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Sound: *******1/2
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These days, when someone tells me there’s a new brand of true wireless earphones, I assume it’s just a few people in an office somewhere in Southern California, getting their logo slapped onto a generic design from a Chinese factory, with barely a clue about how earphones are designed and tuned. Grell Audio is exactly the opposite. It was founded by Axel Grell, a guy with 30-plus years of experience designing headphones and earphones—most notably for Sennheiser, where he designed, among other models, the top-of-the-line HD 800s. The TWS/1 true wirelesses ($199.99, all prices USD) are the first earphones he’s offered under his own name.

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True wireless earphones aren’t literally a dime a dozen—not yet, anyway. But even though SoundStage! Solo targets audiophiles, and I thus review only a few true wireless models a year, I’d say I get at least three pitches per week to review new true wireless models. Many of these loosely resemble Apple AirPods, but are priced much lower, often less than $50, sometimes as low as $20. Denon’s AH-C830NCW earphones definitely look like AirPods, but at $159 (all prices in USD), they’re not inexpensive. What, I wondered, might Denon be thinking, launching what looks like a generic model at a—well, not expensive, but certainly not inexpensive, price?

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Because I test only 36 headphones and earphones a year for SoundStage! Solo, our review slots are usually filled with old-school brands like AKG and Sennheiser, along with the companies that regularly show up at US headphone shows, such as HiFiMan and Dan Clark Audio. That means many lesser-known brands usually don’t attract my attention. But if you’re reading this site and you’re on Facebook, then Facebook has surely tagged you as a headphone enthusiast, and routinely serves you ads for earphones with unfamiliar brands at too-low-to-believe prices.

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Campfire Audio makes so many different earphones it was hard to figure out which ones I should review, so last time I talked with company founder Ken Ball, I just asked him. He was pretty excited about two then-new earphone models, the Holocene and the Mammoth. Asked what the difference was, he said that the Holocenes have a more “reference” response, and that the Mammoths have more bottom end, with a response closer to the Harman curve. This left me thinking I’d prefer the Mammoths, but just in case, I asked Ball if he wouldn’t mind sending a test sample of the Holocenes, too.

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Why are the Evos the first Etymotic earphones I’ve ever reviewed on SoundStage! Solo? After all, the company practically invented the in-ear monitor, and it was the first to use balanced armature drivers in consumer earphones. But I still remember the first time I tried Etymotics, way back in the early 1990s, and while the highs sounded clean, I was put off by the lack of bass response, which, as a musician, I knew was not realistic. I respected the brand, but only because it was respected by people I respected.

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Reviewers' ChoiceThere’s only one inherent reason why true wireless earphones struggle to sound as good as high-end passive earphones. It’s because most high-end passive earphones use a cable-over-ear design that fits snugly and seals tightly in the ears, as exemplified by numerous models from Shure, JH Audio, 64 Audio, Westone, and other companies. I expect it would be quite a design challenge to squeeze the circuitry and batteries needed for true wireless operation into such a design, but for the Aonic 215 Gen 2 earphones, Shure came up with an alternative: packing the electronics into a separate module that snaps onto each earphone and sits behind the ear.

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Brent Butterworth 13 hours ago When Is the Amp Important?
@RyanThanks! Give the SoundStage editors 100% of the credit for the integrity and courage. I ...
Ryan 15 hours ago When Is the Amp Important?
Really appreciate your integrity and courage to write this, as this (accurate) message is counter ...
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I looked at the overlaid curves in the graph that you attached. The Edifier S3 ...
@Brent Butterworthhey thanks, will be out on Dec 10?
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@gzostDescribing these things as "solved problems" is right on target.
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