HIFIMAN TWS 600: Finally, Something Different
Today we’re checking out HIFIMAN’s TWS 600, their first entry into the booming truly wireless earphone market.
Bluetooth products have become commonplace within the last few years thanks to improvements in sound quality, connection reliability, and us consumers being somewhat forced into them thanks to major manufacturers opting to remove headphone jacks from their products. Annoying, but so is the world we live in. Truly wireless earphones are still in their relative infancy with worthy products only hitting the market quite recently. By worthy, I mean those that offer up acceptable sound quality and stable connections, along with natural ergonomics and long term comfort.
The TWS 600 is the first truly wireless product from HIFIMAN, a brand that is probably best known for their high end, full-sized planar magnetic headphones. Along with Bluetooth 5.0 and an IPX4 water/dust resistance rating, this new earphone incorporates tech from HIFIMAN’s high end earphones, that being their topology diaphragm technology which was previously only found in the RE800 and RE2000 (and their Silver counterparts).
Along with some impressive specs, the TWS 600 offers up a sound signature I have not heard in this segment, but is that enough to warrant consideration? Let’s find out.
Thanks to HIFIMAN for arranging a sample of the TWS 600 for the purposes of review. The thoughts within are my own subjective opinions based on time using the product (50+ hours). They do not represent HIFIMAN or any other entity. At the time of writing the TWS 600 retailed for 199 USD.
I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. My preferences for earphone tuning are quite relaxed and as such their is no one signature I look for. The HiFiMAN RE800, Brainwavz B400, and Massdrop x MeeAudio Planamic are examples of earphones with wildly varied signatures that are enjoyable for different reasons. I generally listen at very low volumes, so keep this in mind when perusing my thoughts on how an earphone sounds.
- Size: 25mm x 17.4mm x 26mm
- Weight: 5.9g/earpiece
- Battery Capacity: 55mAH/earpiece
- Charge Time: 1hr
- Effective Voltage: 3.3V-4.2V
- Standby: 110hr
- Music Play Time: 5-6hr
- Talk time: 4-5hr
- Bluetooth Version: 5.0
- Pf Transmission Power: Class 2
- Transmission Distance: >10m, up to 50 (depending on the environment)
- Codec Support: CVSD, mSBC, SBC, AAC
- SNR: >95dB
- Size: 44mm x 80mm x 33mm
- Weight: 55g
- Charge Port: Type-C USB
- Charge Time: 1.5hr
- Extra Usage: 33hr
Packaging and Accessories:
The TWS 600 arrives in a fair-sized black and red cardboard box with a retail ready hanger protruding top the top. On the front of the package is an image of the TWS 600’s earpieces along with the usual branding and model information. A few product highlights can be found within a red band; a combined battery life of 38.5 hours, Bluetooth 5.0 support, and fast charging. On the rear of the box you find contact information for HIFIMAN Support along with additional product highlights; stable connectivity from 10-50m, IPX4 sweat and dirt resistance, an ergonomic design, call and music playback up to 38.5 hours, and voice assistance support with most phones. They also highlight battery indicator support with some phones and operating systems.
Lifting the lid you’re greeted by a small card thanking you for your order. On the back there is a reminder to register your TWS 600 within the one year warranty period. Why? They’ll give you an extra three months support. Very nice of you HIFIMAN. Beneath the card the interior is dominated by a dense foam insert in which the earpieces and charge case are safely nestled. Beneath the foam insert you find the included tips, a usb-C cable, and some documentation. In all you get:
- TWS 600 earphones
- Charge case
- usb-C cable
- 9 pairs of silicone tips
- Instruction manual
- Warranty card
Overall a pretty standard unboxing, except for one thing; the tip selection. HIFIMAN has one upped the competition here by offering a ton of different tips that you can use to find the best possible fit for your ear. Most offer a simple s/m/l selection of basic single flange tips. Now, I have seen some complaints about tips not fitting in the charge case. Since I like to consider myself reasonably thorough, I put this to the test.
Of the nine different pairs HIFIMAN includes, only two do not fit. Those were the extra long bi- and tri-flange pairs. Looking into third party options, similarly extra long multi-flange tips do not fit, nor do large foam tips (unless you compress them first). One of my preferred set of tips, the broad triple flange set that came with the classic Xiaomi Piston 2, actually worked p;erfectly which I was surprised about.
