Brainwavz S5 In-Ear Earphone Review

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Brief: Brainwavz IEM slotting in above the S0 and S1 models

MSRP: $99.50 (manufacturer’s page)
Current Price: $100 from Amazon.com
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 16Ω | Sens: 110 dB | Freq: 18-24k Hz | Cable: 4.3′ L-plug
Nozzle Size: 5.5mm | Preferred tips: Stock single-flanges
Wear Style: Straight down or over-the-ear (preferred)

Accessories (4.5/5) – Black single-flange (3 sizes), double-flange, and triple-flange silicone tips, gray single-flange silicone tips (3 sizes), Comply T400 foam tips, 6.3mm adapter, and sturdy zippered carrying case
Build Quality (4/5) – The S5 is well-made, featuring metal housings with well-designed strain reliefs protecting its flat cable. The cable is rather long at ~4.3ft but resists tangling very well. Mild driver flex is present
Isolation (3.5/5) – Good, especially with deeper-sealing tips
Microphonics (4/5) – Good, especially with over-the-ear wear
Comfort (4/5) –  The S5 utilizes an angled-nozzle design, which keeps its large housings more flush in the ear when worn cable-up. What’s unusual is the angled strain relief, which makes it easier to route the flat cable over the ear (though those with small outer ears may still find this a struggle). With the right ear shape the S5 can be worn cable-down, too, which actually gave me a more secure fit

Sound (8/10) – I find it odd that the Brainwavz S5 is marketed as being well-balanced and accurate – in reality they are one of the most obviously v-shaped-sounding earphones this side of $100, not that that’s a bad thing. One of the few rules we have here at THL is to base our reviews solely on what we hear – not desires and expectations, not other reviews, and certainly not marketing materials and manufacturer claims – so Brainwavz being way off base regarding the sound tuning of their own earphones makes little difference.

In terms of audio performance, the S5 appears to be a successor to Brainwavz’ lower-end S1 model with an even more v-shaped sound tuning. That means more bass impact, brighter (and on occasion slightly harsher) highs, and a clearer, albeit slightly more recessed, midrange. On the whole, it is an excellent upgrade from the S1 and most other sub-$100 offerings for listeners who appreciate a heavily v-shaped sound.

While the bass of the S5 is heavily enhanced, the balance between sub-bass and mid-bass is pretty good and overall bass quality is surprisingly high. Together with the bright treble, this results in rather good clarity for a bass-heavy $100 IEM. Case in point – the S5 is not as veiled as the Xiaomi Hybrid earphones despite having significantly more bass impact. Likewise, it is bassier but also brighter and clearer than the Rock Jaw Alfa Genus.

This type of impactful, yet clear sound is not uncommon with earphones that are deeply v-shaped, and is what made certain Klipsch and JVC IEMs a hit with consumers in the past. However, comparing the S5 to a less colored earphone from a higher performance tier – the RHA MA750, for instance – makes its more sculpted sound tuning immediately noticeable. The MA750 is significantly more balanced, with neither the bass boost nor the bright treble of the S5. It is impressive that the much more bass-heavy S5 keeps up in clarity, but ultimately it is still significantly harsher and not as natural or as resolving as the MA750.

The fact remains, however, that the S5 is much brighter, clearer, and more detailed than most other bass-heavy earphones in the lower price brackets. For example the latest and greatest from JVC’s Xtreme Xplosives line, the XX Elation HA-FR100X, sounds very muffled, dull, and lacking in detail in comparison to the S5. The downside is some harshness, which tends to outpace more mildly v-shaped sets such as the Xiaomi Hybrid and Rock Jaw Alfa Genus.

Soundstaging is pretty good for a bass-heavy earphone and the S5 is surprisingly sensitive and efficient, which makes sense considering how friendly its sound tuning is towards the average consumer.

Select Comparisons 

Below are several head-to-head comparisons between the Brainwavz S5 and other sets that either perform on a similar level or have somewhat analogous sound tuning, provided as additional context for the earphones’ performance. 

Brainwavz S5 vs Brainwavz S0 ($50)

While Brainwavz’ pricier S1 model sounds quite similar to the S5, the entry-level S0 follows a more neutral sound tuning that makes for an interesting contrast. The S0 doesn’t have the best bass impact and depth to start with, and compared to the very impactful S5 it sounds downright anemic at the low end. It also seriously lacks clarity in comparison to the higher-end model, resulting in sound that is both muffled and lacking in dynamics.

The S5 has a much more v-shaped sound signature. Its bass is more powerful by a wide margin, with tons more of both mid-bass impact and sub-bass rumble. Meanwhile, its treble is brighter, which helps with the detailing and makes the overall sound more lively and dynamic. Less forgiving, too, but that’s a small price to pay for the significantly better clarity and resolution.

Brainwavz S5 vs Pump Audio Earphones ($50)

The Pump Audio Earphones are one of the better bass-heavy sets in their price bracket, notable especially for their bass depth and slam. The S5 is not far behind in overall bass quantity – it doesn’t quite have the depth and power of the Pump, but is reasonably close. However, its sound tuning is much more v-shaped overall, with strong treble presence giving it a brighter, harsher, crisper sound compared to the Pump. The Pump has much smoother and more forgiving highs, which helps its bass stand out even more but also causes it to fall behind in overall clarity. It is mostly the clarity gap that makes the S5 more enjoyable for me despite the harshness.

Brainwavz S5 vs Alpha & Delta AD01 ($94)

The AD01 and S5 provide an interesting opportunity to compare two similarly-priced earphones that offer different “degrees” of v-shaped sound tuning. The AD01 follows a rather mild v-shape while the S5 is much more extreme, with heavily boosted bass and treble compared to the AD01. The AD01 sounds more balanced, smooth, and natural, while managing similar clarity to the S5 despite its significantly less treble-heavy sound.

