Yamaha TW-E5B review: Old-school styling hinders sound

A fitting entry into the world of true wireless in-ear headphones — except for one thing…

Review hero image of Yamaha TW-E5B earbuds in white in charging case
(Image: © Tom's Guide)

Tom's Guide Verdict

The rather boneless sound and a lack of comfort hamper these

Pros

  • +

    Decent battery life

  • +

    Good standard of build and finish

  • +

    Sound is nicely detailed

Cons

  • -

    Uncomfortable to wear

  • -

    Top-heavy and rather undemonstrative audio

  • -

    No active noise-cancellation

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Yamaha TW-E5B: Specifications

Price: $149 / £129 / AU$199

Colors: Black, gray, blue, brown

Battery life (rated): 8.5 hours;  21.5 hours from charging case 

Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.2 (codecs: SBC, AAC, aptX Adaptive)    

Water resistance: IPX5 rated 

Size: 1.14 x 1.10 x 0.83 inches (per bud); 1.32 x 2.58 x 1.96 inches

Weight: 0.23 ounces (per bud)

Yamaha wants to get serious about true wireless in-ear headphones, and to that end has launched a four-strong range of models. Certainly Yamaha has the credibility to carry any product it launches a fair distance, and as the middle model the TW-E5B look appropriately specified to compete in what’s an increasing competitive market-place. They go without active noise-cancellation, admittedly — but between an all-new driver design, voice-assistant compatibility, competitive battery life and the usual Yamaha attention to quality of build and finish, they look good on paper.

If only these battles were won or lost on paper, though, eh? Read our full review below to find out how these models actually perform in the flesh. 

Yamaha TW-E5B review: Price and availability

The Yamaha TW-E5B are on sale now priced at $149 / £129 / AU$199 and can be purchased from online retailers including Amazon (opens in new tab) and B&H (opens in new tab) . They sit in the middle of Yamaha's four-strong range — above the TW-E3B ($99), below the TW-E7B ($279), and alongside the sports-orientated TW-ES5A ($179). That’s a fairly aggressive price in the context of the way these true wireless in-ear headphones are specified — but that’s emphatically not the same as suggesting they’re without competition. 

Similarly priced alternatives exist including the Sennheiser CX Plus, OnePlus Buds Pro, and Apple AirPods 3, to name just a few. So just like every other manufacturer that tosses their hat into the True Wireless ring, Yamaha has plenty to do if the TW-E5B are going to stand out from the crowd. 

Yamaha TW-E5B review image showing earbud controls lying on a black background

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Yamaha TW-E5B review: Design

  • Chunky design
  • High build quality
  • Four color options available 

And it seems the ‘standing out from the crowd’ starts early, with the way the TW-E5B are designed. It's been a while since we saw a new pair of true wireless earbuds quite this chunky — at 0.23 ounces each they’re on the slightly heavy side, but at 1.14 x 1.10 x 0.83 inches they’re undeniably big. So despite the fact they’re built to Yamaha’s usual impeccable standards, you may nevertheless feel like you ought to set your watch back five years or so.  

Yamaha’s managed to keep the dimensions of the charging case down to a slightly more modern 1.32 x 2.58 x 1.96 inches, though — and like the earbuds themselves, there’s no arguing with the way it’s built or finished. The plastics of both the case and the earbuds themselves feel nice enough, and the range of finishes (black, blue and brown are available in addition to the gray of this review sample) look good in a rather self-consciously grown-up sort of way.

Yamaha TW-E5B review image showing our reviewer wearing the earbuds and assessing comfort and fit

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Yamaha TW-E5B review: Comfort and fit 

  • Four different-sized eartips supplied but fit remains poor
  • Comfort levels unsuitable for long-term wear  

The retro vibes just keep on coming. For the first time in who knows how long, here’s a pair of true wireless earbuds that are rather uncomfortable and don’t fit especially well — and the latter is to the detriment of sound quality. But we’ll get to that.

The physical size of the earbuds is, of course, something to do with it. The TW-E5B use the familiar ‘twist-to-fit’ action to position themselves in your ear - but once they’re in situ they don’t feel particularly secure and they are not exactly comfortable. 

Perhaps I’m deluding myself, but I feel like my ears are of unremarkable size. I wear various pairs of true wireless earbuds all the time as part of the work I do, and almost without exception I fit the ‘medium’ eartips and all is well. Yamaha provides four sizes of eartip in the packaging here — and none of them help me achieve a secure or especially comfortable fit. The nearest to a consistent fit comes, for me at least, by using the second-to-largest eartips — but given the choice, I wouldn’t wear the TW-E5B for any length of time. 

Yamaha TW-E5B review image showing earbud controls lying on a black background

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Yamaha TW-E5B review: Controls and digital assistant

  • Controls require firm push to activate commands
  • Siri and Google Assistant compatible
  • Compatible with Yamaha's headphone control app

Rather than touch-controls, Yamaha has gone with ‘push/push’ physical control buttons on the upper edge of each earbud, which doesn’t help the security of the fit, either. 

On the left earbud there’s a single button that handles Play/Pause, Answer/End/Reject call, and Ambient Sound On/Off — this last gives a boost to external sounds. Over on the right, meanwhile there are two buttons Yamaha designates as Plus and Minus — they’re quite close together and, in the case of the ‘plus’ button, can necessitate putting your finger further into your ear than seems reasonable. Between them, these two deal with Volume Up/Down, Skip Forwards/Backwards, and Wake Voice-Assistant.

