Brainwavz HM9 Review
Thanks to mp4nation for the sample.
First Impressions: Ooooh the case thing looks like a giant fabric easter egg. A little odd perhaps but fair enough. Inside the egg then we have the headphones and a nettle red pouch that velcro’s itself to the inside of the egg, you know for cables and things. Just how clever is that, Velcro so you can stuff the headphones in and then still the pouch wherever fits. I like. The headphones themselves feel and look really solid, much metal going on here. Note, the cables have a direction so note which end you plug into the headphones and which the HP out.
First listen and clearly these have a big, warm and softened sound. Seem very laid back in the treble and feel big and somewhat soft in the lows. They are making me think of that archetypal “Sony” sound. Thick, weighty, somewhat lush with a smattering of treble sparkle. Burn in time me thinks.
Source: FiiO E7 and E9 combo and Hisoundaudio Studio 3rd Anniversary Edition with the occasional something else used also.
Lows: If there is to be one tonal aspect of the HM9 your being to buy them for it’s probably the bass. Is it awesome? Well, I’m afraid no its not. By awesome I mean the kind of bass that the HPH-Pro 500 had. Impossibly taut, vigorously ebullient and fantastically rhythmic. The bass here isn’t that sort of bass at all. Here we have big, rich, wallowy, indulgently flavoured bass. It never feels hurried or overly aggressive; its laid back approach is the height of self-indulgence. Rich, so very, very richly warm and gooey and sumptuous and all that. Personally it’s all a bit too warm, I’d like a little more composure and the HM9 is so much more about creating a voluminous low end. Its big and thick, too sofa like for me. It’s the kinda of bass that Sony has aimed at for years so I have no doubts it’s one thats popular, particularly I believe in china. Lots and lots of warmth.
The up side to its warmth is that if you want tracks with hard hitting and vastly abundant bass (so top 40 stuff really) then you can have your cake and eat it. The bass is big and sumptuous and non-fatiguing. Bass as found the Pro500 was killer and got utterly exhausting on the ear. The HM9 you can let rip with gobs and gobs of bass and not tire yourself out in the slightest.
Mids: They are a touch pushed back for my liking. They are also rather over warmed, particularly in the lower vocal ranges. This in some adds highly undue levels of warmth, anything by Julie London sounded excessively thick. I cannot say that I found it particularly delightful. Never mind though, with all highly flavoured aural offerings for every artist or style it doesn’t suit, there in another that will pair up perfectly. You slap on modern, fast paced pop or rock and what might on other setups be an assault to your delicate little ears, becomes a smooth yet lively joy. The aggression and edges are all ever so softened, and let’s face it, lots of pop music might be fun and enjoyable, but many “singers” are a bit rubbish. The HM9 applies a 60’s film style soft focus that just makes everything seem that bit better than it really is. Sure it’s not giving you every last, tiny, explicit little nuance but you trade that for the greater whole. Vocals are all super smooth and silky.
Quantity wise I’d have liked a bit more and particularly a bit more in the upper, lighter vocal ranges but hey ho.
Highs: This isn’t a treble monster. There is a little flick of treble sparkling away but on the whole, its refined and smooth. A bit over smooth maybe, for some certainly. The HM9 is still all about a rich, warm smooth presentation that is utterly non fatiguing. Its smooth softness lets you listen to all like you’re in a gently warmed bath. Relaxing and genteel all the way. When you try and go more aggressive and snappy, it does it and sounds good but it never convinces you that it’s truly vicious. It’s like being attacked by a pillow, no matter how hard you are struck it’s not going to cut you. It’s a great big billowy, pillowy smorgasbord of sound.
I might rather there was a little more treble but what’s there is clean and sparkles through enough and while the finest detail suffers, who cares. It’s a big soft bundle of loveliness.
Soundstage: Yeah it’s alright. They are closed cans so not so much with the airiness and their thickness lends itself to a rather enclosed sound. Depth is okay and width is fine too, a biggish room, nothing too grand. Instrument separation is so so, integration is more the order of the day.
