TGXEar Ripples


Headphoneus Supremus
Ripples: Making Waves
Pros: Heaps of dynamic contrast
Balanced tonality with genre versatility
Proficient imaging
Exceptional clarity without sibilance
Portable source ‘friendly’ for a high impedance driver
Cons: ‘Narrower’ soundstage than other TGXear offerings
Forward ear gain and presence region may fatigue over long periods depending on tolerance
Alpha remains the most timbrally accurate in my opinion


I’ve spent over six months now with the Serratus, four with the Alpha and almost two with the Ripples. Of my growing earbud collection, including a number of the ‘named’ brands and other DIY/custom efforts, the TGXear line-up has proven to have the strongest staying power at my desk over this time. Each TGXear bud has its own appeal but they feel united by a vision that makes musical realism a primary concern. Jim (@tgx78) takes a carefully considered approach to tuning and over the course of the past year has certainly set a standard for himself in this regard. With this review I hope to give some insight into what the Ripples represents and how it compares to some of the other models currently available from TGXear because there are distinctions that may be decisive when purchasing.

Let’s get stuck in!

Note bene

As was the case with my Alpha review impressions are written using the Valhalla 2 desktop tube amplifier and the Shanling M8. The Ripples is lower impedance driver (100 ohm) compared to the Alpha (600ohm) and Serratus (300ohm). Unlike these two models, it does not feel bottlenecked when running from a portable source but for the sake of consistency and comparison I thought it best to continue using desktop power. Reassuringly, despite being a lower impedance driver, there is black background with little noise and a reasonable amount of play available from the volume pot on the amplifier.

This is the first notable benefit of the Ripples, there’s a greater flexibility and less restriction to source/power requirements and these differences are not negligible in my opinion. Both the Alpha and the Serratus benefit from power from both a tonal and technical standpoint. While this is largely down to preference, with instrumental music I find the Serratus’ note weight and tuning on the thinner side and the lower midrange benefits from the power to offer greater balance to the pronounced upper midrange and lower treble. It is a similar story with the Alpha, the high impedance driver has tighter control, better impact and more natural clarity as you feed it greater power. While the Ripples does perform ‘better’ from my desktop amplifier my enjoyment is not sacrificed when going portable using my ifi GO Bar. This is likely due to several factors: the lower impedance, the impression of an inherently ‘expressive’ driver with minimal dampening and finally, it has a tuning that offers a greater midbass/low-mid emphasis than the others.

TGXear kindly provided this unit for review. As always, rest assured that this kindness will not save the Ripples from criticism, nor has TGXear had sight of this review before publication. Thank you Jim for the opportunity.

Accessories, Fit & Comfort

As they say, ‘first impressions are everything’ and the Ripples definitely made the right first impression. The new hard carry case that TGXear bundles in with the Ripples is great quality, with a solid zipper and smartly branded with the company logo. Adding a personal touch, Jim still labels the each unit with a serial number by hand. In the carry case are plenty of spare foams (to retain the intended tuning), a professional looking business card with a 3-step guide on how to achieve a good fit. Also included is a TGXear pin badge and wrist strap attachment for the case.


The aesthetic of the entire package is cohesive and worthy of the ‘boutique’ standard that TGXear is striving towards. From the carry case, to the smoke grey MX500 shells, the silver-plated graphene cable, minimalist metal cable accessories and the rhodium plated termination. It comes together perfectly and the finish on the earbud itself is very good. There is minimal glue or imperfection visible around the driver/shell and the internal wiring is neatly managed.

A note on fit – don’t overlook this if you’re new to earbuds – reach out to TGXear or drop by the ‘Earbuds roundup’ thread for advice on achieving a good fit if this is an issue. Positioning, fit and choice of foam/wings/silicone rings may alter the perceived tuning of the earbud. If you’re not sure about the fit of the MX500 shell there are a number of cheap earbud options online to purchase to test before purchase. Jim does his very best to work to the requests of his customers and from my understanding, upon special commission, he can create the Ripples in a ‘bell’ shell that accommodates the smaller ear. Similarly, the Tantalus and Serratus are also available in a bell form.


TGXear Ripples Sound Signature Chart

For the background of this chart and its interpretation please see here. Notably, this plot should be interpreted on all axes simultaneously. The primary signatures of the other TGXear models are provided for comparison, compared through the same source. Credit to @WoodyLuvr for providing the placement of Tantalus as I have not heard this model.

Ripples Chart.png

Sound Signature Plot

Primary = Mid-centric – Neutral

Secondary (Strong) = Forward Mids

Secondary (Strong) = Detailed

Secondary (Weak) = Hard-harsh

Secondary (Weak) = Neutral

Tertiary (Complementing) = Warm

Sound Signature Breakdown

The primary sound signature of the Ripples is ‘mid-centric neutral’. Let me clarify this further. This is an unabashed mid-centric signature, as with most earbuds, and therefore is far from ‘flat’ in presentation and frequency emphasis, but in terms of note colouration / temperature, I see it as sitting on the midpoint of the X-axis plot and thus feel it’s better serviced by describing the tonality as ‘neutral’. The forward midrange defines the experience but this is balanced well with a lifted midbass and upper mid and lower treble presence. This tuning bestows a vividness and dynamism to its presentation that is quite unlike the Serratus and the Alpha. If we were using ‘conventional’ terminology I would describe this as a W-shape as opposed to a V-shape signature.

