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REVIEW : Revisiting the Brainwavz HM5 – A Retrospective (plus bonus look at pad and cup options)

Discussion in 'Headphones (full-size)' started by brooko, Jan 2, 2015.
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  1. Brooko Contributor
    Pros: SQ, clarity, comfort, build, balance, accessories, isolation, value, carry case (new), pad options

    Cons: Clamp force, slightly lacking some bass relative to treble (easy EQ though), pads can get sweaty, not the best for spectacle wearers.


    HM541.jpg
    For larger views of any of the photos (1200 x 800) - please click on the individual images

    PREFACE

    It’s not often (as a reviewer) that I get to spend some quality time seriously revisiting a headphone I’ve reviewed in the past. I’ve done it subconsciously (I guess) with the HD600 and DT880 (owned multiple times), and also with every IEM or headphone I’ve pulled out of storage in order to make comparisons. But this is the first time I’ve totally revisited a full sized headphone with the express purpose of fully reviewing it (again), and as almost 3 full years have passed since I last owned the HM5, I was looking forward to seeing how much my impressions and tastes had changed.

    My original review can be found here http://www.head-fi.org/products/brainwavz-hm5-studio-monitor-headphones/reviews/6201. My gear back then had a few similarities (still have the NFB-12 and a new Fiio E11K rather than the E11), but more importantly many differences – especially in the last 3 years I’ve owned, and reviewed a lot of different headphones. My reviewing style has changed (I’d like to think I’m more objective now), and I guess I’m more aware of what is out there (my perception of value has broadened). So take a trip with me down memory lane – as I revisit an old friend (the HM5) which was with in my earlier days on Head-Fi, and now I’ve had the pleasure of listening to again …..

    INTRODUCTION

    Brainwavz is a well-established manufacturer of headphones in the value for money category – offering many different options that suit almost anyone’s sonic preferences. I’ve previously had both good and bad experiences with their headphones / IEMs – I previously reviewed and owned their B2 IEMs and HM5 headphones, and both were stellar performers. I also sampled their R1, R3, S0, S5 and R3 V2 IEMs, and the AP001 amplifier.

    I’ve had regular contact with Audrey from Brainwavz, and recently she asked me to consider reviewing the new pads available for the HM5. Only one issue though – I haven’t owned the HM5 now for almost 3 years, and I wasn’t really in a position to buy the HM5 again in order to provide my thoughts on the pads. So I suggested reviewing again the HM5 (+ the pads), and duly offered to return everything to Brainwavz at the end of the review period. They’ve told me to keep the HM5 as a loaner (which I’m very grateful for), and which I will use as a comparison headphone in any future reviews.

    I received the courier pack three weeks ago – and have already spent as much time as I could reacquainting myself with the HM5. I’d estimate that so far I’ve logged around 50 hours with the Brainwavz HM5 since it arrived.

    I’ve listed price at USD $129.50 (current Amazon price at time of writing) – however this is not what I paid for them (they are a review sample). Also a quick note – I’ve seen the HM5 ‘promoted’ quite a few times at around $99.50 – so watch out for promos!

    DISCLAIMER

    I was provided the Brainwavz HM5 as a review unit from Brainwavz. I am in no way affiliated with Brainwavz - and this review is my own subjective opinion of the HM5.

    PREAMBLE - 'ABOUT ME'. (or a base-line for interpreting my thoughts and bias)

    I'm a 47 year old music lover. I don't say audiophile – I just love my music. Over the last few years, I have slowly changed from cheaper listening set-ups to my current set-up. I vary my listening from portable (Fiio X5, X1 and iPhone 5S) to my desk-top's set-up (PC > coax > NFB-12 > LD MKIV > HP). I also use a portable set-up at work – either X5/X1 > HP, or PC > Beyer A200p > HP. My main full sized headphones at the time of writing are the Beyer T1 and Sennheiser HD600. Most of my portable listening is done with IEMs - and up till now it has mainly been with the Fidue A83 or A81, Dunu DN-1000 and Altone200. A full list of the gear I have owned (past and present is listed in my Head-Fi profile).

    I have very eclectic music tastes listening to a variety from classical/opera and jazz, to grunge and general rock. I listen to a lot of blues, jazz, folk music, classic rock, indie and alternative rock. I am particularly fond of female vocals. I generally tend toward cans that are relatively neutral/balanced, but I do have a fondness for clarity, and suspect I might have slight ‘treble-head’ preferences. I am not treble sensitive (at all), and in the past have really enjoyed headphones like the K701, SR325i, and of course the T1 and DT880.

