Ah yes, “wireless”. A word that sends shivers down the spine of any self-proclaimed audiophile and the catalyst for many an internet argument. And yet its popularity grows, unfettered by claims of inferior audio and further bolstered by the success of Apple’s AirPods.
But you know, given its appeal to what is mainly the mainstream consumer market, there doesn’t seem to be anyone doing a proper comparison of these true wireless buds solely on the metric of “sound quality”. And so here I am, bringing to you my perspectives on these little things ranked in the order of worst to best.
Here is when I remind everyone again that this is my opinion on the best sounding TWS earphones. Let the other tech review sites talk about the build, the usability, the UI etc. whatever. I’ll focus on what I’m good at and what most readers skip to in the first place.
#8: B&O Beoplay E8 - "The Overrated"
Product page: https://www.bang-olufsen.com/en/earphones/beoplay-e8
Right off the bat, there’s channel imbalance. A heavy blow to both Bang and Olufsen but hey, at least they look fancy. For this test, I managed to get them matched via basic DSP so there is no issue after that at least.
I don’t get why these have been so highly praised. They sound wonky, tonally wrong and don’t even have the technical chops to compensate. B&O attempted for the E8 to be neutral but pretty much fell flat in every regard, following no scientific measure of neutral nor sounding anything close to “flat” to my ears. I could name a few sub-$50 wired IEMs that could wipe the floor with the Beoplay E8s (but I won’t for the sake of word count, just take a look at “The List“), so consider these an absolute embarrassment in both absolute sound quality and relative value.
#7: Master & Dynamic MW07 - "The Hypebeast"
Potentially the most expensive entry on the list as well considering that Louis Vuitton sells a reskinned version of these for $1,000, the MW07 is the epitome of the consumerist sound signature. The extreme V-shape appeals to the average shopper who asks “do you have something with bass?” the moment they walk into an electronics store, offering an exciting sound saturated with both low end thump and high end sparkle.
There are still many, many problems with the MW07 that I won’t go into details with but shall summarise: bass that bleeds extremely easily into the midrange, unnervingly recessed vocals, splashy (read: unnatural) treble, piss-poor staging and just a general bastardisation of any source track you throw at it. That said I’m still not as “offended” by the MW07 as with the E8; it at least sounds okay but you can do so much better for $300. For $200. For $100.
You know what, maybe your money is better spent elsewhere.
#6: Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless - "Carried by Name"
Product page: https://en-us.sennheiser.com/truewireless-details
Ah Sennheiser, how the mighty have fallen. Once the messiah of the audio world now resorting to cheap tricks and gimmicks designed to entice the lowest common denominator. Or perhaps that’s just my hatred for the HD820 leaking out again.
The Momentum True Wireless isn’t bad by any means, but it is pretty much similar in performance to its wired counterpart. Though I have to stress that the Momentum In-Ear and the Momentum True Wireless are not identical, differing slightly in presentation.
The more I hear the MTW, the more I don’t get it. It’s a mainstream kind of sound for sure but it isn’t impressive in the least in technical aspects such as definition, speed or even tonal accuracy. It doesn’t sound wrong outright, but then again if it did it’ll be ranked much lower than it is right now.
The only explanation I can give is that the MTW is solely carried by the name that is “Sennheiser”, leading to a level of cognitive dissonance for the inexperienced.
#5: AVIOT TE-D01 - "Approaching Decency"
MSRP: 240SGD (~$177)
Here is the point where things get finally somewhat “good”. The marketing makes it real clear: these are Japan Tuned. Glorious Nippon steel folded one thousand times-type stuff here.
Both of the TE-D01s have the classic V-shaped signature, but they’ve done it pretty well. Or at least, it’s up to the standard of its budget wired counterparts. One issue I have is with the TE-D01d; the bass can get overpowering and starts to creep into the mids slightly. Overall though I don’t have much to say, it’s a decent True Wireless IEM with adequate performance that most should be satisfied with.
#4: Audio Technica ATH-SPORT7TW - "Big Shoes to Fill"
Another big name in the audiophile community, Audio Technica holds a reputation that comes with its own set of expectations on each product release, and the SPORT7TW is no exception.
The SPORT7TW has a more unique tuning, sporting (heh) a U-shaped signature that emphasises the sub-bass and upper treble regions. Unfortunately, there is also rather bad sub-bass rolloff so the SPORT7TW can’t quite dig deep when the track calls for it. The treble boost also unfortunately strays into the sibilance regions, resulting is potential harshness and stridency for many ears.
In general, the SPORT7TW earns its spot at #4 having clean bass lines and tonally correct midrange, which is already more than what I can say for most wireless earphones I’ve tried.
#3: Jabra Elite Active 65t - "The Popular"
Product details: https://www.jabra.com/bluetooth-headsets/jabra-elite-active-65t
I’ve never held Jabra to a high regard before. They seemed to cater to an audience that were more interested in making handsfree calls than actually listening to music; or at the very least, they gave off that impression.
The Active 65t is… balanced. Very balanced. There is clearly an emphasised bass response but I’d struggle to call it V-shaped; it doesn’t quite have the upper end sparkle for that classification. There are its faults of course, extensions on both ends are mediocre though nothing that really constitutes as a dealbreaker IMO. But as a whole, as one big coherent package, the Active 65t is a damn fine IEM, even in the realm of wired gear.
In a way, they’re a dark horse in that I expected almost nothing yet got served with a nice, ice-cold bucket of reality. The Active 65t is the first on this list that I’d give a solid recommendation for.
And speaking of dark horses…
#2: Samsung Galaxy Buds - "The Dark Horse"
Product details: https://www.samsung.com/global/galaxy/galaxy-buds/
I didn’t think too much about these. I got it for free bundled with my S10 and just thought it would make a great sleeping IEM. Hey, it’s probably some cheapo, tinny sounding thing that Samsung slaps with their phones because they can, right?
In retrospect, the Galaxy Buds have every right to be as great as they are. Following Samsung’s acquisition of Harman International (and so AKG too), it would make sense that Samsung would make use of all that acoustic research now at their disposal and boy, it shows. The Galaxy Buds outperform nearly every TWS IEM on this list, and I daresay would give a huge chunk of similarly priced wired IEMs a run for their money as well. Controlled sub-bass boost, decently high resolution, proper tonality; it ticks so many boxes that many would struggle with.
As per usual, even the Galaxy Buds are not without its faults. The Harman Target (which these tries to follow) are characterised by a rather large upper midrange boost which can be, to put it nicely, a little intense. I like to call this signature “weeb” in that it sounds more suited for anime OSTs and their high pitched female vocals, but I digress.
#1: Sony WF-1000XM3 - "Top Dog"
The WF-1000XM3 was mainly tested with noise-cancelling on due to slightly better sound quality.
Technically, I think the Galaxy Buds are just as good as the WF-1000XM3, but for my own money I’d pick the Sonys. A more mainstream sound, better bass response, noise cancelling… sorry, I caught myself straying away from audio for a moment there.
And yet, I don’t have a lot to say about the WF-1000XM3 without getting pretentious and technical with my words. It’s just… good. Or as James Pumphrey would put it, a new level of new good. They called it… great.
You’re pretty much getting “the works” with the WF-100XM3: boosted yet clean bass, correct tonality, treble that sparkles but doesn’t pierce, good definition and actually good imaging (this one is a rarity for me, I don’t mention this often). Similar to the Galaxy Buds, this is a great sounding set of in-ears regardless of technology, wires or not.