GADGETS

Grell TWS / 1 adjustable in-ear headphones


You say, a new entrant in the right space for wireless headphones? Sure, it could be a pretty common occurrence these days, but this one – Grell Audio – comes with a pretty strong legacy. Its founder, Axel Grell, is well known in the headphone industry for his extensive work at Sennheiser on some of the company’s most prestigious products. TWS / 1 is his first solo product under the Grell brand. Accordingly, we are interested to see what a $ 200 wireless headset can do.

TWS / 1 has a modern look. Mostly the circular design is interrupted only by a small AirPod-like protrusion on each bud. Originally the plan was for the outer casing to be completely metal, but physics and radio waves meant that some concessions (plastic parts) were needed. All in all, they maintain a superior feel that is above that often found at this price. Visually, they remind me a bit of the Jabra Elite 75t, but a bit lower profile.

In terms of fit, this slightly more aerodynamic design means you don’t feel anything balancing in your ear, which can sometimes happen with more rounded models. As usual, they come with a charging case that promises four full TWS / 1 charges. The buds themselves offer about 6 hours per charge, which is true in my experience with ANC activated. Interestingly, the buds are located in the housing from right to left and vice versa. I’m not sure why that would be, but it takes a little recollection (you’ll be reminded soon because the buds don’t fit the other way around).

In the world of me-too products, it’s hard to stand out. The easiest difference is the price, then the sound quality and / or additional / premium features. It seems that Grell Audio tried to entertain all three, and I would say with general success.

That price puts TWS / 1 in an unusual category. Many premium brands land in the $ 250+ zone, while more affordable options, such as Google’s second-generation Pixel Buds or the aforementioned Jabra live in the $ 150 range. Budget options, south of $ 100, are also becoming more common. This, in turn, puts TWS / 1 on the switch between high-mid and low-premium. I would bet that this is completely intentional because the set of functions and the quality of workmanship distort the higher level, but the simple packaging and more affordable price indicate a larger audience.

James Trew / Engadget

When it comes to sound quality, things are a little clearer here. In my testing, I was generally satisfied with the default sound. It was maybe a little thinner for my personal preferences with low weight on the lower end for a typically commercial sound. But Grell has partnered with SoundID – a third-party app that adjusts selected headphone brands to your personal preferences / hearing.

We have already seen things like this, especially with Nura who takes this to a whole new level. SoundID is a little underrated in its approach. He still uses some form of hearing test, but instead of asking if you hear certain tones, he simply plays music to you and asks “which do you prefer, A or B”. When I finished this short test, the difference was night and day. With my personal profile activated (it switches to headphones so it applies no matter what you’re listening to), my usual mix of indie and rave nonsense from the mid-10s has come to life.

I prefer a dynamic range and stronger low and medium high frequencies. At least I guess I did because it was the biggest change in sound after the test ended and they were immediately much more comfortable for me. In the SoundID app, you can switch between the default sound and your own profile and that really makes a big difference. You do not know need app to get good sound, but I guess you’ll be more satisfied with what it gives you.

Coincidentally, SoundID is also where you will get software updates for TWS / 1. I had one during testing and it improved a few things, including touch controls that don’t react a bit. They still don’t read my 1: 1 taps, but it’s roughly on par with most other touch control headphones I’ve used. Before the update, it was much more frustrating (or maybe I just learned the technique?).

These controls cannot be configured by the user, so you are stuck with what Grell gives you. But, fortunately, that’s almost all you want and without too many complicated combinations of touch or movement. Swipe forward or backward on the left ear to skip songs, up or down on the right for volume, etc. I had problems with the playback / pause control on the right and the transparency mode on the left – both are more annoying if they are not activated immediately.

This brings us to smart (er) functions. As mentioned, TWS / 1 has Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency mode – both of which are becoming more standard. But there is also a mode of noise reduction (NAR). Grell explained to me during their first briefing on the announcement that the ANC is great for persistent lower frequency noise, but it doesn’t work so well for higher frequency interference (I mean, a baby crying on a plane). NAR is Grell’s own attempt to offer some reduction in these types of sounds.

Grell Audio TWS / 1.

James Trew / Engadget

In practice, it was difficult for me to determine the difference made by NAR. With ANC, it’s easy to hear the quiet rumble of the road outside my apartment as the volume decreases. It may not be the most powerful ANC I’ve heard, but it does its job. With NAR, whatever the ear equivalent of squinting, it turned out to be a little more vague. It seems to improve the listening experience a bit in combination with ANC, but it’s also hard to say how much of that I wanted to do. However, it is an interesting concept and I hope that Grell will continue to improve over time.

Other small benefits include “mono” mode (listening with only one bud). This is not as common as it should be in my opinion and adds more flexibility for those who want to maintain a certain spatial awareness without having to wear both buds. It is also obvious how some people prefer to handle their calls (relive 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 support it, the better? Or, at the very least, it’s a good advantage for those who have already invested in the world of wireless charging.

All in all, Grell has taken into account the price, characteristics and sound quality enough that the result is a promising first product of the emerging brand. That price, in particular, strikes a good balance between signaling premium ambitions without putting too much out of reach for mainstream casual people. I’d love to see some further advances in NAR technology and the controls could still respond better, but if you’re looking for a new set of genuine wireless headphones that can be tailored to your taste, this is a great place to start.

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Naveen Kumar

Friendly communicator. Music maven. Explorer. Pop culture trailblazer. Social media practitioner.

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