    I have extensively tested myself (abx) and I find aac256 or higher completely transparent. I do use exclusively redbook 16/44.1 if space is not an issue. All of my music is legally purchased (mostly CD – the rest FLAC purchased on-line).

    I tend to be sceptical about audiophile ‘claims’, don’t generally believe in burn-in, have never heard a difference with different cables, and would rather test myself blind on perceived differences. I am not a ‘golden eared listener’. I suffer from mild tinnitus, and at 47, my hearing is less than perfect.


    HM536.jpg
    Some of the test equipment

    For the purposes of this review - I used the HM5 straight from the headphone-out socket of my iPhone 5S, X5, X1 and also from the Beyer A200p when at work. I also used both the Fiio E11K and Brainwavz own AP001 amp (portably), and my NFB-12 when using my desktop set-up at home.

    In the time I have spent with the HM5, I have noticed no change to the overall sonic presentation (break-in), but am aware that I am becoming more used to the signature of the HM5 as I use them more often (brain burn-in).

    This is a purely subjective review - my gear, my ears, and my experience. Please take it all with a grain of salt - especially if it does not match your own experience.

    THE REVIEW

    PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES

    When I last reviewed my own pair of HM5 3 years ago, they arrived in padded canvas case (similar to the one from my old DT880s), and included a long and short cable, spare pair of pads, airline adaptor and 3.5-6.3mm adaptor.
    HM501.jpg HM502.jpg HM503.jpg

    Front of retail box

    Rear of retail box

    Side view of retail box


    This time the HM5 arrived in a smart retail box (big improvement), and the foam case has been replaced by Brainwavz’ distinctive zippered red and black portable headphone case.

    HM504.jpg HM507.jpg HM508.jpg

    The new HM5 carry case

    Inside the case - warranty, spare pads and HM5

    Cable (2) + case strap also included as well as 3.6-6.3mm adaptor


    This case is ideal for the HM5 providing a snug fit, pouch for the long and short cables, and adaptor + spare pads if you need them. The only thing missing is the airline adaptor (I already have some spares so no big issue for me), and although the case is not slim-line portable, I will genuinely consider throwing it into my carry-on bag next time I fly long-haul.

    TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

    (From Brainwavz)
    Type
    Sealed circumaural full sized headphone
    Drivers
    Dynamic 42mm
    Frequency Range
    10 Hz – 26.5 Khz
    Impedance
    64 ohm
    Sensitivity
    105 dB at 1 mW
    Max Input Power
    100 mW
    Plug
    3.5mm gold plated with screw on adaptor
    Cables
    1.3m and 3m
    Weight
    280g (no cable), 323g (short cable), 363g (long cable)


    FREQUENCY GRAPH

    frequencychart.png
    Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find frequency response graphs of the HM5 from my usual sources. So I’ve provided (thanks to Innerfidelity) a graph of the Fischer FA-003 which is essentially the same headphone sonically.[​IMG]

    BUILD QUALITY

    The HM5 impressed me when I first owned it as being a well put together headphone, which was impressively solid, despite its mainly plastic construction. It does have brushed aluminium faceplates, and metal extenders – but pretty much everything else is strengthened plastic. But what still impresses me with the HM5 is still its overall sturdy build and also modularity. The HM5 can essentially be broken down (quite similar to the HD600) into headband and yoke, outer cups, inner cup and driver, pads, and cable. This in effect means that if anything breaks, it can be replaced for minimal cost. It also opens options for extensive modding (for some ideas – check this thread out http://www.head-fi.org/t/615030/unleash-the-full-potential-of-your-brainwavz-hm5-or-fa-003-with-mods).

    HM511.jpg HM512.jpg HM515.jpg

    Mainly plastic construction but string

    Fit and finish is very good

    Cups have ample space and workmanship is very good


    The pads can be removed simply by rotating them (quarter twist) and are easily replaceable (more on that later). Removing the pads allows access to 4 micro screws allowing removal of the rear of the cups – and therefore introduces options to use Brainwavz own open cup design, or other designs (e.g. wooden from Fischer Audio).

    The inner cup assembly capsule (including driver) can also be removed from the yokes.

