Review - Drop Cavalli Tube Hybrid (CTH)

Review - Hifiman TWS800

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I need to start this review by saying that the TWS800 was kindly provided to me by Hifiman for this review, for which I am very grateful. I will be as unbiased and open about my opinions as always, however, it is worth noting that it has not cost me anything to be able to review this item.

Intro…

The TWS800 are the latest release from Hifiman and are true wireless bluetooth IEMs that are currently available as a pre-order (at the time of writing this review) directly from Hifiman for $299. That is a premium price point for some TWS IEMs but it seems that they have put every effort into this product in order for it to meet the expectations one has when spending this kind of money on a wireless set of earphones.

Some time ago I reviewed the TWS600 (you can find that review here: Review - Hifiman TWS600 ) and I had a few complaints about it, mainly that it didn’t suit my preferences as far as musicality but also some other complaints about functionality. I was excited to try out the new TWS800 to see if Hifiman had addressed any of these issues and I can say that they have, at least the majority of them, but let’s look at it one step at a time.



Presentation…

The box that the TWS800 comes packaged in is very similar to the one in which the TWS600 appeared. Apart from the colour and change of image on the box, everything else remains the same on the outside. To be honest, I really don’t care what the outside of the box looks like, it’s the contents that matter.

Inside the box, without entering into the aesthetics of the content (which I will comment on in just a moment), we find the IEMs, the charging/transport case, a velvet drawstring bag, a large selection of silicone tips (including double and triple flange offerings) and a charge cable (USB-C).

Nothing out of the ordinary but nothing is missing, so the contents are as to be expected.



Build and aesthetics…

The first thing that stands out about the TWS800 is the aesthetics of both the IEMs themselves and the charging case. Gone are the plastics used on the TWS600, exchanged for metal plates on the IEMs and a metal exterior on the charging case. This is already a large set up from the previous model, giving them a much more exclusive look. This metal charging case is a fingerprint magnet, however, the velvet drawstring bag included is a nice extra that you can put the case inside when storing or in a bag, saving it from fingerprints and scratches.

The shape of the IEMs has also changed, as have the lights used, resulting in a more ergonomic shape which, even if they are larger, is more fitting to the ear than the previous shape of the TWS600. I’ll talk more about the comfort in the next section.

As said, the lights on the IEMs have also changed, losing the “molten lava” look of the older model and being replaced with simple blue/red LEDs located behind the plates, which are completely invisible when not flashing (searching for connection etc.).

The metal plates and what seem to be metal stems, do add to both the aesthetics and the impression of build quality. I have no way of knowing how these will stand up to the passing of time but I see no flaws that jump out as being a possible issue and they manage to do it while still being very lightweight (6.9g according to Hifiman).

Comfort…

The original TWS600 were not really uncomfortable per se, it was the fact that for you to get any kind of bass out of them, you needed to use the triple flange tips, which I find extremely uncomfortable. In the case of the TWS800, it is no longer necessary to opt for the triple flange tips which, in my person scenario, makes them much more comfortable. 

The shape is also a better fit for my ears and although they are a little larger than the old style, they fit my ears well and are comfortable.

Obviously comfort is a very personal thing and will be different for everyone but in my case they are a good fit.



Functionality…

As far as I can tell (it is not mentioned in the manual), the IEMs only offer SBC and AAC codecs, at least I haven’t been able to have them connect any other way. It would have been nice to have at least aptX or LDAC capability to offer the best quality (or maybe they do and it is a user fault on my behalf). In my review of the TWS600 I said that this lack of codecs was to blame for the let down in listening experience but the AAC is actually impressive on the TWS800, much better than on other BT offerings I have tried lately with the same codec.

The connection distance, according to the manual, is between 10m and 35m depending on the environment. This is a big reduction from the acclaimed 150m of the TWS600 but is more than sufficient in my opinion. I have been able to move around my office and go out into the warehouse without issue until I moved right up to the other end, and to be honest, who needs to be 150m away from their phone?

A single charge lasts around 4 hours, depending on volume levels, and the case can recharge them in about an hour. This is not the longest lasting battery out there but is acceptable and the case can charge the IEMs up to 6 times more.

One thing that hasn’t changed as far as functionality is the next/last track allocation of buttons which I found strange on the TWS600 (I thought maybe it was just my set) but is the same on this new model (so at least I know I am not going crazy). The usual 1 touch is play/pause, 2 touches is volume up/down, 3 touches is next/last track and hold for 2 seconds activates the assistant. The part I find strange is that volume up is on the right earpiece with volume down on the left (which I think is normal) but next track is on the left earpiece and last track on the right. Now, this is not an issue but I find it the opposite to what I naturally expect, but maybe it is normal for others?

