Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Brainwavz S5: The Party Pill

Intro




TL;DR: The Brainwavz S5 is loud, bass-heavy, energetic, and a lot of fun to listen to -- just the ticket for any EDM lover.

Before I begin, huge thanks to Audrey (@Salsera) for providing a sample of the Brainwavz S5 in exchange for my honest opinion. My deepest gratitude goes out to her and the guys over at Brainwavz. But let me remind you that I was neither paid to write this review, nor am I an affiliate of Brainwavz or any of its staff. Any and all opinions expressed in this review are strictly my own unless otherwise specified, and these opinions should be treated as nothing more than that. Finally, my impressions of the S5 in this review might conflict with yours; therefore, your mileage may vary.

Well, let me just say this: This review is filled with a lot of firsts. I won’t list them all to keep things brief, but the most significant one is how this is the first time I’ve been asked to write a review from a representative of a company. I know, I’m still squealing like a girl since I was sent a PM a couple weeks ago -- but still, it is my first time, so I’ll give it all I got!

Anyway, let’s get onto the subject at hand. The Brainwavz S5 is Brainwavz’ latest IEM release, and is now their current S-series flagship IEM. Priced at $100 retail, the S5s look the part, feel the part, and are priced the part, but do they play the part? Read on and find out.


Note: To view the pictures in a larger size, click on the images.


== Aesthetics ==

Packaging, Design, Accessories


When I (still squealing like a girl) opened up the package containing the earphones, I was greeted with a very retail-looking box -- the likes of which I haven’t held in my hands for averylong time. Right on the front of the box, an image of the S5 is emblazoned along with the name BRAINWAVZ and an “S5” on the top-right corner. That front panel actually opens up to reveal the S5s sitting there in a moulded plastic housing, just waiting there for a pair of ears to take them out and put them on. The back of that front panel contains a quick history of Brainwavz and a list of the S5’s features. The other sides of the box had a lot of other information on it, like specifications and whatnot (which eliminates the need for useless literature inside the box, which is a good thing). You should be able to read them with a click on one of the pictures at the bottom of the page.

Now, let’s take a good long look at the accessories. When I took a look at the accessories list on their official product page, my jaw dropped to the floor. The Brainwavz S5 actually has -- wait for it -- nine pairs of eartips, including a double-flange, a triple-flange, and even a Comply T400 pair. (I compiled a full list of the accessories in the Specs section below.) The Brainwavz S5 quite literally has its own collection of eartips. In fact, they’re so many that they’re actually more than half of the eartip pairs I already had. Oh, and did I mention they also come with a nifty hard case and a 2-year warranty?


Design, Build, Microphonics


Now, onto the earphones themselves. I have to say, I was totally surprised to learn that the S5 actually has afull metalhousing, rather than just plastic. To my eyes, I thought it looked like plastic and expected it to be, until I read the description on the box. That was one of the big points that changed my outlook of the S5s completely. The S5s have a flat cable this time, which has their own strengths and weaknesses, which I’ll explain in further detail later. And also unlike all of the other IEMs I’ve reviewed, the S5s have no remote, but has an eye-catchingly large Y-split in its place. I mean, just look at it. It’s freaking huge! But then again, that doesn’t really change anything, does it?

If I could sum up the build quality of the Brainwavz S5 in one word, it would have to befantastic. I’m being honest here -- the S5s look, feel, and are very durable. The full-aluminum housings are nice and solid. The huge Y-split in the middle looks to be very durable and should probably last along time. Even the connector, which, given the rather short strain relief, looks well-built.

However, I do have some thoughts on the build that I would like to express. First of all, I would suggest Brainwavz to go with a removable cable design for the S5s.I would like a replaceable cable for the S5 since, honestly, they sound really good (more on this later) and since the cable is usually the first thing to break in an earphone.On the other hand, I think I do see why they wouldn’t go with that approach, because with all of the measures they’ve taken to ensure maximum durability for that one cable (I mean, just look at that Y-split), going directly for a removable cable approach would render all their efforts null. Second, the cable itself. The Brainwavz S5 employs a flat cable, which, unlike most round cables, is virtually tangle-free; however, they are a lot harder to manage than round cables, and is much heavier than I’d like. On the topic of cable noise, this is also a great point for the Brainwavz S5. Despite flat cables usually being very microphonic, I’m glad to report that this cable is far from that -- although I would say that it’s the result of the IEMs being worn around the ear. Still, their weight is pretty heavy, though on the other hand, it’s really durable, so I would say that’s a little bit of a trade-off.

