Friday, December 19, 2014

Brainwavz S1: In With the Old

Intro


TL;DR: Brainwavz' S1, despite it being outclassed by its newer brethren, still holds its own in the S-series with a satisfying consumer-oriented sound signature that does what it does well.

Wow, so it’s that time of year again, huh? Time is passing by really quickly, and already we’re weeks away from Christmas and, in turn, the New Year. But before we get to that, let’s take a look at an older IEM from Brainwavz, the S1. The Brainwavz S1 is by far the oldest IEM of theirs I’ve been given the chance to review, and a lot of things we’ll be looking at in this review will show that the S1 is, well, pretty old. But given that thought, are they past their prime, or are they still kicking like the young ones? Read on and find out.


~~ Aesthetics ~~

Packaging, Accessories


The Brainwavz S1 comes in retail packaging that takes on the same shape as the other IEMs in the S family, but comes with a few noticeable differences. The basic format is pretty much the same, but the images, the finish (gloss as opposed to matte), and other little things show that these IEMs are like a forerunner to the awesome IEMs that came after it. Like I said, the overall form of the box is identical to the ones in the rest of the S series (the ‘door’ on the front, the window to the IEMs inside, etc.), so there’s nothing much to say about it other than that it looks very Brainwavz.

Opening the package, you have the classic Brainwavz semi-hard carrying case and the classic Brainwavz motherlode of eartips. Brainwavz apparently updated their eartip lineup, replacing the old set of grey and black eartips for a colour-coded one, which we have already seen included with the Brainwavz S0. The bi-flange and tri-flange tips remain the same, however. They also come with the traditional 1-year warranty card/instruction manual and a pair of Comply T-400 eartips. For people new to tip rolling or want to get the best possible fit, this kit of eartips will be more than enough to suit that purpose, which again I have to laud Brainwavz for.


Design, Build, Microphonics


Let me just get this out of the way – I’m a sucker for great looks. No, not those wacky, out-of-this-world builds or hip, trendy fashion fads. No, I’m talking about simple, sharp, and just downright smooth. The Brainwavz S1 does that – in spades. It forgoes the hip look of its younger brothers with a very mature, contemporary aesthetic. Smooth curves and sharp edges make up the bulk of the look of this beautiful IEM, pressed up in equally fancy grey tones and a mellow maroon accent. It’s a very sharp, aggressive look draped in conservative colours – a style package in an IEM that I could simply stare at without wearing them. Seriously – they look that good to these eyes.

Just like its younger S-series brothers, the Brainwavz S1 also features a very industrial build with full metal housings and rugged, heavy-duty strain reliefs. Brainwavz really put out all the stops to ensure maximum build quality for their IEMs at this price, without resorting to removable cables. You could even say they went a little too far with the strain reliefs, as their size and bulk translates to unnecessary extra weight, which in turn leads to more microphonics. However, the Brainwavz S1 is designed to be worn around-the-ear, which allows a lot of the cable noise to be absorbed by the outer ear, so as a result they have very little cable noise – another big plus in my book.


Fit, Comfort, Isolation

The fit of the Brainwavz S1 is much like its more expensive brother, the S5, except that it isn’t really capable for being worn straight down due to the angle of the strain reliefs. One thing of note is that the flared end of the housing kinda looks like it will scrape the wall of your ear canals; however, this isn’t the case as they easily slip through into your ears and help with creating a good seal. They also happen to be pretty comfortable and seal consistently with a stable fit that shouldn’t fall off your ears even with vigorous head-banging (although the cable looping around your ears might). Like all IEMs, their isolation varies depending on the eartips used; however, they have pretty great isolation all-around.


~~ Sound ~~

Specs


Headphone Type
Closed-back vented in-ear monitor (over-ear)
Driver Type
1x 10mm dynamic, neodymium magnet, CCAW voice coil
Frequency Response
20 Hz – 20,000 Hz
Rated Input Power
2 mW
Sensitivity
93 dB @ 1 mW
Impedance
16 Ω
Weight
N/A
Cable
Flat TPE OFC cable
Connector
3.5 mm (1/8”) gold-plated TRRS straight connector
Accessories
Hard carrying case
Shirt Clip
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


Equipment, Burn-in

The sources used in the following review are my iPad 3 and my PC, both running the S1 unamped. The amp used in the amp test is a Yamaha RX-V359 speaker receiver through its headphone-out. The apps used in the EQ test are Viper4Windows on the PC and EQu on the iPad. As always, test tracks are located here for reference. The eartips I’m using for the review are the medium grey single-flange tips from the old package (the one that comes with the S5 and R3), as well as the stock bi-flange tips. I also used a lot of other eartips throughout the assessment, which I will cover and expand upon in the following paragraphs. Also as always, the Brainwavz S1 has been burned-in for at least 100 hours prior to the writing of this review, to make sure of any sonic changes as they burn-in. So far there haven’t been any changes.