    HM513.jpg HM514.jpg HM510.jpg

    Metal extenders

    Quality stitching and padding on the headband

    Top of the headband


    The headband assembly is well stitched and reminds me very much of my old DT880 – both in comfort and appearance. The metal extenders are solid and can be carefully shaped to relieve some of the clamp force.

    HM506.jpg HM505.jpg HM524.jpg

    Long and short detachable cable

    Cable connectors and jack

    Pad assembly removed exposing 4 screws to detach rear of cup


    The cables are both sturdy and flexible without being too bulky. It is a side-by side dual channel design (similar to the HD600 – just slightly thicker) terminating in a 3.5mm plug – with screw on adaptor to 6.3mm. The connectors to the headphone are 3.5mm mono to each cup, and are a straight push-in design. Each connector has a lip which securely locks them in place. Strain relief is more than adequate, and like the headphones themselves, build is very solid without being flashy.

    HM526.jpg HM527.jpg HM525.jpg

    Cup disassembly - rear of driver

    Cup disassembly - front of driver

    Close up of driver front


    FIT / COMFORT / ISOLATION

    The HM5 are never going to win awards as a fashion headphone – but where they definitely shine (for me anyway) is in comfort and isolation. The first thing to note is the headband – it is extremely well padded, and contours nicely to my head (not just a single point), so it is really comfortable for long listening sessions. As stated previously, the headband reminds me a lot of the Beyers I’ve owned in the past – and anyone who’s worn a Beyer will appreciate how comfortable headphones can be!

    The one issue out of the box with the HM5 is the very strong clamp force. This is alleviated a lot by the very soft pads (the memory foam has great compression qualities) – but the clamp is quite tight. You can loosen them over time, by fully extending the metal arms, and bending the metal parts only. I’ve done this with mine, and they now have a very comfortable clamp – firm enough to be sturdy, light enough to be comfortable.

    HM516.jpg


    The stock pads are stitched very soft pleather over memory foam, and they are really comfortable. They internally measure 75 x 45mm (oval shape) and uncompressed measure 30mm from driver cloth to the outer pad surface. They do compress a lot when worn, but I still have no issues with my ears ever touching the driver.

    The pleather can get a little warm over very long listening sessions – so that is something to take into account.

    As I stated earlier, the clamp force is strong, so spectacle wearers take note – there is pressure on your glasses. Because of the firmness though, I find it easy to simply adjust my glasses to where they are comfortable, and let the clamp hold them in place.

    Isolation is above average for a closed phone, and while it won’t get to IEM or earplug isolation, I am keen to try these on my next long haul – as I personally think they should work quite nicely. Isolation is pretty good when worn anyway – and so far my wife has noticed no leak.

    SOUND QUALITY

    The following is what I hear from the HM5. YMMV – and probably will – as my tastes are likely different to yours (read the preamble I gave earlier for a baseline). Most of the testing at this point (unless otherwise stated) was done with my desktop set-up => PC using Foobar2000 to NFB-12. I chose not to use the LD MKIV as damping would not be ideal, but when I did try it the sound was also pretty good.

    Later in the review I’ll comment on portable options.

    Tracks used were across a variety of genres – and can be viewed in this list http://www.head-fi.org/a/brookos-test-tracks.

    Thoughts on General Signature

    If I was to describe the signature in a few words – I’d choose the words “clear”, “neutral”, “fast” and “detailed”.

    Probably the first things I’ve noticed upon reacquainting myself to the HM5 – they are a little brighter than I first remembered them – especially when I compare them side-by-side to the HD600. Tonally they actually pretty close to my T1 – very vivid mid-range and lower treble. Bass is pretty flat with a very slight mid-bass emphasis, but good speed and definition. Everything sounds really lively though, and there is good speed with no real decay issues, and the boominess sometimes associated with closed headphones isn’t really present.

    One ‘issue’ I noted 3 years ago was a slight boominess (or hollowness) in the bass with some tracks, but so far I haven’t come across this. I’m not sure if this is my hearing changing, an alteration in the manufacture or pads, or simply headphone deviation? But I can say that so far I am really enjoying the HM5 – it really I sin line with my preferred signature overall.

    Overall Detail / Clarity

    For this I always use both Steely Dan’s “Gaucho” and Dire Strait’s “Sultans of Swing” as there is a lot of micro detail in both tracks, and the recording quality for both is excellent.

