M5-TWS Custom Review – Pioneer

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Sound –

Testing Methodology: Measured using Arta via IEC 711 coupler to Startech external sound card. Deep (more balanced) and shallow fit (brighter) measured with and without the coupler nozzle. 7-9KHz peaks may be artefacts/emphasized due to coupler resonance, less so with deep fit. Measurements besides channel balance are volume matched at 1KHz. Fit depth normalized to my best abilities between earphones. Due to these factors, my measurements may not accurately reflect the earphone or measurements taken by others.

Tonality –

Of course, all of this is for nought if the earphones do not deliver on sound and, thankfully, the M5-TWS Custom performs very admirably here. It is instantly the most technically impressive TWS earphone I’ve listened to and a very well-balanced one. Unfortunately, my measurement setup doesn’t play well with the new crop of TWS earphones, so take this graph with a grain of salt. I ran some sine sweeps to confirm my findings, it did not sound nearly as mid-forward as the graph would suggest and was more extended in the treble. I hear a relatively even bass from bottom to top followed by a smooth transition into the midrange with a small dip for separation. They then begin a gradual climb to a moderate 3kHz hump as dictated by the Harman curve. The Custom version comes across more even-metred, taking the edge off with a 4k dip for smoothness and density before a moderate 5k peak, after which, emphasis drops off once more for a clean background.

Likely due to BT limitations, I did notice some distortion at the very top, albeit almost every TWS earphone rolls-off completely before 8k so this represents a strong performance for this form factor. Compared to the universal, it’s clear we’re working off the same foundation, however, the experience is markedly better on the custom. In particular, the bass is deeper extending and more linear throughout. The midrange tonality appears similar but isn’t as sharp or intense. The Custom still isn’t the fullest and most coherent performer, but one with a very transparent tone and a natural voicing. The top-end is markedly smoother and more refined with higher resolution, a great step up over the universal.

Bass –

I think many are scared off when the terms reference and neutral get thrown around. Make no mistake, the M5-TWS Custom is not bass deficient by any stretch. Lows sit in harmony with the mids and highs in addition to upholding very respectable linearity throughout. And yet, there’s a good amount of power behind each note, with a strong sub-bass extension and smidgen of emphasis in the deep-bass producing an almost palpable pressure – if not the super tight and robust slam that a high-end wired IEM may provide. This remains a punchy and impactful bass with a clean, essentially neutral tone and accurate timbre. The mid and upper-bass linearity especially is hard found, even on wired earphones around this price. In turn, no regions sound over shadowed and note size is just a touch enhanced overall without much other colouration.

Note presentation is also well-metred, providing a detailed and dynamic expression. Attack is on the aggressive side but isn’t the most concise especially relative to models adopting larger dynamic drivers. So this isn’t the hardest-hitting earphone nor warm and smooth. Still, it is one of the best technical performances I’ve heard from a micro-driver in-ear and a good step up over the universal. Decay is on the quicker side as well, which combined with the balanced mid-bass creates a very well separated bass presentation with strong note definition. Those chasing a warm and especially full sound will want to look elsewhere but conversely, bass isn’t lacking in body or texture either. I find the technical nature and uptick of note size grants this earphone a dynamic and versatile low-end expression that works with a wide range of music.

Midrange –

Where I found the universal somewhat intense and forward in the midrange, the custom is markedly more refined and appreciably smoother in its note delivery. We observe many similarities; a slightly recessed lower-midrange and gradual climb to a 3kHz hump. Accordingly, I hear a natural vocal presentation and minimal tonal colouration in addition to a slight bias to vocals over instruments. As aforementioned, the custom implements several key changes that create a markedly more enjoyable experience, all changes feel well-considered and don’t detract from any positive qualities enjoyed on the universal. In particular, the upper-midrange has been brought back by a few dB as has the lower-treble. In turn, there’s a little more density and body to vocals. Similarly, articulation is smoother and more accurate, if still a touch on the aggressive and revealing side in the grand scheme of things.

Vocal positioning also isn’t as forward, sitting in better balance with the bass which makes the low-end more enjoyable too as it sounds a bit more present here by comparison. Altogether, this is a more balanced and appealing tuning to me by a good margin and the vocal timbre is much closer to my personal ideal. Also, despite an uptick of 5kHz presence, I still don’t find the M5-TWS Custom to be especially prone to sibilance as the 6kHz region is well-controlled. The upper-midrange density also helps combat this by increasing smoothness and body. It remains a touch thin overall and, again, not especially warm or musical in its presentation when speaking in subjectives. The M5-TWS Custom rather specialises in a clean and accurate note delivery that shifts its presentation slightly towards the revealing side of natural.

