I was a little cautious approaching the review of the latest flagship in-ear model from Brainwavz. With a recent flood of quality in-ear headphones around $60-$70 price point, I wasn't sure how this $100 model going to stack up against other "giant killers". But after reading a few of the Head-fi reviews from people whose opinion I respect and value, I decided to give it a try. And I'm glad I did! To my very pleasant surprise, I discovered a sound signature that was a missing link among a growing collection of my headphones, and this latest offering from Brainwavz quickly escalated to the top of my favorite in-ears. I know that I have been saying this with a lot of my latest reviews and can't promise it will not continue because every headphone company offers their own unique tunning with their own interpretation of the sound, and based on our personal sound preference we keep listening and comparing to find the one which hits that sweet spot. Here is what I would like to share with you about my experience with S5 model.
Arrived in an excellent packaging, their box had the most detailed info I have seen in awhile. Everything from high definition raised 3D image to a very accurate description of the design and the sound characteristic, including list of accessories, specifications, and even detailed graphic representation of the internal design (under the magnetic flip cover) - all that showed how much pride Brainwavz took in showcasing their product which gets your attention even before your open the box. One detail that stood out to me was a flat cable design which supposed to go over the ear. I didn't have a good experience with flat cable design in the past, so was curious how it will work out. Out of the box, the all metal housing design with flat cables really stands out, where the first thing I noticed was an excellent strain relief implementation, but more about it later. In addition to S5 headphones, you will find a very high quality durable case which is so rare to see nowadays. So much effort goes into design of headphones with a plethora of eartips, but protection of headphones is often overlooked and instead we see a useless drawstring pouches offered with other headphones. Brainwavz earphone case is very roomy with a hard shell design and mesh pocket on each side which can hold headphones as well as small portable mp3 player. As a matter of fact due to a high demand Brainwavz sells this case as a separate accessory, and I'm glad it was included with S5. Inside of this case you will find a lot of included eartips with 6 pairs of S/M/L silicone tips (varying in bore diameter and stem length between 3 pairs), a set of bi-flange tips, another set of tri-flange tips, and a pair of medium size genuine Comply T400 foam tips. There is definitely plenty of options to find the perfect fit for sound isolation and sound fine-tuning. Also, there was 1/4" adapter and instruction manual with 24 months warranty card.
Now, regarding headphones itself. Though featuring a flat cable design, I was pleased to see a lot of heavy duty strain relief at every cable joint., starting with a straight 3.5mm gold plated jack and going to a meaty y-splitter. Believe it or not, they even included a chin-slider for this flat cable design, something I definitely haven't seen in the past. As mentioned before, connection to the earpiece shell also has a sturdy strain relief with L/R letter marking which unfortunately only visible under magnifying glass. Still, not a show stopper since earpieces don't have a symmetrical design and identifying left and right is easy. It did take me a little while to get used to it because in my mind flat cable design has to go wire down, so I had to break that habit. As a matter of fact, due to a nature of flat cable folding over the ear, it was easy to put earpieces in the right spot with pin hole air port facing inside. I'm not gonna lie, I didn't find the ergonomics of the design to have 100% like a glove fitment (it was a bit loose), but YMMV. One thing for sure, these S5 earphones have a very high quality build, and the fact Brainwavz offers 2 year warranty speaks of the confidence they have in the longevity of their product.
So how do these sound? VERY Addictive!!! Featuring a balanced sound signature with an enhanced bass, they are slightly v-shaped, but overall they have a smooth warm sound with just enough brightness to give it musical details. This unique balance between warmness and brightness is especially evident in upper mids where in the past I experienced either going one way or the way, but Brainwavz sound engineers found a perfect balance between warm/smooth and detailed/bright. Starting with a low end, it has a nice sub-bass extension with a warm texture, not overpowering in quantity but still with authority to be highly noticeable, and punchy mid-bass with a fast attack but not too aggressive. Low end is well controlled without spilling into mids. Mids are slightly recessed, clear and detailed, yet very smooth. Upper mids/vocals sound organic, with natural tones..Treble has a nice sparkle, not too bright, and I also felt it wasn't as extended with a sharp roll off. While listening for awhile, I didn't experience any ear fatigue. Soundstage had an average width and depth, and gave you enough space to get an intimate listening experience. It was very easy to drive from any of my DAPs and smartphone. I didn't find any problem with microphonics from their flat cable, but overall sound isolation was average, obviously better with Comply tips.
Since I'm often being asked after the review, how does it compares to other similar IEMs, I decided to add a few quick comparison notes.
S5 vs VSD3S: VSD3S mids sound thinner and brighter, sub-bass has a little more rumble and texture, while mid-bass is similar though a bit less aggressive, treble has a little more extension.
S5 vs RE400: RE400 has significantly less sub-bass/mid-bass quantity, sound is more neutral, vocals sound warmer and duller.
S5 vs KC06A: KC06A has less sub-bass but mid-bass punch is similar, even more aggressive, upper mids more upfront and brighter, less smoother, and overall sound a bit more aggressive.
S5 vs IM50: IM50 has more impact in mid-bass punch, it has smoother upper mids, warmer vocals, less detailed.
Overall, I was very impressed with a build quality, accessories, and unique sound signature which stands out without overlapping with my other in-ear headphones. There is a number of great balanced sound headphones offered in sub $100 category, and what makes them stand out is often how much bass enhancement they implement and direction of upper mids - toward warm or bright side. When it comes to these details, it's a matter of personal taste, and I can certainly say that Brainwavz hit a sweet spot for me with their S5 design. I wouldn't say it's 100% perfection since flat cable and fitment takes getting used to and I also found a slight driver flex with one of the earpieces. But in comparison to everything I liked about these IEMs, these short falls were negligible. I enjoyed S5 sound signature VERY MUCH and grateful to Brainwavz for giving me an opportunity to review their new headphones!
Here are the pictures.