Audio-Technica is entering the premium True Wireless headphone market with the ATH-TWX9. As an eminent specialist in microphones, phono cells and headphones, the Japanese manufacturer naturally has a right to do so. On the programme: a new transducer, Qualcomm Snapdragon Sound technology to manage Bluetooth compression, amplification or active noise reduction, and even support for immersive 360 Reality Audio.
- Effective active noise reduction
- Comfortable to wear
- Many settings in the app
- Good call quality
- Housing with Qi charging and UV cleaning of the headphones
- Wacky 360 Audio Spatialization
- High price
The Audio-Technica ATH-TWX9 headphones follow the Japanese brand’s aesthetic codes, in this case, a mixture of circular and rectilinear shapes. The high-end positioning is apparent: multiple materials, an assortment of matt and glossy tones, coloured microphone inserts, tactile zones with LED lighting of the Audio-Technica logo lines… the manufacturing quality is simply excellent.
The ATH-TW9X earphones have a dual control system, split between a circular touch area and a button on the stem. Each earphone has a port sensor and multiple microphones installed in its shell and stem.
Wearing comfort is very good, with the earphones exerting a measured amount of pressure in the ear. They are also sweat and rain-resistant (IPX4 certified). Audio-Technica provides 12 pairs of ear tips of different sizes, all made of more or less rigid silicone.
AUTOMATIC CLEANING SYSTEM
The storage case is distinguished by its shape, which is the opposite of the standard. It is a horizontal model with a convenient top opening. Its bi-material casing combines anti-slip silicone and PVC on the sides in an anthracite finish with a slight touch of red.
In addition to this atypical design, Audio-Technica has installed two UV LEDs in its case to sterilise the ear tips while the headphones are being charged. The 5 LEDs on the front panel, which indicate the charge level, also light up during the maintenance phase, which lasts a few dozen seconds. Finally, the case is compatible with Qi wireless charging (charger not included) and has a USB-C port to recharge its battery.
The radio link is driven by a Bluetooth 5.2 controller, compatible with a multipoint connection, to listen to the ATH-TWX9 simultaneously from two sources (smartphone, computer, TV…). The Google Fast Pair protocol and headphones signal to the nearest Android smartphone (on first use) are also supported. With various iPhones, Android smartphones and laptops, the headphones showed no signs of weakness and the connection held up to 10 metres and through thin walls.
Bluetooth audio codecs SBC, AAC, aptX, and aptX Adaptive are supported, as is Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Sound technology. To enjoy the benefits of Snapdragon Sound (lossless transmission, 96 kHz audio), you must use a Snapdragon Sound-certified smartphone.
ACTIVE NOISE REDUCTION
The ANC system is very effective and significantly reduces low-frequency sounds and, to a lesser extent, some mid-range sounds. The ATH-TWX9 headphones effectively isolate the listener and provide a very comfortable listening experience, whether on the move or on the street. While the performance of the Bose QC Earbuds II cannot be matched, the results are very satisfactory. There are six modes of CNA, depending on the type of environment: aeroplane, train, city walk, office, home and custom. For this last mode, the headphones take a real-time measurement of the surrounding noise. After the initial curiosity, we like to use the aeroplane mode, which is the most effective in reducing environmental noise.
The transparency mode, which allows you to listen to what’s happening around you without removing the earphones, works well but without matching the incredible naturalness of the Apple AirPods Pro 2.
The Audio-Technica ATH-TWX9 earphones are equipped with dynamic 5.4 mm drivers and Qualcomm amplification. These circular transducers have a triple-layer diaphragm to optimise damping and limit the parasitic vibrations that make the sound hard at high volumes.
They also have a circumferential (rather than centred) coil to distribute mechanical stress and allow the transducer to move more quickly from one sound to another.
The ATH-TWX9 headphones produce a powerful and balanced sound regardless of the listening volume. There are plenty of basses, with good impact down to the sub-bass, which is surprising for such small drivers. The midrange is very present, teeming with detail and suffers from a prominence around 2 kHz, which gives the sound a strong proximity. Because of the exposure of the midrange, the treble comes across as lacklustre and limited in resolution. On the plus side, there is no harshness.
Considering the price positioning of the ATH-TWX9s, their dynamic behaviour is disappointing. The sound is powerful and generous, but the small dynamic gaps that make the magic of music lack precision. The result is a settling of the sound planes, particularly noticeable on highly compressed tracks.
In addition, the scene is narrow in depth. For example, Tame Impala’s Let It Happen lacks some airy ambiences, making the song charming in its final section. On U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday, this is even more apparent. But the stereo is still very wide, and the sound is catchy.
The partnership with Qualcomm also means that the Qualcomm cVc spatial filtering technology has been integrated for telephone calls. And this works quite well on less complex noises (muffled impacts, wind). On the other hand, high-pitched noises with strong variations (mixer, open tap…) are more challenging to attenuate, and significant artefacts remain. Nevertheless, you can hear the person you are talking to.
I measured 5h20 battery life at 50% volume (iPhone/Apple Music), ANC in Home mode. It is less than the maximum announced but amply sufficient, especially as the case can completely recharge the earphones at least twice.
The Audio-Technica ATH-TWX9 headphones deliver good sound quality, although the dynamic range is slightly lower than other headphones in this category. The support for 360 audio could be better, with spatialisation often being fancy and the treble too rough, but this is related to this spatial technology and not to the headphones.
The soundstage is quite convincing if you stick to stereo or Dolby Atmos titles. As for active noise reduction, it’s up there with the quality of phone calls, effectively ridding them of surrounding noise.
However, at this price, the competition is fierce, and the headphones need help competing with the AirPods Pro 2, the Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2 or even the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II for their noise reduction.
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