Newbie to true wireless headphones, you say? Sure, that may be a fairly common occurrence these days, but this – Bright audio – comes with a pretty strong legacy. Founder Axel Grell is known in the headphone industry for his extensive work at Sennheiser on some of the company’s most prestigious products. the TWS / 1 is his first solo product under the Grell brand. Accordingly, we’re excited to see what the $ 200 wireless buds can do.
The TWS / 1 has a modern look. The mostly circular design is only interrupted by a small, AirPod-like protuberance on each bud. The original plan was to have the outer case made entirely of metal, but physics and radio waves required some concessions (plastic parts). Overall, they have a top notch feel that is way above what is often found here price Point. Visually, they remind me a little of them Jabra Elite 75t, but slightly lower profile.
In terms of fit, this slightly more streamlined design means you won’t feel like something is balanced in your ear, which can sometimes happen to more round models. As usual, they are supplied with a charging case that promises four full loads of the TWS / 1. The buds themselves provide around 6 hours per charge, which in my experience is true with ANC enabled. Oddly enough, the buds are placed in the envelope with the right to the left, and vice versa. I’m not sure why that should be this way, but it does take some memory (you’ll be reminded of this soon as the buds don’t fit the other way around).
In a world of me-too products, it’s hard to get noticed. The simplest differentiator is the price, then the sound quality and / or additional / premium features. It appears that Grell Audio has tried to address all three, and with general success, I would say.
The price puts the TWS / 1 in an unusual category. Many premium brands end up in the $ 250+ zone, while cheaper options like the second generation from Google Pixelbuds or the jabras mentioned above live in the $ 150 range. Budget options, south of $ 100, are also becoming more common. This then adjusts the TWS / 1 at the overlap between high-mid and low-premium. I’d bet this is entirely by design as the feature set and build quality skew the top end, but the barebones packaging and lower price point suggests a more mainstream audience.
James Trew / Engadget
As for the sound quality, things are a little clearer here. In my tests, I was generally happy with the standard sound. It was maybe a little thinner for my personal preference with a light weight on the lower end for a typically commercial sound. However, Grell has teamed up with SoundID – a third-party app that tailors selected brands of headphones to your personal preferences / hearing.
We’ve seen things like this before, especially with Nura, who takes this to a whole new level. SoundID is a little more cautious in its approach. It still uses some sort of hearing test, but instead of asking if you can hear certain tones, it just plays you some music and asks “which one do you prefer, A or B”. After completing this brief test, the difference was night and day. With my personal profile enabled (it uploads to the headphones so it applies regardless of what you hear) my usual mix of mid-10s indie and rave nonsense came alive.
I have a slight preference for dynamic range and more powerful low and medium to high frequencies. At least that’s what I suspect I do because that was the biggest change in sound after completing the test, and I immediately found it much more pleasant. In the SoundID app, you can switch between the default sound and your own profile and it really makes a huge difference. You don’t need the app to get good sound, but I expect you will be more satisfied with what it offers you.
Coincidentally, you will also receive software updates for the TWS / 1 from SoundID. I had one during my testing and it improved a few things including the slightly unresponsive touch controls. You still don’t read my taps 1: 1, but it’s about on par with most of the other touch control buds I’ve used. Before the update, it was much more frustrating (or maybe I just learned the technique?).
These controls are not user configurable, so you stick with what Grell gives you. Fortunately, that’s pretty much anything you could want without too many complicated typing or gesture combinations. Swiping forwards or backwards with your left ear skips tracks, moves it up or down to the right to increase the volume, etc. It was the individual taps that I had issues with controlling play / pause right and transparency mode left – both of which are more annoying if it is not activated immediately.
This brings us to smart (er) features. As already mentioned, the TWS / 1 has active noise cancellation and a transparency mode – both are becoming more and more standard. But there is also a Noise Annoyance Reduction (NAR) mode. Grell explained to me during her first announcement briefing that ANC is great for low-frequency sustained noise, but not so good for higher-frequency nuisance (think of a crying baby on a plane). NAR is Grell’s own attempt to reduce this type of noise a little.
James Trew / Engadget
In practice, I found it difficult to determine the difference NAR makes. With ANC, it’s easy to hear the quiet rumble of the street decreasing in volume outside of my apartment. It may not be the strongest ANC I’ve heard, but it does its job. With NAR, the equivalent of squinting in the ear turned out to be somewhat more vague. It seems to improve the listening experience a bit when combined with ANC, but it’s also hard to say how much of it I was ready. It’s an interesting concept, however, and I hope Grell can keep improving over time.
Other small advantages are a “mono” mode (listening with just one bud). This is not as common as it should be in my opinion and offers more flexibility for those who want to maintain some spatial awareness without having to wear both buds. It’s also obvious how some people prefer their calls too (remembering the days of bluetooth headsets).
Another small added bonus is the “compatibility” of wireless charging. It’s not something I could test, but the more things that support it, the better? Or at least a nice perk for those who have already invested in the world of wireless charging.
All in all, Grell has taken the price, features and sound quality sufficiently into account, so that the result is a promising first product from an up-and-coming brand. The price point in particular strikes a good balance between signaling premium ambitions without taking it too far out of reach for mainstream casuals. I’d love to see some more advances in NAR technology and the controls could be even more responsive, but if you’re looking for a new set of true wireless headphones that can be customized to suit your tastes, this is a great place to start.
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