Pros: Reference-esque SQ, Accessories, Comfort
Cons: Clamp, Size
Brainwavz has done it again! While there are several audio companies offering a nice budget-king-FOTW IEM here, a feature-packed portable amp there, I can't think of many that have put together the streak of high-quality products at affordable prices in the short time the way that the people at Brainwavz have done. Delta: Low Cost Champion. S5: Sub $100 Contender. S0: Budget All-Rounder. Even though it's not their newest, the closed back offering from Brainwavz is yet another strong entry.
Enter: The HM5.
The HM5 is a full-sized, closed-back headphone that performs quite well, regardless of price. It does everything well. It'd be dishonest to fling praises from the mountain tops about it's razor-sharp treble or to schedule a small town parade about the richness of it's sub-bass. However, I've been using it extensively for the last few days and I'm happy to report that not once have I 'wanted' anything else from it. The sound is balanced well with itself and anyone looking for a neutral-ish closed-back headphone for under $300 should seriously consider this guy.
Test Songs (all ALAC either 16/44 or 24/96):
Someone Like You - Adele - Live from Royal Albert Hall
Late in the Evening - Paul Simon - The Essential Paul Simon
Limit to Your Love - James Blake -
What About Me - Snarky Puppy - We Like It Here
Hide and Seek - Imogen Heap - Speak for Yourself
Prelude from Cello Suite #4 - Yo Yo Ma
YYZ - Rush - Exit Stage Left
MacBook Pro > Fidelia > Pan Am Stack
- The low end of the HM5 is quite nice. I'm a fan of neutral sigs that might have a touch of warmth (HE500, RS1, HD600, etc.) and I've found the HM5 right in line with my palate. The low end is certainly present and almost linear. The ridiculous sub-bass in James Blake's version of "Limit to Your Love" is in full effect. The punch of the kick drum in the Snarky Puppy and Rush tunes is present and nicely textured. Stays in the bass region without bleeding into the mids which certainly is appreciated. I've found that with closed-backs, getting the bass right is tough. It's easy to produce a basshead can as the seal of a closed-back is quite conducive to this, however, achieving a more neutral bass without bloat, bleed, or blur is far less common. Props to Brainwavz for spending the extra time to get this one right.
- Clean. They aren't super rich or forward, but they are nestled comfortably in between the extremes of the frequency range. Both Adele's and Simon's vocals are accurate and organic. Horns in the Snarky and Paul Simon tunes are crispy and lively. The crunch of the electric in the "YYZ" isn't as engaging as the Grado or Hifiman sound, but that's not to say it isn't enjoyable. These are a monitor-style headphone, and as such shouldn't emphasize any part of the signature way more than any other.
- The treble on the HM5 is polite yet detailed. It's not a detail retrieval monster, nor a haven for treble-heads, however, monitor-style headphones should have a revealing treble.The HM5 is no exception. It's not the most spacious I've heard, but it is very capable for a closed-back design. Like the midrange, the treble is clean and articulate. Intricate cymbal work and upper-range trumpet and sax is clean and detailed. Now the treble is a hair behind the lower frequencies to these ears, but not recessed. I imagine this tuning is meant to make them easy to listen to across genres. These headphones are certainly not going to cause any wincing or fatigue after lengthy listening sessions.
- Slightly better than average. The sense of space is decent, but probably not anything to write home about. Decent height and width, but not a lot of depth. On some of my orchestral stuff, having come from the HE500, I knew that there was more in the recording to be offered. Left-to-right imaging is spot on. Nothing else to say on that. Instrument separation is also just fine. Nothing incredible or shortcoming to note. From the large live-in-studio recording of the Snarky Puppy tune to the digitally-enhanced sense of space in Imogen Heap's "Hide and Seek," picking out individual timbres, rhythms, and layers is very easy.
- For me, aesthetics are only worth mentioning if they're very good or very bad. In this case, it's very good for most respects. Comfort? Almost excellent. The spacious pads that these have become known for are very light and plush. It's no wonder they show up in pad-rolling threads all the time. ***Stay tuned for my review on the new HM5 Velour Pads!!!*** The shape and padding of the headband is very ergonomic, however, the clamp is worth mentioning. It's a little clamp-tastic out of the box. This does help with the seal and stability on head, but is still a little vice-like. Luckily, this can be alleviated by periodically stretching the headband beyond normal wearing width. The mostly-plastic build ain't my first choice, but ya gotta save some production dough some how! The metal-faced cups are nice and clean which does lend a more premium feel to the HM5.
- I can't not mention the accessories. Brainwavz has always impressed with the included accessories. From the slew of tips that come with IEMs to the hard case and multiple cables of the HM5, I've always pleasantly surprised. The HM5 comes with two removable cables, a spare pair of pads, probably the best hardside case I've seen for a full-sized can, and a little zip pouch for the hefty 1/4 adapter and extra cables inside the case. Nice!
Overall, the HM5 from Brainwavz is one of the best sub-$300 closed headphones I've heard. It bests its rebranded NVX XPT100 in every category. It offers an accessory kit that every other major headphone manufacturer should take note of. And, best of all, it offers exceptional value with regards to sound:price ratio. For anyone who enjoys a clean, mostly neutral sound signature for either personal listening, monitoring, or mixing, the HM5 form Brainwavz is an excellent choice!
***This review unit was provided free of charge. I'm in no way affiliated with Brainwavz or their distributors.***