Brainwavz B2 Review
First impressions: I have been waiting to get to hear these things for what feels like forever. However they are now in the country and so when I got the email saying they had arrived I was rather excited. The box looks rather nice but I did notice that the tips that came on them were just normal black rubber tips, why? So the pretty red comply’s where inside I don’t see why you wouldn’t have them on to make them look prettier, or maybe we could have red rubber tips? I know it’s nothing important but it would have been a nice touch. Other than that they really are so very similar to the DBA-02.
Sticking them in my ears and my first thoughts are the taming of the hyper treble of the DBA but that they are every bit as good sans the dramatic sound signature. Even though these are BA I’ll still send them for a little burn in plus it gives a few days to do other things.
Source, normally for something of this price I’d say the HM-601 and the ipod and XM5 and I shall comment on both.
Lows: Tight but not as tight as its twins, usually i’d say this was a bad thing but the trade off has been made to lose a little tightness and exchange it for a touch of bloom and expansion. It’s a trade well worth it I think. The bass is still very tight and accurate but the other aspect of the BA precision is that they often lack expansion and fullness. The tuning here does a little to remedy that but bare in mind it’s still only a little and frankly I feel they could have afforded to take it much further. It’s still very taught and precise and it lacks a soul. I can’t say I’m surprised given its family connections that this too would be aimed squarely at the accurate, precise, hard end of the scale. Oh listen to me moaning. There isn’t anything wrong in how it performs but its bass behaviour just does nothing for me. Still it’s arguably better and more enjoyable than that of the DBA-02 which I constantly felt demanded the use of the bass boost button. This I’m far happier to live without it. Still if you’re looking for something bass heavy then this isn’t it.
Mids: Very, very accomplished on the whole but with one caveat, it’s a giant caveat too. SSSSSSSibilance. These have been tuned in such a way that has a real spike in the upper mids / lower highs and I found that my use of the ipod and XM5 (a relatively neutral and uncoloured sound) that these just constantly leapt out and stabbed we with a needle. Okay so I’m exaggerating a little but some artists were intolerable at volume with that set up. (Lilly Allen, 22) I found I very quickly moved all my listening time with these to the HM-601 and its darker, warmer sound. As a combo they went so much better together, so very very very much. A listen to the brightish shuffle and it was readily apparent they did not like each other. The sibilance is worse than on the DBA. It is the one real downer about the B2 and if I only had the ipod / XM5 set up then I’d be pretty unhappy about it. Otherwise they are really very nice, taking the pretty dry cool sound of the DBA and nudging it towards a little warmth and liquidity making it that bit more even and balanced. While this means they aren’t excelling at anything in particular they can turn their hand to pretty much anything. They do a very impressive and accomplished job of it too, mids while lacking any true beauty are pretty faultless.
Highs: Meh. They are uninspiring and unexciting. They are of course extremely good and detailed but they, in comparison to their twins, are so undramatic. They do manage to tick every box in terms of detail and information retrieval but they don’t grab you in the way the DBA does. That is probably a good thing long term and the DBA is so brittle and brutal in the high end and the B2 really does a far better job of transmitting treble detail without sanding your ears off in the process. For the money they do offer an extremely impressive level of detail and in a much more tolerable form. However I’m not sure everyone will be happy about that, the less hyper forward treble here makes for a much less dramatic first impression. I don’t doubt it makes for a better long term listening proposition but conversely it will make for a calmer reception in the Head-fi forums. There just isn’t that insane drama going on, they don’t grab you and scream in your face “LISTEN TO ME!!!!” and I for one think that’s a good thing. Still the treble they do display is very quick and snappy. It doesn’t have the extension or shimmer that I’d ideally like but BA things never really get that right. Here the decay is a touch on the quick side and is still a little bit dry and edgy and can be the tiniest bit gritty. It’s still much better than the DBA which was so brittle in the highs, this is much better. Possibly about as good as I’ve ever heard on a dual BA IEM.
Soundstage: Actually it’s pretty good, these do a fine job of scale and size. They aren’t going to blow you away and they are pretty linear in their width rather than giving the impression they surround you. Instrument separation isn’t as crisp as the DBA but is still very good.
Comfort: These are physically identical to the DBA and as such are perfectly comfortable. I had zero issue with them.
Fit: As with comfort they gave me not the slightest issue, it was a case of shove in and that was that. They do sit quite deep so be warned if you don’t like that, not that you have to shove them in deep of course.
Cable: The same black and while cable we have seen elsewhere. It was great then and it’s still pretty great. It’s very soft and flexible and feels sturdy enough. I can’t see anyone finding complaint with it.
