Today we are going to be checking out a new single dynamic driver earphone from Brainwavz, the M100.
2016 was the year I was first introduced to Brainwavz, kicking things off with their entry level micro-driver, the Omega. From there they gave me the chance to review the XFit XF-200, BLU-200, Jive, the S5, and a couple accessories in the form of the Hooka and Krudul Duo. Every single one of these products has been enjoyable and competitive in their respective markets which made my first impressions of the M100 all that much more disappointing.
I was excited when the M100 was first announced. The marketing pitch was that it was ‘made for amping’ which said to me that it was being targeted at the hi-fi crowd, not the average consumer that probably isn’t even aware of the existence of portable headphone amps and or dedicated DAPs beyond your dime-a-dozen iPods, Hipstreets, and entry level Sony Walkmans.
I’m glad Brainwavz has moved away from this marketing angle now that the M100 has officially been released. While overall I do truly enjoy this earphone, my thoughts on them are mixed and I’m happy to explain why.
I would like to thank Pandora and Brainwavz for providing a complimentary, pre-production pair of the M100 in exchange for a fair and impartial review. The thoughts within this review are my own and do not represent Brainwavz or any other entity. There is no financial incentive to writing this.
Since this was a pre-production unit, no retail packaging was provided.
The M100 is available through Brainwavz at the retail cost of 89.50 USD. You can check them out here; http://www.brainwavzaudio.com/collections/earphones/products/brainwavz-m100-earphones
Also be sure to follow Brainwavz on Facebook and Twitter!
As I have come to expect from Brainwavz, the M100 came with a generous pile of quality accessories. Should you choose to purchase this earphone expect to receive the following;
– the more recent extended length Brainwavz hard case
– six pairs of silicone eartips in green and black (s/m/l)
– one set of T-400 Comply foam eartips
– one shirt clip
– one Velcro cable tie
– instruction manual and warranty card
If you haven’t used one of Brainwavz’s hard cases, know that they are compact yet quite spacious inside, extremely durable, and are wonderfully built. The shirt clip is on the beefy side, but grips with confidence and does a great job of holding the cable securely in place. Back when I first came across the Velcro strap on the Omega I thought it was a neat, but somewhat useless addition. Since then, these straps have migrated to the cables of many of my favorite earphones. Don’t underestimate the value of this accessory.
While I appreciate the addition of Comply foams, this isn’t earphone that benefits from them. The M100’s stock signature is much too dark and treble far too recessed, qualities that are deeply exaggerated with foam tips. Luckily I found the preinstalled medium black silicone tips to be my preferred tip, so all was well.
Overall the accessories provided with the M100 are plentiful and useful. Thanks for being generous once again Brainwavz.
Design, Build, Comfort, Isolation:
While I’ve found Brainwavz’s past designs to be somewhat straightforward, they’ve always incorporated queues that improve their visual interest. The XF-200 has three ribs down the side of what is otherwise a flat, dull looking housing. The Jive a clean, smooth flared shape. The Omega puts a steely focus on their unique strain relief. The S5 is an understated, tapered bullet. The M100 continues this trend full force and it works.
They use a matte black, barrel-shaped aluminum housing. Where the two pieces of the housing meet is a well-defined crease that adds some dimension. The two ribs that encompass the rear circumference of the housing differ in width and depth, aiding in grip when inserting and removing the earphone. At the rear is a small dimple. This industrial design is pulled off near flawlessly with outstanding fit and finish and matches up well with their recent hanger accessory lineup, as you can see here with the Krudul Duo;
Brainwavz equipped the M100 with a stellar braided, 1.3m copper OFC cable. It’s supple, flexible, and very tangle resistant. This offsets the slight memory it carries. Strain relief is well-incorporated into the 45 degree angled jack, the bottom portion of the y-split, through the inline microphone, and leading into the earpiece housings.
The somewhat generic shape and light weight of the earpieces combined with a very flexible cable means the M100 is quite comfortable. This opinion applies when worn cable down or around-ear. There are some minor microphonics when worn cable down, an issue almost entirely mitigated when wearing the M100 with the cable looped up and around your ear.
I found the M100 to isolate better than average for a dynamic-driver based earphone. With music playing at my typically lower than average volumes, external noises were seriously nullified. The clacking of my keyboard, voice, etc. are all effectively drown out. If you want to separate yourself from your surroundings, the M100 will likely meet your needs.
Overall the M100 is a well designed and constructed earphone. They’re comfortable, isolate well, and I would expect them to stand up well to abuse.
