crinacle's

Buyer's Guide

Best (sounding) True Wireless Earphones

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.

Overwhelmed? Refer to the list of recommendations

Master list of reviewed TWS IEMs

(Alphabetically ordered)

1More Stylish: “The Award Winner”
Advanced Model X: “The Pandering”
Anker Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro: “That Linus TWS”
Apple AirPods Pro: “The Mainstream”
Audio Technica ATH-CK3TW: “The Imbalanced”
Audio Technica ATH-CKS5TW: “Acoustically Challenged”
Audio Technica ATH-CKR7TW: “The Banshee”
Audio Technica ATH-SPORT7TW: “Combo Breaker”
AVIOT TE-D01: “Eastern Appeal”
BGVP Q2: “The Wired”
Bose SoundSport Free: “The Open”
Edifier TWS1: “The Expected”
Edifier TWS5: “Excellence in Theory”
Fostex TM2: “The Exotic”
Hifiman TWS600: “TWS: The Worst Sound”
Jabra Elite Active 65t: “The Popular”
Jabra Elite 75t: “The Anticipated”
Jaybird Vista: “The Has-been”
Kinera YH623: “The Bassiest”
KZ E10: “Mould Breaker”
KZ S2: “The Beater”
Lypertek Tevi: “The Acclaimed”
Master & Dynamic MW07: “The Hypebeast”
Noble Falcon: “The Unmagical”
Nuarl NT01: “Middle of the Road”
Nuarl NT100: “Local Hype”
QCY T5: “The Threat”
Samsung Galaxy Buds: “The Dark Horse”
Samsung Galaxy Buds+: “Objectivist’s Dream”
Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless: “Carried by Name”
Sony WF-1000XM3: “Top Dog”

All awarded grades are in reference to the IEM ranking list.

The list below is specially curated as a showcase of all the TWS IEMs that I would recommend at different price points. For IEMs not shown below, refer to the master list of links above.

This list is arranged by grading (lowest first), followed by MSRP for those within the same grade (highest first).

Nuarl NT100

"Local Hype"

Frequency response measurement

Product page: https://nuarl.com/en/nt100/

MSRP: 120SGD (~$90)

Here’s an interesting one from a brand that many of you probably haven’t heard of yet: Nuarl.

It’s a Japanese brand that’s more known well in my hometown of Singapore for reasons still unknown to me. The NT100 is one of the cheaper TWS models in this list and is pretty much the kind of sound that you would expect for a sub-$100 IEM. Pretty standard and almost generic V-shaped signature that should appeal to many, but ultimately doesn’t really stand out from the crowd in any technical way.

Safe buy I guess. You get what you pay for.

Grade:

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Edifier TWS1

"The Expected"

Frequency response measurement

Product page: https://www.edifier.com/us/en/headphones-earphones/tws1-true-wireless-earbud-headphones

MSRP: $50

It’s cheap. It sounds average. And it’s probably Edifier’s zero effort cash-in on the TWS boom. 

The average stuff are the hardest to talk about because there’s nothing to praise nor to roast. The TWS1 has decent bass but with issues in the upper midrange, making things sound overly harsh and/or forward. Other than that, it’s more or less a case of “you get what you pay for”.

Grade:

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KZ S2

"The Beater"

Frequency response measurement

Product page: https://www.linsoul.com/pages/kz-s2

MSRP: $50

Driver configuration: 1DD + 1BA

The name of the S2’s game seems to be “adequate performance for bottom-dollar price”, and to that I think KZ has done it. The S2’s sound quality does not impress and neither does its plasticky build quality, but for $50 you don’t have much grounds for complaining.

The S2 has a mainstream house; elevated bass and treble for an exciting V-shaped response, though the shape of the V is slightly biased towards the treble. Unfortunately the S2 strays into sibilance, a flaw that is arguably its biggest sonic dealbreaker, but overall there’s nothing too offensive about the S2’s sound, tonally or technically.

Unfortunately the existence of the S2 in KZ’s lineup seems like a mystery, especially when you can get their very own E10 for just $10 more.

