The TWS Must Go On
- Warm and punchy sound.
- Improved ergonomics.
- Operation is good and speed is better.
- Range of operation.
- Microphone and call quality.
- Parametric equaliser.
- Robust drivers with high volume support.
- Good stereo and imaging feel.
- Remarkable passive isolation.
- The lid of the box cannot be closed if larger alternative tips are used.
- The first treble is a bit muffled, the potential of the BA driver could be used to provide a bit more sparkle, better definition and more balance in the upper range.
- The APP doesn’t allow you to save multiple custom EQs.
- The adjustment rings have little or no impact on the ergonomics.
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Link to the Manufacturer’s Website
It’s not the first time I’ve reviewed a Tronsmart TWS and, again, I’ve agreed because their technology and operability is one of the best I’ve tried. I’m still a Bluetooth sceptic, but they keep getting better and better, including the sound, which is the most important thing to me.
Tronsmart has a strong partnership with Qualcomm®, not least because they use their QCC3040 chip, which provides aptX™ audio decoding, for these new Onyx Prime.
One of the big attractions of these new TWS is that they use dual technology for their drivers, mounting a BA and a dynamic driver. Of course, they use the latest version of Bluetooth v5.2 and have a battery life of up to 7 hours on a complete charge. Of course, their external face is tactile, they use cVc 8.0 noise reduction, as well as TrueWireless™ Mirroring pairing mode, which speeds up the connection to the device and eliminates lag.
Unsurprisingly, Tronsmart has changed the shape of its TWS again, from the previous Apollo Bold I tested earlier. They now have a shape reminiscent of earbuds, but they are still cylindrical IEMS attached to a wide flange, which contains the microphone, LED and charging connectors on the inside.
With all these new features and a few other surprises, I’ll now take a closer look at what this new model has to offer.
- Colour: Black.
- Chip: Qualcomm® QCC3040.
- Bluetooth version: 5.2.
- Audio decoding: aptX™, aptX™ adaptive, SBC, AAC.
- Bluetooth compatibility: AVRCPv1.5, A2DP v1.3, HFP v1.7.
- Transmission distance: over 10m.
- Drivers: Dynamic + Balanced Armature
- Frequency range: 10Hz-25kHz.
- Battery Capacity Earphones: 50 mAh.
- Charging case: 500 mAh
- Playing time: 40 hours.
- Charging time: 2 hours.
- Dimensions 70 x 48.3 x 30.4mm/2.75 x 1.9 x 1.20 inches.
- Net Weight 55.1g/ 1.94oz
The Tronsmart Onyx Prime comes in a white box with dimensions 175x115x65mm. On the top side there is an orange hanging flap. On the front side there is a real picture of the TWS and the charging box on an orange stain. In the centre is the name of the model, in white letters. In orange letters, on the base, you can read «Made for Audiophiles Hybrid Dual Drivers», in two lines. At the top left is the Qualcomm® aptX™ logo, the brand logo in the middle, under an orange box, and finally a «Hybrid Dual-Driver» logo in the top right corner.
The rear face is much more explanatory, with many of the model’s features on display. Another photo of the TWS and its charger can also be seen.
The sides are loaded with photos and other features of the model, as well as an internal exploded view of the pod.
The box opens like a book, to the left, and on the exposed hard cardboard flap, the exploded view and more information about the hybrid technology used can again be seen. On the right, protected by a transparent plastic cover, the charging box can be seen underneath in a protective mould. At the top are the silicone tips and the adjustment rings. This first layer can be removed and leads to another level containing a black cardboard box with more accessories. In summary, the complete contents are as follows:
- The charging box.
- The TWS inside.
- 3 pairs of black silicone tips, conical shape, sizes SxMxL.
- 3 pairs of adjustment rings, sizes SxMxL.
- 1 USB Type-C charging cable.
- User manual.
- Warranty card.
The box seems a bit big for a contained number of accessories. As usual, the silicone tips are usually very limited, both in shape and size. Personally, I can’t use any of the standard ones,
because they are too small for my wide ear canal. Then, on the last level, there is a relatively large box, which only comes with a charging cable, whereas it seemed that there could be other accessories, such as a bag to protect the charging box or more tips.
