Shanling - MTW100 Balanced Armature: Reviewed By Yash Agarwal

by Yash Agarwal March 19, 2020 7 min read

Shanling - MTW100 Balanced Armature: Reviewed By Yash Agarwal

​Shanling - MTW100 Balanced Armature: A Serious Contender with a Serious Lack of Finishing Touches.

Shanling knocks it out of the park with their first venture into the truly wireless earphone space but leaves a lot to be desired.

Of late, Shanling has become a household name, with their excellent DAP's and have had quite a strong entry in the wireless earphone space; but it takes something to make a true wireless earphone that looks good as well as sounds good, the latter being the area where most earphones fall out of the competition.

For context, I had been using the Samsung Galaxy Buds for the better part of last year, and I really liked them, and the mtw100 while isn't an upgrade per se, it is a very competent side-grade, and that's a really good thing, given the price that they're going for, and given the difference in size of the two brands.

This review might be more of a direct comparison with the galaxy buds, because they're the best true wireless solution I've tried so far, having tried out the Jabra Elite 65t, Creative Outlier Air, Sennheiser Momentum TW, Airpods, Realme buds and a lot more; both sound and convenience wise.

​Disclaimer

Headphone Zone did send me a review unit of the mtw100, but I already purchased a pair before they did and they differ slightly as I'll talk about more in the review. Both of them are the black BA version. My review is about the one that I own unless specified.

​Build Quality

Upon first glance, the MTW100 looks like a very slick package. The case is a glossy, square but rounded box which with the accents and the included lanyard feels very premium. But that's where the premium part about the case ends. The lid is quite thin, and the single joint hinge that is on one of the corners isn't very well made, it feels weak and flimsy, and has quite a bit of play to it. However, the earphones inside are held on quite strongly by magnets, and really strong magnets. Possibly the strongest magnets I've seen in a pair of earphones. The earphones themselves feel very premium. They're well constructed without any blemishes, and feel very premium, more so than the galaxy buds. On paper, they're also rated to a crazy IPX5 rating, which makes them really good for outdoor and gym use.

Fit

I have fairly large ears, and most earphones are able to fit me easily, so my ears might not be the gold standard for measuring ease of fit. However I do tend to share one earphone with friends in long transits and none of them had a problem with putting these on. The same cannot be said about the galaxy buds, and for that matter, even the jabra elite 65t and creative outlier air. Objectively speaking, the earphones fit quite well inside the ear, and do not stick out of the ear at all. They make quite a tight seal inside the ear, and it is something that takes getting used to, if you're coming from any dynamic driver earphone (which have vents due to the nature of the driver), the pressure from BA earphones is a lot more given the lack of any venting. Coming from the galaxy buds, I got used to the pressure from the mtw100 in a couple of days. The advantage that you receive with such a tight seal of course is the excellent isolation that you're able to get. These isolate better than any true wireless earphones I've tried out so far.

Connectivity

This is an area where true wireless units tend to fail compared to their neckband and over-ear companions. This has more than one aspects to it, which are as follows:

Distance: The mtw100 is quite average when testing for distance, that is to say that you can keep your streaming device anywhere in the room and get the same sound from any corner in the room. But cross the walls of one room and go into another, and the sound immediately starts breaking up.

Pairing: The pairing process is pretty straightforward. It enters pairing mode when it is taken out of the case but is not already connected to another phone. It gets tricky when you talk about mono mode pairing though, and this is one of the parts that are weirdly different between the unit that I bought and the one I received for review. The one I received for review has the right earphone as the master and the left the slave, which means that the right earphone must be connected to be used with the left in stereo or use the right one in mono. To connect to the left earphone separately you'll have to pair with it the phone where it shows up as a different device. In this mode it doesn't pair with the right earphone at all and you'll have to put them back in the box and take both earphones together to be used in stereo.



