Brainwavz HM2 Review
Thanks to Brainwavz for the sample.
First Impressions: Opening the box an there is that now expected black and red coloured case. It’s a funny oval shape this time but it’s still clearly a Brainwavz case. Inside there are the headphones and the accompanying cables. Odd cable choices, I get that one is a mic’d one and the other not but the not one is flat. Okay, so someone must love flat cables but I’m not one of them. Sigh. Still it’s not like it’s a “bad” cable just I’d have preferred round. Anyway plugging it in to the headphones, aww, they only have a socket on one side. Not that it’s a common thing to have on both sides and given their price I didn’t really expect it but hey. I must note that they feel really good in the hands, soft touch plastic and all very snugly put together. Hmm maybe a bit big though, the smallest option fits me fine.
Sound wise, oh these are the M2 in headphone form I think. Big, soft, warmly rich with a dampened upper end. It’s a rather mellow and weighty sound. I can see it appealing to those who want to crank the volume and be engulfed by a mass of warm squishy bass.
Source: FiiO E7/E9 combo, Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd Anv., HiFiMAN HM-650, 1G Ipod Shuffle, Nexus 5, Iphone 5 and Graham Slee Solo Ultra Linear.
Lows: Whoa nelly!!! To say these are bassy would be like saying cheese is cheesy. The HM2 aren’t completely entirely about the bass, but well, they are pretty damn close. So are they totally for me? Na. They are fun though, big fat ass bassy beasts. They are just the sort of thing for slapping on the like of the “Now” series. Things where you want big a big fat bottom and the finest and most nuanced detail retrieval just doesn’t matter. The detail does suffer, including in the bass, it’s not the highly sculpted bass I’d prefer but the things cost US$50 and frankly they are not tuned at “Head-Fi” but the mainstream. They are big, big fat ass spanking bassy beasts.
Depth, well it can’t keep that beastly sized bass level as it goes down, it clings on, gripping as tightly as general looseness can. It also softens as it goes, no surprises there. Frankly it will happily belt out anything your likely to feed it and unless you have some secret passion for Bachs Choral works and stupendously low organ notes you’ll be very happy with its performance.
Mids: Ahh so you might be thinking how come in never mentioned the so called mid/bass or what I term the upper bass range? Well yeah it bleeds, not oops I cut my finger bleed but oh crap I just cut my arm off, arterial spraying all over the place. If you have seen the Adam’s Family, Wendnesday’s rendition of Hamlet’s “Sweet Oblivion” scene, think that. Okay so I’m maybe over stating it a tad but you get the idea. There is a big mound at the upper bass / lower mids and it flavours the entire mid-range. Thick and warm and overly lush. If you want some air and space the HM2 tends to be overly warm and stifling but I don’t really see it as being a problem. The HM2 is a headphone for pop, the stuff that dominates the charts and you just don’t want breathy, open and delicate vocals there. This isn’t a Diana Krall or Nora Jones headphone, it’s a Niki Minaj or Taylor Swift Headphone. That said, it’s not terrible for the Krall woman or Nora, just very flavoured, very warm and very laid back.
Quantitatively it’s a moderately abundant sitting right in between the mountainous bass and the subdued treble. Clarity and audibility is fine for the most part, again its great for where its aimed but if you’re hoping for something to wow you playing back Elgar’s Cello Concerto’s, this isn’t the headphone your looking for.
Highs: They do exist, playing silly buggers with the EQ lets you know it’s there and it’s not bad quality too for the cost outlay. Still they are made with mainstream drivel in mind, stuff that dominates the charts, has been dynamically compressed to oblivion and in general has sucky mastering. Most stuff in the charts isn’t intended to be listened to too closely, it needs a little bit of soft focus to cover up its imperfections and the HM2 does that nicely. Its warmth and thickness gently cover up brittle or scratchy treble. There is enough there to keep you up to date with happening but it never dominant. It does pretty good and very treble heavy stuff like anything from Owl City but it’s ever a wash of treble rather than pin crisp detail. I’d much rather that than be harsh and the HM2 is never harsh.
Soundstage: For all its warmth it’s got more scale and space than you expect. It’s never really airy but it doesn’t sound as enclosed as its warmth would incline it to. It’s nice, slightly big for such a relaxed and comfortable space.
Fit: On its smallest size it fit me fine, on the ears and that was that. Still I only wonder as to what sort of circus people the largest size is for.
Comfort: Ever a balance of clamping hard enough to stay on yet not clamping hard enough to get ear squishing after a time. Well all I can say is it worked great for me. The pads were great and the headband too. I’ve seen some comment on the lack of padding on the headband but as it was perfectly flat against the top of my skull. Maybe if you had it sitting at some angle to better fit your ears maybe it could be an issue but it wasn’t for me.
