TFZ Exclusive 5: Queen of the Hill

Greetings,

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 third model in this series. Unlike the rest of the offerings in this lineup, the 5 goes all out with solid steel housings that match their heavy handed signature quite well. As a result, this is my personal favorite of the Exclusive lineup.

Let’s check them out in greater detail, shall we?

Disclaimer:

The Exclusive 5 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 5 retailed through Penon for 92.90 USD; https://penonaudio.com/TFZ-EXCLUSIVE-5

 

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 5 is available in three colors; blue, silver, or black. I thought they all looked amazing from the pictures, the blue in particular. The silver color I was sent shows off the all-metal housings of the 5, something no other model in the Exclusive lineup features. As a result, the 5 comes across as the most durable solid of the bunch. It’s also quite heavy, giving the Exclusive King a run for it’s money.

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 5 uses a black sheathed and 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.

Specification:

Driver: 9mm double magnetic circuit Graphene unit
Impedance: 24 ohm
Sensitivity: 107 dB mW
Frequency Response: 5 Hz – 40 kHz
Lowest Power: 8 mW
Material: All-metal

 

Sound:

Tips: The preinstalled medium, wide bore tips are the perfect match for the 5 to my ears. I felt zero needs to swap and as a result completed nearly all of my listening with them installed. If you find the treble a little too excessive, toss on the foams or included small bore tips. If you find the bass overbearing, you’ll have to resort to EQ or try some other unique tips. None of mine did much to modify bass presence.

Source/Amping: The 5 is the most demanding of the bunch to drive, and it shows when paired with more powerful sources. Through my LG G5 it sounds good but lacks authority. Toss it on the Shanling M1 and it starts to wake up. Bass has some extra kick. Treble picks up some extra sparkle. Toss the Topping NX1 into the mix and those aspects improve further. Match it with the HIFI E.T. MA8 and wow. It becomes a whole new beast, even at low volumes. Bass punches hard. Treble is razor sharp, and the mid-range steps up and out. It becomes extremely engaging and authoritative, demanding your attention.

My first listen to the 5 served to confirm that it was pretty much exactly what I was hoping it would be; The King but with more bass. Like the King, it takes on a slightly warm, treble prominent, mid-ranged focused sound that has a well-extended, sub-bass focused low end playing support. In the case of the 5 it seems they dialed down the treble prominence a bit, added some extra weight and texture to the overall sound, along with a couple extra dB to the low end. It’s not as audiophile-focused as the King, and that’s alright. The 5 has a charm all it’s own, and wow, does it entertain.

Just like the majority of the Exclusive lineup, the 5’s treble is focused and sharp and not for the treble averse. The clarity and detail combined with impressive speed and accuracy is great for complicated tracks, but this also makes it very revealing. I found it quite unforgiving with low quality tracks, highlighting artifacts and other flaws in the recording.

Shifting into the mid-range is where the 5 really starts to engage me. It’s more natural and powerful than anything else in the Exclusive lineup. Vocals have a certain presence to them that is hard for me to put into words. Guitars are rife with texture and grit in a way that few earphones I’ve heard can compare. It’s a very musical and emotional presentation that doesn’t shy away during particularly bassy or treble heavy moments in a track.

Bass is where the the 5 is at it’s best in my opinion. The weight and power behind each hit is immense. The King was great in that it’s bass was snippy and nimble while still offering up fantastic sub-bass rumble. The 5 is a touch slower and thicker, but it’s so much more attention grabbing down low than the King ever could be. The texture this thing can pull out of a track is awe inspiring. When you’ve got this low end backing some vocal-focused EDM, like BT’s Dreaming or Last Moment of Clarity, wow. Just wow.

All of the above-mentioned goodness would mean little if crammed into a sub-par sound stage. Thankfully, that’s not the case. While the 5 has the smallest sound stage of the Exclusive series, what it does with it is just as impressive as the King. The precision and accuracy in the way sound travels is uncanny. Lots of black space between instruments with stellar layering and precise imaging.

Overall the 5 is a very engaging and powerful listen. As the weighty and textured sounding earphone in the Exclusive series, I found it the most engaging. I’m sure it will be too bright for those who are treble sensitive, and too bassy for those that want a more audiophile focused sound, but that’s where the 3 and King come in.

Vs. Exclusive Series:

Exclusive 1: 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 3: The 5 falls between 1 and 3 in terms of brightness. It improves upon the 3’s already solid texturing, further improved imaging, separation and layering. It also has a more weighty presentation. 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 5 doesn’t have quite the upper end prominence of the King and as a result makes for a less fatiguing listening, but only by a small amount. Their mid-ranges are comparable in quality with the 5 taking on a thicker, more weighted sound. Bass on the 5 has a lot more punch to it, and greater prominence all around.

Brief Soundstage Comparison with the 3:

Daft Punk – Random Access Memories – Touch

When Paul Williams started his singing after that creepy intro build (~1:50), he came across closer on the 5 vs. the 3. At around 2:30 when the cymbals and 70’s ‘wicka wicka’ effect kicked in, they were further back and to the right on the 5. On the three they lost the depth but were pushed out to the sides a bit more. When the song picked up energy around 3:24 it sounded like it was playing in a wider but flatter plain on the 3 vs. the 5. Instruments were coming from the same locations, but it was much more defined with the 5; drums in front right, trombone (?) back right, piano’s sprinkling on both sides just off centre, horns dead centre and forward, etc. The 3 has the larger sound stage, but what the 5 lacks in raw scope it more than makes up for with technical prowess.

Final Thoughts:

While I think the King is the best performer of the Exclusive lineup, the 5 comes exceptionally close and to my ears is more entertaining as a result of the more aggressive texturing and additional bass. Combine that with a smaller, more ergonomic housing and a more durable all-metal housing and you’ve got yourself a killer daily driver.

The 5 would benefit with some additional refinement to the design, specifically around the removable cable system, and a smoother treble response. As-is, it is still an excellent earphone and one of the most enjoyable I’ve experienced around 100 USD.

Thanks for reading!

– B9Scrambler

***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Test Tracks:

Aesop Rock – Crows 1

Aesop Rock – Maintenance

BT – The Antikythera Mechanism

The Crystal Method – Grace (feat. LeAnn Rimes)

Daft Punk – Touch

Gramatik – Bluestep (Album Version)

Godsmack – Hollow

Godsmack – One Rainy Day

Incubus – 2nd/3rd/4th Movements of the Odyssey

Infected Mushroom – Deeply Disturbed

Infected Mushroom – The Legend of the Black Shawarma

Jessie J – Bang Bang

Kiesza – Hideaway

King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black

Pink Floyd – Money

Skindred – Death to all Spies

Supertramp – Rudy

The Prodigy – Get Your Fight On

Witcher 2 Official Soundtrack

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