Sennheiser’s most legendary engineer, Axel Grell, has created his own company, and has partnered with Drop for an exclusive version of its first release, the TWS1X. A partnership with Drop, can this pair of wireless earphones deliver the exceptional sound quality we expect from the Grell name? Find out in our review!
- Current Price: $199 (Drop), $219 (Amazon)
- IEM type: Closed-back
- Drivers: Custom-designed 10 mm dynamic drivers
- Glass touchpad and touch-sensor operation
- Maximum SPL: 105 dB (1 kHz)
- Frequency response: 4 Hz – 22 kHz
- THD: < 0.06 % (1 kHz, 100 dB SPL)
- IPX4 splash-proof
- Noise-canceling: Psycho-acoustical Noise Annoyance Reduction (NAR)
- Microphones: Patent-pending Multilayer Turbulence Eliminator (MTE) microphone array
- Active noise-canceling: 2 microphones per side
- Microphones: Matched pairs, low noise
- Microphone frequency response: 100 Hz – 10 kHz
- Microphone pick-up pattern: Beamforming array
- Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.2
- Bluetooth codecs supported: SBC, AAC, aptX Adaptive, LHDC
- Playback time (Via AAC, ANC or Transparent Mode off): 5 hours
- Battery life (earphones and case combined, ANC off): 45 hours
- Wireless charging compatible
- Charging time (earphones from case): 1.5 hours
- Weight (per earbud): 0.3 oz (8 g)
- Weight (case): 2.3 oz (66 g)
Axel Grell may not be a name you’re familiar with, but if you consider yourself a fan of great headphones, you certainly should. Grell was a key designer behind some of Sennheiser’s most beloved headphones, including the HD600, HD650, and HD800. It’s no exaggeration to say that these headphones (including Drop’s versions of them, the HD6XX and HD8XX) have been instrumental in shaping many listener’s impressions of the brand and have been staple recommendations for new and growing audiophiles alike.
With the TWS1, Grell and team are aiming to deliver the same high caliber listening experience but targeting the modern, wireless listener. Here is how the company describes the goal of Grell Audio:
Unlike any of the designer’s earlier endeavours, however, grell audio seeks with its business model to lower the cost for the end-user, ushering in the future of high-res audio through a sales model tailored toward the spending habits of the digital age looking for opportunities to save money on high-end products without sacrificing quality for price. Sold directly through the company’s website and through an exclusive pre-order release on Drop.com, grell audio’s online-only sales model seeks to remove some of the economic barrier-to-entry for budding audiophiles, and to nurture the next generation of sound for tomorrow’s listener.
Drop + Grell TWS1X - First Impressions and Key Features
The Drop + Grell TWS1X is a bold pair of earbuds. Their circular faceplates are much bigger than most other earbuds and have small stems to direct the microphones toward your mouth. It’s an interesting and unique design choice that could easily have looked garish, but is low profile enough to avoid that. I rather like the look, but I suspect that it will be rather divisive as we look back over time.
That same boldness does not apply to the packaging, however. In fact, it’s remarkably simple. The TWS1X arrives in a simple cardboard box with a stickered label sealing it shut. Inside, you have a quick start guide and information booklet, the earbuds inside their case, and two smaller cardboard pockets holding a selection of foam and silicone eartips and wings. I like striking packaging, but I appreciate that Grell is embracing sustainability right off the bat.
The case is the first thing you’ll encounter and it gives a good first impression. It’s made of aluminum and feels very sturdy in the hand. Strong magnets hold the lid closed so it won’t pop open in your pocket or bag and another set hold them buds themselves securely on the charging pins. The slight bulk of the case is to house a larger battery. While the buds have a solid battery life of roughly 6 hours with ANC on (and close to 8 hours without), you can expect a bit over four full recharges from the case before you’ll need to plug in. It also supports Qi wireless charging if you’d rather use a charging pad.
The large circular face of the earbud is made of glass and is used for touch controls. Here, things get a little trickier. Instead of using simple tap and hold commands like most touch earbuds, these use tap, hold, and swipe commands. Tapping the right bud controls play and pause. Swiping up or down controls the volume and holding it for two seconds summons your virtual assistant. Tap the left bud once to enable transparency mode, swipe forward and back to navigate tracks. You can also hold the left bud for one second to enable ANC or hold it for three to turn on the Noise Annoyance Reduction (NAR) mode (more on that soon).
The problem is that these controls are far too easy to miss-press which leads to wrong commands frequently. A single tap isn’t the same thing as a gentle single press, which caused my commands to just not register far too often. Swapping between ANC and NAR is also problematic. More than once, I enabled NAR mode and wasn’t able to disable it and go back to normal ANC without closing the buds back in the case to completely power cycle them.
