Anyone who has been following Head-Fi’s portable forum for the past few months has probably stumbled on and been confused by the ViSang R03/Mp4nation Brainwavz M2 debacle. Let me try to clear things up. First, ViSang released the R03, which I thought were a great value for money and an excellent all-around set. Mp4nation then re-branded the R03 as the Brainwavz M2, changing the straight plug to an angled one and revising the included accessory bundle in the process. Then ViSang released the R02, which is specced very similarly to the R03/M2 and sounds very close to them but looks like the old Cyclone PR1 Pro/VSonic R02ProII. Did that help? I didn’t think so.
But in case you’d managed to keep all of the models straight until now, let me introduce the new challenger in IEM town – the Brainwavz M1. It looks like the Cyclone Pr1 Pro, has the cable of the R03/R02, and sounds like a communal love child of all of the above. Confusing? Yes. Worth the confusion? Most definitely.
Packaging & Accessories
Unfortunately I can’t say much about the packaging since the set I received came with none. In terms of accessories, they come with the same single-flange Sony Hybrid knockoff tips as the ViSang R03/R02 (in three sizes), three sizes of Soundmagic-style foamhybrid tips, a set of over-the-ear cable guides, a shirt clip, and a clamshell carrying case - an impressive collection of pack-ins for a $40 earphone.
Appearance & Build Quality
The M1 looks pretty much identical to the old Cyclone PR1 Pro – the same standard OEM housings with plastic shells, a metal nozzle, and metal mesh filters. The twisted Cu-Ag alloy cable is identical to those found on the R02/R03/Brainwavz M2. It is sturdy, relatively flexible, and low on microphonics, though the lack of a sliding cable cinch still bothers me slightly. The design is very similar to the ViSang R02 except for the lack of the rubber piece that acts as a strain relief on cord entry, which is disappointing. The 3.5mm plug of the ViSang earphones, however, has been changed to a beefier 45-degree connector.
Fit & Comfort
The lack of strain relief makes the M1 smaller and even easier to wear than the ViSang R02. They work fine when worn over-the-ear or cable down and are small enough for me to sleep in. A relatively shallow seal is required for them to sound their best and I don’t really anticipate any long-term comfort issues with such a fit.
Isolation & Microphonics
Like all IEMs sharing the OEM VSonic housings that the M1s use, they are ported on the side for air flow. The isolation they provide is reasonable for daily use, though they aren’t Etymotic-killers by any means. They are slightly more susceptible to wind noise than the higher-end Brainwavz M2/ViSang R03 but don’t isolate a whole lot less.
Cable noise is low on the grand scale but for active use I’d still recommend wearing them cord-up. The cord may be slightly resilient at first but will settle in over time.
-Type: Dynamic Driver
-Channel Balance: <= 2dB
-Driver Diameter: 10.7mm
-Rated Input Power: 10mW
-Sensitivity: 110dB @ 1mW
-Distortion: <= 0.3% @ 94dB
-Maximum Input Power: 40mW
-Plug: 3.5mm, 45 degree, gold-plated
-Frequency Response: 20-20,000 Hz
-Cord: 1.3 m, Y-style, Cu/Ag alloy
All on-the-go listening was done straight from an unamped Sansa Fuze using a selection of tracks in 192-320kbps mp3 format featuring a variety of genres including different subgenres of Rock & Metal, Pop, Acoustic, Blues, Jazz, and Electronica. Benefits of a portable amp are deduced from running the earphones through a 5x gain mini3 connected to the Fuze via a vampire-wire LOD. All critical listening was done via an optical-fed iBasso D10 with stock opamps using a significantly wider selection of tracks in FLAC and Windows Media lossless formats.
I have already discussed the sound of the ViSang R03 and R02 at length in their respective review threads. To my ears, their sound signatures are quite similar, with minute differences giving a slight edge to the R03. Well, the Brainwavz M1 takes that sound signature and builds on it. The 32Ω impedance of the M1 seems to be the major change from the R03/R02 specs. In my original R03 review I recommended using them with an inline impedance adapter for better balance and more even spatial positioning, which is exactly what mp4nation has done with the M1.
The most obvious difference between the M1 and M2/R03/R02 is that they're harder to drive - on the Sansa Fuze they need ~45% volume for comfortable listening while ~35% is sufficient for the others, which is not surprising in the least. The next most noticeable thing is that the bass is not nearly as emphasized on the M1. The bass weight is one of the things that defines the signature of the R03/R02 and it’s just not there with the M1 though they are by no means bass-light. I would definitely say that the bass is still above the ‘flat’ level of something like the Cyclone PR1 Pro but the lack of as great of an artificial boost means that the M1 lacks the bass impact and extension of the R02/R03. The nature of the low end is more punchy and less boomy than with the R03/R02, though the difference is small. The R03/R02 are a little more powerful and immediate when it comes to reproducing bass, especially hard bass on rap and D&B tracks. The M1 is more laid back, more balanced. Vocals are placed a bit farther back and so are the drums, which is good in a way – drums tend to step out of line with the R03/R02. However, the treble is a little less sparkly as well, which is not great since the R02/R03 are nearly devoid of sparkle to start with. Cymbal shimmer is reduced both in presence and reverb. Still, the more laid-back presentation at the bottom does make the M1 sound more balanced.
The midrange is similar between the three. Smooth and non-fatiguing, it allows for a mellow but engaging listening experience. The R03 sounds a bit thicker than the R02/M1, which is not necessarily good or bad. Both the R02 and R03 are warmer than the M1, though not by much. In terms off presentation, the M1 has a wider left-right soundstage but a smaller range of depth (meaning it doesn't convey intimacy quite as well as the R02/R03). Distance is conveyed properly but I don't think the imaging is as good as the R03 – closer to the more ethereal positioning of the R02 but less intimate and a bit less accurate.
The Brainwavz M1 are another very strong contender from the new ViSang-sourced IEM crowd. At the $40 mp4nation plans to ask for them, they are a steal. They are neither better nor worse than the similarly-priced ViSang R02 – simply different. The slightly more balanced signature is not as heavy-hitting as the ViSang earphones and the Brainwavz M2 tend to be. The warmth of the earphones is reduced and some of the thickness is gone but the soundstage is more evenly spaced and distance is relayed quite well. The lack of a strain relief is slightly disheartening but the cable is extremely solid and the new 45-degree plug is excellent. Comfort, isolation, and microphonics are all what I’ve come to expect from earphones of this caliber. Are we spoiled by the influx of excellent low-budgets sets over the past few years? Probably. But I, for one, am not complaining. The earphones that were outstanding value for money a year ago are just above average by today’s standards. Listening to the M1 makes it perfectly clear to me that we are moving in the right direction – and any earphone that makes me feel this way is well-worth my hard-earned money.
Edited by ljokerl - 5/25/10 at 11:26pm