Friday March 01, 2024


Audio-Technica ATH-TWX7 review: Good earbuds with frustrating flaws
  Posted by: Engadget on Jan 24th, 2024 4:00 PM

I’ve come to expect certain things from Audio-Technica earbuds and headphones. First, there’s the company’s warm, soothing sound profile that’s easy to listen to for hours at a time. It’s usually good, but not necessarily great, though the company typically combines it with a solid overall experience thanks to features and performance. That all holds true on the ATH-TWX7: a $199 set of wireless earbuds with active noise cancellation (ANC) and a host of handy tools that rival more expensive competitors. Some work better than others, but the company has done well over the years to expand its capabilities, even though the ATH-TWX7 lacks one basic item.

Design

Despite their stickbud appearance, the ATH-TWX7 looks more refined than most similarly-priced earbuds. Audio-Technica opted for a mix of black and silver (or white/silver or gray/silver) that makes the earbuds look similar to high-end headphones. The main housing is quite small, which translated to a more comfortable fit in my ears. The case also has a unique teardrop shape that allows the earbuds to sit at an angle rather than standing up or laying completely flat while charging. There’s no real benefit here, but it is a departure from the norm worth pointing out.

Audio-Technica did something for the onboard controls on the ATH-TWX7 that’s rare in earbuds. It uses both touch and physical buttons for playback, calls, sound modes and to summon a voice assistant. Typically you see this on headphones where the playback controls are touch and the noise cancellation and transparency modes are assigned to a button, but I don’t recall seeing both on earbuds like this before. Granted, I’ve been reviewing audio gear for several years at this point, so I hesitate to proclaim Audio-Technica as the “first” to do so.

To help you find the ideal fit, Audio-Technica includes two different types of ear tips. One is labeled “soft,” and it’s designed to be more comfortable, while the standard option is meant to offer a more secure fit. I expected the “soft” version to be foam, or at least partially foam, but they’re almost identical. One is slightly thinner, but they both seem to be the same silicone material you see in most earbuds, and neither really feels softer than the other.

The last thing I’ll point out in terms of the ATH-TWX7’s design is its ingress protection (IP) rating. These are only rated IPX4 against water splashes and they’re not built to withstand spray jets or submersion. That’s probably enough for workouts, and while it’s about average for mid-range earbuds, slightly more expensive models venture into IPX7 territory.

Software and features

Audio-Technica app
Photo by Billy Steele/Engadget

When I reviewed the ATH-CKS5TW earbuds in late 2019, Audio-Technica’s app was so limited there was really no reason to ever fire it up. Unless it was to install a firmware update, it didn’t offer anything useful and even the onboard control customization was restricted. I’m happy to report that’s no longer the case as the A-T Connect software now offers a much more robust list of settings and reconfigurable tools than before.

The app's home screen is devoted to options for changing the music codec, EQ and sound mode, as well as showing the battery life for each earbud. Tapping the image of the ATH-TWX7 takes you into the detailed settings, divided into Audio and System sections. All of this is standard fare with access to everything the onboard controls offer in the app, including the ability to remap the touch and physical buttons as you wish. But despite letting you set an automatic power off timer when there’s no audio, the ATH-TWX7 doesn’t have automatic pausing when you take them out of your ears. That’s a big omission in 2024 when almost every set of wireless earbuds does this.

I will point out a couple of things that are pretty novel. First, under the Call Microphone settings, Audio-Technica goes a step further with an in-app call test so you can hear what you’ll sound like before you dial. This is in addition to features like Natural Mode for quiet locations or Noise-Reduction Mode for windy or loud environments. The latter isn’t very original, but will still come in handy. You can disable the touch controls and just rely on the tiny physical buttons on the earbuds. What is a bit innovative is the ability to tweak the sensitivity of those panels, set to medium by default with low and high options if you need ‘em.

The inclusion of both touch and physical buttons gives you a lot of flexibility in terms of how you set those up. Everything on the ATH-TWX7 is reconfigurable, which means you can move things from the buttons to the touch panels and vice versa, or add things that aren’t there by default. In addition to options for playback, calls, voice assistant and noise cancellation settings, you can add Talk-Through, Low Latency Mode and Check Battery Level. Audio-Technica didn’t reinvent the wheel in terms of what these earbuds can do, but the greater customization gives you way more options for assigning tasks in a way that makes the most sense for you.

Sound quality and noise cancellation

There’s plenty to like about the ATH-TWX7, including a robust set of features that brings a lot of convenience to your day. It offers  solid sound quality and ANC, though a few of those tools could still use some fine-tuning.
Photo by Billy Steele/Engadget

Nearly every set of Audio-Technica earbuds and headphones I’ve ever tested has a similar sound profile. It’s a warm, inviting tone that’s pleasant to listen to for hours on end, mostly because the dynamics aren’t exhausting. The ATH-TWX7 is more of the same, for better or worse, with some exceptions.