Amped/Unamped: Well seeing as my unamped source is the shuffle, the bright shuffle lets just not go there. However in terms of how much power they need they don’t really. They seem to work just fine with any amount of power so I don’t see it being an issue. However, if you have a bucket load of power available, in my case the FiiO E9, they love it. LOVE IT! They take all that power and level out in the highs and the low end too strengthens and feels so much more composed and confident. I know it’s not its natural partner but I’m sure other portable amps out there will be able to do much the same for it. Just maybe go for a warmish amp.
Isolation: Excellent. It may not quite be up there with Etymotic but it’s a gnats whisker away. Easily good enough for any environment be it Tube or long distance flight. Naturally my usual proviso of look where you are going with them in as you will not hear things like traffic. If you want to be road kill that’s fine but otherwise look where you are going.
Build Quality: Very good. As previously mentioned the cable is great and I can’t see any issue anywhere else. They may not scream quality and substance like something’s can they are fine for any normal use.
Accessories: You get 3 pairs of rubber tips and a pair of red comply’s a 3.5mm to .25 inch adapter and a plane adapter. There is also a little hard case. It seems a fair little bundle to me but I’d rather the rubber tips were red too.
Value: Coming in at £99 that’s a level that undercuts pretty much everything that will get you to this level of acoustic quality. Given the DBA has pretty much become unobtanium I think its reasonably safe to ignore it. The trouble then is the q-JAYS, they both do things differently and I’d probably have to give it to the B2 as its technically more proficient up top and down low but I can right now see the Q-JAYS for £81. (Okay I accept this isn’t a regular price which seems to vary from £100 to £140) So while I am very happy to say the B2 is worth every penny and more I cannot argue they are worth £20 more than the q-JAYS if you can get them at that price. There is also the last remaining Klipsch Custom 3’s out in the wild, they too are stunners but with the worst cable that I’ve ever seen. I should point out to those that aren’t aware both the q-JAYS and the KC3 started life costing vastly more, think circa £200+. In short you get an incredible level of quality for your money here.
Conclusion: The B2 is a curious little bugger. It clearly is the same hardware as the DBA-02 they look identical (colour differences) and sound very close to each other. When the DBA arrived it was heralded as the new messiah with countless chaps on Head-Fi falling over themselves to be ever more fawning over it. It was a dual armature and it was going for then unheard of prices (circa £120ish) they also had a hyper dynamic, hyper forward, hyper hyper sound to them that leads to an immensely dramatic first impression. As any salesperson will tell you the more dramatic the better as it makes for the best first impression. What others will tell you is that same dramatic colouration doesn’t lead to a good long term position and frankly just gets exhausting. That’s just what I found with the DBA, it was fun but just too much, too brittle and hyperactive particularly in the top end. This bothered me particularly so as I’m a bit treble sensitive and it was just so tiring. The B2 has taken that hardware and tuned them to be somewhat more long term liveable. It’s taken the savagery off the top off the treble and softened and filled out the low end too. These are so much more balanced and even than their siblings are. These however make for a much less dramatic impression and I can see them not being so favourably received. It doesn’t help either that while they are a little cheaper the q-JAYS are no longer sitting at £180. Actually more so than anything else the biggest problem I have is the q-Jays. They don’t do as accomplished a job in the highs and have a bit more grit than they should they manage to be so much more tuneful and soulful. Most importantly they don’t get all sibilant ear stabby like the B2 can when you pair it badly. That’s what really gets me, okay so it’s not a problem with a nice warm player (I believe the S:flo shares that sound too) but I’m not sure I’d like to imagine how these pair with a 6G ipod classic. I know they really hated the 1G shuffle.
That sibilance issue aside I did really like these. I can’t say they captured my heart but they are extremely capable and have a fantastic technical ability. They also have a fantastic balance with a low end that’s enough to deal with whatever you’d like without being too tight and too controlled like it was on the DBA. It also does a great job at giving a touch dry but mostly even mid range. Most dual BA are quite on the dry and cool side which makes for a lovely airy sound but is too dry for rich, liquid voices. The B2 has enough of a hint there to do vocals much more fluidly than the DBA can. In the highs too it offers pretty much every detail you could want while not grinding broken glass in your ear (like its twin.) The trouble is it’s not the world’s most exciting listen and just doesn’t excel at any one thing like the DBA did. It lacks that hyperactive drama which is why it’s not had the same reception and I think it would be better deserving of it. If I had to have one of the two to live with forever it would have to be the B2, easily. That’s pretty high praise, right?
The B2 when partnered well is about as good as you can get for the money and not all that far off as good as you can get, period.