Strangely enough, the one that I bought is completely different in this regard. It behaves like the galaxy buds or airpods where whichever earphone is taken out first becomes the master and the other the slave, and if the master unit runs out of battery or is put back in the case, the slave one becomes the master unit in a split second. All that technical jargon is to say that the one I have is that the unit that I bought behaves like a true wireless earphone should in theory, showing up as a single device in the bluetooth menu, and having either side connected irrespective of which earphone is off or on.

Interference: This is one area where the MTW100 seriously fails even compared to the galaxy buds. For context, the galaxy buds are infamous for being very susceptible to interference from other wireless devices. The galaxy buds would regularly stutter and some packets of audio would drop out when in extremely crowded places like airports, and thus make for a poor listening experience. The MTW100's by comparison make the galaxy buds look like a blessing, as I took them to IGI T3 airport, they outright stopped working. For every 5 seconds of audio played, I'd hear maybe a split second of audio and it would completely drop out again. The reliability in crowded environments is poor. I'd rather use my wireless over ear headphones or a pair of wired IEM's.

Sound Quality

The only saving grace and the sole reason I still have these earphones is the quality of sound that they are able to deliver in such a convenient form factor. Fair warning, I thoroughly enjoy DF-neutral sound and the main aspects of what make a good headphone for me are, tonality, speed and detail, in that order. With that part out of the way, I can tell you that the MTW100's have the sound that you would expect out of a 1 BA setup, albeit really good, and I'm still curious why more manufacturers aren't on board with true wireless BA earphones, especially given how little space they take up and how power efficient they are.


Diving into more detail about the sound, it would best be described as balanced with forward mids. As in typical BA fashion, the bass and treble are nowhere near as well extended as they are on the galaxy buds, which means that it won't be able to hit those lower lows and higher highs, but the things that it does, it does the best. The MTW100's are able to deliver mids, especially vocals with such detail and texture that it more than makes up for the lack of bass and treble extension. Vocals on songs feel surreal and the mids are not affected by any form of bass boom. Starting out, I did feel some resonance in mid bass around the tips of the earphones but it either went away or i got used to them. The soundstage is wide enough, although the forward mids take away some of that feel. Imaging is precise as well.

It is also worth mentioning that the MTW100's don't get that loud. They would be completely fine if you're listening to modern songs, but anything that was recorded before the loudness wars started might feel low on volume, even if you're at full.

Passthrough Mode: The passthrough mode on the MTW100's is surprisingly good but kind of disorienting at the same time. They do a really good job of picking up only the voices and they try not to let any other sound through the mics. It gets disorienting sometimes as the earphones tend to take in short bursts of sounds that aren't vocals and them immediately cut them out, which makes them feel glitchy, and genuinely disorienting.



Microphones

This is one area that I had big expectations from the MTW100, with all the promises of the Qualcomm cVc mics for better calls and what not, and I was left thoroughly disappointed by the poor quality microphones. I come from the having used the mics on the galaxy buds, arguably the worst mics on any pair of name brand true wireless earphones and the MTW100's still has worse mics. I cannot overstate how much background noise these mics pick up. Even in a slightly busy area, a place even the galaxy buds would fare well, the MTW100's will pick up all the background noise and blend them with my voice and make it sound like a gibberish mess. If you're in the market for a pair of earphones only for calls, look elsewhere.

Controls

The controls on the MTW100 are pretty intuitive and make a lot of sense. They have a capacitive surface on each bud. The lack of a single tap gesture is appreciated as it often tends to get triggered while adjusting the earphones as was my experience with the galaxy buds. So it is double tap to play/pause, triple tap on the right side to forward, triple tap on the left side to rewind, and 4 taps on either side to enter passthrough mode. On the review unit the passthrough mode was accessed by a long press, and had confirmation beeps after every control, while the one I own didn't. Weird.

Verdict

With the sound quality, fit and isolation they offer, the Shanling MTW100's are an audiophile's dream, and with the horrible mics and the shortfalls in connectivity, a utilitarian's nightmare. Question is, would you be ready to make the sacrifices in utility that are mentioned above to get the best sound quality possible in a true wireless earphone?

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Yash Agarwal
Yash Agarwal



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