SHANLING - MTW100 BALANCED ARMATURE: The BA versions’ dumber sibling.
Shanling tries to diversify its line into a slightly cheaper space and fails miserably.
I’ve grown fond of my MTW100 BA version in the past few months, and given how good the sound on it was, the MTW100 DD feels like an afterthought, a waste of engineering and effort. The BA version redeemed its shortcomings with its sound quality, but the DD version has no redeeming qualities. Not for the price it’s selling for.
This review will be directly comparing the two models of the MTW100 more often than not, since they’re so close to each other in pricing, form factor and features.
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.
Everything except the sound is same as the MTW100 BA Version. Here’s what I had to say about it in that review: (Please note that everything written in italics is from the review of the BA version, and I found the traits in both virtually indistinguishable)
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
I had some really nice things to say about the BA version, and literally none of them carry over to the DD version. The thing is, I’m really not a fan of bass heavy sound, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t understand the appeal of bass heavy headphone. On more than occasion I’ve tried and recommended bass heavy or V-shaped headphones to people personally, but for a bass heavy earphone, these earphones are pretty bad.
To begin with, they don’t get loud at all. Unless you’re made fun of for listening to music at ridiculously low levels, this is probably going to be too quiet for you. These won’t even drown out the droning sound of a fan or an air conditioner, let alone using them outdoors in a rickshaw or a cab.
The low volumes also make it harder to assess the sound of these earphones, as the perception of detail and soundstage is enhanced by higher volumes. It is especially painful if you’re trying to listen to music mastered before the loudness wars, as you’ll struggle to hear even the layering, let alone minute details.
My impression of this is based on what I heard sitting in a quiet room with all noise making electronics turned off. To put it simply, its …boring.
The tonality is typical of what you would find in earphones that come stock with smartphones. Warm sound with a bass boost that lacks impact and decays for too long and bleeds into the mids, which have negligible texture to begin with. The highs are rolled off as well.
Normally I wouldn’t complain this much about a sound signature like this, but considering the tonality, the only people who I can think of would get behind a sound like this is people who listen to music at really high volumes. People who want to feel the bass, not hear it. And given the abysmally low volume on this, I don’t think these earphones are made for any specific target audience.
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.
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.
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.
iophile-oriented sound that I really appreciated. The DD version has nothing. Poor mic, bad sound quality, no independent pairing, issues with interference; the Shanling MTW100 is easily thrown to dust by its competition. I’d suggest looking elsewhere.