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October 6, 2021
5.8mm dynamic driver
Audio-Technica has been bringing high-quality audio gear to lower price points for years, in the realm of turntables, over-ears, and yes, earbuds. The Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW is the next entry in the company’s true wireless complement, aiming to bring great, hassle-free sound for under $80 USD.
However, lack of hassle can sometimes mean a lack of features—does the ATH-SQ1TW drop the right stuff?
Editor’s note: This review was updated on February 6, 2023 to include updates to formatting.
Every day listeners who want something they can use for a little bit of everything will enjoy these earphones. Video watchers who something designed to combat audio-visual lag may like the ATH-SSQ1TW’s low-latency mode too.
What is the Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW like to use?
The company’s audio products are many and varied, but if you had to sum up Audio-Technica’s overall approach to product design in a phrase, “just stylish enough” would probably get you pretty close. In that vein, the Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW fits in rather nicely—these wireless earbuds aren’t ugly by any stretch, but they’re hardly iconic either. The earbuds are a little bulky, with a square shape and subtle gray logos on each side—it’s all very straightforward, and that’s a good thing.
You don’t need to think too hard about how to wear the Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW. These wireless earbuds feature hard plastic fins, but they’re ornamental, pointing forward when you wear them (not that getting that right is very important for a good fit). This means that getting a decent, secure fit is entirely dependent on having the correctly sized ear tips, and Audio-Technica includes four different sizes to help with that. If one of those fits you, you shouldn’t have trouble finding a secure fit, because these earbuds go pretty deep into your ear—so deep it can be uncomfortable.
The earbuds aren’t IP rated, but Audio-Technica says they’re splashproof to an equivalent degree to IPX4. Combined with the secure fit, this could make these buds a very attractive budget exercise option.
Apart from the otherwise standard array of controls (more on that in a bit), these earbuds bring two notable features. First, the earbuds automatically lock on-ear controls when you take them out of the case until you tap each side panel once. This is nice—the touch-sensitive surface is rather large, and you get the earbuds situated in your ear comfortably without worrying about accidentally starting some music before you’re ready.
The other notable feature is a low-latency mode meant to combat audio-visual lag, but it’s not incredibly effective. In our testing, turning low-latency mode reduces the earbuds’ latency from 300ms to 200ms—a big relative reduction, but not a terribly significant difference. 300ms is already pretty good, and a cursory look through Youtube and TikTok makes it clear the ATH-SQ1TW doesn’t really have a serious issue with latency. However, latency can depend on lots of factors, so if you like the idea of a feature that effectively removes your earbuds as a variable in that equation, this could be attractive.
These features are interesting additions, but if one thing is holding them back, it’s the sensitivity of the touch controls.
It’s hard to say whether the Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW is too sensitive or not sensitive enough—it’s inconsistent enough that it almost doesn’t matter. The earbuds frequently log multiple touches when I only tap once, and sometimes don’t log any at all. this leads to instances where I pause music only to have it restart after basically a second of silence, as well as moments where I can’t get media to shut off at all.
It’s not a frequent enough problem to ruin the experience, but it happens often enough to be aggravating, especially when it’s compounded by the touch panels locking when you take the earbuds out of the case.
How do you control the Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW?
Actually using the Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW is pretty straightforward, if a little finicky. There’s no app or software complement to speak of, but it still features the standard array of on-ear controls. The flat side panels on each earbud sporting the Audio-Technica logo are touch-sensitive and you can access the controls by tapping once, twice, or three times, or holding on either. There’s no way to customize these controls, so here’s what does what:
Double tap right
Triple tap right
Double tap left
Hold right (2s)
Low latency mode
Hold left (3s)
Tap right and left after removing from the case.
What Bluetooth codecs does the Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW support?
The Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW supports one Bluetooth codec: SBC. This is the default audio codec supported by basically all devices, which means you can reliably use these earbuds on Android and Apple devices. The downside is you won’t have access to any high-quality audio codecs, regardless of which platform you’re on. To cap it all off, this uses Bluetooth 5.0, which means it will never support the (supposedly) upcoming shift to the LC3 audio codec as the default Bluetooth audio option. Basically, you’re stuck with the just-okay option.
