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In-Ear item created by Brooko, Jul 11, 2014
Pros - Classy color scheme; Durable and Robust
Cons - Rubbery and thick cable; some treble resonance
Disclaimer: I’d like to thank Brainwavz for contacting and offering the review sample.
The Brainwavz S5 is the latest addition to the Brainwavz stable of in-ears. It takes design cues from is sibling S1 but refines them for a more elegant and cohesive aesthetic. It eschews the flashier colors of previous Brainwavz models for a more traditional but stately scheme of simple black and gray.
The S5, like the S1, is built like a tank. The dark gray, slightly rubbery cable is a wide and thick flat cable with oversized and extremely robust black Y splits and strain reliefs. The housings are all metal with shiny black paint with plain white lettering that simply says Brainwavz. While I have no doubts about the construction quality and durability of the S5 package, at the $99 price point, I’d like to see a little more premium feel and elegance to the cables and Y-splits. I’m sure there’s room to offer a bit more aesthetic value here, while not sacrificing much in the way of durability.
The S5 comes with the now standard black and red carrying case, which is on the thicker side of cases but is needed for the bulkier than average Brainwavz cables. Brainwavz offers a nice selection of tips, including: 3 sets of black single flange silicone with narrower bore exits, 3 sets of gray single flange silicone with wider bore exits, 1 set of black dual and 1 set of triple flange silicones, and 1 set of Comply. While the dual flange offers me a little better frequency response, due to a looser seal, I prefer the ease of proper fit with the single flange tips; I particularly find the gray singles to provide the best balance of sound over the black singles. The S5 also comes with a 1/8 to 1/4 adapter.
Brainwavz lists the S5 specifications as follows:
10mm Dynamic Driver
16 ohm Impedance
Frequency Range: 18Hz-24kHz
Sensitivity: 110 db @ 1 mW
Plug: 3.5mm Gold Plated
Fitting: Over Ear Style
Warranty: 24 Months
The S5 signature is highly reminiscent of the Panasonic HJE-900 and JVC FX700 - Balanced and V shaped. The S5 comes across as rich, powerful and upfront. Bass is boosted throughout the range and reaches deep into sub bass territory; although it is not as bassy as its S1 sibling, it is still well above neutral. The center of the midrange takes a bit of a back seat the powerful bass and forward treble. There is slight recession around 1.5k to 2k but by 3k is back up in a sharp rise in the lower treble to approximately 5.5k. This peak gives the lower treble a very forward presence in the mix- lots of sparkle and just occasionally a hint of sibilance. I also pick up a bit of lower treble resonance here, that extends treble decay and slightly blurs resolution. After 5.5, the treble has one more peak much further up, around 8.5k to 10k, depending on fit depth. After about 13k the S5 begins it’s steep roll off. The S5 definitely seems tuned to ‘Rock Out’!
BA200 is more linear and neutral.
S5 is pretty V shaped in comparison with much greater bass quantity from sub, mid and upper bass.
S5 treble is much brighter, especially at 5.5k, where I pick up some resonance and extended treble decay. BA200 cymbals sound more realistic and articulate.
S5 sounds bolder, more aggressive and forward.
BA200 takes a couple more clicks of the volume to reach the same levels.
BA200 vocals take more of the focus in presentation when compared to the S5, which tends to put bass guitars and cymbals on equal footing with vocals and occasionally overpowering them.
BA200 has pretty good distortion guitar bite but S5 have more bite, crunch and edge, due to the rise in FR between 3 and 5.5k. The S5 can really rock out with the various metal genres.
BA200 sounds more open but S5 sounds bigger/taller and more powerful. More of a rock arena feel.
Vastly different presentations and it takes some time to readjust; RE400 sounds over damped upon immediate change over from the more forward and brighter S5.
While the RE400 is much more linear, it has a dip centered at 3k, whereas the S5 is climbing there to its peak at 5.5k, which greatly changes the tonality of vocals between the two. Even though RE400 vocals are more forward and S5’s much more recessed, after a quick change from the S5, the RE400 vocals can sound strangely hollow for a few minutes making the comparison somewhat challenging.
S5 seems unbridled with raw power next to the more reserved and controlled RE400.
RE400 has much thinner note compared to the thicker, much bassier S5.
RE400 lets the vocals lead you through the song; the S5 lets the bass line and drum beat lead you through the song.
Toms have more snap on the RE400, which have a tendency to get shadowed in the mix with the S5.
