Pros: Comfort, Build, Accessories, Design, Value, Pricing
Cons: Possibly a little heavy at first / slight mid-bass bleed
Brainwavz HM9 is a portable / foldable, super comfortable headphone priced at $150 USD ($119 at the time of writing on Amazon) that surely grabs attention including mine, with it's stylish almost futuristic appearance and 40mm drivers Its sure to please anyone out there looking to purchase something modern, up to date and different from the mainstream crowd. Let me start off by saying I've had an absolute ball reviewing this headphone it's been a real joy to use such is the case with every Brainwavz product I've tried to date. They make to impress, price sensibly and give it their all for the consumer..I'd like to thank Brainwavz and Audrey for the review sample.
Brainwavz Website: http://www.yourbrainwavz.com/index.php
Design / Build:
If there's one thing giving HM9 a solid appearance it's the high grade light weight aluminum build quality as you can see the headphone arms are very secure, strong and ready to take a beating, it does come close to 'tank status' all over from cups to the headband even down to those folding hinges. I've no problem throwing the headphone around in my bag without using the case. The down side to this however is the headphone needs to put all that metal somewhere and comes in at 345 grams.
Moving onto the pads those familiar with Sony's original XB series may see some resemblance here, HM9's pads are thick cushy and oh oh so comfortable, the saying "wearing pillows on my head" couldn't be more true, this also applies with its headband padding. All in all despite being a little on the heavy side the comfort levels are extremely high those thick soft pads on the cups and headband almost work like shock absorbers. It's simply a wonderful well thought out headphone to wear and looks really really cool! I don't know why but in person the headphone actually resembles something almost "Alien', that's just how I feel about it.
Like all Brainwazs products the package comes with an assortment of accessories, here's what you get:
1.2 meter flat cable (good for outdoor / portable use)
3 meter flat cable (for home amps or studio environments)
1.2 meter cable (with mic and controls for smartphones)
Hard storage case
Storage case Strap (for attaching to the case)
Zip Velcro pocket (for placing inside the case / cable storage)
During my time with HM9 I used the detachable 1.2 meter non mic cable. I feel it does everything I need while not getting in the way, from listening at the computer to on the go 1.2 meters seems the perfect length for placing any MP3 player in my pocket. Each cable clicks in firmly tightly and secure to the left ear cup which I highly doubt will be coming out if unrequested. As you can see these cables have adopted a flat design so tangling and knotting is taken down to a minimum, they're also quite light weight.
Moving onto the hard capsule like storage case it's overly sturdy and could take a good throw around, there is even a little Velcro pocket included for storing your cables which can be stuck anywhere you please inside the case, I really think that's a great idea as you can tell some thought went into the overall package. Another thing I'm impressed with is not needing to detach your cable every time you want to store HM9, it just folds up neatly no problems and pops into the case with cable attached. No fuss simple, pick a cable and stick with it. Other headphones I own like Shure SRH940 you must remove the cable before it fits inside the storage case, I really don't see a point putting wear and tear on the cable entry just for a quick storage procedure and taking up more time, it could mean missing the bus! Good thinking to Brainwavz again!
Also included is an airplane adapter, and a nifty shoulder strap which connects to the storage case, I think this is a great idea as the case can be a little awkward to pick up / hold in one hand, with the added strap it just slides over the shoulder and you be in your way, I also think the capsule like storage case looks absolutely great in person, and when worn over ones shoulder has a certain designer / clothing appeal of it's own, gives a real appeal to the entire package too. When you add the headphones appearance, case and accessories everything combined makes me think "the future". HM9's total package really does have that appeal on me and maybe you too!
Comfort / isolation:
You may of read me mention in the introduction HM9 has excellent comfort levels, well I can't express anymore just how likable HM9 is to wear. the padded cushions are super super soft and extremely cushy, when placing the headphone on your head they simply wrap around your ears like an air pillow or sponge. Which brings me to one concern I was unable to test, there is a possibility in summer these overly thick pads may cause sweat and heat build up, being Winter in Australia I was unable to test for this issue. Though again when you wear HM9 it just feels really fun, cool and I just love the headphone for this aspect, the appeal to mainstream / fashion buyers is very high in this regard.
I think another thing that counts here is we've made quite clear HM9 is a very comfortable headphone and this all comes into play for the long term, I could wear it for many hours without any problems, I might need to just release the cups or readjust them on my ears occasionally though long term wearing was quite righteous. There's just something about this headphone that makes you keep reaching to wear them over and over again.
Due to the thick pads isolation is above average, I've no problems blocking out enough ambient noise around me whether in the house or walking down the road while traffic passes, of course you can still hear what's going on around you, though you may need to remove the headphone to have a conversation. All in all isolation is more than satisfactory. Almost every base is covered with HM9's design for on the go or home use.
After running several sources with HM9 I came to the conclusion it paired rather well with both my iPod touch 4G and iPod Video.
