Grell Audio TWS/1 Review
Axel Grell is no rookie. Nevertheless, the first product to bear his name is profoundly impressive in many respects. More please.
- Poised, muscular and detailed sound
- Impressive spec, with battery life a highlight
- Built and finished to a high standard
- App could be more comprehensive
- ANC is ‘good’ rather than ‘great’
- Level of competition is feral
- UKRRP: £179.99
- USARRP: $199.99
- EuropeRRP: €199.99
The Grell Audio TWS/1 are on sale now, and in the UK are priced at £179. In the US they sell for $199, while in Australia they cost about AU$299.
This puts the Grell in direct competition with a stack of decent alternatives from very credible brands. In fact, this sort of money will buy you true wireless winners from Bose, Sennheiser, Sony… and – if you absolutely must – this is Apple AirPods Pro territory, too. It’s difficult to see how Grell could have made things any harder for itself, really.
- Noise Annoyance Reduction (NAR)Modulates the earbuds’ ability to block out sounds across the frequency spectrum
- SoundID Creates a sound profile based on listener’s preferences
Axel Grell is one of ‘those’ names when it comes to technology such as this. Those who know of him are aware of his long and illustrious career as a prime mover and shaker in the world of headphones (particularly during his lengthy stint at Sennheiser), and venerate him accordingly.
Some of us might vaguely have heard of him when the biggest headphone hitters are mentioned, and some of us are reading his name for the first time right here.
Which means the launch of the first product by his eponymous brand (stylised ‘grell’, as if he were e e cummings or something) will be met with great excitement by the first group, mild excitement by the second and, I’d imagine, relative indifference by the third – who might imagine the TWS/1 are ‘just another’ pair of true wireless in-ear headphones.
And to be fair, the world is far from short of true wireless headphones at this sort of money – it’s just that most of them are by brands with a little more profile than this. So do the Grell Audio TWS/1 have what it takes to bring the company to greater attention?
- Aluminium charging case
- A variation on the ‘dangly stem’ design
- Easy to position comfortably
You only get one chance to make a first impression, so they say, and it’s safe to say the Grell Audio TWS/1 grab it. The ‘Space Grey’ aluminium charging case looks and feels good, and when you flip up the sturdily hinged lid, the earbuds themselves look pretty decent, too.
Space Grey as far as the buds are concerned means ‘mostly black with some space grey accents’, and the overall package looks and feels nicely premium. The right earbud fits into the left-hand half of the charging case and vice-versa, which is mildly weird, but otherwise we’re off to a very good start.
The TWS/1 are from the ‘dangly stem’ school of true wireless earbud design, but the ‘earbud’ is basically circular when viewed from straight ahead, while the ‘stem’ is much shorter than most. Which makes the TWS/1 look like little audio frying-pans.
Each earbud weighs 7.3g – which means they’re far from the lightest earbuds around. However, the carefully ergonomic shape of the buds, along with the wide selection of silicone and foam eartips that Grell Audio provides in the eco-friendly, unbleached cardboard packaging, means they’re not remotely troublesome to fit and wear comfortably.
- Bluetooth 5.2 with AAC, LHDC and aptX Adaptive support
- 10mm dynamic drivers
- 34 – 45 hours of battery life
If you had any doubts over Grell Audio’ seriousness, a quick look at the TWS/1 feature-count will dispel them. These are thoroughly and thoughtfully specified true wireless earbuds.
Wireless connectivity is via Bluetooth 5.2, with codec support for SBC, AAC, aptX Adaptive and LHDC. The TWS/1 use custom-designed 10mm dynamic drivers to deliver sound, and they can do so for a total of 34 hours with active-noise cancellation switched on, or near-45 hours with it switched off. The buds hold between six and eight hours of power (depending on ANC), while there are a minimum of four full charges in the case.
The case can be charged either via its USB-C socket or any Qi-certified wireless charging pad. Grell Audio is claiming reliable wireless connection over a distance of 50 metres, and the earbuds are IPX4-rated against moisture.