Softer, acoustic-driven styles are excellent, with crisp details in drums and guitars that lend texture to tracks like Zach Bryan’s “Heavy Eyes” and Charles Wesley Godwin’s “Family Ties.” The ATH-TWX7 also does well with jazz and synth-heavy pop, rock and instrumental tunes. Hip-hop is nice as well, but the earbuds start to struggle with hard rock, metal and more chaotic, bombastic genres. Better Lovers’ “30 Under 13” is still the gritty, raucous hardcore I know and love, but everything sounds flat and has less energy than on other earbuds. The sound on this album and other metal selections like Gojira’s Fortitude is more compressed than with other genres, with less space for everything to open up – especially guitars that typically soar around in your head.

Like a lot of ANC earbuds, the active noise cancellation on the ATH-TWX7 does well with constant noise, but struggles with things like human voices. This model had no trouble combatting the roar of the noisy heating unit in my Las Vegas hotel during CES, and the same goes for white noise machines and fans at home. It’s not Bose-level sound blocking, but it’s definitely above average.

Sound quality in Hear-Through or transparency mode is also quite good. There’s a nice, natural element to it that doesn’t seem as compressed or muted as some of the competition. However, the ATH-TWX7 doesn’t pipe in your voice like the AirPods Pro, so the overall effect isn’t as if you aren’t wearing earbuds at all. I assumed the Talk-Through feature would assist with this, but instead that tool simply lowers the volume or mutes content. Confusingly, despite offering two options to let in your surrounding sound, this tool doesn’t let you simply pause. It’s Hear-Through adjacent rather than a truly helpful setting for a quick chat. Because your voice isn’t beamed back to your ears, you’ll still feel the need to speak up, which means you’re more likely to get shouty if you aren’t careful.

Call quality

Props to Audio-Technica for the easiest way to check call performance ever on the ATH-TWX7. Thanks to that in-app call test, you can get an idea of how you’ll sound before answering or dialing in, which is way better than hoping you sound okay to your caller. I also found this helpful in assessing which setting worked best for where I was at the time, even if I was at home.

Noise-Reduction Mode lives up to its name, but it also sacrifices some voice quality. Natural mode sounds the best, but it picks up background noise easily. If you’re in a quiet spot though, the ATH-TWX7 gives you above-average voice performance that’s noticeably clearer than the typical speakerphone-like quality most earbuds offer.

The ATH-TWX7 also seems to struggle a bit with automatic switching via multipoint Bluetooth, but only when it comes to calls. If I was hopping from my phone to my laptop for music or some other audio, the changeover was quick and seamless. However, if I was listening to something on my MacBook Pro and got a call, there were a few times the earbuds had trouble swapping over to it. Since this is the most likely scenario in which I’d need that auto switching, this was disappointing. Best case scenario was for me to tap to change the audio from my iPhone to the ATH-TWX7 after answering, but that’s not really an ideal workflow.

Battery life

There’s plenty to like about the ATH-TWX7, including a robust set of features that brings a lot of convenience to your day. It offers  solid sound quality and ANC, though a few of those tools could still use some fine-tuning.
Photo by Billy Steele/Engadget

Audio-Technica promised up to 6.5 hours on the earbuds themselves with two additional charges in the case. It doesn’t specify if that’s with ANC on or off, but during my tests I had no trouble hitting the stated figure while blocking background noise. That’s doing a mix of music and calls, with the occasional few minutes of Hear-Through mode and leaving the ATH-TWX7 to automatically turn off twice. I could reliably eke out 30 minutes more than the company claimed, and a few minutes extra is always a good thing.

The competition

In the $200 price range, an apt comparison for the ATH-TWX7 are Sony’s LinkBuds S. An honorable mention on our best wireless earbuds list, these have similar battery life and the same IPX4 rating, but are more comfortable to wear and have some trademark Sony features. Those include support for DSEE Extreme upscaling in addition to Quick Attention Mode that’s handy for quick chats in the office, coffee shop or airport. What’s more, the LinkBuds S can automatically pause when you speak and an adaptive sound mode can be configured to change settings based on activity or location. Plus, they’re available for $200 at full price.

iPhone owners will be more satisfied with the second-gen AirPods Pro over the ATH-TWX7. Currently available for under $200, the 2022 version of the earbuds are the best option if your life is intertwined with iOS, iPadOS and macOS. New features like Adaptive Audio bring automatic adjustments to your day and Apple’s take on transparency mode continues to be the best in the business. Lastly, they’re more comfortable for a longer period of time than the ATH-TWX7.

Wrap-up

There’s plenty to like about the ATH-TWX7. A robust set of features brings a lot of convenience to your day. But a few of those tools could still use some fine-tuning and the lack of automatic pausing in 2024 is a head scratcher. Still, the audio is mostly good, albeit inconsistent at times, and transparency mode is better than most. Add in the solid call quality and the in-app voice test and the ATH-TWX7 are a worthy consideration, especially at this price. Too bad it falls short of being a more complete package some of the competition offers for a slightly larger investment.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/audio-technica-ath-twx7-review-good-earbuds-with-frustrating-flaws-160054450.html?src=rss

See Original Article At Engadget



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