Like many audio brands in the past year, Technics has spotted an opportunity to grow its headphone range with a pair of the ever-popular true wireless earbuds.
At CES 2020, the Japanese audio stalwart has unveiled the EAH-AZ70W, the company's very first pair of that kind – and, priced £239, they're natural rivals to the best-in-class Sony WF-1000XM3 at the premium end of the market.
We've given the Technics EAH-AZ70W a first look and listen on the CES show floor, in what could be one of the more exciting additions to the ultra-popular wireless earbuds category.
During What Hi-Fi?'s briefing, Technics made its priorities for the EAH-AZ70W very clear. They had to have excellent noise-cancellation, offer stable connectivity and of course boast class-leading sound quality.
To deliver on the first goal, Technics has created its own noise-cancelling technology (Dual Hybrid Noise-Cancelling Technology), which essentially adds digital processing to the traditional analogue feedback method in order to block unwanted noise both inside and outside of the headphones. Each earbud has no less than three microphones to help it do just that.
The free Technics Audio Connect companion app offers the means to adjust noise-cancellation in as many as 100 steps, as well as Ambient Mode, a common feature of true wireless buds, which allows ambient noise in at the touch of a button so you can hear conversations or train announcements, say.
Ambient Mode works well in our demo. We tap the right earbud to activate the mode, and can still hear the explanation from a Technics spokesperson while we do so.
Our first impressions of the Technics EAH-AZ70W noise-cancellation are also positive, even if Technics had found one of the quieter spots on the CES show floor, making the test somewhat easier.
In the name of connection stability Technics has chosen to keep the left and right earbuds independent so that each receives a signal from the music source, rather than one bud receiving the entire music signal and passing it to the other channel in a master and slave configuration.
True wireless earbuds with Qualcomm's TrueWireless Stereo Plus chipset are capable of a similar feat when connected to an Android phone that's powered by either Qualcomm's Snapdragon 845 or 855 technology, but to allow independent L/R connectivity regardless of the music source, Technics has opted to use another chip (although it won't say which).
Technics has also come up with a (patent-pending) proprietary design to enable the buds to house large antennas (necessary for a good connection), while keeping the earphones at a compact size by merging the antennae and touch sensor.
You get an 18-hour total battery life from a single charge (six from the buds, 12 from the USB-C charging case), which is perfectly adequate if a little beneath the 24-hour combined playback time of the aforementioned Sonys. We're told battery figures could alter slightly, as Technics is trying to further reduce the amount of power noise-cancelling draws before the EAH-AZ70Ws come to market in May.
As well as facilitating ANC adjustment, the app also lets owners select sound modes, view battery status, and help you find your misplaced or stolen buds by revealing their geographical location when they were last connected to a phone.
The Technics EAH-AZ70W earbuds use newly-developed 10mm dynamic drivers, whose diaphragms have been graphene-coated to increase their strength and in turn their high and midrange frequency performance.
An acoustic chamber inside each bud supposedly optimises the airflow generated from the driver, theoretically delivering a more spacious sound and deeper bass. Technics has also worked to ensure clear voice transmission during phone calls, too.
As ZZ Top's Viva Las Vegas isn't available on the music player, we choose the next best thing, the Eagles' Hotel California.
That familiar string melody comes through clear and detailed, amid bass plucks that are delivered with surprising depth. The tonality of the pre-production Technics EAH-AZ70W buds does seem to err on the bassy, warm side, but again it's difficult to gauge the Technics' true talents in the environment of our brief demo.
We very seldom have a problem with the Technics' typically smart, stylish design language, and the EAH-AZ70Ws don't buck the trend. While we can't say they look particularly different to the competition – after all, the buds' diminutive size and the case's elongated shape are rather par for the course – but they do have the eminent look of a Technics product.
The aluminium-replicating finish of the plastic buds and case, predictably available in either silver or black, is well applied. The buds are some of the more compact we've come across and are a light and comfortable fit. They won't be spoiled by a bit of rain either, thanks to IPX4 waterproofing.
There are tap controls on the right earbud to play/pause/skip songs, adjust volume, activate/deactivate noise-cancelling, turn on Ambient Mode, and launch a connected phone's voice assistant (note that Amazon's Alexa is actually built-in) appear unfussy.
There's only so much we can tell about a product's performance from a brief demo of a pre-production sample, which is understandably what you often get at CES, where brands race to have new products on show to the tens of thousands of attendees.
But the Technics EAH-AZ70W wireless earbuds do make a good impression with their smart design and vast feature set – the only (small) blot at a glance is seemingly a shorter battery life than the very best.
If that proves to be the only area where they fall short up against the class-leaders, Technics will have a winner on its hands.