Be that as it may, the contents are the bare minimum. That’s all, when the presentation is very eye-catching and bodes well for something more succulent.
On the other hand, I have to praise Tronsmart because the manual is very complete and exemplary. In this respect, both their website and the standard manual contain all the information necessary for the use of the TWS.
Construction and Design
The construction of the capsules is predominantly rigid, shiny and smooth plastic. They are a kind of hybrid between earbuds and IEMS. But in the end, they are like a cylinder to which a thick, wide flap has been attached, while at the other end, they have angled nozzles, which emit the sound. In the middle of the cylinder, a rubber ring can be attached to improve the fit to the ear. The outer circular face has the Tronsmart logo in white. Next to it there is an oval hole covered with a grille. On the underside of this face is an LED, while on the inside face are the 4 gold-plated charging connectors. A hole on the lower edge appears to be the microphone. The nozzles are 6mm long and have three levels of diameter. The first and closest to the body has a diameter of 6.2mm, the middle 4.9mm and the thinner outer edge returns to 6.2mm. The nozzle is protected by a very fine grille, which reveals the BA driver on the other side.
Internally, the Qualcomm® QCC3040 chip is used and there are two drivers, one dynamic and one Balanced Armature. The diameter of the DD is not specified, nor the material of its diaphragm. Nor is there any mention of the BA’s origin.
The case is rather oval and thin, it does not stand upright. Both the USB Type-C connection and the LED are located at the back. The brand name is engraved on the top of the lid. Internally, the TWS are positioned in profile, facing each other and at an angle. If tips larger than the standard ones are used, the lid may not be able to be closed. Almost any large silicone tip will prevent the lid from closing if it is fitted halfway up the nozzle.
Last but not least, the box has a small L and R inscription to indicate the correct side to place the TWS.
Although the construction is very plasticy, the fact that they are black and smooth gives them a touch of distinction. But it is still a material that is susceptible to scratching and more or less predictable deterioration.
Another thing to highlight is the location of the adjustment ring and its usefulness. Honestly, I don’t find special use for it, nor does it help me in the adjustment, as I will comment in the next section.
Adjustment and Ergonomics
The Tronsmart Onyx Prime have oriented nozzles and are relatively long. However, I had a hard time finding tips that fit correctly. I can’t use them as a deep or medium insertion, because they fall out and in the end I had to opt for the extra large tips I have, which have an inside diameter of 4.5mm. With these tips, I can push them all the way in and manage to touch the inner tube to the body of the capsules, so I can put them in the box and close it. If I place the tip at its midpoint, as it seems to be designed, I cannot close the loading box. It is true that at this point, the fit to my ears is the best, but having to keep repositioning the tips all the way to the bottom and then to the midpoint is not very pleasant. On the other hand, the adjustment of the tips at the midpoint makes the TWS too far away from my ears, making the adjustment ring totally useless. Pushing the tips all the way in worsens my fit and makes it more shallow. It’s a little less secure, but the TWS stick to my ears more. Still, the fit rings barely rub any part of my ears and I can say that I have a very average anatomy, I have almost no problems with any IEM or earbuds. So such an accessory is of dubious use to me.
In conclusion, the fit I get is superficial, with a relative sense of seal, occlusiveness, isolation and sense of security. It is true that the TWS do not fall off, but these models are still far from the fit of the more common IEMS.
Despite all this, the Onyx Prime have improved on the fit of the Apollo Bold, as the inner part of the ear does not rub against the ear, making them clearly more comfortable and pleasant to wear than the Apollo Bold.
Operation and Connection
It is true that I don’t have many TWS that are particularly good in this area. Although I have tried a few, the ones I have from Tronsmart are the best when it comes to connection. Pairing is almost immediate, in unison on both capsules and by default it is in aptX™ mode. Transmission distance is sure to be in that 10m or so, I’ve moved all over my small flat with no breaks, through several walls, something that with other models is not as effective.
