For the past two years Brainwavz, mp4nation’s in-house earphone brand, has been one of the names mentioned most often around Head-Fi whenever budget earphones come up, and with good reason – whether through luck or expertise, mp4nation has managed to put its name on some truly excellent products over the years. With the now-defunct Beta Brainwavz leading the charge, the Brainwavz IEMs have become synonymous with value for money.
Announced in early January, the Brainwavz dual-armature earphone, now called the B2, targets a higher-end market segment. As we all know, however, diminishing returns is the name of the game when it comes to audio, so to maintain the bang/buck factor of the lower-end models, the B2 would have to outperform them by a fair margin.
There is another issue, however, and that is that the B2 shares shells (and transducers) with Fischer Audio’s highly-respected DBA-02 model. Unfortunately I do not own a DBA-02 and don’t have one on hand at this moment so I will not be able to settle this particular debate once and for all.
Packaging & Accessories
Like the other Brainwavz models, the B2 comes in a simple black cardboard box. Accessories include the usual trio of single-flange tip sizes, Comply Tx200 tips, a shirt clip, over-the-ear cable guides, and a hard clamshell carrying case – a healthy amount by any measure. The inclusion of a proper carrying case and the ear guides is particularly welcome.
Design & Build Quality
Yes, they use the same shells as the Fischer Audio DBA-02s, though the exact cosmetic appearance of the B2s has not yet been revealed. The cable, however, is different – it is mp4nation’s usual Cu-Ag alloy cord transplanted over from the lower-end Brainwavz earphones. As in all other implementations, the cable does have some long-term memory character but isn’t particularly annoying after an initial break-in period. The 45-degree plus is also identical to those found on the M1/M2/M3 models. As far as I’m aware there aren’t any known issues with this cable and it certainly feels strong enough to take years of abuse.
Fit, Comfort, & Isolation
The B2 features a familiar angled-nozzle design that works in either a cord-up or cord-down configuration. The earphones aren’t particularly small but they are very lightweight and wear quite well for extended periods. The cable does carry some noise but is manageable with the included shirt-clip. Over-the-ear wear still works best, though.
I ended up sticking with the same Shure Gray Flex sleeves that I used with the DBA-02, though the included Complys are certainly a nice option, especially for those looking to tame the top end of the earphones a bit. Isolation is on-par with most higher-end armature-based earphones – not as great as with my ATH-CK10 or Ety HF3 but pretty similar to the UE700 and higher than with any of the Brainwavz dynamics.
Testing note: as with all of my listening, the B2 was tested on the go with my Cowon J3 using mp3 files in bitrates ranging from 192 to 320 kbps and at home via an optical-fed iBasso D10 and my lossless music collection.
In addition to the lower-end Brainwavz models, I had two of the B2’s dual-driver competitors on-hand for comparisons – the venerable ATH-CK10 and the popular and much more reasonably-priced UE700. I've been feeling under the weather lately and my time with the B2 was limited so this is not intended to be a full review but rather a quick collection of my impressions while comparing these earphones head-to-head. The full review will be posted later in my multi-IEM review thread.
Starting at the low end, the B2 exhibits more similarities to the UE700 than the ATH-CK10. While the CK10 is flat and lean, the B2, like the UE700, has a very slight bit of roll-off in the lowest octave and a touch more bass body. Bass detail and texture, which I’ve always found to be slightly sub-par with the UE700, are fine with the B2 and the speed competes with the best armature-based earphones on the market. Compared to mp4nation’s dynamic-driver offerings, the bass of the B2 is extremely tight and clear. The B2 can shrug off drum solos and basslines of any complexity while the slower, more voluminous bass of the M3 oftentimes struggles to keep up. All four of the midrange and entry-level dynamics offered by mp4nation are warmer in tone than the B2 and not one can compete in clarity, detail, or refinement, which is in line with my expectations.
The midrange is free of bass bleed and expectedly crisp and clear. It is a touch more forward than with the CK10 and a bit less full-sounding and liquid. If anything, it reminds me of the way the JAYS q-JAYS do mids, though admittedly the B2 is a bit more aggressive. Overall balance is quite good but there’s some unevenness in the lower treble and a touch of harshness and/or sibilance is noticeable with some tracks (Comply tips can help here). Compared to the razor-like sibilance the UE700 is capable of, however, the B2 is quite tame but still fairly unforgiving of poorly-recorded tracks and possibly a bit fatiguing for those sensitive to prominent treble.
The presentation of the B2 is quite well-rounded. Its soundstage is average in size – the CK10 sounds noticeably wider and the imaging is more convincing. The UE700, too, sounds more spacious but not as well-separated as the B2. If positioning precision is presumed more important than sheer space, the B2 performs quite well. Tonally, all three are somewhat bright earphones with the CK10 being the closest to neutral to my ears and the UE700 - the brightest. The B2 is somewhere between, but closer to the UE700. On the upside, the B2 derives plenty of air from the sparkly treble and really doesn’t suffer from the closed-in feel of some of the other armature-based in-ears.
On the whole, it is a different sort of sound altogether compared to the lower-end Brainwavz models and clearly a top-tier earphone from a technical standpoint. Depending on final pricing, the B2 could end up being either a strong or very strong competitor for the detail freak and accuracy lover. It also makes for a fairly well-balanced and yet very revealing monitor, though those who find themselves easily fatigued by brighter earphones will want to give them a pass.
Links to other reviews & impressions of the Brainwavz B2:
Brainwavz B2 Dual Balanced Armature Impression & review (mp4nation.net) by dragon2knight
Brainwavz B2 Dual Balanced Armature Review (mp4nation.net) by PolloLoco
Brainwavz B2 Impressions by buffalowings
Edited by ljokerl - 3/20/11 at 12:34am