Today we are going to be taking a look at the TW1, an attractive new micro-driver earphone from MusicMaker.
Anyone who has followed my posts around Head-fi over the last little while may have noticed that I have an affinity for earphones with 6mm and smaller micro-drivers. I’ve picked up quite a few good ones over the last while such as the uber-budget KZ HDS1, the excellent VJJB K2S, and what so far is my micro-driver to beat, the JVC HA-FXH30.
MusicMaker has been impressing Head-fi’ers lately with releases like the Tomahawk earbuds, TK12, and Shockwave III hybrids. When I saw they had released the TW1 micro-driver, I knew it was my turn to see what they were made of.
The TW1 were purchased through AliExpress at full cost. I am not receiving any financial compensation for this review and all comments and views within are my honest opinions. They are not representative of MusicMaker or any other entity.
A Little About Me:
Over the last couple years I decided to dive head first into the world of portable audio. After reading pretty much the entirety of IjokerI’s multi-earphone review thread and being greatly inspired, I took a chance and started writing my own reviews. Fast forward a couple years and I’ve had the opportunity to write about some great products for wonderful companies like RHA, Havi, FiiO, NarMoo, Brainwavz, and Meze. I don’t do it for money or free stuff, but because I enjoy it. If my reviews can help guide someone to an earphone that makes them happy, I’ll consider that a job well done.
The gear used for testing is pretty basic composing of an HTC One M8 cellphone, Topping NX1 portable amplifier, and my aging Asus G73 gaming laptop paired with a Plantronics Rig USB amp. I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. When it comes to earphone preferences I tend to leans towards aggressive and bassy, but I try not to limit myself to one signature only. I also tend to listen at lower than average volumes.
Enough preamble. Let us dive into the good stuff shall we?
Packaging and Accessories:
While the TW1 doesn’t arrive with any formal retail packaging, it at least comes with a decent number of tips and a nice Tri-Force emblazoned carrying case courtesy of ToneKing. You might recognize it if you’ve been following Trinity Audio’s products. While I think it’s somewhat too large for comfortable pocket use, it’s still a very good case. There is more than enough room for the TW1 to be loosely wrapped and stored, and plenty of room in the mesh pocket for all of your favorite ear tips or even a second pair of earphones.
In addition to the standard green with red-shaft ear tips that seem to be included with every other Chinese earphone as of late, the TW1 includes some above-average white wide bore silicone tips. Both tip styles come with three sizes, s/m/l. While I like the green tips, the white tips provide the best seal and sound so I’ve settled on the medium sized pair.
For your 25 USD, the provided accessories are pretty good. The two styles of ear tips should ensure you find something that seals well, and the carrying case is of excellent quality.
Build, Design, and Comfort:
The TW1 is a well-built earphone with an interesting and eye-catching design. Despite it’s minuscule size, it feels positively bulletproof. The housings are all metal, aluminum or steel I can’t tell, but they are beautifully put together regardless. The nozzles have a fine metal mesh protecting the drivers, and are very neatly installed.
Since I hesitate to call them strain reliefs, the rubber nubs where the non-detachable cable enters the housing are the least impressive aspect of the build. They offer no strain relief and are tilted at an odd angle. I thought initially they they were either poorly installed or just didn’t fit correctly, but it seems they contain a small indent allowing the dynamic driver to vent.
The cable itself is pretty damn sexy. The clear sheath shows off the wonderfully coiled silver -colored wire within, and catches the light giving it a jeweled texture. Above the smooth metal y-split sits a handy chin slider that I know many Headi-fi’ers will appreciate. This cable is not particularly quiet and while wearing the TW1 over ear cuts down on noise, the chin slider takes things a step further to alleviate this issue. The cable is terminated in a very sleek straight jack that should fit just fine in any cell phone case.
Comfort doesn’t get much better than this. They’re small, light, and unintrusive, pretty much disappearing into your ear when installed. Isolation is very good for a dynamic driver, and goes both ways; sound doesn’t get in, and sound doesn’t escape.
If you know anyone whom is in doubt that a micro-driver can output big bass, the TW1 would be a good earphone to introduce them to. I’m confident it would immediately quell this doubt as bass dominates their signature. Unlike many earphones where bass is complimentary to everything else, the TW1 reverses that role. It leads the charge, followed by mids, and off in the distance you’ll find their good buddy treble.
The TW1, unamped (this is important and I’ll come back to it later), proudly displays overly boosted mid-bass on it’s sleeve, something that often ruins an earphone for me. I welcome the fact that the TW1 remains an enjoyable earphone despite this. Their bass isn’t overly well textured, but despite the quantity remains well-controlled and avoids coming across as boomy and sluggish. It does tend to bleed into the lower mids a bit, but not to the extent I would expect given just how much mid-bass there is.
Mids are nicely balanced, warm, silky smooth, natural, but also slightly veiled. If there wasn’t a bit of bleed from the mid-bass they would be quite excellent.
Treble takes a backseat to everything else, but is still prominent enough to not be overshadowed, except on the most bass heavy tracks. It’s slightly splashy, but not to the point of being distracting. Detail and clarity are just okay.
