Sunday, October 19, 2014

Brainwavz R3: Brainwavz’ Bogglingly Beautiful Bottles

Intro



TL;DR: Don't let its rather brutish looks fool you; the Brainwavz R3 is a smooth, gentle IEM that works especially well with acoustic genres, slow rock, and jazz.

Before I begin, I would like to thank Audrey at Brainwavz for providing the sample of the Brainwavz R3 in exchange for my honest opinion. Please note that I am neither affiliated with Brainwavz or any of its employees, nor am I being compensated for writing this review. All opinions expressed in this review are strictly my own unless otherwise specified, and all pictures are taken and owned by my sister. YMMV.

Well, it’s been a few weeks since my review of the S5s, and from that first impression of one of their IEMs, they’ve earned their place in my ‘Companies to Watch’ list. Though a lot of their IEMs, to my knowledge, lean towards a more consumer-friendly sound, they are no doubt of audiophile quality. Today, I’m going to be reviewing another of their high-end IEMs, and probably one of the most peculiar-looking IEMs I’ve ever seen, the dual-dynamic Brainwavz R3 Rev.2 (I’ll get to this later).

Anyhow, let’s get on to the IEMs. Shall we?

Author's Note: This review is a little bit old, so expect some cringe-y parts if you're reading this in 2015 or later. I'm a little too lazy to edit it, and I want to keep the chronological flow in my reviews as I grow, so you can definitely see the improvements over time.


== Aesthetics ==

Packaging, Accessories




At first glance of the packaging, it’s clear that Brainwavz is proud of their design of the R3, as the box features a clear window from the front all the way through to the back of the box, with the R3’s housings suspended in a clear plastic mold, showcased proudly and rather enthusiastically, like a brand-new breakthrough in design or something along those lines. On the front you also see BRAINWAVZ R3 written with a tagline and a few of its main features. On the left side, you’ll see its specifications, and on the right are its accessories, and on the back is a cross-section diagram of the R3s’ housing along with a description of sorts.


Upon opening the package, you’ll find Brainwavz’ semi-hard case hidden from the light of day, housing the rest of the R3s and all of its accessories. I’m still pretty impressed with the plethora of eartips included in the package, which consists of six pairs of single-flange tips (one set in grey, the other in black, in S/M/L), one pair of double-flanged tips, one pair of triple-flanged tips, and a pair of Comply T500 foam eartips. So there you have it - nine pairs of eartips, all at your disposal along with the Brainwavz R3 and S5. Still pretty damn impressive. But that’s not all - you also get a nifty 1/4-inch adapter. In the previous version, there used to be an airline adapter supposedly - but in my case, I don’t think I would need it anyway, so that can be ignored. Frequent flyers, though, might have to buy their own airline adapter off a local Best Buy or some other electronics store.


Design, Build, Microphonics



You remember what I said about Brainwavz’ package being showcased like a design breakthrough? Well, I have got to hand it to Brainwavz, they have made one awesome breakthrough in design right here, and it’s sure to make anyone -- consumer or audiophile -- get pretty skeptical of how they manage to get these in their ears. (Not that it’s a bad thing, though -- they actually fit quite easily.)

Though the concept of dual dynamic drivers isn’t new (lately there have been a lot of popular options to choose from), how they’re implemented intrigued me.The two 10mm drivers are set up in a two-way configuration – one used for bass, the other for the rest of the audio spectrum. Again, this is not unusual, but then we move on to their placement. The two drivers are placed apart from and facing each other, pouring the sound into a ‘Sonic Chamber’ before it reaches your ears through a particularly long tube. At least, that’s what the diagram seems to tell me. It’s probably not as simple as it sounds, seeing as another dual dynamic IEM, the Audio-Technica ATH-CKR9 (and its older variant, the CKR10) shares a similarly-positioned pair of drivers…except for the fact that the CKRs’ drivers go for a ‘Push-Pull’ design in which one driver pushes the sound while the other pulls the sound to supposedly reduce distortion and improve sound quality (or something like that). Coming back to the R3s, it seems both drivers simply push sound into the sound chamber where the sound mixes to bring out the final product.

