Brainwavz BLU-100 Review
Thanks to mp4nation for the review sample
First Impressions: On opening the parcel I see no box before me, not a shocker as I know the product is brand new, so no retail box for me. I just have the, now regular, rectangular black and red Brainwavz case. It’s a good case so I’m happy with that. Inside it we have jammed all the bits and bobs you need. The BLU-100’s themselves, a pair of Comply ”actives” a bag of tips and, more unusually, a micro usb cable. Yes, for the BLU’-100’s need charging. So after charging for a bit, the first thing I do is pull off the rubber tips and put the Comply’s on. I wonder if they very deliberately put the “active” ones in there because they are the more grippy on the ear?
So first listen and oh we have problems. Breaking up, dropping galore. Oh somethings not right. Ah, it would seem that my phone hates being paired to this and the SBH-20 at the same time. Deleting the 20 and all of sudden we seem problem free. So bass seems alright, hmm not as abundant or as deep as I would have presumed. Rather more in the upper vocals / lower highs area too. Over all it’s a bit more of a grown up sound than I’d had expected would be the case. Hmm, I find myself thinking maybe there should be a bit more lower bass. Maybe it’s just aimed at bass over heavy pop stuff. I’m thinking “Now That’s What I Call Running” may be the sort of thing for these.
Source: Nexus 5, Iphone 5, Moto G 4G and Lumia 735.
Lows: Depth in absolute terms is, so so. This irritated me as there is a bit of a lift to the mid/bass region and in a few songs I found drum impacts to be really irritating. It’s not like it’s terrible but I’ve been spending weeks with higher end stuff and I’m not being wow’ed. I really could do with a more soft, bilious low end. I suspect it’s been tightened up and made more impactful on purpose though. That purpose I think is to make the bass of quick, rhythmic basslines stay tight and snappy. Firing up “Now That’s What I Call Running 2014” and yep, I’m sure it’s aimed at exactly that sort of gym music. The bass pairs up well with the bassy, poppy, rhythmic stuff that’s aimed at getting you moving. It’s not aiming at Nora Jones. The audio snob in me wants to bash it a little but it seems unfair to do so. In targeting poppy bouncy tat, its bass signature pairs up very well. It’s about pithy grip and a bit of punch. It’s rather good at that.
Mids: Again, this is no Nora, smooth, creamy goodness. It’s pretty so so. Slap on that “Now Running” album and once more its pretty well suited to that sort of music. It’s not trying to give a spectacular, wondrous rendition of magical vocals, it about spitting bouncy poppy tracks at you. It’s plenty clear enough and sufficiently articulate. Slapping on some old school, Roxette and I find it has got me dancing along in my chair, it may not be quite audiophile grade but it’s certainly enjoyable.
Quantitatively, it’s a bit more middy than most lower end things, usually cheaper things have gobs of bass and savage highs, this doesn’t. It is therefore relatively a bit middy. The upper bass and lower highs still stand forward of them however so they reside in a slight valley.
Highs: They are alright. Impacts can be a bit ouchy to my delicate ears with an urge to get a hint sibilant and shouty in the upper vocal / lower treble. The extension is alright and they do a pretty decent shimmer. Clarity is plenty good too. Mostly it’s all quite reasonable which is an admirable feat for 20 quid IEM’s. Mind you, I wouldn’t want to go crazy with really treble abundant songs. Stick to your average bouncy pop and you’re pretty much set.
Soundstage: Instrument separation take a bit of a beating but the overall sense of scale is good. They won’t convince you you’re in a concert hall but they have a good fullness to their sound and presentation.
Fit: Looking at them I did have a little pause. They aren’t tiny are they? So with the grippy Comply’s on I popped them in and, well, it was perfectly fine. I opted to mostly wear with the cable going up over my ear then down under my chin to the other side. That way I felt if they did fall out the cables still over my ear to catch them. They never once fell out. Granted I didn’t test on a bouncy castle but they never felt insecure.