The volume is pretty decent. I do complain that the TWS are not very sensitive, nor are they very loud. The Onyx Prime are on the high end of all my TWS.
Call use is very good, one of the best I’ve tried, loud and clear sound, no problems with the microphones. I can finally talk to my mother with a TWS without her having to keep saying «What? That’s the acid test of a good TWS in conversation mode. From then on, the rest of the conversations are quality too.
As far as isolation and external noise reduction are concerned, they seem to work remarkably well. Placed and without music, their passive ability is already noticeable.
I don’t find the tactile operation as good. First of all, the more elongated body makes it a bit more difficult for me to find the touch-sensitive part, I don’t always get it right the first time. Something similar happens to me with double taps and one or two second counts. I’m really not very good at these touch operations. But even so, the sensitivity of the surface is good.
I’m not going to explain or summarise the operation of the Onyx Prime, because it comes with a great and very explanatory manual. In addition, in the link above that points to their website, you can find the same manual online. Again, I repeat that Tronsmart spares no effort to provide their customers with the best and easiest information available. There are many other TWS that are very obscure on this point, with unknown and inaccessible websites, manuals in Chinese or not very explanatory. None of this is the case with Tronsmart and it is to be warmly welcomed. And it is worth remembering that this is a brand from China, like the ones I am referring to.
Finally, I would like to emphasise the Tronsmart APP. As soon as I connected to it, I was able to update the firmware of the Onyx Prime to version 1.2.6. With this APP, you can activate the game mode or the music mode, select among the various presets (8 in total), as well as play with the 5-band parametric equalizer that comes with it.
The Onyx Prime could be said to have a lowercase «L» or almost «U» profile, with a generally warm tendency. It is clear that there is more emphasis on the sub-bass than in the other bands, but its drop towards the mids is quite pronounced. Despite the high level of the low end, thanks to the BA driver, both the high mids and the treble are well present, without hiding behind the bass.
On the other hand, connected to a smartphone, via its APP, the sound can be equalised by means of 8 presets or you can create your own tuning thanks to the 5-band parametric EQ. By this I mean that you can change this profile to others that you like better.
I have used the default settings, when describing most of the sound. I have played with the EQ to extend some particular bands to better describe their potential, especially the high end. But, in the end, I found that the default EQ sounds more coherent and less forced.
As I have already mentioned, the main emphasis is in the sub-bass and it immediately decays towards the centre of the midrange (1kHz). Its speed is quite good for a TWS and despite its gummy aspect, it has good elasticity in its recovery. This tuning and this level of speed mean that the aftertaste is moderately light and the bleed towards the mids is relatively small. This is true when the bass lines are separate bass drums or single beats. However, if such lines are continuous, as in Massive Attack’s Sly, (I don’t like to give musical references, but this song is a clear example of what I mean) the sense of density can become overwhelming, even saturating. Fortunately, in those cases, the bass doesn’t become a magma from which you can’t get out, but it is clear that the bass floods the environment. In those critical cases, it is best that the mids are still standing, although the highs look better. I can’t deny that when those continuous lines disappear, everything comes back to normal, even if there are powerful bass drums. This is probably the weak point of the lower range.
As can be seen from the previous comment, although the movement in one direction is effective, its lateral expansion is more continuous and less defined. In this sense, the bass tends to move like a wave, faster, but accompanied by a horizontal mass, frequency-wise. This effect limits the separation of the bass notes, losing resolution, softening their texture and nuances.
On the other hand, the sonority of the bass is quite achieved, it is true that you feel warmth in them and a slight colouring in that lower end, the sub-bass being more audible than sensory. But overall, the range can be described as enjoyable, with a good impact, energy level and delivery.
Finally, when moving away from the more fuzzy electronica and playing styles with less bass, that’s when the lower range performs best, because that respect for the rest of the band comes through and the bass shows up to enrich and bring enjoyment to the music.
