Makes you want to dance
Hard to drive
Stage not as good as Serratus
Disclaimer: This unit was provided by tgx78 for half price in exchange for a written review. No incentives of any kind were given and the review you are about to read are my own thoughts and opinions. Thanks once again to tgx78 for the opportunity and support.
Table of Contents
- Technical chops
- Comparisons: TGXEAR shootout
- The verdict
Driver Setup: 1 Dynamic Driver (500ohm Beryllium composite diaphragm)
Price: $250 (11% off during 11.11)
Purchase link and info: TGXEAR website
Comfort, fit and isolation: Typical MX500 earbud – isolation is almost non-existent.
Source used: Singxer SA-1 + iFi Zen DAC V2
Foams used: Included stock
Measured volume: 80db @ 440hz
Test playlist with some of the songs used: Tidal
Author’s note: For those who are new to the earbud scene, you can read all about them in the WoodyLuvr’s Corner of this website, by the earbud encyclopedia himself. For further questions and discussions, please do not forget to check out the community driven discord server, Flathead Sanctuary.
2022 is not just the planar year, the revision year or the undercutting year. Earbuds are making a comeback and DIYers numbers are rising everyday. Jim Park, also known as tgx78 is no stranger to the hi-fi scene, but he is a recent new player inside the DIY turf. For those who don’t know him, I advise you to check my review of his first release, the Serratus, the earbud that made me rebuild all my collection and my earbud tier list.
It’s a gush and review, but the time proved me right: I am yet to find someone that disliked the Serratus and didn’t preach its lullabies. Those who had the chance kept whispering the word about it, to a point the stocks ran out for a week or two, with tgx earning the title of the current top dog. Even to myself, Serratus still surprises me everyday and, as I’ve mentioned across the internet, it still is the best transducer I have heard, released this year.
After Serratus’ release, two new models came out, Tantalus and Alpha. I managed to secure the serial number 007 of the former, and that’s the one we will be covering in this review.
To the actual review, shall we?
The Tantalus is a party starter, a trouble maker and head spinner. Warmer than your usual of-the-shelf earbud with still top notch clarity, this pair will fill your feet with energy, as long as there’s a groovy record playing.
The above track is a testament to that. From the lower end to the upper treble, this set screams musicality.
Now, before we get ahead of ourselves here, let’s try to describe its tonality. Mid-bass oriented lower tail that cleans itself early enough to not bleed into the mid-range, but still giving the moto to the rest of the spectrum: nothing can be too thin or blurry.
The same mid-range comes out clean with a nice raise starting around the 800hz mark, and then proceeding to plateau past 2k, with a courtesy dip around 5k. This area will make sure there’s enough detail and presence to the mid-range for the set not to feel overly bassy or mushed.
Tracks like the above one are a sonic portrait to the this tastefully done upper-mid range, with guitar plucks and finger slides still coming out with every detail and respective harmonics, thanks to the lower treble picking up after the 5k dip and being present until the 15k area, where the usual bud roll off shows its claws. This combined with the open back nature of this transducer, makes sure there’s no lack of air to your tracks, with them being studio recordings or live performances.
Now, with that overview in mind, let’s take a step back and focus on the portions of the total sum. When shuffling through my library, Tantalus did not just replay James’ Limit To Your Love well, it flexed on it, to a point that it was the best replay of this track I’ve heard in a bud, which is a high praise. This track is not just about the 0:55 second sub-bass drop, but rather doing that greatly while maintaining a palatable melody and vocals at the same time – and hell if it did it.
On most earbuds, mid-bass is overcooked to try to compensate for the usual sub-bass roll-off. That’s not really the case of the Tantalus – especially because it only rolls off below 30hz, – that shows a very textured and controlled mid-bass section, reminiscent of performances found on not-so-budget-friendly IEM offers like the Trió.
