Sunday, May 07, 2017

Brainwavz BLU-Delta: Stroke of Genius

Intro


TL;DR: The Brainwavz BLU-Delta adds Bluetooth functionality to an already-excellent IEM, creating what I would say is a stroke of genius.

Over the past years we’ve covered both of Brainwavz’ prime Bluetooth earphones – the BLU-100 and the BLU-200. Knowing this, Brainwavz gave me the opportunity to have a listen at yet another wireless offering, albeit this time, the product in question is a bit different. This, my readers, is the Brainwavz BLU-Delta – essentially the Brainwavz Delta turned into a Bluetooth-capable, battery-powered cyborg of an earphone. How will it fare in its new market? Let’s find out.

(Disclaimer: the product in review was received free of charge in exchange for my honest opinion. Please take the following with a grain of salt and always try before you buy.)



== Aesthetics ==

Packaging, Accessories



The Brainwavz BLU-Delta arrives in a rather large box – unusual for a BLU series IEM, but not so for Brainwavz’ wired offerings. Inside you’ll get the earphones, a USB charging cable, a manual, and three extra eartips (one of which is a Comply T-400), packaged neatly in Brainwavz’ wide earphone case. All in all it’s pretty standard coming from Brainwavz, and still quite excellent.


From here there are a couple things I found noteworthy – first, the formal mention of a BLU series. Of course, right now it does not hold much meaning, but time will tell whether Brainwavz will release more earphones using a similar formula. Second, there is the brand-new manual, which is very well-written and detailed with regards to how the BLU-Delta works – a very admirable move from Brainwavz.


Design, Build, Microphonics

The BLU-Delta, as confirmed by Brainwavz, retains the housings and cable from its wired counterpart, which explains why a single housing was used for all of the BLU-Delta’s electrical bits. However, with the Bluetooth circuit, the amplifier, the battery, the remote, and the microphone all in one place, the housing ends up rather bulky. This in itself is not a bad thing, but its position on the right side of the earphone means there is a constant weighing down on your right side, unlike that of the BLU-100 and 200 which was more evenly balanced. That, or maybe a larger neckband-type housing would be a better alternative.



Of course, this is not a major concern. What is more worrying is the build. With the Delta being a dainty $30 IEM, its build was not exactly what I would call “heavy duty”. Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re absolutely flimsy – with its new life as a Bluetooth earphone, you will be less likely to damage the cable as they will simply hang around your neck throughout its battery life. And with its slim design and the assistance of the shirt clip, it makes next to no cable noise, even while on the move.

Fit, Comfort, Isolation

The Brainwavz BLU-Delta’s compact earphone housings allow for an easy fit with most ears – another of the many benefits carried over from the wired version. Comfort and isolation are about average at best with the stock silicone eartips, but improve exponentially with the included Comply foam eartips. Either way they remain very securely in the ears, and as such perform very well during active, er, activities.


Specs

Headphone Type
Closed-back Bluetooth in-ear monitor
Driver Type
Single 8mm dynamic
Operating Range
Up to 10 metres (30 feet)
Battery Life
70 mAh battery for:
· 8 – 10 hours playback time
· 110 hours standby time
· ~2 hours charging time
Bluetooth Features
Bluetooth 4.1
Supports A2DP, HSP, HFP Bluetooth profiles
Can connect to 2 devices simultaneously
CVC Echo & Noise Cancellation
Voice/LED prompts
Accessories
3x sets black silicone single-flange eartips (S/M/L)
1x set Comply T-400 foam eartips
Micro USB charging cable
Hard carry case (Brainwavz wide earphone case)
User manual
24 month manufacturer’s warranty

The first thing I noticed about the BLU-Delta’s spec sheet was its battery life. An 8 to 10 hour play time on a single charge? I know, I couldn’t believe it the first time either. It was almost too good to be true. But as it turned out, it is. The BLU-Delta sends out a low battery warning at around 5 hours in and powers down. But even though you can still turn it back on beyond this point, they will only run for about 30 minutes before shutting off for good. I know, I couldn’t believe it the first time either. Maybe lowering the audio volume would make it last longer, but I doubt listening to music at 20% volume would be very fun.


Connectivity

The BLU-Delta shows up as “BWAVZ BLU” on a device when you pair it up. On my 5th generation iPod Touch and iPad Air 2, the pairing process was buttery-smooth. General connectivity is quite good, and maintains good signal towards the advertised range of 10 metres, but only in a purely open-air setting. The signal range drops sharply in more “real-world” applications, cutting out even if so much as a hand hovers over the source. Of course, your experience will vary depending on your source device and the amount of EMI (electromagnetic interference) in the area.



== Sound ==

Equipment, Burn-in

The source devices used for this review are a fifth-generation iPod Touch and an iPad Air 2. The test tracks I use for my assessments are of various genres ranging from classical to electronica, with the audio file formats varying from 256 Kbps AAC to 24-bit FLAC. Some of these test tracks will be linked to in the sound assessments to demonstrate certain points.

Prior to the assessment I listened to the Brainwavz BLU-Delta for at least 30 hours to get more accustomed to the sound – otherwise known as "brain burn-in" – to dispel any "changes" to the sound after a certain amount of time.

