Astrotec S80 TWS: The 2nd coming is better than the 1st - Ngoshawk review

Pros: Affordable.
Quality sound.
Very nice case(s).
Svelte look.
Good battery live.

Cons: Slippery.
Connectivity issues.
Meddlesome touch control.

3.75 stars. I was hoping with this “update” HeadFi would give us more options with regard to rating…

Astrotec S80 website: https://www.astrotecglobal.com/product-page/s80-beryllium-dynamic-driver-true-wireless-earphone
 
 
 
I thank Astrotec for contacting me for the purposes of reviewing the s80. I appreciate the support. It is understood that the s80 is mine to keep but may be asked for return at any time.

This is only my second pair of TWS IEM’s personally, although I did give a good listen to my son’s Jabra Elite Active 65t upon arrival last Christmas. He has had them a year with no problems and still likes them very much. I liked the Jabra as well, which gave a full quality sound. More listed down below. As such, I come at this mostly from an Audiophile perspective. There are many, many options out there and it is good to see that audiophile companies are working to provide TWS, while seeing the benefit of having quality sound.

 
 
Specifications:
  • Driver: 6mm Beryllium Dynamic
  • Impedance: 16Ω
  • Sensitivity: 98±3 db
  • Frequency Response: 5Hz -25KHz
  • Bluetooth Version: 5.0
  • Range: 10m
  • Support: AAC, CVSD, mSBC, SBC, HFP, HSP, A2DP, AVRCP, SPP, PBAF
  • Earphone Playback Time: 5-6hrs
  • Case Charge Time: 2hrs
  • Earphone Charge Time: 1.5hrs
  • Addition Play Time Via Case: ~20hrs
  • Total Play Time: ~25hrs
  • USB Support: Type-C
  • Earphone Battery Size Per Side: 55mAh
  • Charge Case Battery Size: 500mAh
  • Weight: Single Earphone – 5g / Charge case – 45g
  • Water Resistance: IPX5
General guide:
Earphone Continuous Playback TimeAbout 5-6hrs
Charging Time Supported By Charging CaseAbout 4-5 times
Earphone Charging TimeAbout 1.5 hrs
Charging Case Charging TimeAbout 2hrs
Charging Case Charging MethodType-C USB
Single Earphone Battery Volume55mAh
Charging Case Battery Volume500mAh
WeightSingle earphone: 5g
Charging case: 45g

In the Box:
  • S80 TWS
  • Charging case
  • Larger clamshell style case for carrying extra items (the charging case fits)
  • USB-C charging cable (10” long)
  • 3 sets of wide-bore silicon tips (s, m, l)
  • 3 sets of narrow-bore silicon tips (s, m, l)

 
 
Gear used/compared:

All prices in USD, unless noted otherwise

Simgot MTW5 ($35)
Jabra Elite Active 65t ($119)


Cayin N6 mk2
Shanling M5s
Shanling M2x


Songs used:

Tidal Premium and SD card
Coldplay-All I Can think About Is You
Coldplay-A Message
Coldplay-White Shadows
Dona Onete-Sonos de Adolescente
Los Lonely Boys- Heaven (en Espanol)
twenty one pilots-Trees
twenty one pilots-Car Radio
twenty one pilots-Heathens
Damian Marley-Everybody Wants To Be Somebody
Damian Marley-So A Child May Follow
Damian Marley-The Struggle Discontinues
Ziggy Marley-Lighthouse
Ziggy Marely-See Dem Fake Leaders
Mark Knopfler-Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes
Santana w/ Mana- Corazon Espinado

The new twenty one pilots album, Trench
The new Mark Knopfler album, Down The Road Wherever
Big Head Todd & The Monsters-Beautiful World
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Lindsey Stirling

 
 
Unboxing:

The s80 comes in a tasteful white-sleeved box, which is adorned with a couple of pictures. Not much else except a few points surrounding the unit. Taking the sleeve off you are met with an off-olive-green box, which opens from the right much like a hinged loader. Opening the cover, you are met with some model who is well, modeling the TWS on the left side. On the right is a very nice frosted cover, which works as the basic manual as well. It really is kind of cool, and a way to give the user an immediate picture of how to use the s80.

Removing the frosted cover, you are met with not one but TWO cases. One is the obvious charging/carrying case. The other is a larger zippered case, which can not only carry spare tips, the short charging cable and a small DAP. You could keep the other case inside instead as well, which is what I did. A very nice feature, indeed. Covered in a gray/white/black patterned fabric the look is quite understated, and to be honest, smexy as well. With chromed tops, the look is distinctly retro, even if the chrome top show prints galore. Underneath the bigger case is a more detailed owner’s manual, which is appreciated. Inside the charging case, the IEM’s have a plastic protector over the charge ports so the unit will not be continuously charging. Mounted already are a set of small silicon’s. I tried that tip first to make sure all was well, and it was good. Sound-wise to me was a whole different beast.