The position of the guitars and bass guitars is not too forward for its own good, but rather just forward enough. Drum kicks can be felt without any veil on top of it and thanks to this smooth transition into the mid-range, the overall clarity is also felt throughout the whole frequency range.
With all that said, the lower mid-range is pretty well described by now: never thin, never too thick, never veiled. What has not been mentioned yet is the separation and layering displayed, making your life easier to follow along and just enjoy each instrument like you should.
As for vocals, Tantalus is a master and my favorite earbud for this use case. I would consider both females and male to be very balanced between them, with the latter showing better body to it while the first one shows better positioning thanks to the palatable pinna-gain region.
Treble of any TGXEAR set wouldn’t be tuned by tgx if it wasn’t stellar. Classical-head as he is, the violins in the piece are just terrific. I would describe Tantalus as having non-recessed treble but not too energetic either: just the right amount.
Cymbal strikes or electric guitars just follow suit, leaving a trail behind them, like a perfume, but without being too intoxicating or fatiguing.
Speaking of classical music, the bottle-opener of this section will be no other personality than Tantalus’ timbre.
Good timbre is something you can always expect on any earbud of Jim’s catalog, and Tantalus is no exception, making it another compelling option for more instrumental genres like jazz, acoustic and of course, classical. The attack and decay of each note is a journey on itself, hard to describe, but a joy to listen to.
Right after that, comes its imaging capabilities. The overall stage size is big, the but depth is the eye turned, excelling on well recorded multiple instrument tracks. The accuracy of position is also top notch, fulfilling a commendable portrait.
As for dynamics and resolving power, they come out as top tier level, right behind the other technical capabilities.
Comparisons: TGXEAR shootout
There is only one way to settle the record straight, a good old shootout between all TGXEAR models up to date – Serratus, Tantalus and Alpha.
First of all, let’s start with their drivability. The Serratus is the easiest one to drive, which by itself doesn’t say much, as they are all pretty hard to drive. In fact, after pulling my measurement rig, I was shocked. The volume output of the three is borderline the same @ 440hz, with Tantalus being the quieter just by a 0.5db difference.
As for comfort, there’s no such difference as they use the same shell and cable, leaving me with nothing else to comment rather than their raw performance.
Between Serratus and Tantalus, the final word has been dictated more by the tuning other than raw quality.
Both set’s sub-bass rolls off around 30hz, but Serratus has the best rumble when it is called. The added elevation and less tightness in this area invoke a better replay of Zimmer’s masterpiece, “Why So Serious?”. That’s not to say that Tantalus is any slouch in this regard, but the more flattened sub-bass tuning won’t do it as much justice, giving half-a-step advantage to its older brother.
Now, Alpha falls under the rolled off category pretty early, and unfortunately can’t keep up with the other two in this regard.
The three models share the same DNA when we descend into the mid-bass. They are snappy, tight and have impact bound to it.
To get something out of the way, I will start with the Alpha, as I don’t like its mid-bass tuning. To me, it feels off. The cello replay during Agnes Obel – The Curse sounds wonky, and for that I can’t let it pass without mentioning it. It’s not bad, but won’t compete with the other two in this turf.
The other two are pretty close between themselves, but I still have to pick a winner and that will go in favor of the Tantalus. The bery driver plus the tuning turn the mid-bass region into a less sterile version of the Serratus, bringing up the impact along with that. Thanks to this characteristic, the Tantalus comes out as the best replays of kickdrums, bass guitars and other instruments around this area, putting it more fit for more generic libraries, while excelling at jazz tracks – turning your room into a jam session.
Serratus is, in my opinion, very close to Tantalus in this regard, going toe to toe until the last note. The evident difference is in the tuning, with the Serratus coming out as more neutral, but outputting the same level of microdynamics. Given this, I do prefer serratus for classical tracks where clarity is king.
(Lower) mid-range is the section where all three come closer to an agreement, with Serratus coming as the better balanced, the Alpha following right along and Tantalus the warmer and with more note-weight. Feels a bit unfair to pick one over the other, depending on tracks, but Serratus has a better balance between its balanced mid-range and their transparency.
