Pros: warm, fun and spacious sounding
Cons: slightly boosted bass that could use more control
I've had the Brainwavz M2 here for several weeks, and I'm sorry that I haven't had the time to post my thoughts on them sooner, but I'm doing so now after enjoying them the whole time. My Star rating is against other IEM in the $100 and under range. I received these as a free review sample, but they did not buy any special favors.
The build quality is not bad for a budget IEM. The cable feels nice and is fairly tangle free, as well as having only a small amount of microphonics. I did have an issue where the strain relief on the right earphone came loose and would slide up and down the cable, and for a while I left it that way as it helped me identify the right and left by feel in the dark. Eventually I glued the strain relief back in place. While doing that I discovered that the metal rod that the cable runs through could be unscrewed too easily from the earpiece.
Isolation with single flange silicone tips is decent like my Nuforce IEM with Shure tips, and more than my RE252, but less than my W1 with triple flange tips. They isolate enough to enjoy the music while sitting 3 feet way from a window air conditioner unit. They also came with a variety of tips and a nice case, but the medium silicone tips worked right away for me and I didn't bother with the rest.
GEAR USED: MAcbook Pro lossless music > Pico DAC > ALO Amphora, Macbook Pro > uDAC, uDAC-2 or DACport, iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4.
EARPHONES COMPARED: Brainwavz M2 vs Brainwavz Beta, HiFiMan RE-2, Nuforce NE-6/7M, Maximo iMetal iP-HS-5, Denon C700, Westone 1, Westone 2, Westone 3, Monster Turbine Pro Gold, UE11Pro.
MUSIC USED: (24/96 only where noted, otherwise 16/44 lossless):
* Diana Krall - Live in Paris
* Peter Asplund - As Knights Concur
* John H. Clarke - Acoustic Guitar (bought off CDBaby.com)
* Nils Lofgren - Acoustic Live
* Tord Gustavsen Trio - "Restored, Returned"
* Esbjorn Svensen Trio - From Gagarin's Point of View
* Jimmy Cobb Quartet - Jazz in the Key of Blues 24/96
* Shelby Lynn - Just a Little Lovin
* Nancy Bryan - Neon Angel 24/96
* Wendy Sutter - Songs & Poems For Solo Cello
* Eva Cassidy - Live at Blues Alley
* Ottmar Liebert & Luna Negra - Up Close 24/96
* Bill Evans - Waltz for Debby
* Carla Lother - 100 Lovers 24/96
* Infected Mushroom - B.P. Empire
* Bella Sonus - Enamoured
* Jack Johnson - In Between Dreams, On and On, and Sleep Through the Static
* Pink Floyd - Animals
* Orianthi - Violet Journey
* Black Eyed peas - The E.N.D.
* Katy Perry - One of the Boys
* Sade - Soldier of Love
* A variety of low bit-rate rock music downloads for my kids to look for issues
SOUND: I felt that they sound pretty nice right out of the box. They seem to have raised the bar for what I consider to be budget earphones. After just an hour of listening I was ready to say that these could easily sell for twice the asking price, and are a lot of fun to listen to. They made small improvements in refinement and bass control over the first 100 hours, but one could start enjoying them right away.
If I'm trying to describe the sound, it helps to compare them other earphones or headphones. I might call them the Denon D2000 or D5000 of the IEM world, but that may not be a perfect match as I'm working from memory of the Denon. The M2 frequency response was almost a perfect match for my UE11pro customs, minus the UE11pro's superior detail, air and extension in the highs, refinement and speed. But even the soundstage size seems to be of similar proportions. I actually went back and forth between my UE11Pro and M2 out of several amps after I heard this, and the biggest difference in the frequency response of the two is that the M2 are slightly darker or recessed in the highs than the UE11Pro. No, I'm not saying the M2 are as good as an over $1100 custom IEM, but if someone wanted to have an idea of the UE11Pro "flavor" I would tell them to try the M2 to hear the tone and balance.