Finally, and probably one of my biggest issues with the build of the S5, there is the issue of driver flex. Driver flex is as it sounds like--an occurrence in which the driver in an earphone where the driver (speaker) inside flexes due to the air pressure of the ear canal. This results in potential damage to the driver, and damage is something we need to avoid. Then again, it only happens occasionally, but the fact that it does happen is something to worry about. However, I had a quick talk with Audrey and she stated it should just be my own pair, so that’s something less to worry about. In any case, I still feel it’s an issue that I can't simply leave out.


Fit, Comfort, Isolation


I never actually had any fit problems with the S5. It’s been a while since I’ve worn an IEM around the ear, but my ears aren’t as fussy with most universals, so a little caveat emptor there. A peculiar little oddity about the S5s’ fit is how they still fit perfectly fine when worn straight-down, despite them being designed to be worn around-the-ear. Comfort, in my opinion, is pretty variable depending on the eartips; however, the Comply T-400 foam eartips provide the best comfort for the S5 in my opinion. Isolation is also a variable factor that depends on the eartips, but the S5 has generally good isolation with the stock silicone eartips.

Anyways, I think that’s about it for the aesthetics of the S5; now, let’s get to the sound!


== Sound ==

Specs


Headphone Type
Closed-back, vented in-ear monitor (straight down, around-the-ear)
Driver Type
10mm dynamic, neodymium magnets, CCAW voice coil
Frequency Response
18 – 24,000 Hz
Max. Input Power
20 mW
Sensitivity
110 dB at 1 mW
Impedance
16 Ω
Weight
N/A
Cable
1.3 m flat Y-cord, OFC
Connector
3.5 mm (1/8”) gold-plated, straight TRS
Accessories
Hard carrying case
6 sets silicone single-flange eartips (gray S/M/L + black S/M/L)
1 set silicone double-flange eartips
1 set silicone triple-flange eartips
1 set Comply T400 premium foam eartips

There really is nothing much to say here, so let’s move on to the most important question: How do they sound?



Equipment, Burn-In


< style="font-family: inherit;">The sources I’ll be using consists of a 4thgeneration iPod Touch, an iPad 3, and my PC through Headphone-Out. The amp I use is a Yamaha RX-V359 receiver feeding the IEMs through Headphone-Out. Finally, the EQ used for the test is Viper4Windows on the PC. My test tracks are posted here for reference.

Also, prior to the review, I have burned-in the Brainwavz S5 for a minimum of 100 hours, to clear any doubts about burn-in. As for the eartips being used, I used the Comply T400 foam eartips and the stock grey eartips interchangeably.


So let’s not waste any time, and let’s get to it!


Sound Quality

Bass:
The S5’s bass is the star of the show here, having a very heavy, fun, in-your-face presentation that pounds the beat down so hard and so deep you can pretty much feel it in your chest. This has its merits, especially in EDM and bass-heavy genres (Knife Party -- Give It Up), but it doesn’t go without its drawbacks. For one, its quantity tends to overwhelm the rest of the sound, making you hear not much other than the bass at some points. They also tend to blend into the lower midrange, making male vocals and instruments like guitars sound thick and lack articulation.


Midrange:
The midrange on the S5 is, having a V-shaped signature, is recessed and distant-sounding. However, despite the heavy bass, is surprisingly clear in certain songs (Ed Sheeran -- Runaway). Of course, that last sentence doesn’t redeem it completely -- the S5’s midrange completely flunks solo piano tracks because of their warmth (Isaac Shepard -- Looking Forward). For midrange-focused genres I can easily recommend several other IEMs just as easily as I would recommend the S5 to EDM lovers.


Treble:
The S5’s treble is lively, snappy, and energetic, providing a nice counterpoint to the thundering bass. It gives the midrange a much needed clarity boost (so at least you can still hear it clearly over the bass), which is a good thing, but at times they do tend to get too lively and bright, which is pretty irritating. This happens in certain tracks, however exactly which ones really comes down to the listener.


Soundstage/Presentation:
The S5’s soundstage is pretty good for a bassy, consumer-sounding IEM. It’s got decent size and air, which is surprising for the IEM that it is. Its presentation is rather intimate, though, so don’t expect too much out of the S5’s soundstage. For what it does, though, it’s more than adequate.