    With Gaucho, the sax intro is detailed but smooth – and unlike some of the darker headphones I’ve reviewed recently, the bass guitar sits firmly in the background allowing vocals, keyboard, and guitar to take centre stage. Cymbals and hi-hats are present and clear, but not over emphasised at all. There is plenty of contrast, and if anything I’d actually prefer a touch more bass – but that that can easily be fixed with a touch of EQ.

    Switching to Sultans of Swing, and OMG I love this presentation. Detail is fantastic, and balance of instruments is wonderful. The constant background sound is the bass guitar – but it is nicely balanced with Knopfler’s guitar and vocals. Mark’s guitar has plenty of crunch and cymbals are easily hard, but again not overdone. The bass is reasonably good overall, with a slight maybe a slight mid-bass bloom but overall the track is reasonably quick with little unnecessary decay. Vocals are exceedingly clear – and whilst this overall presentation may be a little brighter than some prefer, it once again ticks my boxes and then some.

    Sound-stage & Imaging

    For this I use Amber Rubarth’s binaural recording “Tundra”. I use this because it’s a pretty simple way to get comparative data on sound-stage.

    It’s usually difficult to get a reasonable stage size from a closed can. The stage is often quite small / close – with an average impression of space. The HM5 has an intimate stage with this track compared to open cans like the HD600 and T1, but it does give some impression of space – just not hugely out of your head. More importantly directional imaging and instrument separation is extremely good.

    I also used Loreena McKennitt’s “Dante’s Prayer” and the HM5 gave a quite intimate but very detailed and vocal focussed rendition of this track. Imaging and separation is once again quite good for a closed can. In this track the vocals are definitely front and centre – but unfortunately the grandiose sound-staging that the HD600 and T1 portray with ease is definitely not there. The applause at the end is not immersive – but perhaps I am expecting too much. Overall portrayal is good – but it is never going to be a sound-staging king.

    I’ve recently added Amada Marshall’s “Let It Rain” and “Birmingham” to my sound staging track repertoire. The whole album is recorded with a natural sense of space and separation – to be fair even IEMs can achieve a nice sense of space with this album. The HM5 does not disappoint – feed it the right track, and it will shine.

    Bass Quality and Quantity

    It is only fair to also cover the bass ability of the HM5, and this time I’m expecting it to struggle a bit in comparison to its brighter upper mid-range and lower treble.

    Amongst my test tracks, one of the tracks to emphasise this was Muddy Waters by Mark Lanegan. This blues rock track is quite dark and brooding – and while the HM5 had some bass thump, and Mark’s vocals were extremely clear, the normal visceral bass slam I’m used to is definitely not there. That isn’t to say the presentation is bad – it is just different. Anyone looking for more thump is going to struggle with the HM5. In a lot of ways it reminds me of the AKG K701/2 – gorgeous mid-range and nice tight bass, but probably too bass light for some people.

    I wanted to see how low the bass would go – so switched to Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good” – and the HM5 delivered. The funny thing is that usually I find this track too boomy on many headphones (the T1 is an exception). The bass is effortless and fast on the HM5 and the quantity is nicely balanced with Amy’s vocals. I really like this – but again some will find this too bass light.

    Female Vocals – A Special Note

    I have added this section simply because around 60-65% of my music revolves around female vocals – be it jazz, pop, rock, electronic, or even opera. I’m an unabashed fan. For me the sign of a successful IEM is how successfully it conveys emotion and timbre with my female vocalists. Other headphones I’ve owned in the past had sometimes struggled with some of the artists I like – and this can be a deal breaker for me.

    One of my early litmus tests is usually queuing Agnes Obel – as some of her recordings can become quite strident or shouty if the mids aren’t quite right. With the HM5, her vocals are euphonic, light, and smooth – and the magic is definitely there. The cello also shows promising signs – great timbre and tone – but it’s not quite showing the same contrast (bright vs dark) that I can get from cans with a little better bottom end. Still I am more than happy with the vocals themselves – just gorgeous.

    I then proceeded to play a medley of other tracks from artists including Christina Perri, Gabriella Cilmi, Florence and the Machine, and Norah Jones. All of the tracks were wonderful – but the standout was Norah. Coincidentally “Light as a Feather” is also arguably the track that is probably a little darker overall in the recording. Some tracks like Cilmi’s “Safer” and FATM’s “Howl” just needed a little more contrast between bass and vocals – again easily fixed with EQ, but noted just the same.

