Yamaha TW-E3B headphones review: They go alright for decidedly mid-range buds
- Sounds better than many other headphones in its price bracket
- Good bass response
- Will reliably play music
- 24 hour battery life (including 3 recharges from case)
- Music is missing some of the oomph and character found in better headphones
- Not enough of a range of eartip sizes in the box (some people might find it difficult to get a good fit)
- They’re good, not great
If you're someone who values headphones, it's important to make sure you have ones that are comfortable and sound great for every occasion. But it's kind of shocking that 'mid-range' true wireless headphones have crept up to the $150–$250 bracket, especially given their built-in, unrepairable batteries only have a 2-3 year lifespan. Yet these $179 Yamaha true wireless headphones are decidedly mid-range.
Now, that's not a bad thing; these are very good for the mid-range. They don't sound terrible, like most budget headphones, and they aren't a transcendent experience that will change the way you hear your favourite songs. They just sound good, and the longer you listen the better they get.
In a side-by-side comparison on audio quality alone, these headphones handily destroy the original AirPods and Samsung Galaxy Buds Live. The Yamaha TW-E3B are really good for the price, as long as they fit you properly.
Yamaha TW-E3B review: Design
The TW-E3B don't rock the boat when it comes to aesthetics. They follow the dominant design of "kind of bean-shaped with the top of a pinkie finger on the end to shove in your ear". The pair I got is black and looks really sleek. Both the box and the buds have embraced the feeling of relatively cheap plastic, which is about right for mid-range buds. They're small and light, which is important.
Many true wireless headphones are trying to reinvent the wheel by adding capacitive touch controls, so you pause the music every time you readjust it in your ear, which I deeply hate. The TW-E3B have refreshingly gone for a single, physical button to pause/play the music and answer calls. Now, you might think that they would put the button on the back end of the bud, so you harmlessly press it against your ear shell. That would have been a good idea. Instead they've placed the button a little off-centre on the bud, closer to the bit that pushes in your ear. That's fine, but it does mean you need to find a technique that allows you to pause without getting a little too personal with your ear canal.
You will also need to learn a new patten with the button. Other headphones have me trained to double tap to skip to the next song, but on these a double tap turns the music up.
When it comes to true wireless earbuds, fit is the most important thing. A well-sealed bud isn't just for comfort purposes, but key for sound quality. In the box you'll get XS/S/M/L buds and I was lucky to find a much better fit than usual. I wasn't all that worried about these falling out, even while running or playing the drums. That's amazing, because my left ear can be a troublesome little bastard that rejects true wireless buds like a cat rejecting any object in their path – violently and with great prejudice. It's not a perfect fit – they fit so snugly I can hear my blood, joints and footsteps reverberate through my skeleton – but your milage will vary.
Their IPX5 rating makes them safe for sweating in (I tested this thoroughly over a week of 33 degree C heat). Don't dunk them in water or rub them in sand at the beach and you should be fine. They're as durable as they need to be for daily life.
Of course, as always, there is an app, but I really appreciate how superfluous this one is. All it does is give you the option to turn "listening care" on or off, change the auto power-off timer, update firmware (no update has been made available at the time of writing) and opt in to have your data sent to Google. Unless you really hate "listening care" (which appears to just adjust the volume in relation to the background noise), you can skip downloading the app.
Yamaha TW-E3B review: Audio performance
After using the TW-E3B for a couple of weeks, I have to admit that I'm really impressed with them at this price point. They sound much more expensive than they are. I put them next to more than half a dozen true wireless headphones priced between $90–$250 and they out-performed almost everything.
In fact, these are the best headphones under $200 I can remember hearing for a while. The bass response is much more powerful than I'd expect in this price range, while still allowing the treble to come across clearly. There's an electronic fuzz and a bit of a haze that gives the listener some distance from the music on some songs, but it's unlikely to be noticeable unless you're used to high-end headphones. There's a chance that haze is supposed to be the clanging from the cymbals that don't come across very clearly, but who can say.
While they're not perfect, you wouldn't expect them to be at this price. There is a distance between the listener and the music, caused by what I can best describe as an audio "haze". It's not quite a buzz or fuzz, but it's like looking through glasses you haven't cleaned for a while, or a slightly dusty window – you can see everything, but it's a touch blurry and not quite right.
Break My Heart by Sara Ramirez is a good example of this. We're putting aside the issues of Che Diaz (their And Just Like That Character) here as they are an incredible singer.
On fancy headphones it feels like they're reaching into my chest and ripping out my heart with a feeling I cannot name. On the TW-E3B, they just sound like an amazing vocalist with a very Broadway backup band. But the band sounds fuller and their voice is more present than on, say, classic AirPods.
Staying with the same artist, on fancier headphones Waitin' is a song that, when you close your eyes, can transport you to a jazz/cabaret bar with a cocktail while going through a breakup. On the TW-E3B it just leads to some dramatic conducting, which is still great, but it's not all it can be.
Mantra by Bring Me The Horizon is a song that relies on deep bass and crunchy cymbals to get across that this dude seems to be going through some kind of mid-life crisis. It sounds much, much fuller than I'd expect from sub-$200 headphones, but all the instruments just get blurred together in the chorus.
On headphones around $250 and up I would be able to tell you the type and size of cymbal on the chorus, but all I hear here is a vague jangling. I can feel the progression of the bass guitar more than I can hear it and the drums get a bit lost in the background, when they're normally the clearest part to my ear. His voice comes across very well, but the fuzz increases a bit and the emotional resonance of the song is lost. It has more bass than many other mid-range headphones, but it lacks the clarity of what's going on in the bass pit.
That said, Nightmares by Conquer Divide doesn't sound that bad. The double kick bass sounds clear and the trashy hi-hats sound great in the verse. The bass guitar still gets lost, but I can make out other details. Same with At War by Conquer Divide. I've heard it better, but also heard it much worse. A few more details get lost in At War, but the important parts are there.
Sacrificial by Rezz (feat. Pvris) seems to be more the genre these headphones are made for. It's focusing on only 1–5 sounds at a time and the headphones are able to process and present each of these well. It's easy to get lost in and feel the song. Truly a great experience.
Eurovision songs also sound great on them. Marry Me by Krista Siegfrids is a song that's hard not to dance to and that comes through here. The drum machine sounds a little more distorted than usual, like it's being run through a trashy 80s synth, but that adds to it in some ways.
The genres of music these headphones seem to do well on are electronic, 2000s indie, cabaret, singer-songwriter, pop and musicals. They're a bit hit and miss for metal and emo, or other styles that rely on a cacophony of bass and nuance.
Should you buy it?
- Buy it if you want very good true wireless headphones for less than $200.
- Don't buy it if you're a hard to please audiophile whose musical joy lives in the little details.
For the price, you're going to be hard pressed to find a pair of true wireless headphones that sound better than these. They are a long way from perfect, and if there's an extra $100 in the budget I'd spring for the Technics EAH-AZ60, which are in a whole other league. But for under $200 these are hands down your best option in this form factor.
Yamaha TW-E3B review: Pricing and availability
How we tested
I spent a few weeks using the Yamaha TW-E3B as my main headphones while comparing them to other headphones in a similar price bracket, testing specific songs to see what I could hear on each pair. I was sent the Yamaha TW-E3B by Yamaha for the purposes of this review.
Images: Alice Clarke
You are about to post a question on finder.com.au:
- Do not enter personal information (eg. surname, phone number, bank details) as your question will be made public
- finder.com.au is a financial comparison and information service, not a bank or product provider
- We cannot provide you with personal advice or recommendations
- Your answer might already be waiting – check previous questions below to see if yours has already been asked