Highs –

Treble does stand out most to my ear within the entire presentation, the 5kHz peak mostly by a small degree. It is more prevalent on some tracks than others and treble isn’t sharp or intense either since the 6kHz region isn’t forward too. Unfortunately, the custom design means users aren’t able to easily dampen this spike with tape or other thin fabrics, so you would have to insert materials into the nozzle at your own risk to bring this down. As is, treble instrumentation is presented in a crisp manner with a more aggressive note attack and thin albeit very clear transients. Notes are slightly thin with diminished body, however, they are presented with strong fine detail retrieval. Still, as a result, cymbals especially miss some texture with bias towards percussion over the most accurate shimmer and decay. If you don’t mind some aggression here, the M5-TWS Custom provides some of the highest, if not the highest resolution I’ve heard from a TWS earphone. Extension is also quite good, not wired good, but handily outdoing basically all other high-end TWS models.

Even high hats are clear and well-resolved with minimal grain, there’s also a pleasing sense of headroom and openness, even hints of sparkle in the highest octave on the right tracks. The background is dark for the most part which provides a nice sense of layering to the presentation and there’s enough micro-detail to provide the impression of distance and dimension, so the soundstage doesn’t suffer. The sharper, more aggressive foreground is my main caveat and something users should be wary about considering the premium price point.  Though I did not find it personally intrusive to listening, some may, especially as the M5 doesn’t have as much bass as some V-shaped models to balance it out. Regardless, if you don’t mind a bit more crunch and focus on crisp note attack, the M5-TWS Custom is marvellously resolving for a true wireless in-ear.

Soundstage –

With a well-extended top-end, the M5-TWS excels with regards to sound staging. It is wide and, given the less intense midrange presentation, also offers a good amount of depth. It does sound a little hazier than a good wired set, but offers similar expansion beyond the head that is quite a feat. Imaging is quite good, you get sharp directional cues and a balanced sound with a decent amount of background and micro-detail for accurate positioning. Localisation isn’t tack sharp like a good wired IEM but there’s a commendable stereo image with defined layers and a nice sense of distance that most TWS lack entirely. Separation is very good due to the cleaner tuning and concise note delivery as well which aids the impression of strong fine detail retrieval.

Comparisons –

ADV. M5-TWS ($149.99): At a now discounted price, the universal offers much of the same experience, albeit the Custom makes many small improvements across the board to justify its vastly higher asking price.

The overall balance is not as strong, however, it is more adjustable with ear tips and fabrics than the custom. In stock form, the universal comes across as brighter and leaner which may tip it too far from natural for some. The bass is more extended on the custom and has a bit more body in turn. The custom also has a more controlled bass despite being more voluminous. The midrange is a bit cooler on the uni and noticeably more forward, the custom sounding more balanced. The custom is also smoother and more natural in terms of vocal body. Treble is slightly smoother on the custom as well, though neither are especially smooth in isolation.

The custom has a bit more extension and background detail retrieval, the universal has more air, also sounding brighter, but it has less resolution overall. The custom stages better in terms of size and also imaging. You are paying a hefty premium for the form factor, but it’s good to see that ADV. have also addressed the tuning to some degree. The universal remains a good choice for those that want a nice, neutrally toned and revealing TWS in-ear at a much lower price. They do sound almost as balanced with different tips and micropore tape or alcohol swab can be placed over the nozzle to further damp the highs.

Hifiman TWS800 ($299): A great departure from the TWS600, the new TWS800 represents a balanced and powerful sound that one might not expect from the TWS form factor. Both clearly pursue a balanced sound, the M5 is on the more revealing side, the TWS800 the slightly fuller and smoother side. The TWS800 has slightly bigger bass, similar extension but less sub-bass pressure and bias, instead, the mid-bass is a smidge enhanced. The M5-TWS is a bit more dynamic and separated, in turn, while the TWS800 has a more impactful note delivery with higher driver control and a fuller mid-bass. The TWS800 has a slightly fuller and smoother midrange too. The voicing and tuning are reasonably similar, the TWS800 has a denser upper-midrange and a smoother lower-treble. The M5-TWS Custom is more revealing and cleaner, it has higher definition but also a sharper articulation.

By comparison, the TWS800 sounds a bit more coherent and accurate in terms of vocal body, but it is smooth to a similar extent that the M5 is revealing. The M5-TWS Custom has a sharper, more forward lower-treble, it is crisper with slightly more fine-detail presence in turn. The TWS800 has a more even treble response, slightly smooth but also well-bodied with more texture. Both extend well, the M5 has a bit more energy and headroom, the TWS800 has a slightly cleaner note delivery at the very top, the M5 becoming a bit grainier at the very top. The M5-TWS Custom has a slightly wider soundstage, the TWS800 has more depth. The TWS800 images slightly better while the M5 has better separation.

