Brainwavz S5 Review
Thanks to mp4nation for the sample.
First Impressions: What is with Brainwavz naming, is there some pattern to it I am just not getting? Box is looking rather nice, even has a flappy lid held closed with a magnet, fancy. Whats also fancy is the case. Not only does the black and red affair look nice its also rather functional too. Additionally there is a bunch of bits, lots of tips in there, hmm and I see a flat cable. I don’t love flat cables. What I do like is the shape of the buds, I'd wager they will be most comfortable.
First quick listen and instantly “all of da basss!!!!!!” its no secret where the S5 has been tuned to favour. Admittedly this could have something to do with fact I’ve been listening to their sibling previously. Still I’m definitely thinking there is much bass here. Off to go burn in time.
Source: FiiO E7/E9 combo, Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd Anv., HiFiMAN HM-601, 1G Ipod Shuffle, Nexus 5.
Lows: In terms of balance the bass is where these dominate. The bass is the focal aspect. What it lacks in linearity it makes up for in the form a big ass hump of bass. Its great big ass bass that likes to vigorously throw itself around. It's pretty taught though and its bass extension is pretty nice too. It comes across to ear as rather bold and well rounded. In terms of quantity, its not the most I've ever heard but it's certainly very elevated and combined with its solidity and eagerness to punch I must confess I found its bombastic nature a little tiring on my ears. Presently they feel a little tender and worn out. Now I now that many out there just love tons and tons of bass and wouldn’t have the slightest issue with it but, well, I did. Its big and potent and I have delicate little ears.
I reiterate, the quality is fair and its tonality is very nice. It’s the relative quantity that isn’t working for me.
Mids: Meh. They are really rather recessed, while they offer a nice slight echo to the vocal ranges the mids are just too overshadowed. I like mids, I like very vocal centric music and I found these rather wanting quantitatively. Qualitatively too I wasn’t loving them either. Vocals here have a distance and yet a slight thickness to them that may work with typical chart based pop but…..for many things I found them feeling like they were a little bit of an afterthought. Clarity was reasonable but again the recessed nature serves to somewhat obscure detail. Shockingly in much charty pop this is often a good thing as one or two artists haven’t the greatest vocal talents, they are often mastered by the half deaf and thus have been dynamically compressed to hell.
Tonally they have a hint of over warmth and thickness that is reasonably pleasant to hear but added to the distance and recessed nature it works a little against things in terms of detail retrieval. There is detail in there but it's not quite so readily presented to the listener as with some other IEM’s.
Highs: The sadly there is a spike in the mid/highs range that I found somewhat hard on my ear. It somewhat dominated the upper range for me and served to overshadow both the mid range and the more extended highs. Upping the volume dial I found my ears grew tired increasingly quickly. The rest of the high end is rather sedate and rolled off. A signature that I'd normally classify as forgiving and gentle on the ear but the lower treble spike made them forgiving but not so much with the gentle. Detail levels are so so.
Soundstage: As it’s a dynamic it's pretty reasonably scaled. Instrument separation is likewise fine.
Fit: For my own little ears the fit was exceedingly good. The angle the tips aim inward at worked beautifully for my good self. Even the flat cable didn’t get in my way when going over the ear. Very good.
Comfort: As with the fit the comfort was quite exemplary.
Microphonics: I did get a little but nothing terrible. Using the chin slider basically eliminated it.
Amped/Unamped: It needs no amping and I can't really say benefited from having more power thrown at them either. I might actually even go so far as to say I preferred them out of my phones as the bass power diminished somewhat.
Isolation: Rather good for a big dynamic. The sort of thing I'd be quite happy using out and about. As always, not really what I'd want for long flights or daily Tube commutes. Also my ever present warning that it more than easily enough to get you run over if you don’t look where you're going.
Build Quality. Rather nice. I must say though I'm a bit disappointed that they are painted black given they are actually made of aluminium. The cable feels and looks rather sturdy and the Y splitter is pretty chunky. Oh and you get a 2 year warranty.
Accessories: You get a good bunch of tips, 9 pairs I think. A 6.25 to 3.5mm adapter and lastly you get a rather nice black and red Brainwavz case. I very much like the little case.
Value: Presently priced at US$99.50 or £59.17. This puts them in a spectacularly competitive environment. The fact is there just isn’t any aural aspect I can see someone wanting and me thinking “oooh the S5, that’s exactly what you’re looking for.” It's not that it’s a terrible option but it doesn’t shine anywhere in particular and for the money the competition is savagely fierce.
Conclusion: I have spent a goodly long while with the S5. Others seem to have liked it more than I, I did see it said that they like a good long burn in so I gave them a few hundred hours just to be sure. Still I found, as you may have guessed, I just could not feel the love for the S5. Aside from their fit just about everything was how I wouldn’t make an IEM for me. I don’t like flat cables. I don’t like loads of bass. I don’t like far, far away mids and then that spike in the lower treble was icing on the cake. It just entirely rubbed me up the wrong way.
To give the S5 its due, it's not terrible or a bad product. It just is entirely not aimed at me. Its bass is big and expansive, oh and that flat cable I'll grant, is tangle free. Which I know to many are highly positive attributes, I'm pretty sure my sister would love these and I have no doubts that many Beats buyers would lap these up like a cat that’s got the cream.
Never the less I am the one writing this and I'm very sorry Brainwavz but the S5 just really wasn’t my cup of tea at all, sorry.