Genre Proficiency:
With my description of the Brainwavz S5 in the previous section, it’s easy to see that these things are a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. Well, that’s where I’m going to stop you. Yes, they play all genres well, but so far, no IEM has ever made me love EDM more than the Brainwavz S5. Really. They play any type of EDM from dubstep to progressive house exceptionally well, with each aspect of their sound signature playing a part to deliver a club right into your ears. It’s practically like calling up all of your favorite DJs and EDM producers into your house for a party for you, you, and only you.

But like I said, these IEMs aren’t all fun and games – they could play classical a lot better than I expected. With Vivaldi’sThe Four Seasons(played by the Connecticut Early Music Festival Ensemble), the Brainwavz S5 manages to keep up with the dynamics of each track. In a nutshell, it’s really something. The bass doesn’t take too much prominence in the album, which leaves the midrange shining through with warm, clear beams.

On the other hand, the Brainwavz S5 is a warm IEM, and that warmth can be off-putting in a lot of classical recordings. In this case, it depends more on the recording and affects some more than others, but it’s a quality of the Brainwavz S5 that cannot be ignored. Then again, they still sound pretty great.


Summary:
The Brainwavz S5 immediately wowed me from the very start with a fun, lively sound signature. They had a very energetic, life-of-the-party kind of sound that, to my ears, was amazing and a whole lot of fun to listen to. This was the kind of IEM I was looking for -- something that was lively, something that was fun, something that made you get on your feet and dance, even though you’re the only one listening to the music.

However, the true value of the Brainwavz S5 really comes down to your musical preferences. If you favour clear vocals and instruments, then you should start looking elsewhere since the Brainwavz S5 is not an IEM that will give you that. On the other hand, if you listen to EDM or rap or just want a heavy, energetic sound signature, then look no further.


Other Media

I’ve been gaming with the Brainwavz S5 extensively – mostly racing around in Watch Dogs, but pretty extensively nonetheless. The Brainwavz S5s perform undoubtedly well in this department, with the bass making you really feel the gunfire and the roar of the engine as you zip through the Chicago highway. Vocals come through very clearly, as well. Positional audio is good, but I’m iffy on its performance in more competitive gaming scenarios. They should more than suffice for the average gamer, though. As for the movie buff…I don’t know about you, but I’m clearly going to enjoy watching The Desolation of Smaug again with these babies on.


Value, Comparison

With Brainwavz listing these IEMs at $100, there’s no surprise that the S5s will face a lot of competition, including many amazing IEMs that have earned their place in Head-Fi’ers’ hearts with ease. And these legends I’m talking about? Oh, I don’t know, the Shure SE215, the Yamaha EPH-100, and the HiFiMAN RE-400 Waterline, to name a few. Like I said, these three IEMs are legendary, and that goes without saying. It’s a shame, then, that I have none of them here with me, since they would’ve made for one hell of a shootout. So for now, you guys will have to put up with what I did get to compare.


Versus Monster DNA (~$200)
I always like comparing IEMs with headphones, because aside from their inherent sonic differences, it makes for a great opportunity to see if an IEM has no trouble keeping up with the big leagues. And I’m happy to report that the Brainwavz S5 do just that, and then some.

I really like the Monster DNA for its fun, but audiophile-friendly sound signature packed into a Beats-esque, nightclub-inspired package. The on-ear headphones have a moderate V-shape signature, with great bass and crisp treble without sacrificing too much of the midrange. The Brainwavz S5 takes things a little bit further with its stronger V-shape sound that gives it even more bass power, lively treble that gets too sharp at times, and a more recessed midrange. However, the Brainwavz do improve with better tips, and at its best, they sound nicely balanced and fun, making the S5s and the DNAs not too far apart from each other.


Versus Xiaomi Pistons 2.0 (~$25)
Since I don’t have any proper IEMs that would make fairer matchups for the Brainwavz S5, I thought I’d let my self-proclaimed “King of Ultra-Budget-Fi,” the Xiaomi Pistons 2. Even now, they’re still one of the best all-rounders I’ve ever heard in my audiophile journey, and I know a lot of other Head-Fi’ers would agree with me. They just have this mild V-shaped signature with great clarity in the mids and crisp treble that just blends with the rest of the signature so well. For me, it’s probably the best headphone I’ve ever owned and heard (so far).