But just before we start, I would like to remind you to take my opinions with a grain of salt, since they will probably differ from yours. Now that we have that cleared up, let’s begin!


Sound Quality


The first thing I took notice of the sound straight out of the box was how close they sound to the Brainwavz S5. However, I won’t try to compare them directly with each other until we reach the appropriate section for that.

First, let’s start with the bass. It’s strong, it’s got good depth, and is perfectly consumer-oriented. However, it’s boomy, pretty loose, and lags behind in songs where bass quantity means more than quality (Daft Punk - Lose Yourself to Dance). It also bleeds some into the lower midrange, where it adds a lot of unwanted warmth into the signature. The midrange, then, is really just a recessed, excessively warm mess, is it? Not really. Yes, they’re recessed. Yes, they’re really warm, too. But they somehow manage to sound decent with pop (Ed Sheeran) or electronic genres. I would definitely stay away from these if I find myself listening to acoustic or vocal-centric music, which I listen to more and more often.


The treble, as expected of an IEM with a V-shaped sound, is crisp, lively, and bright. It has good extension and does a good part to add some snap to the midrange. They, however, don’t get too bright or hot in any way, mostly due to the bass overpowering the rest of the signature. I could say that’s actually a good thing, although the bass is quick to correct me on that. The entire sonic package is presented in a rather small soundstage, which feels congested and cramped. It doesn’t really feel in-your-head small, but more like music playing right around you with a box over your head.

In the end, do I like them? Yes and no. They have nothing going for them in terms of technical capability, that’s for sure. On the other hand, they do sound really good when you need some extra bass into the mix for, say, a commute. I mean, it’s not like you could even get over the noise to be able to listen to the S1s analytically, right? They’re one of my top picks in my collection when I just want to grab something for travel or a similar situation.


Gaming, Movies

The Brainwavz S1, admittedly, isn’t something I would use to play games for the purpose of trying to get a good rank on the leaderboards. Its V-shaped sound signature screams “fun” more clearly than even the S1’s sound signature. With explosions and the boom of gunfire and destruction placed first and foremost over practically everything else, it actually gets a little difficult to pinpoint enemy positions. Top that with mediocre imaging and you’ve got an IEM that you really shouldn’t use for gaming.

With movies, however, they are definitely something I could just put on and watch a movie with. Although granted, I don’t really care much about the sound when watching movies, as long as the voices are clear enough that the background music doesn’t overshadow it. Most of the time, the S1 does just that, providing a decently immersive movie experience. The inherent awesome isolation of IEMs also adds to this immersion, sending you straight into the movie. Overall, it’s not bad.


EQ, Amping

The Brainwavz S1 needs a lot of EQ to make it sound more audiophile-friendly, but thankfully they are pretty responsive to EQ and should pump out a more balanced signature with a simple Bass Reducer preset on your iPod Touch or other similar iOS-powered iDevice. The Spoken Word preset works even better, adding more balance without affecting the bass too much that it loses body. Of course, using a dedicated EQ app makes them tweak-able to your preferences, but I thought I’d throw in some presets for you to get a general feel for what you will be hearing.

Throwing in some extra power into the mix, you do get a slightly (but noticeably) tighter low-end. It’s not really game-changing, but you can definitely hear the difference. The midrange and treble also sounds clearer and more forward, albeit only slightly. Overall, they sound noticeably cleaner, but again it’s nothing that would make them an entirely different IEM.


Value

The Brainwavz S1 retails for about $70, which is a decent price for what you get. However, its overall value really hinges on whether you like the sound or not. Audiophiles will most probably turn away from its overbearing bass and subpar midrange, that’s one thing for sure. However, consumers, don’t turn away just yet; these IEMs might be worth adding to your shortlists if you want a good amount of bass to bring along on your daily commute or workout.

As for me, would I personally buy them? Probably not. As much as I like their looks and durability and whatnot, all of that kinda just gets thrown out the window once they’re in your ears and the music starts playing. Sure, I do like their sound, but there are more than a few IEMs that I would rather pick over these once I’m back in the market for a fun IEM. Let’s look at some of these in the next section.