Fit/Comfort: They were easy enough going on my ears, they seemed to find a seal easy enough too. The pads are very much on ear, depending on the size of yours you’ll know how well you get on with this sort. A couple times using they sat just so to give a little pinching but nothing vast. On the whole they are soft and pillowy in the tactile sense as they are the aural. Pads are soft and squishy. The clamping force was fairly light for their weight, at times I could have happily had them clamp more tightly to feel more secure. It was sufficient for walking about but I wouldn’t think so for jogging.
Cable: Unusually you get a bit of choice here. You get three, one round one with a mic, for phone use. Then two flat ones, one about a meter I guess and the other err, rather longer. The two flat ones is maybe overkill but I like seeing the mic’ed cable option.
Phone Use: Swapping for a bit over the round cable with the mic on it. Sadly the mic is a mic and play/pause/answer button only. No hand volume controls, yes I know because there isn’t just one standard for that but hey. Maybe a cable with one might come in the future? So, I plugged into the phone, gave someone a call and it all worked as one would expect it might. I heard them fine, they heard me fine.
Amped/Unamped: Normally more power means better but with these I’m not so sure. With more these seemed to get more bassy and given they are pretty damn bassy I actually preferred driving them out of my N5. Not that the bass was significantly changed, it just had a bit less substance and the mids got a bit more chance to come out. Either way if you have these there is no particular need to go but a really powerful dap. If it were me, I’d sooner go hunting for a light, bit bright source. Sounded pretty great out of the Studio and the little 1G Shuffle.
Isolation: It will matter how good a seal you get but for me, pretty good. It doesn’t really pair up to what I’m used to in IEM’s, I’d say it’s at around the so so for a dynamic level. With music going you pretty much won’t notice most outside noises. I would think fine for normal walking about, on a bus kinda levels. Certainly enough with music playing for you to get yourself run over.
Accessories: You get a nice little spread. In addition to the 3 cables I mentioned, you get the Easter egg case, a plane adapter, a little carry strap for the Easter egg and inside it you get a little Velcro baggy to keep your cables inside the egg tidy. Generally I think big can cases are of limited use, I mean just who carries one about? Still, I find myself liking the weird Easter egg, for some reason its peculiarity makes me smile.
Value: On a strict audio quality basis, I’m a little so so. If you’re an audiophile looking for every last ounce of technical performance, I don’t think your finding it here. So what, that’s totally not what the HM9 is all about. It’s about enjoyment and lush smoothness. All the yummy warmth of being wrapped up in a duvet with a cuppa soup in hand while siting a room lit only by a roaring fire. You take that acoustic profile and you pair it up with some sturdy, oomphy build quality then you’re getting closer to the matter. It’s a really solid feeling headphone that ought to last you for years to come.
Conclusion: On paper I don’t think I’d like the HM9. It’s all so warm and gooey and a teeny bit suffocating. In big cans I like things to be open, airy with a delicately flighty flair to them and the HM9 is the complete and total opposite of that. Its heavy and thick and weighty and just so not me. Maybe it’s that winter is beginning to peak over the horizon and its cosy warmth conjures an aural image that appeals to my sense of yuletide joy? Maybe it is, maybe if I was writing this in late spring I would be more inclined to call it oppressively warm, so thick it’s like wading though a swamp, maybe and maybe not. I don’t know. I find myself for whatever reason actually rather liking it. It feels like some naughty indulgent pleasure that I don’t want to admit to others that I secretly like it.
There is something so very indulgent about the HM9. It’s so smooth and weighty and is soooooooooooooo non fatiguing, you can take any music, no matter how fast, no matter how horribly mastered and it smooth’s out any abrasiveness for you. You can let yourself go wild and not be wincing at how bad the vocalist actually is, how tin can like the mastering has left the high end, it just pulls everything together. Everything smooshes up and just works. The only place I feel it doesn’t is in very bass centric music. The bass then for me just wants to over shadow more than it should but….. I’m sure a lot of people out there will hardly view this as a problem.
On a more objective level I am aware the HM9 has a multitude of shortcomings, it’s just so flavoured acoustically that I’d have trouble saying it’s technically excellent. It’s just not what it’s trying to. Like saying a tractor is rubbish because it’s really slow round a race track, or a Ferrari is because it can’t pull a plough. The HM9 is all about the big woolly plush gooey warmth. It’s like a marshmallow for your hearing. If you want sweet, soft and squishy and all it entails you will be most pleased with yourself if you grab a set.