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In-Ear item created by Brooko, Jul 11, 2014
Pros - Great isolation, deep bass, natural presentation
Cons - Not too airy mids, very slight microphonics
Design and Comfort
S5 is a new higher-end in-ear-monitor from Brainwavz retailing at about US$100. I’m glad Brainwavz has offerings at most price points below $200. It's great that companies such Brainwavz and SoundMagic help bring down prices; if not for them, we would still be paying an arm and a leg for these things.
It has a flat cable instead of the normal round cable, similar to the new Creative Aurvana Live! 2. I don’t know if this is a trend. I’m more used to round cables, but round cables do tangle a bit, except really thick ones like the ones used on HM5, so I think flat cables do have an advantage here if you want your cable to tangle less. Microphonics is minimal, slightly more than Brainwavz M4; however, that can easily be solved sliding up the cable cinch (e.g. during exercise).
The IEM’s housing has a flat side, which comes in handy - a tactile way of identifying left and right earpieces. All you have to do is have the flat side facing outward when worn. The letter “R” and “L” are extremely small, but you just need to look at them once and you’ll remember which side is which by looking for the flat surface on one side of the housing. Isolation is excellent, at least 25dB, basically similar to earplugs. If you’re looking for an IEM that isolates noise like an earplug, this is an good option for you.
It came with an assortment of different standard silicone tips, including a set of very nice Comply T-400 foam tips. I’m using the T-400 for this review, while I use S-400 on my M4. I’m a fan of Comply tips, and I prefer foam tips to silicone tips in terms of comfort and sound. Silicone tips do, however, bring out better highs on most IEMs (if not all), if that’s what you’re after.
It’s very easy to drive, coming from relatively easy to drive headphones. It’s louder than M4 at the same volume for example.
Straight out of the box, I couldn't really fault it much. I’ve done over 150 hours of burn-in. DAC is FiiO E10. There are some similarity to Brainwavz M4, could be considered an upgrade in every way, except I prefer M4's mids.
Bass is deep and tight, probably a tad more than what you call neutral/flat, not unlike CAL!2. It's perfect for people who like to feel their low notes. I don’t find the bass to be distracting; in fact, I can really appreciate the detail in the bass. Unlike M4, you won’t find a mid-bass hump in S5.
Midrange is slightly warmish, without any bloated mid-bass. If I had to complain, this would probably be the weakest link of S5. You're not going to get perfect sound at any price, let alone at this price range.
S5 is less airy than M4. That’s expected of something that blocks 90% of all ambient noise. For me, I do prefer my mids to be more airy, so I’m biased. I guess that’s the trade-off between isolation and soundstage.
Treble is very smooth with the foam tips. No sibilance at all, but detailed enough to show it if the recording has it. With silicone tips, the sparkles are brought out, more so with the the tri-flanges.
While soundstage is quite intimate, I feel like I’m listening to music in a studio environment. Due to its excellent imaging, some recordings sound a bit binaural. I thought was sitting next to the pianist, facing the other way (away from the piano). Classical and country sound so good, especially piano pieces.
This is a very likeable IEM for mainstrem music-lovers, regardless of your preferred sound signature, in my opinion. Is it for bassheads? Sure, if you like quality bass with enough quantity but not overly so. Is this for treble-heads? I reckon B2 is a better choice. The sub-$100 bracket is such a competitive price range, these days you can get headphones or earphones that would have cost you several times more in the past. If you were to buy just one IEM for portable use, this would be my personal choice for portability. It's good at most things, and excels at sub-bass.
Pros - Great build, packaging, carry case, ear-tip selection, and lack of cable noise, a modest taste of high-end sound at a low cost.
Cons - Ear-tip changing (rolling) is quite fiddly with the silicon ear-tips, bass can sound boxy, can sound spitty at high volume, slightly lacking isolation
This is my second attempt at a review of the Brainwavz S5, my first attempt ended up in the bin yesterday, as I was looking at it from the wrong angle (some forum members wanted a comparison to much more costly IEMs, which – I did, but – felt that this ended up being unduly harsh on the S5), so – this is considered by me as version 2.0 of my review of the IEMs in question...
First of all let me say a big Thank You to Audrey from Brainwavz for putting me down as one of the reviewer panel – being based in the UK, it is relatively fair to say that we come up a little short when it comes to electronics manufacturers (especially for Head-Fi’ers, notable exception being Chord), so it was with a certain amount of excitement that I put myself forward, and – well – the rest is history...
Professional looking IEM / packaging.
Great selection of ear-tips included in the box (although fit questionable).
Great (if slightly large) carry case included in the box.
Good construction / build quality for the price.
No cable noise
Ear-tip changing (rolling) is quite fiddly with the silicon ear-tips.
Occasionally boxy sounding bass.
Tonal balance can, if volume driven hard tip towards the treble.
Not the best isolation.
If I could change anything (for an S5 V2), strangely – the main thing I would address would be to taper the nozzle that the ear-tips fit onto – only ever so slightly, but – just enough to enable tips to fit much more easily than they do now – if it actually ends up just being me that has an issue with fitting the silicon tips, then so be it – however, I have a feeling as the fan / user base for these IEMs grows, more and more people will have the same frustrations as me...
It should be noted that – with my opinions of the below, the particular pair I have, at the time of writing - have a rather scientifically accurate 125hrs of burn-in on the drivers, using the Colorfly C3 as a source at a fixed volume of 32/40 – I am sure that most people will overlook this point completely, however – for those burn-in aficionados this has this base covered! – Additionally, for the purpose of the below, sound impressions have been observed whilst using the enclosed double-flanged silicon eartips – although, as is logical when a fit-kit is included, personal preferences will differ from person to person.
My opinion of the Brainwavz S5 is coming from a high-end IEM usage background, and what I can say is that yes, for the very competitive street price of US$100, there are some [some would say, obvious] compromises when compared to the US$1000 IEMs that I am used to, however – if you match up the S5 with a suitably good MP3 player, they can belie their price in quite a spectacular way.
The well regarded [Head-Fi] example of this in practice is using the Brainwavz S5 with the Colorfly C3 MP3 player, this allows the treble to gain a sense of control that it seems to lack without this combination, and sparkle (moreso, strangely, than using a US$500 dedicated amplifier!), I am used to a VERY open treble (being a Sennheiser IE800 user), so – on paper (and according to other reviewers opinions) the S5 should be right up my street, and – to a certain extent it is, I can certainly hear that the treble on the S5 could be considered as erring on the brighter side of neutral.
Personally, I agree with some other posters that find the bass a bit strident when the volume is turned up (my personal analogy is that it is like having a ‘loudness’ button turned on, so – this bass actually complements the sound at lower volumes, albeit sounding a little boxy compared to reference!), additionally, others have noted a 4-5khz spike, which I would be inclined to agree about, as – again – when driven quite hard, this can push vocals into sibilance.
Oddly, the biggest concern / point of note from me regarding the S5 is not about the sound quality achieved by the drivers, the build quality, the packaging, or otherwise – but, about the [silicon] eartips – as much as there is a great selection for you to try, they are very fiddly to actually get onto the S5, out of all recent IEMs I have used of late, these are by far the most awkward – The easiest way that I can find to put them on is to turn the tops of the tips inside out (to expose the centre tube), and then do a bit of a wiggle and a shuffle to get them onto the S5 ear-tube... I am unsure if it the size of the bore, or if it is the actual silicon used that causes this issue, as I do NOT have the same issue with the Comply tips (either those included, or those I already have), nor with the Monster fit-tip kit, which – whilst being a [very] tight fit, does work...
Hang on a minute though, the majority of the above is incorporating negative comments – where is the hype, the positive spin, the declaration of love? – Well, that is below...
Looking at these IEMs in their own terms (US$100 IEMs in a crowded market-place) they definitely offer something of a premium feel (my very first note when receiving the package through the post was that the holographic tape that holds the box closed promotes a care for, and a quality of product), the packaging shouts from the rooftops that Brainwavz cares about this product, this extends when you go inside the box, the enclosed heavy duty carry case, with the cable of the IEMs wound carefully inside, the premium baggy that contains the ear-tips, the well made ¼ to ½ inch jack adapter, these are all promising signs from this very up and coming company...
Ambient noise isolation is better than that of the standard Apple Earbuds (for example) but – not as good as equivalent Sony buds at the same price point, at least not with the silicon ear-tips (although this will differ from person to person, so – this is more of an opinion than a fact!) – where things do improve is with the included Comply tips, which both close out more noise, and warm the sound up a little, which could be very handy if you, like me – find the tone a little bright with the included silicon tips.
Overall, tonally (and technically), I would say that the S5 is ‘pleasant’, it isn’t the kind of sound that will offend many people, being open, and clear – my recurring theme for the overall review is that if these are driven hard (to be fair, and brutally honest, I probably listen at a volume above what 90% of potential buyers would!), then the sound does tend to get a little shrill, however – so long as you are the kind of person who wants to protect their hearing (which – I should look at doing myself!) then the S5, tonally – will reward you with a clean sound that allows the overall music mix to be apparent, without any one aspect being any more in your face than the next, there is a slightly boxy tone to the bass, but – this is more indicative of the price point of the S5, rather than a technical failing...
