Saturday, January 17, 2015

Brainwavz M1: Old Dog, New Tricks

Intro


TL;DR: Though they don't exactly have a lot to offer that makes them stand out, the Brainwavz M1 is nonetheless a solid competitor in the $50 bracket with its clear, enjoyable sound.

Before I begin, I would like to thank Audrey at Brainwavz for providing me with the review sample of the Brainwavz M1. Note that I am neither an affiliate of Brainwavz nor any of its staff, nor am I being compensated in any form for writing this review (aside from the provided review sample). All opinions expressed in this review are strictly my own, and all photos are taken and owned by me unless otherwise specified. YMMV.

Just a couple weeks ago, Audrey contacted me, requesting to review one of their older IEMs. Of course, being a fan of their stuff, I was quick to reply. Sadly I didn’t give them much time because of my three other reviews the past couple of weeks, so now that I’m perfectly in the clear, let’s take a closer look at the Brainwavz M1.



~~ Aesthetics ~~

Packaging, Accessories

The Brainwavz M1 comes in standard retail packaging, clad in black and orange. The M1 is displayed in a small window at the front of the housing, along with a drawing of sorts. Specifications, the accessories list, the description, and some marketing mumbo-jumbo is written on the back. Nothing much of note here that I haven’t already talked about in earlier Brainwavz reviews.


Taking out the packaging, you are provided with six pairs of silicone eartips and a pair of Comply S-400 foam eartips, as well as a shirt clip. There is also a double-sided piece of paper which acts as the instruction manual and a warranty card, good for 12 months. 24 months. Again, Brainwavz delivers with their very generous amount of accessories and eartips sure to allow you to get the perfect fit.




Design, Build, Microphonics


The Brainwavz M1 is stated (according to ljokerl’s review on them) to borrow its composite housings of plastic and metal from an IEM known as the Cyclone PR1 Pro, and its cable from the Brainwavz M2, which, in turn, borrows from the ViSang R02 and R03 – nothing out of the ordinary here as Brainwavz did rebrand IEMs from OEMs in China and Taiwan in their earlier days. However, the silver-plated copper (SPC) cable of the M1 really caught my attention. For a $40 IEM, a build like this is way out of the ordinary and is something other companies could learn from.





(As far as I know, most SPC cables are usually aftermarket cables for expensive IEMs or CIEMs sold at outrageously expensive prices, most often with crazy marketing BS. I guess that’s why the cable discussion is a hotly debated topic in the forums and they are the “snake oil” of the audiophile market.)

Anyways, back on topic. Despite the M1s not having any strain reliefs on the housings, they make up for it in a very solid overall build with its sturdy Y-split and angled connector. My only complaint with the build is how the cable makes a lot of noise and is a pain to manage.

Fit, Comfort, Isolation

The M1 is supposedly designed to be worn straight-down, although IMO wearing the M1 like this gives a pretty loose fit that makes me worry about them falling off. Wearing around-the-ear fixes that problem and more, dulling down the cable noise to zero and providing a very secure fit. They’re not the most comfortable earphones, though, but they are pretty much on par with other IEMs I’ve tried at this price. Isolation is also not the best, although that could be attributed to its ported design. Overall no complaints here.


~~ Sound ~~

Specs


Headphone Type
Closed-back vented in-ear monitor (straight-down, around-the-ear)
Driver Type
1x 10.7mm dynamic
Frequency Response
20 – 20,000 Hz
Rated Input Power
10 mW
Sensitivity
110 dB @ 1 mW
Impedance
32 Ω
Weight
N/A
Cable
1.3m (4.2’) SPC cable
Connector
3.5mm (1/8”) gold-plated 45-degree angled connector
Accessories
Hard carrying case
6 pairs black silicone single-flange eartips (S/M/L x2)
1 pair Comply S-400 premium foam eartips
Instruction Manual & Warranty Card (24 months)


Equipment, Burn-in

The source equipment used in this review is my iPod Touch and my PC, both driving the Brainwavz M1 through headphone-out. The amp used in its respective test is a Yamaha RX-V359 speaker receiver through its headphone-out. The EQ software used in the test is EQu for the iPod and Electri-Q for the PC. As always, test tracks are available here for reference, although I will link to some specific songs in the review as a more specific reference point. The eartips used are the stock medium-size single-flange tips and the provided Comply S-400 foam eartips.

The Brainwavz M1 has been burned in for at least 50 hours prior to writing this review. Over that period I didn’t notice any change in the sound of the M1. Anyways, that’s about it for this preamble; let’s get to the sound!


Sound Quality


     At first, I really wasn’t expecting much out of these IEMs – the first time, I expected them to have a consumer-oriented V-shaped sound with overemphasized bass and whatnot. Apparently, when I put these on, I realized this wasn’t the case. The Brainwavz M1 is a pretty balanced, all-rounder type of IEM, and I was very pleasantly surprised with their overall sound quality.

The bass is surprisingly tight and fast, breezing through bass-muddled EDM passages with ease. It conveys great accuracy with bass guitars (Daft Punk – Lose Yourself to Dance) and has a nice amount of punch to play through EDM with a smile on my face. However, they do lack a little bit of extension, and doesn’t have enough punch to make them very suitable for louder EDM or dubstep (although electronica is perfectly fine).
                                       

The midrange for me is honestly really good. They sound sweet, pleasant, and pretty relaxing to listen to (Coldplay - Yellow). With many of my test tracks, it's a really enjoyable listen with many of the genres I listen to.  Its treble isn't really my cup of tea, however, and is particularly bright, which really affects the whole signature. It’s got decent extension, and is very lively. However, it does tend to be fatiguing and sibilant, placing the most emphasis on “ss” and "sh" sounds.