Soundstage I thought was pretty good, especially for something so small. It is more wide than deep, just narrowly avoiding a “wall-of-sound” effect but allowing strong imaging qualities. Instrument separation seems good for the most part, but things can get a little muddy, once again due to their mid-bass presence.
The TW1’s stock sound works very well in one niche role; extremely low volume listening. At the lowest possible volume straight out of my HTC One M8, the TW1 sounds amazing. Combined with their great isolation, these would be amazing for a university or college student that wants to sit and study in a quiet area without being bothered, or bothering anyone around them.
Amping and EQ:
As you may have noticed above, I mentioned that the TW1’s mid-bass is intrusive. Nothing else really stands out as a flaw. Yes, there could be improvements but as is their sound is on point everywhere else. Luckily, there are a couple ways around this ugly mid-bass beast, the first being amping.
Unlike others, I found the TW1 pretty easy to drive. My HTC One M8 needs only four upticks on the volume dial to bring them to a comfortable listening volume. At volume 9 of 15, things start to get painful (no noticeable distortion though). Admittedly, I do listen at lower volumes than my peers so I don’t think amping is necessary, unless of course you want to get the most out of this little bass cannon. Running them through the Topping NX1 improved treble response, reduced mid-bass, and tightened everything up. Treble became sharper, mid-bass hardly bled, and overall they just sound tighter and more competent.
If you do not have access to an amplifier, equalization goes a long way towards addressing their overbearing mid-bass hump. Using the simple 5-band equalizer in Shuttle (Android music player) I settled on a 4 db drop at 290 Hz and a 5 db drop at 75 Hz. This really balanced out the signature making the TW1 much more listenable for me. Adding 1 or 2 db to 14 kHz brought in some additional sparkle and airiness, but isn’t necessary.
Combine the two and the TW1 becomes an outstanding little earphone. It’s too bad their stock sound has so much mid-bass muddying the waters.
Select Comparisons (Using HTC One M8/NX1/No EQ):
Brainwavz Omega (15 USD): Brainwavz also brought to market this year their first micro-driver earphone, the Omega, which was well-received by the Head-fi community. I found it to be quite a solid pick, offering up a fun v-shaped signature that worked well with a wide variety of music genres.
The TW1 in comparison is significantly more bassy with the Omega showing greater balance between mid and sub-bass. Mids on both are very sweet and welcoming. Treble on the Omega is much more prominent and energetic. The most striking difference between the two is just how much smoother sounding the TW1 is, at the expense of detail and clarity.
VJJB K2S (~15 USD): Another micro-driver newcomer for 2016, this time coming from VJJB. Personally, I don’t think there is much of a comparison here. The K2S offers up a more mature and cleaner signature all-around, matching the smooth sound of the TW1.
Initially I found the K2S a little too mid-bassy recommending a 1-2 dB drop at 60 Hz and 230 Hz. When listened back-to-back with the TW1, nope, no changes necessary. K2S is perfect as-is. The TW1 comes across as uncomfortably boosted in the low end, lacking the detail, clarity, and technical ability of the K2S across the board.
Sony MDR-XB50 (~40 USD): When I picked up the XB50 back in May of 2014, I really enjoyed it. It was a fun earphone. As I experienced a greater number of earphones over time, their flaws really started to stick out, namely recessed mids and treble and a lack of overall clarity.
The XB50 offers a similar experience to the TW1, but with greater sub-bass extension, less energy and warmth, and a drier sound. Unlike the TW1, they lack the potential to improve showing themselves to be unreceptive to equalization and amping. While both the TW1 and XB50 are just okay stock, the TW1 proves to be the superior sounding earphone out-of-the-box, and it only gets better with some TLC.
The TW1 is a decent micro-driver earphone. Build quality is outstanding, their design is both interesting and beautiful, the accessory kit is well-thought out and fairly generous, and with some tweaks here and there they also sound quite good. As a fashion focused earphone, the TW1 is a great choice. They certainly look and feel impressive, and much more expensive than they actually are.
If sound quality if your primary concern, the TW1 may come up short. The mid-bass hump is drastic and intrusive, and they fall behind their competitors when it comes to detail and clarity. That said, if you are willing to take the time to equalize out the invasive mid-bass, the TW1 takes a huge leap forward and becomes a much more enjoyable listen. Adding in an amplifier serves only to further improve on their performance.
If MusicMaker were to re-release the TW1 with some minor tuning changes, primarily addressing their vastly over-emphasized mid-bass, I think they would have a real winner on their their hands. As-is, the TW1 is a very attractive and pleasing earphone, made better through some minor tweaking.
Thank for reading!
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Some Test Tunes:
Dillon Francis & NGHTMRE – Need You
Dillon Francis & Martin Garrix – Set Me Free
Jessie J, Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj – Bang Bang
Soil – One Love
Run the Jewels – Sea Legs
Aesop Rock – Crows 1
Aesop Rock – Saturn Missiles
Gramatik – It’s Just a Ride
Gramatik – Bluestep (Album Version)
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black
Supertramp – Rudy
Various DnB Mixes crafted by Matson of the SubSil3nt Podcast