Fostex TM2 Review – Wireless Weekend

Sound Impressions

Summary

The TM2 is a very clean mid-centric to treble focused presentation. This signature has a slight bias to an n-shaped curve with an elevated upper-mids combined with a bit of a 7-8k peak to add some bite and sparkle.

The low-end is not terribly elevated. In fact, compared to most TWS dynamic drivers this one is a bit on the drier side with a linear almost flat response. I suspect there is a hint of warmth or sub-bass lift around 50-100hz but from there it seems to drop fast and stay flat to around 1k. This is a fast and tight performance with little in the way of smear and bleed.

Whilst there is no bass bleed on this driver it does lack a bit of warmth. That means a dry, odd-harmonic dominant instrumental timbre. It is precise, with excellent separation but lacking in a little body at times.

Vocals are forward and exuberant with male vocals sounding a lot cleaner and clearer on the TM2 compared to the likes of the TW5.0 and even the TEVI. Female vocals can sound sharper, however, with a strong 2-3k lift on the TM2. In some ways, this reminds me of the Advanced Alpha and Brainwavz Alpha planar aggressive midrange.

Staging

The TM2 is tall, mid-forward and slightly lacking in-depth and power for staging. Width is ok, but it is skewed with that pushed 1-3k upper mids so vocals are very much to the fore with instruments tucked in behind and lacking a little in power from the low-end to really have any meaningful impact.

What you do get is a very open midrange with plenty of air and very good separation. A lack of bloated bass really helps here so whilst it is not hugely wide it makes good use of the space it has. Nothing veiled or recessed here.

Height is good with a bump at around 7-8k which brings percussion work to the fore and sometimes on top of higher pitching vocals. It is an energetic top-end with plenty of sparkle and headroom.

Fostex TM2

Synergy With Monitors

We decided to test the TM2 modular with a few of our usual monitors and their stock cables and see how well it performed. This included CA’s Solaris, 64 Audio’s U4-SE and Vision Ear’s award-winning Elysium. The source for the TM2 was a Samsung Note 9 and for wired we went with the Lotoo PAW Gold Touch.

Noise

The TM2 does have a relatively high noise floor so sensitive monitors such as the Solaris are not the best for black backgrounds and do exhibit a pervasive level of hiss using the TM2. I would avoid using similar super-efficient monitors with the TM2 such as the Andromeda and the EE Zeus.

Less sensitive monitors such as the 64 Audio U4-SE and VE’s Elysium fared much better with the Elysium, in particular, showing a very quiet noise floor with the TM2.

Tuning

Elysium

With the Elysium, you do lose a bit of dynamic range using the TM2 compared to a wired pairing. The timbre is close to the same as going wired but perhaps a little thinner due to a slightly diminished low-end presence. It seems a shade cleaner but not a million miles away from the wired sound.

You will, however, hear less instrumental separation and a shallower soundstage due to that drop in dynamic range. Overall, it is not on the level of wired technically but does retain the core ‘flavor’ of the Elysium sound which is a plus.

Vision Ears Elysium

U4-SE

I was satisfied also with the wireless performance from the U4-SE without being blown away. Again, dynamic range took a hit but not as much as the Elysium which does need more juice to drive properly than what the TM2 can really provide. The background on the Lotoo wired pairing was also much blacker than the TM2 which did exhibit a bit of hiss though not as much as the Solaris.

The timbre and balance with the U4-SE/TM2 pairing were in the right direction though I felt the bass a bit looser and softer as was its treble presence compared to going wired. You do get a sense of more headroom and air on the wired pairing but I am not that surprised.

Overall, these monitors murder the stock drivers, even if not as open and dynamic sounding with a good wired alternative. This is the main attraction of the TM2 for my audiophile tastes.

Wireless Performance

Pairing

I found the TM2 pairing process really straight forward, especially with the TrueStereo Plus Tech. You simply take them out of the cradle and they start the pairing process right away.

Once the scanning is turned on from your source you should see Fostex TM2 Right, (and left) straight away. You should be able to pair with either channel and the other will sync at the same time.

Now from what I can see, the pairing process on my Note 9 and P20 smartphones seem to favor the left channel over the right for the pairing so this may be how Fostex has set it up for when both are turned on. On my Windows 10, it seemed to favor the right channel first for audio then left channel synched after. If one is off, you can connect the active one without issues.

