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[Review] Brainwavz HM5, A New Neutral Champ

Discussion in 'Headphones (full-size)' started by keanex, Dec 13, 2011.
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  1. keanex Contributor
    Pros: Build quality, comfort, sound quality, removable dual entry cable, price
    Cons: None
    I am unable to comment on the packaging of the HM5 as I have received a loaner model. I can comment on the accessories I've received though and Brainwavz has done a fantastic job here. Included with the HM5 I received were an extra pair of faux leather pads which are good quality here, soft yet firm. Also included was two cables, both being dual entry with a 3.5mm plug and an included 1/4 adaptor. The cables are thick and feel of the utmost quality, I'm thoroughly impressed with them, and the inclusion of a set for each plug rather than the cheaper way out of just giving an adaptor. 
    Design and Build Quality
    The first thing that I noticed about the HM5 was that the build quality was astounding. I picked them up from the soft foam padding they laid in and noticed a nice weight to them and very solid construction even under close inspection. The headphones themselves seem to be clones of the Fischer FA-003, at least aesthetically, and I think that's a great thing. The FA-003 have a very nice clean look to them and Brainwavz has done a great job keeping everything clean while adding it's own little touches.
    Starting from the top, the faux leather and soft foam make for a minimal, yet clean looking headband. On the top "BRAINWAVZ" is in a glossy black to accent over the matte black of the faux leather. A little further down you reach the adjustors on the headphones, which is a slightly notches aluminum strip from the right and left that feels very solid when being adjusted in anyway. A click will let you know you've reached each notch and where the adjustor meets the lower half of the headphone there's some room for it to move laterally slightly allowing some flexibility. The adjustors meet with a black matte plastic which almost has a rubber feel to it allowing for better grip. At the top of it there's a red "R" and a blue "L" indicating left or right as well as color coding for the cables. The plastic wraps around the housing and locks in at the sides allowing the HM5 to swivel up and down up to 90 degrees allowing them to point down.
    The housing itself has a brushed aluminum siding with a small circle cut out with the Brainwavz logo on either side, the grey brushed aluminum looks beautiful contrasting against the outside of the housing which is the same black matter rubberized plastic that gives the HM5 a sleek look. On the bottom back of each ear cup HM5 is stamped in a light grey. The cables enter from the bottom using a straight 3.5mm plug in each ear. The ear cups are big soft faux leather pads that are not only comfy, but provide good isolation for the HM5. They're also very easy to take off and put on for those who want to try different pads. 
    The cables were a huge surprise to me, each side has a blue or a red ring around it to indicate which ear it belongs in and is not only thick, but feels surprisingly high quality. The cables are joined by a simple y-split and terminate with a thick, solid, straight plug.
    Everything about the HM5 screams high quality. The build quality is easily comparable to any high end headphone. The aesthetics are extremely simple, but beautiful to boot. These headphones are well worth the asking price for this alone, they make my Ad900 feel like a cheap toy.
    Sound Quality
    These arrived from Dragon2Knight with a nice hand written letter explaining these had well over 250 hours of burn-in/use before being used. Therefore I simply listened, I can't speak for any burn-in and I am not noticing any changes throughout my listening.
    The Brainwavz HM5 are being marketed as neutral for studio monitoring purposes and I couldn't disagree with this if I tried. The HM5 are almost perfectly neutral to my ears allowing me to pick apart problems with the mix and mastering unlike any other headphone I've used before. That isn't to say the HM5 are the most detailed headphone I've ever used, there's some grain even, but these are the flattest headphones I've used with excellent extension on both sides of the spectrum while having good detail and clarity.
    The HM5 are not for bass heads, if you're expecting the bass to rattle your head then look elsewhere. The HM5 have a very flat response across the bass with only the slightest mid bass hump and great extension, there was never a point where I felt I was missing anything in the lows. The mid bass has decent impact, enough to let you know a kick drum is being hit, but it's not bloated or overdone, it's more of a rounded hit rather than a sharp jab. Even on songs with incredible bass the HM5 handle them well. I don't particularly feel the bass but I hear it no matter how low it goes with good detail to boot. The mids are the weakest of everything here, but that's only because I'm used to my Ad900. The mids here are clean and serve as a perfect link between the lows and highs. The mids are polite as to not push out the mids and highs, but are assertive enough to give the vocals good presence and electric guitars a good crunch. The upper mids or low highs do have a slight edge to them, but just like the mid bass it's only the slightest. There's a very slight sense of sibilance, but only on the most sibilant heavy songs. There's a slight grain as well in the highs, but they're well extended without being overly bright.
