Pros: build quality, neutral yet enjoyable sound
Cons: low isolation due to vent
Originally posted at HeadphoneScout:
Brainwavz is a budget headphone company that offers some of the best bang/buck products on the market. Their M2 and M3 in-ears are a couple of my favorite IEMs under $100 but contrary to intuition the M5 was not meant to their successor (neither was the M4). Instead, Brainwavz has set out to improve on the $30 M1, an IEM whose strengths are comfort and instrument separation.
Without hesitation I can say that the M5 has the best build quality of Brainwavz’ current IEM lineup. Most impressive are the beefy plastic strain reliefs on the Y-split and 3.5mm plug. They look and feel like they can take a lot of abuse. The housings (black or copper depending on the version you choose) are metal but lightweight. The rubber cable is similar to M4 but noticeably thicker; aesthetically it suits the M5 nicely.
The housings of the M5 utilize the tried and true straight-barrel design and there is not much to complain about. Comfort is good (I use single-flange tips) and insertion is extremely easy. The M5′s don’t “disappear” in my ears so if you aren’t used to in-ear headphones it may take some time to get used to. Cable noise is existent so you will get good use out of the included shirt clip.
Brainwavz advertises the M5 as having a “clear & balanced sound” and I agree! Too many companies slap terms like this onto their boxes as marketing jargon but this is actually an accurate statement. In terms of tonality the M5 is close to neutral, though the treble is noticeably tamed. Fine with me though: in my opinion there is nothing worse than sibilance and the M5 steers clear of it.
While I do not consider the M5 an analytical headphone due to its tamed treble and average soundstage, it definitely has an analytical tilt to it. Instrument separation is better than most headphones at this price and overall clarity and balance is surprisingly good for $50. It sounds natural overall but I found the soundstage depth to be slightly distracting – it seems to take away from realism a bit, but this could just be personal preference.
Worth noting are my first impressions of the M5. When I first popped them in, I was underwhelmed to say the least. They sounded flat, grainy, and no aspect of the sound impressed me. This was after I played around with the various ear tips, finding the standard medium silicone tips to provide the best comfort, seal, and sound. The included Comply foam tips were tempting to use, but I found that they muffled the sound way too much (this seems to be the case with all Brainwavz headphones). Thankfully my negative impressions of the M5 only lasted a couple days – the amount of time I burned them in for! After burn-in, the soundstage opened up and clarity improved tremendously. Moral of the story: give them some time to grow on you!
- Brainwavz M5 vs Brainwavz M1. I was surprised to find out that the M5 was the “next-gen” M1 – they are actually quite different. The M1 has stronger bass, a wider soundstage, and better instrument separation. The M5 is clearer and more cohesive but less liquid. That may sound like a bad thing but it speaks to the M5′s neutrality. The M5 is much more versatile than the M1 and in my opinion is the safer choice. Unfortunately the M5 is not very comfortable while lying ear-down on a pillow, which is my favorite aspect of the M1.
- Brainwavz M5 vs Brainwavz M2. This is really a clash of styles. The M2 is warm, liquid, and forward while the M5 is neutral, more spaced out, and laid-back. The M2 is famous in my book for its ability to blend instruments together without making it sound congested. The M5 on the other hand is inoffensive – if you don’t like heavy bass, the M5 is a great all-arounder.
- Brainwavz M5 vs Brainwavz M4. The M4 is simply outclassed by the M5. From the build quality (which is night and day, the M4 just feels cheap) to the sound, the M5 is simply a step up in every category. Clarity, realism, instrument separation, and balance are all significantly better on the M5.
The M5 is an impressive addition to the Brainwavz lineup. They won’t blow you away upon first listen, but this is the case for most neutral headphones. The M5 is technically sound across all frequencies and once they are given ample burn-in time, they sound great with all genres. Well-executed neutrality is hard to come by in the entry-level market but the Brainwavz M5 is definitely a top contender in that category. I wish there were a little more shimmer in the treble, and they are not as immersive as the M2, but if balance and clarity are top concerns you won’t be disappointed in the M5.