Fit-n-Finish:

The S80 fits easily inside your ear but does stick out a good bit. More than I like. That said using the S80 for long periods was pain-free and easy. The finish was what one might expect for a competent TWS. Plastic made to fit well, with no obvious flaws. The nozzle is pointed at a good angle, thus allowing for a painless fit. That said, when I used the included silicon tips, I could not get a good seal at all. Not with any of them. As a result, the sound was hollow and weak. Once I switched to a pair of foam Comply’s I had lying around, fit became good. As a result, the sound became quite good.

A word about this, though. If you use anything other than the included silicon tips, you will not be able to keep the tips on when replacing into the charging case. It will not happen unless the foam tips are as small as the silicon’s. As a result, everytime I took the TWS out to connect. I had to first put the left one up to my ear to hear the magic words, “power on,” followed by placing the tip on. I repeated the process for the right. Only then would the TWS connect to my source. And from my experience do not have a previous BT source on if you want to switch to another, for the TWS will connect with the previous source. Even when pushing “connect” on the new source.

 
 
Connectivity cont’d:

Once connected, the S80 worked well. Sound was good and full using the foam tips of which I spoke about above. Utilizing the controls was straightforward once you figured them out. Double tap the right to raise the volume. Double tap the left to lower the volume. Tap either once to pause the music. I did find that even with the larger flat area on the back, I had to orient my finger before engaging the controls. It was not intuitive such as the Simgot MTW5 previously. I would often miss hit the control and raise the volume when I wanted a pause or vice versa. An option for pause was to take the unit out of one ear. While this did pause the music, such as for a conversation, most of the time if the unit was kept out for a minute or even less, it would disconnect. Thus, you would have to replace the unit in the charging case, then reconnect. I’m not sure what I was doing wrong, but I tried multiple methods to avert this, and none, not one worked. 100% of the time I had to replace the unit in the charging case to re-establish the connectivity (as in reset it). I find this highly annoying and have not found this in other TWS systems I have tried, albeit my sample is relatively small.

 
 
To have the need to carry around the charging case makes the TWS almost unusable. Throw in that to do so with foam tips you would also have to remove the tip to achieve a good connection with the charging port and the unit becomes one, which is left at home. I also had a hard time connecting to new sources as well. It was like the unit was stuck with the one source, and would not disconnect, even if the BT was turned off. Think of latching on to something, even if you know it is going down the wrong road and you get the point. I hate to be this critical of a fine sounding TWS, but the connectivity issues to me outweigh the wonderful sound. To verify this, I just tried to connect to my Cayin N6 mk2. It took twice before it connected, even though the first time the menu showed “connected to Astrotec S80.” Again, this is a problem of which I do not know the source.


Sound:

So, after all that how does the S80 sound? Actually, quite good, with the foam tips. I could not achieve a good seal or fit with any silicon tip I used, even the largest Final Type E tips I had. Sound with the Final E’s was much better than the stock tips, but still an inadequate seal was had.

Bass was fairly tight and controlled with good reach on the S80, once a good fit was achieved. I did enjoy the sound on my runs this fall as soccer practice. I also had to readjust many times to maintain the fit. When sitting still, the bass reached a solid level, but with a bit of bleed into the lower mids to me. Considering the cost and technological level, I found it acceptable. Moving to those mids, vocals are present in enough detail to keep you interested, but obviously not on par with regular IEM’s. I like the fact that it is a DD. I’d love to hear an electrostat or BA in a sport TWS, which may raise the bar, but the 4mm DD does an adequate job with the mids. Pushed a bit forward and up to me, this seems to be by design. Providing an almost uplifting sound, this may be enough to make you push harder on your workouts, or lift the bass to a level, which is good.

Treble thankfully is not too sparkly or pressed too high. With the silicon tips, I could not listen too long before the treble note became somewhat grating to me. The foam dropped that aspect thankfully. Think warmer textures and that would be an apt description of the upper end. Not necessarily veiled, but not as clean as one could achieve. Taken in conjunction within the overall signature, I appreciated the laid-back nature. Some TWS systems over-inflate the treble due to the way those units are used, as in high noise areas such as running or the gym. Chock-full of noise absurdium, the unit has to compensate for that overly loud arena. Thankfully Astrotec kept their wits about them and provided a sound platform on which you can listen without fatigue.

There is good space and a sense almost of holography on Nico And The Niners, from TWP; but the song is made with that already. The presentation of that through the S80 is good and allows you to enjoy the song. All we could ask at this point.