    As I said before the HM5 have good detail, but they're certainly not to be considered analytical, at least in comparison to the likes of the AKG K701 or HiFi Man RE272. I don't feel as if I'm missing anything when listening to these, but they don't have the typical cold analytical presentation. The soundstage on these is decent, there's actually a light air to it. There's good separation throughout and I feel as if I'm at an intimate outdoor concert, if I were to describe it at all. Perhaps yes described as if the stage were enclosed from all except the front, giving a slight air, but still an intimate presentation. As for amping, I definitely recommend something to power these, but they sound rather good even from an iPod or straight from my MacBook Pro.
    Onto the music!
    The Antlers - Kettering
    In this song there's an incredible ambiance and emotion conveyed through the music with a great build up and dynamics. Right away the hushed piano plays the repeating melody sounding very cold and subdued as the vocals take on a very similar tone, sounding hushed and cold while sounding very intimate, as if he were singing a few feet in front of me in a small coffee house. The synth noise rolls in as a precursor to the soon to be change in dynamics. The vocals stop, the piano goes a little higher, then the drums come in with the synth noises vibrating at a high frequency. The song continues to build up giving me the chills. Everything is beautifully conveyed through the HM5 in such a perfect, delicate manner. Very clean with excellent presentation. 
    Sufjan Stevens - Impossible Soul
    This is a really hard song to do well as it is essentially 5 songs, each with different sounds to them, combined into one. I'm going to just take the first movement and talk about the HM5 for it as it's a 30 minute song. I have to say, I don't think I've heard this song as good before as I am now. The synth is polite, soft, and clean as Sufjan's voice matches with good panning and the echoes of his voice being heard perfectly below in the mix. The harp that rolls along pans beautifully back and forth as the drums do as well. Hearing certain hits in the left and the proceeding one in the right keeps my ears open and paying attention, Sufjan knows how to keep a listener entertained in such small ways. There's simply so much going on here that the HM5 replicate so well. The harshly toned guitar solo comes in like a jagged knife, which is definitely intended and the HM5 do a great job giving it the edge Sufjan intended, all the while the harps and drums panning, not once does it feel confused or congested. I could go on, but this song is beautiful through these. It's not easy to have a song with such hectic parts and combinations of electronic, pop and classical sound good. The HM5 are fantastic though!
    Radiohead - Idioteque
    This song is a perfect example of how good the HM5's bass is. The electronic kick drum thumps enough to be present, while being polite enough to allow the mechanical sounding hi-hat and snare to tick away as the synth sweeps along and the various noises make their appearances. Thom's voice comes in and the kick drum still thumps, but it's clear that the vocals were mixed to be slightly higher here as they wanted them to be the focus. The vocals come in clear and slightly higher than anything else while the backing vocals are panned to the right and hushed behind the rest in the mix, which is a nice contrast going on here having vocals essentially surround the instruments. Everything sounds clean here and I'm enjoying it, just the right amount of thump.
    Porcupine Tree - Trains
    This song is a great progressive rock song with a good sound. Right away the acoustic guitar shines, clean and detailed, I can pick apart each string loud and clearly. The vocals are perfectly balanced with the guitar and equally clean. The drums and bass come in and are punchy and easily heard, in-fact I don't think I've ever noticed the bass line in this song before. Even the acoustic guitar is still easily heard in conjunction with the punchy drums and bass. As the song continues I really don't have much to say than everything simply sounds clean, there's no grain at all, every instrument has it's own space. I'm enjoying the clarity of the HM5 for this song, especially for the well recorded acoustic guitar.
    Sara Bareilles - Bottle It Up
    This song is a sibilant heavy song. The sibilance that made this unenjoyable on my q-JAYS is still there, but it's a recording issue more than a headphone issue. The HM5 do show signs of sibilance here, but again this is a recording issue and the HM5 do a great job of making the song listenable still. It's clear though that this song is mastered loudly with a emphasis on the vocals. It's clear that this album is a victim of the loudness wars and the HM5 have no problem revealing this.
