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Over-Ear item created by kingpage, Dec 20, 2011
Pros - Sound as great as they're said to.
Cons - The clamping force is EXTREME at first. As per some kind suggestions, I stretched them out overnight and now I've absolutely no complaints!
SEE PROS & CONS.
NOTE: The clamping factor will obviously differ from person to person, but I'm surprised to find little mention of it, as it is the sole reason I'd never think twice about the HM5. Shame, really. Considering they do sound great.
UPDATE: Thank you for the wonderful suggestions, and after some (needed) adjustment, their clamping force is MUCH more tolerable, and plays in their favor considering how well they isolate. As such, I've updated their ratings, and I've only not given them a 5/5 because I don't believe anything is truly perfect. Not to mention, I also own a few other mid to high end cans (PRO 750, K550, D5000, D7000, GS1000i, etc.), and where performance is concerned, if I was to give a 5/5 rating to any one of the cans I own, as it stands, it'd have to be the Signature Pros.
UPDATE #2: I ended up getting rid of the HM5's, and instead, placing an order for the $70 ($50 + $20 shipping) rebrands from Jaycar (<<< click here for the product page). While the rebrands may come with different (or fewer) accessories, the price is nearly half what the HM5 cost me. I'm sold!
UPDATE #3: Received my Jaycar rebrands, and I immediately let them stretch out, in order to relieve the originally intolerable clamping force. I also switched out the pads for a set of ATH-M50 pads (which are relatively half as thick/plush as the original HM5 pads), and the M50 pads allow for a SIGNIFICANTLY MORE comfortable fit, owing to the much thinner padding of the stock M50 pads. Bottom line, at their current price, they are an absolute no-brainer! Whether or not you need them, I can't recommend them enough, at least as a backup.
UPDATE #4: The Shure SRH940 velour pads work like a charm with the HM5/Jaycar, in case anyone is in the market for velour pads. No mods necessary, just replace the pads as you would the stock pads, and voila! I personally find the SRH940 pads even more comfortable than the M50 pads. Their price alone leaves me in awe, let along the performance at said price.
Pros - Comfy, comes with lots of accessories
Cons - Not all that neutral, numerous cons in the sound outweigh the positives, build quality is meh
I liked these when I first got them but over time as I listened to more and better headphones realized they are not very good. They're not all bad but I think the cons outweigh the pros. There are already enough hyped up positive comments from tons of people, so I'm just going to list what the problems were for me.
Not really all that neutral. Perhaps more balanced relative to some of the wilder headphones out there and mostly non-offensive, but that's about it. Overall balance is actually a little bit on the dark side. I'm no treble head and hate any spikes in the higher frequencies, but even for me these sounded a little bit veiled and lacking clarity. The treble on its own is very smooth and had the most accurate tonality for cymbals I've heard, but the bass/lower mids are quite muddy and smeary and get in the way. There is a dip in the lower mids and then a hump in the upper bass which I think contributes to this. The muddiness sometimes creeps up into the mids as well unfortunately, because the mids are actually pretty nice. I noticed that frequency response graphs actually confirm the slightly dark balance.
The soundstage is wonky with a hollowed out center image. At first I mistook this for depth, but it's not, it's just shaped weird. Basically, things which are panned in the center sound farther away, while things which are panned in the left or right ears sound closer. Kind of like a "V-shape" where your head is staring down into the point of the V if you can imagine that. Other headphones with more evenly shaped soundstages do not do this so much. I also found these to lack punch and attack both in the bass and the mids/highs. I find too much punch to be fatiguing, but these just sounded kind of flat and boring.
The other thing about these headphones is the cup sound or echo as some have called it. If you take a look at the way the cups in combination with the pads are shaped, you'll notice they form a cylindrical or tube shape. Listening to music on these headphones sounds like that--listening to music through a tube. It sounds like there is some kind of reverb added on to the music, which makes you feel you are listening inside of a cave or a subway tunnel or something. I don't know exactly how to describe it, but frankly it is pretty strange. It is less noticeable on some recordings, but on others it is very obvious and weird if you have other headphones to compare to.