Layering and placement are adequate for a TWS, but when you turn your head, even with the foam tips, the good seal is lost and thus the spacious sound. Too bad really, because even through all of this I really enjoy the sound signature of the S80. If Astrotec could figure out the logistics of operation, this would be darn near spectacular (maybe it’s just me and operator error as well).

 
 
Comparisons:

Astrotec S80 ($89): vs Simgot MTW5 ($35):

My first connection into the TWS realm, I rather enjoyed the MTW5. Simgot has a tendency to put out fine products, which may or may not get to see the limelight. The EN700 Pro remains one of my favorites at the price, as does the EM5. With the MTW5, the focus is definitely on portability and ease of use. As a difference, I could keep a smaller sized foam tip on in the charging case but found the sound not that different from the included silicons. Thus, I left the silicon in place for the majority of the time.

The case is not as nice, but ease of use trumps the S80. Flip the lid and you see both TWS, and lights show how long you have on the charger, as in what level that battery is. Connectivity took once. Sound wise, there really is not a comparison, though. The MTW5 is a basic TWS, which sounds OK. The Astrotec runs circles around it. Switching even to foam tips, the S80 wins. Bass reach and a bit of rumble is good in the MTW5, but the treble is auditorily rounded. Mids while decent do not have any of the separation that the S80 has. Despite that, connectivity is much easier, as are the functions. When I go somewhere that requires quick ingress/egress of TWS systems, the MTW5 is the one that goes. If sound is my preference, then the S80 wins easily.


Astrotec S80 ($89): vs Jabra Elite Active 65t ($119)

This was a tougher task to judge. The Jabra is eminently usable. Take the bud out, it pauses. Place it back in your ear, it immediately starts playing again. To me, that’s how it should be. Ease of use easily goes to the Jabra. I could not fit an adequate foam tip on though.

Sound on Chuco’s Cumbia was as it should be, precise and detailed. Providing detail on par with the S80, the only thing lacking was bass. Finding the right foam or silicon tip would help, but the fit of the Jabra was such that an extremely shallow tip seems to be a must. I thoroughly enjoy the Jabra sound, to the point where I may purchase a pair for myself. Except in conditions in which I would use them, I have plenty of wired examples, which sound as good or better. So, I have no need. The Jabra live on their reputation, and to me it is warranted. The pair we purchased for our son was a brand-new pair. The pair, which was purchased from Amazon as NIB, or returned did not work upon arrival, and there is a small bit of backlash regarding this on Amazon. But when you consider the sheer number sold, it always seems to be those that have problems, who “show their concern.” If we look at numbers, it is a very small percentage and on par with others.

The Jabra sound is one I could easily live with, despite the lack of bass, because the other sound characteristics are on par or almost on par enough to make it a straightforward decision. Ease of use with quite good sound beats better sound with confuddling connectivity issues as well as controls, which function in a less than stellar manner.

 
 
Source connectivity:

Issues mentioned above do not need to be rehashed here. I had multiple connectivity issues across many platforms. The easiest work around was to “forget” the TWS in an old source before connecting to the new. While acceptable, ease of connectivity suffered. I want plug-and-play with a device such as this. And with others, I have that. Once connected, most sources played well. I was surprised (I shouldn’t be) at the depth of sound presented via the N6 mk2. I know that I would be mostly unable to discern BT sounds across similar sources but going from the Shanling M2x to the N6 mk2, there was a good difference. The Shanling was quite acceptable. The Cayin quite a bit better. I could certainly accept the Shanling sound and do as one of my main portables when running. But if I do happen to sit around the house and want BT, the source is the Cayin, hands down. There is something to having portability when you choose not to be burdened by having the source on you. A central location within my house was needed though, as having a house built in 1873 is laden with iron pipes for the natural gas radiator heat. Kind of like driving under the “L” in Chicago and losing radio reception. Acceptable.


Finish:

“What we have here is a failure to communicate,” to quote Cool Hand Luke. Incredible movie, by the way. And that lack of communicating should be addressed in a future firmware update. If, and that is IF the connectivity issues are taken care of, then the S80 will be a very fine unit. As it stands, the sound qualities are quite good for a BT, bettering overall all that I have heard. But to me the overall capabilities of the Jabra are worth the cost and time it would take to find a really good tip. I do still recommend the S80, especially if you only have one or two sources to bounce between (and most do), since moving from one to another would be fairly easy.

I like the sound characteristics of the Astrotec, because it has a warmer (to me) signature, which fits my listening style. For that it should be considered alone. And I am sure someone could point out the mistakes I have made with regard to the connectivity issues.

I thank Astrotec for the S80, and still enjoy listening to it on one source so I do not have to worry about connectivity issues.


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