Moving on, we have the cable, which apparently consists of three sections: the main grey cable from the connector to the Y-split, a thinner grey cable from the Y-split to split (rather, splice), which transitions into a length of memory cable making the final stretch to the housings. This memory wire used to be a lot longer in the first version, but has been removed in the revision for better ergonomics and an easier fit.


Again, the team over at Brainwavz has impressed me with the excellent build quality of the R3s. From the solid machined aluminum housings to the strong 45-degree angled connector, it’s clear Brainwavz made no compromises to the build quality of the R3 just as they did with the S5. The only gripe I have with the build is the cable. No, it’s not because of durability -- in fact, it’s probably one of the most solid cables I’ve had in my possession yet. My gripe with the cable is because it’s solid. It’s very thick -- reminding me of the cable on my old Beats Pro. Its thickness in turn makes them very difficult to manage. When they arrived, they were bound pretty tightly together by a wire, and when I undid the wire, I was greeted with an eyesore of a cable with folds and creases on every inch. Even as I write this, I’m still trying to straighten it out. Cable noise isn’t much different. Even with the over-ear design dulling it down, cable noise is still a bit of an issue due to the serious weight of the cable.


Fit, Comfort, Isolation


Now, I’m sure you’re still wondering if the bottle-like housings with a tube on the side would actually fit your ears. Well, I’m happy to report that it actually does. It did take a few minutes of fiddling at first, but it only takes a few tries to get accustomed to it. They’re pretty comfortable once they’re in your ears, though at times the housing does touch -- more like press on -- part of my ear when I don’t get them in right, which again is a nuisance, but it’s mostly just on me. Due to the housings being little more than a bottle with a tube sticking out of the side which goes into your ear, isolation leans toward average, but is nonetheless good enough for a walk in the park or at home. Don’t expect it to drown out much in a bus or the subway, though.

Also, something of note: the Brainwavz R3 can be worn straight-down; however the cable causes too much microphonics to be tolerable. That, and the R3 is considerably heavy with its thick cable and solid aluminum housings. I don’t know if you guys will like it -- maybe you will, maybe you won’t, but I most definitely will not wear these straight-down.

I hope I didn’t bore you yet with my explanations, because we’re just about to get to the sound. Bored yet? No? Great, now let’s move on.


== Sound ==

Specs

Headphone Type
Closed back, vented in-ear monitor (straight down, around-the-ear)
Driver Type
10 mm dynamic x2
Frequency Response
16 Hz – 22 kHz
Rated Input Power
30 mW
Sensitivity
110 dB @ 1 mW
Impedance
32 Ω
Weight
N/A
Cable
1.3 m (4.2’) Copper Y-Cord
Connector
3.5 mm (1/8”) gold-plated 45-degree TRS
Accessories
Hard carrying case
3 pairs single-flange silicone eartips (grey, S/M/L)
3 pairs single-flange silicone eartips (black, S/M/L)
1 pair double-flange silicone eartips
1 pair triple-flange silicone eartips
1 pair Comply™ T-500 foam eartips
6.3 mm (1/4”) adapter


Equipment, Burn-in

The equipment used for this review consists of my iPod Touch, an iPad 3, and my PC through headphone-out as the sources, all running without an amp. The amp used in the test is a Yamaha RX-V359 through headphone-out. As for the EQ software being used, I use Viper4Windows on the PC and the default system EQ on the other sources. As always, my test tracks are available here, although I will link specific songs in the assessment for a more direct point of reference.

As per review “tradition,” the Brainwavz R3s have been burned in for at least 100 hours prior to the review, with occasional listening sessions in between for an average of an hour. So far, throughout the 100 hours of burn-in, there haven’t been any noticeable changes in sound. Also, the eartips I used are the L-sized grey single flanges throughout the review. So, without further ado, let’s get on to the sound!


Sound Quality


Bass:
Okay, let’s start off with the bass. As an IEM designed for the audiophile crowd, don’t expect the R3 to have elevated bass, because it doesn’t have that. However, what it does have is a smooth, swift low-end that is clearly made for its target audience. Its accurate, slightly warm tone reproduces low tones without overdoing anything. It also has a strong enough punch to satisfy most listeners who aren’t craving bass. In short, it’s a very addicting listen that works amazingly with cool, laid-back songs (Daft Punk – The Game of Love, Something About Us).