Let’s compare cases and tip compatibility with the Nuforce BeFREE8, SoundPEATS TrueFree+ and Q26, Astrotec S60 and S60 5.0, and the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless (MTW). Most of these are designed to accommodate at most the preinstalled medium sized single flange tips. Few can take the stock large. None but the MTW can accommodate the chunky Xiaomi tips that work fine with the HIFIMAN case. None but the MTW can take standard medium foams (Comply or otherwise) without compressing them first. None work with the insanely long double or triple flange tips HIFIMAN provides with the TWS 600, will nor do other third party options fit, though the MTW will accept some shorter bi-flange options. HIFIMAN comes out way ahead of all but the MTW with a case that is much more flexible when it comes to charging the ear pieces with a variety of different tips attached. Also in Sennheiser’s favour, their case has a hollow lid allowing you to carry your detached tips with the earphones, should they not fit.
Personally, I think the case/tip concerns are overblown and that most customers won’t have any problems. But what if you do!? Remove the tips and toss them in your pocket or set them beside the case while charging. I’ve had to do it in the past with the BeFREE8 and Q26. It’s not that inconvenient, and other brands handle this far, far worse. Yes, HIFIMAN could improve this with a future revision or complete product replacement, but as is this is still one of the better cases out there (and the best I’ve come across) for tip accommodation when charging.
Build, Comfort, and Isolation:
The TWS 600 earpieces seem to take inspiration from General Motors interiors during the 90s. By that I mean they are plastic-fantastic, bulbous, and bubbly. Unlike GM in the 90s, HIFIMAN didn’t do it poorly. The plastics feel very dense and tough and all the component parts fit together with very tight seams, something that probably helped the TWS 600 achieve it’s IPX4 sweat and dirt resistance rating. Still, the seams are clearly visible, as are lines from the moulding process. This plus the odd shape makes them look cheaper than they are, and feel. The HIFIMAN logo and L/R markers are printed onto the bodies of each ear piece. I fully expect them to wear off over time as they interact with the oils of your skin. Fortunately, the ear pieces are clearly designed to be worn only one way. The case also has redundant L/R markings, so it shouldn’t lead to much confusion when/if the print begins to wear off.
On the face of each ear piece is a deceptively small multifunction button which depresses with a fairly satisfying ‘snick’. It is pleasantly damped and as such isn’t obnoxiously loud when the TWS 600 is in your ear and the button is pressed. Giving the TWS 600 an even more unique look are the transparent spiraling tendrils that emanate outwards from the multi-function button, lighting up bright blue or red to show device functions. Overall the build of the earpieces is just fine. Nothing comes across overly premium, and while the slightly arguably goofy design might look somewhat low rent, it doesn’t feel that way.
The charge case is also mostly plastic and carries on with a somewhat obscure, egg-shaped design of it’s own. Offset to the right on the lid is a HIFIMAN logo made from what appears to be aluminum or an alloy of some sort. Those that like everything mirrored are probably going to be infinitely annoyed by the placement of the logo, and probably the usb-C port too. That can be found on the back to the left of the hinge. On the bottom is a ovular anti-slip rubber ring on which the case rests. The lid is held securely shut via a strong magnet and isn’t likely to open by accident. Opening the lid requires separating a small tab on the front of the case by lifting the two halves away from each other. HIFIMAN has pressed small arrows into the case so you know which tab goes in which direction. Once you’ve got the case open, there are spacious, magnetic openings to accommodate the earpieces. Large padded cutouts can be found in the lid to ensure everything is held securely in place. Found in between where the ear pieces rest is a battery icon with four small LED lights. This indicator tells you how much battery life remains in the case. For the most part I find the case very well constructed. While it doesn’t look particularly premium, it feels tough. My only main complaint is levied at the hinge design. It feels plenty durable, but let’s the lid flip so far back the top and bottom halves of the case bind. When that happens, closing the lid results in an uncomfortable snapping sound as the two halves bind. HIFIMAN did mould in a ridge with a small indent to seemingly get around this, but it doesn’t work.
Despite it’s size and bulbous shape, the TWS 600 is actually quite ergonomic and very comfortable. The shell is more or less divided into two segments. The main body and a compact wart on which the nozzle resides. This wart is around 15mm in diameter and smoothly rounded to rest lightly against your outer ear. It causes zero discomfort and provides adequate support in dispersing what little weight is present across it’s surface. The rest of the body is just as well-rounded so it too avoids interacting with the ear in a way that would cause hot spots or other forms of discomfort. The nozzle is a pretty average 5mm at it’s widest, and around 7mm long, protruding at a ~45 degree angle. It all feels quite natural once inserted. The standard nozzle width combined with a prominent lip also allows you to roll through a wide variety of tips to find the one that works best for your ear, should none of the stock pairs do the trick.
Isolation is about average with silicone tips, no music playing. Using the stock medium wide bore pair, sitting at my computer, typing results in only the snappiest part of the keystroke being clearly audible. Mouse clicks are audible too. Cars passing by on the road outside my window can be heard but what is normally a cacophony of noise is reduced to a mellow rumble. Taking the TWS 600 for a test drive at my local coffee shop you can still hear voices but they are muffled. Following a conversation would be pretty challenging. Toss on foam tips or some multi-flange silicone tips and expect isolation performance to improve to slightly above average. While the TWS 600’s isolation is pretty good, I would have liked it to be even better so what little bass there is isn’t almost completely drown out by your environment.