ANC and NAR are two of the key features of these earbuds. Active noise cancellation works exactly as you would expect, cutting out low droning noises. Noise Annoyance Reduction, on the other hand, targets higher noise frequencies, like voices, and attempts to remove them from your hearing. I was initially very excited about this mode, but in practice, it’s only a very minor improvement over ANC. The actual level of quiet doesn’t seem to be improved, just what makes its way through sounds slightly different.
Inside the shell, the earbuds feature a large 10mm dynamic driver with a wide frequency response of 4Hz to 22kHz. This is outside the realm of human hearing, but since distortion commonly occurs when a driver is pushed to its limits, this helps to ensure that what you are hearing is clean and distortion-free.
The TWS1X also offers IPX4 water resistance, making them safe for workouts, and promises clear calls with its patent-pending Multilayer Turbulence Eliminator microphone array.
Drop + Grell TWS1X - Fit and Comfort
Despite their odd shape, the TWS1X is surprisingly comfortable. The circular faces don’t press on the inner as it looks like they at first might. Instead, flipping them over, you find that they have very traditional, bud-like housings with short nozzles. Around the edge, a retention wing is fit, allowing it to secure firmly in the ear.
Like all earbuds, it’s important to find the tip that works for each ear. The TWS1X pairs the ear tips with silicone rings with different sizes and textures. I found that the larger blue rings that came pre-installed worked best for my ears, but between the three sizes of silicone tips (S/M/L), two pairs of foam tips (M/L), and three pairs of wingtips, you should be able to find a comfortable fit for your ear.
Even though a longer nozzle usually means the most secure fit, these earbuds balance depth and security exceptionally well. Once properly fit, they didn’t budge from my ears and stayed locked tight.
Drop + Grell TWS1X - Listening and Use Impressions
What really matters most is how it sounds, and that’s doubly true for earbuds leveraging the name of a famous headphone engineer. On that front, the TWS1X is a winner. These headphones sound very good and on pure sound quality contend with other popular sets, like the Momentum True Wireless 3 earbuds from Sennheiser, and even outmatch others, like the Jabra Elite Pro 7.
Out of the box, the TWS1X offers a very balanced sound. Bass is plentiful and makes songs sound full and rich. I was able to enjoy everything from heavy metal to hip hop to ambient electronica with these in sonic zen. It also comes through cleanly and presents itself tightly, so it doesn’t step on the mids or highs. Vocals are lush, and sound separation is very good. There isn’t a ton of shine in the treble, but enough to make songs sound crisp and never fatiguing.
Like the 1More Evo true wireless buds, the Grells use Sonarworks’ SoundID app. This app takes a novel approach to EQ and allows you to take a series of A-B listening tests to create a custom “soundID” that’s based entirely on the preferences you select. In my experience, it is hit or miss. With the 1More Evo buds, it did a good job of enhancing the sound in a way that was enjoyable. Here, I found that the stock tuning was much more balanced and enjoyable. By its very design, your mileage may vary.
So, they sound good… but unfortunately, they’re frustrating to use on a daily basis. The touch commands are just far too finicky that even the great sound quality can’t make up for it. The touch surfaces are so large (the entire circular face) that they’re easy to trigger by mistake. I regularly turned ANC on or off by accident just by adjusting them. You can carefully grab the buds around the edge to mitigate this but it still happens.
Worse, because there’s no wear detection, you’ll trigger commands just by holding the buds in your hands if you need to take them out. If you happen to hold the right earbud where it’s touching your hand for ten seconds or more, it will completely unpair them from your phone.
The difference between a tap and a press is also problematic. To reliably trigger a tap command, you can’t just touch the earbud. Instead, that touch must be very fast (180-320ms), which usually means literally tapping its face, sending that rather loud sound straight down your ear canal. The TWS1X is the only touch-controlled earbud that is so particular, and while not a deal-breaker on its own, is just one more issue on a growing list with these earbuds.
If those control issues weren’t enough, the buds also seemed to glitch out on several occasions and became completely unreliable. Some touch commands would register and others wouldn’t, even when carefully and deliberately tapped and held. Another commenter on the product page mentioned this could have to do with the order they’re taken out of the case, but is still an issue that shouldn’t be happening on a $200 pair of earbuds.
Even though they sound great, in this case, that’s not enough to make this a good recommendation in their current state. Grell has done a good job of releasing firmware updates, so they could be in time. For now, it’s best to wait a little longer.
The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes. Articles may include affiliate links from which we may earn a small commission to help support the site. Authors do not earn affiliate revenue or commissions.