    Male Vocals

    At the other end of the scale sits a lot of my rock tracks – generally male vocal based.

    Kicking off with 3 Doors Down “Away from the Sun”, and the vocal presentation is very good – intimate, clear and very pleasant to listen to. Moving to Seether, and once again the vocal quality is very good – guitar crunch is excellent, as is the cymbal and hi-hat presentation. Once again it’s just a pity that some of the bass impact is polite. By now I’m getting pretty used to a continuing theme – with just a touch more bass impact, the HM5 would be perfect for me. Time for my litmus test – Pearl Jam. Vedder’s voice has plenty of clarity and emotion, the track has wonderful detail. Again though just a touch more bass would have completed the magic. Still though, this presentation appeals to me far more than an overly warm bassy one – the clarity is stunning.

    Genre Specific Notes

    Again for tracks, albums, artists – please refer to this list: http://www.head-fi.org/a/brookos-test-tracks

    Rock – Vocals and clarity are very good – wonderful for guitar work. Missing just a little in the sub and mid bass – but easy to fix with EQ (either software or hardware).

    Alt Rock – First up (in my usual test rotation) is Pink Floyd’s “Money”, and the HM5 just delivers the required contrast beautifully. Beautiful balance between bass guitar and other instruments, and the vocals are again stunningly clear. This is almost as good as the T1! Porcupine Tree’s “Trains” starts brilliantly – Wilson’s vocals are fantastic with the HM5. Bass hit is actually pretty decent too – I’d prefer a little more quantity – but overall the dynamic contrast is good.

    Jazz / Blues / Bluegrass – Portico Quartet’s “Ruins” is always a first stop for me when testing a new headphone with Jazz, and the HM5 is quite simply brilliant. Fantastic contrast and detail – nothing masked – I could listen to this for hours. I quickly switch to Miles Davis and Miles trumpet is the star of the show – really good (mostly smooth – occasionally strident). The double bass could have used just a touch more emphasis (sat a little too far back for my liking), but lowing the detail – especially the cymbals.

    I quickly switched to blues – with Bonamassa’s vocals and guitar being a favourite of mine. The HM5 once again perfectly captures and portrays Bonamassa’s guitar magic in a way that is almost grado-esque. His vocals are pretty well articulates as well – they could just use a little more depth and body in the lower mid-range. I then tried Beth Hart’s “Live at Paradiso” album – which is mastered very hot (bright). This unfortunately was just a little too hot for my tastes, and would need some toning down (extra warmth). Most headphones do with this recording though, so it was what I was expecting.

    Rap / EDM / Pop – Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” was one of the first I tried, and whilst it was OK to listen to, the normal portrayal of bass impact was lacking – quite a lot really. Not a good portrayal. Time to try some straight Pop – and Adele’s vocals with piano accompaniment is pretty good. Very clear, but just lacking some depth with the piano. Next up was Coldplay’s “Speed of Sound”- and it is pleasant (great clarity and separation), but once again would be better with more body from the lower mid-range, and also bass depth.

    Switching next to some Electronic / EDM – and Lindsay Stirling’s “Electric Daisy Violin” = magic. The bass is has reasonable impact this time, and the violin is clear and vibrant. Next track in the queue is Little Dragon’s “Little Man” and it’s equally enjoyable – although I’d like to dial the bass up just a little. In fact any EDM or electronic music seems to work OK with the HM5, just needing a little bass boost to really connect with me. Lighter electronic like The Flashbulb is also enjoyable, but again if you like more bass impact, you might find the HM5 lacking just a little. The bass it does portray is nice and fast though – and I love the detail.

    Classical / Opera – This is an interesting mix. With Kempff’s solo piano and Zoe Keating’s cello, I was expecting to need a little more bass to assist with the overall timbre of both instruments. But both were able to convey the emotion and passion in the tracks selected. Moving to Opera and listening to Netrebko and Garanca performing the Flower Duet was a great experience. Full orchestra as well really shone with the HM5. I think it’s the amazing clarity and balance – just really lets the performances shine through without getting in the way.

    Indie – a lot of my music lately has been Indie related, so I thought I’d separate this genre out in case anyone shares my appreciation of it. Starting with Band of Horses and then moving onto Wildlight. In both cases the detail, clarity and vividness of the midrange is exactly what moves me – but again I find myself looking for a little lower end.

