Good sound at Low Cost: Philips TX1 and TX2 IEMs
Philips TX1 ($29.99) and TX2 ($39.99)
It's been about a year since I reviewed the very impressive Philips Fidelio S1 and S2 in-ear monitors. Though the earphone market has not changed radically in the past year, one area of steady improvement has been the performance of entry-level IEMs. Philips' latest budget in-ear releases, the TX1 and TX2, do not bear the Fidelio badge but still indicate a trickling down of know-how from the higher-end Fidelio products.
The TX-series earphones are already available online, priced around $29.99 for the TX1 and $39.99 for the TX2. At first glance, this seems to be about rightthese earphones do not share the metal construction, fancy packaging, or nice accessories of the Fidelio S1 and S2. They stick instead to nailing the basics, which includes sound quality.
Both of the TX-series earphones are built around large 13.5mm dynamic driverssame size as the drivers in the Fidelio S1 and S2. The new models also boast a similar half in-ear form factor, which places the wide driver enclosure in the outer ear with an angled nozzle fitting into the ear canal. This encourages a relatively shallow fit that's excellent for anyone who dislikes the sensation of deep-sealing in-ear monitors.
The TX1 and TX2 are nearly identical in designthe biggest difference is that the TX1 features an all-plastic construction while the TX2 adds some metal trim with gold accents. The TX1 is available in pure black or black and white while the TX2 can be had in either black and gold or white and gold.
The earphones utilize identical flat cables with built-in headset functionality in the form of an inline microphone and single-button remote. Unlike "made for iPhone" 3-button remotes, these should have similar functionality with Apple, Android, and even Windows Phone 8 devices. I'm not normally a fan of flat cables, but the ones used here are lightweight and reduce tangling without producing much cable noise (microphonics), so they're alright by me.
Despite their plastic construction and light weight, the TX1 and TX2 are no more comfortable in the ear than the Fidelio earphones. The housings are approximately the same size and those with small outer ears may encounter soreness after wearing the earphones for a while. It also takes a bit of practice to get the nozzle angle right when inserting the earphonesI found them to work best with the strain reliefs pointed straight down.
Isolation from outside noise is average at best, and you only get the standard silicone eartips in S/M/L sizes in the way of accessories. Those who prefer foam or can't find a good seal with the included eartips will need to go aftermarket. Let's not forget that these are budget earphones, howevera meager accessory pack and mediocre isolation are not the worst concessions to make when the trade-off is great performance.
Budget in-ear earphones tend to be bass-heavy for a reasonit's what the average consumer of portable audio products expects. These latest releases from Philips are no exception, but they achieve good overall sound quality despite the enhanced bass response.
The quantity of bass produced by the TX-series earphones is comparable to the last sub-$50 in-ears to seriously impress me, the VSonic VSD1 and VSD1S. The bass is strong enough to shine with top-40 music, but not so heavy that it throws off the tonal balance. Compared to the Philips Fidelio in-ears, the TX-series sets are more bass-focused and a little less controlled and natural at the bottom, as can be expected from an inexpensive, consumer-oriented release. The TX1 has a little more bass presenceand bloatthan the pricier TX2.
The bass on both models does an impressive job of staying out of the waycertainly as good as the aforementioned VSonic sets. At lower volumes especially, bass bloat is nearly imperceptible and doesn't take away from the overall clarity of the sound. The low end also extends very well, recreating deep bass rumble and "slam" with authority.
The clarity of the TX1 and TX2 is impressive, though at higher volumes the bass does creep up a bitmore so on the TX1 than the TX2. The earphones don't reach the bar set by the two Fidelio models, but the difference between the $29.99 TX1 and the $149.99 Fidelio S2 is not as great as one may expect. The lower midrange on the TX-series earphones is slightly recessed, resulting in a mildly "v-shaped" sound signature, with the TX2 being a little more balanced and tonally neutral than the TX1.
There is plenty of presence through the upper midrange and treble, mimicking the tuning of the Fidelio sets. At low to moderate volumes, the TX-series earphones sound fairly smooththe TX2 a little more so than the TX1. However, those who are sensitive in the 4-6k Hz region will not want to crank up the volume as both models can get harsh. In this regard they lose out to the higher-end sets I've reviewed recently, such as the Onkyo IE-HF300 and RHA MA750, but are still on-par with the sub-$50 VSonics.
Soundstaging is very similar between the TX1 and TX2, offering good width and an airy presentation not normally associated with IEMs in the lower price brackets. In fact, the new Philips are superior even to the very capable VSonics in this regard.
Efficiency is also impressive, and the one area where the TX1 and TX2 actually improve on the Fidelio models. Philips must have recognized that not being able to reach volumes higher than those of stock earbuds is fine for audiophiles purchasing the $100+ Fidelios, but may be an issue for buyers of budget-oriented sets.
There is an additional consideration with the TX-series earphones, as with many others of this size and shapeit's especially easy to get an insufficient seal between ear and earphone. The enhanced bass does provide a little room for error but the treble tends to sound splashy and overbearing with a poor seal, and the presentation loses some of its depth. It's very much worth it to zero in on the perfect fit with these earphones.
The Philips TX1 and TX2 yet again raise the bar for audio performance on a tight budget. While they aren't better than my sub-$50 reference, the VSonic VSD1S, the Philips offer similar performance at an even lower price and boast built-in headset functionality to boot. There are a few caveatsthe 13.5mm drivers mean that these earphones may not comfortable in small ears, and the noise isolation is average at best. However, for the price, the sonic performance alone is enough to recommend the TX in-ears.
Although last time I recommended the less expensive Fidelio S1 over the S2 due to near-identical sound and insignificant differences in design, this time I'll suggest paying the extra $10 to get the TX2 for its more natural tonal balance and polished appearance. The TX1 is a good recommendation, but the TX2 goes up on the Wall of Fame as a superb low-cost IEM.