Sources and Connection:
The TWS 600 was tested with a number of devices; LG G5, LG G6, Shanling M0, Shanling M1 and an ASUS FX53V laptop. Connecting to a device is very easy. Simply remove the primary (left) ear piece from the case and it will automatically power up and enter pairing mode. You’ll know because the LED will flash red and blue, and a voice will announce that you’ve entered pairing mode. Turn your source’s Bluetooth function on and search for a device. The TWS 600 will show in the list of available devices as “TWS 600”. Select it and you’re connected. If you remove the right earpiece from the case, it will automatically search for and pair with the left to enter stereo mode. You’ll know the two sides are connected because it will be announced.
Connection strength was for the most part fairly strong and reliable. Though, seemingly at random, every once in a while the right earpiece would drop connection with the left, or they would both disconnect from each other and the source device. Connections will always re-establish themselves quickly and without missing much of a beat, but it still happens. Doesn’t matter if I’m right beside the source, or meters away. One aspect of the TWS 600 that stands above is it’s low latency. Should you choose to use these for video, you’ll find the audio syncs up very well with what it is you are watching. If there is a delay, it is imperceptible to me.
The TWS 600 is rated for 10-50m, dependent on the environment. In my apartment, the TWS 600 doesn’t perform any better than your average truly wireless product with cutouts happening once a few obstacles are in the way. This means the TWS 600 falls behind recent budget oriented products I’ve covered, those being the Astrotec S60 5.0 and SoundPEATS TrueFree+, which will retain a connection almost anywhere in my apartment.
Overall I find the connection quality to be quite average. Given the somewhat premium price point of the TWS 600, I was expecting it to be among the top echelon of truly wireless products I’ve tested, but that has not been my experience. On the positive side, latency is wonderfully low so watching video with the TWS 600 makes for a positive experience.
The battery life of the TWS 600 is outstanding. Rated for 5 to 6 hours of music play time, I had no issues reaching it. With the TWS 600’s volume maxed out and the volume set at 4 of 15 on my LG G6, I managed 6 hours and 21 minutes on one charge. I can’t imagine I got any lower than that on other listening sessions given I was listening on only 2 out of 15 on the G6 for all those sessions. This thing is extremely loud.
The TWS 600 doesn’t rewrite the single multi-function control book, featuring actions that are easy to pull off and reasonably common/intuitive.
Using either the left or right ear piece, you can press once to pause/play, or accept/end a call.
A 2 second press will decline an incoming call. If no call is incoming, a 2 second press will open your phone’s voice control feature.
Double pressing the left button will reduce the volume. Double pressing the right button will raise the volume.
Triple pressing the left button will skip to the next track. Triple pressing the right button will return to the previous track. Note that a triple press and hold will not allow you to scrub through a track.
While I find these controls work fine, I would prefer some slight alterations. Instead of triple pressing to skip back and forth through tracks, move that function to a double press and have volume function on a single or double press + hold action. A single quick press can be used to decline an incoming call, and a triple press on either side would do to bring up voice control. In my experience, fewer misclicks happen under that control scheme. Of course, this is all personal preference and again, the existing controls are perfectly functional.
Tips: With the exception of foams, which muffled the sound, I didn’t find the TWS 600 particularly susceptible to changes when swapping tips. As such I selected them based on comfort and isolation. The stock medium wide bore set was the most comfortable for my ears, and provided the least isolation. They were good for listening at home. Xiaomi triple flange were my go to for the outdoors because they were still quite comfortable and provided better isolation. Sony Isolation Hybrids were a good alternative to the Xiaomi’s but didn’t provide as reliable a seal.
The TWS 600 is unlike any other truly wireless earphone I’ve heard to date. It has a bass light, mid-forward sound that is the anti-thesis to the usual v-shaped, bass bombastic products that are the norm at basically every price point. Good on HIFIMAN for doing something different, even if it doesn’t always work out.
The TWS 600’s mid-range is front and centre thanks to a ~2k peak that draws nearly all of your attention. Great for mid-heads. I found both male and female vocals fairly equally represented with neither sounding better or more suited to the presentation. This applies to everything from GUNSHIP’s “Fly For Your Life”, to Big Grams’ “Run For Your Life”, to Paul Williams on Daft Punk’s “Touch”. Unfortunately, while a forward, coherent mid-range is nice, being so forward results in it taking on a hollow, unnatural presentation that takes away from things somewhat. It also doesn’t help that the TWS 600 is somewhat lacking clarity in the mids, so those wonderful voices and instruments come across slightly muffled as well.