There is a lot of stiff competition in the $99 price bracket and preferred sound signature should be a top priority. However none will have the durability and robust build of the S5, which will lend itself towards a better solution for a workout or other outdoor activity IEM. While Brainwavz continues to offer excellent value for the purchasers’ dollar, in future $100+ models I’d like to see Brainwavz put some focus towards a more premium aesthetic in both material and design with cabling, plus perhaps a signature geared a little more laid back and smooth but without losing clarity and detail, while being more on the neutral side of presentations. With the S5, Brainwavz has taken the S1 signature and design to the next level with improved bass control/texture and midrange clarity, while preserving the rich, bold and powerful house sound Brainwavz has amassed in this current line of newer products.
Pros - Strong build quality, wonderful musical balance, stylish design
Cons - cable is a bit heavy and rubbery, no shirt clip in the package.
Disclaimer: I am reviewing a pair of the S5 I received from Brainwavz for reviewing purposes.
OK, I have reviewed several Brainwavz over the years and they have always managed to nail a great balance between cost and sound quality with only the occasional miss. The S5 manages to continue that trend admirably. I will be blunt, the S5 is their best dynamic based IEM they have created to date. Taking other S series models I have reviewed in the past the S5 takes the best of those IEM's and refines and perfects those qualities. I have not taken a ton of pictures for this review as other more qualified than I, with better equipment have already done so, I will simply stick to a written review.
Packaging and accessories:
The packaging reflects the dedication and quality of this IEM to a tee. It looks fantastic and gives off just enough luxury without coming across as pretentious or over the top. I love how the IEM cable and accessories are all nicely tucked into the Brainwavz standard clam shell case. As usual the IEM comes with pretty much all of the standard minus one thing, there is no shirt clip which would have been a useful item due to the weight and design of the cable.
Build and design:
This IEM is similar to the S1 in regards to the cable and strain reliefs but is slightly less heavy and bulky. Having said that, I hope Brainwavz continues to reduce this area while retaining the durability they have achieved in their products. This IEM utilizes an I jack and does not offer any form of mic or controls so is designed strictly for playing music and as such is as at home with a home desktop rig or portable amplifier as it is with a portable MP3 player or phone. For my review I am using my LG G2 phone for my source. The IEM itself is a curious looking torpedo design with a bend at the end to accommodate the ear. This design looks great in ear in my opinion and is also very comfortable. The isolation is what I would consider average for an IEM, not super isolating but good enough for most situations.
I find the bass of the S5 to be pretty hard hitting and emphasized. The emphasis works with most genres but I did find it to be a bit to strong for some of the jazz I listen to and a bit over powering for some of the older classic rock I listen to. For music designed to have more bass it works very well though and is great in music that does not have a strong bass presence as it does not CREATE bass just emphasizes what is there. It also does not seem to intrude into the midrange even though the mid-bass has a slight hump which is a good thing.
The midrange is clean and nicely present. It lacks a small amount of detail but not enough that you feel there is something missed unless your doing straight up A/B comparisons. The midrange is slightly recessed in comparison to the bass and the treble though. This slight dip has a tendency to make me want to crank up the volume a bit which can then make the bass in particular come across as to strong.
The treble of the S5 is clean and sparkly with little to no graininess and is nicely detailed without becoming hot or to energetic. In all of my testing I never once felt fatigue from the IEM after a listening session even though I did have a tendency to turn them up louder than usual.
The sound stage and imaging of the S5 is slightly narrower than some of the more expensive IEM's I have heard as well as a couple of the cheaper IEM's. But in defence of the S5 the cheaper IEM's all achieved a larger sounding sound stage through sonic trickery that often affected their sonic quality in other ways. While more expensive IEM's were, well considerably more expensive... Overall I find the imaging and sound stage of the S5 to be very good for the price of the IEM and certainly adequate for most of the music I listen to.
Genres of music tested:
I listen to Christian Rock, classic rock, Jazz, country, Celtic, acoustic, New Age, classical and more. The only genres I don't listen to are things like death/speed metal, dub step, trance, and hip-hop. In regards to the genres I listen to the S5 worked very well for Christian Rock, acoustic, New Age, and most classical. It also worked OK for country, classic rock and Jazz but the bass would occasionally be to strong with those genres. The good news is the IEM responds well to EQ'ing so it is very easy to tune down the bass if needed.
I have to say I really think Brainwavz has nailed this IEM very well. It offers a wonderful sound for almost any music and is an excellent starting point for anyone wanting to take their first big step into more expensive gear. I hope it doesn't get lost in the Head-fi shuffle of extremes in regards to signatures, unknown flavours of the month brands, and "new" or "different" technologies that quite often overwhelm just good old fashioned standards and solid design in the forums.