Soundstage is very good with the S5, one of their main selling points in my opinion (which is linked with, in my opinion, the openness of the isolation highlighted in the paragraph above) with credible panning and depth perception, this is definitely something that the designer of the S5 [drive units] has done well, hats off to them – this is a very good set of IEMs for jazz, live, or old recordings where stereo panning is very key to instrument placement etc.
Personally, I would not recommend the S5 for EDM style music, as the [to me] boxy nature of the bass does not lend itself very well to this genre, sounding a bit slow, a bit wallowy, a bit ‘false’, but – much the same as the paragraph above, keep it simple with these, jazz, live, or maybe orchestral music, and the S5 will reward you with a clean sounding listen that belies its price.
The IEMs themselves, for the price – exude a quality that big manufacturers can only dream about – whilst the flat cable design / implementation may not please everyone (personally, I find it quite a revelation, sitting flat against my shirt, and – having absolutely zero cable noise), the level of attention to detail that this shows is very apparent, and a welcome improvement over those more mass-market brands that push out very thin cables that are likely to snap / fray if you so much as look at them badly... The housings of the drive units, whilst not having the premium feel of products ten times their price, again give you a sense that they are ready to stand the test of time, whether that be in the included [premium!] case, or – in the bottom of a back-pack mixed in with a student’s sandwiches, stale socks, or – if really unlucky – both, at the same time!
Overall, I am of the belief that the S5 will be a very good first upgrade for those people who are used to using ‘supplied’ earphones with their electronic devices, one thing that the included IEMs / earbuds definitely do not do very well is treble, and – whilst the S5 may seem to be a bit treble bright, it definitely shows you a look through the window of what is available at a much higher price-point, and – if you’re anything like me, you will find that look through the window very intoxicating, and want more!
The basic moral of the story from my side is, if you listen to music at a modest volume in a library, study, or other quiet area, and can find a suitably revealing source (as mentioned above, and by other forum members, the Colorfly C3 MP3 player is a very good candidate here!), then the Brainwavz S5 can offer you a taste of high-end sound, especially if you like slower / older music, at potentially pocket money prices – these IEMs / this combination would be a very good candidate for a bedroom / bedtime setup, for listening at more restrained volumes (As a general rule, don’t listen too loudly, bad for your ear health!!).
Any questions, please shout –as there are quite a few of us that will be able to chime in with our thoughts.
Pros - spectrum wide clarity , bass punch , not much coloration , all day lasting smooth sound , ability of adepting to any equalizer effect .
Cons - bass decay is slow , highs are not as detailed as re-400 , lacks supple stress relievers , cable could have been better .
I want to start by saying thanks to Brainwavz for making this nearly excellent phone and Selsera for sending me a sample unit .
And about Brainwavz , its around for nearly 7-8 years and has a good reputation of making " bang for buck " phones .
Brainwavz has recently launched the " s5 " which is currently retailing for $99.50 in the us and just below 60 pound in uk . It comes with a plethora of tips , 9 to be precise , one comply , two tri flange tips (small and large ) and 6 pairs of single flange tips in 3 different sizes with two color scheme , comes with a nice carry case and has a quarter inch adapter too . a nice package but i think the box could have been smaller , not a thing to bother about though , just a thought .
here are the specs from mp4nation :-
Transducers/Drivers: Dynamic, 10mm
Rated Impedance: 16ohms Closed Dynamic ( can be driven from you device , no need to amp , you can , but not necessary )
Sensitivity: 110dB at 1mW ( high enough )
Frequency range: 18Hz ~ 24kHz ( good enough , we average people cant hear under 20 hz and over 20k )
Distortion: <= 0.3% @ 110dB ( adequate )
Channel balance: =< 1dB (at 1000Hz) ( 1db is pleasantly negotiable )
Rated input power: 20mW ( low but its what you get for most of the earphones )
Maximum input power: 40mW
Plug: 3.5 mm 45-degree gold plated ( not 45 degree at all , its 180 degree )
Cable length: 1.3 meters Y cord (CU/Ag) PUR ( long enough and i like it )
1 year warranty
Dimensions (Packaging): 160 x 135 x 38mm ( could be smaller )
Net Weight: 10g
Gross Weight: 140g
Build and misc :-
So , it has a dynamic 10 mm driver to use , has an impedance rating of 16 ohm and can be driven directly from your mobile phone or your DAP too .
The driver is placed in a all metal housing , which makes it a bit heavier but its not a problem . the cable is flat , as flat as it gets , but you can see the one in the diagram is round , all i want to say is , it could have been a bit narrower and a bit thicker maybe , round would have been best but the " S " series has flat cable so we are not gonna get that in this series , has a chin/cable slider too , comes with no cable clip so i added one of mine . And the cable has very low microphonics when worn over ear , has little when cable down . Wait what ? you though its a " only over the ears design " ? no , you can go cable down too .
and about the L/R marking look for the brainwavz , written on the earpiece . can you see the " R " ? its not that easy , but you can see brainwavz , and it goes in just like this , doesnt matter if its over ear or cable down .
A straight plug with rigid stress relievers is not a thing i want , i like 90 degree ones that can easily go into the pocket without damage the cable , i have seen the cable taking some stress but im not sure how much it can take . the " Y " splitter is on the bigger side , i used to think er-4p has the biggest of these but this is close .
enough of this , lets go for what you are here for .
Sound quality :- ( vs re-400 )
When i first put these in , i liked these instantly . but the bass was boomy , then i burnt it to realize that highs too has lost some spark somewhere in this process , and after 150 hrs , highs are good but lacks the spark that used to be there , but more then that , bass go tighter , not tight enough but its okay now . and now after 200 hrs of burning i am here to talk about the sound .
( i am using clear philips hybrid tips on re-400 and S5 )
i was having a hard time getting a good seal with smaller tips or the tri flange tips , so i used the black large or the comply , and in the end i went for philips tips cuz it was bigger and has equal or better clarity then s5 large black tips . never bothered to try the grey ones cuz the word has it that they make S5 lose clarity .
You can see in the pros , clarity is really nice , my only grief is the bass decay .
Before i start , lets me tell you about my sound preferences , i like bass , but fast and deep , go boom and vanish , not a fan of mid bass hump , mids , instruments , vocals and separation , the clearer that better , highs with some spark , spectrum as flat as it can get . not a fan of V-shaped sound but i can do that . A good sound stage is pleasing too . and should be easy to get a fit .
Lets start with lows :- ( i mean bass )
you can see in the cons , s5 lacks some speed when it comes to bass decay , it could have been and i believe it will be tighter when the to be made " S9 " breaks cover . and i think it is because of a mid bass hump . Bass got resolution , and the slam that keep a bass seeker satisfied . Bass is big enough if not huge and hits hard enough too , not like xb90ex which goes boom with a hint of bass and hits like a brick with bigger amount of air at the same time . S5 is no bass monster but can do the job if you are willing to settle for something less .
one good thing is that bass doesnt over whelm the mids . And has more presence and quantity when compared to re-400 .
And this suits the new era pop music , and will appeal to new generation of party goers .
Against re-400 , S5 lacks precision and speed . S5 on the other hand has more amount of bass , more air , more slam and this is what makes it more enjoyable . From a purist perspective , re-400 wins , but for a everyday casual listening that lasts for 10s of hours and longer , S5 all the way .
Mids and sound miscs :-
so the first thing you can feel here against re-400 is , 400 has some veiling in the mids , a bit grainy , vocals seem a bit low , but S5 has nothing like that , if the slight u shape is forgiven ( which make the mids to take a seat behind ) , its far better then most of the phones in this department and better then re-400 too . Then , re-400 has a hair more details to it , more detail to the instruments , and its upper mid prominence helps in this , S5 on the other hand is too close to distinguish but with songs like " superhero in a ball " you can feel re-400 pumping some more clarity with instruments , S5 on the other hand is not that forward in this department .
on vocal front , i will have to say , even if female vocals are not as good as male vocals with S5 ( really close though ) , S5 has better clarity when compared to re-400 . re-400 prefers female vocals and due to that veiling vocals suffer .
Instruments on the other hand are really separable with both the phones , but S5 has an edge over re-400 , with its presentation being more vivid and a bit more space when it comes to sound-stage , S5 out does the re4-00 . so the winner is S5 . keep in mind that these are not V-shaped , slight dip , but not much .
Highs at last :-
This is where re-400 does some serious damage to the S5 , S5 got clarity , got transparency , smoother , easy on ears , not offensive at all , sibilance is out of question and still has good amount of presence and details . re-400 does all the things above and adds some more spark , got more energy and is more reveling too , has the attack that i like , but you have have to keep in mind that this might get a bit offensive or a bit annoying on a longer run , and if you are a fan of smoother highs , S5 is made for you . S5 had some spark initially but lost that with burning and reduced to more like a splash . no complains at all , its just that i prefer some spark , more energy and attack with my highs . Extension is a question for s5 , but re-400 has better extension .
