Pros: Great build, packaging, carry case, ear-tip selection, and lack of cable noise, a modest taste of high-end sound at a low cost.
Cons: Ear-tip changing (rolling) is quite fiddly with the silicon ear-tips, bass can sound boxy, can sound spitty at high volume, slightly lacking isolation
First of all let me say a big Thank You to Audrey from Brainwavz for putting me down as one of the reviewer panel – being based in the UK, it is relatively fair to say that we come up a little short when it comes to electronics manufacturers (especially for Head-Fi’ers, notable exception being Chord), so it was with a certain amount of excitement that I put myself forward, and – well – the rest is history...
Professional looking IEM / packaging.
Great selection of ear-tips included in the box (although fit questionable).
Great (if slightly large) carry case included in the box.
Good construction / build quality for the price.
No cable noise
Ear-tip changing (rolling) is quite fiddly with the silicon ear-tips.
Occasionally boxy sounding bass.
Tonal balance can, if volume driven hard tip towards the treble.
Not the best isolation.
If I could change anything (for an S5 V2), strangely – the main thing I would address would be to taper the nozzle that the ear-tips fit onto – only ever so slightly, but – just enough to enable tips to fit much more easily than they do now – if it actually ends up just being me that has an issue with fitting the silicon tips, then so be it – however, I have a feeling as the fan / user base for these IEMs grows, more and more people will have the same frustrations as me...
It should be noted that – with my opinions of the below, the particular pair I have, at the time of writing - have a rather scientifically accurate 125hrs of burn-in on the drivers, using the Colorfly C3 as a source at a fixed volume of 32/40 – I am sure that most people will overlook this point completely, however – for those burn-in aficionados this has this base covered! – Additionally, for the purpose of the below, sound impressions have been observed whilst using the enclosed double-flanged silicon eartips – although, as is logical when a fit-kit is included, personal preferences will differ from person to person.
My opinion of the Brainwavz S5 is coming from a high-end IEM usage background, and what I can say is that yes, for the very competitive street price of US$100, there are some [some would say, obvious] compromises when compared to the US$1000 IEMs that I am used to, however – if you match up the S5 with a suitably good MP3 player, they can belie their price in quite a spectacular way.
The well regarded [Head-Fi] example of this in practice is using the Brainwavz S5 with the Colorfly C3 MP3 player, this allows the treble to gain a sense of control that it seems to lack without this combination, and sparkle (moreso, strangely, than using a US$500 dedicated amplifier!), I am used to a VERY open treble (being a Sennheiser IE800 user), so – on paper (and according to other reviewers opinions) the S5 should be right up my street, and – to a certain extent it is, I can certainly hear that the treble on the S5 could be considered as erring on the brighter side of neutral.
Personally, I agree with some other posters that find the bass a bit strident when the volume is turned up (my personal analogy is that it is like having a ‘loudness’ button turned on, so – this bass actually complements the sound at lower volumes, albeit sounding a little boxy compared to reference!), additionally, others have noted a 4-5khz spike, which I would be inclined to agree about, as – again – when driven quite hard, this can push vocals into sibilance.
Oddly, the biggest concern / point of note from me regarding the S5 is not about the sound quality achieved by the drivers, the build quality, the packaging, or otherwise – but, about the [silicon] eartips – as much as there is a great selection for you to try, they are very fiddly to actually get onto the S5, out of all recent IEMs I have used of late, these are by far the most awkward – The easiest way that I can find to put them on is to turn the tops of the tips inside out (to expose the centre tube), and then do a bit of a wiggle and a shuffle to get them onto the S5 ear-tube... I am unsure if it the size of the bore, or if it is the actual silicon used that causes this issue, as I do NOT have the same issue with the Comply tips (either those included, or those I already have), nor with the Monster fit-tip kit, which – whilst being a [very] tight fit, does work...
Hang on a minute though, the majority of the above is incorporating negative comments – where is the hype, the positive spin, the declaration of love? – Well, that is below...