Also while they come with a bunch of neat accessories, the build quality is not all that great. It's not outright bad, but questionable. The sliders for adjusting the length of the headband are kind of loose and wobbly, the cups sometimes snap out of the hinges, and the headband is so rigid every time I stretched it to put these on my head it felt like it was going to snap.
If you can find some rebrands of these for less than $100 and you like a slightly dark and very laid back sound, these might be decent, but overall I don't think I'd recommend them to anybody, especially if you think you're going to get a "neutral champ."
Pros - Value, Nuetral Sound, Sound Stage, Easy to Drive
Cons - None
Not much to say, the HM5 really convenient to use since it's easy to drive. The clamping force is the strongest I've ever felt on a headphone; stretching is advised.
Pros - Sound quality, comfort, build, balance, naturalness, clarity, isolation, price, replaceable cable, accessories, soundstage (for a closed can)
Cons - Pads can get hot/sweaty, bass can be a little hollow/honky
The Brainwavz HM5 is a closed dynamic circumaural head-phone which appears to be a clone of the Fischer Audio FA-003. There is also another similar clone by Lindy. OEM/ODM manufacturer appears to be Yoga Electronics. Response from owners at the moment suggest that the HM5 / FA-003 / Lindy sound similar/same.
Pre-amble (about me)
I'm a 44 year old music lover. I don't say audiophile - just love my music. Over the last couple of years, I have slowly changed from cheaper listening set-ups to my current entry/mid-fi set-up. I vary my listening from portable (i-devices + amp) to my desk-top's set-up (PC > coax > NFB-12 > HP). My main headphones at the time of writing are the Sennheiser HD600s, HM5's, a modded set of Alessandro MS1i, and a set of B2 IEMs. I previously owned Beyer DT880, Shure SRH840 and 940 + various other IEMs. I have auditioned quite a few entry and mid-tier cans, but have yet to hear any flagships (at current time of writing this review). I have very eclectic music tastes listening to a variety - from classical and opera to grunge and hard-rock. I listen to a lot of blues, jazz, folk music, classic rock, and alternative rock. I am particularly fond of female vocals. I tend toward cans that are relatively neutral/balanced - with a slight emphasis on the mid-range. I prefer a little warmth in the overall signature. I am neither a bass or treble head. Current amps = NFB12, GoVibe PortaTube, Fiio E11. Previous desktop set-up was a Fiio E7/E9 combo.
Gear used in this review
- Brainwavz HM5
- Sennheiser HD600
- Alessandro MS1i FWJ
- iPod4 + Fiio E11
- Audiogd NFB-12
I chose the HD600 for a comparison, as in other reviews, the FA-003 was often compared sonically to the HD600. This was in fact the main reason I bought it.
Packaging and Accessories
I purchased my HM5's from MP4nation. They come with a nice and well padded canvas case (similar to the case that I had for my DT880's), spare pads, a long (3m) and short (1.3m) cable, airplane adpator, and a 3.5-6.3mm adapter.
Technical Specifications :
Nominal impedance = 64Ω
Transducer = principle dynamic 42mm, closed
Ear coupling = circumaural
Frequency range = 10 - 26500 Hz
Sensitivity = 105 dB at 1 mW
Rated input power 100 mW
Weight w/o cable = 280 g
Weight w/1.3 cable = 323 g
Weight w/3.0 cable = 363 g
Jack plug = 3,5mm stereo with 6,3 mm screw-on adaptor
Frequency Response Graphs (+ others) - From InnerFidelity - FA-003 (none available currently for the HM5)
Build / Comfort / Isolation
At first glance, the HM5 look as though they should be quite heavy. What is surprising is how light they are, and how light they feel once worn.
The headband looks similar to the Beyer DDT880 Pro. The head-band padding is adequate, and more importantly it is shaped to actually fit your head (Shure - this is how a headband should be). The extenders are metal, seem very solid and are adjustable with a solid click. The arms (to connect the cup) are a molded plastic - appears reasonably strong. The cups can be easily disconnected - so as long as parts were available, it would be easy to replace anything broken.
The cups are nicely shaped - and for my ears are completely circumaural. The pads are very thick - almost exactly one inch - but also very soft. This keeps the ear well away from the transducer. The clamp is quite tight, but due to the softness of the pads, once they've been on for a while, I don't really notice them. The pads are removed from the cup by a quarter twist, and are easily replaceable.