So its re-400 vs S5 now , 400 has better sonic ability , has better extension , but that veiling at mid is a let down for some .
so , its a draw , but i like the re-400 more , cuz its smaller , has better stress relievers , has an angled jack too and suits more to my preference . if , just if , S5 had tighter bass , i would have given it the bragging rights . its a call too close , and i would love to see a brainwavz phone with a tuning to out do the re-400 .
re-400 is not a phone for the crowd , its like more analytical , its more for purists , its not as enjoyable as S5 is . and this is just where S5 comes in with similar clarity and at the same time brings more fun to the table .
And to me S5 feels cold , its like , dull in front of re-400 , its kind of laid back , not forward enough , not warm enough , and has 5% lesser details . YES !! S5 is more fun , but , i like my re-400 more .
Its a super solid phone , with a few small flaws , built is really nice , ability to take any eq is spectacular . Got an enjoyable sound sig , a really good package . nothing to hate and everything to love for . And if ..
if you are looking for a phone that is smooth , has really nice clarity , got crowd pleasing bass , i will say fabulous mids with no real flaws if not as reveling as top end ciem , with pleasing inoffensive highs , a phone that you can listen to all day long , with no fatigue at all and sibilance is no where to be found ..
" Brainwavz S5 " is made for you . highly RECOMMENDED , even over the re-400 .
( she3900 grey tips )
Some improvements i would love to see :-
1. i want the bass to be tighter . no problem with the slam or air or anything at all but speed .
2. add a cable clip please .
3. a better cable if possible will do wonders .
4. add some spark if possible , to the highs .
thats it , have a beautiful day folks , enjoy your music .
Pros - Balanced tonality, slightly V shape, with excellent transparency and imaging.
Cons - Require tri-flanges eartips to sound best, which might be a problem for smaller ear canals.
This is my first Brainwavz earphones, many thanks to Brainwavz for the review sample!
When I wrote this review, I have used it for almost 2 weeks, around 2 hours daily. A happy ending journey, that was started with a not so happy beginning.
Out of the box, first impression, S5 sounded bright to me. Rather too bright for my liking. Owning some other bright headphones and earphones, I thought S5 is tuned as a clear and bright sounding IEM. Then i let it burn-in for about 2 days.
After 2 days burn-in, i didn't hear any improvement, basically still bright sounding. 'V' shape sounding that is more like a checkmark '✓ ' shape, where the treble boost around 5-7 kHz is much more pronounced than the bass boost. I brought it to office, to let a friend of mine who is a sound engineer, to try it. After a few hours with S5, same impression, S5 was too bright for him as well. I started to wonders, as some other reviewers here didn't hear S5 as bright earphones.
The next day, i tried different eartips. First, the tri-flanges. Wow wow wow! I was really surprised with the changes. The S5 now sounds very balanced, not bright anymore. I let my friend tried it again; he thought i gave him a different set of earphones. We were really surprised with the changes.
Curious with the drastic changes, i tried back the stock grey tips, and no more excessive treble...! What was wrong initially??? We did feel proper seal, and the slightly boosted bass confirming that it wasn't seal problem. but initially the treble was too much. After eartips replacement, the sound became balanced, and i couldn't reproduce the bright sound character anymore. Was it because the grey eartips were not properly fitted from the factory, or S5 suddenly changed its tonal balance after around 3 days of burn-in and use? I'm not sure what was the cause of the 4-5 dB excessive treble initially, and what caused the sudden changed of the treble level. It remains a mystery to me and my friend.
From a review by shotgunshane here:
I have the impression that his S5 is also the bright sounding one, and still bright sounding. While my S5 has changed its tonality becoming a more balanced sounding IEM.
From my experience, if it happens that you feel your S5 is bright sounding, I suggest the following:
1. Try different eartips.
2. Continuous burn-In for around 3-4 days.
Now, with all the supplied eartips, S5 sound signature is relatively balanced, only slightly bright. Best sound achieved with the tri-flanges, which sound SO MUCH better than other eartips. I've read many other reviews of Brainwavz S5, and some impressions are varied quite significantly. So 'Your Millage Might Vary'. To be fair to Brainwavz, my evaluation in this review will be based on the best performance the S5 can achieve during the evaluation period.
Summary (based on Tri-flanges eartips)
Balanced & transparent is the best way to describe Brainwavz S5 tonality. Brainwavz S5 is neither warm sounding, nor analytical. Tonality sounds quite natural, slightly V shape, in between warm and analytical, lean slightly to the analytical side. I don't hear any annoying peaks and dips on the tonality, pretty smooth from bass to treble. Bass has good power and punch, mids and treble are clean, clear, and transparent. Detail and clarity are good, no veil at all, music always sound clear and detailed, although S5 is not yet into the level of ultra-revealing IEM.
With tri-flanges eartips, imaging is quite wide and spacious. Almost at the level of ATH-IM02 wide and spacious imaging. With other eartips, imaging is not as spacious, but still reasonably spacious and never sound congested.
Tri-flanges eartip is the absolute necessity to get the highest level of sound quality from S5.
Though relatively easy to drive, S5 does require gear matching to sounds best, and scales up pretty well with good sources.
In summary, Brainwavz S5 strikes a good balanced in tonality, and has very good dynamic, detail, and imaging. A balanced, transparent, and musical sounding earphones, that is simply an excellent all-rounder in its class.
Performance score for sub $100 IEM category:
4.5 stars out of 5 stars at its best performance, with the tri-flanges eartips and matching players.
3.5 stars out of 5 stars at its worst performance.
Centrance DACport: DAC + HeadAmp combo. Very organic and musical sounding. very smooth sounding treble, pretty close to AD8599. Always match very well with bright or analytical sounding earphones & headphones.
Audioquest Dragonfly v1.0c: DAC + HeadAmp combo. Marvelous little DAC. Transparent, airy, and powerful. Slightly lean to analytical sounding.
Light Harmonic Geek Out 450 v10.02: DAC + HeadAmp combo. Newest mini DAC in my arsenal, very powerful and detailed sounding. Sound signature is closer to the Dragonfly than to DACport. Lean a little bit to sterile sounding.
iBasso DX90: Portable player. Natural sounding, not warm and not analytical. Good dynamic, detail and resolution.
Fiio X5: Portable player. Natural warm, very smooth & musical. Sounds a tad warmer than DX90. Good dynamic, detail and resolution.
Fiio X3: Portable player. Powerful, balanced sounding with good bass and sparkling treble.
Sound Signature (using Tri-flanges eartips & AudioQuest Dragonfly 1.0c)
S5 Clarity and detail are very good, although not yet at the level of highly revealing IEM. Clarity and transparency varies significantly between players and DACs, best transparency I heard is from AudioQuest Dragonfly. But even with the lowest transparency setup, clarity and detail are not lacking. I do prefer more detail when listening to Chesky binaural recordings, so Dragonfly will be my DAC of choice. But for other close miked modern recordings, I might pair it with warmer sounding DAC such as the DACport. As a single dynamic driver, S5 clarity and detail is better than my ATH-IM50 and ATH-IM70. That is a very good achievement from a single dynamic driver. Paired with Dragonfly, detail and clarity almost reaching the level of detail & clarity of BA drivers IEMs such as ATH-IM02 or DUNU DN-1000. I consider the level of detail and clarity of S5 are excellent at this price category.
Imaging is wide and spacious, sounds more spacious than ATH-IM50, ATH-IM70, and TDK IE800. But not as spacious as ATH-IM02, DUNU DN-1000, and DUNU DN-2000. Especially using the tri-flanges, imaging and spaciousness are pretty awesome. Although other eatips don't sound as spacious, S5 never sounds congested.
S5 has very good dynamic to make music sounds realistic. Better than TDK IE800 and Fostex TE-05 dynamic, but not yet at the level of ATH-CKR9 dynamic. Listening to 'Mombasa', movie soundtrack from Inception, I heard much better bass impact and dynamic on S5 than TE-05. About the same level of dynamic as UE TF10, and only slightly less when compared to ATH-IM50 and ATH-IM70. When it comes to dynamic it's hard to beat the dual dynamic drivers IEMs from Audio Technica, such as the IM50, IM70, CKR9, and CKR10 that I've reviewed earlier. But having said that, the single dynamic in S5 is no slouch either, and could deliver pretty good level of dynamic.
Bass is slightly on the upper side of what often perceived as neutral. To me this is the bass level that I like, realistic bass, not bland and boring bass. I don't like bass level that is lower than S5 bass level. Bass has pretty good power and punch, but not extraordinary tight and punchy. Bass doesn't colour the midrange and nicely blends with the mids. S5 is not considered as a bassy IEM. Bass level is not as strong as ATH-IM50 and ATH-IM70 bass. Bass lover may better go with ATH-IM50 and ATH-IM70. S5 bass is more or less pretty close to UE TF10 bass level, but bass emphasis is on different area. TF10 emphasizes more on mid-bass, S5 more on bass to low bass area. S5 low bass extension is very good. I tested using my 20Hz - 60Hz Risset-Drum beats I created using Audacity, S5 performs flawlessly. Clean and clear down to 20 Hz. Very good quality bass.