    You'll see I have no listed cons for the HM5, and deservedly so. For the $120 or so you can pre-order the HM5 for you can't ask for more. The build quality is absolutely top notch from top to bottom, from cable to ear cups. The included accessories is just a huge bonus, Brainwavz didn't need to include two cables, but they did, as well as an adaptor. I think that simply goes above and beyond what they had to. The sound is something that won't immediately please you, it's good out of the box, but it's when you realize the subtleties that make it so good you'll appreciate it. The delicate balance it gives songs that sometimes sound congested on other headphones, the polite yet present presentation is just fantastic.
    The HM5 are for the person who wants a musical, neutral, clean and detailed sound. Are these as detailed as the K701 or RE272? No, but never once did I feel like I was missing anything in the music, while enjoying it far more than on either of those headphones that were simply too cold and analytical for me. These are one of the best values in the headphone world.
    Come see the rest of the pictures here!
  2. kingoftown1
    Great, well-formatted and informative review as always
  3. kingpage
    Thanks for the review.
    I wonder if you'll post some photos of the HM5 on the dummy heads that you have.
  4. MalVeauX
    If it's anything like the FA-003, a clone even, then there's one thing I would definitely like to add regarding it's bass. It is a very bass-capable headphone, so I wouldn't say a basshead should not be interested. One thing I found right away with the FA-003, was that it scaled with amplification. The more juice I put behind the FA-003, the deeper and more pronounced the sub-bass became. It's like a "little Denon" in many ways to me. Not quite the same level of slam and deep 30hz tone like a Denon, but it still is very capable of hitting serious lows. I find it more capable with low tones than it's brother the FA-011. Couple that with great mids and detailed bright treble and you have a great headphone. So if the HM5 is a clone of the FA-003, for $120, it's an amazing headphone value for the money (as the $155ish for the FA-003 is a really good deal too even). Anyhow, it's not an extreme basshead headphone, but it's not bass shy at all. It's pretty neutral, nice and flat, but that means the sub-bass comes out around the same volume as a lot of the rest of the frequencies, and it sounds great so even someone who loves bass (like myself) can really enjoy the headphone since you get that (instead of like a lot of "neutral" headphones which fall short on subbass). Also, this headphone has great isolation. I'm a big enthusiast of closed headphones due to isolation. This does justice here very well (ie, I can't hear my typing while I'm listening to music, and when no music is playing, it's greatly diminished sounding so it's got some good passive isolation).
    By the way, any idea of the HM5 comes with velour & leather pads the way the FA-003 does?
    Nice review too. This is definitely a great headphone for people looking for something in the $150 and under arena.
    Very best,
  5. keanex Contributor
    The HM5 only comes with leather pads, no velour. Thanks for the insight, and kingpage, that can be arranged.
  6. razzer001 Contributor
    Thank you Keanex for taking the time to give our Brainwavz HM5 a review for all the peeps at Head-fi :)
    I also confirm what MalVeauX has said about bass and amps, the more power the HM5 get the better the bass gets, this will be the biggest draw back when people will use their HM5 with a portable player without amp.
    BTW Keanex the picture of the headband you have done is just sexy.
  7. keanex Contributor
    Hey Raz! 
    Thanks for the post, it's nice to see a company not only care about the product they make, but about the opinion of them. Thanks for liking the photos!
  8. kingpage
    HM5 has only been compared to open-back headphones like HD600 and AD900. I'm curious as to how these would fare against other closed mid-fi cans? Do these sound open enough to compare to the likes of HD600 and AD900?
  9. MalVeauX


    The FA-003 and HM5 sound like a similar sound stage to the DT770, a little less than the D2k/5k/7k, more than the SRH840, a lot like the SRH940, ridiculously better than the M50's sound stage, close to things from Ultrasone with s-logic and angled drivers.
    But they're not like an open-headphone. They're very much closed. Very isolating too. They just have deep cups which help with the perceived area (and the drivers are not angled).
    Very best,
  10. Negakinu
    Thanks for this review! I have pre-ordered a HM5 (and a Fiio E10) at Mp4nation during that crazy sale they had some time ago. Can't wait for them to show up and see what they can do compared to my other cans. :)
  11. paulkemp
    Thanks for the review, great stuff. Was looking forward to a second opinion. How long are you keeping them?
  12. kingpage
    mp4nation has uploaded a new photo for their giveaway competition. I'm loving it.
  13. paulkemp
    Looks sweet! Im so excited!
  14. mutabor


    Could you give a link to the giveaway competition?
  15. kingpage
    (I shouldn't have mentioned it at all, now the chances are slimmer for us)
    What? Giveaway? What giveaway?
    It's on their facebook page. You're welcome. [​IMG]
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