The strong secondary signature that is apparent almost immediately on first listen is one of ‘detail’, and while I would not describe it as ‘critical’, this is a signature that offers up very good presence that will reveal-all in your recordings and were it not for a tertiary, complementing warmth from a full lower midrange it would enter ‘critical’ territory. As my listening impressions will explain, technically, I feel this driver has a very good resolving power. It has a quicker attack and decay with tighter control than both the Serratus and Alpha drivers and not unnaturally so and I feel this lends itself to information retrieval and accentuating this secondary sound signature.

A weak secondary signature is ‘hard-harsh’ owed to the mid-centric tuning that does have clear emphasis in the upper midrange and lower treble. I would not describe this as ‘bright’ as there is no shrill tones or sibilance and the lower treble is smoother and less extended than the Serratus with a warmer note. However, with the ear gain and midrange centricity of the Ripples, accentuated by the tightness of the stage it is a hard edged picture. The Ripples treads a thin line but remains on the correct side of this line on the whole. The added presence really highlights a superb note definition contributing to realism, perceived detail and vitality of the tune, but does come with a ‘hardness’ of tone. This does not detract from my enjoyment of the Ripples and in fact is one of the reasons I reach for it, it offers a vital, detail-orientated listen. Some will naturally prefer this more forward, vivid and evocative presentation than the softer, more laidback and delicate presence on other sets, particularly the Alpha.

TGXear Comparison Table

Ripples (100ohm bio fibre)Alpha (600ohm Beryllium)Serratus (300ohm PET BG)
Mid-centric Neutral (1)Mid-centric Warm (1)Mid-centric Aggressive (1)
Forward Mids (2; strong)Forward Mids (2; strong)Forward Mids (2; strong)
Detailed (2; strong)Warm (2; strong)Neutral (2; strong)
Hard-harsh (2; weak)Detailed (2; strong)Airy (2; weak)
Neutral (2; weak)Smooth (2; weak)Sharp (2; weak)
Warm (3; complementing)Airy (3; complementing)Warm (3; opposing)

  • Primary sound signature
  • Secondary sound signature (weak or strong)
  • Tertiary sound signature (complementing or opposing)
(N.B. this is not the totality of the TGXear line up – I have yet to hear the Tantalus or the Totem)

Below are some tonal & technical observations:

  • The most dynamic of the bunch – i.e. accentuates micro & macro-contrast and swings in volume and energy the best
  • The most ‘balanced’ tuning overall, offering a more naturally revealing treatment of the lower treble and with greater note weight than Serratus
  • Note definition & presence is greatest on the Ripples
  • Psychoacoustic imaging is better than the Serratus as a result of the above
  • More body to male vocal reproduction than Serratus
  • Vocals more forward than Serratus and slightly more so than Alpha
  • More natural timbre than Serratus
  • Less spacious centre image and soundstage width than Serratus and Alpha
  • More spacious centre imaging and wider staging than the Ripples
  • Brighter with more ‘atmosphere’ and air than Ripples
  • Greater midrange clarity than Ripples and Alpha
  • Less forward vocal positioning than Ripples and Alpha
  • Greater stage depth & height than both Serratus & Ripples
  • Wider stage than Ripples but narrower than the Serratus
  • Clearer instrument separation & better layering than Serratus & Ripples
  • Warmer note than both Serratus & Ripples
  • Has the most spacious and coherent centre image
  • Lighter note weight and softer definition than Ripples
  • Greatest note texture
  • Most natural timbre overall

As you can tell, each offers something slightly different. Tonally the Ripples offers the greatest versatility with more balance inherent in its tuning than the Alpha and Serratus. The midbass impact and low mid note weight lends itself to more life-like low frequency instrument fundamentals. Reaching deeper into the subbass than the Alpha, the Ripples plays further into modern genres including pop / dance / ambient. The other notable tonal difference is the better lower treble tuning. The Serratus was overly exposed and emphasised in this region which produced a more metallic and incisive tonality that on occasion would catch me off guard. I would argue the experience was ‘hi-fi’ but not ‘true-fi’ and I found this tuning would detract from instrumental realism and my enjoyment. The Ripples has no such issues. It’s a resolving driver with a naturally resolving tuning. Technically, each has their appeal. The Ripples has a lovely definition around the edges and a healthy amount of bite that accentuates positional accuracy. The Serratus a more spacious centre image, wide staging and an airy signature. While the Alpha has the centre image, depth, layering and an enveloping soundstage height.

