Ask yourself: what’s the tech world crying out for right now? Did you answer: more mid-priced true wireless earbuds? No, didn’t think so. Neither did we.
But nevertheless, it seems the land-grab is ongoing – and in light of that fact, it would probably be remiss of Technics not to have its own dog in this particular fight. After all, if some companies with marginal brand recognition can be successful here, why shouldn’t one of the biggest names of the lot?
Of course, it takes more than a high-recognition brand name and an iconic logo to cut it – especially in a market as congested and competitive as this one. So how can Technics make its EAH-AZ40 true wireless earbuds stand out?
The Technics EAH-AZ40 are on sale now, and in the UK you shouldn’t expect to pay more than £129. That translates to a very aggressive $129 in the United States and a surprisingly competitive AU$199 in Australia.
You don’t have to spend long or look far to discover that this sort of asking price pitches the EAH-AZ40 up against some extremely decent alternatives from some deadly serious brands. From the Beats Studio Buds at one end of the spectrum to Sennheiser CX Plus True Wireless at the other, with everyone from Bose and Sony to Panasonic and Cambridge Audio in between, they’re all ready to lure you away from the Technics with agreeable products of their own.
The Technics use Bluetooth 5.2 for wireless connectivity – and given that it’s currently about as good as Bluetooth gets, it’s a bit of a disappointment to find the EAH-AZ40 compatible with only SBC and AAC codecs. We’re not expecting the moon and stars at this sort of money where specification is concerned, but we don’t think expecting some aptX involvement is asking too much. The AZ40's noise-cancelling big brothers, the Technics EAH-AZ60, support LDAC, after all.
Still, once your SBC or AAC-encoded digital audio information is delivered to the Technics, it’s served to your ears by a couple of 6mm full-range drivers which are supplemented by something the company calls an ‘acoustic control chamber’. It’s designed to optimise air flow and, by extension, deliver enhanced low-frequency presence.
Battery life, so often a great differentiator where products like this are concerned, is a perfectly decent yet utterly unremarkable 25 hours or so. The earbuds themselves hold eight hours of go, while there are a couple of refills held in the charging case. It should be plenty for most real-world applications, but the likes of Cambridge Audio won’t be losing any sleep over numbers like this considering its Melomania 1 Plus can go for up to 45 hours.
Battery 25 hours
Weight 5g (earbuds), 30g (charging case)
Water resistance "IPX4 equivalent"
You’ve quite a few options when it comes to controlling your EAH-AZ40. Each earbud features a relatively large, responsive capacitive touch-surface – so the most obvious stuff, like ‘play/pause’, ‘volume up/down’, ‘skip forwards/backwards’ and ‘answer/end/reject call’ can be dealt with easily.
You can also use the touch controls to wake your phone's voice assistant (Amazon Alexa and Siri are supported), and from there the Technics mics prove well up to the task of getting your order across. There’s similar confidence and coherence in the way the EAH-AZ40 deal with telephony.
It’s in the Technics Audio Connect app, though, that the inveterate tweakers will find satisfaction. Here’s where you can fiddle with the broad functionality: there’s a five-band EQ to investigate, as well as a number of EQ presets, and it’s possible to rearrange the touch-controls too. The app lets you switch ‘ambient sound’ on or off, and if you select ‘on’ then you get to choose between ‘transparent’ (to boost external sound) and ‘attention’ (which attempts to identify voices and then pauses music when it does so). It’s a comprehensive, stable and useful app overall, although it’s far from the most inviting where fonts and graphics are concerned.
The EAH-AZ40 earbuds are extremely compact, very light at 5g each, and in conjunction with a selection of differently sized ear-tips, they’re simple to position and will stay comfortable for hours. The charging case, too, is a stripling 30g and plenty small enough to fit in a pocket. Neither the earbuds or case are built from plastics that feel all that luxurious, but there’s no doubt they’re properly constructed.
‘Design’, though, hasn’t really happened here. You can choose between silver, black or rose gold finishes, but that’s about as carried away as Technics’ designers seem to have got.
Technics is not alone in having voiced its true wireless earbuds to sound their best with the EQ settings left flat. Naturally, it’s possible to affect the sound in quite a few different ways, but we’re confident when we say that none of them strike a better balance than the default setting.
The EAH-AZ40 signature is one of heft in tandem with momentum. Certainly our recent encounters with other Technics true wireless in-ears hadn’t primed us for quite such an upbeat and front-foot sound – with a Tidal Masters file of Maps by Yeah Yeah Yeahs they attack the lowest frequencies with real determination and no little drive. Detail levels are high, and the attack and decay of individual bass sounds is handled confidently.
This level of control allows the midrange plenty of space to do its thing – and the EAH-AZ40 are attentive and detailed enough to give this vocal real texture and character. This amount of space is generally welcome – it makes a singer easy to follow and just as easy to appreciate – but with unsympathetic recordings, it can render a vocalist just a little remote.
Up at the top end, the Technics are this close to hardness – the confidence they demonstrate further down the frequency range is very nearly overplayed here. Certainly there is a degree of bite to treble sounds that makes turning the volume right up something only the very brave indeed should involve themselves with.
This kind of attack makes for a fairly dynamic listen, mind you. From the solo Piano of Satie’s Gymnopédie No. 1 to the wedding-cake pile-up of Wilco’s I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, the EAH-AZ40 have no problem making both broad and minor dynamic variations obvious. But it also seems to impact the Technics’ ability to properly express rhythms, and not in a good way. They don’t flow so much as trudge, and the closer your music edges towards the dancefloor the more uncomfortable the Technics sound.
This isn’t the first time a pair of good true wireless earbuds have been found to be not quite good enough. The Technics EAH-AZ40 get an awful lot right – in ergonomic terms they’re nigh-on ideal, they’re unarguably comfortable and they have some real positives where sound is concerned too. But unless you like your music to sound simultaneously attacking and just a little bit lumpy, there are literally dozens of alternative designs for you to investigate.
- Sound 4
- Features 5
- Build 4
Read our Panasonic RZ-S500W review
Read our review of the Sennheiser CX Plus
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