REVIEW: Brainwavz S1 - A new challenger?
Driver: 10mm Dynamic
Rated Impedance: 16 Ω
Frequency Range: 20Hz ˜ 20kHz
Sensitivity: 93 dB @ 1 mW
Max Input Power: 2 mW
Cable: 1.3m, Y-Cord OFC Copper
Plug: 3.5mm Gold Plated
MSRP: U$D 60
1 year warranty.
Available from: www.mp4nation.net
Official product page:
As usual, Brainwavz are very generous in this regard. The pack includes:
3 pairs (S/M/L) of single flange soft tips in semi-transparent grey color.
3 pairs (S/M/L) of single flange (stiffer) tips in black color.
1 pair of bi-flange tips.
1 pair of tri-flange tips.
1 pair of Comply T-400 tips in black color.
And of course, the great carrying case, which was already introduced with the previous M5 model release. It's very useful and has enough room. The color scheme is quite nice, too.
NOTE: The accessory pack might be different from previous or newer batches.
Build Quality & Design:
The S1 are one of the best built earphones I've seen in the sub $100 range, and almost rivaling Dunu's IEMs, which is no easy task. The aluminum housings are nicely finished and feel very sturdy, yet lightweight. The cable is very well relieved at the housings entry and the plug. The 45º plug itself is quite thick and beefy (I even had to remove the silicon cover from the Clip+ to fully connect it.) The flat cable is rather thick, quite springy and microphonic when worn straight down and there's no clip included to help the matter; much better when worn cable-up. Overall I find this model the best one built among the Brainwavz line (that is until I try the other new models, Delta and R3).
Fit, Comfort & Isolation:
While the S1 are promoted as an "over-ear" design fit, I had much better result when worn cable-down. Fit is much easier this way and they feel more comfortable. They stick out more, though, and the cable looks longer, but personally I prefer this configuration.
Isolation is about average. Kinda tip dependant, better with black and bi-flange tips and lower with grey ones, and potentially higher with Comply tips. It's always a nice touch from Brainwavz to include Comply tips with all their models. Unfortunately, I have no luck with those tips. Sorry Comply, nothing personal (ok, maybe yes).
The new Brainwavz feature a mix of a bassy and a (slight, not very balanced) V-shaped sound. Kinda tip dependant: the grey tips tend to strengthen the low frequencies and add some extra warmth, with smoother highs; the black ones offer a more pronounced V-shaped response, with deeper bass, sharper highs and more distant mids; and the bi-flanges give a bigger and more spacious and open sound.
The low-end is quite present and very powerful, and could be easily considered as a heavy bass earphone. Yet, it's relatively detailed and controlled. Sub bass has great extension, and is one of the deepest bass I've heard in this sub $60 range, almost competing with the AudioFly AF56's depth. Mid-bass is very full as well, and more forwarded than the sub-bass. While it is well bodied and layered, it can be too overwhelming for some and even a bit muddy at times. A great match for bassheads, but might be too much for those in search of a more balanced sound. What really is worth praising is the speed; it's one of the fastest bass I've came across lately. Not as the light-speed bass as my favorites ATH-CKN70 (that's a hard to beat CNT driver), but very impressive for a bassy IEM, indeed.
As expected, the strong bass tends to overshadow the whole midrange response. Even the upper mids are not safe from some bass bleed. In the best scenario they will not sound too recessed, but in the worst case they'd feel quite distant. They don't lack body, though, and do share a fair sense of richness and warmth, but still won't stand out for their midrange presentation alone. Surprisingly, they manage to show a very good level of clarity. At first, the details will be too hidden behind the thick bass, but will start to show up after some 'break-in' time. EQ might help even further in this regard, especially if you get to control some of that bass response.
The treble is probably the less favorite part here. While the highs are slightly more upfront than the midrange, they are also quite sharp and harsh, especially with the black tips (either the single or double ones). Sibilance is present even with the grey tips, but on a lesser degree, and there's a fair metallic resonance making them too unnatural, and not very extended either.
Similarly, vocals also suffer a lot, somewhat veiled due to the authoritative bass. Clarity is not really missing and it's possible to recognize the background voices, but need some extra effort from the listener side. The real issue is the lack smoothness as they can sound very rough and edgy, to the point of being unbearable even at moderate volumes.
The stage is rather big, as expected for this kind of signature. Instrument separation is average and the S1 could have a better sense of air.
All in all, I'd rank them between the AF45 and AF56, closer to the later when it comes to overall resolution and presentation. The AF56 wins hands down in stage, space and especially in treble smoothness, but the S1 show a warmer midrange tonality. Technically they're definitely a better sounding and more refined model than the last dynamic Brainwavz model, the M5, in practically every way, but to my surprise I could still like the older and lower model over this new S1.
While the S1 are quite a nice step ahead from their previous models in build quality and fit, the sound is nothing very revolutionary considering their rivals within their price bracket. They do offer a powerful and fast bass for an enhanced bass earphone and a fairly nice level of detail too, but there's still room for improvement in the midrange and, mainly, the treble dept., and I'm convinced that Brainwavz is capable of doing that. Still a decent buy even at their $60 retail price, but if you can get them from Mp4nation.net for under $50 they'd make a much better deal.
Edited by Zelda - 2/25/14 at 12:15pm