TFZ Exclusive 1: 10 of Hearts
I was introduced to the TFZ brand with the top of line model in the Exclusive series, the aptly named King. The King made a pretty strong first impression with a signature that seemed to display what one would think of as your typical ‘audiophile’ sound. It’s slightly warm, treble and mid-range focused sound oozes detail and clarity with a low end that, relative to the norm, is a little reserved in quantity. From top to bottom the King is swift, powerful, and controlled and I felt it was a very successful attempt by TFZ to bring a ‘high end’ sound to a more reasonable price point.
Today we’re going to be looking at the entry level model in this series. While the Exclusive 1 makes some concessions in order to achieve their sub-50 USD price tag, such as all-plastic earpieces, they come well-equipped. They also most closely follow the King’s signature and do a very good job of representing what you’ll expect to hear as you move through the rest of the Exclusive lineup.
Let’s check them out in greater detail, shall we?
The Exclusive 1 was purchased from Penon Audio at a discounted rate for the purposes of review. There is no financial incentive for writing this review, and all thoughts and opinions within are my own. They do not represent TFZ, Penon Audio, or any other entity.
At the time of this review the Exclusive 1 retailed through Penon for 42.90 USD; http://penonaudio.com/TFZ-EXCLUSIVE-1?search=exclusive%201
My Gear and I:
I’m a 30 year old professional working for what is currently the largest luxury hotel chain on the planet. I have a background in Psychology which probably explains my somewhat dry writing style. My entry into the world of portable audio was due primarily to a lack of space for a full-sized stereo system during my university years, and truly began with the venerable JVC HA-FXT90. After reading pretty much the entirety of IjokerI’s multi-earphone review thread, reviews from other established reviewers, and thus being greatly inspired, I took a chance and started writing my own.
Fast forward a couple years and I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to write about products for wonderful companies like RHA, Accutone, ADVANCED, NarMoo, Mixcder, Brainwavz, Meze and many more. I don’t do it for money or free stuff, but because this is my hobby and I enjoy it. If my reviews can help guide someone to a product that makes them happy, I’ll consider that a job well done and payment enough.
Gear used for testing was a Shanling M1, LG G5, Walnut V2s, and my aging Asus G73 gaming laptop paired with the Creative SoundBlaster Recon3D usb amp. I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. While I enjoy a variety of signatures I generally lean towards slightly warm with elevated treble and sub-bass, an even mid-range response, and reduced mid-bass, though lately I’ve been enjoying more mellow and relaxed products with a bass tilt. Two of my favorite in-ears, the Echobox Finder X1[i] with grey filters installed and the Fischer Audio Dubliz Enhanced are good examples of my preferred signatures.
Packaging and Accessories:
TFZ really nailed the packaging on the Exclusive 1, 3, and 5, though like on many Chinese products, some of the translations to English came out a touch wonky.
Unlike most packages, it’s quite long and slender measuring in at around 21 cm x 8 cm x 4 cm. All text is printed in a very clean, well-pressed silver foil. On the front is the model number, ‘Double Magnetic Circuit Graphene Unit’, and TFZ’s logo. Flipping to the back where you would normally expect to see specifications or features is some customer service information, manufacturing details, and a quote:
“Perfection, elegance, courage & insight. Trendiness will facilitate wearing TFZ to become a part of your wonderful life.”
Lift off the lid, which is admittedly easier said than done (just watch the unboxing video), and you’re greeted to a cardboard sheet with more writing:
“Make every song ambilight. Beautiful like the stars.”
I’m not sure if ambilight was the word they were going for. A quick search online shows that Ambilight is the name of an ambient lighting technology designed for Philips televisions; http://www.philips.co.uk/c-m-so/televisions/p/ambilight
Slid out the cardboard sheet to the earpieces set in a hard plastic display case, the cable Velcro wrapped neatly in a space beneath. The accessories, instruction manual, and warranty card are contained within a smaller cardboard box that mimics the primary design. When it comes to accessories, TFZ gives you a healthy does;
– soft pleather carrying pouch (black on the Exclusive 5, white for the rest of the lineup)
– one pair of medium bi-flange tips
– small bore silicone tips in s/m/l; a second set of mediums comes pre-installed on the 1
– wide bore silicone tips in s/m/l; a second set of mediums comes pre-installed on the 3 and 5
– cable clip
– one pair of foam tips (not included with the 1; the set that most benefits from them)
Overall TFZ did a great job here. While it’s only cardboard and plastic, the quality of the packaging materials is excellent and the layout is interesting. It’s subtle, professional, and makes you feel like you’re getting something really nice. Because you are.