The TW-E5B are compatible with Siri and Google Assistant — if you want a response, bear in mind you have to say the magic word during the one-second button-hold needed to wake the assistant. Which means it’s easier to be ignored by your source player’s native assistant than it is using virtually any alternative design.

These earbuds can be used in conjunction with Yamaha’s ‘Headphone Control’ app. It looks pretty good, and though it’s quite restricted in its functionality it does at least feature a five-band EQ adjustment feature. You can also switch on ‘listening care’ (designed to offer full-range sound at lower volumes), ‘gaming mode’ (minimizing latency and maximizing audio transmission speeds) and ‘ambient sound’. Aside from checking for firmware updates and linking to some ‘fit guidance’ videos (yes, I watched them and no, it didn’t make any difference), that’s about your lot.  

Yamaha TW-E5B review image showing screenshot of app's EQ controls

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Yamaha TW-E5B: Sound quality

  • Bass output is easily affected by level of fit
  • Good midrange detail
  • Tonality is neutral and nicely integrated

Eventually you’ll hit on some sort of workable fit for these earbuds, I’m sure. And when you do, there are aspects of their sonic performance that are entirely praise-worthy. But there are just as many unsatisfactory aspects too.

Some of what’s dissatisfying about the way the TW-E5B sound is down to the rather approximate nature of their fit. Low-frequency presence, for example, is basically neutered by the way they fit — the bass during Brian Eno’s "Burning Airlines Give You So Much More" lacks weight and substance, and as a consequence the tune goes short of momentum and rhythmic expression. The low-end information that’s audible is quite nicely shaped and decently detailed — but ‘punch’ turns out to be something that other earbuds do. 

It doesn’t help that the EQ adjustment in the control app is mild in its effect. Ramp up the bass all you like, you’ll still find you wish there was more.

The midrange is more enjoyable, given that it projects well (unhindered by any meaningful activity below) and carries a lot of fine detail with it. The Yamaha demonstrate good understanding of harmonic variations, too. Voices sound naturalistic and immediate, and it’s the sort of well-judged positivity that allows singers to communicate every facet of their technique and attitude.

Review image Yamaha's TW-E5B showing closeup of earbuds, eartips and sensors

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

At the top end, there’s similarly enjoyable levels of detail and a sort of assertiveness that’s entirely lacking at the opposite end of the frequency range. Treble sounds have reasonable bite and substance.

Tonality is neutral and convincing, and the entirety of the frequency range is integrated well. Yamaha developed a 7mm full-range driver for this application, and it works in conjunction with a carefully engineered acoustic space and optimized airflow inside the earbud housing. But — at the risk of laboring the point — this hard work is undermined by the way the earbuds fit.

They’re not the most assertive or animated listen, either. Dynamic headroom is reasonable, but the overall attitude they strike is one of passivity — the music just seems to happen, rather than being in any way compelling or even all that engaging. There’s a lot to be said for a balanced attitude when it comes to music-making — but it’s a trait that can easily tip over into a lack of animation, and that’s what’s happened here.

Yamaha TW-E5B review image showing app features and battery life indication

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Yamaha TW-E5B review: Battery life

  • Up to 9 hours playback from earbuds 
  • 10-minute charge gives up to an hour of playback

The earbuds themselves are good for between 8 and 9 hours of playback — it depends on the sort of volume levels you enjoy. The charging case itself holds roughly two-and-a-half further charges — so the TW-E5B have an all-in, best-case-scenario battery life of somewhere between 28 and 31 hours. A ten-minute burst of mains power should be enough to give an hour’s worth of energy to a flat pair of earbuds. All of which is perfectly respectable.

Yamaha TW-E5B review: Call quality and connectivity

  • AptX Adaptive support
  • Good call quality from mics and wind-noise is nicely suppressed

The TW-E5B use Bluetooth 5.2 for wireless connectivity, and there’s compatibility with SBC, AAC and aptX Adaptive codecs — so mobile video-watching is a painless and properly synced experience. Although Yamaha doesn't specify Bluetooth range, it went beyond 30 feet during my testing, and without any dropouts. 

Yamaha has devoted a lot of attention to the mic conduit in each earbud in an effort to optimize call quality. And in conjunction with QualComm’s cVc (clear voice capture) technology, it works well. Both ends of a telephone conversation are distinct and coherent, and wind-noise is suppressed well.

Review image of Yamaha TW-E5B showing white charging case

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Yamaha TW-E5B review: Verdict

Even if the Yamaha were an ergonomic paradigm, able to slip into the ears of all types without the slightest issue, the TW-E5B would be a detailed, insightful but ultimately rather dull listen. There’s nothing juvenile or unserious about a bit of drive and/or animation, but it seems the TW-E5B begs to differ.

As it is, though, the main problem is rather more fundamental. It’s been a long while since I tested a pair of true wireless in-ear headphones that weren’t a doddle to fit correctly and securely, and yet here we are. If earbuds are difficult to fit correctly, they’re certain to struggle when it comes to sound. 

Simon is a freelance technology journalist and consultant, with particular emphasis on the audio/video aspects of home entertainment. Before embracing the carefree life of the freelancer, he was editor of What Hi-Fi? – since then, he's written for titles such as Wired, Metro, The Guardian and Stuff, among many others. Given time, Simon likes nothing more than publishing and then quickly deleting tweets about the state of the nation (in general), the state of Aston Villa (in particular) and the state of his partner's cat.