Sennheiser Momentum TW2 ($299): The Momentum TW2 is a more fully-rounded option with more lifestyle features such as passthrough mode, app control and also much improved call quality and touch controls. In turn, it is easier to live with and more versatile in some senses.

Sonically, they pursue a different sound, the TW2 is warmer and vastly smoother but also not nearly as clean and clear. The bass extends similarly on both, the M5-TWS Custom is more balanced with a little sub-bass bias while the MTW2 has more mid-bass bias and has quite a bit more bass overall. The M5 is much faster, however, its bass is more defined and detailed while the Momentum is fuller, warmer and a little more textured in the mid-bass. Both are relatively natural through the midrange, the M5 especially so. The MTW2 is warmer and fuller, also less extended and open in the upper-midrange.

It has ample clarity and a sharper articulation that retains respectable definition. However, there is really little comparison when it comes to timbre and resolution, where the M5 has a large advantage. The MTW2 has a lower-treble peak as well, in context of its less forward midrange, it is still a more laid-back and much less intense sounding earphone. It is similarly crisp and thinner in terms of instrument body, with less extension and headroom. The M5 is more detailed and has a better instrument timbre, it has a much larger soundstage and better imaging and separation.

Master & Dynamic MW07 Plus ($299): The MW07 Plus also offers a more lifestyle orientated experience with more practical controls and charging alongside better call quality. It has pass through and ANC but doesn’t block noise as effectively as the custom-moulded M5. I enjoy the fit and water resistance on the M&D that said.

The MW07 Plus sports a natural and smooth sound with good balance, perhaps a little U-shaped overall. Its bass extends a little deeper and it has more bass overall, especially mid-bass instigating its warmer sound. The M5 is faster and cleaner, with higher definition and detail retrieval. The MW07 is no slouch, however, upholding a good level of definition alongside greater dynamics and slam for those that enjoy this. The midrange is natural on both, the MW07 Plus is a little warmer, fuller and smoother, the M5 is slightly more balanced and tonally transparent.

The M5 has higher separation and clarity while the MW07 Plus offers a more musical rendition that is easier to listen to at high volumes or over longer listening sessions. The lower-treble is smoother on the MW07 Plus too and sharper with more aggressive attack on the M5. The M5 has higher detail retrieval and better fine detail presentation especially while the MW07 Plus has slightly more air with more middle-treble focus, if not the same sense of openness and headroom due to its lesser extension. Though this earphone has good layering and a decently large stage, it remains bested by the M5 that offers even better extension, resolution and spaciousness for a more involving presentation overall.

Verdict –

ADV. have created a very special product here and with that comes some polarisation. This very likely the first custom in-ear design to incorporate both a dynamic driver and TWS circuitry as, at the time of writing, I am not aware of any competitors beyond one off re-shell jobs. The experience has been revised to suit and, in turn, you do sacrifice some convenience. Other functions such as call quality and versatile IP-rating also take a back seat to the focus on audio experience. Nevertheless, the fit and seal here cannot be replicated otherwise. If you value noise isolation and all-day comfort but want the freedom of wireless, you won’t find better. ADV. have similarly done an exceptional job with the sound. No, it’s not as good as a $500 wired IEM and some TWS competitors get pretty close for much less. Still, none provide the same custom design which is the true differentiator here and no doubt the main contribution to its cost. The M5-TWS Custom lies at the pinnacle of TWS sound quality, tuning and fit, but expect to pay a hefty premium to obtain it and sacrifice some convenience in the process.

The M5-TWS Custom can be purchased from ADV. for $499.99 USD. I am not affiliated with ADV. and receive no earnings from purchases through this link.

Track List –

Anomalie – Metropole Part II

Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

Blazo – Colour of Jazz

Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel

Daniel Caesar – Freudian

Daryl Braithwaite – Rise

Dirty Loops – Next To You

Frank Ocean – Blonde

Fleetwood Mac – Rumours

Jimi Hendrix – Axis: Bold As Love

Kanye West – Late Registration

Mac DeMarco – This Old Dog

Missy Higgins – The Sound of White

Radiohead – Kid A

SOLE – Slow

SiK-K – iffy

ZICO – THINKING Part.2

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About Author

Avid writer, passionate photographer and sleep-deprived medical student, Ryan has an ongoing desire to bring quality products to the regular reader.

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