For the most of this sound impression will be based on an iPod Touch 4G running 256 AAC files (set flat no EQ)
Drivers : Dynamic 40mm
Rated Impedance: 40ohms
Frequency Range: 10Hz - 24Khz
Sensitivity : 104 db @ 1 mW
Max input Power: 1000 mW
Distortion: <=0.3% @ 94 db
Channel balance: =< 2db (@ 1000Hz)
Being focused towards mainstream crowds (well I assume so) HM9's low end is indeed quite forward, there's a good chunk of sub-bass and mid-bass accompanying the presentation at most times, those who like their sub-bass rumble and well textured low ends will be pleased, I would lean to say while HM9's bass doesn't reach 'extreme' bass-head it certainly would classify as a bass-head headphone for my standards. the good side is while the bass is fairly prominent it does have good clarity and detail. The downside to this however is bass bleed can be a little obvious into the mid-range depending on volume levels, also the headphone is dependent on your genres used. I think anyone looking to play acoustic music with HM9 it's simply not the right headphone for the job, however those who like their rap music, EDM and dub-step look no further at the bass emphasis.
As I've said I don't know for sure where Brainwavz were going with HM9 though it appears a good competitor for anyone looking at a beats alternative, so with that in mind the bassy signature will please mainstream consumers that come with it. If I was going to call the low end out and spot a fault for my preferences there's a little too much mid-bass at times, with the thick deep pads of HM9 it can get a little boomy though again overall the low end is quite pleasing especially for those who enjoy some bass thump!
Moving onto the mids HM9 is basically tuned to down to be warm, smooth and forgiving, whilst it isn't the most detailed headphone I've heard at $150 it certainly does a good job of being non fatiguing in it's mid-range, a real plus side for those who like listening for hours, overall the mid-range may sound veiled to some on first listen though a 10 minute adjustment period will allow you to hear what it's trying to achieve and absorb the ambiance and atmosphere this headphone is about at heart. A smooth, warm and to some extent relaxing presentation (minus the bass). Detail levels between the lower and upper-mids are rather balanced so you get a grasp at all mid frequency ranges, remembering the bass we spoke about is always there quite obviously forward over the mid-range most of the time but this also adds to the atmosphere and presentation.
If I was going to be picky I think not as much warmth would better for my preferences, I can understand why the headphone is tuned down to protect against fatigue and long term listening though lifting the veil just a fraction would make the headphone much clearer / cleaner allowing some of that restricted detail to come through. I think for a headphone focused towards a certain crowd it's fine, but be a little daring Brainwavz, lift the veil and show some more clarity allowing those 40mm drivers to show what they can really do.
When we talk about timbre and clarity HM9 is quite natural, but very cosy sounding, I quite enjoy the headphones while laying down with ambient tracks and giving my preference of analytical and bright balanced armatures based IEM's a rest. I can totally grasp where the headphone is coming from being warm and cosy around the mid-range.
As you could probably guess the highs are tuned down to be relaxed, they're a little behind the bass and mid-range in a safe manner though always present enough to give the presentation full appeal. Extension is about average but the detail and clarity is quite obvious so it gives the high end a sufficient amount of sparkle and air upstairs. For those looking at sticking to the 'safe side' treble is right on the money though not too absent to cause an issue for those who like their treble. When tuning a headphone I imagine the hardest part is getting the treble correct as it's quite a sensitive area with a mass of varying tolerance levels. What HM9's highs do is hit a sweet spot of safety and presence (not an easy task)
For me, who does admit being a little treble head I could use some more up stairs, increase the amount of air around the stage.
Soundstage / imaging:
Due to the deep pads there's a sufficient amount of soundstage width present, it's not going to sound overly out of the head though you get a good grasp of the left / right / center channels working in conjunction with one another, the width for a headphone of this design is more than adequate, keep in mind I also push in saying soundstage width is often more so dependent on your source than the headphone, they must work together. For a closed design the stage does quite well especially in regards to depth on the center channel. Of course more width is usually the better scenario in most cases but sure, HM9 pleases without being over the top or too extreme.
Not closed in not miles apart, a satisfactory amount of staging.
With the likes of HM9 as a complete package I think Brainwavz hit the nail on the head in regards to comfort, design, outdoor appeal, I can tell you I would happily wear this headphone over any beats or celebrity consumer headphone in an instant, there's something about HM9 that just screams a "super appealing" piece of gear to me. as I've said in the flesh it almost has an Alien like styling which just sits with me so well. When you add the comfort levels on top it just becomes an awesome deal for anyone looking to be different in the outside world. The build is top notch at the cost of a little weight, but those soft soft pads on the cups and headband make up for it over and over again. I always reach for it just to enjoy them for this aspect.
As for the sound, I can understand where Brainwavz were going though to please a wider audience lifting some of the veil on their next product would be a welcome improvement for me. In a world of Head-fi and portable audio many of us are searching for detail, clarity and a vivid presentation, even if it means at the cost of early fatigue, I think they could have met that requirement half way by just lifting that mid-range a touch and lessening the mid-bass. Let's show the mainstream crowd a different signature and be daring, but in saying that I can totally understand where HM9 goes with it's smooth warm tone overall.