Now the ergonomics are different between the two of course; the E10 has those odd ear hooks that some have complained about, while the S2 is a more traditional “bud”-type fit that should work for more people. But in terms of sound, the E10 has a better tonal balance and does not come with the sibilance that the S2 has.

But if you absolutely have to spend $50 on a TWS set (possibly cheaper on the street), the S2 is an adequate pick. Just don’t expect too much.

Grade:

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Audio Technica ATH-SPORT7TW

"Combo Breaker"

Frequency response measurement

Product page: https://www.audio-technica.com/cms/headphones/1120979bd3a753ac/index.html

MSRP: $200

And so Audio Technica breaks out of the D ranks and into the high Cs.

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 the award of being “above average” having clean bass lines and tonally correct (if a little shouty) midrange, which is already more than what I can say for many wireless earphones here.

Grade:

Anker Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro

"That Linus TWS"

Frequency response measurement

MSRP: $150

Driver configuration: 1BA + 1DD hybrid

If you’re like me, you probably first heard of the Liberty 2 Pro when LinusTechTips shilled talked about them on his YouTube channel

I didn’t have much hope in them in the beginning since it was my belief that most general-tech-reviewer-sponsored headphones usually doesn’t live up to the expectations of the average audiophile, and instead are targeted towards the mainstream consumer. So imagine my surprise when I actually liked the Liberty 2 Pro.

Yes, it has its fair share of problems. The bass quantity is probably too much for a lot of people, the midrange is shouty and I detect the treble straying into sibilance at times. But the Liberty 2 Pro really is my “guilty pleasure” listen in the sense that I absolutely love the bass presentation. It’s rumbly, it’s impactful and yet retains a sense of cleanliness not normally heard of in IEMs with this level of bass quantity. 

If they had reined in the midrange tonality a little better, I probably would’ve purchased one myself. Alas, that’s my personal dealbreaker.

Grade:

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Edifier TWS5

"Excellence in Theory"

Frequency response measurement

Product page: https://www.edifier.com/us/en/headphones-earphones/tws5-true-wireless-earbud-headphones

MSRP: $80

I’ve told this to a few others IRL: the TWS5’s FR response is basically a screwed up version of my neutral target curve with my desired bass response of a sub-300Hz boost.

By all accounts I should be absolutely gushing over the TWS5’s sound, but it sounds pretty normal and unexceptional to me. Yeah, the bass response is pretty nice with the nice and low controlled boost, the midrange isn’t overly forward and screaming in your face, but there’s still a little bit of that TWS1 harshness creeping into the TWS5’s signature. 

Overall, pretty good still. Not the worst you can do with your cash and can still service most audiophiles well.

Grade:

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KZ E10

"Mould Breaker"

Frequency response measurement

Product page: https://www.linsoul.com/products/kz-e10

MSRP: $60

Driver configuration: 1DD + 4BA hybrid

This E10 was kindly provided by Linsoul.

Colour me surprised, KZ made a pretty good pair of IEMs. And it’s TWS!

The E10 has its fair share of flaws, for instance the overly-shouty midrange that pushes vocals straight in your face, or perhaps the slightly thinness in the midrange that isn’t as satisfying as the other lower-midrange heavy stuff on the guide. But apart from all those, the E10 does the whole neutral Diffuse Field-y signature very well.

It’s definitely the most un-KZ sounding IEM in KZ’s lineup, so diehard fans of the brand should stay away. It’s not going to have KZ’s traditionally massive bass boost nor its liberally-tuned treble response, and it’s for that reason that I really believe that the E10 is the best KZ IEM you can get.

As a TWS IEM though? (Almost) no contest. At 60 bones max, it outshines many of the mainstream competitors and establishes itself as a unicorn in the TWS market: a neutrally-tuned option.

Grade:

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QCY T5

"The Threat"

Frequency response measurement

No proper product page so here’s an affiliate-less Amazon link instead:
https://www.amazon.com/HIFI-Wireless-Bluetooth-Headset-Headphones/dp/B07YZ6CKS8

MSRP: $35

Yeah, you saw the price right. A sub-$50 TWS IEM that can dip below $30 if you’re lucky. And, it’s not utter trash.

