The Pitch –
The TWS800 is Hifiman’s flagship true-wireless in-ear based on the Topology Diaphragm driver design similar to their wired RE800. It features a high-impedance driver and custom discrete amplifier and costs $299 USD at the time of writing.
Great passive noise isolation, Excellent bass depth, dynamics and control, Rich midrange, Nice soundstage and imaging
Fit stability could be improved, Large case, Midrange voicing somewhat track-dependent, Limited BT codec support
Hifiman’s latest TWS800 provides a sonic experience that most TWS earphones cannot, and receives a strong recommendation for those wanting to take more than a taste of Hi-Fi audio with them on the go.
Hifiman are essentially a household name by now, known by long-time enthusiasts and often, one of the first brands newcomers to the hobby will be introduced to. Their headphones offer sensational value and with their new 2020 releases especially, the price just seems to get better and better. With such insurmountable momentum, it was unfortunate that their first true-wireless IEM, the TWS600, was not one of their wins. It was a unique albeit sonically flawed creation with impressions ranging from apathetic to downright disappointed. The TWS800 is Hifiman’s response, a direct upgrade to the 600, it is more ambitious and far more sophisticated. This is surely one of the most exciting audio-focused wireless releases of late and we’ll dive into a technical breakdown of why after the forewords.
I would like to thank Mark from Hifiman very much for his quick communication and for providing me with the TWS800 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.
- Bluetooth Version: 5.0
- Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz
- Music Playback Time: 4.5 hrs + 27 hrs
- Earphones Charging Time: 1 Hr
- Case Charging Time: 2 Hrs
- Weight of Charging Case: 57.7g
- Wight of One earphone: 6.9g
- Standby Time: 140 Hrs
Behind the Design –
Hifiman made big noise about their topology driver technology with the release of the RE-800 and 2000 just a few years ago. By implementing a nano-particle coating, Hifiman are able to improve the mechanical properties of the dynamic driver diaphragm for less model breakup at high-frequencies and a cleaner transient response – both leading to a more detailed sound. Furthermore, the ability to alter the geometry of the nano-particle deposit enables Hifiman to fine tune the frequency response of the driver. The TWS800 uses a derivative of the RE-800 driver with a whopping 150-ohm impedance, quite unforeseen in the TWS space due to electronic limitations.
Where the vast majority of TWS earphones use some derivative of Qualcomm’s TWS SOC, it’s clear this setup wouldn’t suffice for the high-impedance driver inside the TWS800. To compensate, Hifiman have implemented a discrete amplifier with its own separate power supply with bolstered capacitance in order to provide greater dynamics and power output than a traditional TWS circuit. It also explains why the TWS800 is larger than most competitors as Hifiman did not want to compromise runtime in order to realise this setup so a larger battery was required.
The TWS800 comes in a well-sized card box with heaps of accessories to provide a good fit and seal. In the box is the case and earphones protected within foam. In a separate bag are 8-sets of silicone ear tips similar to that included with their wired earphones. 4 pairs are single-flange while the other 4 are dual-flange. I found the TWS800 to be quite tip sensitive to definitely play around with these to find the pair that gives you the best fit and sound. I most preferred Sony Hybrids on the TWS800 and will be used those for the remainder of the review.
Immediately, this is one of the stranger TWS in-ears, barely resembling other designs on the market. And yet, it does manage a respectable fit and feel. At its most fundamental, this is a 3-piece all-plastic design with the nozzle and faceplate assembly sporting a convincing metallic coating and the main housing a grippy rubberized finish. Though they may appear metallic in photos, their weight in the hand is more revealing, however, this is not a bad thing for a wireless product.
The TWS800 feels very lightweight and a little cheap and hollow relative to other premium competitors but nothing stands out as a point of failure. The rubberised coating also hasn’t worn during my months of testing as is common with this kind of surface. The faceplates house touch controls and LED indicators shine through the metallic faceplate. The nozzle is around T200 size and has a lip that retains ear tips well, a metal wax guard is a nice touch here too. The construction offers an IPX4 water resistant rating which means it can be used for workouts, splashed and cleaned with a wet cloth but not fully submerged.
