Pros: Good accessory list for the price, lively sound, above average build quality.
Cons: Driver flex in the left ear prevents me from getting a comfortable fit, cable tangles easily, mid-bass is a bit too forward, congested sound stage.
Preferred Music: Top 40 music, club dance music
Home: Musicbee (Wasapi) -> JDS Labs ODAC ->JDS Labs O2
Portable: iPod Classic
The Brainwavz M5 are, on average, $50 headphones and they are packaged as such. A thin black and blue cardboard box shows off the M5 through a plastic window. The box opens from the top and a plastic casing slides out to reveal the headphones and the case, with the accessories inside. The included accessories are: black semi-hard clamshell carrying case, 1 set of Comply’s t-series tips, 6 sets of silicon mushroom tips, 1 set of bi-flange tips, a shirt clip, an instruction manual, and a warranty card, which is good for 12 months.
Build Quality and Design
As with the packaging the build quality is nothing out of the ordinary for an IEM of this price range, light and sturdy seems the trend so why deviate? The housings are black and made of metal, the nozzle’s are huge and protected by metal mesh coverings, the back of the housing is ported and says Brainwavz while each IEM has an indicator for which side of the ear it belongs. The housings are light and have little ridges on the outer portion for better grip, there is a seam on stress spot, but I don’t have worries of it coming apart. The cables have ample stress relief provided by a flexible sleeve that extends half an inch from the housing. The cable itself has a nice rubberized feel to it that is easy to grip even with sweaty hands, but is a bit thin coming from each ear, also the enhanced grip from the cable has made them more of a pain to untangle when they tangle, and they do tangle more than most IEMs I own. The cable has a cinch that says M5 on either side with the Brainwavz logo on the y-split. The cables join as one to a thicker cable and ultimately ends in a right angled plug that has a sufficient stress relief.
The M5 are semi-deep insertion IEMs that I’ve taken to wearing over-ear due to microphonics when worn down, even with the cinch it bothered me. Comfort and isolation is very dependant on the tips used so I’ll look at them separately, I would like to mention, though, that I had some driver flex upon inserting the left earphone only. The driver flex was worst with the mushroom tips and meant that I had to leave the earphone in shallow to get a good sound, deeper insertion created an odd sound presentation that was unlistenable, with the other tips I didn’t have this severe of a problem. Due to this problem with the mushroom tips and the IEM comfort and isolation were compromised and I really did not enjoy the M5. Switching to the Comply tips the isolation is above average and the comfort is excellent as is the fit, the only problem I have here is that the Comply tips are difficult to actually remove once on, I imagine that they will be damaged by many when trying to remove them. With the double flanged I get much better comfort than the mushroom tips, about on par with the Comply tips and the isolation is great too, the problem is I still get the flex on the left ear which makes deep insertion not an option. This is a shame because I feel the double-flanged offer the most balanced sound.
I gave the M5 at least 100 hours of use before forming an opinion on the sound, over the time I noticed little changes in the sound.
The lows are the most prominent frequency here, in-fact the mid-bass is usually found competing with the vocals for the spotlight against the bass and kick drum. The mid-bass has decent definition, average slam, but seems a bit slow and lingers a bit too long at times giving a bloated feel to it. The bass extends decently into the sub-bass regions and is noticeable, but that problem is that the mid-bass overshadows it pushing the sub-bass to the back on even sub-bass intensive songs. The quality of the bass is decent, at least, with slightly better than average texture and detail to it, but it does feel a little muddy at times.
The mids are done decently here with a tinge of warmth to them and slightly better than average clarity, but the biggest problem with the mids is that they are always in competition with the bass and kick drums. I feel like the two frequencies are having a shouting match and more often than not the bass wins. There seems to be a slgiht peak in the 1k-2k region that causes guitars in some songs to be pushed to the center, notably on Incubus’ song Pardon Me where the swells and guitar push the vocals out of the spotlight. There’s also a light grain in the mids that can be forgiven, but is apparent. These certainly aren’t detail monsters, but the average user should find the level of detail acceptable.
The highs are better than other bass prominent IEMs I’ve used in this price range, they have a bit of grain, but have decent presence despite usually being pushed into the background of the music. I feel that the highs could use a bit more presence, but overall they’re done decently for a bass prominent IEM in this price range. Saxophones and trumpets won’t exactly blow you away, but I feel, on average, they are presented decently.
Depending on the tips the presentation varies. I found that with the double flanged tips the M5 provided decent depth and a slightly airy feel to them, but with the mushroom and Comply tips the sound is more akin to a small rock venue with the bass and vocals turned too loud sometimes clashing together. Instrument separation is average, maybe slightly above, for the most part I can hear everything going on and the depth of the sound is average, there’s a slight 3d thing going on, but it’s more of a tease than anything.
As a package the M5 are a solid option, you’re getting a nice set of tips that should provide ample comfort and flexibility for any users and the addition of the Comply tips is nice, I have no complaints about the build quality either, these feel like they will hold up to a decent amount of abuse. The sound is really where I’m stuck though, at times I enjoy it and there have been times I’ve really found myself nodding my head and getting into the music. The problem is the pushy bass which causes the vocals and bass to sound as if they’re fighting for the spotlight. I couldn’t really find many genres I really enjoyed with these other than mainstream focused music and the kind of music you’ll hear at a club with the thumping bass and relatively simple song structures.
Those looking for an audiophile quality IEM should look elsewhere, out of the same line I feel that the M4 are more refined and worth spending the extra money on if you’re considering these. Both have punchy bass and a fun sound, but the M4 simply sound a bit more clear and polished. The M5 would be great headphones for a family member or friend who doesn’t care too much about quality, rather wants an IEM that will last that has strong bass.
Come see more pictures here.
Edited by keanex - 11/16/12 at 10:19am