TFZ Exclusive 5 Review – Sound like Salted Caramel
TFZ pioneered a truly revolutionary dynamic driver formula with their recently released King, a $100 earphone that held a notable advantage over many other iems I tested within a similar price range. However, though the King is an immensely impressive earphone, its aggressive mid-forward tones are certainly not for everyone nor are their large housings and bright blue colour scheme (though TFZ has since released a gunmetal variant).
TFZ has made an intelligent move here, by filtering this cutting edge technology down into their lower end models, creating an entire lineup of competitive earphones at various important price points. And perhaps the most sought after is the Exclusive 5, sitting a step below the King, the 5 sports an enticing full-metal build and a more universally pleasing v-shaped tonality based on the same driver tech as the King. Let’s see whether the Exclusive 5 is the King alternative everyone has hoped it would be.
I would like to thank Chi Kong Hui from Penon Audio very much for his quick communication and for providing me with the Exclusive 5 for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the earphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.
The entire exclusive series has essentially the same packaging though I have few complaints since TFZ provide a nice simple unboxing with a comprehensive set of accessories.
The Exclusive earphones come in a tall box with the TFZ branding embossed in silver print.
Inside sits the earphones within a moulded tray with the accessories below. TFZ include a soft pouch with every earphone in addition to a range of ear tips, 3 pairs of wide bore tips, 3 pairs of small bore tips, a pair of dual flange tips and a pair of foams.
The Exclusive 5 has one of the best constructions I’ve encountered at any price. Sure, they’re not as striking as the Campfire Audio earphones, but their all metal build is similarly solid and their fine brushed finish and embossed print very much exceed their asking price. The Exclusive 5 is available in silver, black and blue, I was highly impressed by the raw silver colour that I received which allows the natural texture of the metal housings to shine through.
As aforementioned, the Exclusive 5 boasts a 2-piece metal build though the housings feel appreciably denser than regular aluminium earphones like the K3 Pro. Although TFZ don’t state the exact housing material, the Exclusive 5’s are likely constructed from stainless steel or brass due to their very high weight. Further compounding upon this impression of solidity is the earphone’s finish; both earpieces were perfectly formed with a very consistent brushed texture that provides some lustre without coming off as gaudy. The two halves of the shell were very well joined with very minimal seam and only a slight difference in the direction of the brushed finish.
I also didn’t notice any scuffing or scratching of the brushed finish during my month of testing which bodes well for their resistance to long term wear. The outer faces are also tastefully designed with embossed exclusive text and a laser etched model numbers granting the earphones with a more industrial look. In silver, the earphones are eye catching in the best possible way, their build easily bests some earphones costing many times more, I really can’t praise the exclusive 5’s build more.
Ergonomically, the Exclusive 5’s are a medium sized earphone that don’t disappear in the ear but find great comfort with their smooth, ergonomic styling. And despite their weight, they are small enough to maintain comfort during longer listening sessions and avoid forming hotspots. I didn’t struggle to find a strong seal though some driver flex was evident and they do protrude a tad too much for perfectly comfortable wear whilst sleeping (though considerably less than the King and Kinera H3). This comfort is aided by their well-angled nozzles of medium length and bore size, accepting a wide range of aftermarket ear tips. The nozzles are also integrated into the inner face rather than glued on like the Magaosi K3 Pro which insinuates greater longevity.
But despite their over-ear fit, the Exclusive 5 isn’t the most stable fitting earphone due to its heavy weight and slightly smaller size which permits some movement within the ear, eventually working them free. As such, they weren’t usable running or other vigorous activity but they did stay put fine during general commute and home listening. In addition, the Exclusive 5 is a vented earphone with an obvious opening on the front face and a smaller port on the inner face. Isolation is above average but considerably worse than the fully sealed King; they are not ideal for noisier areas and definitely not for air travel however, their bassier sound does somewhat offset their reduced ambient noise reduction.
And like every other TFZ Exclusive earphone, the 5 utilizes a non-recessed 0.78mm 2-pin removable cable that was reliable during extended testing. The connectors are slim and low profile, exiting the earphones at a comfortable angle. The pre-moulded cable guides are not obtrusive but provide absolutely no support as they are incorrectly angled. In culmination with the 5’s heavy housings, this only exacerbated their unstable fit. That being said, the rest of the cable is very good, TFZ are using a smooth, braided silver plated copper cable that is super supple and well resists tangles, better than the stiffer unit on the King in fact. The cable is also well designed in terms of durability with outstanding strain relief on both the plug and y-split. Unfortunately, the plug isn’t case friendly, I had to remove the case from my X7 and HTC 10 in order to achieve a reliable connection.
