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Neutral (but not flat)

A Review On: Brainwavz S5 In Ear Headphones

Brainwavz S5 In Ear Headphones

Rated # 12 in In-Ear
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Review Details:
Audio Quality
Comfort
Design
Isolation
Value
Purchased on:
Typhoon859
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Pros: Great design overall; provided assortment of eartips to match anyone's interests and comfort needs; solid soundstage & imaging; neutral signature

Cons: Fairly sibilant; slightly boomy in the upper-mid bass range; slightly recessed mids (lacking "bite"); buds are made of aluminum but don't feel robust

 

UPDATED REVIEW- *initial mistaken impressions contrasting with this revised version are preserved below or are otherwise struck out

All the ratings for each individual category are relative except for "design" which I've decided to mark standalone (based on its own merit):

Audio Quality: 7/10

Comfort: 8/10

Design: 8/10

Isolation: 8/10

Value: 7/10

 

*I'm not sure if the ratings under "Review Details", off to the left, are supposed to reflect that of my own or just everyone's average.  They obviously don't match what I've listed here (and perhaps this answers my question), but in any case, that's the reason I've written it out.

 

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As it is easy to find pictures which many have already posted, likely better ones than I'd be able to produce anyway given the use of better cameras, I won't clutter the web with redundancy.

 

General Impressions- 

To mention straight from the start, for those unfamiliar with Brainwavz, I regard them as currently one of the best companies which brand and manufacture different kinds of headphones.  They aim for quality and produce their product at prices which many I'm sure would argue are very fair.  Often times they also allow for some great sales!  As an audio enthusiast and sound engineer, they truly do provide a wide variety of products to satisfy needs on every front.  I would say the Brainwavz M2's formerly were and the Brainwavz HM5's are currently the number one value headphones on the market, from every perspective one can think of.  By my standards, the Brainwavz S5 in comparison falls a little short on these fronts.  Although not necessarily entirely bad in the general context of all things, the product is more akin to the design and price of something made by Monster.

 

So now, moving onto the S5's more specifically, upon opening the packaging and opening the case in which they reside, from the beginning I was immediately pleased by everything aesthetically about them.  Having had experience with many IEM designs in the past, I already knew this would be a winner.  I think mostly the cable design is what's to credit, and the obvious choice to make angled eartips.  

 

Upon picking them up, considering the soft quality of the cable, a concern did arise which was that perhaps the cable may rip over time.  Upon further examining, the connections were solid enough that this concern quickly dissipated.  That, plus the slider which connects the earphones at the Y-split, which I finally found to once be useful on a cable, is what also helped this fact.  I would recommend using it as it seemingly also aids in the distribution of tension from any pulling forces.  

 

Apart from this, the cable design is actually very comfortable.  Anybody who may have concerns about the thickness of the cable can drop them now because all this does is help keep it from tangling.  Additionally, in my experience, it actually gets less in the way considering the fact that it doesn't twist out of shape.  The thickness also doesn't otherwise contribute noticeably to the weight of the cable.

 

Finally, this new cable design also handles microphonics quite well (which is when tapping the wire transfers the sound to your ears) though perhaps it isn't the best amongst earphones starting to approach this price range.  All-in-all, it's a more than worthwhile tradeoff for the rest of the benefits imo.  

 

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Sound Quality-

My review of these in-ear monitors is from impressions obtained mostly with use in conjunction with the FiiO E17 DAC/Amp.  I have however tried them with many other devices such as phones and tablets, and for the most part, given their easy-to-drive nature, their signature sound and their frequency response generally remained the same.  Listening was done after 120 hours of burn-in.  It should also be noted that this is all based on listening using the stock medium-sized silicone tips with which they arrive, which are perfect in terms of comfort/size for me (and I imagine is likely the same for most).  Lastly, the music this was tested with was largely varied to encompass the full spectrum of sound including time and frequency; this includes the best produced and recorded pieces of Classical music, Dubstep, other forms of Electronic music, Hard Rock, Metal, Pop, and other genres and unique artists (obviously, all with different production styles). 

 

Upon truly getting comfortable with the Brainwavz S5’s, I came to recognize their full potential.  Going from song to song, if I were to best sum up in one word the way which they sound, it would be neutral.  This wouldn’t be however to say that they sound natural, unfortunately.  One would think the two go together but interestingly, not in this case.  I found the sound to generally give the impression of being sonically layered, and in turn lost some depth. Songs generally retained most of their qualities though the area which I found mostly problematic were the highs.  If there was at all anything these headphones can be claimed to seriously imprint onto the music, it would be very one-dimensional and isolating highs.  This in effect can grow to be tiresome over time, however ignoring this fact, I did find all genres of music to work rather well, very rarely giving the impression of lacking in any of their fundamental frequencies.  They can in cases be unforgiving to music that's poorly mixed or otherwise poorly produced.  Sound-wise, I feel the S5’s would squarely fall into the category of $80 IEMs (at retail value), and would imo be a great deal at a price of ~$65-.  I’d place their true value at around $70, but of course all these values are completely arbitrary and don’t account for any design/manufacturing costs.