Tantalus has more recessed mid-range when compared, while still in the neutral range, due to its increased bass and pinna-gain region. It loses in clarity and detail aspects by a hair due to their position.
The Alpha follows Serratus steps but due to its more subdued upper-mids and treble, the mid-range is also a hair more recessed than the latter and not as beautifully presented.
Vocals are a straight win into Tantalus’ direction, and it’s not even close, especially on male vocals. The extra warmth of the bass shelf added to the extra energy on the upper-midrange and treble make it the best suited for vocal-centric libraries.
Serratus’ vocals are neutrally presented, excelling at their clarity and detail, with female vocals being better than the male ones.
Alpha’s vocals lack bite and detail in comparison to Serratus, turning the set into the worst of the bunch for vocal-centric libraries.
The treble region is the continuation of the mid-range, where all of them perform greatly.
Alpha comes out as the least extended in the harmonics and air regions, helped by its relative lack of treble energy. The Serratus is the more energetic of the bunch, coming out as more clean and airy. Tantalus is somewhere in between the other two, being closer to Serratus with a hair better extension.
Given Tgx’s intentions, it would be most fitting to talk about timbre first, as it is exceptional across all the models, like a brand stamp. This is also the reason why Alpha is as well regarded – in a land of TOTL buds, its timbre is second to none.
On tracks like this recomposed piece of Vivaldi’s Winter, you can easily understand why Alpha deserves a spot in the table. This set was built to replay Violins all day long, and trust me on this one, no other set does it like it – as perfect timbre as it gets.
To my ears, Alpha falls shorter on the sheer detail, where Serratus comes out on top with Tantalus on its leg. As far as macro dynamics go, they are all great with only Serratus slightly distancing itself from the pack, followed by Alpha.
Between Tantalus and Alpha, the imaging chops are more similar than not, with the former showing a leg more of stage depth, while the other shows better position accuracy of the instruments and width. Both still don’t rival Serratus center imaging, speaker-like, which still brings tears to my eye today.
On an objective note, the three models display different roles due to their tonality and, consequently, technical chops. I would consider the three brother as follows:
- The trouble-maker/party-starter: Tantalus is the warmer sounding, arguably the most versatile if your library consists in a lot of bassier genres. This automatically makes this set the more V out of the three, despite it still being neutral with a bass boost. Technically, it’s not the Serratus but it’s close, sinning only by not center imaging as good, despite its terrific stage depth.
- The shy but gifted brother: Alpha is the more flat curved one and therefore, the more nichier one. It excels on timbre and accuracy, not being as suited for an all-rounder, but being an expert on classical tracks. Anything with Violins might turn you into tears, so proceed at your own risk.
- The showoffer: Serratus is the more technically gifted, mostly thanks to its center imaging and coming in the middle of the other two, tuning wise. It’s a more neutral all-rounder and the cheapest model inside the current catalog.
Now as for subjective, I still prefer the Serratus as my favorite of the bunch, followed right after by Tantalus, combined into a great pairing. The Alpha is one of those sets I will pick in a specific mood or albums/genres, but I can’t part with.
Now is as good time as any to come out clean and to say that I overlooked the TGXEAR Tantalus, and I paid for my sins once I plugged it back in. I was blinded by Serratus’ fever but now I see.
Tantalus is a beast of its own and second to none when the party starts. It doesn’t come out as technical to its older brother but once you actually A/B, the music doesn’t lie – you’re trading off a hair of technical capabilities and center imaging for a more palatable and fun tuning, turning them into a beautiful combination to have on your desk.
Now that I finally got around to writing this piece, I’ll just enjoy the music, as everyone should. Highly recommended.
Note: Until the 11th of November, all TGXEAR earbuds are on sale by 11% off using the code TGX1111 on his website. This sale doesn’t cover the recently announced Ripples.
Thanks for reading!
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