As well as active noise-cancellation circuitry, the TWS/1 also feature a system rather charmingly called ‘Noise Annoyance Reduction’. NAR functions on the assumption that ANC acts most effectively on lower-frequency sound, which can have the effect of accentuating mid- and high-frequency sound. NAR scans the frequency spectrum and adapts the ANC to keep noise ‘annoyance’ to a minimum.
Control is available either via voice assistant (the TWS/1 are compatible with Bixby and Cortana, as well as the considerably more obvious Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri), or using the capacitive touch-surface on each earbud. This way, play/pause, volume up/down, answer/end/reject call, ANC on/off, NAR on/off, skip forwards/backwards and Transparency on/off are all available. It’s thorough, but in truth it isn’t the most responsive or reliable touch-control system I’ve ever encountered.
The TWS/1 are compatible with the third-party SoundID app, too. It offers quite a degree of EQ adjustment, including the opportunity to create a bespoke EQ using a hearing test. It’s also where you’ll be notified of firmware updates and the like. There’s no facility to adjust the level of noise-cancelling, though – your choice is a binary ‘on’ or ‘off’.
Really, about the only feature the Grell Audio could conceivably benefit from that they don’t already have is accelerometers – the TWS/1 will blithely continue playing if you take them out of your ears. But in every other respect, they’re specified to compete.
- Expansive, focused and information-rich sound
- Plenty of energy and dynamic headroom
- Sound consistent with ANC on or off
In an ideal world, true wireless earbuds sound the same no matter if their active noise-cancelling is switched ‘on’ or ‘off’. And that active noise-cancelling will act effectively and decisively on all external sounds. But this, as is surely obvious to even the most casual observer, is not an ideal world.
So while the TWS/1 manage to sound consistent regardless of whether noise-cancelling is engaged or not, the noise-cancelling itself isn’t the last word in, um, noise-cancellation. Oh, the Grell can reduce ambient sound a fair bit – but when compared to the acknowledged leaders in this area (Bose and Sony, predominantly), they’re found slightly wanting. ‘Noise Annoyance Reduction’ is a laudable ambition, but in practice the best it can manage is to modulate ‘annoyance’ to something a bit milder, such as ‘vexation’.
As far as sound goes, though, the TWS/1 deserve less criticism. A Tidal stream of Buzzcocks’ Noise Annoys (see what I did there?) is delivered in fine and vigorous style, on a big and well-defined soundstage. Tonally it’s even and convincing, from the impressive depth of the lowest frequencies to the crisply substantial top end – and the mid-range is lavishly informative, and packed with detail and character.
The Grell offer real insight into the recording, with each instrumental strand given due prominence and made simple to follow, even as the earbuds integrate the separate elements into a convincing whole. There’s plenty of energy and animation to the performance, as well as dynamic expressiveness and control.
Switching to an MQA-powered ‘Masters’ file of The Good, The Bad & The Queen’s History Song allows the TWS/1 to demonstrate their ability to generate and control super-deep bass frequencies without sacrificing any rhythmic certainty or basic momentum. The ample weight and punch of the recording doesn’t impact on the action happening above it, but it underpins the tune like the foundations of a tower block.
It doesn’t really matter what you want to listen to, the TWS/1 will give you the full and uncoloured picture. They’re as muscular or as tender as the music requires, and always insightful and engaging. Which means that unless your priority is to deal with external sounds, they’re fully deserving of your consideration.
Should you buy it?
You enjoy robust, explicit sound quality The TWS/1 are very accomplished in sonic terms.
You’re expecting a complete lack of noise-annoyance The TWS/1 aren’t bad at noise-cancelling, but they’re far from the best around.
We didn’t expect Axel Grell to put his name on just any old product, and sure enough the TWS/1 get close enough to the bull’s-eye for us to be excited about what comes next.
How we test
We test every headphones we review thoroughly over an extended period of time. We use industry standard tests to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever, accept money to review a product.
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Tested over a few weeks
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The TWS/1 blocks out noise in the high mid and high frequency range though its passive design. For dealing with low frequency range there is ANC but using noise cancellation can result in making higher frequencies more audible. The Noise Annoyance Reduction technology scans the noise spectrum and controls the ANC to reduce this effect.