Looking at these IEMs in their own terms (US$100 IEMs in a crowded market-place) they definitely offer something of a premium feel (my very first note when receiving the package through the post was that the holographic tape that holds the box closed promotes a care for, and a quality of product), the packaging shouts from the rooftops that Brainwavz cares about this product, this extends when you go inside the box, the enclosed heavy duty carry case, with the cable of the IEMs wound carefully inside, the premium baggy that contains the ear-tips, the well made ¼ to ½ inch jack adapter, these are all promising signs from this very up and coming company...
Ambient noise isolation is better than that of the standard Apple Earbuds (for example) but – not as good as equivalent Sony buds at the same price point, at least not with the silicon ear-tips (although this will differ from person to person, so – this is more of an opinion than a fact!) – where things do improve is with the included Comply tips, which both close out more noise, and warm the sound up a little, which could be very handy if you, like me – find the tone a little bright with the included silicon tips.
Overall, tonally (and technically), I would say that the S5 is ‘pleasant’, it isn’t the kind of sound that will offend many people, being open, and clear – my recurring theme for the overall review is that if these are driven hard (to be fair, and brutally honest, I probably listen at a volume above what 90% of potential buyers would!), then the sound does tend to get a little shrill, however – so long as you are the kind of person who wants to protect their hearing (which – I should look at doing myself!) then the S5, tonally – will reward you with a clean sound that allows the overall music mix to be apparent, without any one aspect being any more in your face than the next, there is a slightly boxy tone to the bass, but – this is more indicative of the price point of the S5, rather than a technical failing...
Soundstage is very good with the S5, one of their main selling points in my opinion (which is linked with, in my opinion, the openness of the isolation highlighted in the paragraph above) with credible panning and depth perception, this is definitely something that the designer of the S5 [drive units] has done well, hats off to them – this is a very good set of IEMs for jazz, live, or old recordings where stereo panning is very key to instrument placement etc.
Personally, I would not recommend the S5 for EDM style music, as the [to me] boxy nature of the bass does not lend itself very well to this genre, sounding a bit slow, a bit wallowy, a bit ‘false’, but – much the same as the paragraph above, keep it simple with these, jazz, live, or maybe orchestral music, and the S5 will reward you with a clean sounding listen that belies its price.
The IEMs themselves, for the price – exude a quality that big manufacturers can only dream about – whilst the flat cable design / implementation may not please everyone (personally, I find it quite a revelation, sitting flat against my shirt, and – having absolutely zero cable noise), the level of attention to detail that this shows is very apparent, and a welcome improvement over those more mass-market brands that push out very thin cables that are likely to snap / fray if you so much as look at them badly... The housings of the drive units, whilst not having the premium feel of products ten times their price, again give you a sense that they are ready to stand the test of time, whether that be in the included [premium!] case, or – in the bottom of a back-pack mixed in with a student’s sandwiches, stale socks, or – if really unlucky – both, at the same time!
Overall, I am of the belief that the S5 will be a very good first upgrade for those people who are used to using ‘supplied’ earphones with their electronic devices, one thing that the included IEMs / earbuds definitely do not do very well is treble, and – whilst the S5 may seem to be a bit treble bright, it definitely shows you a look through the window of what is available at a much higher price-point, and – if you’re anything like me, you will find that look through the window very intoxicating, and want more!
The basic moral of the story from my side is, if you listen to music at a modest volume in a library, study, or other quiet area, and can find a suitably revealing source (as mentioned above, and by other forum members, the Colorfly C3 MP3 player is a very good candidate here!), then the Brainwavz S5 can offer you a taste of high-end sound, especially if you like slower / older music, at potentially pocket money prices – these IEMs / this combination would be a very good candidate for a bedroom / bedtime setup, for listening at more restrained volumes (As a general rule, don’t listen too loudly, bad for your ear health!!).
Any questions, please shout –as there are quite a few of us that will be able to chime in with our thoughts.