Midrange is smooth and clear. Slightly on the lean side of natural, vocal sounds smooth and clear, instead of warm and full bodied. When we are used to IEM with warm and full bodied mids, S5 midrange might sounds a little recessed. But those from the analytical side might consider S5 mids level quite natural. The good thing is, the mids sounds quite smooth & natural, without any annoying peaks and dips on its spectrum. And that is very important. I won't bother to review and spend my time on any IEM with highly coloured midrange. Smooth and relatively natural sounding midrange is the first criteria for me to choose an IEM, and S5 pass with pretty good result.
Treble is sparkling rich, with very good transparency. I use classical music to evaluate transparency, and usually avoid any IEM that is lacking in transparency for classical music. S5 transparency is excellent for classical music. Enough air and upper treble extension for classical music to be enjoyable. S5 transparency is better than TDK IE800, ATH-IM50 and ATH-IM70, but may not as transparent as ATH-IM02. Somewhere in between, pretty close to ATH-IM02. Tri-flanges eartips greatly improves S5 transparency and clarity, better than other eartips.
Probably one of the most important topic for treble is sibilance. For those who have Celine Dion album 'All the Way...A Decade of Song', might agree that the mix is quite bright, and better played using slightly dark and warm sounding IEM. Surprisingly, S5 with the tri-flanges, while still renders the transparency of the mix quite well, also manage the high level of treble really well without sounding ear-piercing. Only mild sibilance with 'vibrant treble' recordings. Amazing! But expect higher level of sibilance with other eartips.
After the treble metamorphosis mentioned earlier, S5 treble is more towards the silky smooth type of treble rather than the metallic and ear-piercing type. With tri-flanges eartips, S5 treble always clear and transparent with excellent sibilance management.
Comfort and noise isolation:
Comfort is good from my perspective. I always wear it over the ears, although it is possible to wear them straight down. I don't find any comfort issue so far, though I think round cable is nicer than the rather big flat cable. Cable microphonics is minimum when worn over the ears.
Most of the time I use tri-flanges eatips with no comfort issue.
Noise isolation is very good, better than average I would say. Maybe also due to the tri-flanges eartips that I use.
Gears and Music selection
Brainwavz S5 is generally a good all-rounder, pretty good performer from classical to modern genres recordings. But players or sources also play a great role here. With Light Harmonic Geek Out 450 and Centrance DACport for example, I have better impressions with modern genres recordings, especially those close miked recordings, like for pops, my Stockfisch albums, and other guitar-oriented recordings. With those DACs, Acoustic guitar sounds naturally sparkling and detailed without getting to the level of fatiguing. Simply beautiful. But with those DACs, S5 might not transparent enough for classical and binaural recordings (at least for my preferences). Paired with AudioQuest Dragonfly, S5 sounds clearer and more transparent, maybe a bit too clear for pop albums, but much better for binaural recordings like the Chesky binaural albums, and classical recordings. So I mix and match the DACs and the recordings, to get the most optimum sonic performance from Brainwavz S5. When gears and recording properly match, sonic performance is nothing short of amazing. I have the tendency to use S5 more for orchestral works and binaural recordings, I like the transparency and the immersive 3D imaging properties of S5, especially when using tri-flanges and AudioQuest Dragonfly.
From the 3 DACs I used in this review, Dragonfly is my favorite for Brainwavz S5. Open and spacious sounding, with immersive 3D imaging. The level of 3D imaging on this setup is quite remarkable, almost unbelievable from a $99.9 IEM. From memory, this 3D imaging is pretty close to ATH-IM02. I bought my Dragonfly 1.0c from Amazon for $99, so this is simply one of the best 3D imaging performance I could get from a $200 setup. Amazing!
With the DAPs, I found Fiio X3 and iBasso DX90 have good synergy with Brainwavz S5. I vote for Fiio X3 + Brainwavz S5 (using the Tri-flanges) to be one of the best $300 portable setup, especially for those looking for natural, lively, clear and transparent sound signature.
From my experience and observation, eartips play a great role in IEM sound quality. It is absolutely necessary to find the right eartips that sound best and give maximum comfort. Brainwavz S5 has 4.5 mm nozzle neck diameter. Quite a standard size for generic eartips replacement.
Understand that tri-flanges tip is quite big and long, and might not fit everyone ear canal, so impressions with other eartips are also important. Comparisons below is using the tri-flanges as the reference.
Ultimate best sound quality for Brainwavz S5. It brings S5 sound quality above Fostex TE-05 and TDK IE800. Detail and clarity exceed ATH-IM50 and ATH-IM70. S5 sound quality leaps up with the tri-flanges, as compared to other eartips in the package.
Tonality not so much different than tri-flanges, but the upper treble extension and low bass extension are not as extended as the tri-flanges. Overall tonality is less airy and imaging is less spacious, a bit congested as compared to the tri-flanges. The bi-flanges also slightly more prone to sibilance
Like the bi-flanges, the stock grey eartips also have less lower bass and upper treble extension, less airy, and less spacious, lacking of depth. Not only that, the level of detail and clarity also reduce, especially midrange detail, and even more prone to sibilance than the bi-flanges. Bi-flanges is slightly better than the grey eartips.
IMHO the black tips sounds worse than the rest. Tonality is less natural, midrange a bit veiled, and then suddenly the treble peaks that makes the black tips the most sibilant eartips.
Foam tips usually have good properties to manage sibilance. But with S5, T-400 has higher level of sibilance than the tri-flanges, about the same level as the grey tips. Also lacking of spaciousness and depth. Bass level is the lowest on T-400. I still prefer the grey tips as compared to the T-400.
For this comparison, I used AudioQuest Dragonfly DAC v1.0c. Low output impedance headphone output from the Dragonfly is required especially for UE TF10. TF10 hates high output impedance output, it makes TF10 sounds muddy and lacking in clarity.
Ultimate Ears TripleFi 10 (stock eartips)
S5 sound rather V shape when compared to UE TF10. UE TF 10 has better and fuller midrange body. As expected, TF10 vocal sounds fuller and slightly warmer. Although less full bodied, I don't consider S5 midrange as recessed. S5 mids still sounds natural, but on the leaner side of natural. S5 with the tri-flanges has airier presentation than TF10, which is slightly better for classical orchestra.
TF10 has more and punchier mid-bass, but not too much different. While low bass extension is about the same, slightly better on S5. As mentioned before, for bass, TF10 emphasizes more on mid-bass, S5 more on bass to low bass area.
Clarity, about the same for S5 with tri-flanges. When using the grey tips, TF10 has better clarity.
Treble level and quality is about the same level. Slightly better and more transparent treble on S5, when using tri-flanges eartips.
Overall sound quality of the S5 with tri-flanges eartips is not far behind TF10. Only different character, mainly on the level of midrange. But S5 sound performance decreases with different eartips.
Personal preference: I like both equally.
Fostex TE-05 (stock eartips)
TE-05 has smoother midrange, but that's about it. Everything else S5 sounds better to my ears. Bass is much better on S5, more powerful with better texture & dynamic. Midrange is smoother and slightly fuller on TE-05, while S5 has clearer and more transparent mids. S5 with tri-flanges has better treble clarity and upper treble extension, sounds more open and transparent. TE-05 treble is slightly softer, less bright. TE-05 has poor noise isolation, S5 noise isolation is much better. But what S5 excels most comparing to TE-05 is the dynamic. I hear much better dynamic on S5, much wider range of dynamic from soft to louder part of the recording. Overall, music sounds more realistic on S5. I guess I haven't found the right eartips for TE-05. TE-05 does benefit from S5 tri-flanges eartips, improve isolation and dynamic, but the tonality not so good with the tri-flanges, too much mids. At least with its standard stock eartips, TE-05 doesn't sound better than S5.
Personal preference: Brainwavz S5.
Audio Technica ATH-IM70 (stock eartips)
IM70 has bigger bass (not much), thicker mids, and softer treble, less clarity. S5 sounds clearer and more transparent, better upper treble extension. In this comparison, I think S5 sounds closer to natural sound. S5 also sounds more spacious than IM70. Between the 2, my general sonic preferences is actually closer to the S5 sonic character, more spacious, open and transparent sound. But depending on the recordings. Those looking for warm and intimate sounding vocal would probably prefer the IM70. Both are really good in their own way.
Personal preference: I like both equally, for different type of recordings.
TDK IE800 (RHA eartips, larger bore to improve clarity)
S5 sounds more open, spacious, and transparent than TDK IE800. Switching from IE800 to S5, the S5 sounds rather bright. The other way around, once I get used to S5, switching to IE800 I feel IE800 is lacking in clarity and transparency. In fact they just have different level of treble, around 4 dB difference around 7 kHz onward. IE800 overall sounds smoother, more refined, with fuller midrange. S5 sounds clearer, more transparent, more spacious sounding, and a bit more lively. S5 has better bass than IE800, better level, better low bass extension, and better dynamic. S5 also sounds more lively with better dynamic, while IE800 sounds a bit compressed in comparison. IE800 requires much higher voltage to drive it, and S5 is easier to drive. This is important for smartphone that has low voltage swing. For me, I tend to like the S5 lively, open and transparent sounds better. But that's just my personal preference since I listen a lot to classical. For some 'rather bright' recordings, IE800 might be a better choice.