Pros - Well done mixture of likable sound qualities. Good comfort. Solid build quality.
Cons - More rubbery cable sheath not the best for noise and cable weight never lets you forget it is there. Gray tips may hurt air and clarity.
Brainwavz have been around since 2008 and have been working on providing improved and more original products as time has gone on. If you are familiar with the last round of Brainwavz offerings it was easy to see how they were improving and what they were attempting to try design-wise. We did see a very wide range of products from the brand in the Delta, S1, and R3. Fairly unique from each other in design, sound, and price. They have now introduced the S5 model priced at ~$99 with an excellent blend of sound traits, design, and quality. Many thanks to Audrey for sending me a pair of the S5.
The S5 page: http://www.yourbrainwavz.com/s5.html
Specification (from S5 page)
Drivers Dynamic, 10mm
Rated Impedance 16 Ω
Frequency Range 18Hz - 24kHz
Sensitivity 110 dB @ 1 mW
Cable 1.3m/Y-Cord/Flat /Copper
Plug 3.5mm Gold Plated
Fitting Over Ear Style
Contents & Accessories (from S5 page)
Foam Tips Comply T400 (x1)
Silicone Tips Standard S,M,L (x6)
Silicone Tips Bi-Flange (x1)
Silicone Tips Tri-Flange (x1)
1/4" Adapter x1
Hard Case x1
Warranty x1 (24 Months)
*Contents/Specifications subject to change without notification
Accessories: Listed and pictured above include Comply brand foams, single, bi- and tri-flanged silicone tips. So all types are represented. The range of tips do provide multiple fit and comfort options but they also tweak the sound certain ways. In my experience, the Comply provided the most balanced and clean sound. The tri-flange a more neutral sound with the least bass amount. The bi-flange which is slightly different than the generic type is nice for a warmer bit of bass boost w/o sound quality degradation. The black silicone sound like a slightly smaller version of the bi-flange as the smaller opening knocks off some height from the stage. The gray tips are warmer and have more bass and thicken and compress the sound a bit; might be nice for a neutral player pairing but may also darken and thicken the sound hurting the dynamics and detail/brightness. The 3.5 to 6.3mm adapter is aesthetically different than previous one with the red stripe and more mirror-like finish.
S5 Design: The design is much like the S1 model with some changes. The larger forty-five degree plug is gone in favor of a smaller straight plug. The housings are longer tapered design with a black semi-gloss finish. The strains coming out of the housing have been shortened from the S1 length. The Y remains the same outside of the color change for the Y, plug, and strains from purple/berry-like color to black.
Picture showing the exposed view of the basic internal design. The presentation of the sound would seem to be influenced from the design. The upfront, more in your face nature from the close to the bore driver is quite different from the R3's more distant and airy sound with its drivers back at the ends of a capsule. The decent cavity size behind the driver should indeed be helping give the S5 it's nice large stage and good depth even with their close, up front nature.
Build Quality: The S5 are solidly built with strong metal housings that are coated in a seemingly thick black semi-gloss finish. A bit of sheen yet not shiny enough for fingerprints to be an issue. The S1's hefty cable and Y are still present and still sturdy. The strains are strong and a bit stiff all around. As before a bit of physical manipulation, moving them back and forth some will break in the plug and Y strain reliefs a bit so they flex more easily. The cord draw tolerance is nice and tight, not overly so, and it will stay at the position you want or need.
Fit and Comfort: The S5 are designed as an over the ear phone but I have no problem wearing them both ways and more often wear them straight down. The shorter reliefs out of the housing makes this even easier than with the S1. The angled sound tubes provide a more flush fit over the ear. Enough styles of tips to achieve a good fit and seal for most everyone. Isolation depends on the tips used and ranges from average to above average. The S5 are quite comfortable for me regardless of wearing style. The weight of the thicker cable, while not uncomfortable, is always there. The S5 are not going to "disappear" like a smaller, lighter earphone may.
Sound Quality: The overall sound quality is excellent. The Comply and bi-flange are my favorite tips for sound. As with many dynamic earphones, trying to get the absolute best seal will thicken them up a bit and make the bass a bit more dominant and the treble less apparent. Obviously fit them to your preference. An in-between fit renders a full sound with warmth, a slight bass emphasis, even mids(not recessed, not forward), and a nice treble sparkle.
