Brainwavz S5 Review:
There are questions, and then there are questions that you get asked constantly. One of the most common requests of knowledge from me are on if unit X is better than unit Y. And commonly enough, Brainwavz is thrown into that loop every so often. This is probably due to how popular their untis are in the price range and the rave reviews they typically get. And so today, I have the new Brainwavz S5 with me, and I’m wondering if there is truly going to be a new answer to the age old question of what unit people should buy.
Brainwavz is a personal audio company commonly sold through mp4nation. They specialize in making IEMs and headphones – their primary markets – competitive to units that are worth so much more. They compete through their attention to sonic competence and build durability; so far, their ideology is holding up quite well. The newest entry to their seemingly mantra based company is the S5, especially right after successful launches of the S1, R3, and Delta. The S5 takes a little bit from all three and places them into a nice package.
To start off with, the build of the S5 is similar to the S1s’. They are of a slightly ‘thicker’ build due to the girthy flat cable, 3.5mm cable terminator, and the insertion driver design that the S1 also used. It’s seems to have its durable points covered while still allowing for relative flexability. This seems to be because the S5 took the S1’s strong points of being very build heavy, but mixed it with a slightly lighter and less Hulk like design. Almost like a mix between the S1 and the cable end of the R3.
The driver housing seems to be of lighter grade material than the S1. The S5’s are undeniably plastic with their glossy surface and in how light they are are metal (this has been brought to me as information by the commentor below) I was a bit disappointed to be honest when I first saw it. The S1 took me a few minutes to discern if they were actually metal, plastic, or a hybrid. They were also weighty and felt reliable. That’s not to say the S5 can’t be all of those things. They can indeed still be reliable, and better yet, their lighter weight can help with insertion and keeping the drivers in your ear. I can’t personally say that I take preference to the S5’s build on the driver housing. But I can say, that they are in no ways a con; it’s rather a mix match of what your priorities are. For those that want a lighter housing for ease of inserting and staying in place along with overall weight. These work for those guys. For others that want a unit that even the Hulk can use, you may want to look at the S1 or even the Nuforce NE-700M.
All in all, the design philosophy of the S5 is a victory on the part of principle and that it actually works. In terms of principle, it shows how Brainwavz is actively listening to users of their previous gear and making noticeable and deliberate changes to their product line with speed. I remember remakring in my S1 review on how awkward and thick the headphone jack was and in how the entire unit was slightly on the heavy side. And while some may take issue with the S5 for being lighter and having less perceivable build, the S5 still works and it does its job well. The flat cable, smaller headphone jack, and driver housing inserter are all in great shape and do their job well.
The Brainwavz S5, with the Comply tips, act as great sonic isolators. I’ve used this in loud enviroments, train journeys, and for walking past Harleys. They pretty much can get rid of most of the sound. The thing they can’t get rid of are the very low rumbles that an environment may produce. This can be the hum of the car engine, the rumble of a Harley, or the tracks on a train; all of these are things I’ve experienced. They are still excellet in getting rid of the general noise of the environment though.
Brainwavz knows how to impress, and they do it yet again with their goodie bags. Yep, you know what I’m talking about. I’m talking about all the accessories that Brainwavz showers its owners with. Upon unboxing the unit, I knew I was in for a treat as the red carrying case was bulging under the weight of whatever was in it. Inside were a bag load of siliclne tips, a Comply tip set, a 3.5mm to quarter inch adapter, and warranty information. I was most surprised at the new jack adapter and Comply tips this time. They were both quite fancy and made me feel like they were exotic goodies. For the most part, I’m impressed with what Brainwavz gives its owners and do like their goodie bags.
The general sound signature of the S5 can be described as clear with a slightly thick undertone with a palpable timbre in the mid range. It’s almost a sonic mix between the thick S1 and the detailed R3.
The mid range of the Brainwavz is active with a forward presentation. The vocals are quite clear and generally full of detail. They don’t have a veil to it and are entertaining to listen to. They are a good match for the tier of this unit and its performance and I like them. But the issues come in the finer parts. They aren’t completely full; there is a bit of ‘soul’ lacking from them. This exacerbates a slight issue on the part of naturalness that gets amplified due to the lack of fullness to them. They are a bit anemic in regards to how natural the timbre and direction should be. Just slightly off balance, but nothing completely out of place. The last thing to note is that they have a very slight – and rare- instance of sibilance evey so often. It’s not very pronounced or loud, but it does happen.
The instrumental mid range is one of the best parts of the S5. Whereas the slightly colder mid range and a lack of soul extension makes the vocals a bit stale, the insturments benefit from it. Often times, too full a mid range makes the instruments too thick. The S5 gets it just right here as instruments are detailed without the tonal warmth to it that many other units have issues with. The instruments also get their own space apart from the vocals and so its quite a good mixture of the two. Listening to instrumental tracks is a guilty pleasure of mine with the S5. They entertain the listener without getting too sharp or hot, and this is pretty important for a unit at this price.
The kick of the low-end is precise and loud enough that it pleases, but not far enough that it becomes a competitor in car-audio. It doesn’t show up that often, but when the bass is required by the song. It delivers a precision strike of good low-end kick. It was a rewarding instance, to be listening to a clean and mid heavy song, only to wait for the moment a bass drop would appear, and in where the S5 would deliver beautifully.
The highs of the S5 don’t have much to be introduced. They are slightly passive and do deliver a bit when needed, but I did find them a bit dull during the times that they did make an appearance. It’s good to have a high range that isn’t bright, but at the same time, its not good to not have a high range. It’s a fair dilemma and I think that the S5 produces just enough to make it above the imaginary line of what works and what doesn’t.
Overall, the sound of the S5 was detailed and offered itself as a great unit for listening to instrument heavy tracks; they were still quite doable with vocal tracks, but that wasn’t their shinning moment. The unit had a good design and build standard reminescient of the R3, and S1 and it worked quite well. And so what do I think of the question on how this unit stacks to the others? Well, I find the S5 to be a great middleman of having a lot of strong points that the other Brainwavz’s also have. It’s a balanced and middle decision really, and if you want something that is the best of all worlds with a slight loss in a few areas. Then I say that the S5 is your new friend.