The more v-shaped S5 ends up with much more recessed mids and a less natural tonal character, thanks largely to the poorer midrange-treble balance and harsher, grainier highs. On the upside, its sound tends to be more dynamic, lively, and exciting – the S5 is one earphone that no one will call “boring”, no matter what their reference point.

Brainwavz S5 vs NHT SuperBuds ($100)

The SuperBuds are yet another ~$100 bass monster, offering more slam and impact than pretty much any other IEM on the market. What’s impressive is that the S5 can very nearly keep up in terms of bass punch while offering tighter, cleaner, more controlled lows. Compared to the rather smooth SuperBuds, the more v-shaped S5 sounds much brighter, clearer, and more detailed, though also harsher and more sibilant.

The SuperBuds are much warmer and lack the crispness of the Brainwavz unit while also having boomier, less controlled bass, resulting in a significantly more veiled and muddy sound. All in all, clarity is the dealbreaker here – the only time I can see someone being better off with the SuperBuds is if they’re either trying to maximize absolute bass output, prefer an extremely warm tonal character, or are extremely intolerant of brighter, harsher highs. In all other cases, the much clearer and more detailed S5 is a better earphone.

Value (7.5/10) – The Brainwavz S5 is an unapologetically bass-heavy, v-shaped earphone that makes me think back to the days of the Klipsch S4 and early JVC XX-series earphones. As with all things audio, this type of sound tuning is a give and take –  the S5 is very lively and engaging, and one of the best takes on a strongly bass- and treble-biased sound in the price range, but it will not appeal in the least to those who are not fans of v-shaped earphones. Still, with good build quality and a surprisingly comfortable fit, the S5 can make for a great listening experience and a worthwhile upgrade to some very popular sub-$100 sets.

Pros: tangle-resistant cable, delivers powerful bass while maintaining good bass quality and clarity
Cons: over-ear wear not easy for those with small ears, can sound harsh at times


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About Author

Living in the fast-paced city of Los Angeles, ljokerl has been using portable audio gear to deal with lengthy commutes for the better part of a decade. He spends much of his time listening to music and occasionally writes portable audio reviews across several enthusiast sites, focusing mostly on in-ear earphones.

8 Comments

  1. Stephen on

    Hi Joker,

    I’ve been trying to find a selection of IEMs that have flat cables and high durability, ideally also with a mic. The Brainwavz S5, Philips Fidelio S2, Sennheiser Momentum, and Ultimate Ears 500vi have popped up on my radar, but according to Amazon reviews, most of these have durability issues, and the Fidelio S2’s have been discontinued so it might be difficult to get a warranty/replacement. I’m attempting to buy a gift for a friend who has made a permanent ball of knots of their apple earpods, so the flat cable and durability is the most important aspect. They don’t seem to have a specific preferred sound signature, and this would be their first pair of IEMs that didn’t come with their phone. Any recommendations < $200 would be much appreciated. Any thoughts?

    • ljokerl on

      The Momentum is probably safest, just in terms of warranty coverage. I don’t trust the UE500 and the other two will be harder to get replaced. I believe the warranty on the Momentum is 2 years, too.

      Ideally whichever mid-level IEMs you buy will be kept in a carrying case and not balled up – it’s not the storage that’s the problem, but the stress that getting the cords untangled puts on all of the connections. No matter how well-built the earphone is, this is the one thing that can extend its service life tremendously.

  2. getclikinagas on

    Good review ljoker. How do these compare to the Senn momentum?
    ———————
    Like I mentioned before, it’s a good thing Brainwavz hasn’t discontinued their old line (except the B2).
    Like you mentioned before, these S series IEMs are more like the Meeelc M range. Just different flavors of a v-shaped consumer sound sig.

    But like Meelec, I hope they come up with something like to the P1. Even a remodelled R2 would be nice.

    • ljokerl on

      Momentum is pretty balanced compared to these. I guess most things would be. The S5 is a much “deeper” v-shape. It is to the Momentum what the momentum is to something like a GR07 or Fidelio S2, if that makes sense.

      An R3 in a more user-friendly housing would be killer IMO – the RE-400 is still the de-facto choice for that type of sound in the price range 3 years later, and some competition (hopefully with a more reliable build) definitely wouldn’t hurt. The B2 could be revived as it was but with the R3 there’s clear room for improvement and it would make such a great compliment to the S5 in the lineup. Sigh…

  3. Johnn on

    Yaayy new review, makes me excited just like a newly released movie would 😀
    Excellent read as always.. I wonder why big players like Brainwavz don’t have a solid budget iem. May be Ostry, Havi, RE 400 are tough to beat

    • ljokerl on

      Ostry, Havi, HiFiMan are tough to beat for sure – if they weren’t a step above the rest of the field they wouldn’t be so highly regarded. None of them have a highly v-shaped IEM, though, which is what Brainwavz seems to have gone for with the S1 and S5.

      Brainwavz also makes the R3 which, while a little pricier, can go blow for blow with the RE-400 in sound quality. Unfortunately its design is a little bulky and awkward, especially next to the rather elegant RE-400. A more lightweight and compact IEM with the R3 sound tuning <$100 would be killer.

      • Johnn on

        Yes.. You’re absolutely correct (well why wouldn’t you :D)
        Btw, have you heard about Macaw Gt100s? They are getting some great reviews on headfi.. Any chance you’d review it? May be a brief one..

        • ljokerl on

          I’ve seen this brand mentioned a few times but haven’t had a chance to hear one yet.

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