In my last post I went over the differences between wired and wireless headphones as well as a lot of the drawbacks of true wireless stereo earbuds.
Most wireless earbuds you can buy have some sort of drawback whether its price, sound quality, or in-ear fit.
Another big drawback in wireless earbuds I found was overstated battery life in the charging case specifically as well as the inability to turn most earbuds on and off when the case has no power due to the lack of physical buttons.
However I’ve found a solution to most of these issues after finally finding a better more innovative product.
I found the Fiio UTWS3 on Amazon and it uses a different design than any other wireless earbud setup.
Fiio is a very common brand among audio enthusiasts. They are especially popular for their portable amplifiers.
In 2018 Fiio started releasing models for their BTR series, a line of portable pocket-sized Bluetooth amplifiers. The idea of it is simple: take your existing wired headphones, plug them into the BTR’s headphone jack, and pair the BTR to a phone or other device. This makes any wired pair of headphones wireless. The BTR3 and BTR5 also work as a USB DAC. The only drawback to the BTR devices is that it still needs a wire from the amplifier to the headphones.
The UTWS series does the same idea but without any wires at all. True Wireless.
I have the UTWS3, its the second model in the lineup and the first model that has a charging case. UTWS has a ear hook form factor similar to Apple’s Powerbeats Pro. While this makes the overall size larger than most TWS IEMs it provides excellent in ear stability when moving or exercising.
The UTWS ships without headphones so you can choose your own in ear headphones that use either a MMCX or 0.78mm 2-pin connector. This allows the user to select a specific sound signature by changing the headphones. I personally use Moondrop Starfields on my UTWS3 for their neutral and detailed sound. The amplifier also works with other popular IEMs like Tin Hifi, the KZ series, or Fiio’s own IEMs.
The UTWS comes in two variants: With MMCX connectors, or with 2-pin connectors. Even if your headphones use a 2-pin connection its better to buy the MMCX version with an adapter for two reasons. First If you want to switch to another IEM that uses MMCX in the future, you will already have the compatible amplifier. Second Fiio’s version of the UTWS with 2-pin doesn’t fit recessed connectors as well as it should. If you are looking to use this with any headphone that has a 2-pin connection I strongly recommend getting the MMCX variant with a 2-pin adapter for the reasons stated above.
The UTWS3 and UTWS5 models come with a charging case that is used to charge the headphones, pair the headphones, and store the headphones when not in use. The original UTWS model did not have a charging case and charged with a direct micro USB cable.
The charging case has 3 LEDs. One on each side of the front to indicate when either side is charging, as well as a status LED for the case in the center. When opening the case the main LED will turn white when the battery is normal or red if it is below 20 percent remaining. The center LED also pulses when charging and turns solid when charging is complete.
The ear hooks themselves have a physical button as well as a pairing LED on each unit. The physical power buttons can be used to power the ear hooks on and off without the charging case. This allows the headphones to be used even if there isn’t any power left in the charging case, which is a major advantage of this design, and in my opinion one of the best features this product has to offer.
With my Samsung earbuds I’ve noticed a common issue with charging cases. With light use (using 5 to 10 percent of the headphone battery) the charging case never delivers the advertised use time before running out of charge. Ever since switching to my UTWS3 the charging case has no issue at all with battery drain. I can watch a few minutes of YouTube videos everyday, put my headphones back in the case, and because the case doesn’t waste battery I can go for about three weeks without needing to charge it with extremely light usage. The fact that this is one of the few Bluetooth products that doesn’t exaggerate its stated battery life is reason enough to choose this over the Galaxy Buds.
In terms of technology the UTWS3 supports Qualcomm’s aptX codec which is an improvement over the AAC codec found on both the Galaxy Buds and Apple Airpods. The UTWS3 also supports Qualcomm’s TWS+, a technology that directly pairs each headphone to an Android phone, rather than connecting the left headphone to the right headphone and the right headphone to the Android phone. TWS+ is only supported on Android devices with a Qualcomm chipset made after 2019. It significantly improves battery life as well as allows each headphone to pair separately in the Bluetooth menu.