In comparison to my Denon AH-C700 which I paid $199 for in 2007, the Denon sound thin and hollow in the mids with a brighter or even "tizzy-sounding" treble, only redeemed by their nice bass presence which isn't as well controlled as the M2. The Denon lack the rich vibrant mids and refinement of the M2, and are also not as efficient. However, comparing the M2 vs the Denon or Nuforce earphones does seem to make the M2 sound a little dark in the highs; maybe more from the sudden contrast, and having acclimated to the other IEM than a fault of the M2. But if I listen to the M2 first, then switching earphones makes the Denon and Nuforce sound bright and the M2 more normal instead. The Denon improve noticeably with Complys T400 foam tips, but not enough. The M2 are more fun and enjoyable with better bass control, cleaner richer mids, and smoother more refined treble than the Denon. Impressive for the low price.
In previous comparisons my Nuforce NE-6 and NE-7M also topped the Denon C700, so I also compared those to the M2. The NE-6/7M are a little more neutral and forward sounding than the M2. Although they may be slightly more accurate in frequency balance than the M2, they are not as much fun and don't disappear behind the music as well as the M2 do. The M2 seems to be more transparent in the sense of not calling too much attention to the mids or highs, although the bass is certainly tipped up in a fun kinda way and the overall sound is warmer (like the UE11Pro). The more forward upper-mids of the NE-6 and NE-7M bring some of the details of the background instruments out, but not necessarily in a way that allows the earphones to disappear when listening. This improved in the Nuforce earphones by switching from the stock tips to some Shure E2c tips, but not enough to overcome this.
Similarly, the Maximo iMetal iP-HS-5 (aka i590 for iPhone) and HiFiMan RE-2 were a bit colored in comparison, with a tilt toward the highs and details rather than the warm mids and bass of the M2. Although I have rated the Maximo on par with the Nuforce or HiFiMan RE2 (just with a different sound), and above the JVC Marshmallows and Aircushions or Brainwavz beta, they still fall below the new M2 for me when it comes to enjoying the music instead of listening to the earphones' sound. The area where the good budget IEM like Maximo or Nuforce surpass the M2 is in their bass detail and speed, but I prefer the additional impact of the M2 and less attention to detail when I want to have some fun with them. This was especially appreciated with low bit-rate downloaded music that my kids listen to.
I decided to compare the M2 to my Westone 1, since I hadn't listened to them in a while. They cost several times more than the M2, but I was running out of budget IEM to compare them to. I found the W1 to be better in neutrality, transparency and speed, but they were not as extended in the deep bass or treble as the M2. The M2's bass quantity is a bit higher and more impactful than the bass of the W1, but the W1 bass speed and definition is still noticeably better. Despite less bass presence than the M2, the W1 are a fairly warm sounding IEM and not out of character when comparing them to the M2. Their mids and highs were somewhat similar in volume, up to the limits of the W1's balanced armature. But the M2 have a little more sparkle/air/extension and a larger more spacious soundstage, while the W1 are more forward/intimate sounding and slightly muted in the ambience department.
The W1 are pretty good for single BA IEM, and they disappear better than the M2 or others when I listen to jazz and acoustic or string music, but the M2 were more fun for rock music or for listening loudly. For critical listening the W1 are a better choice, and more accurate most of the time. I wouldn't call the W1 a "fun" phone like the M2, and some listeners have described them as flat or boring at times. But the W1 also sound best when amped, while the M2 are less picky about that, and with a good amp the W1 shine better. Certainly the M2 can be more exciting and dynamic to listen to than the W1, especially unamped, but a similar thing could be said about the D2000/5000 vs the HD600/650. Being more fun with less power doesn't always make it a better choice for critical listening.
When bringing out the Westone 2 and 3, or even the Monster Turbine Pro Gold, the M2 began to sound more like a budget IEM. The M2 bass is more like the W3 or MTPG in quantity, but not in quality. And they just don't have the speed, detail or realism of the more costly IEMs that I tried.
SUMMARY: The Brainwavz M2 (aka Visang R03) are a nice sounding budget IEM which have a pleasing tone, fun bass impact, and good soundstage/image. They are a very clear upgrade to the wwww.MP4nation.com Brainwavz Beta that I reviewed previously, as well as more enjoyable than several other $40-$150 earphones that I own. They are not as accurate, fast or detailed as my balanced armature IEM or some of my dynamic IEM, but I also would not call them slow or veiled. Their biggest problem is with the slightly boosted bass that is somewhat less well controlled than I would like. They're not a giant killer and the sound is not perfect, but they don't do many things wrong - there are no big irritating peaks or troughs that would bother even the more discerning listeners. For those on a budget it would be well worth giving these consideration.