Midrange:
The Brainwavz R3’s midrange is sweet and rich – basically, it sounds great. It has a great amount of clarity with a slight warmth to it. It reproduces the midrange very well, and despite its mid-centric signature (more on this later), isn’t as forward as I expected. One of my favourite characteristics about it, though, is how they manage to blend really well with the bass (Coldplay – Sparks) – making a very cohesive and united sound signature.


Treble:
Brainwavz purposely tuned the R3 to have a smooth, laid-back treble, topping off the sound signature like the smooth foam on a latte (more on this analogy later). This laid-back signature gives the R3 a very relaxing signature that you can simply listen to for hours, which is a huge plus in my book. (Note: Technical mode ON) Though most laid-back treble usually sounds veiled and lacking detail, Brainwavz managed to counter that by tuning in a treble spike around 10 kHz. This allows the R3 to still retain great detail retrieval even with its laid-back treble (technical mode OFF).


Soundstage/Presentation:
Apparently Brainwavz’ “Sound Chamber” technology actually does affect the R3’s sound signature – specifically, its soundstage. It’s very wide, airy, and expansive, which you usually don’t get to hear very often in an earphone, so that’s a huge plus. Live, acoustic, and classical recordings really come to life on the Brainwavz R3. However, I did notice instruments were projected (or “sound like” in layman’s terms) onto a narrow arc in front of you, instead of all around you. It’s a little quirk there that might not be as appealing to the more finicky listeners, but it’s not too much of a big deal.


Genre Proficiency:
The Brainwavz R3, as I’ve said earlier, works amazingly well with cool, laid-back genres, synergising well with its laid-back sound. Stuff like Coldplay, Daft Punk’s slower works, classical, anything that’s slow or has a relaxing vibe – the Brainwavz R3 performs spectacularly. However, it’s hardly finicky with genres and will play anything you throw at it very well.


Summary:
The Brainwavz R3’s sound is something I could liken to a nice latte – smooth, rich, creamy, sweet, and with just the right kick from the coffee. I’m sure from this, you can put two and two together, so there’s not much to say other than it’s great if the R3’s sound is what you’re looking for. Bassheads will have to look elsewhere, because the R3 is definitely an audiophile IEM.


Other Media


Games:
The R3 isn’t bad with games. Sure, its detail retrieval is great for getting an edge over the competition, but its rather congested presentation takes a hit to their imaging capabilities. All in all, they’re not something I’d use for competitive gaming.


Movies:
The R3’s smooth, balanced signature allows it to play along with pretty much any type of movie, from epic action scenes to heart-wrenching drama moments. I find they perform better with quieter movies, just as they do well with laid-back music.


EQ Response, Amplification

The R3, in my opinion, doesn’t really respond well to EQ (rather, basic EQ presets), though with a more advanced EQ like Electri-Q or Viper4Windows, you can EQ them to be completely flat, which, surprisingly, is very easy to do. But once I did that, man, oh man. The results were amazing. Probably the only downside to this is having to go through rather extensive tweaking and listening to get the sound just right, but otherwise they’re perfectly fine.

At an impedance rating of about 32 ohms, they do need a bit more power to drive than, say, the S5 IEMs. At lower volumes, their midrange sounds rather muffled, and both ends of the spectrum also lose some detail. With extra power, though, the midrange comes forward, and with enough power, the bass suddenly begins to sound pretty damn impressive. You can really feel the sub-bass notes come alive and make the entire signature come together to no short of amazing. I don’t have a dedicated headphone amp as of yet, but now I begin to realize just how much I need one. 


Value

Retailing at a price of $130, the Brainwavz R3 falls into the $100-150 range, which is a very large battlefield dominated by legendary IEMs like the HiFiMAN RE-400 and the Yamaha EPH-100. And though this price range is a rather saturated market, I could very easily find myself recommending the Brainwavz R3 to anyone who prefers a laid-back sound with a focus on similarly laid-back genres. However, I most certainly won’t be recommending these for EDM and similar genres – after all, there is the S5 for that.