You do not have to start from the cradle either. You can press the rear physical button on each for 5 seconds at the same time and they will turn on and pair. There is nothing OCD or rigid in how to get a pairing with the TM2 which is a big bonus for me.

Stability & Range

I did my usual 10m water walk with one wall in between the source and the TM2 and it was almost as good as the HELM TW5.0 and on par with the Astrotec S80. Those two are my best performers to date for TWS stability and distance so to get close is impressive.

I have this little enclave in my kitchen at the 10m mark and the likes of the TEVI, MPOW M50, and the TOLV cannot function in that enclave without drop out. The TM2 keeps going to about 1.5m into the enclave but signal drop happens before the TW5.0 distance. I would place this one third thus far good stability and range in our usual tests.

Latency

Using a media track with a 384kpbs audio embed on VLC Windows 10, the Tm2 was a solid 0.2s hastened fix. In short, it does have some basic sync issues with media tracks that require tweaking.

YouTube performed somewhat better even on HD tracks but I could still detect a small level of syncing would tighten things up if it is possible. Overall, the TM2 is not that bad for media sync on a casual basis but for denser audio mixes and higher data rates, I would go with VLC or software with sync capability.

Select Comparisons

FiiO UTWS1

$45 (price varies)

Technical

The UTWS1 is a similar product on paper though without the drivers which go some way to explaining the cheaper costs. They also do not come with any carry cradle and of course, you save on tips as you are expected to provide your own drivers.

Like the TM2, the stock connection on the UTWS1 is MMCX but there is no ability to swap out the termination for other connectors. If you are smart you can buy a set of $30 adapters which will work just fine but otherwise, it is for MMCX drivers only.

The UTWS1 also has a cheaper Qualcomm chipset, the QCC3020 compared to the TM2’s QCC3026. The 3026 is quite the smaller chipset with a lot more I/O options though the TM2’s feature set is not that dissimilar to the UTWS1. Shared features include BT5.0, aptX, intelligent DSP noise cancellation, and TrueWireless Stereo Plus, and an IPX5 rating.

The final technical difference is the app integration of the TM2 whereas the UWS1 has no such app integration. Granted the Fostex app is somewhat limited but even now it has more options such as enhanced noise reduction control compared to the FiiO variant.

FiiO UTWS1

Battery

Since the UTWS1 has no cradle you have to charge them independently or one at a time with a micro-USB socket at the base of the rear hook. In theory, this sounds ok but it does double the charge time which is about 1.5 hours. The TM2 cradle makes charging both a lot easier but then you do have the bulk to consider.

The UTWS1 battery life is a solid 8 hours but slightly behind the excellent 10 hours of the TM2. You can expect a small decrease in those numbers on both if using higher volume and aptX.

Fitting

Both use a similar over the ear system, however, the springy FiiO option tends to pull at the monitor. That means it can be difficult for the IEM to stay in one place if it is light and small. The pliant middle hook of the TM2 works better in adjusting to shape around your ear with no outward pressure.

Performance

The pairing process with BT transmitters was remarkably similar between these two since both have TrueStereo Plus tech inside. Stability and range, however, was weaker on the UTWS1 by a few meters compared to the TM2. Signal drop out was stronger at the small kitchen enclave zone where the TM2 performed well.

For latency, you do have to be careful with how your system is set up on PCs, at least form our tests that seemed to be the case with high kbps audio samples from media files using VLC. I could not keep a steady signal and seem to suffer from buffer issues causing stuttering and drop out.

YouTube had less of an issue but still has some symptoms. I didn’t try for latency due to the unstable signal. The TM2 did not have these issues with either high kbps audio embedded media files or YouTube.

Tuning

Since both use MMCX, it was easier to compare with the stock Fostex TM2 drivers attached to each one. The UTWS1 seems to convey a bit more bass bloom and warmth and slightly less upper mids and treble presence than the TM2 drivers paired with the TM2 receiver.

The TM2 has a flatter but better-defined bass response as well as a drier instrumental/vocal timbre. Treble is also more extended and more physical on the TM2 but some might find it a shade brighter than the FiiO UTWS1.

