Pros: Nice balanced signature that covers all areas of the sonic spectrum equally, excellent for isolation and comfort
Cons: Not for bassheads, trebleheads. Isolation level makes these more succeptable to cable and footfall microphonics.
I want to thank Brainwavz for allowing me to review their latest foray into the balanced armature market. I have received a free pair of the B100 in exchange for an honest review of their product.
I actually hesitated to receive the B100 as I have slowly moved away from balanced armature only IEM's concentrating mainly on either dynamic or hybrid based products over the past couple of years. But I also had never reviewed a balanced armature from Brainwavz so relented and decided to give them a try. I am glad I made that decision as Brainwavz has restored my faith in the single driver BA with a masterful tuning job. I actually had 2 other single BA IEM's on hand (UE 600vi and Klipsch X7) and the B100 handily bested both IEM's sonically and ergonomically in my opinion. This says a lot considering that the Klipsch X7 was featured in this winters Headphone guide and has a retail price of $200 as compared to the B100's $60 price tag.
Note my score below are based on how this IEM sounds compared to other IEM's in the same price range versus IEM's costing hundreds of dollars more. The higher the cost the higher my expectation and score criteria.
So what do you get when you buy the B100?
Packaging wise Brainwavz covers all of the bases masterfully as usual. The unit comes in a no nonsense retail box and includes:
- Earphone Hard case
- 6 sets of Silicone Ear Tips (S M L)
- 1 set of Comply Foam Tips T-100
- 1 Shirt Clip
- Velcro Cable Tie
- Instruction Manual & Warranty Card (24 month warranty)
All of the basics required to allow a person to use the earphone without having to buy anything. I found I needed to switch to the large silicone tips but other than that I never felt any need to "tip roll" through my grab bag of tips to get a comfortable fit.
Speaking of comfortable fit...
Comfort and ergonomics - are excellent with the B100. The IEM shell is light and perfectly designed for the ear (my ears anyway ) and the cable is light and supple without feeling flimsy or cheap and the memory wire is just enough to help hold the shape and stay firmly in the ear without being annoying or cumbersome to use. Brainwavz has done one of the best jobs I have seen in regards to memory wire implementation, KUDOS to a well done design!
Isolation and microphonics - Over the years I have come to the conclusion that the better the isolation the more microphonics can come into play when it comes to IEM's. Sadly the B100 falls into this trap. In regards to isolation the B100 is top notch blocking train noise on the LRT and traffic noise while walking downtown. But while I appreciated the isolation it made the cable rubbing noise and footfall sounds all that more distracting and frustrating. I want to be clear here, the B100 is not a horrible IEM for microphonics it is in fact slightly above average. The problem is that the isolation is high enough that it's frustrating when its ruined by cable noise.
Score - Isolation 4.5/5, Microphonics 3/5
So lets get to the real meat of any headphone review, the sound. Unlike virtually every single BA based IEM I either own or have tried, the BA100 actually provides a complete enough signature I didn't find myself wishing I was using a different earphone while using the B100, something I have struggled with while using other brands. It is not so complete that people who want a hard or heavy bass or lots of treble energy will be satisfied. But anyone who listens to music that lives more in the middle of the two extremes will find the B100 to be a satisfying and enjoyable IEM. Genre's that seemed to work very well with the B100 were Jazz, classic rock, any vocally oriented music, and acoustic music.
Bass - While the B100 being only a single BA IEM is limited in it's ability to go really low into the sub-bass arena was still considerably more pronounced in the bass region as compared to the Klipsch X7 and the UE 600vi. The bass was just enough I found myself bopping to the music versus going half way through a song before I realized there was bass in it.
Midrange - The midrange of the B100 is neutral with just a slight hint of warmth with excellent detail retrieval. Singers such as Patricia Barber managed to have enough edge that you could hear their urgency but not so much as to come across as harsh or sibilant. The X7 in comparison came across as thinner while the 600vi came across as very warm, forced and unnatural in comparison.
Treble - The treble of the B100 easily competes with the X7 offering a similar level of detail retrieval while trouncing the 600vi. In regards to balancing between to harsh and to relaxed I find the B100 more energetic than the X7 while not crossing the line into being fatiguing.
Sound Stage and imaging - The sound stage is decent sized but not large. Imaging similarly is good but not spectacular, lacking a truly 3D spatial quality that more expensive or the better dynamic based IEM's have.
My overall feeling is this is about as good as it will get for a single BA based IEM. I know I have not heard all of the more expensive single BA manufacturers out there but I have heard enough of them and read enough about the rest to feel comfortable in recommending the B100 without reservation especially considering it's very reasonable price point. If your looking to try your first BA based IEM or want a nice affordable balanced IEM alternative to your "fun" mainstay, look no further.