Audio-Technica ATH-TWX9 earbuds review: Close to greatness
Audio-Technica ATH-TWX9 earbuds review: Close to greatness
Are these earbuds for audiophiles?
I cannot remember the last time I saw someone wearing wired headphones outside. For the past couple of years, true wireless earbuds have been the fastest-growing segment in the audio space. Just about everyone has one now, and almost every mobile brand has its own offering of true wireless earbuds. It’s remarkable how quickly it went from being this new-fangled piece of tech to becoming a ubiquitous part of many people’s lives. It’s become so essential that even traditional audio brands have to take them seriously. And today’s newest earbuds are the ATH-TWX9 which come from Audio-Technica, a Japanese company with over 60 years of experience in the audio business. This is the company's take on a premium high-end true wireless earbud with active noise cancellation. Let’s take a listen now, shall we?
The TL;DR version:
One of the finest-sounding earbuds available that have sadly been let down by mediocre ANC and below-average battery life.
The ATH-TWX9 is Audio-Technica’s flagship earbuds and were designed to do battle with the likes of Apple’s second-generation AirPods Pro, Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds 2, and Sony’s WF-1000XM4. And based on first impressions, it seems to have largely succeeded. Compared to its rivals, the ATH-TWX9 has the sleekest-looking and most premium-feeling charging case.
The charging case is trapezoidal and is covered in soft-touch rubber. The choice of using a soft-touch material is inspired because it makes the ATH-TWX9 feel plusher than its rivals’ plastic charging cases. It does, however, catch a lot of dust. It also stands out for having a five-level LED charging indicator on the front, which uses different colour LEDs to show the battery level of the earbuds and charging case. It can be confusing at first, but you’ll soon get the hang of it once you’ve consulted the manual a couple of times. The charging case can be recharged in two ways: USB-C and wireless charging.
However, there are some issues about the charging case worth mentioning. For one, its unusual shape means it's quite bulky and won’t slip into pockets as easily as, say, the AirPods Pro’s charging case. And on top of that, despite its fairly large size, it doesn’t actually hold much charge. Audio-Technica claims it’ll provide another two or so charges, which gives it a total runtime of around 18 hours – considerably less than its rivals.
The battery life of the earbuds is a little better. They are rated at up to 6 hours, which is comparable to its rivals. And in my tests, I found this rating to be fairly accurate. It could last around an entire day of work. However, I do recommend a charge midway into the day; otherwise, you might run out of juice on your way home.
The earbuds are only available in a single colour, which is a well-judged combination of black and dark copper. Looks are subjective, but I feel the ATH-TWX9 trumps its rivals in the looks department. These earbuds look classy. They are shaped somewhat like the AirPods Pro and have stocky and prominent stems.
On the stems are buttons, and on the sides of the earbuds are touch panels. You can use the two together to control the earbuds. You can control playback, change listening modes, check the battery levels, and, crucially, adjust the volume. With so much control over the earbuds, it can be confusing to use at first, but, again, it gets better over time once you start getting familiar with it and customising it with the Audio-Technica A-T Connect app.
The app itself is straightforward to use and gives users lots of control over the earbuds. Apart from customising the button and touch controls, you can also tweak the earbuds’ sound signature using the equaliser feature and switch between the earbuds’ various optimised ANC modes. And for those concerned about what codec it is connecting over, the app lets you see that information too. Speaking of which, the ATH-TWX9 supports the usual suspects, including SBC, AAC, regular aptX, and aptX Adaptive.
The wearing experience & sound quality
Getting a good fit is essential to any headphone listening experience, and the people at Audio-Technica clearly know this because the ATH-TWX9 comes with no less than 12 sets of ear tips of varying sizes and lengths. And once you find the right ear tip (in my case, it was medium length, large size), you’d find that it sits snugly and comfortably in your ears. I could wear it for hours with no issue. Passive noise isolation was also quite good.
Turning on active noise cancellation helped to significantly drown out unwanted noises. I took these on my recent trip to WWDC 2023, and they were quite effective on the flight. However, I also took the AirPods Pro with me, and it was clear that the AirPods Pro had better active noise cancellation. Overall, the ATH-TWX9’s ANC feature was decent, but it’s quite clearly not as effective as Apple’s, Bose’s, or Sony’s. Likewise, the hear-through feature, though also pretty convincing, doesn’t sound quite as realistic either, and I’m not sure if I could trust it entirely.
And as I was poring over the specs sheet of the ATH-TWX9, one thing that struck me was the size of the drivers. Audio-Technica says they are 5.8mm large, which must make them one of the smallest in any earbud. Now, I’m on the record for saying size doesn’t matter as much in an earbud or IEM because it’s literally sitting just millimetres from your eardrums, but that’s still unusually small.
Nevertheless, despite the unusually small drivers, the sound is nothing short of sublime. Readers familiar with Audio-Technica’s high-end offerings will likely find the ATH-TWX9’s sonic qualities familiar. The sound is lively and dynamic, with very smooth mids and an airy but well-controlled treble. Well-recorded vocals sound intimate, and there’s a naturalness to the clarity of its sound – that it's not coming merely from an artificially boosted treble. The sound stage is also fairly wide, and the imaging is strong and precise. If it has any weakness, it’s that it could use just a tad more bass energy. Fortunately, this can be easily mitigated by playing around with the EQ settings.
Another thing worth mentioning is that the ATH-TWX9 supports multipoint connection, and it can connect to two devices simultaneously. Switching between devices was quick and seamless.
There’s no question that Audio-Technica is a fine set of true wireless earbuds. However, it prioritises sound quality over features like active noise cancellation and transparency mode. And with that in mind, I consider its rivals to be better all-rounders and perhaps better suited to most people. Particularly when you factor in its high asking price of S$398. It’s dearer than all its rivals – though not by a great deal.
But if the way an earbud sounds is more important than how much sound it can block out, then the ATH-TWX9 is probably the one for you because it sounds noticeably more refined than either the AirPods Pro, QuietComfort Earbuds II, or WF-1000XM4. There’s a richness and clarity to the way it sounds that lets it stand out from the pack.
That said, I can’t help but feel that Audio-Technica was just a few steps away from crafting a masterpiece. Battery life is below average, and if only the ANC were more effective, then they could have probably created one of the finest true wireless earbuds money could buy. As it is, it’s a missed opportunity. Still, these earbuds are highly recommended for readers who prioritise sound quality and music listening over everything else.