Even calling the T5 “not garbage” would be doing it a massive disservice. The T5 is good, not just in the realm of the highly-priced TWS market but even in the highly competitive budget IEM market.

You’re obviously going to have to make concessions in terms of build, usability and unit QC, but you all know that I’m not here to talk about all those. In terms of sound and tuning, the T5 is tasteful. Inoffensive yet competent, exciting yet clean.

Everyone else should treat the T5 as a massive threat to the status quo of highly-priced, average-sounding TWS buds. You don’t have a place in the market anymore.

Grade: ★★

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Apple AirPods Pro

"The Mainstream"

Frequency response measurement

Product page: https://www.apple.com/airpods-pro/

MSRP: $250

The AirPods Pro needs no introduction but I’ll do one anyways: it is Apple’s first true wireless in-ear and their third IEM overall (shoutouts to the legendary Addiem and the less-legendary iPod in-ears in case anybody remembers these relics).

Now I know what you’re thinking: this is Apple we’re talking about. There is no way that an audiophile would ever like something so mainstream. And in terms of the EarPods and the original AirPods, you would be right. They aren’t bad, but they certainly don’t do anything to distinguish themselves in terms of tuning or raw “sound quality”.

But the AirPods Pro is a little different. It is, and I can’t believe I’m saying it, pretty dang good. Yeah sure, it’s pricey and you can probably still do better with other models on this list. Yeah, it’s probably not going to be better than other established wired IEMs in the same price bracket. But you can certainly do a lot worse.

The AirPods Pro is tuned to be somewhat reminscient of the Diffuse Field target but with that last-octave sub-bass boost, with a smooth and natural midrange tonality that many IEM companies tend to get wrong. My only real gripe with it is that it probably could use some extra midtreble presence, but overall this is a surprisingly good entry by Apple that shouldn’t be overlooked in the audiophile community simply for being mainstream.

Grade:

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Bose SoundSport Free

"The Open"

Frequency response measurement

Product page: https://www.bose.com/en_us/products/headphones/earphones/soundsport-free-wireless.html

MSRP: $200

Yeah, I know. Buy Other Sound Equipment, No Highs No Lows etc. etc. and all that. We audiophiles all know that Bose has a reputation of churning out subpar products and masquerading them as “hifi” as part of their marketing. I too, had low expectations going into the SoundSport Free and had no qualms bansishing them into the depths of the lowest ranks if required.

But alas, the SoundSport Free… impressed me. The tonal balance is almost spot on, with minor niggles regarding the upper midrange/treble presentation being a tad too subdued. The bass boost is beautifully done, and the fact that it extends as low as it does despite the open-backed construction is a grand feat by itself.

Yeah, the SoundSport Free kind of cheats in soundstage size by virtue of essentially open, but the benefits in stereoimaging performance is undeniable. It may not be the most detailed, but its combination of great tuning and imaging certainly warrants its high placing on this list.

Grade:

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Jabra Elite Active 65t

"The Popular"

Frequency response measurement

Product details: https://www.jabra.com/bluetooth-headsets/jabra-elite-active-65t

MSRP: $190

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. A solid product that should deserve its popularity, if there weren’t a thousand posts a week on r/headphones asking for technical support about it.

Grade:

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Lypertek Tevi

"The Acclaimed"

Frequency response measurement

Product page: https://www.lypertek.com/tevi

MSRP: $90

I have read many great reviews on the Tevi. I also get asked to review them very often, so this is me finally running out of excuses not to do so.

I must admit, the Tevi didn’t blow me away when I first heard it. My reaction was more “hm, this is pretty alright” as opposed to the “oh my god how does this sound so good” response that you’d probably expect for a TWS set that’s priced as it is and placed at this rank position.

And that’s the thing, as I pondered it over and gave it a little more reflection and analysis, I realised that the Tevi… didn’t do anything particularly excellent, but in the same vein it didn’t do anything wrong either. It was instead rather focused on being a general all-rounder, hence my initial lack of enthusiasm. Sure you could say that the midrange is a little too emphasised, but it’s not like the tonality is out of whack or even just mildly off. Everything was more or less on point, from the control of the bass emphasis to the delicate balance of treble…

Now if you liked the Etymotic house sound, and I’m not saying that you automatically will (it is kind of an acquired taste), the Tevi is probably the closest you can get to a TWS, bass-boosted Etymotic.