Against the Pistons, the Brainwavz S5 gives out the same impression I did when I compared them with the Monster DNA – a stronger V-shaped signature, more powerful bass, hotter treble (which lessens with Comply tips), and a slightly more recessed midrange. Oh, and the S5s sound much warmer than the Pistons. Right now, I’m leaning towards the Brainwavz S5, if only for the fact that the pair I compared the S5s with are my sister’s. That, and at the moment, I’m having too much fun listening to Monstercat 015.


== Conclusion ==


In the end, there’s a lot to like about the Brainwavz S5 – from the look, to the build, to the sound. They’re pretty good all-rounders, and can play all genres fairly well, although you might want to look for something else when you have more specific musical tastes. That means classical lovers, run away – and run away fast. But for someone with an electronic addiction, here’s the doctor’s prescription – take a pair of the Party Pills, once a day, every day. You’ll be having a blast.


Category
Score
Comment
Packaging, Accessories
8/10
Solid retail packaging and a treasure trove of useful accessories make for an amazing starter package.
Design, Build, Microphonics
8/10
All-metal housings, heavy-duty strain reliefs, and solid cable turn the S5 into a tank of an IEM.
Fit, Comfort, Isolation
8/10
The S5 in general provides an easy and secure fit thanks to its over-ear design. Comfort and isolation are mostly eartip-dependent, but are pretty good with the stock eartips.
Microphone
N/A

Bass
8/10
The S5’s bass is heavy, deep, and loud, but tends to be bloated and overwhelming. Great for EDM, but not much for everything else.
Midrange
5/10
The midrange exhibits good clarity, but is recessed, distant, and overly warm. Not very good by audiophile standards, but should do fine for most consumers.
Treble
7/10
The S5 has a bright and lively treble, although it does tend to get too bright at times.
Presentation
7/10
Don’t expect too much out of the S5’s soundstage, although to most ears its soundstage is more than adequate.
Gaming, Movies
7/10
These aren’t the type of IEMs I would use for gaming with its explosive low-end; however, they do perfectly well with cinematic action movies instead.
EQ Response
7/10
The S5 is pretty easy to EQ, with a little bass adjustment already going a long way.
Value
8/10
For $100 there’s little to complain about with the S5’s package -- unless you were looking for better vocals, in which case you got the wrong IEM for the job.
Total
7.4/10
EDM lovers, gather round -- the S5 is one tough IEM to beat if you’re looking for an energetic, fun, in-the-club experience.


Shout-Outs, Gallery

First of all, I want to again thank Audrey at Brainwavz for giving me this huge opportunity to review their latest IEM. You can check out some of the other pictures I took of the S5here, and you can click herefor more headphone reviews.This has been thatBeatsguy of DB Headphones; thanks for reading!


About Brainwavz

At Brainwavz we have a simple mission, to produce innovative, high quality audio products with a dedicated focus on high-end sound at a realistic price. Our strength, success and product range is built on our unique relationship with our customers and users, a relationship that has produced a simple and obvious result. We give real-users real sound quality. 2014 will see Brainwavz pushing forward with an expanded product line, continuing with unique and innovative products, from earphones to headphones to audio accessories.

Company website: www.brainwavzaudio.com

4 comments:

  1. Have you checked M3? Mine just broke (after 2.5 years of use) and I'm looking for a proper replacement, but still can't decide: http://headphones.specout.com/compare/5461-5466-5468/Brainwavz-M3-vs-Brainwavz-R3-vs-Brainwavz-S5

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Fedor,

      I don't have the M3 (if I did you'd see a review of it on this blog), so I can't say anything about them.

      As for the R3 and S5, please look into my review of the R3, which features a comparison between the two: http://db-headphones.blogspot.com/2014/10/brainwavz-r3.html

      (P.S. What's with the SpecOut link?)

      Delete
    2. Well, it seems M3 is in-between S5 and R3 by all parameters, I think I'll try S5 this time. Also, do you know why R3 isn't present on http://www.brainwavzaudio.com (official site)? And yeah, thank you for great reviews!

      Delete
    3. Hi Fedor,

      Yeah, the R3 isn't available on both MP4Nation and BrainwavzAudio since they've stopped production of the IEMs some time last year. From what I remember they're willing to have another production run if there's enough demand for them. Otherwise, I suggest looking for them on their Amazon site.

      Delete