Also, the dynamic range and level of instrumental separation is just way better on the TM2. You feel you can get a lot more headroom on the TM2 setup. The drivers also seem to be receiving a shade more current with both smartphone volume levels lower on the TM2.

Clearly, the better amplification is inside the chipset and amp in the TM2 receivers and you can hear that difference.

Lypertek TEVI

£99.00

Technical

The TEVI is one of our top-performing TWS for sound quality reviewed to date. It is not that expensive either, being almost a third of the price of the TM2. It is also what you could describe as a more traditional TWS format being purely in-ear, non-detachable with no hooks.

This is not a modular system but it does share some common features with the TM2 such as BT5.0, aptX capable, apps integration, and good earphone driver life with each rated up to 10 hours. There are some key differences, however.

The first is the cradle. The TEVI’s cradle is vastly smaller and more pocketable, has a 70-hour battery life capacity, and takes a USB-C connection. The TM2 brick is none of that with a micro-USB connection.

The second is a combination of controls. The Fostex uses both touch and physical whereas the TEVI is just physical. You can tweak the buttons on the TEVI via its app which I find to be more advanced than the Fostex app.

Lypertek TEVI

Performance

The TEVI pairing is very straight forward and as seamless as the TM2 since both have TrueStereo Plus. I found both had no issues pairing with a Note 9, P20, and our Windows 10 Laptop BT connection.

Range and stability were less impressive with the TEVI cutting out a bit more at 10m and not able to go 1-2 meters behind the second wall (the kitchen enclave). The TM2 was rock solid at 10m and could go about 1m beyond the second wall before a dropout.

Latency was slightly better on the TEVI with perhaps a max 0.1s hastened sync tweak on VLC using Windows 10. The TM2 was really more comfortable at 0.2s hastened on the same media file used (448 Kbps AC3 5.1 encoded movie).

Tuning

The TEVI really is the best balanced TMS for sound quality, even compared to the TM2. Where do they differ? It is really in the tonal balance. The TEVi has a bit more low-end body and warmth, not huge like the M5 from MPOW or full-blown like the TW5.0. Just enough to bring out some solid PRaT in its bass performance.

The TM2, on the other hand, is much drier, more linear, and sounds very neutral in comparison. The mids on the TM2 are further forward whereas the TEVI sounds a little recessed with less presence in comparison for male vocals. For female vocals, the TM2 is driver, cleaner, and brighter compared to the TEVI which is a bit more liquid and smoother.

Treble is where the TM2 has a bit more presence and bite. It tips the timbral balance in favor of odd harmonic overtones so percussion is tighter but sharper whereas the TEVI is smooth but slightly darker.

Overall, the TEVI is very nicely balanced right across. Its PRaT and smooth tones stand out the most and it is a TWS you can throw almost any genre at. The TM2 has a bias more to the mids and treble so it staging is a little taller and vocals further forward. It is clean and energetic but not as deep or as warm as the TEVI.

HELM TW5.0

$129.99

Technical

The TW5.0 is more of a traditional TWS in-ear system with no modular detachable drivers but it does have some small in-ear hooks to stabilize when in the ear.

Like the TM2, the TW5.0 uses a 16Ω single dynamic driver though the TW5.0 driver is slightly bigger at 6.8mm compared to just 6mm inside the TM2. Both have BT5.0, aptX/AAC decoding, and they both also have an IPX rating through the HELM TW5.0 is IPX4 compared to the IPX5 of the TM2.

The TW5.0 design, though not modular, is very unique looking, grips well in the ear, and isolates just as good as the TM2 with the stock tips, if not better. The TM2 single bore silicone tips do a very good job though so neither I find the need to change. The TM2’s noise cancellation ability via Landscape mode does enhance its isolation features significantly.

Of course, the TW5.0 cradle with its 30-40 hour battery life is a big win but the TM2’s individual driver 10-hour rating is superior to the 6-7 hours of the TW5.0.

Helm True Wireless 5.0

Performance

The TW5.0 is fussy for pairing and can be frustrating at times with its strict master-slave, ‘left-pair-right’ process followed by pair to the source transmitter. A few times I have had to do a master reset to get that working smoothly.

