Customizable In-ear Headphones Grell TWS/1

Newcomer to the true wireless headphone space as you say? Sure, this may be a fairly common occurrence these days, but this one – Grell Audio – comes with some very strong heritage. Its founder, Axel Grell, is well known in the headphone industry for his extensive work at Sennheiser on some of the company’s most famous products. TWS/1 is its first solo product under the Grell brand. Accordingly, we’re interested to see what the $200 wireless buds can do.

TWS/1 has a modern look. The mostly circular design is only interrupted by a small AirPod-like bump on each bud. The plan was originally for the outer shell to be all-metal, but the physics and radio waves meant that some perks (plastic parts) were needed. Overall, they maintain an excellent feel that stands above that often found at this price point. They remind me a bit visually of the Jabra Elite 75t, but a little less so.

In terms of fit, this more streamlined design means you don’t feel like something is balancing in your ear which can sometimes happen with more rounded models. As usual, they come with a charging case that promises four full TWS/1 charges. The buds themselves offer about 6 hours per charge which is true of my experience with ANC activated. Oddly enough, the buds are placed in the box with the right side on the left and vice versa. Not sure why this happens, but it does take some remembering (you’ll be reminded soon because the buds don’t fit the other way).

In a world full of me too, it’s hard to tell them apart. The easiest distinguishing factor is the price, then the sound quality and/or additional/premium features. Grell Audio seems to have attempted to address all three of these, and with overall success, I would say.

The price point puts the TWS/1 in an unusual category. Many premium brands land in the $250-plus area while more affordable options, like Google’s second-generation Pixel Buds or the aforementioned Jabra, live in the $150-area. Budget options, south of $100, are also increasingly more popular. This, then, makes TWS/1 in the overlap between high and low premium. I’d bet this is purely intended as a feature set and higher quality build, but the bare-bones packaging and accessible price point to a more mainstream audience.

James True / Engadget

As for sound quality, this is where things are a lot clearer. In my testing, I was generally pleased with the default sound. It was probably a little on the thinner side for my personal preference with a slight weight on the lower end for a typical commercial sound. But Grell has partnered with SoundID – a third-party app that tunes select brands of headphones to your personal preference/hearing.

We’ve seen things like this before, most notably with Nura taking this to a whole new level. SoundID is a little understated in its approach. It still uses some form of hearing test, but instead of asking if you can hear certain tones, it simply plays some music and asks “Which one do you prefer, a or b.” Once I completed this short test, it was the difference between night and day. With my personal profile activated (loaded to headphones so it applies no matter what you’re listening to), the usual mix of independent mid-twenty-year-old bullshit and raves came alive.

I have a slight preference for the dynamic range and the low, mid, and high frequencies. At least, I suppose I do because that was the biggest sound change after I finished testing and I immediately found it more interesting. In the SoundID app, you can switch between the default audio and your profile which really makes a big difference. don’t do need to For a good sound, but I’m going to guess you’ll be much happier with what it gives you.

Coincidentally, SoundID is also where you’ll get software updates for TWS/1. I got one during testing and improved a few things including the slightly unresponsive touch controls. They still don’t read 1:1 taps but it’s on par with most other touch control buds I’ve used. Before the update, it was even more frustrating (or maybe you just learned the technique?).

These controls are not user configurable, so you are stuck with what Grell offers you. But, thankfully, that’s pretty much all you want and without a lot of complicated tap or gesture combinations. Swiping forward or backward on the left ear skips tracks, up or down on the right for volume, etc. The single clicks I had were with the play/pause control on the right and the transparency mode on the left – both of which are more annoying if they aren’t activated immediately.

This brings us to the smart features. As mentioned, the TWS/1 has both Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency mode – both of which are increasingly becoming standard. But there is also an annoying noise reduction (NAR) mode. Grill explained to me during their initial announcement brief that ANC is great for continuous low-frequency noise, but doesn’t work well for high-frequency annoyances (think, crying baby on a plane). NAR is Grell’s own attempt to offer some cuts to these types of audio.

Grell Audio TWS/1.

James True / Engadget

In practice, I’ve found it hard to tell the difference NAR makes. With ANC, it’s easy to hear low road rumbles outside my apartment. It may not be the strongest ANC I’ve ever heard but it does the job. With NAR, whatever the equivalent of an ear-staring has been proven to be a bit nonspecific. It seems to improve the listening experience slightly in combination with ANC, but it’s also hard to say how much of that I’d be willing to do so. It’s an interesting concept and I hope Grell continues to improve it over time.

Other small advantages include “mono” mode (single bud listening only). This is not as common as it should be in my opinion and adds more flexibility for those who want to maintain some spatial awareness without having to wear both buds. It’s also clear that some people prefer to handle their calls as well (bringing back the days of bluetooth headphones).

Another small plus is the “compatibility” of wireless charging. It’s not something I’ve been able to test, but the more things that support it the better? Or, at least, it’s a great feature for those who have already invested in the world of wireless charging.

Overall, Grell gave price, features, and sound quality sufficient consideration that the result was a promising first product from an emerging brand. The price point, in particular, strikes a good balance between indicating distinct ambitions without placing it out of reach of casual exhibitors. I’d love to see some other advancements in NAR technology and the controls could still be more responsive, but if you’re looking for a new set of true wireless headphones customizable to your taste, this is a great place to start.

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