TWS800, phone calls were ok, with the caller able to hear me clearly without yelling, and me being able to hear the caller clearly. It wasn’t crystal clear, but good enough to take an occasional phone call.
Listening to the TWS800
I connected the TWS800 true wireless earbuds to my LG V60 smartphone for my sound tests, and they paired quickly with no issues. I played both local hi-res files (24 bit FLAC) and TIDAL HI-FI, including some MQA tracks, which also unfolded to 24 bit.
I listened to the complete album of Chesky Records’ “The World’s Greatest Audiophile Vocal Recordings Vol 2.” (24/96 FLAC), a project which provides a bounty of well-recorded material. From my first listen, I could tell the TWS800 sound was special.
These earphones have a spacious, airy sound that does a remarkable job of reproducing the original recording space’s character. They also do an excellent job of reproducing the timbre of various instruments.
On Rosa Passos and Ron Carter’s “Insensatez,” the strings’ sound was so full and natural, as was the percussion. You could actually hear the woody accent of the drumstick during the rimshot.
The soundstage width and imaging of the TWS800 are also quite distinctive, giving you a true “3-D out of the head” experience. Listening to Camille Thurman’s “Cherokee,” the 3D effect was so realistic that during the part of the recording where there’s a chair squeak in the right channel, I actually turned my head thinking it was in my house!
The vocals on “Cherokee” were also very natural, coming across with a delicacy and richness I haven’t heard on any other wireless earphone. The space, air, and resolution of the TWS800 allow you to actually hear the voice carry through space as you would expect from a multi-driver IEM. I was very impressed by the realism.
Discussing the overall sound signature, I would call it pretty balance with a slight emphasis on lower highs, upper mids, and bass, which gives them their airy sound. The extremes on both sides of the audioband seem to be lowered just a bit to keep the overall sound controlled. Brightness and muddiness are nowhere to be found.
I would call it a sculpted acoustic tuning, which works for all but the most bass-heavy stuff. These are probably not for the bass heads, as they don’t really rumble, but provide the type of bass that adds richness to the music.
If you’re looking for a pair of earphones with all the latest bells and whistles like app control, noise-canceling, every Bluetooth codec in the book, or a wireless charging case, then the TWS800 may not appeal to you. However, if you want a pair of wireless earbuds with a sound that can compare to some of the best-wired IEMs, then they are worth listening to.
With well-recorded music, especially jazz, pop, and acoustic, these Hifiman earbuds will absolutely transport you to the recording studio or concert space. They’re also comfortable to wear for long listening sessions.
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