TFZ Exclusive 3: Jack of all Trades
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 second model in this series. Where the Exclusive 1 made some concessions in order to achieve their sub-50 USD price tag, such as all-plastic earpieces, the 3 does not. While it’s clearly part of the Exclusive family in terms of signature, there were enough shifts made here and there to make the 3 the most balanced to my ears and the best in terms of bang-for-your-buck.
Let’s check them out in greater detail, shall we?
The Exclusive 3 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 3 retailed through Penon for 59.00 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 3 comes with only two color options; all black or silver with a blue/red interior. Unlike the 1, the 3 features a metal face plate which gives them the edge in durability and premium feel. It also add a little bit of extra weight which makes them a little more noticeable when in the ear.
One possible area of concern regarding durability that is shared between the 1, 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 snap. Recessing the connector into the housing, which thanks to the clear inner body of the 1 shows there is 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. Like the 1, the 3 almost completely disappears once inserted. The extra weight brought on by the metal face plate makes the 3 slightly more noticeable though. Either way, 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 3 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: 16 ohm
Sensitivity: 105 dB mW
Frequency Response: 5 Hz – 40 kHz
Lowest Power: 8 mW
Material: Metal face plate, plastic back
The 3 comes across to my ears as the most accessible and balanced of the Exclusive series. With it’s more mellow treble presentation and less exaggerated, but still no less impressive detail pulling abilities, it’s a more relaxing but just as capable listen as the rest of the lineup.
The 3’s treble is smooth and even and does an amazing job of giving it a heady and spacious upper end. It moves quickly and with precision like the other, but without the same levels of aggression. I suspect the 3 has a more toned down 6k region compared to the rest of the lineup given it lacks the same sparkle and shimmer. I would prefer a touch more energy as found in the 5, but it’s still very well done and much more suitable for the treble sensitive out there.
The 3’s mid-range is it’s sweet spot; forward and natural. The detail and clarity on offer is simply stellar, making mid-range prominent tracks a special treat for the ears. More here than with any other Exclusive earphone, I found myself getting lost in my favorite classic rock tracks.
The low end on the 3 has quite a lot of body to it as well. It takes on a more mid-bassy nature, but not to the point of being overwhelming or so that it interferes with the mid-range. It displays good speed and agility on quick tracks, and has the sub-bass extension to carry an EDM tune reliant on deep bass. What it lacks in overall punch it more than makes up for in detail and refinement.
Sound stage is another area in which the 3 excels, second in size in the Exclusive lineup only to the King. It takes the vast openness of the 1 and merges it with most of the imaging qualities that model was sorely lacking. Sounds move with accuracy and clean space between them. Instruments are clearly playing in their own well-defined areas and there is little in the way of smearing or congestion to speak of.
Overall the 3 is a seriously strong offering for the price. It’s an easy to listen to earphone with technical competence that clearly exceeds the 1 while encroaching on what the 5 and King are capable of.
Vs. Exclusive Series:
Exclusive 1: 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 5 falls between 1 and 3 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 3 is notably softer and less treble treble heavy than the King, but still manages to retain most of the detail and clarity of the top model. The King’s bass is lesser in quantity and has a tighter, more focused sound. The 3 is a bit soft in comparison. The 3’s sound stage is similar in overall size, but lacks the same precision in imaging. Layering and separation is still quite comparable though.
The 3 quite easily exceeded my expectations. It has the most accessible signature which also happens to be very capable in terms of detail and clarity. The upgraded housing materials make it feel that much more premium, and yet it still retains all the excellent features of the rest of the lineup; removable cable, great accessories, comfortable design, etc.
When you compare it directly to the rest of the Exclusive lineup, I can confidently say the Exclusive 3 is the best bang-for-your-buck offering in the group.
Thanks for reading!
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
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