Today we’re checking out the Tequila 1, a product from The Fragrent Zither’s (TFZ) new luxury lineup of earphones, TFZLUX.
TFZ has been on a roll with new releases since the brand came to be in 2015 and now has an extensive lineup of more than 10 unique models. At 139.00 USD, the Tequila 1 is one of their more premium offerings. Making positive first impressions is the new packaging. The matte black outer sheath with contrasting silver lettering has an upscale look to it. Sliding off the sheath reveals a clear viewing window with the Tequila 1’s unique earpieces and the model name on full display. This upward move in quality continues with the accessories. Instead of a simple baggie the Tequila 1 comes with a white Pelican-style carrying case branded with the new TFZLUX ‘TL’ logo. Inside the foam-padded case are six pairs of single-flange silicone tips (wide and small bore, s/m/l sizes), organized within cardboard holders, along with a single set of medium sized foam tips.
There is also TFZ’s new cable which ditches the silver plated cables of the Exclusive series for a more straightforward quad-core copper cable, though it is still terminated in the 0.78mm 2-pin connectors we’ve come to expect from the brand. Also returning are the pre-formed ear guides that work exceptionally well at keeping the cable behind the ear, and with reducing noise transmission through the cable when it rubs against your clothing. One major improvement is to the female connectors on the earpieces which wrap around the male connectors. This change gives the pins some protection from bending and addresses one of my main criticisms with the connectors on the My Love II, Exclusive 1, 3, and 5, and the Series 4, none of which provided any protection for the pins once plugged in.
Another change that I see as both a positive and a negative is to the materials used on the y-split and straight jack. Prior cables used dense rubber. With the Tequila 1 they’ve swapped them over to steel which certainly looks and feels more price appropriate. This also means they are significantly heavier to the point where it is a detriment in my eyes. The now present chin cinch, a welcome addition, is also steel and quite heavy. This results in it slipping down the cable during anything more vigorous than walking, reducing it’s usefulness. It’s a step in the right direction though. The steel straight jack also retains the bulk of that found on TFZ’s prior models which means it’s going to be a tight squeeze for many cell phone and DAP cases. Too bad because it looks phenomenal.
The CNC machined, semi-open back aluminum housings are also unique to TFZ and as I suspected upon first viewing, have been somewhat divisive in the public eye. The spider web inspired design my review sample features looks much better in person, especially in green, lacking the goofiness of the alternate version which is saddled with a nuclear symbol of all things. While I enjoy the look of this earphone, in my eyes TFZ missed a great opportunity to craft a product that’s as visually mature as it is sounding. At least it’s comfortable, with a fairly compact, rounded shape that rests in the ear nicely. The shells being aluminum are quite light with only the aforementioned weight from the y-split and chin cinch causing any potential for discomfort. Isolation is below average though, being semi-open back, something you can test yourself by cramming them into your ears backwards. Lots of sounds leaks in, and a fair bit leaks out too.
While the design is divisive, no one could dispute the build quality itself is fantastic. The machining of the metal is crisp and neat so all parts line up tightly without any gaps. On the inside of each ear piece is some printing which, amusingly, contains a spelling error; “HD Resolusion” instead of “HD Resolution”. Some care, I don’t. The rest of the product is crafted with a level of attention to detail and quality often missing in pricier Chinese earphones. That said, if not only to appease picky Western buyers it would be nice to see that addressed in the future since it is such an easy fix.
At 8.9mm, the Tequila’s titanium coated drivers are smaller than the 9mm and 12mm graphene drivers found throughout the rest of their lineup. This new driver features copper-clad aluminum voice coils, just like the more upscale and well-received King Pro, also sharing it’s smooth, refined sound, though with a signature more geared towards modern pop and electronic music. The Tequila 1 gives off a gentle u-shaped signature with a minor bass focus, and to my ears is a more relaxed listening experience than other TFZs in my possession.
The Tequila’s upper ranges are well extended, and while still there, treble peaks are reduced compared to prior releases like the Exclusive 5. They improve on the impressive detail and separation of lower end TFZs, especially on congested tracks like the reggae metal riffs from Skindred, without producing the same levels of fatigue over longer listening sessions. Dropping into the mid-range we hear a fairly thick and full sound, especially when pitting it against sub-200 USD champs like the Simgot EN700 Pro which comes across somewhat thin and recessed in comparison. The extra heft and and body the Tequila 1 carries into this region gives vocals and instruments a commanding and full-bodied presence. Despite being set slightly behind the bass and treble regions, the mids retain good clarity and authority in a track. This is a trait I’ve praised TFZs for in the past, and it was a pleasure to hear in this model too. Bass leads the Tequila 1’s signature and is punchy, quick, and well textured with great sub-bass extension and emphasis, though mid-bass is slightly more prominent. This mid-bass hump gives the Tequila 1 its warmth and bleeds ever so slightly into the lower mids, though it’s rarely a detriment, especially if you enjoy a bass forward signature. The semi-open back design of the Tequila 1 leads to a stage that is very open, not quite to the extent of the EN700 Pro but more so than the Exclusive 5 and even the Exclusive King. I find this impressive given the vast staging of those models is slightly exaggerated by their leaner presentations.
After spending the last three months with the Tequila 1, I have come away impressed with the additional level of refinement it offers over TFZ’s more affordable models. In the very busy sphere that is the sub 150 USD market, it stands out for it’s bassy but clear signature that doesn’t make a lot of sacrifices to achieve the desired tune. It’s not for those looking for a neutral or reference product, nor is it for those those that want an absolute bass cannon. They sit neatly in between offering glimpses of both worlds. And while TFZ’s earphones seem to have always offered eye-catching designs, with a few exceptions in their older B-Series of earphones, those that I’ve heard have backed it with great sound quality and the Tequila 1 is no exception. In the end, this earphone delivers a quality audio experience in a visually appealing, or at the very least interesting package, backed by great build quality, solid ergonomics, with the only clear downfall being limited isolation.
Thanks for reading!
Disclaimer: Thanks to Penon Audio and TFZ for the complimentary review sample. The thoughts within this review are my own and do not reflect TFZ, Penon Audio, or any other entity. There was no financial incentive provided to write this review.
Sources: For at home use the Tequila 1 was powered by my TEAC HA-501 desktop headphone amp. For portable use it was paired with the Auglamour GR-1 or Walnut F1 paired with my Shanling M1, LG G5, or HiFi E.T. MA8. The Tequila 1 is easy to drive with little benefit seen from amping. Bass tightens up somewhat, but not enough to justify the extra bulk that goes along with carrying a portable stack.
Specifications: Driver: 12mm titanium crystal dual-chamber dynamic / Impedance: 20 ohm / Sensitivity: 109 dB/mw / Frequency Response: 5hz – 40khz / Lowest Power: 8mw
Some Test Material: Aesop Rock – Skelethon (Album) / Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (Album) / Elton John – Yellow Golden Brick Road (Album) / King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (Album) / King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black (Track) / Supertramp – Crime of the Century (Album) / Infected Mushroom – Converting Vegetarians (Album) / Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma (Album) / Gorillaz – Plastic Beach (Album) / Massive Attack – Mezzanine (Album) / Fleetwood Mac – Rumors (Album) / Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels (Album) / The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy (Album) / Tobacco – F****d Up Friends (Album) / Felt – Felt 2 (A Tribute to Lisa Bone) (Album)