    AMPLIFICATION REQUIREMENTS

    The HM5 is easily powered straight out of the portable devices I have (X1, X5 and even my iPhone), and don’t really need any other amplification and I haven’t experienced any issues with the X1, X5 or iPhone 5S. The X5 with no EQ only needed about 55/120 on low gain, and the X1 about 38/100 (both with no EQ). This was giving me an average SPL of around 75 dB and peaking at 85-90 dB (Wildlight’s “Dawn to Flight”). Normally I’d even dial it down a few notches.

    RESPONSE TO EQ?

    This was an interesting one because all through the review, I just love the HM5’s mid-range, the vividness of its portrayal and its clarity. However I’ve mentioned a few times that I’d love just a little more bass – so time to see how it responds!

    On the X1 and X5, I dialled in a rough EQ adjustment – lifting 400 hz by +2db, 160 by +4db and 62hz by +5db on the X1, and similar lists on the X5 (slightly different bands). The alteration is subtle, but revisiting those tracks I thought were too bass light originally, and now I love every track without reservation.

    I’ve noticed Brainwavz have a couple of time paired the sale of the HM5 with their AP001 amplifier (my review here) which essentially adds a sub and mid-bass boost. Turning the EQ off on the X1 and adding the AP001 is also extremely pleasant – adding just enough bottom end to my DAPs (including the iPhone), and making the HM5 true genre master.

    ADD-ONS PART 1 – PADS

    Audrey very generously sent me two extra pad options to try with the HM5 – a set of velours (black) and a set of thicker coloured pleather (mine are the dark red).

    HM539.jpg HM540.jpg HM538.jpg

    Red pleather (L), stock pleather (C) and velour (R)

    Red pleather (L), stock pleather (C) and velour (R)

    Red pleather vs stock.


    The velours are very close in size to the original pads and have equally good comfort and fit. The craftsmanship on the pads is excellent – quality stitching and materials used. My main problem with trying to A/B the pads is the amount of time trying to switch them – I know my sonic memory has the normal human auditory flaws – so please take the following comments with a huge grain of salt. This is what I think I’m hearing – but I wouldn’t swear on it. The velour pads IMO give a slightly airier and brighter presentation with an increase in lower treble. Cymbals seem to have more shimmer and there is more upper energy overall and maybe slightly less bass as well. If you take my earlier comments on bass into account, you’ll probably guess that I’m not a huge fan of the velours with the HM5. For me – just too much upper end energy, and for want of a better word, too much tizz. Others may love this though and at the reasonable price being charged, they are well worth trying. Even more so – if you are modding other headphones (I understand these may fit some Shures and also the T50RP.

    HM518.jpg HM519.jpg HM520.jpg

    Red pleather and velour

    Red pleather

    Velour


    Moving onto the dark red pleathers, and this time there is more of a physical difference. These have slightly smaller internal dimensions as they are both wider and deeper (more memory foam). Once again, they are super comfortable. Again the same caveat applies re switching times. This time they are a lot closer to the original pleather – but my impression is of slightly more bass (slightly better fit / clamp?), and to me anyway, they looks lightly better. Anyway – they are my current go to with the HM5 – and I really do like them.

    HM528.jpg HM537.jpg

    Memory foam is very soft and ultra comfortable

    Mounting ring - would be great if spares were included.


    One recommendation I would give to Brainwavz when selling these would be to consider including a pair of mounting discs. I don’t think it would cost too much extra, but would make it a lot easier to switch pads and make comparisons when using the HM5. I know I’d love an extra pair now, and would definitely be prepared to pay a little extra for the privilege.

    ADD-ONS PART 2 – 3D PRINTED OPEN CUPS

    These have intrigued me for a while, as I’ve often wondered exactly how the HM5 would sound as a semi-open headphone.

    HM521.jpg
    HM522.jpg HM523.jpg

    3D printed semi-open cup

    Cup exterior

    Cup interior


    The cups themselves are slightly rougher in appearance that I was expecting, but I’d imagine that from these shells, you could then sand them to your own preference, and paint them if you wish. They also aren’t pre drilled – just have plastic stubs – so you really have to make the holes yourself if you are intending using these full time.

    Comparisons this time were slightly easier, as I simply removed the screws, then carefully held the stock “backs” in place, and then swapped the semi-open “backs” (again held in place) to compare. So it involved a shorter time overall changing the cup rear cavities in order to get a good impression of the changes.

