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Audio = Ground Zero: The Dilemma with Earbuds - Jabra and Axel Grell’s debut

My transition to wireless earbuds happened organically as my collection of wired EarPods that come free with the purchase of various gadgets eventually gave up the ghost. However, in an ever expanding growing market of options, finding an affordable suitable product can be a daunting task – especially if you are looking for the convenience of Air Pods and a stylish yet discreet design without the price tag.


Important factors include but are not limited to a good fit with customized and moulded tips, impedance, i.e. the measure of opposition a circuit provides to a current, the way electric signals are morphed into acoustic signals the frequency response aligned with the kind of music one prefers and the potency of drivers, which boost trebles, bass and mids.


Depending on what you use your earbuds for, you would also want to consider sound isolation, noise cancellation and sweat / dust resistance.


For my day-to-day and the daily commute, the Jabra Elite 75t with their small size and Hear Through feature prove to be a great option as they work with a range of devices and support AAC in terms of high-quality Bluetooth codecs, which is greatly compatible with my iPhone.


Extremely lightweight in nature and equipped with touch-sensitive playback controls and tiny microphones on the sides, the initial pairing process of the Jabra Elite 75t is almost as easy as pairing Air Pods despite the fact that they lack the Apple chip. An added benefit is that they can be paired to up to two smartphones simultaneously.


I really dig the Elite 75t’s performance in the durability department as they weather both rain and sweat with performance not suffering when being exposed to the elements.


Design-wise, the Jabra Elite 75t bids including the black USB-C charging case, which magnetically clicks with the buds, look sleek and thought has gone into their slightly curved section, which aids in making them a comfortable fit. The fact that they come with three sizes of ear tips helps to further customise and adjust fit.


Glitches I have often encountered with ear buds are based in the connectivity department, which has so far not been the case with the Elite 75t with only a the odd occasional stutter resolving itself every now and then. The complementary Jabra Sound+ app can be used to tweak and finetune EQ settings to align with your preferences and sensitivities, which fits in nicely with the active noise cancelling upgrade and the useful Hear Through functionality, which with the iota of amplification it provides helps to stay alert and aware of what is going on around you.


As far as battery life is concerned, the Elite 75t earbuds give you almost eight hours of constant playback, backed by the charging case offering close to thirty, which is fairly impressive and superior to many other brands.


Now, a major gripe I usually have with earbuds, no matter the brand, is that they pop out while running. Working out at the gym is fine, however, once I go for longer runs, having to readjust my earbuds every other minute irks the shit out of me. So far, I have retreated to using head ties to keep them in place, which result in me channelling the flair of Hong Kong Phooey.


Another issue I face with most ear buds while running is that they do not always perform when a call comes in that needs to be taken.


Jabra’s tiny Elite 7 Active earphones were the first exercise-friendly ones that actually had a more consistent fit. Waterproof, dust resistant and equipped with outer panel button controls, these earpieces are easy to operate even after 10km in sweltering heat. Depending on the volume level, the battery lasts on good days slightly over eight hours, with the case giving a backup of another twenty-two. A value add is the noise cancelling functionality, which works pretty well with low frequencies and which can be adjusted via the respective app, which can also be used to finetune the Hear-Through function that I use most of the time to remain awareness of my surroundings while running.


As far as sound is concerned, I am impressed by the powerful crispness, richness and the subtleties that can be dialled in via the EQ. Same goes for phone calls, as the microphones do a fantastic job when it comes to rejecting environmental noise.


Now, the ebbs and flows of the pandemic and its implications means that more than ever most of us have the opportunity to work from the confines of one’s abode, for which the right gear proves essential to avoid frustrations during Skype, Microsoft Teams and Zoom calls.


After quite a bit of trial and error, I invested in a the Jabra Speak 750 speakerphone and while it might sound redundant in this day and age, it proved to be a worthwhile move: Once connected to your computer or phone via Bluetooth, this little stylishly looking gadget amplifies in- and output via omnidirectional microphones and noise cancelling capabilities, which enables to maintain a solid and nuanced two-way conversation instead of a walkie talkie one.


Needless to say, it can also be used to play music and in that department, I find it to be performing better than most portable speakers.


Grell Audio – Axel Grell’s debut


With the wireless headphone space becoming more crowded by the minute and established brands endeavouring to up the ante of their offerings, it is always interesting to see new players coming to the table and see what they have to offer.


Now, not that Axel Grell and his accomplishments in the world of audio is actually an unknown entity devoid of a strong heritage with him founder having coined innovations at Sennheiser before setting up his own shop, but I have so far not had the pleasure of experiencing any of his products first-hand, so I was intrigued as to what his very first own release, i.e. the TWS/1 earbuds could do.


With the earbuds and charging case being aesthetically pleasing in appearance as opposed to the deliberately understated and reduced outer packaging, with quite a bit of metal and using plastic parts only where needed for the largely circular design, with its nice, thought through touches it invokes a premium feel from the get go.


The fact that the streamlined design fits well with minimal interference, is one of the major factors I appreciate about it, as no matter the functionality, if earbuds pop out all the time I do not feel like using them.


In terms of battery life and charging antics, The TWS/1 finds itself in familiar territory by offering a max of six hours per charge, accompanied by a charging case offering four full charges.


With a myriad of quality brands operating in the $250+ zone with their true wireless offerings, it was interesting to see that Grell positions its TWS/1s in the low premium <$200 price segment, without sacrificing sound quality or other premium features that have become standard over the last couple of years.


In terms of sound quality, the default setting do a pretty good job at conveying punchy sound and with Grell having partnered up with the third party SoundID, an app can be used to finetune settings to align further with your audio preferences via offering soundbites examples that one can pick and choose from to create your own customised profile, things can be calibrated expertly.


TWS/1 comes with both Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency modes but also offers an innovative new feature that is not standard with other brands, i.e. Noise Annoyance Reduction (NAR) mode to subdue lower-frequency noises which complements the Active Noise cancelling feature, which is a great concept, fantastic addition and one that I hope Grell will endeavour to finetune further going forward as it aids with receiving clearer, borderline lossless phone calls as well.


Another interesting feature is the mono listening mode, i.e. the flexibility to listen to audio on just one earbud to maintain an awareness of space.


Given all of the aforementioned factors, with its debut, German minimalist industrial design and meticulous attention to detail, Grell has instantaneously positioned itself firmly on the forefront of affordable high-quality technological premium offerings that remains accessible for a mainstream audience, yet with its richness, transparency and clarity of its acoustic output should appeal to audiophile aficionados alike.


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images from company websites

T - February 8, 2022

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