The TM2, on the other hand, is simple with the TrueStereo Pus tech and you can connect one driver or the other depends on your needs. My only observation was the driver side preference for connecting in stereo was different between the PC and the Note 9. With the Note 9, it tended to go with the left rather than right and the PC tended to go with the right rather than the left.

The TW5.0 range is still the best in all reviewed to date and this includes stability. The TM2 came close but was still short of a meter or two behind 2 walls compared to the TW5.0

For latency, testing a 448 Kbps AC3 5.1 encoded movie proved to require no latency adjustment for the TW5.0. With the Tm2 we needed around 0.2s hastened on VLC for the same file just to keep it tight.

Tuning

Very different tuning on these two TWS. If I had to pick one I would go with the Fostex. The TW5.0 is a big, warm, full-blooded basshead experience. It subscribes to the dark side of a V-shape with a heavy low-end, dipped lower-mids, and a forgiving treble.

The TM2, by contrast, is much cleaner but also much leaner on the low-end. It is not totally flat but much more linear and better defined than the TW5.0 so for me it the “audiophile’ experience with little to no bleed into a peppier midrange. It also sounds nippier and more open in the mids as a result.

When the bass gets going on the TW5.0 it drowns out the mids and vocals. Pull it back, however, with quieter tracks then the vocals have a nice rich texture timbre to them. The TM2 does get very forward on the upper mids and it does have a significant peak around 7k also which bleeds into the mids timbre. As a result, it is drier and harder-edged than the liquid TW5.0 tone.

Overall, the TW5.0 excels at pure depth and power with a richer wetter overtone making it more forgiving. The TM2 is the better mids/vocals and treble performer with more width and height as well as superior instrumental separation.

Our Verdict

If you are going to ask me why not the UWS1 from FiiO at a fraction of the price I might have agreed with you before I compared them side by side. Not now. The Fostex delivers an all-round better user experience and superior sound quality.

What it does not deliver on is charging capability from that big black cradle. That may well be a deal-breaker for TWS enthusiasts on the go, despite the excellent 10-hour battery life of the drivers themselves.

However, the TM2 seems to be the best driver detachable TWS solution on the market for those after absolute sound. The ability to take off those stock drivers and slap on a high-end custom monitor is a lot of fun.

That type of pairing might not deliver on par with your existing IEM wired option and it is quite expensive. However, it is a heck of a lot better than any non-detachable TWS out there right now. If you have good IEMs already, then this is the way to go if you want hi-res true wireless.

Fostex TM2 Specifications

Bluetooth

  • Firmware ver.: Bluetooth ver.5.0
  • Output class: Class2
  • Transmission: FHSS( Frequency hopping type)
  • Transmission distance:Approx. 10m
  • Frequency range:2.4 GHz(2402 ~ 2480MHz)
  • Profile:A2DP 1.3, AVRCP 1.6,HSP 1.2, HFP 1.7
  • Codec:AAC, aptX, SBC
  • Contents protection: SCMS-T types
  • Transmission range:20Hz ~ 20kHz

Audio(Earphones)

  • Types:dynamic
  • Driver unit:φ6mm
  • Frequency response range:10Hz~40kHz
  • Impedance:16 ohm
  • Dimension:W21.6×D14.6×H6.5(mm)

Microphone

  • Types:MEMS
  • Directivity:All directions/CVC Noise-canceling available

Remote controller

  • Music play :Play、Pause、Fast forward、Rewind、Next song, Previous song, volume control,
  • Call control:Receiving call, Call off

Charge cradle

  • Input:micro USB(type B)
  • Dimension:W138×D67×H35
  • Weight:128g(Except for TM2)

Others

  • TM2 body dimension:W40.2×D48.2×H8.8(mm)
  • TM2 body weight:11g×2(Including cables, earphones)
  • Battery:DC3.7V (Internal charge Lithium-ion)
  • Charge time:Approx. 1-hour 30mins(Full charge)
  • Playtime / Call time:Max approx. 10 hours
  • Water proof:IPX5
Sound Quality
7.4
Design
7.3
Comfort & Isolation
7.5
Performance & Features
7.3
Slide here to add your score on the gear!7 Votes
8
7.4
Editorial Score
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