The TWS industry is getting scary. Wired world better step up.

Grade: ★★

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Sony WF-1000XM3

"Top Dog"

FR (NC on)
FR (NC off)

Product details: https://www.sony.com/electronics/truly-wireless/wf-1000xm3/buy/wf1000xm3-s

MSRP: $230

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.

Grade:

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Samsung Galaxy Buds+

"Objectivist's Dream"

Frequency response measurement

Product page: https://www.samsung.com/us/mobile/audio/headphones/galaxy-buds-plus-white-sm-r175nzwaxar/

MSRP: $150

Driver configuration: 2DD

The biggest question I think is on everybody’s mind right now is whether or not the Buds+ is a true upgrade to the original. And in my opinion, I think the Buds+ is a case of Samsung giveth and Samsung taketh away, improving on certain aspects but performing questionably on others.

In regards to the epiphet “Objectivist’s Dream”, the Galaxy Buds+ is (at the time of writing) the closest an IEM as ever gotten to the 2019 Harman In-Ear target. As I’ve mentioned in my Galaxy Buds writeup, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given Samsung’s acquisition of Harman International and AKG, and so it should only be expected that the new Buds+ would be even closer than its predecessor in this regard.

But that’s really all in theory. In practice, while I wanted with all my heart for the Buds+ to be the undisputed upgrade to the Buds (and by extension, the rest of the TWS market), I found myself nitpicking far too much to consider the Buds+ truly superior. The midrange got even shoutier and intense compared to the original Buds, and the timbre of the treble (i.e. hi-hats and cymbals) sound a tad too odd for me (either being a bandwidth issue or one relating to its frequency response). On top of that, the Buds+ is an IEM I’d consider “fatiguing” and I honestly struggle to listen to them for long listening sessions.

However to end things on a high note, the bass response of the Buds+ is immaculate. Virtually perfect, even in the context of other wired IEMs. The bass is very clearly emphasised with satisfying impact and deep downward extension, yet remaining free from smearing or masking of the midrange frequencies. The bass response is probably the saving grace that prevents me from saying that the Buds+ is worse than the original.

Perhaps you could say that my problems with the Buds+ is less about the Buds+ itself and more about my issues with the Harman IE target. But regardless, it’s still a solid product that can still be considered as one of the best sounding TWS IEMs you can buy today.

Grade: ★★

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Samsung Galaxy Buds

"The Dark Horse"

Frequency response measurement

Product details: https://www.samsung.com/global/galaxy/galaxy-buds/

MSRP: $130

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.

Grade: ★★

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Changelog

14/07/19: Guide created with the following IEMs

  • Audio Technica ATH-SPORT7TW
  • AVIOT TE-D01b/d
  • B&O  Beoplay E8
  • Jabra Elite Active 65t
  • Master & Dynamic MW07
  • Samsung Galaxy Buds
  • Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless
  • Sony WF-1000XM3

01/12/19: Added the following

  • Apple AirPods Pro
  • Audio Technica ATH-CK3TW
  • Audio Technica ATH-CKS5TW
  • Bose SoundSport Free
  • Fostex TM2
  • Nuarl NT01
  • Nuarl NT100

05/12/19: Added Noble Falcon

13/12/19: Added the following

  • Advanced Model X
  • Hifiman TWS600
  • Jaybird Vista
  • KZ E10
  • QCY T5

09/02/20: Added the following

  • 1More Stylish
  • Anker Soundcore Liberty 2 Pro
  • Audio Technica ATH-CKS7TW
  • Edifier TWS1
  • Edifier TWS5
  • Jabra Elite 75t
  • Lypertek Tevi

17/02/20: Added the following

  • BGVP Q2
  • Kinera YH263

19/02/20: Added Samsung Galaxy Buds+

04/10/20: Added KZ S2