Brainwavz R3 Review
Thanks to mp4nation for the sample.
First Impressions: Oops, silly me forgot to do this at the time. I blame it being the run up to Christmas. Anyway, what I do remember thinking was, my word, if Spendor made and IEM this would be they. I don’t know if many of you are familiar with the speaker brand Spendor as speakers can be quite country specific. Still, their best known speaker has long been the S3/5R² and no prizes for guessing where that name comes from. Anyone who’s ever read anything about speakers has undoubtedly come across the LS3/5a and its their take on it. If you yourself have heard one of these you may well be unimpressed at first because it’s quite unlike most speakers. Id suggest if you are near a good hifi shop, go see if you if they have a LS3/5a clone you can hear.
Otherwise these things are huge. They are a weird shape and they have the longest memory wire ever. I don’t like that memory wire. I really don’t like that memory wire.
Source: FiiO E7/E9 combo, Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd Anv., HiFiMAN HM-60, 1G Ipod Shuffle.
Lows: So when your see “dual dynamic drivers” you think, it’s likely to be V shaped, either with huge bass or insane treble to prevent its not a chavvy bass monster. This is neither of those things. This is sooooooooooooo much more linear. If anything the bass is super accurate. In tone and quantity, its exceptional. If anything this means that due to human hearing that some will find it lacking low down. It’s also not what I’d call exciting. It’s very Spendor esq, I can’t technically fault anything but it’s not what one might call soul stirring. If you want something fast and thrilling this isn’t it. That said its not slow, it’s just like a Spendor, has that sense of ever so slightly being muted with any aggression banished. It’s one of these, acoustically flawless sounds yet uninspiring. Well it is to me. It reminds me a bit of the RE-252.
Quantity wise its rather flawlessly accurate. The quality too is equally flawless. The depth is very good but be aware it doesn’t elect to compensate for the human hearing curve by whacking up the bass in the lows. So for a dynamic its comparatively bass light.
Mids: When the BBC made the LS3/5a guess where it cared most? Most of what we here is in the mid bands, its where vocals are so its where our ears have evolved to be most sensitive to. These are flawless, simply flawless in the mid range. Sure their nature means they don’t have the sharpness and twang that can make the likes of acoustic guitars sound realer than real but in vocals……superb. You feed these something like Miss Minouge and Mr Cave from the Abbey Road Sessions album and you’ll see what a an extremely simple acoustic song can do. This is just the sort of thing where the acoustically flawless sound can come the fore, it adds nothing. I fear I’m going to have to borrow analogies from my RE-252 review but it’s that very same flavourless and pure sound. Like a glass of purified water glinting in the sunlight. Sure it’s not the most exciting beverage but there is something beautifully simple and pure to it.
Quantity wise its super balanced. Maybe a touch middy due to not boosting the lows and highs then allowing them to trail off. Quality wise the detail level is superb but it’s not hurled at you. You’ll likely turn the volume a bit and have to listen but there is lots of detail, it’s just very nonchalant about it.
Highs: Much like the lows, flawless. Flawless as in accurate but they do seem to have that Spendor like quality again. My head can find no fault, it’s without fault but you know what, it doesn’t make for the most flavoured or thrilling sound. It’s that distilled and purified glass of water again. If you feed it lots of bright and splashy treble it do it. It just won’t offer that edge or savagery that can be so engaging. Its sooo very old school BBC. Polite and while technically doing everything you ask of it, there just isn’t any savagery in there.
Detail levels are very good though, not detail monsters and they do rather shimmer things than offer a hard edge. Cymbals and high hats though sound wonderfully delicate and shimmery. They could extend better but they are stunningly good regardless.
Soundstage: These here have the same trait as the RE-252. Music doesn’t really seem to have a point source. Music just sort of appears at some unknown distance. On some tracks harmonics just seem to stir from the nothingness and then melt away in the same manner. Its soundstage is epically good if a little narrow in direction. It’s the distance that seems unlimited and intangible. Particularly in more simple tracks with sweeping acoustics this is just fantastic.
Fit. The things are huge but that really wasn’t a problem. That f*ing memory wire though, god I’ve never met a memory wire and thought “oooh isn’t that helpful!” Eventually you get accustomed to it but my god, it’s just soooooooo long it seems to always get in my way. I really hope v2 comes soon and it comes without that memory wire.