 

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Taking note of the good (with exception)-

These have great clarity, soundstage, and separation.  I’d certainly say it’s above average from what you’d come to expect of most in-ear monitors leading up to this price range.  I haven’t had in-depth experience with the RE0’s, but from how I remember them, I would wager that they still lead* on this front (or I guess I should say led* since they're discontinued).  

 

Furthermore, as mentioned, these do work well for pretty much all genres, although I might say with the exclusion of Jazz.  In many songs, the concentration of frequencies falls right into the accentuated ranges of the headphones, giving a sense of really cheap reproduction.  Obviously this applies to any song mixed with sound predominantly in those areas but it appears to be more rare in other genres. 

 

To take note furthermore, there’s never a sense of fatigue from crushed transients.  In terms of their speed, they have a great balance between accentuated notes and sustain.  Problems lie mostly in other areas.

 

Finally, in terms of what stands out, bass guitar in most songs is well defined, clean, and smooth throughout the ranges.  Apart from a certain peak which emphasizes the attack of certain LF sounds, there is little to criticize about.  If “adjusted” right, these IEMs certainly aren’t missing balls.  Just as an example, anyone considering these for EDM would likely be satisfied…

 

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Taking note of the bad-

Because of a sibilance peak I’d wager is around 10 KHz-12 KHz and other frequencies throughout the treble range which also peak (or otherwise dip), the sound of the highs came across as thin and narrowly focused, mostly affecting percussion type instruments like cymbals, shakers, and snare actually as well.  It also gives the feeling of having these instruments taken out of context, especially when they're panned off to the left or right.  In the center, it’s rather distracting and there’s generally a predominance of a harsh-sounding snare over everything else (likely due to another peak at ~5 KHz).  These specific regions give the impression of somewhat sounding distorted, and there is definitely an issue of sibilance in vocals (though it’s not the worst out there, likely due to not as narrow a peak). 

 

In terms of low frequency response, bass may sometimes appear to be bloated, particularly in the 80 Hz & 120 Hz regions (the power frequencies), somewhat more prominent at around the upper-mid bass area.  There is apparently a bump there which, as briefly mentioned prior, tends to mostly influence sounds with a relatively fast attack, like it may with kick drum for example.. 

 

Lower mid-range seems to be present, but often times there seems to be a lack of mid-range bite.  My best guess would be slightly attenuated frequencies between 650 Hz-850 Hz or perhaps they're just somewhat drowned out by other slightly boosted regions.

 

Considering all the above mentioned qualities, this is likely why, as mentioned in my introductory SQ impressions, the sound comes across as layered.  It’s almost as if the lows, mids, and highs are generated from three different sources.   

 

It’s safe to say that clearly, these aren’t exactly flat; however, it would be my personal submission that they don’t also lean towards any one area over the other.  Any of its inconsistencies I would explicitly label as strictly faults.  That being said, any set of headphones as disproportionate in balance as perhaps these are imperfectly tuned in any one area, I’d likely consider as ultimately worse.

 

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In conclusion, I would say these headphones are good for any general purpose; however, I would also say they are the master of none and certainly not the master of all.  If you’re looking for something specific for any casual listening purpose, there would perhaps be options better tuned for whatever that purpose may be.  If you’re looking for IEMs which are simply as accurate as can be but personally aren’t willing to spend much over $100, these may be the way to go. 

 

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*Keep in mind that all estimations of frequencies are nothing more, stated simply for the purpose of conveying some sense of understanding to those at all familiar with how specific frequencies may influence your overall impressions of sound. 