The rear of the cups can be removed by undoing 4 micro screws. This exposes the rear of the driver - but more importantly allows modding and also, should allow fitting of the Fischer wooden cups if so desired.
Because of the clamp and the thickness of the pads, isolation is very good. Not to the level of my B2 IEMs - but as good as I have had with a closed can. When I next travel around the world (later this year) I am definitely taking these - as they seem to be ideal (especially with having the airline adaptor) for long-haul travel.
The cable is replaceable, and the plugs are reassuringly snug fitting. To me they look like a standard 3.5mm mono plug - but it is the molding at the and which would have to be duplicated if you wanted to make a DIY cable. Fortunately the cables appear extremely sturdy and you are supplied with one at 1.3m (which I find very good for portable), and a 3m length if you require more cable for a desktop / home system.
Overall, these are very comfortable - with one small complaint - due to the thickness and softness of the pads, combined with the clamp, they can get quite warm after extended use. The good news is that the Fischer FA-003 velours should fit them. The hard part may be finding them. Comfort is slightly less than DT880 or Senn HD600 - but definitely in the same league.
My main set-up with the HM5 is PC > Coax > NFB-12 (low gain) >HM5. For a portable rig, I use iPhone4 > HM5. For the purposes of this exercise - to compare with the HD600 straight out of the iPod4, I'll also be using the Fiio E11 (via LOD). Note - I initially was going to use my PortaTube for comparison with the HD600 - but the HM5 is so easy to drive that I ran the risk of channel imbalance because I was so low on the pot.
The HM5 for me are good for their price. They are quite natural sounding - one of the most natural sounding closed headphone I have heard to date (with only issue being some hollowness in the bass - more on that later). They seem reasonably well balanced across the spectrum - with good extension at both ends. There is some sparkle at the top end - but it's not enough to overly exaggerate the highs. A quick summary of the main sound quality headings:
Detail/Clarity - Detail is good - but quite not as detailed as the HD600 (or the DT880). They are very clear though - and sound very good especially with acoustic instruments. They do appear to be a little more forward than the HD600 - and do exhibit a little more reverb - which for me sits them below the HD600 in terms of overall refinement and clarity. For the cost - the level of clarity is good.
Sound-stage - Seems reasonably good for a closed can - but not overly expansive or deep. Instrument separation I found quite pleasing. Listening to Julia Fischer playing Tchaikovsky's violin concertos definitely gives a sense of space at first - but when switching to the HD600 you suddenly realise that while they are good for a closed can - they are simply not in the HD600's league for staging, timbre or realism. For a closed can though, they are have a better than average sound-stage.
Highs - Very good. No trace of sibilance or harshness, with good detail. They are slightly more emphasised than the HD600's and give surpisingly good presence. I tend to use jazz now to look specifically for presence in the highs. For this test I was using Diana Krall's "Black Crow" for the contrast between cymbals and piano - and The HM5 handle it very well.
Mids - The HM5 does mids well. They are focussed with a slight hint of warmth - and give a feeling of intimacy - similar to the HD600. For this test I'm listening to Alison Krauss (Paper Airplane). I often use the song 'Dustbowl Children' for comparison - as the acoustics are wonderful. I think the HM5's mids are ever so slightly more forward than the HD600 - but this could be the smaller sounstage. Even with busier tracks, there is no sign of congestion.
Bass - Here's where things get slightly interesting, There is definitely nice extension n the HM5 (as there also is on the HD600). The main difference here is in presentation with the bass on the HD600 being extremely well textured and defined. The HM5 is almost there - but on really punchy tracks it can exhibit a very faint boominess/reverb. Almost a hollow sound. I have to admit that despite this I do like the HM5's bass. It's there when you need it, and doesn't sound over or under-done. Impact is very good while still retaining balance.
The HM5 has 64 ohm nominal impedance - but what surprised me is how sensitive these are. They are absolutely ridiculously easy to drive. Straight out of my iPhone (unamped) my 32 ohm MS1is take almost exactly 50% volume for a nice listening volume. The HM5 at 64 ohm use the same volume. They do sound wonderful out of the NFB-12 - but I have to use low gain or they go too low on the pot.