Instrument timbre, a quality with tonal/technical overlap, has probably been the hardest for me to judge and in my opinion is a battle between Ripples and Alpha. Allow me to preface this by emphasising how TOTL both are in terms of timbre. No other transducers I have (or had) do it like these two earbuds. I was immediately impressed by the perceived detail and note definition offered by the Ripples and what that brings to the experience. Detail is portrayed vividly and with an exacting character, metallic strings have a brilliance and responsiveness to them that is TOTL. Having said that, after a period of listening and close A/B’ing between Alpha and Ripples I still believe the former is more accurate. The Ripples has a sharper onset and offset, while the Alpha feels more relaxed, with attack and decay more naturally extended and with a more revealing note texture between these two points. String texture and resonance are emphasised more on the Alpha and this is particularly important for my library of double bass, bass, cello, viol etc. This is splitting hairs and I understand that Jim adores the Ripples for its timbre. What defines these characteristics is impossible to unpick and its likely a combination of the tuning and driver characteristics. Regardless, both the bio fibre of the Ripples and the beryllium of the Alpha are very honest in their instrument portrayal and you’re not going to be disappointed with either.

To summarise, for a well-extended, technically competent transducer with a cleaner midrange go for the Serratus; for a portable, vivid & versatile, jack-of-all trades go for the Ripples; for lovers of classical, jazz and string instrumentals in general and who index for timbre and tonal accuracy above all else my money would be with the Alpha (please see my review). If you’re flush with cash or a collector of well-tuned earbuds, why not get all three? The value proposition is strong across the board.

Listening Observations

As in my Alpha review, I’ve selected some tracks to highlight attributes of the Ripples. Most of these are the same tracks used previously to allow for comparison and a point of reference.

Nenad Vasilic – Bass Room – Gavrilo’s Prinzip

The speed and tactility of the Ripples is great here. The lifted midbass and dynamism really helps convey resonance. Tone and timbre are very hard to grumble at, it’s all very realistic and textured well. The Ripples offers a more exciting listen than Alpha, however, imaging is tighter and slightly less informative.

[Please find on your favourite streaming platform]

Kendrick Lamar – Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers – Rich Spirit

Testing the subbass extension here, there’s plenty of presence to it. Ripples does the track justice and Kendricks forward and ‘whining’ vocal tone is well controlled. The Serratus provides a slightly more atmospheric presence thanks to its soundstage but with less rumble and impact. There’s not much in it but I will go out on a limb and say that the Ripples dethrones Serratus in depth of bass extension. Alpha taps out on this track with a more significant roll off that limits its versatility for modern tracks. To say that my enjoyment from this track on the Ripples is no less than on some of my IEMs is a testament to the bass performance of this driver.

Lucas van Merjwijk and Aly N’Diaye Rose – Drumix – ‘Rumbita

Knocking it out of the park, the Ripples' bass and dynamism truthfully recreates percussion without issue. High-hats, bass drum etc. Cymbal crashes are inoffensive and true to life but lack some of the sparkle of the Serratus and tail end decay present on the Alpha. Despite this, I feel Ripples is the choice set for percussion lovers thanks to its dynamic character and bass emphasis.

Tool – Lateralus – The Grudge

I’ve searched high and low for an earbud that adequately handles Tool. As a genre, I think metal/rock is very hard to do justice to in the earbud form. You need a snappy driver with impact and an upper midrange control to handle the aggressive vocal work and convey metallic tones without being shrill, shouty or sibilant. I think the Ripples come closest to achieving this. I still feel larger drivers of headphones or closed system of an IEM do this genre best but the Ripples really puts in a good showing and I felt it I needed to be included here.

Ulf Wakenius – Momento Magico – The Dragon

The added bite and presence on the Ripples and the speed of the driver really shows off guitar well. It’s dramatic and has exceptional string clarity. The Serratus was slightly too thin for this track and the treble emphasis made things overly sharp. The Ripples finds a beautiful balance and I can find very little to be critical of when it comes to how Ripples handles acoustic guitar. Personally I like the softer and less metallic presentation of the Alpha but this will be a matter of preference.

Hadouk Trio – Air Hadouk – Dididi

A close recording of Didier Malherbe on woodwind shows us the ‘presence’ Ripples has in its tuning. The Ripples, like a pheonix nearing the sun, flies close to being too forward on some of the ‘licks’ but never crosses that line. The dimensionality and imaging of the Ripples is superb. Elements of the track hang in a coherent space on the soundstage. There's enough treble detail and extension to capture the breath within the music.

Closing Remarks

The Ripples is one of the most versatile earbuds in my collection. Selling points include: source flexibility, vivid clarity and tonal balance. It won’t dethrone the Alpha for timbral accuracy and tonally I prefer the more laid back and softer edges of the Alpha, however, taken as a total package including the build, accessories, tuning and timbre, the Ripples is the most ‘complete’ offering from TGXear thus far. Earbud driver technology and its implementation has come a long way in recent years and all credit to Jim for putting this particular driver to good use. The Ripples is beginning to make waves within the community and deservedly so.
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Thank you for catching that! Indeed, I meant better midrange clarity than Ripples and Alpha. I will edit that now.
Great review. I own the serratus and I’m not sure whether to get ripples or alpha next!
That's a tough one but I hope this review helps a little with that decision!