Build, Comfort, and Isolation:
The Exclusive series uses the same low profile, teardrop shaped design for the 1, 3, and 5, incorporating more premium materials as you move through the lineup. The 1 comes in a variety of colors like red, blue, red/blue, black, or wood grain (what I got) and uses an all plastic housing.
While fit and finish is overall quite good for the price, the wood grain print is inconsistent in quality. The image on the left earpiece is much sharper making the right earpiece look out of focus. It does add to the impression of a unique grain, but as you look more closely you can see that wasn’t the intention. As a result it cheapens the experience a bit.
One possible area of concern regarding durability that also extends to the 3 and 5 is the two pin connector. It is not recessed at all meaning there is little to no protection for the pins. If you were to sit on these earphones by accident, I would not be shocked to see the pins. Recessing the connector into the housing, which thanks to the clear inner body of the 1 shows there was space to do so, would alleviate this worry. On the other hand, as it is currently you could swap over a wide variety of alternative cables without having to worry about them fitting into the housing. This seems like a very universal 2-pin setup.
The 1 and 3 use a slightly thicker version of the excellent silver cable found on the King, swapping out the sleek 45 degree angled jack and slender y-split for much chunkier options. The y-split is now a thick disk with the TFZ logo, and the jack attached to a pudgy straight plug that probably isn’t going to fit into a large number of cellphone cases. Leading into the housings you find a very effective preformed ear guide. I’d take this any day over memory wire because it’s flexible, more comfortable, and doubles as strain relief. It also helps keep microphonics (cable noise) to a minimum. The only other qualm I have with this cable is it’s tendency to tangle upon itself. Other than that’s it’s great.
Speaking of comfort, the design for these new Exclusive in-ears is exceptionally comfortable, especially the 1. Since the 1 is entirely plastic, they weigh next to nothing and almost completely disappear once inserted. The earpieces are very compact with rounded edges so there is nothing to catch on your ears or cause hot spots and discomfort. My only concern for comfort once again leads us to the removable cable’s plugs which are squared off with defined edges. When trying to sleep with the earphones in place I could feel them poking my ear.
When it comes to isolating yourself from the outside world, the Exclusive 1, 3, and 5 are pretty average when compared to other dynamic driver based earphones. All three have a prominent vent on the exterior of the earpiece so you’ll have to up the volume a bit to counter incoming noise, but not excessively so. I was expecting these vents to be a hindrance when outside on a windy day, but to my pleasant surprise you really only hear the wind rushing past when it hits at a specific angle. For the most part, they do a great job of cutting through the wind silently.
Overall the 1 is a well built and comfortable earphone with a very smooth design. My only criticism is levied at the plug design which juts out far to much. There is plenty of room inside the housing to recess the plug further in which would aid in perceived durability and serve to clean up the design a bit.
Driver: 9mm double magnetic circuit Graphene unit
Impedance: 10 ohm
Sensitivity:103 dB mW
Frequency Response: 5 Hz – 40 kHz
Lowest Power: 8 mW
Tips: The omission of foam tips with the 1 remains a mystery to me. As the brightest and peakiest earphone in the series, they benefit most from the use of foam eartips which absorb some of the excess treble and balance out their sound. Isolation also skyrockets in a good way. If you find these too bright aren’t a fan of foams, go with the stock small bore tips, Sony Hybrids, Heir style tips like those provided with the Dunu Titan 1, or something else that uses soft silicone and a small bore.
Amping: The 1 is quite easy to drive. While they don’t need an amp to reach uncomfortable volumes, I did find pairing them with something a little more powerful helped to add some much needed dynamics to their otherwise large but flat soundstage. I don’t really have a ton of options to pair them with, but I get the impression they will scale nicely with better gear.
The 1 does the best job of emulating the top tier Exclusive King with a slightly warm, treble and mid-range forward sound that impresses with the amount of detail and clarity on hand. It also tosses in an extra dollop of bass, fitting for it’s status as the first and least expensive offering in the Exclusive lineup.