Bass is clearly dynamic, well extended, capable but not really quick. Mid-bass is under control nicely and there is good detail and texture down low. The bass is fairly tight. Not the tightest you'll get like from an armature or much more expensive dynamic but a little more weighty and rounded of note which is a great spot in between the consumer sound and the audiophile sound. The bass stays out of the way of mids and gives some rumble and adds towards giving the S5 a larger sound.
Mids and vocals are quite clean and easy to hear. Make a fine showing even with the solid full bass presence and treble sparkle the S5 can have. The up front sound puts the vocals, and even back-up vocals, close and in good focus. Detail is good, words articulated more highly, and emotion shows well. "Shhh", "s", and "f" sounds are emphasized without sibilance helping show the singers inflections and energy, and emotion. Vocals are quite engaging and draw focus here but without being really sweet or syrupy. Just good quality mids that are not too light or dark, thick or thin, sweet or dry but safely in the middle in most aspects.
Treble is nicely extended and sparkly enough without going too far. A best possibly seal situation will smooth them though leading to a less energetic and lively sound from the high end. The treble is nicely detailed and helps the mids be quite clean. They help give the S5 good energy and a more lively sound which is very engaging and stands out over other phones. Good decay on the high notes helps give a sense of air and better separation. Fatigue is not an issue.
The overall presentation is a sound that is quite forward, quite engaging, and exciting. A bit wider than tall with good extension in both directions, good depth, and nice separation. It does tend to grab one's attention as a few reviewers have attested to already. The forwardness of the sound combined with good clarity and sparkle gives an immediacy that is engaging and shows the S5's detail easily. Yet they don't fatigue or offend. They strike a likable balance between smoothness and sparkle. The S5 are also enjoyable due to their above average stage size and fullness of sound. The sound fleshed out and almost like they are amped even if not. Combined these previous traits with nice technical ability in terms of extension, resolving power, timbre that makes you not miss anything even if the S5 aren't detail or transparency kings. Again a really likable balance that many more people will like; that consumer sound fans and Hi-Fi fans can both enjoy and be drawn to.
Conclusion: Brainwavz have hit on a well done recipe of sound traits. Their best balance yet of smooth, full, enjoyable, and technically capable. One of the best for the price right now I'd imagine. In addition to the sound the build, packaging, accessories, and price are all quite likable as well. Brainwavz has a real winner here that is worth hearing!
Pros - Clarity (but relaxed tone), build, fit, value, sound signature, accessories
Cons - Cable noise, Some HF "sizzle"
For larger views of any of the photos (1200 x 800) - please click on the individual images
Brainwavz is a now well established manufacturer of headphones in the value for money category – offering many different options (especially for IEMs) that suit almost anyone’s sonic preferences. I’ve previously had both good and bad experiences with their headphones / IEMs – I previously reviewed and owned their B2 IEMs and HM5 headphones, and both were stellar performers. I also sampled their R1 and R3 IEMs – but unfortunately these didn’t quite tick my boxes as much.
So when D2K alerted the community here that there was a new offering (the S3), and that his trial was really positive, I immediately subscribed to the growing thread. I was then contacted by Audrey and Raz about sampling the S5, and I readily agreed – especially after Luke (H20Fidelity) also suggested that they were well worth looking into.
I received the courier pack earlier in the week – and have already spent most days in that time getting to know the ins and out of these IEMs. I’d estimate that so far I’ve logged around 30-40 hours with the Brainwavz S5. A lot of this involved tip rolling and using different sources and genres to really get a feel for what the S5 offers to different music tastes.
I’ve listed price at USD $99.50 (current Amazon and MP3Nation price at time of writing) – however this is not what I paid for them (they are a review sample). I did contact Audrey offering payment for these IEMs (after I'd written and posted the review) – already I felt they were keepers. Audrey contacted me back, and insisted I keep them as a free review sample, and I am thankful to Brainwavz for this.
I was provided the Brainwavz S5 as a review sample. I am in no way affiliated with Brainwavz or MP4Nation - and this review is my honest opinion of the Brainwavz S5. I would like to thank Raz and Audrey for making this opportunity available.
PREAMBLE - 'ABOUT ME'. (or a base-line for interpreting my thoughts and bias)
I'm a 47 year old music lover. I don't say audiophile – I just love my music. Over the last couple of years, I have slowly changed from cheaper listening set-ups to my current set-up. I vary my listening from portable (HSA Studio V3, Fiio X5, and iPhone4) to my desk-top's set-up (PC > coax > NFB-12 > LD MKIV > HP). My main full sized headphones at the time of writing are the Sennheiser HD600, Beyer T1 and DT880. Most of my portable listening is done with IEMs - and up till now it has mainly been with the Dunu DN-1000 or the HSA BA100 IEMs. A full list of the gear I have owned (past and present is listed in my Head-fi profile).
