Pros: solid build quality, clarity, detail retrieval, 2-year warranty
Cons: somewhat plasticky cable, needs a bit thicker note presentation, bass lacking some depth and control, peaky highs
First off, I want to thank Brainwavz and Audrey for this S5 unit.
Packaging and Accessories
With the package in front of you the first thing that catches the eye is the embossed image of the S5, which pops up with the help of its glossy finish. Once you’re finished running your fingers over it and looking it at a different angle you can move your attention to the embossed Brainwavz inscription followed with their description – Rich Details, Smooth Bass and Over The Ear Design.
On the back of the box there is a short description of the S5 followed by a list of the contents of the package and the S5’s specs and compatibility.
Once you open the magnetic flap you are greeted by the S5 and the Brainwavz case and a detailed description of the iem’s and cable’s construction and Brainwavz’ mission on the inside of the flap.
The box is pretty standard but I personally am a fan of this type of presentation with the front opening up and revealing the product.
Inside the box reside the S5 and the Brainwavz case. I’ve mentioned multiple times that this is my favorite iem case. It’s quite tough and specious and can easily fit a pair of iems and a small DAP like a Sansa. Inside one of the red pockets there is a nice quarter inch adapter and small gray bag with the included tips. There are 2 different types of single flange tips. Black ones made of a touch thicker silicone and gray ones, which are softer and have a slightly wider bore. The single flange silicone tips come in 3 sizes. There is also a pair of bi-flange and a pair of tri-flange tips, which come in only one size. As usual with Brainwavz a pair of comply foam tips packaged separately is included to complete the package.
Build Quality, Design and Fit
The Brainwavz is a pretty solid iem with a nice metal housing which has a nice smooth feel in the hand. The cable is flat and seems pretty sturdy. I personally am not a huge fan of the current flat cable trend but it has its positive sides. A bit softer and smoother sleeving of the cable would have been better though as it feels a bit plasticky and sticky.
The strain reliefs are quite substantial and some people might find them a bit over-engineered, especially the Y-splitter. I personally have no issues with them. The straight plug is small and has slightly flattened sides for better grip and overall seems solid. An L-plug might have been a better choice and more in line with the whole tough look of the S5 but it’s mostly a personal preference and I’m fine with it.
Design-wise the S5 reminds me quite a bit of a larger version of their B2 model. Initially I was going to complain about the angle of the nozzles, so the S5 could have a flusher fit but for most people the length of the housing will be too big to fit inside the outer ear, so with that design of the housing it seems that the engineers have made the right call. Also props for the flattened part of the housing, which not only provides a place for the Brainwavz inscription but also provides a better grip for the fingers when inserting or taking them out.
The fit is good with most of the provided tips but the included bi- and tri-flanges might be too big for most people. I settle with the stock black single flanges mostly due to the sound difference in the tips rather than the fit.
The S5 can also be worn straight down but the housing will stick out more. Microphonics are low when worn cable up the cable up but a lot more audible cable down due to the plasticky cable. There is no driver flex.
The S5 has over 100hours of burn-in at the time of writing this review.
The bass is boosted but not really to basshead levels. It does lack a bit of depth and is softer on the impact but overall is relatively punchy and with big mid-bass slam. It does not sound muddy or bloated but could benefit from better control and a tighter and more solid body. Its speed is good with not too slow decay and has decent attack.Overall for a bass-enhanced iem the S5 is competent but I would like a flatter and tighter bass from the future higher-end Brainwavz models.
The mids are recessed but the boosted bass adds some warmth to the male vocals and they don’t sound too distant and have good presence and nice tone. The note presentation is on the thin side but paired with the emphasized highs leads to clearer and more detailed sound. Clarity is impessive though and makes a lot similarly bassy iems sound muddy and congested in comparison. There is a lift in the upper treble adding crispness but it’s not too aggressive and overall the mids are fairly smooth. The overall tonality is a a bit on the bright side and slightly cool, so while I'll call it neutralish, it is a bit colder than neutral in my opinion and is not the most natural sounding. Female vocals lack a bit of body and life (as they don't have the benefit the male vocals get from the bass warmth) due to the thinner sound and some dryness in the lower treble but also are not too distant sounding. Also they are a bit affected by the treble issues at higher volumes.
The highs are emphasized and there is good amount of energy and sparkle. The upper treble is a bit too emphasized and somewhat peaky, which leads to the cooler and brighter tone of the S5. The treble is not too prone to pointing out sibilance at moderate volume but is a bit splashy, especially at higher volumes and can become fatiguing. It’s also on the dry side due to the overall thinner presentation of the S5.
The S5 sounds airy and fairly open. It has good center imaging and overall positioning is very good. Depth is about average and the same goes for the height. Instrument separation is good but the sense of space between the instruments is a somewhat lacking probably due the increased upper treble adding a bit too much air on top and reducing the blackness of the background.
Despite my criticism the Brainwavz S5 is a solid performer for its price with an even more solid build quality. It's greatest strength sound-wise is its clarity and I reckon that it has the type of sound that can impress right away a lot of people, especially the general consumers looking for something with emphasized bass and won't expect this level of clarity and will be pleasantly surprised. Add to that the tough exterior and the 2-year warranty and it becomes a great buy for the more active people or the younger buyers. And overall a good recommendation for people looking for both bass quantity and clear and detailed sound.
For the more seasoned "audiophiles' though I think the S5 will fall short in several aspects, the highs probably being the main one. The competition in this price range is very stiff and the S5 needs some more control and refinement to be able to compete sq-wise with the best and be easier to recommend to more people.