Pros: Great isolation, deep bass, natural presentation
Cons: Not too airy mids, very slight microphonics
Design and Comfort
S5 is a new higher-end in-ear-monitor from Brainwavz retailing at about US$100. I’m glad Brainwavz has offerings at most price points below $200. It's great that companies such Brainwavz and SoundMagic help bring down prices; if not for them, we would still be paying an arm and a leg for these things.
It has a flat cable instead of the normal round cable, similar to the new Creative Aurvana Live! 2. I don’t know if this is a trend. I’m more used to round cables, but round cables do tangle a bit, except really thick ones like the ones used on HM5, so I think flat cables do have an advantage here if you want your cable to tangle less. Microphonics is minimal, slightly more than Brainwavz M4; however, that can easily be solved sliding up the cable cinch (e.g. during exercise).
The IEM’s housing has a flat side, which comes in handy - a tactile way of identifying left and right earpieces. All you have to do is have the flat side facing outward when worn. The letter “R” and “L” are extremely small, but you just need to look at them once and you’ll remember which side is which by looking for the flat surface on one side of the housing. Isolation is excellent, at least 25dB, basically similar to earplugs. If you’re looking for an IEM that isolates noise like an earplug, this is an good option for you.
It came with an assortment of different standard silicone tips, including a set of very nice Comply T-400 foam tips. I’m using the T-400 for this review, while I use S-400 on my M4. I’m a fan of Comply tips, and I prefer foam tips to silicone tips in terms of comfort and sound. Silicone tips do, however, bring out better highs on most IEMs (if not all), if that’s what you’re after.
It’s very easy to drive, coming from relatively easy to drive headphones. It’s louder than M4 at the same volume for example.
Straight out of the box, I couldn't really fault it much. I’ve done over 150 hours of burn-in. DAC is FiiO E10. There are some similarity to Brainwavz M4, could be considered an upgrade in every way, except I prefer M4's mids.
Bass is deep and tight, probably a tad more than what you call neutral/flat, not unlike CAL!2. It's perfect for people who like to feel their low notes. I don’t find the bass to be distracting; in fact, I can really appreciate the detail in the bass. Unlike M4, you won’t find a mid-bass hump in S5.
Midrange is slightly warmish, without any bloated mid-bass. If I had to complain, this would probably be the weakest link of S5. You're not going to get perfect sound at any price, let alone at this price range.
S5 is less airy than M4. That’s expected of something that blocks 90% of all ambient noise. For me, I do prefer my mids to be more airy, so I’m biased. I guess that’s the trade-off between isolation and soundstage.
Treble is very smooth with the foam tips. No sibilance at all, but detailed enough to show it if the recording has it. With silicone tips, the sparkles are brought out, more so with the the tri-flanges.
While soundstage is quite intimate, I feel like I’m listening to music in a studio environment. Due to its excellent imaging, some recordings sound a bit binaural. I thought was sitting next to the pianist, facing the other way (away from the piano). Classical and country sound so good, especially piano pieces.
This is a very likeable IEM for mainstrem music-lovers, regardless of your preferred sound signature, in my opinion. Is it for bassheads? Sure, if you like quality bass with enough quantity but not overly so. Is this for treble-heads? I reckon B2 is a better choice. The sub-$100 bracket is such a competitive price range, these days you can get headphones or earphones that would have cost you several times more in the past. If you were to buy just one IEM for portable use, this would be my personal choice for portability. It's good at most things, and excels at sub-bass.