While the Samsung Galaxy Buds Plus only support low latency audio with compatible Samsung phones, the newer UTWS5 supports the aptX Adaptive codec, which improves response time for videos and gaming on a variety of Android phone brands. Unfortunately at the time of writing, the newer UTWS5 isn’t available on Amazon currently.
Fiio offers an app for changing various settings for the UTWS as well as their other mobile products. The first screen shows the battery level of both the left and right side, three different layout options for the physical button controls, and the inactivity time for auto power off. The second screen an is a equalizer with 5 bands and 3 presets. While most of Fiio’s products allow for customization of the EQ curve the UTWS 3 stock presets are locked in place in this version of the app. However it is possible to leave the EQ disabled and use an equalizer which is already built into your music player or your phone. The third tab has sliders for channel balance, media volume, volume of voiceover and chimes (low battery, pairing, etc), and the call volume. The volume of the UTWS is always separate from the Android volume. Fiio claims this allows users to fine tune the volume as much as possible. The UTWS3 has 26 volume steps while the UTWS5 has 32 steps. The settings menu accessible from the button in the top right has options to reset the UTWS to default settings, change the name of the device that is shown on the pairing menu, upgrade the firmware, as well as put the device into pairing mode or turn the UTWS off without needing to press the physical buttons.
Its worth noting that I couldn’t get the UTWS3 to show in the app on my Nexus 5X running Android 8. Although the headphones do work normally when paired to that phone. There doesn’t seem to be any issues when using the app on newer phones and tablets. The app does seem to take longer to connect when first opening the app than most other Bluetooth control apps. This isn’t that big of a issue because the options are usually set once with the app and left as is. The app isn’t required for day to day use of the headphones, most of the essential functions like pairing and changing the volume can just be handled with the physical buttons.
As much as I like these headphones I have to mention that I notice a slight issue with the charging case. Very rarely when I place the headphones in the case and close the lid, one side of the headphones might not start charging. Occasionally I will need to take the headphone out of the charging slot and replace it to ensure its charging. This may be improved with the newer UTWS5 or it may be an issue specifically with the pair I have. Either way, it doesn’t seem like a big enough issue to bother me when using the headphones day to day. For this reason I always check the status bar to make sure the headphones disconnect when I’m done using them, to make sure the case powers them off.
These are compact amplifiers that connect directly to the phone over Bluetooth. As such they aren’t going to sound as perfect as they would with a USB DAC connected with a 3.5mm or balanced cable. There is going to a slight noise floor when no sound is playing and quality loss as there are with all Bluetooth headphones, but the size and convenience make up for this. If you would rather have perfect sound I would recommend a USB DAC like the BTR3 or BTR5. In terms of mobile sound quality I don’t notice much of difference between this and the BTR (other than the BTR having slightly higher gain due to its power output). Now if you’re using high end headphones or comparing it to a desktop amplifier that is a different situation.
I wrote this review off of the UTWS3 model. As mentioned before there is the improved UTWS5 model however I do not own those and cannot provide a review on the newer model. The UTWS3 retail on Amazon for 79.99 USD and will be linked at the end of this post. The UTWS5 listing on Amazon has yet not been restocked but are available on Aliexpress for 129.99 with shipping from China.
The UTWS5 uses AptX Adaptive instead of standard AptX found on the UTWS3. The Bluetooth version in the newer model is updated from 5.0 to 5.2. The UTWS5 also improves pairing and compatibility with many different devices as well as upgrades Qualcomm’s Bluetooth technology to allow TrueWireless Mirroring which Fiio claims increases battery life by an hour compared to TWS+. Along with this the UTWS5 makes several improves to overall sound quality by improving the noise floor, SNR, and output power. Finally the UTWS5 now has 32 steps of volume over the previous 26 steps. Aside from these improvements the UTWS3 and 5 are physically identical aside from the new gold lettering on the Fiio logo. The ear hooks and case even have the same stated battery capacity as the older model. If you would rather save the extra money or Amazon is the only purchase option available to you, the UTWS3 still work great.