 

 

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Previous Review-

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Overall Summary: Setting a Precedent in Cable Design; Warmth & Neutrality Left to be Desired in the Sound

Pros: Exemplary design; provided assortment of eartips to match anyone's interests and comfort needs; solid soundstage & imaging; all the pros of good IEMs

Cons: Highly priced for only slightly better than average sound; earphone buds are fully plastic

 

All the ratings for each individual category are relative except for "design" which I've decided to mark standalone (based on its own merit):

Audio Quality: 5/10

Comfort: 8/10

Design: 9/10

Isolation: 8/10

Value: 6/10

 

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Sound Quality-

My review of these in-ear monitors is from impressions obtained mostly with use in conjunction with the FiiO E17 DAC/Amp.  I have however tried them with many other devices such as phones and tablets, and for the most part, given their easy-to-drive nature, their signature sound and their frequency response generally remained the same.  Listening was done before and after 120 hours of burn-in, and unlike claimed by some others, it failed to even out the frequencies for me in ranges where it would be considered to be a problem, although I can't claim to have done this test very scientifically.  It should also be noted that this is all based on listening using the stock medium-sized silicone tips with which they arrive, which are perfect in terms of comfort/size for me (and I imagine is likely the same for most).  Lastly, the music this was tested with was largely varied to encompass the full spectrum of sound including time and frequency; this includes the best produced and recorded pieces of Classical music, Dubstep, other forms of Electronic music, Hard Rock, Metal, Pop, and other genres and unique artists (obviously, all with different production styles).

 

It was apparent to me from the start the signature which the S5's impart onto the signal.  After about two songs, everything I further listened to pretty much served only to reinforce my impressions or otherwise increase the degree to which I was able to recognize the projected response onto the music.  I was actually a little surprised that the time they burned in didn't make much of a difference (whether for better or for worse) because my feeling was that the issue here was specifically the drivers.  In any case, what this immediately meant, at least to me, was that regardless of your preferences, their sound would grow tiresome/boring after a while since the sound of every song greatly conforms around them (which if I'm honest isn’t that much different from what I find the problem to be with most headphones/earphones).  In my opinion, the degree to which this is the case here is too much for earphones in the $80+ category.

 

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Taking note of the good (with exception)-

Starting off more with some of the good however, the soundstage I noticed to be slightly better than what you would typically expect from IEM's (though it didn't differ much from what would otherwise be familiar to most) due to noticeably good separation found between frequencies in the mid and lower-mid range.  This also lends itself well to clarity, with exception to certain frequencies in the upper-mid range or perhaps upper treble frequencies even (~4.5 KHz-6 KHz and/or 10 KHz). 

 

Additionally, apart from the mentioned range above, highs appear to be well extended, so e.g., cymbals tend to sound pretty clear on these.  These IEMs certainly wouldn’t be considered to be in any way dark/veiled. 

 

Also quite good I’d say is the bass.  Though it doesn’t extend quite as far as I would’ve liked, where it hits it is clean and accurate.  It is rather neutral I would say but it may not appeal to bass enthusiasts.

 

On another point, transient response is excellent on the S5’s.  Many IEM’s fail to deliver a clear and fast transient response and therefore lend themselves poorly to long listening sessions.  If not for maybe other reasons, the S5’s certainly wouldn’t be fatiguing in this regard.

 

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Taking note of the bad-

The increase in separation may be the illusion of a fault however, which is that the lower-mid range is predominantly missing/scooped out compared to everything else.  In one word, if I were to describe their main fault, it would be their lack of fullness.  This impression can be gotten due to many different reasons, but in this case, it's simply the fault of the relative response of the frequencies (rather than simply sounding overall thin, cheap, underpowered, and/or distorted).  I therefore have a strong feeling this can well be compensated for with some EQ, so if you are an owner of a PMP/DAP with a high quality built-in EQ or your primary use would otherwise be using a media player like Foobar2000 which has the ability to implement all manner of VST plug-ins (out of which there are definitely some great EQs out there), I wouldn’t rule this pair of earphones out just yet. 

 

Apart from essentially the entirety of the lower mid-range being attenuated and the perhaps briefly inferred lack of hard-hitting lows, the extremity of the upper mid-range is rather accentuated.  It falls victim to the quite infamous problem with many IEMs which is sibilance, particularly S’s and T’s pronounced in vocals.  It is to the point of even narrowly sounding distorted in that range.  One thing that’s predominantly noticeable and perhaps more understandable to those less fine-tuned to the implication of certain exaggerated frequencies, in this case specifically, the snare drum in many tracks harshly cuts through practically everything else and is obviously therefore skewed in its relative AND individual balance.  Perhaps this is the thing I found most annoying.

 

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Ultimately, if I were to choose from headphones which perhaps purposely emphasized/deemphasized frequencies for the purpose of emphasis of more fun and/or pleasing frequencies, this would almost be the inverse of what I would consider a nice balance in that regard.

 

If I were to recommend these earphones, it would be to those who perhaps value clarity above all else and prefer the opposite of a signature which may be considered muddy or in any way boomy sounding.

 

 

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*This review will be updated with picture(s) and a description of screenshot(s) of the iZotope Ozone 5 Master Suite plug-in, primarily focused on the EQ section, the purpose of which will be meant to demonstrate the areas which I feel ultimately needed compensation/correction.

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