The TFZ Exclusive 5 is another earphone that demonstrates that a simple, well-done driver setup can provide some stunning results and at a reasonable price to boot. The 5 implements a single dynamic driver with the same dual circuit graphene diaphragm as the King. However, one would not postulate, given the Exclusive 5’s smaller 9mm driver as opposed to the 12mm driver in the King, that the Exclusive is actually the more vibrant, dynamic earphone and not just of the two but in general. Where the King was all about balance and high-frequency detail, the Exclusive 5 rewards listeners with a super clear, engaging listen that is still very technically impressive.
The Exclusive 5 is a V-shaped earphone with a powerful sub-bass response followed by a mild treble boost and a more recessed midrange. They are a great departure to the TFZ King with essentially the opposite tonality though their tuning and presentation are similar in that both earphones carry a similarly clear, resolving sound with a more aggressive detail presentation. The Exclusive 5 is also more v-shaped than the Kinera H3, it is similar to the K3 Pro with more sub-bass emphasis and less mid-bass bloat. The Exclusive 5 also has a more coherent treble response than the Magaosi though they don’t resolve quite as well as the updated but more expensive K3 HD.
Soundstage, Imaging and Separation –
With their slightly recessed midrange, the Exclusive 5 produces a nice presentation with abundant space and separation though imaging does suffer slightly on behalf of their more sculpted tuning. Unlike a lot of earphones, the 5 is more depth biased, with expansive vocals and instruments and above average width that never causes compression. They aren’t a huge sounding earphone, but their clear tuning can create a convincing sense of space when the track calls for it. In addition, the exclusive 5 has excellent separation, they are actually more separated than the more mid-forward King and Kinera H3 though they don’t sound as clean as the Basic. Imaging isn’t bad on the when compared to the competition around this price but they clearly lack the speed and precision of the King and their slightly more incoherent high-frequency response does compromise placement in a lot of instances.
The Exclusive 5 is an efficient earphone with a sensitivity of 107dB and a lower 24ohm impedance. While it isn’t quite as efficient from lower powered sources as the King, the Exclusive 5 is appreciably easier to drive than the K3 HD/Pro and Kinera H3. Being a single dynamic driver earphone, the Exclusive 5 doesn’t experience any impedance swing from higher output impedance sources, sounding tonally identical from my HTC 10, Laptop and Fiio X7 II. The Fiio X7 II did provide a notable improvement with regards to bass tightness and sub-bass control though treble didn’t become notably more coherent than the HTC. They don’t respond exceptionally to amplification since they are very sensitive but if you are hiss sensitive, the Exclusive 5 can relatively easily discern hiss from noisier sources.
The Exclusive 5 has a notably emphasized bass response when compared to the King, they even outstrip the Kinera H3 and Magaosi K3 HD in terms of outright quantity. However, the 5 retains much of the quality provided by the King and their style of bass emphasis is far more tasteful than the more bloated K3 HD and Simgot EN700 Bass. The majority of the Exclusive 5’s emphasis lies within sub-bass with a little extra mid and upper bass imbuing their low end with a sense of richness without encroaching on their lower midrange. And where a lot of similarly priced in-ears struggle with sub-bass extension, the 5’s easily matches the King and H3, even giving the Oriveti Basic a run for their money in terms of overall bass slam. For electronic, rock and pop, the 5 provides a tight but super solid thump to sub-bass notes with a lively mid-bass response that never comes across as tubby or boxy. They have a very clean sound, again, not dissimilar to the Basic which is a great thing in my books. While they don’t possess the low-end warmth of the H3 and K3 HD due to a relative dip in upper bass fullness, the 5 is rich, lush and achieves separation that these earphones don’t glimpse.
Of course, due to their emphasis, some muddiness and bloat is apparent, though their more restrained mid-bass and more even integration with sub-bass provides an appreciably more nuanced and textured bass response to the Magaosi and Simgot earphones. Bass probably takes the biggest resolution hit from the King, their additional quantity also coming with a layer of dampening that saps them of some bass definition. They also lack the excellent speed of the King; when listening to faster rock songs, metal and electronic, the 5 could get a bit lost where the King rarely ran into an issue. That being said, I still found bass generally more revealing on the Exclusive 5 than the Simgot EN700 Bass, K3 Pro and lower TFZ Exclusive earphones. But while the exemplary Kinera H3 is appreciably more textured and the King has clearer, more immediate bass details, the Exclusive 5 is easily the most dynamic and engaging of the bunch. If you’re looking for outright bass slam and thump without sacrificing too much bass quality, the Exclusive 5 provides a more aggressive alternative to the Oriveti Basic.