    For a start (once I’d removed the backs), I simply held them in place with my fingertips, quickly listened, and then removed them altogether (completely open). The effect was immediately noticeable with the first change being a noticeably wider soundstage presentation, and less reverb. It was a change I very much liked. If anything vocals sound a lot more natural – less etching. Bass didn’t change a whole lot in overall impact or tonality – just slightly cleaner.

    HM531.jpg HM532.jpg HM533.jpg

    3D cups fitted - note the housing is too large for yokes

    3D printed semi-open cups in place

    3D printed semi-open cups in place


    If anything the 3D cups sit partway between the closed and fully open. They give a hint of how good a more open HM5 can be – but unfortunately still keep a certain amount of reverb, and for my tastes anyway, strangle some of the benefits of going as open as possible. For a laugh, I removed my HD600 backs, and held them loosely in place (they don’t fit of course). IMO this should be Brainwavz next improvement – an almost completely open (i.e. mesh backed) rear cup. IMO it has better sonic qualities, and would also look a lot better than the 3D cups. They could even use the existing plastic mould for the current cups – just fit a shaped mesh instead of the existing faceplate. I’d buy them tomorrow – and I’d bet a lot of other HM5, Lindy, FA003 etc. owners would do the same.

    HM530.jpg HM534.jpg HM535.jpg

    Semi-open cup with standard - note restriction of movement

    HD600 cup fitted

    HD600 screened cup - more open, better sound, better looking


    So for now I’m not using the 3D cups – what they provide in sonic improvement is good, but doesn’t go as far as it could, and unless I take the time to “finish” them, they do look pretty “fugly” IMO. One last comment on the 3D cups – because of their increased depth, they don’t move freely under the arms/yokes. Again this could be fixed with an open “mesh” design.

    HM5 - SUMMARY

    This may yet be the longest overall review I’ve written, but even for a budget headphone, it has been totally worth doing. I’d forgotten how good the HM5 actually sounds, and what surprised me this time was the new knowledge that they actually sound less like my HD600 and more like my T1 tonally.

    The HM5 gives a stunningly clear and vivid presentation which overall is well balanced, if just a little bass light to be truly neutral. It is very well built, extremely comfortable, and has good options for pad and cup changes (hopefully more coming in the future). It also responds extremely well to EQ.

    On the value stakes, I’ve seen the HM5 go for as little as $90 (MP4Nation NY special), but even at its current retail price of $130-140 (considering the accessories Brainwavz bundles with it) I consider it very good value – and would have no reservations recommending it to someone with similar tastes to mine.

    The HM5 could suit:

    1. People who like a neutral to brighter presentation, and value clarity and instrument separation
    2. People who look for a lot of contrast and detail
    3. People who also are willing to EQ the bass slightly to meet their preferred signature
    4. People who like modding and looking for a headphone with plenty of options

    The HM5 probably will not suit anyone who:

    1. Looks for a lot of warmth and bass impact
    2. Is treble sensitive
    3. Does not like a brighter headphone

    Last time I rated the HM5, I gave it 4/5 stars. This time I’d actually up that to 4.5/5. I guess this is the benefit of trying so many other headphones in the last 4 years. It gives me a much wider base for comparison. Taking into account all the HM5 features – build, comfort, accessories, SQ, modification options, and then correlating this with price – definite winner.


    HM542.jpg

    RECOMMENDATIONS TO BRAINWAVZ

    First – thanks to Audrey and Brainwavz for this opportunity. I have really enjoyed this chance to review these again. Once again – I am more than happy to pay your full retail price for these – just send me a PM Audrey – they are worth it. Recommendations are small – but might give you some ideas:

    • Pads – include extra discs for changing.
    • Either modify the 3D cups to allow free swinging on the yokes, or totally convert them (I think there are better options). It would be nice to have something properly finished too.
    • Include a new option for an open back plate – similar to the HD600 design.
     
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2017
  2. peter123
    What a thorough and excellent review @Brooko
     
    Now I'm thinking of moving the drivers from my pair of HM5's into some open housing and see what it sounds like[​IMG]
     
  3. Brooko Contributor
    Thanks Peter
     
    Easy try out is simply to remove the rear cups altogether.  Good thing about doing this (temporarily) is that it's then easy to compare open vs closed (just hold the existing rear cups in place, then take them away).
     