Comfort: They a bit big, bud wise, so some might have issue but I didn’t. Slapped them in the ears and they were fine. Despite all the battery and Bluetooth bits they never felt heavy in my ears or in any way bothersome.
Microphonics: None. Technically there is a bit of cable and you wear straight down as it were you might get the cable banging on a collar. Looped over the top of your ear cures that. You could always wrap it round the back of your head too.
Phone use: A call came in, I answered and I was told I was clearly audible, as were they. The last number redial could be handy to some too for ringing back people. The play/pause, track skip and volume controls worked just fine too.
Cable: Well, the “no cable” thing is very, very freeing. Personally I feel the 100’s are just made for gym use. That I could have my phone in my pocket, skip tracks with my watch and in theory I could be on a treadmill or bike, or even out running. Perhaps you’re a jogger that gets pissed with a cable flapping about? Well these could be the cure you’re looking for.
Isolation: Pretty good actually. For dynamics they are not bad and I’d think would or should fairly easily drown out the sounds of other gym goers or the traffic you’re jogging by. They aren’t really plane or Tube worthy but you know, fine for normal out and about or on a bus use. As ever, easily enough to drown out the motorised vehicle that’s about to run you over. So please do use your eyes when you have them on.
Battery Life: They claim about 4 hours and that seems about right. If you were using these as your all day normal earphones that’s a bit tight. You’d get away with most commute days, still I see these aimed at exercise use. Anyone exercise for more than 4 hours at a go? No, I thought not.
Accessories: Bag of tips, some ear internal guide/rest things, pair of Comply’s which I’m surprised at, a little case and a micro USB cable to add to the collection. Basically everything you could need or want. Oh and a little Velcro cable tie.
Value: Staggering. While I might be so so about their audio quality, hey they are currently £22. Normal price is £29. How??????? How the buggery hell have Brainwavz managed that??? These have not just the earphones but a battery, a little amp and the Bluetooth receiver in there too. For god sake they even manage to come with a pair of Comply’s that retail for a fiver a pair. I bet they much get a discount buying so many but still……. The case too would cost probably about the same again to buy yourself. What the hell must the margins on this be, it’s surely got to be razor thin. At the price they are I’d have no trouble in the slightest saying if you are a gym goer or jogger just buy a pair. There is just no way you can go wrong when they are so absurdly cheap as they are.
Conclusion: The Blu-100’s are a bit of a mixed bag. As an absolute, their sound quality is a bit so so. Head-Fi is the land of people who are passionate about music and sound quality, the 100’s are not going to mesmerise anyone in that regard. It’s not to say they are bad, far from it but they are squarely in the budget end of the scale. Audio quality isn’t its raison d'etre, that is bluetooth.
Curiously, music seemed to sound rather more pithy and clear coming from the Lumia 735 than from the Nexus 5 although there was more noise, crackle’s and such on the Lumia connection. The Iphone was fine but with the bonus of having a little battery indicator show on the phone.
As it happens I have Sony SBH-20 on my desk too, when I take the two and put them head to head, with the stock Sony buds I find it the more relaxed in the uppers and thus is the more appealing pairing to my ears. However the midbass response on the BLU is rather more vigorous and I could see it being the bigger crowd pleaser. The greater differentiator though is that with the Sony you can change what headphones you use but the price you pay for that is wires dangling about. Not to mention Sony and their weird love of J cables. The BLU is the far more user friendly of the two in actual use. The tiny joining cable it has, you can loop over your ears and round the back of your head and you’d never even notice you’re wearing it. For jogging, in the gym stuff it’s considerably more freeing.
The BLU-100 is more than just an earphone. It is a headset for your phone. It’s a pair of earplugs to drown out distractions, it’s a motivation tool for the gym, it’s a controller too for the music. Volume controls, track skiping, there is a redial option. It is its own DAC and amp too. It is everything and it’s all wireless. Seriously, once you’ve got it on you completely forget that it’s there, music and the occasional voice just appears in your head like magic. It’s a little bit wonderful, it’s a little bit spooky, it’s a lot bit fun.