The premium wireless IEM category has certainly been a work in progress. The market for this type of technology is especially large when one considers how many consumers use their smart phones or laptops as their primary source device; and it has taken a few years for the world’s largest brands like Apple, Samsung, Sony, and Beats to produce products that deliver adequate sound quality. Sony, Sennheiser, and Bose have been the most successful so far at creating products that are not confusing to operate, sonically superior, comfortable to wear for long listening sessions, and not overpriced. We can now add the HiFiMAN TWS800 to the growing list of products that get you most of the way there.
Source: The TWS800 was tested in the following configurations:
- LG V40 -> Bluetooth -> earphones
All music tracks were MP3 @320Kbps or FLAC files.
- Bluetooth: 5.0
- Frequency Response: 20Hz-20KHz
- Effective Range: 10m-35m (environmentally dependent)
- Encoding: AAC, SBC
- Environmental Resistance: IPX4
- Playback Time: 4.5 Hours (Manufacturer) 4.1 Hours (Resonance Reviews Testing Average)
- Case charges: 6 Full Charges
- Charging: USB-C
I don’t normally indulge marketing messaging, but HiFIMAN has done something particularly interesting with the internal design of the TWS800.
All speakers, even IEMs, require amplification. The quality of the amplification used in Bluetooth IEMs has historically been very poor; as better amplification requires more power, which results in poor battery life. Manufacturers have to make compromises in regard to the type of drivers, sensitivity, and performance/battery life.
HiFiMAN have turned this trend on its head by using very-high resistance designs in the drivers, and a robust amplification circuit to drive it. In theory, this should result in a superior sounding IEM.
The TWS800 have a pretty gentle V-shaped sonic signature. A lifted bass and sub-bass combined with a vocal spike around 2 kHz, and a lift in the upper registers give the TWS800 a tuning meant for mass appeal that doesn’t sacrifice intelligibility or detail retrieval.
HiFiMAN have historically been pretty attentive in its designs to producing a smooth top end, so it is no surprise that the TWS800 have excellent treble response. Acoustic guitar strumming on “In One Ear” was well resolved, contrasting nicely with the resolution and airiness of cymbal and high-hat smashes.
I was similarly impressed with the way that the TWS800 handles electronica. Synths are resolved with clarity and separation without being overblown, or washed out. Pacing was excellent with almost every track.
The TWS800 are not prone to over-emphasising the top end. In my testing with poorly mastered songs like “Satisfy,” I was never uncomfortable, a testament to how well the TWS800 treats ears as sensitive to sibilance as mine.
The most interesting instrumentation can be found in the midrange, so it is crucial for an IEM to get this tuning right. The HiFiMAN TWS800 succeeded for the most part. The upper midrange is balanced and smooth, with a spike near the vocal ranges to aid in intelligibility. The TWS800’s lower midrange is slightly enhanced, eventually blending into the mid-bass. While “neutral” isn’t quite the right word to describe the tonal balance of the TWS800’s midrange, it is a reasonable definition. There was also a level of transparency that was pervasive across all of my complex test tracks — a very uncommon trait in this segment of wireless IEMs.
“Flagpole Sitta” tends to reward warmly-tuned IEMs the most due to its dry mastering, but it still got along well with the slightly neutral midrange of the HiFiMAN TWS800. “Jacked Up” was a pleasure to listen to, and the TWS800 did a great job separating all of the instruments on the track; everything was carved out in its own defined space.
The TWS800 doesn’t really play favorites between male and female vocals, but I found myself gravitating more towards female vocals on the whole. This is probably a side-effect of the airy and illuminated upper-midrange and treble.
Like any IEM aimed at the tech market, the TWS800 puts a lot of emphasis on the lower end of the frequency spectrum. That said, HiFiMAN was careful not to go overboard and wash out the lower-midrange. Audiophiles on the whole tend to prefer taut bass over “excessive” bass tuning, and I think HiFiMAN was cognizant of this trend while voicing the TWS800.
I could not get enough of the TWS800 while listening to electronic music. “Gold Dust” and “In For the Kill” were rendered with authority. The TWS800’s bass, once I achieved a very good seal with the ear tips, was punchy and resolute in all the ways that I wanted for casual listening. “War Pigs” was also rendered well, but felt somewhat dry due to the leaner midbass and lower midrange; a problem that has shown up on a number of IEMs aimed towards audiophiles. A small price to pay for the rest of the TWS800’s performance I suppose.
Packaging / Unboxing
The TWS800 is made up primarily of plastic. This allows it to maintain a very low weight with a large internal volume — a critical feature for truly-wireless earphones. After thoroughly inspecting the TWS800 visually, I am not concerned about any durability issues. HiFiMAN has a pretty good track record of assisting its customers, so even if a defect did show up, it will probably end up getting dealt with.
This IEM charges using a 2-pin contact system with its carrying case. I found that it was finicky to get them to align while charging, and that my particular unit wouldn’t always make a strong contact with the left earbud.
The TWS800 is certainly a large truly-wireless IEM. I don’t think anyone with smaller ears will be able to comfortably wear it for any real stretch of time; I had some discomfort if I didn’t seat the right earbud carefully. Thankfully, weight is not an issue at all, and I never had any issue with the TWS800 trying to dive out of my ears and onto the floor. I’ve seen that happen with other IEMs.
HiFiMAN went with a touch-control scheme. I reviewed one other IEM with a smilar setup (LG’s truly-wireless offerings) and they performed just as badly as these do. I’m not sure what the fascination is with touch controls, but they really are not practical. Having to tap on the earphone to control it isn’t the best methodology. Every time you tap the earphone, it reverberates into your ear and completely disrupts the listening experience. That is, however, assuming the earbud even recognizes that you are trying to tap it at all.
And, assuming it works, if I want to fast-forward to the next song, I need to tap the earphone three consecutive times, which means I’m blasting my ears with reverberation three times in quick succession. That’s just plain unpleasant. So much so that I resolved to never use the touch controls and just adjust my sound and track selection from my phone.
HiFiMan TWS800 Accessories
Inside the box you’ll find 8 pairs of ear tips, not including the ones already on the TWS800. Additionally, there’s a cloth carrying case for you to store your charging case to help protect it from dings and scratches. HiFiMAN selected an excellent breadth of ear tips to supply the TWS800 buyer with. Whether you need small silicone ear tips, or a triple-flange ear tip, you’ll probably find something comfortable.
I find myself levying most criticism for truly-wireless IEMs against their charging cases. After all, without it, the product is practically useless. The most common issue that I find is the lid’s hinge is inadequate and the charging pins don’t sit well. While the first problem is not present here, the second one is. Perhaps it’s just with my particular unit, but I need to pay extra attention to the left earbud to make sure it connects before closing the charging case to ensure that it actually receives any power.
You will also find a standard plastic USB-C charging cable tucked inside the box. It’s not remarkable, but will certainly get the job done.
The TWS800 are a mixed bag. While HiFiMAN has certainly nailed it when it comes to sound quality, they need to improve their touch controls dramatically to make them viable replacements to regular buttons. The TWS800’s accessory package is pretty thorough, so no complaints there. But at $300, I can’t help but feel that I shouldn’t have any major complaints at all, and unfortunately that simply isn’t the case.
If you don’t mind the fact that the TWS800 have awkward touch controls, their sound quality makes them one of the best in the category.
For more information: HiFiMan TWS800 Wireless IEMs
Where to buy: $299 at Amazon