Personal preference: Brainwavz S5.
Very nice blend of balanced tonality, transparency, detail, and dynamic.
No Driver Flex.
Various eartips included for flexible sound tuning and maximum comfort.
Requires the tri-flanges eartips to sound best, which might not suit smaller ear canals.
Left and Right marking is too small and not clear. No left dot / dimple to identify the left driver in dimly lit environment.
The rounded back housing shape makes it a bit difficult to push the IEM into the ear canal while pulling ear's pinna with one hand.
Suggestion for improvement:
Bass punch and tightness.
Slightly warmer mids would be nice.
To achieve the sound quality as when using the tri-flanges eartips, with the regular mono-flange eartips.
To include more sizes of the tri-flanges eartips.
Round shape cable seems more user friendly for over the ear wearing style.
Clearer Left and Right marking, and to include Left dot / dimple for easy identification in dimly lit environment.
Flat back housing (like Brainwavz S1) for easier insertion to the ear canal.
I'm glad I found another reference IEM at this price level. This IEM is definitely a keeper for me, and I will use it as one of my reference IEM for my future reviews.
Congrats to Brainwavz!
All metal housing in a over the ear design.
Flat cable for less tangle.
Comply foam tips included.
Rated Impedance: 16ohms
Sensitivity: 110dB at 1mW
Frequency range: 18Hz ~ 24KHz
Maximum input power: 40mW
Cable length: 1.3m, Y cord, OFC Copper, flat cable.
Plug: 3.5mm gold plated, Straight.
24 month warranty.
1 x Comply foam T-400 medium series tip
6 x Silicone tips
1 x Bi-Flage tip
1 x Tri-Flange tip
1 x 6.3mm audio adapter
1 x Earphone carrying case
1 x Instruction manual
Recordings mostly used in this review:
Pros - Nice looking with good construction, included accessories are plentiful, fairly comfortable...everything is good but the sound
Cons - Does not sound great
Disclaimer: I was contacted by a Brainwavz representative to try out a free pair of S5 IEMs under the condition I would write a review for them. I received them in mid July and have sampled them over the past two weeks or so. I listed the purchase price as their current listing of $99. I have tried them from my dedicated, desktop headphone system and from my phone.
Overview - Build Quality, Looks, Comfort, Etc.
The Brainwavz S5 IEM has a decent amount going for it at face value. They look good, feel solid, are comfortable, and they include a nice set of accessories with plenty of tips to choose from and a carrying case. I usually have troubles getting IEMs to fit and seal right with my ears, but the S5 doesn't give me these problems for some reason. That's a plus. Aside from sound, which I'll get to in a second, these headphones do well across the board. I'll refrain from elaborating on those aspects more, to avoid wasting your valuable time, and move on to the sound quality.
This is where I was nearly immediately disappointed with the S5. Coming from headphones or speakers with a known good, fairly balanced response (i.e. HD600, HE-500, Paradox, Mad Dog, Alpha Dog, VSonic GR07...you name it), the S5 sounds overly bassy, has missing midrange information, and has artificial, thin, and uneven sounding treble.
To break it down a bit further, they are certainly bass heavy, but thankfully they aren't totally bloated or mushy sounding. They do extend well below and have plenty of impact, but it's simply overbearing on the rest of the sound spectrum. The treble also has some peaky spots, giving the headphone an overall sort of U-shaped sound signature. I'm usually OK with a bit of a "fun" sound signature and am able to appreciate non-neutral products with ease, but the S5 trends towards simply sounding weird and "low-fi." They have a very distinct cupped sound to them.
The midrange subjectively has a suckout in the 1-3KHz area. This can sometimes help a headphone sound more relaxed, but it's a bit much in this case and offset by problems elsewhere in the audible spectrum. I noticed a broad peak around the 4-5KHz area and two sharp peaks around 9KHz and 12Khz or so. The areas in between these peaks similarly come off as troughs (i.e. missing information). The S5 does extend fairly well into the upper treble but doesn't sound airy due to the booming bass.
Overall, this gives the S5 a very booming and yet sharp sound. Fat and thin at the same time. Treble comes through as thin and artificial and makes cymbals sound wrong. The midrange and treble unevenness causes male vocals to lack proper body and a sense of breath, and they get pushed back into the mix more than they should. Guitars tend to take a backseat and lose their sense of body, though certain areas of detail are highlighted due to peaked areas. Bass drums and bass guitars dominate the scene along with the peaky mid and treble areas and any voice, instrument, or noise that occupies the peaky areas of the frequency spectrum. Lastly, the headphones are so-so in terms of resolving power. Some details come through OK, but a similar amount of details get smeared together. Again, I suspect this is due to the uneven nature of the frequency response.
At the very least, I didn't find them fatiguing or hard to listen to. I have no doubt some will like this sort of tuning, but it is simply not for me and far off a reference target. But, given they're an IEM I can actually wear comfortably without fit and seal issues, I might be able to find a use for them. I know some have said they got a better sound with the S5 by having a less-than-perfect seal, but A) that defeats the purpose for me with an IEM and B) they just fall out of my ears without a perfect fit and seal anyway.
They look good and seem like a good deal at around $100, but I just don't think the sound quality is there on the S5. You might like them, but I can't say that I do.
Pros - Good detail, non fatiguing mids, natural (unique timbre) Build quality.
Cons - Lower treble a little too forward / slightly one noted, cable a little weighty / springy.
Brainwavz are at it again with their new 10mm dynamic driver based IEM named "S5". I must say I was intrigued to try the new sample and where they'd come from Brainwavs B2 I owned many months ago (and loved). S5 takes on an a new elegant design, rather modern appearance and although a little larger than we've seen still fits the bill nicely with its stealth looking housings. But how does it sound? Well, let's take a look as I think it sounds pretty good.
Let me start off by saying I'd like to thank Brainwavs for the sample it's been a wonderful experience.
18 Hz – 24 kHz
110 dB @ 1mW
1.3m, flat copper cable
3.5 mm gold plated, straight
21g (with comply T400s fitted)
Design / Build:
Brainwavs S5 housings are made completely from lightweight metal which is not seen so much for an IEM of this price range, the end results something feeling almost bullet proof in the hand and make a nice "clink" when touching them together. Like others I assumed S5 was made of plastic because it's just the norm with most IEM's in this price category, so I was quite surprised. Although cold to the touch (especially here in Winter Australia), you cannot help feel secure your purchase is going to last and at $99 that's hard to come by.
Taking a look at the strain reliefs and Y spilt you feel just as confident with their reinforced rubber and slightly overly thick approach. I don't think they'll be broken in a hurry and will stand up against throwing the earphones in your pocket, however I do suggest you use the provided carry case!
Although S5 has been designed for over the ear wearing I think it's quite important to state these can be worn down without much problem, you wouldn't think so with the housing angle, but it's quite easy to do and doesn't look goofy, well, not in my opinion. The fit was also no problem obtaining a seal. Another reason I don't like wearing S5 over the ear takes us to the cable design, I simply don't think the flat cable sits well over my ear, so for that reason I opted to wear S5 down.
Even down below you can see the overly strengthened Y Spilt and 3.5mm jack giving a feeling of confidence. but it's not all bells and whistles as we move onto the cable. If there's one thing that annoys me about S5 it's the flat cable, well not so much the 'flatness' but more so the weight and flexibility. While I can agree with the beats and "non tangle" approach the cables also adopted quite a hefty weight and thickness which in turn causes some microphonics and memory, the cable can tend to spring around a little on the go. It's not a deal breaker here though when stripping the earphone down you might just want to take a close look.
As usual the package contains quite an abundance of tips to choose from (including a set of comply), the stock carry case I've seen before on Brainwavs R3 and a 6.3 to 3.5 mm adapter for those who want to use their S5 from a home amplifier. I never tried the comply tips as they simply won't fit my large canals though the "grey stock" tips fit me perfectly.
x3 sets of grey single flange (small bore)
x3 silicone single flange with (wider bore)
x1 set of black (dual flange)
x1 set of triple flange silicones.
x1 set of comply foam. (T400)
(Please excuse my photo here I cannot find all the tips since a big cleanup, I have borrowed a picture from another review)
The low end on S5 is certainly a fraction forward form neutral, although mixed opinions I don't find the bass overbearing or too upfront, while there's some mid-bass emphasis it's not going to be on a bass-head level in either sub-bass or mid-bass but more so a safe amount that tends to balance out well with the mids and highs. You do get a get good sense of mid-bass on EDM and trance tracks which helps fill out the lower mids giving some atmosphere, I wouldn't want any less. There's average speed but with a slight decay that can hang around just a little too long for acoustic tracks. I find the earphones low end in general geared towards all genres though possibly going to excel with EDM. Detail is sufficient as is texture and depth.