I have very eclectic music tastes listening to a variety from classical/opera and jazz, to grunge and general rock. I listen to a lot of blues, jazz, folk music, classic rock, indie and alternative rock. I am particularly fond of female vocals. I tend toward cans that are relatively neutral/balanced. I am neither a bass nor treble head (you could argue that I do like clarity though). I am not treble sensitive (at all), and in the past have really enjoyed headphones like the K701, SR325i, and of course the DT880.
For the purposes of this review - I used the Brainwavz S5 straight from the headphone-out socket of my Fiio X5, iPhone 4 and Studio V3. I did not bother with amping them, as IMO they do not benefit from additional amplification. In the time I have spent with the S5, I have noticed no change to the overall sonic presentation (I do not believe in 'night and day' burn-in). I will allow that the more time I've have spent with these IEM's, the better they continue to sound to me. Personally I think this is a combination of brain burn in and tip-rolling - but I will respect others choice if they interpret this as physical burn-in.
This is a purely subjective review - my gear, my ears, and my experience. Please take it all with a grain of salt - especially if it does not match your own experience.
PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES
The Brainwavz S5 arrived in a very smart retail box (book type) – with an inner container housing the IEMs and accessories.
Front of the retail boxRear of the retail box
The packaging is very attractive and I think Brainwavz have put a lot of effort into this. It is functional, but also has a quality (or sophisticated) look to it. The colours simply convey something special. The retail box contains the catch phrase “rich details, smooth bass, over the ear design” on the front cover. A straight forward and simple message – and one it delivers on IMO. On the rear of the box is a list of accessories included plus the earphone specifications. On the inside of the front page is a really nice touch – and shows that Brainwavz are proud of what they are delivering – an expanded internal diagram of what makes up the S5. The inner audio-nut in me loves this sort of thing!
Inside cover of the retail boxInner packaging
The accessory package is typical Brainwavz – very comprehensive, and quite exceptional for this price range.
First up you get the Brainwavz carry case – which is a hard fabric covered pouch – and easily carries all your tips and the S5. The case is really good because it does offer a lot of protection to the IEMs – but it is definitely more suited to transport in a jacket pocket or bag rather than a trouser pocket – simply due to its height. This is definitely a quality carry case though.
Comprehensive included accessoriesThe Brainwavz carry case (dual internal pockets)
Along with the case you also get a very high quality 3.5-6.3 mm adaptor (which does fit and work perfectly with the S5), a small combined instruction plus warranty information sheet (reverse side), a huge selection of silicone tips, and a genuine set of comply T400 medium tips.
3.5 - 6.3 mm adaptorComply T400 tips fitted to the S5
The silicone tips include 6 sets of standard tips, 1 set of double flanges, and one set of triple flanges.
Wide range of silicone tips + comply 400sSilicone tips and comply 400 in profile
18 Hz – 24 kHz
110 dB @ 1mW
1.3m, flat copper cable
3.5 mm gold plated, straight
21g (with comply T400s fitted)
I have requested this information – but not sure if it is available. If not, I will re-edit the review and add the information when someone eventually measures the S5. For the record – I’m expecting a relatively flat mid-range, elevated mid bass, upper mid-range and lower treble, and some roll off in the upper treble.
Brainwavz S5 all metal shellsMolded strain relief attached to the shell
When I first saw photos – before I’d done the research – I automatically assumed that the body was hard moulded plastic. It definitely looks a lot like the body of Shure’s SE range. Up close – it even looks like black shiny plastic – but when you actually handle them, you realise that it is actually an aluminium alloy - Brainwavz confirms it as aluminium 6061 (info here). The build quality on the S5 shell is extremely good – one of the best I’ve seen at any price. It’s ergonomically designed for the shell to fit relatively flat against the concha – with the nozzle protruding on an angle into the ear canal. The design is such that the body of the S5 sitting against the concha is well rounded, very smooth, and (for me) extremely comfortable. With so many dynamic driver earphones opting for a bullet type shell, it is very refreshing seeing this sort of design option, as I find it aids both isolation and comfort.
The S5 is also relatively light weight and comfortable to wear – weighing in at only 21g, and I think a lot of the 21g is actually in the cable (more on this below). Comparatively, other IEMs I’ve tried recently vary between the very light weight Alfa Genus and BA100 at around 14g, and the DN1000 coming in around 26g.