Finally, as far as functionality, they connect quickly, I have experienced no dropouts during playback and they made the interior of the charging case larger so you can store the TWS800 in it even with the largest of tips (something that was impossible and irritating on the TWS600). However, on the other side of the coin, this extra space means that it is possible for the IEMs to move slightly inside the case. I have had a couple of occasions where the IEMs have been in my bag and have moved slightly inside their case, this automatically makes them connect to my phone.



Sound…

So on to the exciting part!

If anyone had read or watched my review of the TWS600, you may remember that they were not my favourite IEMs and a lot of tip swapping was needed in order to reach the conclusion that to get any kind of bass from them at all, you needed to use the triple flange tips (which I find very uncomfortable).

In the case of the TWS800, they still experience changes based on selection of tips, as do almost all IEMs, although it is nowhere near such a difference as on other IEMs and is certainly not a case of triple flange only like on the TWS600.

After trying out all of the included tips, plus others, I have settled on foam tips as not only are  they my preferred tip for comfort on almost all IEMs but they also provide the best sound on the TWS800, in my opinion of course.

Before moving on, let me say that I am not a huge believer in burn-in, well, not that I don’t think it does change slightly with use (in the case of moving drivers), but I feel that the changes are very small and it will not change the overall sound of a driver much. In other words, if you don’t like the sound of something out of the box, burn-in is not going to magically make change the tuning of them (this goes for headphones, IEMs, speakers and anything that has a moving driver). I do actually “burn in” headphones/IEMs, mainly due to the fact that it does not cost me anything to do it, I just leave them playing on another system while I am listening to other things. Usually I will listen to something briefly out of the box (maybe for a couple of hours) and then I will go back to them a week or 10 days later (depending on how many items I have backed up) after they have been playing for 10 or 12 hours a day for that week or so (usually in stints of 3 or 4 hours with an hour break in between). I don’t usually listen to them at all during that time, which sort of eliminates “brain burn in”. To be honest, I don’t usually notice much difference, if any, as it is not enough of a difference to jump out at me as I haven’t listened to them in over a week and only briefly before that. It just means that when I test and review something, I avoid the “it sounds like that because you didn’t burn it in” comments.

The reason I am mentioning this in this review is that in the case of the TWS800, I do feel that the burn in has created notable changes. Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t changed the sound signature or tuning of the IEMs, the result seems to be that it has taken a little of the edge off from the high mids that I experienced straight out of the box. When I first tested them for a couple of hours, I found that many voices were shouty and snare drums were a little harsh, but when I have moved back to them now, I find that the shouty and harshness is not present on most of the voices and snare hits it was before (on the tracks that I listened to). This can also be blamed on my mood at the time, or infinite other things, but I think it is worth noting.

Now, on to how these sound...

I had started to form my impressions that in the sub-bass, there is a slight roll off which in addition to the natural human hearing of these ranges, means that really isn’t any sub-bass rumble that may be found in other V-Shaped offerings. But… I have found that when you manage to get a correct seal and positioning, that sub bass suddenly appears. In my case, I have had to push the IEMs rather deep into my ears to get that correct placement, along with the seal of the foam tips, but this has completely changed my experience with the IEMs. It is really amazing the difference that extra couple of mm of insertion makes.

In the general bass spectrum, if I don’t insert them that extra 2mm, the bass frequencies are not elevated, which will leave bass heads wanting more. However, with the correct placement I just mentioned, this creates a slight elevation in bass which is plenty for the majority of music that fits my tastes. Also, the bass is very well defined and controlled. Complex bass lines are easily reproduced, allowing details to shine and do not become muddy no matter how complex they may be. I am not a huge EDM fan, except on specific occasions, but I listened to some random EDM playlists on Tidal and found that, while these are definitely not overly bass heavy, they were very pleasant to listen to and had enough bass for me to be happy, as they let me appreciate some of the electronic details that get lost when the bass is too elevated.

In the lower mids, again we find a very neutral curve, without any elevations that are noticeable, at least to my ears. This means that the TWS800 are not headphones that can be considered warm, they focus more on detail and definition. Saying that, they are not overly bright or cold either. For me personally, depending on my mood and the music I am listening to, the neutral response of the bass and lower mids (with the correct insertion) are something that can give very pleasurable results. From my usual test list, songs like “Jack of Speed” by Steely Dan or “Way Down Deep” by Jennifer Warnes were very pleasurable in these parts of the musical spectrum. 