Fit & Isolation –
Despite its especially large dimensions, I found the TWS800 to fit quite comfortably into my ears. The L-shaped housing somewhat lock into the anti-helix which helps to stabilise the shells despite an absence of fins or rings and I experienced only a slight pressure build up over multiple hours of listening. The well-angled nozzles greatly contribute to this impression, providing a reliable medium-depth fit and strong seal. Despite this, I found them to be one of the less stable wireless earphones, often working loose during active use such as running and skipping mostly due to their large design. In turn, I wouldn’t recommend the TWS800 for workouts.
Otherwise, they were stable when walking and during commute, sweat was the main concern with their stability as they strongly rely on their seal to maintain a solid fit. As they do protrude quite a bit from the ear, wind noise was evident during outdoor wear though I didn’t find it too irksome as this appears to be a sealed design. On the flipside, combined with the strong seal, isolation is very good and easily sufficient for public transport. ANC-touting rivals can provide better attenuation of low-frequencies, but I do find models that passively isolate well to provide similar overall attenuation with less artefacts.
The case is similarly unique in design and features a genuine metal exterior that feels quite premium if not as polished as that from Master & Dynamic. It’s a clamshell case with identical finish to the earphones, with a soft-touch rubberised interior. The case is very large and not especially pocketable due to its thickness. In return, the case offers 6 full charges which is on the higher side for a TWS earphone, especially one with such a large internal battery. There are 4 LED indicators inside the case denoting remaining charge on the earphones then the case itself and the case recharges via USB Type-C which is good to see.
One niggle is that the earphones insert upside down into the case which can make them harder to orientate, especially with their unconventional design. However, this is something the user can acclimatise to over time. Besides this, the case feels quite robust with a sturdy and wobble-free hinge and very secure magnetic latch. There is ample space inside the case to accommodate larger tips as was a common complaint on the TWS600. Furthermore, I found the connection between the earphones and case reliable due to the stronger magnets, the earphones reliably turned on and off when removed and placed into the case.
Touting BT5.0, the TWS800 offers flexible connectivity including mono-pairing. However, codec-support is strangely lacking perhaps due to their adoption of a custom chipset rather than one from Qualcomm. There’s no Apt-X support nor LDAC, only AAC albeit this is better than regular SBC. The pairing process is simple, if the earphone doesn’t see a previously paired device, it enters pairing mode upon power on. Once pair to a device, they quickly auto-pair every power cycle.
They connected to my Xperia 5 II over AAC where I noticed a reliable connection with good range, certainly above average for a TWS in-ear. Even on public transport, I didn’t notice dropouts or interference. That said, some latency is evident, a known fallback of AAC. Still, videos were watchable but I wouldn’t use these for gaming as a result. The earphones are able to pair independently in mono as well should you want to extend the runtime, say for phone calls.
Charging & Battery Life
Hifiman rate the TWS800 at 4.5hrs of runtime with the case providing an additional 6 charges for a total of 31.5hrs. With the discrete amplifier, I found the TWS800 to output a healthy amount of volume and was comfortable listening at around 30% where I was consistently getting just over 4.5 hrs of runtime as promised by Hifiman. I am quite enthusiastic about the TWS800 performance here and it is evident that Hifiman haven’t gone cheap on the componentry despite the earphones not having the longest runtime on the market. The case as well doesn’t passively discharge over time and the earphones won’t turn on if the case runs dry, so the earphones are always prepped for the user. This is one of those small niggles that can really hamper the user experience over time and is impossible to quantify looking at a spec sheet.
I did enjoy the physical control scheme on the TWS600 that I found more reliable than the touch-based systems employed by most competitors. The TWS800 joins these models, implementing touch controls on both earpieces. Luckily, they were one of the better implementations I’ve used, the broad, flat faceplates surely aiding reliable taps. I found them to be accurate and responsive despite lacking any accompanying audio feedback which would have enhanced the experience in my opinion. The controls as well are well-considered, a single tap on either side operating play/pause, double tap changing volume and triple tap skipping tracks. All worked reliably during my testing.
The TWS600 had relatively poor call quality and the TWS800 does make some improvements. Of note, the mic placement is much better, now front-facing for greater immediacy. Recipients noted I didn’t sound as distant on the TWS800 as on Hifiman’s former model, however, there remains little if any ambient noise cancellation so they remain a poor choice for those valuing call quality, especially in noisy environments. Otherwise, as before, they do in a pinch and are certainly serviceable should the user require this functionality but not prioritise it.