In this review, we’ll be taking a look at the new TWS04K true wireless IEM and WHP01K Bluetooth noise-cancelling headphone from newcomer brand AG.
Note: these AG review units were sent to us by AG’s local Australian distributor, Busisoft AV. Our thoughts and conclusions are our own.
The TWS04K is available for $199.99 AUD, and the WHP01K is available for $149.99 AUD from select retailers including Addicted2Audio.
Outside – the final audiophile frontier?
“Bluetooth”…“Wireless”…“Portable”: three words that will instantly cause many a rusted-on audiophile to suddenly pull a face like someone just poured vinegar on their cornflakes. The pursuit of better headphone sound has, until recently, required you to either lash yourself to a stack of desktop source equipment, or carry around a chunky stack of DACs, amps, or DAPs (plus the necessary accouterment of cables) to feed your high-end IEMs or headphones on the go. Now, as we know, neither of these solutions are exactly conducive to getting out and about and enjoying everything the outside world has to offer. But while the audiophile market has umm-ed and ahh-ed about the pitfalls of Bluetooth technology, the rest of the world did a simple cost/benefit analysis and decided that convenience trumps everything…and carried on happily playing Despacito over their Beats by Dre without giving cables a second thought.
For this reviewer, the best audio equipment is the sort that makes you want to listen to more music, more often, in any situation. And putting COVID aside for a moment – I quite like being outside. The time between leaving my front door in the morning and getting home in the evening is where I get a good deal of my listening enjoyment done. Being able to crank some sonic inspiration from AC/DC while I run around Sydney’s beaches, or channeling a bit of chill from Max Richter whilst carrying a handful of groceries and dodging other shoppers from ALDI can turn an average, everyday experience into an awesome one. These two scenarios aren’t quite cable-friendly, however. But, as much as I like being outside with full enjoyment of my limbs I’m also a bit of a stickler for sound quality, and so I’ve persisted with cables, dongles, and DAPs for as long as I can (much to the amusement of workmates and other plane passengers).
The main reason why audiophiles are so recalcitrant when it comes to wireless audio is pretty simple: the stuff you find at most retail stores just plain sucks. Consumer-grade headphones are tuned for the masses, who prize nightclub-style bass and the ‘magic’ of noise cancellation above just about everything else. High-end manufacturers, the likes of the brands that grace this website, haven’t really dabbled in portable/wireless gear (for the most part), so it’s been slim pickings for the audiophile looking to find wireless gear to fit their on-the-go lifestyle that isn’t a total sonic compromise.
A new player has entered the game
Japan’s Final Audio is a very high-end manufacturer indeed, and they’ve also made two of my all-time favourite headphones in the very expensive D8000 and A8000 (no, you don’t want to take either of these to the beach with you). Sensing which way the winds of consumerism were blowing, they decided to launch a new subsidiary brand called “AG”, to specifically create more affordable products with (presumably) broader consumer appeal. The AG name is inspired by the Japanese word arigatakimono, meaning ‘one of a kind’ or ‘appreciation’.
AG’s two inaugural products, and the subjects of today’s review, are the TWS04K – a ‘true wireless’ Bluetooth IEM, and the WHP01K – an over-ear, noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphone. Perhaps the two most interesting things about this pair of cable-free entrants to the market are their lineage, and their price tag. Let’s chat about the former first. The packaging of the new AG products proudly boasts that they have “Sound tuned by Final | A Japanese Brand(!)”. Final are certainly no slouches when it comes to tuning a pair of headphones or IEMs, as many of you readers no doubt know, and so this promises a potentially category-defying ‘zag’ away from the usual muddy, boomy voicing that comes part-and-parcel with a pair of cans that you’d buy from a big-box retailer or the duty-free store at the airport. If there’s even a hint of trickle-down DNA from the goodness that I experienced in Final’s flagship models, then we should be in for a Good Time.
Next, the sharp pricing of the TWS04K and WHP01K puts them squarely into the “affordable” end of the Bluetooth market, at $199.99 AUD and $149.99 AUD respectively at the time of writing. Coming in at comfortably less than half the price of the ‘big boys’ in their individual categories, including the Sennheiser TW2, Bose 700, and Sony WH-1000XM4, this new pair of upstarts from AG offers an interesting choice for on-the-go listeners who are happy to trade a few connectivity features and creature comforts for a more concerted emphasis on sound-quality and music playback.
AG explains that the TWS04K has been ‘designed for audiophiles’, and have packed in some impressive features and specifications to their fledgling wireless IEM:
- Bluetooth: BT5.0
- Codec support: aptX, SBC
- Chipset: Qualcomm QC3020
- Frequency response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz
- Runtime: aptX up to 6hrs, SBC/AAC up to 9hrs, 180 hours including case
- Water ingress protection: IPX7
Those first three dot-points promise strong connectivity and adaptability, while those last two points promise extraordinary longevity and survivability in the outside world – being able to charge your IEMs up to 20 times (as claimed) from their clamshell case is pretty impressive. In fact, the charging capability of the TWS04K case’s 2600mAh battery is so good that it’ll happily charge your phone or mobile device when using an appropriate cable.
Conspicuously absent from the TWS04K package and feature-set are the abilities to use an ‘aware’ or ambient-noise projecting sound setting, active noise cancellation, wireless charging, as well as a companion app. The lack of an app, such as the one available on Sennheiser, Sony, and even FiiO products means that settings such as EQ/balance adjustment and on-air firmware updates won’t be able to be fine-tuned natively. Rather than jam-packing the TWS04K full of high-tech features and functionality to cater for productivity and the ‘tech’-focused crowd, AG has instead created a more ‘bare bones’, purist music-playing pair of IEMs designed to keep you listening to your music, longer.
AG’s marketing materials describe their new WHP01K in fairly straightforward terms, revealing the more single-minded philosophy that sits behind them: “The AG-WHP01K is a wireless headphone with excellent sound, a stable connection, and are easy to use”. Sure, there’s a little more to the WHP01K than simply that, but on paper these sound like pretty reasonable goals for an affordable Bluetooth headphone. As well as their audiophile-tuning courtesy of Final, the WHP01K is also equipped with active noise cancellation, making for a more commuting/travelling-friendly package.
In addition to the Android/Apple-friendly SBC and AAC Bluetooth codecs, the WHP01K is able to use aptX LL™, providing less latency and lag when watching videos, in particular. And with a claimed 35 hours of battery life from a single charge, that technically means that you could watch the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, and then watch the entire extended edition trilogy afterwards, with some battery left over to listen to the soundtracks. No, I did not attempt this.
|20 Hz – 20 kHz
|SBC, AAC, aptX™, aptX LL™
|A2DP, AVRCP, HSP, HFP
|Continuous Music Playback
|With ANC: Max 25 hours
|Without ANC: Max 35 hours
|Continuous Communication Time
|With ANC: Max 25 hours
|Without ANC: Max 35 hours
|Continuous Standby Time
|Max 400 hours (When ANC is OFF)
Click over to page 2 to continue the review.