Grell TWS/1 Adjustable In-Ear Headphones

A newcomer to true wireless headphones, you say? Sure, that’s a pretty common occurrence these days, but this one – Grell Audio – has a pretty strong heritage. Its founder, Axel Grell, is known in the headphone industry for his extensive work at Sennheiser on some of the company’s most prestigious products. The TWS/1 is his first solo product under the Grell brand. So we’re interested to see what the $200 wireless earbuds can do.

The TWS/1 has a modern look. The largely circular design is interrupted only by a small, AirPod-esque protrusion on each button. Originally, the plan was to make the outer shell completely out of metal, but physics and radio waves meant that some concessions (plastic parts) were needed. Overall, they retain a premium feel that is above and beyond what is commonly found at this price point. They remind me a bit visually of the Jabra Elite 75t, but a bit lower profile.

In terms of fit, that slightly 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 charges of the TWS/1. The buttons themselves offer about 6 hours per charge, which is true in my experience with ANC activated. Strangely enough, the buttons are placed in the case with the right to the left and vice versa. I’m not sure why this would be, but it does take some memorization (you’ll be reminded of it soon as the buttons don’t fit the other way around).

In a world of i-too products, it’s hard to stand out. The easiest differentiator is price, then sound quality and/or extra/premium features. It seems Grell Audio has tried to tackle all three, and with overall success I’d say.

The price puts the TWS/1 in an unusual category. Many premium brands end up in the $250+ zone, while more affordable options like Google’s second-generation Pixel Buds or the aforementioned Jabras live in the $150 zone. Budget options, south of $100, are also becoming more common. This then places the TWS/1 on the overlap between high-mid and low-premium. I’ll bet this is completely intentional as the feature set and build quality skew, but the barebones packaging and more accessible price point to a more mainstream audience.

James Trew / Engadget

As for the sound quality, here it is a little clearer. In my testing, I was generally satisfied with the default sound. It was perhaps a little on the thin side for my personal preference with a light weight on the bottom for a typical commercial sound. But Grell has teamed up with SoundID – a third-party app that tailors certain headphones to your personal preference/hearing.

We’ve seen stuff like this before, especially with Nura taking this to a whole new level. SoundID is a bit more understated in its approach. It still uses some form of hearing test, but instead of asking if you can hear certain tones, it just plays you some music and asks “which do you prefer, A or B.” Once I completed this short test, the difference was night and day. With my own personal profile activated (it’s uploaded to the headphones so it applies no matter what you’re listening to), my usual mix of mid-’10s indie and rave nonsense came alive.

I have a slight preference for dynamic range and firmer low and mid-high frequencies. At least I assume I do as that was the biggest change in sound after completing the test and I liked them a lot more right away. In the SoundID app you can switch between the default sound and your own profile and it really makes a huge difference. You don’t need the app to get good sound, but I assume you’ll be happier with what it gives you.

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

Those controls are not user-configurable, so you’re stuck with what Grell gives you. But thankfully, that’s pretty much everything you could want and without too many complicated tap or motion combinations. Swiping forward or back on the left ear skips songs, right up or down for volume, and so on. It was the single taps that I had issues with the play/pause button on the right and transparency mode on the left – both of which are more annoying if not activated immediately.

This brings us to smart(er) features. As mentioned, the TWS/1 has Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency mode – both of which are becoming standard. But there is also a noise reduction (NAR) mode. Grell explained to me during their first announcement briefing that ANC is great for sustained lower-frequency sounds, but doesn’t work as well for higher-frequency annoyances (think baby crying on an airplane). NAR is Grell’s own attempt to offer some reduction of this kind of noise.

James Trew / Engadget

In practice, I found it difficult to point out the difference NAR makes. With ANC it’s easy to hear the low rumble of the road outside my apartment decrease in volume. It may not be the most powerful ANC I’ve heard, but it does the job. With NAR, whatever the ear equivalent of squinting turned out to be a little more indeterminate. It seems to improve the listening experience somewhat with ANC, but it’s also hard to say how much of it I was willing to do. It’s an interesting concept, though, and I hope Grell can continue to improve over time.

Other minor benefits include a “mono” mode (listening with just one button). This in my opinion is not as common as it should be and it adds more flexibility for those who want to maintain some spatial awareness without having to wear both buttons. It’s also obvious how some people prefer to handle their calls (reliving the days of the Bluetooth headset).

Another little added bonus 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 the very least, it’s a nice perk for those who’ve already invested in the world of wireless charging.

All in all, Grell has paid enough attention to price, features and sound quality that the result is a promising first product from an emerging brand. The price, in particular, strikes a good balance between signaling premium aspirations without taking it too far out of reach for regular casuals. I’d love to see some more 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 that can be customized to your taste, this is a great place to start .

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