Brainwavz S5 body and angled nozzleBrainwavz S5 body and angled nozzle
The strain relief from the IEM housing is relatively rigid rubber moulded onto the housing, and looks of sufficient quality to last for considerable time, and protect the cable very well. L/R markings are printed in very small print on the strain reliefs – but IMO this is not an issue, as the design can only really be worn one way. And that’s another of the great things about this design – it’s easy in no light/low light situations to always get the right ear piece simply by feel.
The cable is a 1.3m flat copper cable in an outer rubbery flat sheath (Brainwavz advises that this material is TPE - more info here) . It seems very solid, but leads to my only real complaint about the S5. The cable is quite microphonic compared to a lot of the IEMs I’ve had the pleasure of trying recently. It’s not the flat design either – it’s simply the rubbery sheath. I tried running in them earlier in the week, and even with them properly cinched, I got a fair amount of microphonics. Wind on the cable yielded similar issues. They weren’t as bad, when walking, and definitely better with the cable properly cinched. Another way to alleviate this might be with a shirt clip, or to tuck the cable well inside clothing. Whilst there are ways of fixing this, it is unfortunate IMO that the design was not altered. I’ve included a photo of the Alfa Genus cable I reviewed recently (similar price bracket) which shows what can be achieved – twisted pair with a low microphonic outer sheath – strong, malleable, quiet. Something for Brainwavz to think about for the future perhaps? The flat cable is comfortable over ear.
Flat (but rubbery) cableY split and 3.5 mm plug
The splitter is a little larger than most offerings, but is flat and does have a cinch (neck slider) which works well. Strain reliefs are very good.
The plug is a straight plug which is relatively petite – and I had no issues fitting it to my iPhone with cover intact. Once again, strain relief at the plug is excellent.
FIT / COMFORT / ISOLATION
I have one ear canal slightly different to the other one (my right is very slightly smaller) - so I tend to find that usually single silicon flanges don't fit overly well. I initially tried the grey large silicone tips included, and they actually fit pretty well. I was finding that the seal would get interrupted a little, so I tried my trusty pair of Monster Super Tips (dense foam that almost always give me a complete seal). They did fit exceptionally well – but tended to attenuate the upper-mids and highs just a little, whilst making the bass almost too prominent. So I them switched to the Comply T400s – and ….. perfection (for me). Really good comfort, good isolation, but more importantly the sonic signature returned to a nicely balance mix.
All tips stayed intact with the S5 during insertion and removal, so the design of the nozzle definitely gets thumbs up from me. Isolation with the T400s is good enough for long distance air travel, and the comfort is brilliant. I’d have no issues at all sleeping with the Brainwavz S5 – especially with their flat profile.
So what does the Brainwavz S5 sound like ……… ?
Brainwavz S5 + Studio 3 AnniversaryBrainwavz S5 + Fiio X5
The following is what I hear from the Brainwavz S5. YMMV – and probably will – as my tastes are likely different to yours (read the preamble I gave earlier for a baseline). Most of the testing at this point (unless otherwise stated) was done with my Fiio X5 as source.
Tracks used were across a variety of genres – and can be viewed in this list http://www.head-fi.org/a/brookos-test-tracks.
Thoughts on General Signature
I’m finding the Brainwavz S5 to have a V shaped frequency response with a boost to the bass presence (and when I say boost, these are in not overly dark or muddy), quite flat and balanced mid-range (nice cohesion between lower mids and upper mids), and a bump in the lower treble. One thing I am noticing is that because there is some boost in the 3-4kHz region, I’m actually listening to the S5 at a slightly louder volume level than I would with other IEMs (I’ve noticed a lot of other IEMs boost this region to bring vocals forward). I tested this last night with the T-Peos Altone200s, and to approximately match the vocal SPL on the A200s required another 7dB on the S5. I tested this with an SPL meter and 3kHz constant tone. – then afterwards compared Christina Perri’s track “Human”.
Overall Detail / Clarity
For this I used both Steely Dan’s “Gaucho” and Dire Strait’s “Sultans of Swing” as there is a lot of micro detail in both tracks, and the recording quality for both is excellent.
The Brainwavz S5 displayed reasonable detail retrieval with a mellow and laid back sound, and just a hint of sizzle from the lower treble. With Gaucho, the cymbals are there, but in the background (behind the vocals). It is a smooth presentation, with no real peakiness – just allowing me to enjoy the track. Switching to Sultans of Swing, and once more the focus is more mid-range than treble. This track shows a little more crispness – but again, no major peaks, and Knopfler’s guitar just really sings. The more I listened to these tracks, I realised that any brightness is probably more on the upper mid-range than the actual treble itself. Cymbals and high-hats are there, but subdued (or polite) rather than brashly represented as some IEMs do.