Comparison HM5 vs MS1i and HD600
Hm5 doesn't have the top end of the MS1i - but is quite similar in the mid range, and has more impact in the bass. Compared to the HD600, the HM5 has a little more sparkle up top, again similar mid range (maybe a touch more forward) and the bass is similar - but does not have same texture or refinement. In sound stage comparison, the MS1i is on-stage, the HM5 is front row, and the HD600 is perhaps 4 or 5 rows back. For detail, all 3 headphones have good clarity - with the HD600 ultimately showing better micro detail and placement (as it should). Comparing realism, the MS1i is what I bought it for - an incredibly edgy fun but coloured headphone - ideal for rock and blues - it's not realistic but I love it. The HM5 is closer to the HD600 - but it does not match the naturalness of the HD600, nor the texture or sense of 'being there'. For what it brings to the table in comfort, isolation, and value - that is a pretty good achievement.
The HM5 was not designed to compete with the HD600 - and for the $100-$150 price bracket, it is great value. Compare to other popular cans in it's price bracket - Shure SRH840, ATH M50 etc, I can see the HM5 being an excellent studio monitor, and also a very engaging headphone for private listening. It does well with practically every genre I've tried it with (and that includes classical). I have even used it for gaming - and it does well with both directional acuracy and fun factor. They are quite good for portable use, and I think will be very durable long-term. If I was to sum these up in four words - I would simply say - "Incredible value / great sound. It's not a closed HD600 - but it does share some similar sonic qualities for audio lovers on a budget. Definitely recommend the HM5 as a value proposition for an entry level to quality audio.
Pros - Sound Quality, Build Quality, comfort, non-fatiguing, cables
Cons - Not really a con, but would be nice if additional velour pads were included instead of another pleather set.
These headphones are a pretty good value for the money.
Simple clean design, don't look over the top, or tacky.
The build quality is pretty nice with good materials. Plastic parts on the headphone cups have the "soft touch" feel. The pleather ear pads are really comfortable, and I'm glad they come with an extra set. I would've liked an additional velour set for the hot summer season though where heat could become a comfort issue. The headband is nicely padded for better comfort and uses metal for the extension area which should be more durable than plastic.
Comes with some nice accessories. 2 cables.. 1 short, 1 long. The cables seem to be of good quality. Highly flexible, yet very durable. The cable connectors look really nicely done as well. They're color coded to the correct jacks in the headphones for left and right. It's nice that they're detachable from the headphones. Also comes with 2 adapters. 1 large jack adapter, and 1 airplane jack adapter. Of course it's got an extra pair of pleather ear pads which are nice. Luckily I got in on the pre-order so it came with a simple carrying case with foam inserts as well (not spectacular, but better than no case).
Sound Quality is pretty good to me. I've been listening to a mix of acoustic, jazz, jazz/funk, rock, hip hop, you name it. These headphones really do seem like they get better with burn-in. During my first several hours I didn't really like how they sounded with rock. I left it running for several days and came back to a pleasant surprise. My rock sounds much better and clearer now. Shortly afterwards, my FiiO e10 arrived in the mail. Pairing these phones up with the FiiO e10 (I listened with bass boost off) sounds really nice. Every genre sounds even better than when I had this plugged straight into my macbook air.
Pairing these up with the FiiO E10 is a winning combo to me!
Pros - Build quality, comfort, sound quality, removable dual entry cable, price
Pros: Build quality, comfort, sound quality, removable dual entry cable, price
I am unable to comment on the packaging of the HM5 as I have received a loaner model. I can comment on the accessories I've received though and Brainwavz has done a fantastic job here. Included with the HM5 I received were an extra pair of faux leather pads which are good quality here, soft yet firm. Also included was two cables, both being dual entry with a 3.5mm plug and an included 1/4 adaptor. The cables are thick and feel of the utmost quality, I'm thoroughly impressed with them, and the inclusion of a set for each plug rather than the cheaper way out of just giving an adaptor.
Design and Build Quality
The first thing that I noticed about the HM5 was that the build quality was astounding. I picked them up from the soft foam padding they laid in and noticed a nice weight to them and very solid construction even under close inspection. The headphones themselves seem to be clones of the Fischer FA-003, at least aesthetically, and I think that's a great thing. The FA-003 have a very nice clean look to them and Brainwavz has done a great job keeping everything clean while adding it's own little touches.