Comparison


Versus Brainwavz S0 ($50)
This comparison is a pretty tricky one, mostly because the two IEMs sound very different from each other. One is fun and bassy; the other is smooth and natural. My conclusion is rather straightforward on this comparison (unlike the next one) as it really just comes down to what sound you prefer. Do you listen to acoustic-based genres or like more balance into your music? Get the S0. Otherwise, do you listen to EDM and want a fun, party-goer sound? Get the S1.



Versus Brainwavz S5 ($100)
The Brainwavz S1 and S5 sound very similar to each other. So similar, in fact, that I have a hard time knowing which is which in a blind A/B test. Okay, I was exaggerating there, but their similarities are so glaring. Both have thundering bass, warm and thick mids, crisp treble, and a similar presentation. Heck, they’re even worn the same way. There are a few key differences, though. First of all, the bass on the S5 is simply better overall. Deeper, stronger, tighter, and faster – these are only some of the characteristics the S5’s low end has over the S1. Their midrange is pretty similar to each other, although the S1 sounds a tad slower and thicker. The treble is where I find the S1 edges out over the S5, as the S5’s treble gets pretty bright at times, while the S1 does not.

So, in the end, which would I get? Well, for the improvements that you get sound-wise, I would much rather save an extra $30 to get the S5 than settle for the S1 unless I somehow can’t do so. The S5 simply edges out the S1 in more ways than I can count, and, well, I really just like the S5 more overall. It still sounds a lot of fun, but could play a wider range of genres and meets my audiophile criteria for some of the best workout/commuter IEMs I’ve reviewed yet.


~~ Conclusion ~~


So, what have I learned from my time with the eldest member of the S series of IEMs? First of all, the Brainwavz S1 is still perfectly capable of running with its younger brothers. Second, it marks the beginning of Brainwavz’ many other high-quality IEMs that came just after it (S5, S0, R3). Third, And finally, it’s so similar to the Brainwavz S5 that, after extensive comparisons, I conclude that the S5 is most probably a successor to the S1.

Category
Score
Comment
Packaging, Accessories
8/10
The Brainwavz S1 comes in the S series’ standard retail packaging – in other words, it’s something I could very well see in an audio store. The accessories are also Brainwavz’ standard, and as such doesn’t fail to impress for the price.
Design, Build, Microphonics
9/10
This is probably the first time I’ve scored an IEM at 9 in Design. The Brainwavz S1s really are quite the lookers, with a very solid build and a great cable.
Fit, Comfort, Isolation
8/10
Most of the tips I’ve used on the Brainwavz S1 seal consistently with a very secure fit. Despite the housing’s strange shape, they are pretty comfortable to wear and isolate well.
Microphone
N/A

Bass
7/10
It’s big, it’s loud, and it’s a lot of fun. It’s pretty loose, though, and tends to lag in some songs.
Midrange
6/10
It’s a lot warmer than I’d like, and is pretty distant compared to the rest of the sound. Good enough for EDM, not much for any other genre.
Treble
7/10
It’s crisp and lively, but lacks some extension. It’s just right for its intended purpose, though.
Presentation
7/10
The Brainwavz S1 presents music in a very simple fashion, with okay characteristics across the board. It happens to be very similar to the Brainwavz S5 in this regard.
Gaming
7/10
The bass gets a little overwhelming with games, which reduces its competitive potential. If you just want to have fun, though, then by all means the Brainwavz S1 aces that.
Movies
7/10
A fun, V-shaped signature is great for a lot of movies. Its presentation is also very definite to add to that “tiny theater” feel.
EQ, Amping
7/10
The Brainwavz S1 loves EQ, and easily plays along to fit with all your EQ needs. Amplification noticeably tightens up its signature, but don’t expect it to be very game-changing.
Value
6/10
For 70 dollars, it’s a pretty decent deal, but is easily overshadowed by IEMs above and below its price point.
Total
7.2/10
The Brainwavz S1 is a pretty good IEM if you’re looking for a fun, engaging sound. However, its more expensive brother, the S5, blows these out of the water for a little extra cash.


Shout-Outs, Gallery

First of all, I just want to thank Audrey and the Brainwavz team for allowing me to review the Brainwavz S1. It’s been a lot of fun reviewing your stuff, and I’m highly anticipating the offering you guys have next year. Also, thanks to my dad and my sis for allowing me to borrow their S5 and S0 IEMs (respectively) to compare with the Brainwavz S1. As always, the rest of the pictures taken during the photoshoot can be viewed here. And finally, thanks to all of you guys for your continued support! This is thatBeatsguy signing off; thanks for reading, and Merry Christmas!



Changelog

12/23/14: Added a new scoring category (Presentation) to the score table on all reviews since the Brainwavz R3.
12/20/14: Changed a typo. Thanks, Joey!

No comments:

Post a Comment