There is no smearing of detail in either track – so separation is pretty good.
Sound-stage & Imaging
For this I used Amber Rubarth’s binaural recording “Tundra”. I used this because it’s a pretty simple way to get comparative data on sound-stage.
It’s usually difficult to get a reasonable stage size from an inner ear monitor. The stage is often quite small / close – with an average impression of space. The Brainwavs S5 for me is a typical IEM in this regard. The sound – while relatively clear (the drums are probably the most focused), is still very much ‘in your head’ – but still enjoyable. Directional cues are good – so for a value priced IEM its imaging is OK – perhaps not quite as stellar as some of the more detail oriented IEMs I’ve tried recently.
I also used Loreena McKennitt’s “Dante’s Prayer” and the S5 again delivered a very smooth and easy to listen to performance. The sense of space normally exhibited by my full sized headphones (HD600 / DT880) was missing – but the overall presentation was enjoyable and there were some directional cues present. In this track, the applause at the end is so well presented that with some headphones (HD600) I can actually close my eyes and imagine myself in the crowd. With the S5, the clapping did seem a little distant – but there was a sense of space, and the more realistic tone actually does emulate some of what the HD600 can achieve. At this point I retried the ending again, this time giving the S5 a volume boost, and all of a sudden the crowd sprang into life – and the some of the realism I hear with the HD600 was apparent. Quite an achievement at this price point.
Genre Specific Notes
Again for tracks, albums, artists – please refer to this list: http://www.head-fi.org/a/brookos-test-tracks
Rock – For me, the S9’s perform well with this genre, with the most noticeable feature being the smoothness of the overall presentation, and also the very punchy bass. 3 Doors Down “Away From the Sun”, and Alter Bridge’s “Broken Wings” are both nicely presented – but their isn’t the same crunch and excitement with guitar that I’ve had with IEMs with a slightly brighter top-end. Overall though it is very easy to listen to the S5 for extended periods of time, and there is simply no fatigue with any of the tracks I’ve listened to. Even on the much faster “Diary of Jayne”, although the presentation is slightly warmer than I am used to – nothing sounds smeared – the driver is keeping up nicely. Vocals are well presented – but rather than being too far forward, they are really nicely matched with a very present and impactful bass.
Alt Rock – First up was Pink Floyd’s “Money”, and unfortunately the S5 just didn’t quite do this classic track justice. The cymbals this time were almost lost. Bass (especially bass guitar) was exceptional, vocals were nicely presented, even the sax was well represented, but the top end detail was unfortunately missing. Switching to Porcupine Tree’s “Trains”, and here is a track that suits the S5 really well. The bass is just gorgeous – and this time even the upper end is present. Best of all Wilson’s voice just really suits the S5’s relaxed vocal presentation.
Jazz / Blues / Bluegrass – I started with Portico Quartet’s “Ruins” and enjoyed the presentation – but missed some of the crispness that I normally get with the sax in this excellent track. Moving to Miles Davis “So What”, and whilst it’s a pleasant and non-fatiguing listen, some of the finer details (particularly in the cymbals and high-hats) are simply not where they should be. There just isn’t the contrast. Miles trumpet is intoxicating though – and the S5 does the master justice with a presentation as smooth as his playing style. Switching to Blues – I fired up Joe Bonamassa’s India-Mountain Time, a track that I like immensely. The guitar work is very different to what I am used to – slightly darker with less sparkle and crunch. But it’s still Joe doing what he does best – and once he starts singing, I actually like the S5’s presentation of his vocals very much. Switching to “Dust Bowl Children” (Alison Kraus and Union Station), and the S5 also does this pretty well. A little less excitement in the banjo than I’m used to – but the cohesion between vocals and stringed instruments makes it a very easy listening experience.
Rap / EDM / Pop – Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” shines with the S5 – everything works together very cohesively (vocals, bass, guitar), and it’s surprising how much bass these drivers can deliver with the right song. What surprises me though is how clear the song is despite the copious bass it’s putting out. I think even bassheads would enjoy the S5! Switching to Norah Jones “Light as a Feather” (a fusion of pop with jazz undertones), and it is pure vocal heaven. I could listen to this sort of presentation for hours. In fact most Pop in my library just sounds right with the S5 – vocals shine, bass is impactful, again the word cohesion comes to mind. Switching to EDM – I tried Lindsay Stirling’s “Electric Daisy Violin”, and I was blown away by how good these are for this type of music. There is enough upper mid-range to make Lindsay’s violin clear, smooth, and utterly enjoyable. And then there is the bass, thumping, but clearly defined – just the perfect compliment. I also tried some Little Dragon and some Flashbulb – and it is clear to me, most electronic music shines with the S5 IMHO.
