Details: Dual dynamic earphone form Brainwavz with a unique design
MSRP: $129.50 (manufacturer’s page)
Current Price: $110 from amazon.com; $130 from mp4nation.net
Specs: Driver: Dual Dynamic | Imp: 32Ω | Sens: 95 dB | Freq: 20-20k Hz | Cable: 4.3′ (1.3m) 45°-plug
Nozzle Size: 5mm | Preferred tips: Stock single-flanges, MEElec M6 bi-flanges, Sony Hybrid
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 (4.5/5) – The R3 is very well-made, with metal housings and an almost excessively thick cable very similar to the cord on the RHA MA750. The cord is rather long at ~4.3ft, but well-relieved and resistant to tangling
Isolation (3/5) – Good, but limited by the housing shape
Microphonics (4/5) – Quite low even when worn cable-down
Comfort (3/5) – The R3 is rather unusual in shape, with a large tubular body positioned perpendicularly to the nozzle. Memory wire was present on the original version but made the fit options somewhat limited. The new version (released in May 2014) ditches the memory wire and works better for me, making it possible to maintain a good seal. It’s still a little heavy and has a learning curve, but most listeners should be able to wear the R3 ver. 2 comfortably
Sound (8.9/10) – The design of the R3 is rather unique in that its dual dynamic drivers are positioned facing each other, with the nozzle exiting the sound chamber between the drivers. I have previously auditioned the first revision of the R3 and liked what I heard, though I couldn’t keep it securely in my ears due to the memory wire. Now that I can wear the earphones properly, I can give the sound the attention it deserves.
The Brainwavz R3 follows a balanced, slightly warm sound signature with upfront mids, not unlike the HiFiMan RE-400 or Brainwavz’ entry-level M1 model. The bass is level and well-controlled for a dynamic-driver set, with no discernible mid-bass hump. Bass quantity is similar to the RE-400, but the R3 sounds a touch more full-bodied and not quite as tight. This is even more true next to higher-end BA-based earphones such as the TDK BA200 and Brainwavz’ own B2. Compared, on the other hand, to the Brainwavz M1, the R3 has much better quality bass – tighter, flatter, and more effortless.
The R3 has prominent mids with a slightly warm tonal character. Like the RE-400, it can be classified as slightly mid-focused in the grand scheme of things thanks to its level bass and smooth treble – most earphones have more of either one or both. As far as mid-focused earphones go, it is a very good one – clearer, more balanced, and more natural than the Brainwavz M1 but warmer and fuller – albeit also noticeably less clear – than the BA-based TDK BA200 and Brainwavz B2.
At the top, the R3 is smooth and a little laid-back. It does a good job of avoiding harshness and sibilance, sounding soft and refined. Treble reach is good despite its relaxed nature, which gives the R3 a pleasant, airy presentation. The soundstage is well-rounded, with good width and depth, and while imaging is not nearly as precise as with many higher-end monitors (including the B2 and BA200), the somewhat laid-back presentation complements the smooth sound signature nicely.
The pricier R3 is flatter and more neutral than the S1, with tighter bass and more refinement all around. The S1 has greater bass quantity, but also sounds more bloated and a little dark in tone. The treble of the S1 is peaky in comparison to the smooth and natural R3, making it sound harsh and metallic. Clarity between the two is on par, however, likely due to the stronger treble of the S1. Indeed, the top end of the R3 can sound a little dull and smoothed-over at times. The S1 is also a touch more cohesive while the R3 boasts a wider, more spaced-out presentation.
Fidue’s A63 model is a warm-sounding earphone with forward mids. While excellent for the price, it’s no match for the R3 in balance and overall refinement. The A63 sounds rather mid-bassy next to the R3, which has very well-balanced midbass and subbass. Nonetheless, the Brainwavz unit is not lacking in impact and its bass sounds more effortless and natural than that of the A63. The midrange is clearer on the R3 whereas the A63 is a little veiled in comparison. The R3 is also a little smoother and more forgiving.
The Brainwavz R3 is not too different in sound from the HiFiMan RE-400, which has been one of my favorite $100 earphones for quite a long time. Both are balanced earphones with level bass and smooth treble. The top end of the R3 sounds a little dull next to the thinner, crisper RE-400. The RE-400 has a bit more midrange emphasis, slightly better clarity, and even more refined highs, though both earphones are extremely smooth on the whole. The R3 has slightly more full-bodied bass and a wider, more spacious soundstage, giving it a bigger, more headphone-like sound.
The latest version of the VSonic’s popular GR07 model maintains the clear, punchy sound of its predecessor and offers a good contrast to the R3. The bass of the GR07 is both deeper and more impactful compared to the Brainwavz unit. The R3 has thicker, more present, arguably more natural mids while the GR07 is more v-shaped in comparison. The VSonic unit is clearer and a touch more resolving, but also brighter, harsher, and more sibilant. The R3 is much smoother, especially at higher volumes, though its top end is also little dull next to the GR07. Both earphones have above-average soundstage width and imaging that is good, but short of top-tier.
Sony MDR-7550 ($230)
Sony’s dynamic-driver pro monitor also has an unconventional fit, but its similarities to the Brainwavz R3 run deeper. Like the R3, the MDR-7550 is a balanced, slightly warm-sounding earphone with a smooth top end. Compared to the far less expensive R3, the Sony is brighter, clearer, and overall more accurate, but not quite as forgiving through the treble. The largest gap between the two earphones is in clarity, in favor of the Sony. The bass of the MDR-7550 is more quick and well-defined, though also a touch thinner, and its soundstage is a little wider.
Value (8/10) – I’ve noticed that earphones in the $100-$150 range are let down by the sound quality more often than expected – maybe 1 in 3 are worth recommending on sound alone. This is not at all the case with the Brainwavz R3 – the smooth, balanced, slightly warm sound with good dynamics is the best part of the package here. The R3 is a great compliment to Brainwavz’ similarly-priced dual-BA B2 model, which sounds brighter, thinner, and more “analytical”. The heavy-duty construction and surprising lack of cable noise also impress. The fit can be a little tricky, but the latest version forgoes the memory wire, making the earphones easier to wear. All in all, the R3 is for those who don’t mind putting a little effort into their earphone experience, so long as the payoff is great sound.
Pros: Solidly built earphones with an impressively well-balanced, smooth, and capable sound
Cons: Fit can still be tricky even with new version