Tips: I’m a big fan of tip-rolling and usually hunt down the pair that offers the best combination of sound quality and comfort. For earphones with a relaxed treble presentation, such as the M100, I almost always pull out something with a wide bore. Tips from Ultimate Ears, JVC, and even the generic wide bore sets that come with many budget earphones all work well. That said, since I run the M100 heavily EQ’d I usually use the stock medium silicone tips or the orange-cored tips that come with many Knowledge Zenith earphones.
Amping: The M100’s original marketing pitched them as being made for amping. I think it helps tighten up their overall sound, but the payoff isn’t worth carrying around another device. Equalization is more effective.
I’m not going to mess around here; the M100 is a pretty underwhelming sounding earphone out of the box. Coming from the Jive with it’s exciting presentation and the S5 with it’s quite balanced and technically competent sound, it’s downright disappointing. They have a thick, soupy, overboosted lower mid-range and mid-bass presentation that on many tracks completely intrudes and interferes with the rest of the frequency range. It also doesn’t help that the M100’s treble is extremely recessed and rolls off early. Their sub-bass presentation is lovely though. On some tracks the M100’s stock sound is fine, such as Aesop Rock’s Dorks. It suits the M100’s unique balance. Aesop’s voice is clearly the most prominent and forward aspect of the mix with a light guitar riff playing in the background that carries great weight and texture. This is not the norm, unfortunately.
To try and get around these issues I ran through a slew of unique tips, over 100 hours of “burn in”, and amping. None of this worked to make the M100 more palatable. That said, if there is anything that makes the M100 worth the purchase, it’s their reception to equalization. With some heavy shifting of frequency emphasis, I felt I was able to address many of the M100’s shortcomings. With my EQ settings they’re quite enjoyable, or at least I think they are. This is what I settled on when using them through my HTC One M8;
60 Hz / -1db
230 Hz / -4db
910 Hz / no change
4 kHz / +4db
14 kHz / +8db
Applying these settings lifted the M100’s mid-range out of the mud and removed the veil. It gave their treble some life and presence, revealing the M100’s surprisingly dynamic soundstage. Infected Mushroom’s Deeply Disturbed shows off this earphone’s impressive ability to carry sound precisely from channel to channel with clearly defined layers and distances.
On Gramatik’s Bluestep, which I like to use when testing treble tightness, you hear the M100’s treble is clearly defined, lacking any sense of sloppiness or splashy artifacts. In addition, this song reveals excellent texturing in the lower frequencies. Another good track for to run through when checking out these aspects is Run The Jewel’s Oh My Darling (Don’t Cry). At 2:33 the song really takes off and has the tendency to reveal intense sibilance and metallic qualities in the treble. M100 passes with aplomb.
I find the chaotic final moments of King Crimson’s Starless and Bible Black does a great job of revealing an earphones inability to handle complicated and congested music. After minutes of slow and agonizing buildup, the song explodes into a cacophony of jazz infused, erratic, and completely spectacular noise. It’s one of my favorite pieces of music and when EQ’d, the M100 handles it with way more competence than I could ever ask given how hard it falls without EQ. It’s certainly better than the LZ A2S, which I wasn’t expecting. There is still some congestion and confusion when everyone in the band is going all out, but it’s still possible to hear each instrument and pick apart the song, layer by layer, without much effort.
The M100 is definitely an interesting release from Brainwavz. I personally love the design and feel they are both comfortable and extremely well-built. Their stock sound? Well, I can’t recommend it for more than just audio-books, podcasts, or commentary focused Youtube videos.
When EQ’d, the M100 comes together and reveals itself to be a competent earphone and an enjoyable listen. They’re still dark and moody, but they perform strongly, you just have to work for it. Unfortunately, that’s not really something worth praising, especially not at the asking price for the M100.
I’d give them 2/5 stars as they are out of the box. After applying a good custom EQ tune, I’d happily give the M100 4/5 stars and maybe more if I spent additional time refining my tune. Since it doesn’t feel right to give them a final rating on what they can be, nor completely right to rate them on what they are first glance, I’ll meet these two conflicting opinions halfway. 3/5 stars it is for the M100.
Thanks for reading!
Aesop Rock – Saturn Missles
BT – The Antikythera Mechanism
Daft Punk – Touch
Gramatik – Bluestep (Album Version)
Incubus – 2nd/3rd/4th Movements of the Odyssey
Infected Mushroom – Converting Vegetarians
Infected Mushroom – Deeply Disturbed
Jessie J – Bang Bang
Kiesza – Hideaway
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black
Run The Jewels – Oh My Darling (Don’t Cry)
Skindred – Death to all Spies
Supertramp – Rudy
Earphone stand provided courtesy of AuralLife