    I really hope Brainwavz develop with an open (mesh) rear cup - as they would look quite attractive with something like the HD600 mesh - and IMO the SQ is really boosted a notch.  I'm interested to hear what others think - so if you get the chance to try it and can post back, it would be appreciated.
     
  4. peter123
    Yeah, I'll test it the temporarily way as soon as I get the time. I've also got a pair of Takstar TS-662 that I dont like at home so if the drivers fit I might try them in there. Otherwise the Takstar HI2050 seems like a good donor as well.
     
  5. xXCeleryXx
     
  6. RedJohn456
    Great review Brooko :)  I picked up a used pair for 50 bucks and am loving the heck out of mine. Oddly though my pair seems to be a bit lacking in terms of treble extension. Maybe mine is an older production model? But I love it for softer acoustic music. I might pick up a pair of the red pleather pads, especially considering they firm up the bass a bit [​IMG]
     
    How does it respond to Bass boost from amps such as e11k?  
     
  7. Brooko Contributor
    The E11K's boost is fairly subtle (to me anyway) - a lot less than the old E11.  It adds a little bit, but I find it easier just to EQ whatever DAP I'm using.  X1 and X5 just need a little heft on the leftmost two sliders.
     
    Interesting your comment regarding old HM5 and this new one I have - as this is exactly the way I felt when revisiting the HM5 this time.  I can't remember the first pair I owned as being as bright. Can't really say if they have changed, or just my memory [​IMG]
     
  8. RedJohn456

    Oh okay, I will play around with some software eq to see how it works out.
     
    After reading your impressions I have a sneaking suspicion they might have improved the treble extension and brightness. My pair definitely is not bright and I am no treble head by any means. The pair I bought is atleast a year old so there might be something to that. At this point, the treble weakness is my main gripe as it makes drums very dull and a lot of music unengaging. And to boot, the bass can be firmed up with the read pads.
     
    Will have to look into getting a new pair as it looks to fix almost all of my gripes against the Hm5s. Except the headband tightness which is ridiculously strong, like a vice. Can't win em all I suppose :wink:
     
  9. DJScope
    Great review @Brooko
     
    If you liked the HM5s you would absolutely love the Takstar Pro 80. They sound very similar in signature, borderline identical from what I recall. Except the Pro 80 being of better comfort (with HM5 pads), less scull crushing, better building quality. Overall a better package than the HM5s. You should check them out!
     
  10. Brooko Contributor
    Yep - that clamp is fairly strong.  Extending the metal extenders, and slowly bending the metal part has relaxed the clamp quite a bit on my pair - even over the short time I've had them.
     
  11. Brooko Contributor
     
    Thanks for the tip Igor. Will have to try some of the Takstar offerings if I ever get a chance - but I'd suggest they'd have to be pretty darn good to beat the HM5.  Problem is that there are not many reviews on the Pro 80s out there - and the info I've read is mixed (whereas the HM5/Lindy/FA-003 feedback is pretty much overwhelmingly positive). I guess curiosity might get me eventually.  If I do get a pair, I'll do a comparison. 
     
  12. DJScope
     
    I think the problem with Takstar products is that they're not easily obtainable. Another thing about the Pro 80s is that they're a cheap headphone which is neutral which means that the majority of people who will buy them are looking for V shaped or bass cannon sound, so they automatically won't like them. 
     
    They are a very dynamic and rewarding listen. And for the price you pay, it feels like you've robbed who ever you've bought them from. I'd send you mine for review if my wife didn't use them everyday when I'm at work. She doesn't like open headphones so she kind claimed the Pro 80 for when the baby's asleep.
     
  13. Brooko Contributor
    We have a distributor in NZ - so it would be just a matter of freeing up both funds and time to be able to get a pair and compare.  Pricewise they similar to the HM5, but I'm pretty happy with almost everything about the HM5 so far, so it would be a "back burner job".  I'd imagine if the two are comparable on price and quality, the difference may be the superior backing (warranty) and service from Brainwavz.
     
    But that will have to wait for now. I asked Audrey today if they would consider making a more attractive and open rear cup enclosure (similar to the HD600).  If they did, it would make an already great headphone absolutely fantastic!  I for one would be very keen!
     
    DJScope likes this.
  14. RedJohn456

    Have you heard anything about a HM5 successor is in the works?
     
  15. peter123

    That's a great idea and we need more good budget open headphones!
     
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