Comfort: Again they are huge, you’d think that could be a problem but it wasn’t for me. I did almost immediately swap to complys though as I found they do like to sit at a slight angle. The foaminess sealed better and meant I wasn’t doing the ear tiring fiddling.
Microphonics: Well, you guessed it, that f*ing memory wire again! If you don’t bend the wires back out of the way so they don’t impact your clothing the sound shoots right up them. There is a neck synch to help you control it but it’s mostly about every time adjusting that wire.
Amped/Unamed: In no uncertain terms the R3 likes power. It’s not as bad as the RE-0 but if you want to get it at its best you’ll want an amp. Actually check that, its every bit as bad as the RE-0 was for wanting power. Playing with the R3 out of my phone (Nexus 5) it just felt like a different IEM. I was significantly less impressed with its abilities. It was harsher and just so much less composed. Personally I think if you’re buying a pair, either have an amp already or be planning to get one. I’m serious, they like lots of power.
Isolation: For a dynamic it’s pretty good. They are fairly sealed, sealed enough to give me a tad of driver flex at times, so it comes with a corresponding amount of isolation. At the, good for a dynamic end of things. Fine for out and about, on a bus etc etc. not really what I’d pick for long flights or daily Tube use. As always, my warning, its still quite sufficient to get you killed by that 10 ton bus behind you that you never heard coming.
Value: It’s a bit of a mixed bag. For £80 (US$120ish) there is a bucket load of really impressive stuff out there. My in my head go to’s are the MA750, GR07 and the RE-400, oh and ive just got a DN-900 in too. All four are excellent and I’m not really going to say in all circumstances one is better than the others because it’s just not true. Still you get the sorts of company the R3 is rolling with. If you can live with that wire and you think its sound signature is for you then it’s totally worth the money. It’s just that this price range I think is the most competitively fought price bracket. There is just sooooo much awesome sounding stuff in it the R3 sounds great but so do several others. If it was my own cash, it would be a coin toss between these and the RE-400. Its those, mids they are just sooooo good.
Conclusion: Okay you really have to go listen to a Spendor something. I can’t express how much these remind me of them. (note: I don’t own a Spendor speaker so haven’t directly compared the two.) It’s a sound that some people like. It’s a bit tame, bit subdued and if I’m honest a bit timid and boring. However in many ways that really just means thy aren’t adding anything to the music your listening to. Surely that’s a good thing isn’t it? Well it makes for a less captivating first impression for one and sometimes we like that touch dramatic boost of something. These don’t do that. Maybe they are a fraction fuller in the low end than is perfectly neutral but I see others saying there are quite bassy. That I am not hearing nor am I hearing abrasiveness up top either.
It’s a tad puzzling, normally what I hear matches up very well with what others are reporting but as I read others thoughts I find that I seem to like these more than they do. Could it be they haven’t thrown enough power at them? I do find these to be at their best when hooked up to the E7/E9 combo and when being a little liberal with the volume dial. Oh but when you do, oh they are rewarding. The more time I spent with the R3 the more I found I really enjoy them. Now I don’t ever claim to be Mr exciting in my musical preferences because I’m actually a bit boring in both my music preferences (my current fav album is Mary Hopkin’s “Those Were The Days,”) and I often personally prefer more sedate IEM’s too. Things like the IE8 I felt were an exhausting acoustic rollercoaster, it added too much of its own attributes to everything and the R3 doesn’t. It’ll do rock as happily as it will a ballad and it won’t add anything to either. Oh and its timing is just excellent.
I find myself really enjoying these. I didn’t really think I would at first, I thought they would be a bit too boring but they have grown on me just so much. I’ve not prior to these found a dual dynamic I’ve really personally liked, they’ve all been either crazy bassy or crazy trebly but these are fantastic. The balance they have is superb and the mids are really awesome. Mr Buble in particular is mesmerizingly good on these and their slightly genteel uppers nicely cover up the horribly bad mastering of his stuff too. Oh and then you get the soundstage on top and its near unique. The only other thing I’ve come across like it was the RE-252. Sound seems to have no fixed origin, it just rises and decays somewhere like you’re wandering around with a pair of speakers near you. It’s such an unaggressive, airy, dreamlike quality to it. Its sound staging is fairly epic and I love its tonal balance. It’s not the rollercoaster some might like but I’ve really adored it.