Here at the heart of S5 you get a decently detailed mid-range with a natural timbre, if not a little metallic sounding but certainly unique. There is good push in the upper-mid which bring out vocal detail and acoustic guitars well for the price range and one of the more detailed earphones I've heard for $99. I think of course there's limitations but the mids of S5 do show you we're moving forward in technology and driver design. I personally prefer the mid-range of S5 over RE-400 as it has that push in the upper mids and sounds a fraction cooler in tonality, also the bass just matched better with S5's mid-range in comparison. Though keep in mind personal preference is always in the eye of the beholder. Micro detail is at a decent level and in some ways reminds me of that found on some balanced armatures. In short the S5 mid-range does have a balanced armature presence. If I didn't know better I would assume it was one from the clarity levels. (S5 could easily pull this off)
On first listen the treble did come across to me as a little harsh, it's well detailed but gains some of that metallic sheen I mentioned above. Personally for me I wouldn't want anymore forwardness in the lower treble, it treads a fine line between enough and 'too much". Despite this never goes all the way out of line and bothers me. I just find it to sound a little strange with some tracks or one toned in that it doesn't really change much with the music taking on a specific shimmer that basically stays the same a lot of the time. Extension is decent and the upper treble has good sparkle, there's just something going on in the lower treble that gives that sense of forwardness. Overal its more than pleasing and neither hides or protrudes on the presentation.
For an IEM of this price S5 soundstage is decent but nothing that's going to take any fame from an EX600 anytime soon. There's good stereo separation which helps divide the channels and you'll hear the occasional sample lingering outside your ears. Air is decent which most likely is a relative to the slightly forward treble. While S5 is never compressed or congested anywhere in the frequency range it's not going to be the most open sounding earphone. Keep in mind my opinion much of soundstage width from an IEM is dependent on your source, so this will vary depending on your MP3 players technical aspects. As I'm listening now from Sansa Clip Zip I've heard a lot less width and I've heard more in other earphones so you be the judge.
Seperation / imaging:
For the price very decent here, each instruments well separated you get a good sense of instruments ticking in time with each other. there's very little if any smearing to talk about. If you throw fast paced EDM at the S5 it may begin to confuse a little due to the mid-bass pushing through though for most parts the entire earphone stays fairly clean and coherent. For the price range I couldn't ask for more in this area, mighty fine clean job.
In my opinion S5 is a better contender than RE-400 for what its worth, while I thought RE-400 was decent it didn't give me the same wow effect as S5 or enjoyment. Possibly partly due to S5's slightly prominent bass and that push in the upper mid-range bringing out more detail with vocals and guitars. Overall, I find S5 to have better tone. If you put both in-front of me for a fun listening experience I would take the S5 as I simply find it more involving and an enjoyable listen. I don't see S5 having any problem sitting next to earphones like the $200 Dunu DN-1000 or being an alternative for those who want to save some money, because you're not missing terrible amounts here. I think what Brainwavz have done is stay moderately safe while showing people what a dynamic driver in 2014 can offer for just $99. Could I use S5 every day and be happy? Yes, yes I could, and that's what makes an IEM for me worth using, when it can offer up an above normal listening experience without making me feel underwhelmed.
Again, I'd like to thank Brainwavs for the sample.
Pros - easy to power, comfortable, seem durable.
Cons - too bassy for me, but probably not for most people.
I was contacted by Brainwavz to review their new S5 in ear monitor. The set I received was a full retail package, but was provided to me by the manufacturer free of charge for review purposes. I received the package a few days later, listened to it for an hour or two that night, then let it burn in for just over 200 hours with a few quick listens within those 200 hours. After 200 hours of burn in I've listened to them a bit and feel I'm ready to give them a review.
I will start this review by saying that my sound preference is leaning towards a neutral and detailed sound. I use to like lots of bass as a kid, and as a teenager, then in my mid 20's starting slowly favoring a more neutral sound at an overall lower listening level. Right now my preferred headphones are a bass modded AKG Q701 with just a touch of extra sub-bass, and the Vsonic GR01 in ear monitor. I also just this year started playing around with nearfield speakers. I have my nearfield speaker rig tuned (with a limitless software PEQ) to be extremely flat (+/-3db from 180hz - 16khz), with the exception of a bit of added bass for low volume listening. The bass (under 200hz) has a gradual rise into the sub-bass region. So my preference again is towards neutral and detailed.
Build Quality & comfort: I find these to be very well built and seem very durable. The strain reliefs are definitely above average for something in this price range. They would definitely be more durable than my Vsonic GR01. I am always pretty easy on my gear and don't remember the last time I've broken a pair of headphones or IEM's, but it's nice to know they are built tough. I also find them to be very comfortable. The over the ear fitment is nice, it's my first IEM that is meant to be worn this way and I really like it. I've worn them for about 2-3 hours straight on more than one occasion and I felt no discomfort during or after using them.
The sound: For me, and most of us on Head-Fi, the sound is the most important part of the equation. My only source is a Verizon Wireless Samsung Galaxy S4 using the Neutron music player app with OGG Vorbis for the audio codec. Overall I think they sound very good. For my preferences they have just a touch too much bass, this is really their only real downfall for me. I like them a lot better with some EQ. Taking out anywhere from 3-5dB centered at 80hz with a width of 2 octaves makes them sound a lot closer to neutral. Some people say the mids have a bit of a "V" or "U" shape to them. This may be true, but only to a very slight extent. If I add 3dB centered at 2k with a 1.5 octave width it does make them sound a bit better, but this is not absolutely needed in my case. There may be a slight V or U shape to them, but it's not excessive at all in my opinion. The high end to me seems fairly smooth and decently extended. I never sensed any sibilance or harshness with them at the volume levels I listen to them at. This brings me to mention that anymore I really don't listen to music all that loudly. To me neutral and detailed headphones or speakers don't need to be played loudly and usually sound better at low to moderate volume levels. When I listen to my nearfield speakers I know that I listen anywhere from 65dB to 85dB, maybe 90dB at the extreme highest peaks when I'm really in the mood to crank it. Usually I'm listening more towards 65-75dB on average and I don't feel like I'm missing anything. When I listen to headphones I listen at levels that seem to be about the same. I've read a person or two say that with the S5's they found themselves listening at a high volume, I don't feel that way with them. If anything, the extra bass and very slight V shape would be like a loudness contour making low level listening more enjoyable.
I will say that these are the most efficient/sensitive headphones or IEM's I've plugged into my Samsung GS4. I listen to them anywhere from 33% to 60% depending on the material I'm listening to. With my GR01 I always have them a notch or two higher to get to a level that seems about the same. The isolation they provide against outside noises I'd call average to slightly above average depending on the tips being used. Compared to other $100 or sub $100 in ear monitors I think they are very good in all aspects including build, comfort, and sound. I like them better than the Sennheiser Momentum on-ears that I was also trying out around the same time which ended up going back. They are better than the Audio Technica CKM-500 that we were all raving about a year or two ago. They are better than the Brookstone dual dynamic driver IEM's that some were raving about a year or two ago as well. I like my Vsonic GR01 better than the S5, but they are double the price and use balanced armature drivers. After a little EQ they aren't far off the GR01 in some ways. Unfortunately I don't have any other more current in ear monitors to compare these to.
My musical preference range from jazz like Miles Davis and John Coltrane, to progressive metal like Opeth and Symphony X, to electronic music like Massive Attack and Lindsey Stirling. With no EQ being applied, these would work best for the electronic music. With a little EQ they make a good all around earphone that works well with all genres.
I think for the mainstream listener these would be a huge success and a big hit, but I personally like a more neutral sound and these just sound a bit too fat on the bottom end to me. For most people who probably like more bass than me I think these would be a great choice. Excellent built, great comfort, and easy to drive. Overall, I'd highly recommend them if you think they'd fit your personal tastes.
Pros - Sprightly bass, decent presentation of detail for the price, bulletproof build quality, generous warranty and accessories
Cons - Prodigious bass veers away from balance and can be distracting, treble can be splashy, probably won't be a permanent fixture for anyone
Disclosure: This review is based off a review unit of the retail version of the S5, provided by Brainwavz. This is my first in-depth encounter with a Brainwavz product, having only demoed previous Brainwavz products very briefly in Hong Kong three years ago.
Brainwavz S5, with a 10 mm dynamic coil driver and CNC metal body
Battleground: The Sub-$100 Price Category & The Dichotomy of Sound Philosophy
The sub-$100 price category is an all-important battleground for earphone manufacturers. It used to be the sub-$60 or sub-$80 category that was a hot topic of debate, but pricing expectations for earphones have gone up in recent years and $100 is a viable option for everyday consumers that desire to stretch their (usually zero) budgets in the name of better sound quality.
Year after year, premium earphone makers throw their entrants into the ring --- for less than a single Benjamin, you can buy into a HiFiMAN RE-400, an earphone almost universally lauded for having performance that stretches well beyond its price point, or urBeats as a status symbol of the consumerist premium earphone.
Sound quality ranges widely in this area, from painfully accurate in the lower-end Etymotics to bass cannons like *redacted*, and thus the sub-$100 category also represents a fork in the road for manufacturers --- a point where they either decide to pursue acoustic performance or go after nice materials and design.