The upper end of the 1 is pretty impressive for the price coming across much smoother and more refined than similarly price competitors like the VSonic VSD2 and RHA S500i. I didn’t find it uncomfortably emphasized and any peaks tapered off before becoming too aggressive. Extension is excellent to the point where I wasn’t able to pick up on any early roll off. While the 1’s treble is quite sharp and a little lean, it helps keep the earphone airy and open, larger sounding than most anything in the price range I’ve used.
The 1’s mid-range is wonderfully forward, though it sits just behind the treble in overall prominence. Vocals are extremely open and coherent with only the smallest bit of perceptible bleed from the bass regions, and only on excessively mid-bassy tracks. Unlike many budget earphones, I didn’t find myself leaning towards a male or female vocal preference with the 1. Both sound great and have a nice density and weight to them. I’m glad the mid-range has some body to it, only thinning out a touch in the upper mids leading into the lower treble.
The 1’s bass is just as good as the rest of the Exclusive lineup; quick and punchy with good definition, detail, and extension. Mid-bass has a nice thump to it and sub-bass is some of the deepest in the Exclusive lineup, able to give you a noticeable, visceral experience. It’s definitely doesn’t fall into the ‘one note’ style of presentation that’s not entirely uncommon with budget gear.
Sound stage is where the 1 loses me. It’s not they they’re congested or claustrophobic; far from it actually. The problem is there just not much in the way of depth or dynamics to it. You get left, right, and centre with little going on between. That said, separation and layering between effects and instruments is surprisingly good to the point that it nearly makes up for the flaws elsewhere. For critical listeners I can see the 1 falling short in this area, but for the majority of listeners I think they will be just fine.
Overall I really enjoy the sound of the 1. The clarity and detail top to bottom is pretty darn impressive for the price, pretty easily outclassing the VSD2 and S500i. Some will undoubtedly find them too bright, but that’s not where my issue lies with them. The sound stage is really lacking in dynamics.
Vs. Exclusive Series:
Exclusive 3: The 1 is brighter than the 3 with lessened mid quantity and similar bass presence. The 3’s more relaxed treble and slightly more prominent mid-range makes them more balanced to my ears. Sound and imaging qualities on the 3 are a huge leap forward. The 3’s more impressive sound quality, nearly in line with the 5 and King, and improved build quality (steel face plates vs. plastic) make it an easy recommendation over the 1.
Exclusive 5: The 1 falls between 1 and 5 in terms of brightness. It takes the qualities of the 3 I enjoyed over the 1 and makes them even better. Even greater texturing and weight to it’s presentation, further improved imaging, separation and layering. The only caveat is the 5’s overall sound stage size is the least expansive of the lineup. Still, it’s better than average and the way it moves sound around more than makes up for that small negative in my mind.
Exclusive King: The 1 and King share the same basic signature but the King’s sound stage dynamics put them in another league entirely. Clarity and detail is shockingly close with the King edging out the 1 in micro details and texturing. The King’s treble is also smoother and less peaker. While neither are great for long listening sessions, the King is preferred. I do prefer aspects of the 1’s tuning, particularly in sub-bass regions where the 1 provides a more visceral experience. The King’s bass is clearly tighter and better controlled though.
If you’re looking for an extremely detailed and entertaining earphone for under 50 USD, the TFZ Exclusive 1 should be right near the top of your list. Their low profile and very ergonomic design, great accessory kit, and highly detailed and energetic sound are impressive for the price. They also have a great two pin cable that has lots of readily available replacements already on the market should you break them.
Compared to other earphones in their price range, they really only fall short in one area; imaging. It’s almost made up for by their layering and separation qualities, but once you start listening to other earphones and go back to the 1 is comes across a bit off. Other than that, bass quality, detail, clarity, and most other metrics are leaps and bounds more impressive than anything else I’ve tried at this price.
All that said, while I quite like the 1, recommending it when the Exclusive 3 exists is a little more challenging. While their signatures aren’t identical, they clearly come from the same family of tuning and the 3’s sound stage is so much more expressive. I personally would skip the 1 and get the 3, but you can’t put in the extra 16.10 USD to move up the 1 will definitely put a smile on your face.
Thanks for reading!
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
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