How is the Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW battery performance?
Battery performance with the Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW is quite good for a pair of true wireless earbuds. In our testing, which consists of constant music playback peaking at 75dB(SPL), we found the earbuds lasted 7 hours, 58 minutes on a single charge—considerably better than the 6-hour, 30-minute estimate from Audio-Technica. The case also contains enough juice for two full charging cycles, so you should be set for at least 19 hours without needing to plug it in.
When you do need to plug the case in, it charges with USB-C and supports quick charge, so 5 minutes plugged in will net you 60 minutes of playback.
Does the Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW have noise cancelling?
There’s no active noise cancelling (ANC) with the Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW, so the degree to which it blocks out outside sounds really comes down to how well it can seal to your ear canal. Luckily, though the depth these earbuds reach in your ear can get uncomfortable, it also makes for pretty good isolation. You shouldn’t have too much trouble from most high-end incidental sounds, like the clatter of dishes or the screech of a tire. However, low-end sounds like the rumble of an engine or the whirr of a home appliance will probably still be audible—that’s the kind of noise that ANC is designed to deal with.
How does the Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW sound?
The Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW frequency response (cyan) follows our target curve (pink) very closely. There’s a little more output in the upper bass region, and a touch of extra emphasis between 7-10kHz, but not so much that would have a huge impact. Basically, pretty much anything should sound pretty good coming out of these earbuds.
Lows, mids, and highs
Everything on the Jeff Beck instrumental classic Scatterbrain sounds great listening with the Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW. The lead guitar and bass come through clearly together, even with the drums. The keys and strings that play in the background throughout most of the song feel just loud enough most of the time to come through without pulling away too much attention, though they occasionally get lost in more intense moments of the song.
In Lights of Leemin by Pond, everything from the vocal harmonies to the whirring bassy synth and electronic drums comes through clearly. Some of the backing synth parts sound a little quiet in the chorus, but they’re still audible at every point.
Can you make phone calls with the Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW?
The Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW microphone sounds pretty good for a pair of wireless earbuds. In an ideal environment with very little background noise, this should be great for calls and meetings. However, this is pretty terrible for rejecting external noise, so if you’re walking around a busy street, it might be worth keeping that phone call short.
Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW microphone demo (Ideal):
Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW microphone demo (Street):
How does the microphone sound to you?
Should you buy the Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW?
If you’re on the hunt for a cheap pair of wireless earbuds that sound good, you should consider the Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW. It’s not perfect, but it sounds very good, it fits securely, and has good battery life—true wireless products that can’t boast any of those things routinely run for well over $100 USD. However, the controls are a little finicky, and if you’re sensitive to things going a little too far down your ear canal, you should look elsewhere. Otherwise, this is a real budget contender.
What are some alternatives to the Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW?
If you’re in the market for wireless earbuds, the sub-$100 USD options are pretty slim, but there are definitely a few worth looking at. Top of the pile is the Jabra Elite 3, which includes the aptX audio codec, so Android users will have a high-quality streaming option, plus it’s IP55 rated, and the Jabra Sound+ app brings loads of software features (and firmware updates).
Apple users looking for a bargain pair of wireless earbuds will be priced out of AirPods contention, but something like the Nothing Ear 1 could tickle their fancy. These wireless earbuds sport ANC, a transparent design, and support Bluetooth 5.2 and the AAC codec. They sound good, and the case supports fast charging and wireless charging. There’s no H1 chip integration, but you’re not going to find that anywhere in the budget space.
The Google Pixel Buds A-Series brings a little more Android integration than the average pair of wireless earbuds, though it only supports AAC and SBC, so Android users won’t have a reliable high-quality codec option. Even so, these wireless earbuds bring a lot of software options, all of which can be found in your Android phone’s own settings app—no extra app needed.
Frequently asked questions about the Audio-Technica ATH-SQ1TW
Yes—quite a few! You can get the ATH-SQ1TW in Black, White, a red and blue variant called Popsicle, Caramel, Blueberry, and Cupcake pink.