Throughout the mids, a neutral response is maintained until we reach the higher end of the mids, just as we start to transition into the lower part of the highs. This gives plenty of presence to voices, both male and female, with a very nice presentation of some of the smoother vocals such as  “Little Sadie” by Crooked Still of “These Bones” by the Fairfield Four. As I mentioned above, on first listen I did find some tracks a little harsh in these areas of the frequency range but listening to them now (over the past week), they seem to be much smoother. As an example, I found the snare hits and female vocals in “The Room” by Ostura to be harsh during my first listen but are now much more listenable. As is the voice of Beth in “Don’t You Worry Child”, there are still a couple of notes she hits that are a little harsh (they are on many IEMs) but at first I found the whole track to be difficult to listen to.

Up in the higher ranges, the TWS800 keeps the sibilance in check pretty well, as heard on my usual sibilance test track “Code Cool” by Patricia Barber. The song is on the verge of sibilance throughout all of her vocals but they manage to keep it there, just on the verge. The same can be said about Lana Del Rey on “Hope Is A Dangerous Thing”, except for a couple of “S” moments at the beginning, the vocals are nicely presented and avoid sibilance.

There also seems to be a decent amount of “air” available in the higher range of treble. Not a huge amount but still enough. In my personal preference, I would probably like to see a little more extension into the highest registers but it is more than acceptable, especially if we take into consideration that I am listening to a set of TWS IEMs with foam tips and using the AAC codec. 

Soundstage and imaging…

I find the soundstage width to be more than average for a set of IEMs, maybe not quite as wide as a couple of sets but those are a minority. As far as placement of images inside the soundstage, I must say that I find the TWS800 pretty darn good. Using my usually test tracks for imaging such as “Letter” and “La Luna”, I found it very easy to place images and track even small movements.

Detail and definition…

I haven’t spoken much about detail and definition under the different frequencies but it is something that I feel is very present on these IEMs. Minor changes to the way a guitar is played, decays of notes, reverbs and echo’s, all of these are easily noticeable on the TWS800. I spent hours listening to a playlist I have of acoustic songs that are mainly pianos, acoustic guitars and female vocals, and I enjoyed hearing details in all of them. Each song presented the differences in the way the musicians play their instrument. As an example, with the live performance of “Trouble’s What You're In” by Fink, it was easy to notice differences in each tap of the body of the guitar, movements in front of the mic, slight vibratos on the bass etc. 

I am not saying that the TWS800 are the most detailed IEMs I have ever heard but they are very good and present many details that a great number of IEMs can’t.



Conclusion…

When I received the Hifiman TWS800 my biggest hope was that it would be a (large) improvement over the TWS600. I can safely say that it is, in every way possible (unless you need 150m bluetooth range).

I am not an expert in bluetooth IEMs and my experience is quite limited, although I have had the chance to try a fair few models (many more than I have reviewed). The TWS800 is without a doubt my preferred TWS IEM to date. Almost all of the sets that I have tried have been focused on a V shaped signature, appealing more to those that favour a strong bass presence but that is not the purpose of the TWS800. It has enough bass for me to be happy but does not feel as though it is adding a bass boost to everything I listen to.

I will repeat that I have found the insertion depth to play a huge role in the sound of these. If I seat them as I would with almost any other IEM (where they are sealed and sitting comfortably), they offer a neutral sound with a slight roll off in the bass area. I actually do find this enjoyable on a lot of the acoustic tracks I listen to, however, some tracks in other genres seem to be a little lacking in lows. Once I push them in that extra couple of mm, the bass increases and the extension improves, adding those extra couple of dB that felt like they are missing otherwise.

The microphone works fine for calls, I tried it on a few and no complaints except for one when I was surrounded by a lot of noise, in that case I removed the right earpiece and held it in front of my mouth and the result was great.

All in all, I probably only have one complaint about these IEMs which is the lack of higher end codecs. Then again, I don’t spend most of my critical listening time with wireless IEMs, I use them for commodity and the result with AAC is the case of the TWS800 is rather impressive.

There are a couple of big recommendations in this price bracket of TWS IEMs, such as the Apple Airpod Pro’s but I haven’t tried them so I can’t compare (I only own one Apple product and that is a 10€ dongle). However, if anyone is looking for a good set of bluetooth IEMs that not only look good but also sound good, I think that the TWS800 are certainly worth trying out.

SenyorC