So where does Brainwavz stand in this conversation? Brainwavz started out essentially rebranding OEM products as IEMs were just beginning to take off in an industry littered with $5 throwaway earbuds. Typically, OEM acoustic designs are quite competent and follow conventional rules of sound design; it's the manufacturers that tend to come in and say, "Can you add more bass? More treble?", and end up stretching a reasonable, low-cost design into distorting monstrosities.
Brainwavz, on the other hand, has mostly kept on its own path, carving out a niche market that allows discerning listeners a price-conscious alternative. It is this niche that has allowed Brainwavz to flourish with a loyal customer base that has continually increased over the years. It does, however, face the same dichotomous question that other, larger manufacturers have long considered (and decided on): do we want to grab the mainstream, or do we keep the enthusiasts happy? The businessman's answer is "both", but real-world execution doesn't come down to a one-word summary.
Brainwavz includes a great, semi-hard carrying case with the S5, along with lots of accessories.
Build Quality, Ergonomics & Accessories
This area is Brainwavz' strongest suit. With ruggedized strain reliefs to the rock solid machined metal earphone housings, the S5 sports a tank-like build that puts the Westone ADV series of adventure-driven products to shame. Some might even argue that recent Brainwavz products are even "overbuilt", opting for big, bulky Y-splits in the name of indestructibility.
One thing's for sure, however: even if you stash the S5 in your pockets in the most ham-fisted manner on the daily, it'll stand up to basically any kind of abuse imaginable. The S5 was built for the 14 year-old that tosses his earphones (and smartphone) four feet into the air toward his bed when he gets home from school. It was built for scrunching up into a tangled ball and stuffing into a pants pocket. The S5 needs not be babied.
The overall shape and design of the S5 reminds me of an old mainstream bestseller IEM --- the Klipsch Image S4. The wear style is very similar, and so a secure fit will actually make the earphones look like they're slightly sticking out of your ears (not too much).
The fit kit is generous; Brainwavz includes two sets of S/M/L single flange silicone tips (one set is black, the other translucent grey, the two are of differing density), a set of wide-mouthed double flange tips, a set of triple-flange tips, and a set of Comply foams. Isolation was surprisingly good with the included bi-flange tips. For me, the bi-flange tips also yielded the smoothest treble as well, so I've settled on them as the de facto tips for the S5. Delightfully, isolation with the bi-flange tips was much better than expected. I rarely have high expectations for isolation in dynamic driver earphones, but I was able to obtain a great seal with the S5 and remove myself from ambient noise.
To top things off, included inside the excellent semi-hard carrying case is a 3.5-to-6.3 mm adapter for plugging the S5 into 1/4" jacks. Service-wise, Brainwavz allows for a two-year warranty. Their magnanimous protection plan is considerable for a circa $100 product.
It's strange that the S5 doesn't have an in-line remote version, though. Perhaps it'll come in due time.
Extremely robust strain reliefs and Y-split. Almost too much so.
Sound: What The S5 Does Well
The S5 feels designed specifically for music that populates today's Top 40 charts.
RiRi's (or is it Sia's? ) Diamonds is "perfect" with the Brainwavz S5:
The bass slam is just the right amount to keep club-goers interested, while Rihanna's voice is spacious without being overwhelmingly forward. In reality, the S5 imparts a V-shaped signature that will set vocals back just a bit for every track. The balance is such that you'll feel the space in every track, relative positioning isn't necessarily its forte.
If you like big, hard-hitting bass, the S5 will deliver on that front --- the S5 possesses quite the adept low end. This isn't the kind of soft, spongy overly decaying bass found in most bassy IEMs --- no, this is solid, in-your-face, quick-on-its-feet bass. You'll hear (and sometimes feel) the bass all the down to 20 Hz. It doesn't drag its feet.
Because of the bass' sprightliness, the S5's midrange comes across relatively well despite its reluctance to come to the front row. Detail levels are admirable for an earphone of this price level; considering the amount of bass present in the S5, anyone can hear a copious amount of detail in both the midrange and the treble.
Sound: What The S5 Needs to Improve On
The S5 goes quite a bit beyond "balance" for the bass, though. People used to listening to earphones tuned in the vicinity of "neutral" will find the balance patently tips in favor of the bass. You'll always hear the bass line, and sometimes that effect is distracting. Should he ever put on a pair of Brainwavz S5, Swaggy P might bob his head to 'Fancy', but he might also wonder where Charli XCX ran off to, because the S5 makes it seem like she stayed in Tokyo.
In addition, despite clear improvement within the first twenty or so hours of runtime, treble can come off a bit splashy. Its aggression definitely can be reined in by a little bit, as it makes the Shure SE215 sound like an innocuous kitten. Treble extension, while not exactly poor (probably above average for its price range), can be better. The clearest evidence against the S5 would be in the synthesized crash cymbals of the first half of K.Dot's 'M.A.A.d City' --- they do not fade away as naturally as they do with the Zero Audio Carbo Tenore.
Why I feel a little "meh" about the S5
For a minute, allow me to veer away from political correctness and pander strictly to the male crowd. To me, the S5 feels like Kate Upton --- bountiful blonde locks, buxom curves and all. The S5 is absolutely great if you dig that style. I, however, prefer the sensibilities of Audrey Hepburn. While I appreciate the multiple SI covers, the zero-G photoshoot, and transformative All-American image, I can't help but continue to seek out my huckleberry friend. You can deck Miss Upton out in Tiffany & Co. and zip her into a Givenchy dress, but she'll never channel Holly Golightly authentically, and that's where I have a problem with the S5. I'm continually searching for an earphone of timeless persistence, but the S5 seems like it's built for "right now". If so, it's curious that Brainwavz has chosen to go this route, as it has traditionally attempted to appeal first to enthusiasts before the masses. This time, they seem to have gone full bore for the casual listener. It's the difficult, dichotomous choice that manufacturers have to take when navigating this price category.
I do give Brainwavz an "A" for effort, especially in the accessories and bulletproof build quality, but the sound of the S5 doesn't quite speak to me on the whole. Brainwavz has been successful in appealing to the consumer that wants superior sound quality for the money. In my opinion, however, it hasn't been successful in coming out with an "iconic" product --- something that'll last in the eyes of the consumer. It doesn't have an ER4, a Klipsch S4, or even a CX-300. That's probably what's missing from Brainwavz at the moment. In my estimation, they need a product that emphatically spells, "This is a Brainwavz product, and we stand for great sound," and will continue to do so for years to come.
As I've mentioned, the kinda-sorta premium earphone market is a brutal, cutthroat segment of the industry. It's almost required for manufacturers to roll out yearly with new things to keep the peanut gallery happy. However, in the eye of the enthusiast, it is the lasting product that stands the test of time that is most worthy of loyalty.
Suggestion: A "Pro" Version of the S5?
Originally, the Brainwavz S5 was supposed to be called the "S5 Pro". Upon release, however, the "Pro" was dropped from the name. I found that choice interesting, as though Brainwavz decided the S5 was for the masses rather than the prosumer. Perhaps the omission of the "Pro" connotes that a more enthusiast-oriented version will come to light.
With a single 10 mm dynamic driver, the S5 is a conventional design. Last year, Brainwavz released the R3, a dual dynamic driver design with the drivers pointed opposite to each other, injecting into a single resonant sound chamber. However, the single dynamic driver paradigm will forever be viable; should Brainwavz decide to release an "S5 Pro" version in the future, it should consider using a dynamic driver with a superior diaphragm technology, such as titanium coating or liquid crystal polymer coating. Breakthroughs in material science are allowing moving coil diaphragms to transcend limits of breakup resonance nodes, ridding the S5 of splashiness and enhancing its treble extension. Of course, Brainwavz should also pay attention to the housing chamber as well, as housing resonance control is as equally important to acoustic performance as is diaphragm technology, if not more. Should the end product be an S5 with even better controlled, tamed bass, smoother highs, and more prominent mids, it should prove to be a hit with demanding listeners.
A better diaphragm with revised body and venting would go a long way in creating a superior S5.
Overall, the Brainwavz S5 is a rock-solid product. It's well-built and has good sound quality. With respect to sound signature, it hits the spot for the mainstream consumer looking for an alternative or upgrade to premium "fashion" headphones --- its sound is tuned for modern pop music, and it'll deliver satisfying music reproduction for most of the populace. However, I can't imagine the S5 being a permanent fixture in the collections of head-fiers. For the head-fiers out there, keep your fingers crossed for an "S5 Pro", or perhaps yet another model that can take on the iconism of the most revered. Until then, keep at it Brainwavz, and fight the good fight.
Pros - really well made and nice sounding iems for a good price.
Cons - nothing much.
The Brianwavz S5 are made really nicely with good materials throughout - they’re made of metal, but are not heavy, tips are secure, but not too difficult to change, the cable doesn’t seem in any way vulnerable to damage, and the plug is of good quality too. I like the look of the design very much too. The range of tips supplied should mean everyone has an option that fits.