The mid peak would be countered somewhat if the treble was well extended with reasonable emphasis in both brilliance and presence regions, but that is not the case. The treble here is detailed, non-fatiguing, well-controlled, and very inoffensive, but also dry and lacking sparkle and shimmer leaving tracks falling somewhat flat. Cymbals and chimes on King Crimson’s “Night Watch” show this off. They lack prominence and fade into the background leaving the guitars and vocals to carry the track.
I actually quite enjoy the low end presentation of the TWS 600. It very much plays second fiddle to the midrange and most of the time putters along with little to no impact. However, when needed I found it pulled it’s weight just fine. Now the TWS 600 would not be my first pick for my preferred genre, that being liquid drum and bass (I can hear the audiophiles closing the page, if they even made it this far…see ya, my reviews aren’t for you anyway), but it still handles it well enough for me to not be left wanting too badly. On Calyx & Teebee’s “Intravenous”, the warbling bassline that underlies the track is present and carries the overlaying tunes. Sub-bass presence is minimal leaving the TWS 600’s mid-bass bias to lead the charge. While in general the TWS 600’s bass is quite polite, it’s at least quality stuff being that it is quick, well controlled, full of texture, and generally satisfying, as long as you’re okay with low bass quantities.
Unlike others, I find the TWS 600’s sound stage outstanding. It feels wide and open regardless of the track being played. Effects and instruments sit way off in the distance, though not always in the most realistic way. Vocals are a centre-point anchor with everything else trailing off behind it in a wide v. This means that imaging isn’t super accurate, but separation and layering are just fine, effectively keeping tracks from melding together. It’s not immune to congestion though, as noticed during the chaotic final few minutes of King Crimson’s “Starless and Bible Black”.
Overall I find the TWS 600 to be a decent listen, just not very versatile. For me, this earphone is not something I choose when I want to sit and listen to music exclusively. It’s tune is too mid-focused and not a fit for my preferred genres. Instead, it’s perfect for when I want background music for whatever I happen to be doing that day; getting groceries, doing laundry, working on my car, etc. At low volumes in particular, the TWS 600’s signature lets music fade into the background and provide a sound track to my life. I know it’s there and when I focus on it, it is pleasant enough, but it’s better as a complimentary element. Unless of course you decide to dip into the modern portable audiophile’s most hated tool; equalization.
The TWS 600 loves to be EQ’d and is very receptive to it. That ~2k peak can easily be removed and some extra emphasis dialed into the presence region to improve detail through the midrange. While most of my sources don’t have extensive EQ’ing options available, the Shanling M0 provides enough to tailor the TWS 600 to my needs. Dropping 1k by 3dB, 2k by 5db, and a 2db raise at 4k results in a product that is more balanced with just a little kick in the treble that I enjoy. With these changes applied the TWS 600 becomes a product I’ll pull out when I want to listen to music.
HIFIMAN’s first go at the ever-growing truly wireless earphone market isn’t quite a slam dunk, but I don’t find it disappointing either. You get a plethora of tips to personalize fit, a well built and comfortable design, and decent connection quality. Battery life is amazing and the carrying case is one of the best I’ve come across thanks to it’s pocketable nature and the extra 33 hours of use it provides. While I don’t find it an issue, others have expressed concerns with the fact that not all included tip styles fit into the case during charging, so keep that in mind.
The TWS 600 is the only option I’m currently aware of which clearly attempts to cater to the neutral-loving crowd. If you’re not opposed to equalization, you can turn that dream of a neutral truly wireless product into reality. But alas, I don’t review modded/EQ’d products, so as good as you can make the TWS 600 with a mite of effort, that’s not what you get out of the box.
Overall, I enjoyed my time with the TWS 600. As it currently stands I think a slightly lower price point would be beneficial, as would a tweak to that upper mid-range. However, if someone is looking for a mid-focused or neutral (with EQ) truly wireless product at this price point the TWS 600 is the one to get. Those looking for a more generic v-shaped earphone and/or something that sticks closer to the Harman curve, well, the rest of the industry has you covered.
Thanks for reading!
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Some Test Tunes:
Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid (Album)
Hail Mary Mallon – Are You Going to Eat That? (Album)
King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (Album)
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black (Track)
Supertramp – Crime of the Century (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 Bonet) (Album)
Michael Jackson – Thriller (Album)
The Crystal Method – Grace (feat. LeAnn Rimes) (Track)
Jidenna – Long Live the Chief (Track)
Skrillex – Ragga Bomb (Track)
Big Grams – Run for Your Life (Track)
Funkadelic – Maggot Brain (Track)
Aesop Rock – Fishtales (Track)