I keep insisting that when the bass is predominant, an overlapping of the bass towards the mid-range is evident. In more normal situations, the coexistence is much more harmonious. Although that thread of horizontal continuity in the frequency scale persists, threading the music together to make it smooth and mellow. In this aspect, a little more resolution and definition capacity is lacking, which manages to separate the elements to expose them more individually and thus achieve a better view of their development and exposure of the details. The reality is that the timbre enjoys respect in its warm nature and does not feel negatively altered in any way. But the level of resolution is not on a par with many of its wired IEMS counterparts. Clearly, equalising and boosting the midrange and treble (or just reducing the bass) does improve the sense of clarity and transparency, but I wouldn’t call these TWSs particularly brilliant in this respect.
Turning the criticism of this range around, and in relation to other TWSs I own, the vocals themselves sound quite full (this is something that can be appreciated in calls), with a medium body that moves them away from thinness. Their positioning towards the listener is not clearly close, but that fullness gives a pleasant sense of proximity. This, together with their soft contour, provides a quite pleasant musicality, even in the sibilance zone, escaping gracefully in those tricky moments.
The instrumentation of the zone develops in very similar parameters, maintaining the same close relationship as the voices. In this way, the integration of all the elements of the range feels very well blended, which gives the sound harmony, smoothness, fluidity, continuity and balance, without forgetting the warmth of the whole. Really, this is quite a musical and easy-to-listen-to midrange.
There is no doubt that the high range is another band that feels the effects of Bluetooth «extension». And, in this respect, few TWS can escape. Assuming this premise, the high range presentation of the Onyx Prime starts with a slight controlled emphasis, but ends up forming several peaks emphasised to the audible extreme. Despite this alternation of peaks, I don’t feel the Onyx particularly sharp in its first half, I think it still weighs down the warm tone in the overall sound, as well as its L-profile. But it is eloquent the later brightness level and its tuning, which tries to emphasise the highest zone. In its first half it is easy to observe a good, if restrained, sparkle. The first harmonics are splashed, which allows a fine flash to be generated, controlled in presence, energy and with an acceptable representation. This gives it a certain naturalness in its recreation and fits it within a pleasant sounding range suitable for long listens, without having to give up a relative level of light and detail. The second part is not as coherent and the result can feel somewhat unnatural, harsher. If the EQ would allow for a flattening of the high end tuning, the range would be more appropriate.
Overall, the level of resolution is relative. When playing music that requires a good level of technical skill, the Onyx Prime’s show their limitations, offering a moderately nuanced level of detail. At the macro level and in broad strokes, such elements are audible, while at the micro level they are more difficult to locate with ease, reaching a level of compromise: some are noticeable while others feel more opaque. Although I could say that the ratio is relatively good for a TWS of its range.
The scene surprised me for the better. It is not a flat or congested TWS, but offers a good expansive feeling and a certain level of three-dimensionality. On the one hand the scene has good depth and width. This is coupled with a clear sense of height and dynamics, which gives the sound a surprising looseness and that light, but perceptible ethereal feeling. Stereo recreation is augmented and the sound becomes punchy and lively, but within a coherence, without feeling forced or unreal. This is how the image recreation feels larger, with a good sense of placement, soft, not too defined, but visible nonetheless.
The separation is not very high, it is true that it is a cohesive sound, which has a certain level of air, but the distance between elements is more than acceptable. Both the musicality of the ensemble, as well as the softness of the sound in almost its entirety, influence this sensation, limiting the perception of a darker background and silence between notes.
Tronsmart Apollo Bold
The Apollo Bold was the first Tronsmart branded TWS I tried and I must say it left a very good taste in my mouth. I was impressed with their level of performance, operability and connectivity. So much so, that I have taken it for granted that the new models must be superior in this respect, and so they have been. It’s true that with the Onyx Prime I haven’t spent so much time detailing its operation, nor its use with the APP, because it’s the same as for the Apollo Bold.
The first thing that surprised me about the Onyx Prime is its connection speed, which is faster than that of the Apollo Bold. The Onyx uses cVc 8.0 sound reduction, while the Apollo Bold uses Hybrid Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) technology that allows it to be deactivated/activated by touch. In this respect, I find this feature more advantageous, although it is detrimental to accurate sound recreation.