Starting from the top, the faux leather and soft foam make for a minimal, yet clean looking headband. On the top "BRAINWAVZ" is in a glossy black to accent over the matte black of the faux leather. A little further down you reach the adjustors on the headphones, which is a slightly notches aluminum strip from the right and left that feels very solid when being adjusted in anyway. A click will let you know you've reached each notch and where the adjustor meets the lower half of the headphone there's some room for it to move laterally slightly allowing some flexibility. The adjustors meet with a black matte plastic which almost has a rubber feel to it allowing for better grip. At the top of it there's a red "R" and a blue "L" indicating left or right as well as color coding for the cables. The plastic wraps around the housing and locks in at the sides allowing the HM5 to swivel up and down up to 90 degrees allowing them to point down.
The housing itself has a brushed aluminum siding with a small circle cut out with the Brainwavz logo on either side, the grey brushed aluminum looks beautiful contrasting against the outside of the housing which is the same black matter rubberized plastic that gives the HM5 a sleek look. On the bottom back of each ear cup HM5 is stamped in a light grey. The cables enter from the bottom using a straight 3.5mm plug in each ear. The ear cups are big soft faux leather pads that are not only comfy, but provide good isolation for the HM5. They're also very easy to take off and put on for those who want to try different pads.
The cables were a huge surprise to me, each side has a blue or a red ring around it to indicate which ear it belongs in and is not only thick, but feels surprisingly high quality. The cables are joined by a simple y-split and terminate with a thick, solid, straight plug.
Everything about the HM5 screams high quality. The build quality is easily comparable to any high end headphone. The aesthetics are extremely simple, but beautiful to boot. These headphones are well worth the asking price for this alone, they make my Ad900 feel like a cheap toy.
These arrived from Dragon2Knight with a nice hand written letter explaining these had well over 250 hours of burn-in/use before being used. Therefore I simply listened, I can't speak for any burn-in and I am not noticing any changes throughout my listening.
The Brainwavz HM5 are being marketed as neutral for studio monitoring purposes and I couldn't disagree with this if I tried. The HM5 are almost perfectly neutral to my ears allowing me to pick apart problems with the mix and mastering unlike any other headphone I've used before. That isn't to say the HM5 are the most detailed headphone I've ever used, there's some grain even, but these are the flattest headphones I've used with excellent extension on both sides of the spectrum while having good detail and clarity.
The HM5 are not for bass heads, if you're expecting the bass to rattle your head then look elsewhere. The HM5 have a very flat response across the bass with only the slightest mid bass hump and great extension, there was never a point where I felt I was missing anything in the lows. The mid bass has decent impact, enough to let you know a kick drum is being hit, but it's not bloated or overdone, it's more of a rounded hit rather than a sharp jab. Even on songs with incredible bass the HM5 handle them well. I don't particularly feel the bass but I hear it no matter how low it goes with good detail to boot. The mids are the weakest of everything here, but that's only because I'm used to my Ad900. The mids here are clean and serve as a perfect link between the lows and highs. The mids are polite as to not push out the mids and highs, but are assertive enough to give the vocals good presence and electric guitars a good crunch. The upper mids or low highs do have a slight edge to them, but just like the mid bass it's only the slightest. There's a very slight sense of sibilance, but only on the most sibilant heavy songs. There's a slight grain as well in the highs, but they're well extended without being overly bright.
As I said before the HM5 have good detail, but they're certainly not to be considered analytical, at least in comparison to the likes of the AKG K701 or HiFi Man RE272. I don't feel as if I'm missing anything when listening to these, but they don't have the typical cold analytical presentation. The soundstage on these is decent, there's actually a light air to it. There's good separation throughout and I feel as if I'm at an intimate outdoor concert, if I were to describe it at all. Perhaps yes described as if the stage were enclosed from all except the front, giving a slight air, but still an intimate presentation. As for amping, I definitely recommend something to power these, but they sound rather good even from an iPod or straight from my MacBook Pro.
Onto the music!