The Brainwavz M1 has a decent soundstage – nothing too special about it. However, its instrument presentation tends to be a little bunched-in at times (Aphex Twin – produk 29). For most genres, though, this isn’t a problem as it’s decently sized and is remarkable for what you get at this price.
                                           

Gaming, Movies

For non-music media the M1s sounded pretty good. I found them to be pretty useful for gaming purposes as a backup or otherwise secondary pair when you don’t have your main set on-hand. Their balanced, slightly bright signature really bumps up their capabilities for gaming, and their good imaging capabilities allows you to still have a bit of an edge over your opponents in a match. For movies, though, they are pretty much average compared to the rest of the IEMs I have at this price range, and overall I don’t have any complaints, but I don’t have much to rave about the M1 here, either.


EQ, Amping

The M1 is pretty responsive to EQ and does benefit from a little tweaking with the settings. But despite its shortcomings that I pointed out earlier, I don’t see much of a reason to EQ an already good IEM. As the saying goes: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Amping with my speaker receiver (Yamaha RX-V359) didn’t improve much, either, although pairing the M1 with Brainwavz’ own AP001 amp yielded particularly interesting results. The AP001’s hard-wired bass boost really gave more kick out of the M1, offsetting the rather bright treble and turning it into a much more fun, V-shaped IEM. At this point I’m now really starting to think the M1 is a cheaper version of the R3, since during my time with them I noticed some key similarities between the two. I didn’t mention it earlier, but now I find it noteworthy enough to be added.


Value

The Brainwavz M1 retails for about $50, although many times the price goes down to $40. And honestly, for that price, I think these are a real bargain for what you get. You still get Brainwavz’ generous accessory package, coupled with a budget IEM with a tuning that is reminiscent of that of Brainwavz’ more expensive models. And though I did find faults with them, at this price all of that gets thrown out the window. These are a steal; I can say that hands-down.

Comparison

Versus Brainwavz S0 ($50)
The Brainwavz S0 was a smooth, relaxing IEM, and was pretty good for its price – however, like the M1, there were a few notable shortcomings that kinda drew me away from them. But when I compared them directly, the differences between the two were practically night-and-day. The S0 is a particularly relaxed and laid-back IEM, to the point where you could safely say it sounds ‘dark.’ The M1, on the other hand, is a bright IEM with lively treble on top of an overall balanced signature. Probably the only things they have in common are how they are both made by Brainwavz, and how they give you a little too much of a good thing. But otherwise, both are equally good IEMs, and cater to perfectly opposite tastes in sound.


Versus HiFiMAN RE-300h ($50)
This next $50 contender is honestly a really good IEM. I found them to be a pretty enjoyable listen with pretty much every genre I put them through, and excelled as a jack-of-all-trades type of IEM. And, well, I think the RE-300h is where the M1 meets its match for me. Yes, though both of them have different strengths for different purposes, I feel the RE-300h is simply the more enjoyable IEM to listen to. Like I said before, the M1 does tend to get too bright at times, without the low-end to offset that brightness, and its midrange gets a tiny bit shouty in certain recordings. And although the RE-300h doesn’t have that airy of a soundstage, I think I could do away with that and enjoy its more intimate presentation.
                                                                                                                     

~~ Conclusion ~~




     Now, as I kinda came late to the Brainwavz M1 resurgence party, I have seen many of the other reviewers before me praise them for their SQ and whatnot. And it's safe to say I agree with them. In the budget $50 range, the Brainwavz M1 is a tough nut to crack despite its relatively old age. With a balanced sound signature, great build, and a solid set of accessories, there isn't much in the way of the Brainwavz M1 at this price for the general audiophile.

Category
Score
Comment
Packaging, Accessories
7/10
As always, you get the typical Brainwavz shower of accessories at your disposal, with 7 sets of eartips, a hard carry case, and a 1-year warranty.
Design, Build, Microphonics
7/10
The M1’s semi-plastic, semi-metal build is pretty solid for what you get at this price, although the cable is a bit of a nuisance and the design is a little unorthodox for me.
Fit, Comfort, Isolation
6.5/10
The fit, the seal, and the isolation are definitely iffy when worn straight down, although they are fixed for the most part when worn around-the-ear.
Microphone
N/A

Bass
7.5/10
The M1’s low-end is tight, punchy, and tonally accurate, making them great for practically any genre.
Midrange
7.5/10
The midrange is very nice to listen to with its slightly warm tonality. Not much more I can say to that.
Treble
7/10
The treble is noticeably bright…almost too bright for my tastes. It's also quite sibilant for my tastes.
Presentation
7.5/10
The M1 has a pretty average presentation, with a decently-sized soundstage and great imaging.
Gaming, Movies
7/10
Non-music media works okay with the Brainwavz M1; however, they don’t have any amazing qualities to them that would make them a better IEM in this category over others.
EQ, Amping
7/10
Amping up the bass a tad really brings out more of that fun factor and less of the shouty mids, which I hate. Actual amping, however, doesn’t really do much.
Value
7.5/10
For the retail price of $50, you really can’t go wrong with the M1 if you like its signature.
Total
7.2/10
The Brainwavz M1 is a very worthy competitor in the $50 price bracket. That is all.



Shout-Outs, Gallery

     Again, I would like to sincerely thank Audrey at Brainwavz for giving me the opportunity to write this review for them. I realize this review came pretty late to the party, but I hope it will be of as much help as all the others. I would also like to thank my sister for letting me borrow her Brainwavz S0 for a comparison. As always, all of the pictures taken during the review can be seen here.

     This is thatBeatsguy signing off; thanks for reading!


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