The shape of the two TWSs is very different and although I am not a fan of either, I prefer the superior ergonomics of the Onyx. I must comment that the Apollo’s, over time, became uncomfortable in my ears, due to their rounded shape.
As far as sound is concerned, the first feeling I had with the Onyx I really liked. And when comparing them with the Apollo they are even better. I thought there wouldn’t be that much difference, but I was surprised. Tronsmart has taken a clear step forward in terms of sound quality. And I’m glad. The first thing you notice is the change in profile, much more polarised in the Apollo, while the Onyx are more balanced, comparatively speaking, with a more present midrange. Another big difference is the endurance of the drivers. The Onyx allow for higher volume without any distortion, while the Apollo is more delicate in this respect. As standard, the Onyx perform better than the Apollo, are more sensitive and move more easily.
Turning to the sound, the Onyx bass is more natural and less coloured, but the Apollo has a more present treble, like a good U-profile. The Onyx offer a more balanced, homogeneous sound, with more body and density, with a more pronounced continuous presence. The Apollo’s sound is thinner, thinner, and this is noticeable in the middle. The Onyx, on the other hand, have a fuller, more consistent sound, with fewer fissures. The highs are not as explicit as in the Apollo, but perhaps have a little more realism and control.
The Apollo’s low end feels deep, with an elevated sub-bass. In the Onyx there is also that emphasis, but it is not as pronounced and the bass feels wider, more noticeable in the sound, due to being a little more linear. Although the level of fatness is similar, the Onyx’s better driver performance and endurance improves the overall bass quality, sounding more coherent and natural. The bass is more delicate in the Apollo and when the volume is a little loud, you can feel it suffer. In fact, both models suffer when bass lines are complex, but the Onyx seems more precise, giving a more comfortable sense of control.
The mid-range is thin in the Apollo, while the Onyx is warmer and fuller, also closer. Despite the thinness, the Apollo’s sound brighter, but clearly farther away, which is why the detail is perceived as less, because it is difficult to distinguish at that distance. Only the sparkle is perceived closer. Voices and instruments are thin, continuous, smooth and of lower resolution, detail and definition. In the Onyx everything is more forceful, denser and closer, although they are not a prodigy of technique and resolution either, their mid-range is more adequate, fuller, closer and warmer, which results in a profile more suitable for many more genres.
In the high end, while the Onyx has a BA driver, the Apollo has a clear emphasis. It is brighter and livelier, the notes sound more individual. In the Onyx the first treble is more nuanced and I don’t really like the sonority of one or the other. On the Apollo the upper range sounds dull because of that sense of individualism. On the Onyx the filing of the initial zone, at times, is too noticeable, cutting the brightness and emotion. A mix of the two would have been more coherent.
Although neither presents a great level of separation, the Apollo’s remoteness in its mids could give a greater sense of separation, as opposed to the Onyx’s greater density. In terms of soundstage, it is more natural, wider and three-dimensional in the Onyx.
Overall, despite the differences, the Onyx has a different profile, but generally has more upside and is more resolving on more occasions. Normally, I would always choose the Onyx over the Apollo. And that’s a good thing because the «newer is better» rule holds true.
Technology is advancing and so is sound. The price is decreasing and the quality is increasing. What more could you ask for? Actually, there is still a lot of room for improvement in the current TWS. In this particular case: better operation of the APP, more bands for parametric equalisation, as well as the possibility of saving custom profiles. But Tronsmart is on the right track and this model is an evolution of those remarkable Apollo Bold. They have improved in many aspects, in ergonomics, in sound, in speed, in robustness, and so on. And every time, it is more and more pleasant to listen to a new model of this brand.
As for the sound, Tronsmart continues to advance and mature its tuning. In my opinion, it should soften the low end, keeping the mids closer and getting a bit more out of that BA driver, which I find a bit wasted and not very linear. But, on the other hand, I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised and compared to other TWS in my limited collection, they are among the first, without being the most expensive. All this is a very good sign and I will continue to bet on Tronsmart.
Sources Used During the Analysis
- Xiaomi Redmi Note 8 Pro
- HiBy R3 Pro
- JWD JWM-115
- Tempotec Variations V1-A