Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW: two-minute review
Damn, the Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW wireless earbuds are too cool for school. These cute-but-cubist buds have been stealing hearts at a fee that'll have you smitten for all the right reasons – and having heard them, we simply have to bring them to your attention.
Will the Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW soon find a rightful spot among the best budget wireless earbuds we've tested? Heck yes. And actually, they're good enough to crash our best wireless earbuds guide too – because the excellent sound here warrants the recommendation regardless of price.
Audio-Technica is now 60 years old and the Tokyo-based audio specialist has been a legendary name in vinyl for well over half a century. To snap up these inexpensive earbuds is to buy into that history, in the coolest way. These earbuds don't scream about their sonic chops – they don't have to, but they are worthy of their heritage.
Let's express the sentiment in Prince lyrics shall we? In Style, His Royal Badness remarked, "Style is not lusting after someone because they're cool. Style is loving yourself until everyone else does too".
See, what we're trying to express is that the ATH-SQ1TW are clear proof that Audio-Technica is loving Audio-Technica right now. The company has not tried to emulate any other earbuds, or indeed any competing audio brand. The company has paid the cost to be the boss for over 60 years, and it shows in this little, unassuming, winning pair of earphones.
They're available in no fewer than six delicious-sounding colorways (Caramel, Popsicle, Cupcake, Blueberry, Liquorice and Popcorn – try that for size, ice-white-only AirPods) and you're getting Bluetooth 5.0, 20 hours of battery, a beautiful product that fits comfortably, on-ear controls that work well (including volume) plus a low-latency mode, a hear-through function and a sound that's more expansive, clearer and generally better than anything else you can buy for this money.
As long as a lack of companion app and active noise cancellation aren't deal-breakers, these inexpensive earbuds should be on your list.
Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW: price & release date
- $79 / £79 / AU$129
- Released: December 1, 2021
Although they started at a very affordable price anyway, you can now cut the cost further while cutting a dash in these Audio-Technica earbuds, provided you know where to look.
We've seen the ATH-SQ1TW discounted by £20 in the UK at times, and up to AU$40 across certain Australian online retailers, meaning their price has dropped to as low as AU$89 – and they truly are a steal for that kind of money.
But wherever you live, know that the price here is shockingly low when you feel how high quality they are when holding them in your hand – and even more so upon placing them into your ears and firing up your music.
Perhaps you want to buy something small for the vinyl-lover in your life – something that isn't actual vinyl? Gift these little buds and watch their faces light up at the recognition of the branding. Now that is priceless…
Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW: features
- Bluetooth 5.0 and a classy build quality
- Useful hear-through function
- On-ear volume control
Not content with adding unabashed style to your wallet-friendly wireless listening experience, the ATH-SQ1TW offer exclusive 5.8mm drivers plus an "IPX4-equivalent" splashproof design and plenty of user-friendly features.
As is now the norm, the headphones automatically turn on when they are removed from the case, then power down and begin charging when you pop them back in. But place them in your ears from the case and the buds announce their battery level and connectivity status, which is a reassuringly high-end touch at this budget level. Tap an earpiece and a voice will say "play", "pause" or the like too, which keeps you in the loop. There's also dual connectivity onboard so you can connect to your laptop and phone at the same time, say.
The touch controls on the earbuds work extremely well during our testing, enabling you to handle music playback (using the right earpiece), answer calls, and crucially adjust the volume directly from the earphones (via the left bud). Furthermore, long-pressing the left earpiece initiates and cancels the low-latency mode (to make sure the action matches the sound when playing games on your phone, or when watching with a Bluetooth-enabled TV), while long-pressing the right deploys and nixes the hear-through function, which filters in external noises but refreshingly, without bus engines and the like coming off tinny or distorting the quality of your music.
And there's even a relatively effective Sidetone function, thanks to the mic nestled in each earpiece, which lets you tweak the volume of your own voice by tapping the left earpiece during calls – which we found to be clear and rock solid.
Google Fast Pair is also onboard, for one-touch pairing with Android devices, and you can enjoy up to 6.5 hours of use with the headphones fully charged plus an additional 13 hours of juice from the charging case, for a total of 19.5 hours.
Charging for just 15 minutes (or thereabouts) with the USB-C charger provides around 60 minutes of continuous playback too, although the case doesn't support wireless charging.
What you're not getting is active noise cancellation or a companion app, but at this level (and thanks to the impressive levels of passive isolation provided by the buds), we don't miss these perks. In the budget space, the feature-set here represents a sensible decision from Audio-Technica. We imagine the brief was to focus on the basics and do them well – which is exactly what has been achieved.
Perhaps the only thing we might have hoped for which isn't here is auto-off wearer detection, but honestly, the ATH-SQ1TW are so likeable it's hardly a big deal.
- Features score: 4.5/5
Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW: sound quality
- Excellent separation and clarity
- Energetic, zealous listen
- Pleasingly musical across the frequencies
These earbuds, though… you're not getting aptX HD, LDAC or hifalutin’ higher-res codecs, but what you are getting is an agile, zealous, musically pleasing performance across the frequencies. As with the aesthetic, the sound here is what Londoners might call 'a bit of all right'; a door to good old fashioned rock 'n' roll but in a neat true wireless package.
Any serious comparison between these $80 in-ears and class-leading products from the likes of Sony, Apple, Bose or Sennheiser is more than a little unjust – and there simply isn't much serious competition at that price, but step up to the $100/£100 Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus and the sound is comparable for detail, clarity and neutrality – and that's huge considering these earbuds are the class-leaders at the level.
We actually found that what the Audio-Technicas lacked in precision and timing when it came to cohesion (which was a very minor shortfall) they made up for in energy and good old fashioned fun, in direct comparison. Again, the shortfall is small, and it simply shouldn't be – not here, where a $20 surcharge typically nets you huge gains. For agility and fun, we actually find ourselves selecting the Audio-Technicas across the course of our listening.