Comparison

Honestly, with these being my first IEMs past the $100 mark, I could say comparing these to other IEMs is new ground for me. But I’ll see what I can do about it.

Versus Brainwavz S5 ($100):
What better comparison to make than the top-end IEM of the Brainwavz S-series? Comparing these two top-enders of their respective lines is very interesting, as both have been designed for completely different things. The R3, as I have described earlier, is a cool, laid-back, and more audiophile-oriented IEM. The S5, on the other hand, pulls no punches in bringing visceral bass power to your ears in a way that brings a smile to my face every time. Now, which do I think is better?

To be honest, I could only say it goes down to a matter of preference. Like I said, these two have very different signatures, and at the end of it all, it mostly comes down to the listener. I would take either at any time of day, depending on the music I’m listening to. I like to think of them as two friends you go with to a lounge – the S5 being the guy grooving the night away on the dance floor, the R3 being the one that kicks back and enjoying a nice drink once the music dies down.


== Conclusion ==


At first, I really didn’t know what to expect from these dual dynamic IEMs, and to be honest, I was rather underwhelmed when I listened to them straight out of the box. But as I adjusted to this new sound, I eventually gained a feel for what it does and is capable of doing. The Brainwavz R3 is a very worthy competitor in its market if you’re looking for a relaxing, laid-back signature, and has deservedly earned its place in the Brainwavz lineup.

Category
Score
Comment
Packaging, Accessories
8/10
Again, Brainwavz has blown me away with its generous amount of eartips at your disposal. The retail packaging is also a looker.
Design, Build, Microphonics
8.5/10
Though the bottle-shaped housings might confuse potential buyers, the R3’s build is nothing to scoff at. Microphonics is mostly suppressed thanks to the over-ear design, although the weight of the cable might still cause some cable noise.
Fit, Comfort, Isolation
6/10
Despite the oddly-shaped housings, the R3 is surprisingly easy to wear, after a couple minutes of fiddling. Comfort is great with most tips, although due to the design, isolation is ‘meh.’
Microphone
N/A
No microphone means nothing to see here.
Bass
8/10
Sweet, simple, and buttery smooth. It’s clear the R3’s bass driver was tuned for an audiophile’s taste, as it pulls back punches in favor of accuracy over power. Not that I’m complaining.
Midrange
8.5/10
The R3’s midrange works amazingly well with acoustic instruments and vocals, with a smooth, natural presentation with a slightly warm tonality. It may not be as smooth as the bass, but it’s certainly sweet.
Treble
7/10
The treble apparently seems to be the only pert lacking in the R3 in my opinion, as it is too soft and mellow for my tastes. Brainwavz attempted to fix this by tuning a 10 kHz spike into the signature, but they fell short to my ears. It’s still not pretty bad, though.
Presentation
8/10
The unique design of the Brainwavz R3 allows it to achieve a spacious, airy soundstage with great imaging to boot.
Gaming, Movies
7/10
I honestly don’t really like the R3’s performance in gaming, although it’s far above average. Movies, however, sound amazing on them.
EQ, Amping
7/10
With a little fiddling of the EQ, it shouldn’t take long to be able to EQ the R3 into a flat signature. With a little extra juice, though, you can really unleash the R3’s full potential with a more forward midrange and hugely improved bass performance.
Value
8/10
Despite some mostly aesthetic drawbacks, I feel the Brainwavz R3 is very worth their $130 price tag.
Total
7.9/10
The Brainwavz R3 is a little expensive from a consumer standpoint, but if they just so happen to listen to acoustic-based genres, they will be rewarded. Those who could afford a headphone amp will be rewarded even further with a very well-rounded IEM.


Shout-Outs, Gallery

Again, I would like to give a huge thank-you to Audrey and the Brainwavz team for again giving me the opportunity to review another of their fine IEMs. It’s been great seeing these guys grow, and I’m eagerly looking forward to see what they will come up next. Also, thanks to my sister for again providing us with more of these beautiful pictures you see throughout the review and in the following Gallery section. To shorten loading times, I decided to just leave a link to all of the pictures taken during the photo-shoot of the R3 right here for convenience.

This is thatBeatsguy signing off; 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

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