Being a clearly v-shaped earphone, midrange details can and often do come across as slightly distant and recessed though they retain a lot of the exquisite clarity and resolution carried by the more expensive King. As such, the Exclusive 5, like the Magaosi K3 HD, tends to draw attention towards midrange elements through their clear, more aggressive tuning, providing a skewed sound but one that has greater perceived balance than their V-shaped description would suggest. And it’s no surprise that the Exclusive 5 has a slightly brighter tonal tilt with somewhat recessed lower mids leading into a more present but smoother upper midrange. It’s a really enjoyable, insightful presentation that many listeners will love. If you’re a big jazz and vocal listener, a warmer, more natural earphone like the Kinera H3 or Simgot EN700 Bass will likely suit you better, but the Exclusive 5 is so delightfully dynamic, engaging and vivid, easily besting both in terms of clarity, resolution and vocal layering.
However, this presentation isn’t all good, of course, the Exclusive 5’s midrange does not sound particularly natural to me, especially when compared to the Kinera H3 and Oriveti Basic, with their notable clarity boost making vocals sound quite raspy. Strangely, this quality is actually more noticeable with male vocals than female vocals, listening to Bruno Mars’ “That’s What I Like” and the Exclusive 5 provided a guilty pleasure level bass response with excellent detail and clarity combined with a really pleasing sense of midrange resolution and layering. However, both Mars’ and background vocals did sound somewhat unnatural, not thin but quite raspy and dry. How much this bothers you will depend on the type of sound you are accustomed to and your preferred style of tuning and the Exclusive 5 is certainly no worse than something like the Magaosi K3 Pro. And upper mids are largely improved though their smoother character does rob the Exclusive 5 of that immediate sense of resolution possessed by the King. Listening to “Officially Missing You” by Tamia, and the 5 provided a crisp, detailed presentation of acoustic guitar along with silky, layered female vocals. The Exclusive 5 wasn’t quite as impressive as the King in terms of outright quality though they are still a resolving and well-tuned earphone. So despite their more dry lower midrange, buyers will still find plenty of enjoyment in TFZ’s more dynamic offering, especially those that fear the King’s aggressive, forward upper midrange will not suit their preferences.
Being a v-shaped earphone, highs tend grab attention more than the King since they lack the upper midrange aggression and presence of TFZ’s Exclusive flagship. And, like their bass response, the Exclusive 5 has that layer of smoothness on top which trades some of the excellent detailing and resolution of the King for a little extra listenability and musicality. But besides the difference in quantity, the actual tuning of that treble is quite similar to the King albeit with less of a middle treble spike. This makes them a sparkly, more detail-forward earphone though treble notes are more natural than their midrange; texturing and extension are both fantastic though treble is still a bit on the thinner side. Listening to “Carry On My Wayward Son” by Kansas and the Exclusive 5 provided great separation between the electric guitars and cymbals with a pleasing sense of both clarity and texture to all elements. However, high details weren’t quite as raw as the King nor were they as coherent.
In terms of detail retrieval, the Exclusive 5 still gets a bit uneven in their high-frequency response to retrieve details like more expensive, more linear earphones such as the Kinera H3 and Magaosi K3 HD. However, the Exclusive 5 sounds more coherent than the older K3 Pro and extends appreciably further than the Oriveti Basic, it also demolishes older earphones like the Shure SE215 when it comes to high-frequency reproduction. The King is noticeably faster throughout, the Exclusive 5 getting more overwhelmed with more complex, faster-paced songs even though separation is excellent. That being said, extension is great, high hats sound accurate and any roll off rarely presents in average listening. They also have a nice sense of air and shimmer to notes and their shortcomings in outright detail retrieval and texture are relative to the more expensive King, K3 HD and H3 so I would still consider them to be a very strong performer around this price.
It’s easy to see the common trends with these affordable Chi-Fi iems, many are immensely impressive with a few outliers providing truly price beating performances. However, many are still lacking the refinement of the earphones in the next price class up, some may rival earphones like the 1More Quad Driver and Pinnacle P1 in certain aspects but overall, they aren’t as linear and coherent. The Exclusive series so far has come the closest to these earphones in technical ability, but their tuning is a bit raw. Similarly, more tonally correct earphones around this price simply lack the engagement and technical foundation to compete.
The Kinera H3 and King still possess the most pleasing balance of tuning and technicality to me but that’s not to discount the Exclusive 5 as a very realistic and logical choice for buyers looking for some more clarity, resolution and sub-bass impact. The Exclusive 5 also has a class leading build and a super ergonomic if heavy design that easily outclasses earphones at and far above their price. While they do give up some speed in pursuing this more weighted sound, the Exclusive 5 is nowhere near as heavy handed in its execution as a lot of budget earphones.
Verdict – 8.75/10, TFZ have produced yet another impressive fully-featured sub $100 earphone that provides a more dynamic alternative to the King and H3 whilst retaining much of the quality of both. Their bass response and build quality, in particular, are truly outstanding. Buyer’s looking for an affordable, featured and vibrant earphone should look no further than the Exclusive 5.
The Exclusive 5 is available from Penonaudio (International) for $92.90 USD, please see my affiliate link for the most updated pricing, availability and configurations.
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