Stream Perfume Genius' On the Floor on Tidal and the complex intro comes through with such detail that we're noting treble elements in our right ear we never picked up before. A female backing vocal is easily perceptible and impactful – delivered with the kind of insight that lesser earbuds at this money cannot begin to dish up. The rallentando (slowing down; yes, we know big words) is also expertly handled and the strings sound three-dimensional and layered in an expansive soundstage.
Switch to Aerosmith's Dream On, and Steven Tyler's keyed chords, conceived while lying beneath his dad's piano as a three-year-old and listening to him play classical music (completed when Steven was 14 years old) are emotive and given ample space within the mix to shine.
What these earbuds are not is shy or reticent, in any way. If a recording is less than refined, you're getting that with no holds barred – which means they'll shine a light on your chosen streaming services, bands and vocalists in ways you may not have heard before. Give them your music and they'll celebrate it to the best of their plucky little ability – and we have to say we're big fans.
- Sound quality score: 5/5
Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW: design
- Available in six mouth-watering foodie colorways
- Beautifully cubist design
- Earpiece weighs just 5.2g
Let's start with the earbuds themselves. They're small and light, at 5.2g, and although JLab's $20 Go Air Pop weigh just 3.7g per earpiece (the bijou Sony LinkBuds S come in at 4.8g per bud) they will suit practically all human ears. They certainly suit our smaller ear canals, and with a total of four different-sized ear tips provided (which is one more than may offer) they almost certainly will work for you too.
The design of these earpieces really is quite lovely, with LED Bluetooth connectivity lights illuminating little 'L' and 'R' cutouts in the top corner of each bud so you won't have to stare at them to work out which is which. Put them in, twist to lock, and you're away.
The ATH-SQ1TW's diddy case is similarly beautiful in a minimalist but unique way. Audio-Technica hasn't given a hoot about what Apple might be doing with its toothbrush-head shaped earphones. This is Audio-Technica's solution, all squares, the triangle-within-a-circle branding, and colorful accents. Our sample is black 'Liquorice', but we particularly love the 'Popsicle' colorway. The case snaps shut reassuringly like a suitcase (rather than a backpack) and it charges via USB-C.
A quick jolt of just 15 minutes will provide around 60 minutes of continuous playback if you're in a rush, but the whole thing will charge fully in two hours to provide a total of 20 hours of playtime – 6.5 hours from the buds and 13.5 hours of stamina in the case.
All in all, the intrinsic beauty of this little product should not be understated. In a sea of AirPods impersonators, Audio-Technica has gone for something a bit different – and different can be good.
- Design score: 5/5
Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW: value
- Excellent connectivity and comfort for $79
- Easily betters anything else at this price for sound and features
- No companion app
For $79 / £79 / AU$129, Audio-Technica's ATH-SQ1TW represent exceptionally good value. Despite the lack of a companion app or active noise cancellation, you get an impressively accurate set of features all handled by the reliable on-ear controls. And the sound is good.
For build, battery life and feature set at this budget level, Audio-Technica's decisions here are all spot on. These earbuds are a worthy tribute to everything Audio-Technica has done to date within the music industry, which is probably the biggest compliment we could possibly pay them.
These earbuds are not even a tiny bit unreliable (as you'd be forgiven for expecting, given their $80 asking fee) and if you want the best ice-cold sonic chops you can get for $80, you've found it.
- Value score: 4.5/5
Should you buy Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW?
|Features||Excellent perks at the level, despite the lack of auto-off, app or ANC||4.5/5|
|Sound quality||Here, these buds shine: detail, energy and panache||5/5|
|Design||Minimalist, cubist beauty and a novel shape which shouldn't work but does||5/5|
|Value||An excellent buy for the money, as long as the lack of ANC and app support isn't an issue.||4.5/5|
Buy them if…
You want the best-sounding true wireless buds for $79
This incredibly affordable proposition boasts sonic chops no other solution has managed at this level. If you want that, these are for you.
You like to look good (and a little bit alternative)
Are these the coolest little earbuds on the planet? Hard to say. But they the look and colors are a big step above the average, no question.
Don't buy them if…
ANC is top of your list
There's no active noise cancellation here, sadly, although the hear-through feature works beautifully if you want to stay aware of your surroundings.
You really want app support
Although Audio-Technica's earbuds do excellently well without a companion app (on-ear volume control, a voice in your ear to tell you about battery life, a useful hear-through profile) if you want a visual cue of the features on your device, you won't get it here
You'd like an AirPods aesthetic for cheaper
Want ice-white 'toothbrush-head' shaped AirPods at non-AirPods prices? These are not the buds for you.
Think the Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW might not be the true wireless earbuds for you? That's cool, here are three alternatives that could offer just the design, feature-set and sound quality you're looking for.
Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus
Sounding fantastic, the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus also lack ANC (as do the Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW) but they also offer audio performance way above their price range – same same, then.
With a similar launch price of $79 / £89 / AU$149.95 these are a good affordable buds alternative. As you might expect from a heavy-hitter such as Sony, the aggressive pricing has led to certain compromises in the feature set – but the company has kept them to a minimum, and you're also getting Sony’s ‘360 Reality Audio’ spatial audio algorithm. And they're often available for comically low prices.
Earfun Air Pro
Need a noise-cancelling option? EarFun Air Pro true wireless earbuds look good, sound great, and offer a generally strong performance at a similar price to the Audio-Technicas. They fall down when it comes to comfort and general bulk (and the touch controls are overly complex), but they’re still an accomplished effort overall.
- First reviewed: September 2022
- How we test: explore TechRadar's review guarantee