Brainwavz S5 IEM Review:
I was provided a set of Brainwavz S5 IEMs free of charge in exchange for my honest review. That is what follows below. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments.
When it comes to IEM’s I own several pairs, and I prefer the sound of a balanced armature drivers. I love an IEM that is neutral with a hint (+3db or so) of bass boost to add some warmth to it, as well as an IEM that provides good detail retrieval. I am treble sensitive, and really don’t care for any IEM that gets sibilant, or that has a large treble spike.
My go to IEM’s are my re-shelled CIEM Ultimate Ears Triple Fi 10, a pair of Westone UM3X’s, and a pair of Audeo PFE012 with the green filters. However, I occasionally reach for the classic, and often recommended, Shure SE215.
As is the same with most of you, I have a very eclectic taste in music, so it’s easier to list what I don’t listen too. I avoid modern country, most EDM (i.e.: house, trance, and anything played at a rave), and over produced top 40 pop music (those damn loudness wars!!!)
Lifted directly from the Brainwavz site.
- Transducers/Drivers: Dynamic, 10 mm
- Drivers: Dynamic, 10 mm
- Rated Impedance: 16 Ω
- Frequency Range: 18 Hz ~ 24 kHz
- Sensitivity: 110 dB at 1 mW
- Rated Input Power: 20 mW
- Cable: 1.3 m Y-Cord, Copper
- Plug: 3.5 mm, Gold Plated
It’s worth mentioning that the controls on the cable control the volume, and play/pause audio without issue on iOS devices, most Android devices (including my LG G3, Nexus 5, and Samsung Galaxy S7 phones), and used to work on my MacBook Air until the recent update to Sierra. Since that update, the controls work occasional, and that is just odd. I have not been able to test the controls with the new iPhone 7 / 7+ that no longer has a headphone jack, so no clue what happens if you use it with the dongle that Apple includes (a coworker just got the iPhone 7 so I will see if I can test it out on there and update the review if/when I know more)
The S5 cable includes Brainwavz “Clearwavz” mic and for the few calls i have made with it, the other party had no complaints about how I sounded, and said I my voice was clear.
Copy and pasted again from the Brainwavz product page.
- Earphone Hardcase
- 6 sets of Silicone Ear Tips (S M L)
- 1 set of Comply™ Foam Tips T-400
- 1 Shirt Clip
- 1 set of Silicone Bi-Flange Eartips
- 1 set of Silicone Tri-Flange Eartips
- Velcro Cable Tie
- Instruction Manual
- Warranty Card (24 month warranty)
Of note, Brainwavz redesigned the S5 recently, and in addition to some changes to the cable, it no longer ships with the really nice 3.5mm to 6.3mm adapters that had been previously included. I was told by the Brainwavz rep that no changes to the sound signature of the S5 were made however.
In short, the S5 is built like a tank. The IEM housing is metal, and seems very durable. The flat cable is strong, and has a now reduced Y-split that is no wear near as chunky as it used to be. The strain relief at the straight 3.5mm jack, Y-split, and at the business end all seem overbuilt, and have yet to fail. I would imagine these IEMs would last a long time, and survive being in a pocket if that is how you tote around your earphones.
While build quality is very solid, and in fact, among some of the best I have used, I personally dislike the flat cable, as it is two wide and heavy, and causes fit issues (more on that next). But, the cable has xero microphonic issues, so it has that going for it.
Fit / Confort:
I am lucky to have ears that aren’t too picky with most IEMs, and I rarely have fit issues. Most IEMs I have tried over the years fit ok to really well, and comfort isn’t usually an issue. I typically prefer Comply foam tips to silicon ones, but it really does depend on the IEM and how the tips change the sound signature. With the S5, the fit, for me, is best with the medium transparent silicon tips, and is just ok at best. Comfort is mediocre due to the large, heavy, flat cable, as it almost never stays wrapped around my ear. Being that these are intended to be worn over ear, that is a bit of an issue. For the cost ($99.50 USD as of Oct. 1, 2016), I REALLY wish Brainwavz saw fit to implement a replaceable cable. I would much prefer using something like the really great braided MMCX cable that MEE Audio uses with their Pinnacle P1. I have that cable on my SE215 and love it.
While the fit is just ok, the comfort (minus that chunky cable around my ear) is above average. I am able to wear the S5 for longer periods of time, usually around 4 or so, without any issue. They never really disappear into my ears like the PFE012 or my CIEMs do, but they never seem to cause pair or discomfort either. I also ever experienced any issues with the S5 falling out of my ears, even when I was more active while wearing them. Due to the weight of the cable though, I am not sure these would be good for gym use.
I have had the S5 for a few months now, and it has seen quite a few hours of use. I tried the S5 right out of the box, and after a couple of days, ran it (read: burn in) for about 24 hours. I didn’t notice any real change in the sound after burn in.
I have used the IEM direct out of my Samsung Galaxy S7 (no EQ), with a FiiO E7, FiiO E17K (no EQ), with a FiiO E12A IEM edition, my MacBook Air, iPad Air 2, and with a SybaSonic SD-DAC63057 (no EQ).
Primary source for music has been Google Music, along with some lossless FLAC files.
Brainwavz markets the S5 as a detailed, high end IEM with “smooth” bass. I am not sure what “smooth” bass means, but what I can say is that the S5 lacks sub-bass presence, and has a large mid-bass hump that throws kick drums, floor toms, and bass guitars to the forefront of a lot of tracks. That mid-bass hump, unfortunately, bleeds heavily into the lower midrange, causing the low end spectrum to sound muddy. The mid-bass hump present on the S5 does make it sound very dynamic and punchy, however. With the lack of sub-bass I wouldn’t recommend the S5 for serious bass heads, and with the mid-bass hump I wouldn’t suggest them for those that prefer a balanced sound signature. If you love top 40 radio play though, go on, these may be for you.
As mentioned, the lower mid-range suffers thanks to that mid-bass bleed. Upper midrange is the strong point for the S5 however, yielding very pleasing vocals from both males and females. Crunchy guitar rifts come through very nice. While the midrange is palatable, it is recessed, and the S5 tends to have a mild v-shapped sound signature.
The upper frequencies on the S5 are slightly elevated past neutral, and with that comes the occasional sibilance. Cymbal heavy songs can have a tinge of sizzle to them that isn’t pleasing or natural sounding. The elevated treble does add a bit of air to the sound signature though which helps purvey a greater sense of detail retrieval. While the lower end may have somewhat muddy bass, the detail the S5 offers in the upper midrange and treble is a little above average.
The S5, for me, falls short with below average imaging performance. That mid-bass hump kills it for me.
As an IEM, I expected an narrow soundstage and that is exactly what the S5 gives you. The music always seems to be inside your head.
My first impressions when pulling the S5 out of the box was very high. The S5 exudes such great build quality, and I thought for sure they would haver the sound to back it up. Especially at the pricepoint of $99.50. Boy was I wrong. That mid-bass hump and sibilant treble make these a no go, and I can’t really think of a good reason to recommend the S5 for purchase. For the asking price of almost $100.00, one can do much better with the likes of the Shure SE215, RHA750 (sure, $119, but its in the ball-park), V-Sonic GR07 (again, close at $129), and others. Even better, the budget IEM landscape has exploded recently with some really great value for price options that would be a better choice than the S5. For instance, I much prefer the sound from Brainwavz own Jive IEM to the S5 and I got it on sale for $15! For me personally, I put the S5 in a draw and use the case for a pair of VE Monk +.