They fit very comfortably, the edges are not sharp - the edges of some iems touch my ears and irritate, there’s no such issue with these. The angled flat cables are designed to go over the ears and stay there well with no discomfort - they feel quite secure in my ears. The anti-tangle function of flat cables works. Noise isolation is better than average - they’re good iems for wearing out. Cable noise is no worse than average, better than many, but is significantly lessened with a cable clip which is not included. Brainwavz could consider including one.
These iems are easy to drive, and don’t need an amp. I can enjoy them through an iPod, it drives them fine, but they sound better through my iBasso DX90 (everything does), perhaps because of the better DAC more so than the more powerful amp.
I settled on using the supplied Comply tips, they fit best for me of those supplied, maximise isolation, and for my ears they provide the flattest sound (most equal volume level across a frequency sweep).
I used these tools to ascertain the flatness of the volume level across frequencies:
I found that with my ears and Comply tips these iems are really very flat to the extremes of my hearing (my hearing drops off at 15,500kHz, and extends down to around 20Hz). There is a very mild and un-spikey rise at around 3-4kHz, which is a little more pronounced with tips other than Comply, and which sounds fine, it’s common to numerous good iems. Speakers that are regarded as providing a ‘natural’ sound often drop off in bass more than the S5s do, and so there is a question over whether the bass is a little too much to be considered subjectively flat. It doesn’t trouble me - it doesn’t get in the way of listening to acoustic music, I’m not troubled by the level of bass when listening to orchestral music, for instance. I can enjoy bassy music with them without feeling that I’m missing anything, and they do respond well to increasing or decreasing bass with equalisation.
Listening to acoustic music they present the tonality of instruments and voices in a very nice, naturalistic way. They can sound full and lush. I don’t find I’m focussed on details in listening to these, and perhaps the S5s are not the most detail oriented iems, but that is not to say that there is an impression that anything is missing - detail oriented iems often provide that detail by emphasising certain frequencies rather than actually reproducing more information - but it may be that there is less detail presented than the best, I’d say in bass texture for instance, perhaps I’ve heard better elsewhere, although I can happily listen to the textured bass of an organ recital without feeling that I’m being robbed of detail, so it’s not a big problem if at all.
The S5s present a reasonable soundstage, I’m not self conscious of the sound seeming in my head, but it doesn’t generally provide a startling illusion of space. Instruments seem located quite nicely, with some layering. Chesky’s binaural sound show sounds great, so they can do the job nicely. They don’t present sound at any distance if it’s not in the recording. Music that is quite forward sounds quite forward, and exciting at that.
The price of the S5s at about $100 is great. If I wanted a good all rounder iem at a reasonable price I don’t think I could recommend a better choice. Sure there are iems within the price of these that do specific things better - bigger soundstage, or more detail for instance, but all seem to have downsides too - for instance being hard to drive, poor isolation or comfort, mediocre construction and so on. And whilst there are others that do some things better, everything is done well enough by the S5s that I don’t feel at all that I’m missing out when listening to them.
I think that Brainwavz are onto a serious winner with these, and I hope they do really well with them.
Pros - excellent balanced sound, great build quality, case and the accessories
Cons - still on the fence about the cable
This is a Review of Brainwavz S5 in-ear monitors. http://www.yourbrainwavz.com/s5.html
I was a little cautious approaching the review of the latest flagship in-ear model from Brainwavz. With a recent flood of quality in-ear headphones around $60-$70 price point, I wasn't sure how this $100 model going to stack up against other "giant killers". But after reading a few of the Head-fi reviews from people whose opinion I respect and value, I decided to give it a try. And I'm glad I did! To my very pleasant surprise, I discovered a sound signature that was a missing link among a growing collection of my headphones, and this latest offering from Brainwavz quickly escalated to the top of my favorite in-ears. I know that I have been saying this with a lot of my latest reviews and can't promise it will not continue because every headphone company offers their own unique tunning with their own interpretation of the sound, and based on our personal sound preference we keep listening and comparing to find the one which hits that sweet spot. Here is what I would like to share with you about my experience with S5 model.
Arrived in an excellent packaging, their box had the most detailed info I have seen in awhile. Everything from high definition raised 3D image to a very accurate description of the design and the sound characteristic, including list of accessories, specifications, and even detailed graphic representation of the internal design (under the magnetic flip cover) - all that showed how much pride Brainwavz took in showcasing their product which gets your attention even before your open the box. One detail that stood out to me was a flat cable design which supposed to go over the ear. I didn't have a good experience with flat cable design in the past, so was curious how it will work out. Out of the box, the all metal housing design with flat cables really stands out, where the first thing I noticed was an excellent strain relief implementation, but more about it later. In addition to S5 headphones, you will find a very high quality durable case which is so rare to see nowadays. So much effort goes into design of headphones with a plethora of eartips, but protection of headphones is often overlooked and instead we see a useless drawstring pouches offered with other headphones. Brainwavz earphone case is very roomy with a hard shell design and mesh pocket on each side which can hold headphones as well as small portable mp3 player. As a matter of fact due to a high demand Brainwavz sells this case as a separate accessory, and I'm glad it was included with S5. Inside of this case you will find a lot of included eartips with 6 pairs of S/M/L silicone tips (varying in bore diameter and stem length between 3 pairs), a set of bi-flange tips, another set of tri-flange tips, and a pair of medium size genuine Comply T400 foam tips. There is definitely plenty of options to find the perfect fit for sound isolation and sound fine-tuning. Also, there was 1/4" adapter and instruction manual with 24 months warranty card.
Now, regarding headphones itself. Though featuring a flat cable design, I was pleased to see a lot of heavy duty strain relief at every cable joint., starting with a straight 3.5mm gold plated jack and going to a meaty y-splitter. Believe it or not, they even included a chin-slider for this flat cable design, something I definitely haven't seen in the past. As mentioned before, connection to the earpiece shell also has a sturdy strain relief with L/R letter marking which unfortunately only visible under magnifying glass. Still, not a show stopper since earpieces don't have a symmetrical design and identifying left and right is easy. It did take me a little while to get used to it because in my mind flat cable design has to go wire down, so I had to break that habit. As a matter of fact, due to a nature of flat cable folding over the ear, it was easy to put earpieces in the right spot with pin hole air port facing inside. I'm not gonna lie, I didn't find the ergonomics of the design to have 100% like a glove fitment (it was a bit loose), but YMMV. One thing for sure, these S5 earphones have a very high quality build, and the fact Brainwavz offers 2 year warranty speaks of the confidence they have in the longevity of their product.
So how do these sound? VERY Addictive!!! Featuring a balanced sound signature with an enhanced bass, they are slightly v-shaped, but overall they have a smooth warm sound with just enough brightness to give it musical details. This unique balance between warmness and brightness is especially evident in upper mids where in the past I experienced either going one way or the way, but Brainwavz sound engineers found a perfect balance between warm/smooth and detailed/bright. Starting with a low end, it has a nice sub-bass extension with a warm texture, not overpowering in quantity but still with authority to be highly noticeable, and punchy mid-bass with a fast attack but not too aggressive. Low end is well controlled without spilling into mids. Mids are slightly recessed, clear and detailed, yet very smooth. Upper mids/vocals sound organic, with natural tones..Treble has a nice sparkle, not too bright, and I also felt it wasn't as extended with a sharp roll off. While listening for awhile, I didn't experience any ear fatigue. Soundstage had an average width and depth, and gave you enough space to get an intimate listening experience. It was very easy to drive from any of my DAPs and smartphone. I didn't find any problem with microphonics from their flat cable, but overall sound isolation was average, obviously better with Comply tips.
Since I'm often being asked after the review, how does it compares to other similar IEMs, I decided to add a few quick comparison notes:
S5 vs VSD3S: VSD3S mids sound thinner and brighter, sub-bass has a little more rumble and texture, while mid-bass is similar though a bit less aggressive, treble has a little more extension.
S5 vs RE400: RE400 has significantly less sub-bass/mid-bass quantity, sound is more neutral, vocals sound warmer and duller.
S5 vs KC06A: KC06A has less sub-bass but mid-bass punch is similar, even more aggressive, upper mids more upfront and brighter, less smoother, and overall sound a bit more aggressive.
S5 vs IM50: IM50 has more impact in mid-bass punch, it has smoother upper mids, warmer vocals, less detailed.
Overall, I was very impressed with a build quality, accessories, and unique sound signature which stands out without overlapping with my other in-ear headphones. There is a number of great balanced sound headphones offered in sub $100 category, and what makes them stand out is often how much bass enhancement they implement and direction of upper mids - toward warm or bright side. When it comes to these details, it's a matter of personal taste, and I can certainly say that Brainwavz hit a sweet spot for me with their S5 design. I wouldn't say it's 100% perfection since flat cable and fitment takes getting used to and I also found a slight driver flex with one of the earpieces. But in comparison to everything I liked about these IEMs, these short falls were negligible. I enjoyed S5 sound signature VERY MUCH and grateful to Brainwavz for giving me an opportunity to review their new headphones!
Here are the pictures.