Classical / Opera – This was a surprise wasn’t really expecting. I thought the S5 might be a little too smooth for these genres, but I really enjoyed them – especially with Netrebko and Garanca. Even Kempff’s Moonlight Sonata was very captivating, and I think this might be one of the S5’s hidden strengths. Because it has such a balanced mid-range it can convey a sense of realism with individual instruments (eg piano) which is sometimes lost when the mid-range is too forward.
The S5 is very easily powered straight out of virtually any portable device, and I didn’t experience any issues with the 3 DAPs I tested (iPhone 4, Studio V3, or Fiio X5). Of the three – my personal preference would go to the Studio V3’s slightly brighter presentation.
RESPONSE TO EQ?
I was keen to see what the S5 could do by applying a little EQ. So feeling somewhat lazy, I simply switched to my iPhone, fired up the Accudio Pro app, and loaded an HD600 base signature with a K701 mask over the top. I went back to Portico Quartet’s “Ruins” again, and this time the detail I was missing earlier was more present. So the S5 responded really well to EQ for me. This is something I need to look into further as I use these more.
COMPARISON OTHER IEMs – DN-1000, BA100, T-Peos Altone200
Track – a personal favourite of mine – Pearl Jam’s “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town”
Vs HiSound Audio's BA-100
Hands down my preference is the S5. It’s amazing after having these in my ears for a few days how thin the BA100 is in comparison. I know that’s just my brain not used to the very contrasting sound signatures – but I didn’t think the difference would be this large. The S5 has beautiful tone and excellent timbre with this track. The BA100 is clearer, but it simply seems to lack body.
Vs Dunu DN-1000
This time it’s a lot closer – but where the BA100 was thin, the DN-1000 is fuller, and delivers both tonality, but also a clearer presentation more suited to my individual tastes. The S5 definitely competes well though, and is definitely not embarrassed by its much more expensive competition. Where the DN-1000 has a little more sparkle and contrast, the S5 still delivers better bass impact, and is smoother. I actually may also prefer Vedder’s voice with the S5 …….
Vs T-Peos Altone200
This is a tough one because the presentations are quite different – but they are quite close in price at the moment. The Altone200 will sit eventually around the $150 mark, so I suppose it is a little unfair on the S5. The S5 continues to be very full bodied, with excellent timbre and tone – and is very smooth. The Altone200 is not quite as full bodied, but has excellent bass presence, and superior upper mids and treble. For this track I may have a slight preference toward the T-Peos. But that is no doubt my personal preference for a little more sparkle and energy.
BRAINWAVZ S5 - SUMMARY
Those who’ve seen my reviews before will know that I tend to write reasonably long rambling ones. So once again, if you’re still with me to the end, my thanks.
The Brainwavz S5 is an extremely well built IEM with a mildly V shaped sound signature, very good tone and timbre, and excellent comfort and fit. Once again it is an IEM that belies its $100 price range – delivering superior sonics at an incredible value. It has an emphasis on bass impact, but does not come at the cost of clarity or smearing into the mid-range. The mid-range itself is quite linear, the lower treble has some "sizzle", but the upper treble is what I would call polite (definitely not a focus). The S5 has a very smooth overall signature which suits many genres. Treble-heads, or people preferring brightness and etched detail should definitely look elsewhere – unless they are willing to rely on some EQ (which the S5 responds to quite nicely).
The one fault I do find with the S5 is that the cable is perhaps a little too bulky, and is definitely microphonic – but this can be managed to minimise the effects.
The litmus question again for me would be “would I buy these for myself”, and “would I recommend them to my family”. The answer to this question is YES – and I did indicate to Raz and Audrey that I wanted to purchase them. They have insisted I keep them as a free review sample, which I do appreciate. I will reiterate though that I did offer to buy them - which shows how I do regard the S5.
These are easily the best Brainwavz offering I’ve tried since the B2 (a few years ago).
Edit 8 Oct 2016 - revised these down by 1/2 star - value today is not as good as it was when first released. Still sound pretty good for a V shaped IEM, but might struggle today at USD100 mark
RECOMMENDATIONS TO BRAINWAVZ
Consider changing the cable to something lighter and less microphonic