Sound Quality



Bass:
The BLU-Delta's bass, despite being a generally bass-forward IEM, does not immediately greet you at the figurative door at first listen; instead, it sits back and does its thing until you take notice. And once you do, you'll notice just how unexpectedly good it sounds. With a fast, aggressive punch and deep extension, it works especially well for bass-heavy genres or metal (Haywyre – Dichotomy, Impulse; Rob Scallon – Gas Mask Catalogue). However, the bass is very well-controlled and usually only displays its aggressiveness when the track calls for it (Savant – Kali 47), and in more bass-light genres, only manifests as a noticeable heft and warmth in its tonality.


Midrange:
The midrange, on the other hand, is what meets you up front once you play the first song through the BLU-Delta. It plays often up front and in your face in electronic genres, which may come off to some as sounding a bit too aggressive (Conro – City Lights). However, what really took my attention was their clarity that shone through in just about every genre – whether the track calls for vocals, pianos, guitars, synthesisers, or any combination of those, the BLU-Delta maintains a clean, clear, and slightly warm tone that I found is absolutely beautiful (The Weeknd – I Feel It Coming; Govi - Bumblebeat).


Treble:
The BLU-Delta's treble is sharp and snappy, helping to give the overall sound signature the clarity it has. However, I do find it to be a bit harsh throughout most of my music library, which often forces me to turn down the volume quite a bit to be tolerable (Anna Yvette & Laura Brehm – Summer Never Ends). However, it is not as big of a deal as was the case with the MEE M6 Pro, especially considering this can be fixed by fitting the BLU-Delta with the included Comply eartips.


Soundstage/Presentation:
The soundstage of the BLU-Delta is in my opinion the only real weak point of this IEM. Its soundstage is noticeably cramped and congested, with most of the music packed towards the front and with little extension towards the sides (Francisco Cerda – ‘Round Gunpoint). Despite this, the overall sound is not affected and though it can be improved, it's not bad as it is.


Genre Proficiency:
Despite a bass-oriented sound signature, the BLU-Delta has surprising versatility with various genres. Though its aggressive low end presentation makes it more suited for electronic genres, its clarity through the upper frequencies allows it to perform acceptably with other types of music.


Summary:
The Brainwavz BLU-Delta, having borrowed from its wired counterpart, shares most of its sonic characteristics, most of which are quite excellent. With a lively sound signature and up-front presentation, the BLU-Delta powers through various genres with comparative ease. Its congested soundstage may be a weak point, but is not that big of a deal. If one finds the treble a bit harsh, fitting them with the included Comply eartips will dull the sharp edges and round out the whole sound signature to what I feel is quite excellent.

Other Media

The BLU-Delta does quite admirably beyond the music player, with its sound signature serving it well for games and movies alike. Beyond that there's not much I can add to my opinion beyond what has already been said in this review, but should one intend to use them for gaming or movies on the go, do take note of the audio lag as is inherent with Bluetooth technology.


EQ Response

The BLU-Delta does quite admirably beyond the music player, with its sound signature serving it well for games and movies alike. Beyond that there's not much I can add to my opinion beyond what has already been said in this review, but should one intend to use them for gaming or movies on the go, do take note of the audio lag as is inherent with Bluetooth technology.


Value

The BLU-Delta retails for about $50 on their own website as well as authorised retailers, which places its price point right between the BLU-100 and BLU-200. Even though the sound bits of the BLU-Delta are sourced from a $30 wired IEM, it still remains a bargain at this price considering you get excellent sound with the convenience of Bluetooth tech.


Comparison




Versus Brainwavz BLU-100 (~$50):
The BLU-100 was Brainwavz' first try at a Bluetooth IEM, and even now remains one of the Bluetooth IEMs I think very highly of. In this admittedly close matchup, the BLU-100 scores points for its more streamlined and durable design, but in the end I feel the BLU-Delta only barely out over the BLU-100 with it's clearer, more engaging sound quality. Regardless of how the comparison will sway you, the BLU-100 is still very much worth recommending.



Versus Brainwavz BLU-200 (~$55):
The BLU-200 is the more expensive brother to the BLU-100, and I have to say I found it and the BLU-Delta quite similar in their sound, and thus are also a bit of a close matchup. Points are given to the BLU-200 because of its design, but unlike the earlier comparison, I feel the BLU-Delta beats its opponent with a more significant margin. It could only be my pair, but the BLU-200's soundstage and presentation is a bit too off-putting that it becomes disorienting to listen to after some time. The BLU-Delta simply sounds better and is more comfortable to listen to over longer periods.


== Conclusion ==



The Brainwavz BLU-Delta is, in my opinion, one of the cleverest ideas Brainwavz has ever come up with for a new earphone. By building a Bluetooth earphone on the foundation of an existing wired set, you get all the wireless functionality with none of the flaws of a “pure-blooded” Bluetooth set (i.e. a Bluetooth IEM made from scratch). Brainwavz' decision to use their absolutely excellent Delta IEMs only adds icing to the cake. If Brainwavz continues down this path with more wired IEM-based Bluetooth earphones, I feel Brainwavz will have many more winners down the line.


Category
Score
Packaging, Accessories
8.5/10
Design, Build, Microphonics
7.5/10
Fit, Comfort, Isolation
8/10
Connectivity
8/10
Bass
8/10
Midrange
8/10
Treble
7.5/10
Presentation
7/10
EQ Response
8.5/10
Value
9/10
Total
8/10


Post-Review Stuff

As always, my deepest thanks goes out to Pandora and the Brainwavz team for yet another opportunity to listen to another one of their steps to being, in my opinion, one of the most well-rounded earphone manufacturers out there.


Changelog




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