Aesthetics: I like them a lot. The matte black and the grey pads, so absorbing and visually confident. They aren’t trying to wow you with some glitzy, glossy, chavtastic blingy bling screaming LOOK AT MEEEEE!!!!!! Maybe you want something that is more attention grabbing but I don’t, these to my eyes look excellent. Very, very, VERY much like their colouring.
Microphonics: Na never really got any. There was a little cable noise at times but almost never and it was never a problem like it can be sometimes with IEM’s.
Amped/Unamped: Nothing spectacular changed. Actually if anything on the whole I felt they were at their most happy when running just out of a phone. The bass was less powerful and given their quantity and warmth I didn’t mind at all a little reduction in their power. It’s almost like they were made in mind of being powered by relatively weak devices, like phones ;-). Things that come with phone / mice’d cables usually are pretty easy to drive things so tend to be tuned with those devices in mind.
If you do amp them, given their pricing it’s gonna be because you want moar bass!!!!! So I’d suspect that your little amp is gonna come with a bass boost button to give you mountains of the stuff.
Phone Use: On swapping cables is it me or did it just get louder? Are the cables different impedances? Anyway, so the mic cable you know what’s odd about it? Well it has a volume controls. The reason lots of things don’t is because there is really no unified standard for transmitting volume controls back to the device. So rather than advertise as having and then it not work many companies prefer not to deal with the ball ache of it. Brainwavz have however clearly had a genius idea. Have the play/pause/skip button that is pretty much universal and just added in a variable resistor to control the volume independently of the source!!!! How has no one else thought to do this before now???????
On filing up the phones dialler (on the Moto G 4G) my sister seemed surprised that I was calling using a headset, she said it sounded just like I was properly using the phone, so she thought highly of the mic.
Isolation: For a big closed, on-ear headphone it’s pretty good. It’s about what you’d expect so you could get a away with using it out and about as people do but for very noisy environments like a flight or the Tube I’d want IEM’s. Still they would do in a pinch or if you just can’t abide having things in your ears. Oh and my usual, do try to watch where you going or get run over and killed warning.
Cable: Well its removable so yey! Still I’m not loving the non mic’d flat one, I just don’t love flat cables it works fine and stuff but its flat. The mic’d one with the universal volume control still seems like genius to me. Otherwise it’s a cable, nicely constructed but nothing special, it’s a cable.
Accessories: Well you get the case and the two cables. I can’t think of anything else you could want really. The cables are both of a good quality and the case is as all of Brainwavz black and red cases are, this ones just bigger than their usual IEM ones. They really do make a nice case.
Value: It’s Brainwavz so it kinda goes without saying that it is of course great value for money. Now at present they are going for US$50 from Brainwavz direct That can’t be right can it? At US$50 that’s £34 and that’s delivered. I don’t know how they do it. if I was to go tet the post office right now and try to post theso halfway round the world im sure it would cost that much just to post them. While they are nothing the best construction I have ever seen in my life nor the best sounding their price is just silly. As with everything that Brainwavz do, these are a bargain.
Conclusion: So the HM2 are not really a product aimed at me, acoustically anyway as I completely adore their visuals. These are aimed a mainstream populist sound. Their price too is aimed at an audience that isn’t looking for absolute sonic purity, these aren’t monitors, they aren’t playing at being a pair of Shures are Etymotics, these are about having a good time. With that goal in mind they hit their target square on.
Sure they aren’t acoustically perfect and I could sit and bash them for being overly bassy, for being overly midbassy or for lacking in detail retrieval but to do so would miss the point of what they are. These are aimed at the 15 to 25 year old that wants to have music while they walk or bus to school/college/uni/work they are about filling an otherwise bereft moment with joy. Joy and passion with a hint of wonder thrown in, music should captivate your heart and your soul and unless it’s your job, scrutinising said music just isn’t needed. The HM2 does that. It’s there to cheer you up, console you, fight away that moment of boredom, whatever it is that you use music for.
So would I buy a pair? Na, they aren’t aimed at me though. I want much less flavouring, much more purity and much more resolving power so that I can pick apart the music and the source, listen to the quality of the mastering and all that sort of stuff. Like offering you a hamburger when you wanted a glass of aloe vera juice. The HM2 is that hamburger, a stupidly good value hamburger and its aimed for those who looking for a hamburger. The normal, ordinary everyday music listener and it gives a quality product that is going to be exactly what they want. It just so happens its in a stupidly cheap yet great looking package.