The Antlers - Kettering
In this song there's an incredible ambiance and emotion conveyed through the music with a great build up and dynamics. Right away the hushed piano plays the repeating melody sounding very cold and subdued as the vocals take on a very similar tone, sounding hushed and cold while sounding very intimate, as if he were singing a few feet in front of me in a small coffee house. The synth noise rolls in as a precursor to the soon to be change in dynamics. The vocals stop, the piano goes a little higher, then the drums come in with the synth noises vibrating at a high frequency. The song continues to build up giving me the chills. Everything is beautifully conveyed through the HM5 in such a perfect, delicate manner. Very clean with excellent presentation.
Sufjan Stevens - Impossible Soul
This is a really hard song to do well as it is essentially 5 songs, each with different sounds to them, combined into one. I'm going to just take the first movement and talk about the HM5 for it as it's a 30 minute song. I have to say, I don't think I've heard this song as good before as I am now. The synth is polite, soft, and clean as Sufjan's voice matches with good panning and the echoes of his voice being heard perfectly below in the mix. The harp that rolls along pans beautifully back and forth as the drums do as well. Hearing certain hits in the left and the proceeding one in the right keeps my ears open and paying attention, Sufjan knows how to keep a listener entertained in such small ways. There's simply so much going on here that the HM5 replicate so well. The harshly toned guitar solo comes in like a jagged knife, which is definitely intended and the HM5 do a great job giving it the edge Sufjan intended, all the while the harps and drums panning, not once does it feel confused or congested. I could go on, but this song is beautiful through these. It's not easy to have a song with such hectic parts and combinations of electronic, pop and classical sound good. The HM5 are fantastic though!
Radiohead - Idioteque
This song is a perfect example of how good the HM5's bass is. The electronic kick drum thumps enough to be present, while being polite enough to allow the mechanical sounding hi-hat and snare to tick away as the synth sweeps along and the various noises make their appearances. Thom's voice comes in and the kick drum still thumps, but it's clear that the vocals were mixed to be slightly higher here as they wanted them to be the focus. The vocals come in clear and slightly higher than anything else while the backing vocals are panned to the right and hushed behind the rest in the mix, which is a nice contrast going on here having vocals essentially surround the instruments. Everything sounds clean here and I'm enjoying it, just the right amount of thump.
Porcupine Tree - Trains
This song is a great progressive rock song with a good sound. Right away the acoustic guitar shines, clean and detailed, I can pick apart each string loud and clearly. The vocals are perfectly balanced with the guitar and equally clean. The drums and bass come in and are punchy and easily heard, in-fact I don't think I've ever noticed the bass line in this song before. Even the acoustic guitar is still easily heard in conjunction with the punchy drums and bass. As the song continues I really don't have much to say than everything simply sounds clean, there's no grain at all, every instrument has it's own space. I'm enjoying the clarity of the HM5 for this song, especially for the well recorded acoustic guitar.
Sara Bareilles - Bottle It Up
This song is a sibilant heavy song. The sibilance that made this unenjoyable on my q-JAYS is still there, but it's a recording issue more than a headphone issue. The HM5 do show signs of sibilance here, but again this is a recording issue and the HM5 do a great job of making the song listenable still. It's clear though that this song is mastered loudly with a emphasis on the vocals. It's clear that this album is a victim of the loudness wars and the HM5 have no problem revealing this.
You'll see I have no listed cons for the HM5, and deservedly so. For the $120 or so you can pre-order the HM5 for you can't ask for more. The build quality is absolutely top notch from top to bottom, from cable to ear cups. The included accessories is just a huge bonus, Brainwavz didn't need to include two cables, but they did, as well as an adaptor. I think that simply goes above and beyond what they had to. The sound is something that won't immediately please you, it's good out of the box, but it's when you realize the subtleties that make it so good you'll appreciate it. The delicate balance it gives songs that sometimes sound congested on other headphones, the polite yet present presentation is just fantastic.
The HM5 are for the person who wants a musical, neutral, clean and detailed sound. Are these as detailed as the K701 or RE272? No, but never once did I feel like I was missing anything in the music, while enjoying it far more than on either of those headphones that were simply too cold and analytical for me. These are one of the best values in the headphone world.
Come see the rest of the pictures here!