Brainwavz B100: Bringin’ BAs Back to Brainwavz

Greetings!

Today we are going to be looking at the first in Brainwavz’s new balanced armature (BA) lineup; the B100. And what an entry it is!

Brainwavz has been around for a while now and is well known on Head-fi for offering high quality earphones at low prices. The S5 is one of my personal favorite single dynamics and for just under 100 USD gives you amazing build quality, durable materials, a great accessory kit, and a very competent, reasonably balanced sound. This is an experience that for the most part bleeds down through the lineup, even to the entry level Omega. While Brainwavz has offered a number of competitive products at various price points for years now, there has been one notable omission since the discontinuation of their dual-BA earphone, the B2; they have all used dynamic drivers.

All that changes with their new balanced armature lineup. First we have the single armature B100 which we will be looking at today, another single armature in the form of the B150 which I’ll be reviewing later, and the B200 dual-BA model.

I’ve been using the B100 for well over a month now and as you can imagine from the star rating, impressions are favorable. Let’s look at why in more detail shall we?

Disclaimer:

I would like to thank Pandora and Brainwavz for sending over a pair of the B100 in exchange for a fair and impartial review. These is no financial incentive in place for writing this review, though I am not required to send the B100 back. All opinions and thoughts within this review are my own, and are not representative of Brainwavz or any other entity.

Please note that the B100 model I was sent is preproduction and as a result the build quality is not 100% representative of the final product. I have a retail copy of the B150 on hand which according to Brainwavz uses the same housing and cable as the production B100, so some of my thoughts on build and comfort may carry over between models.

The B100 is now on sale and retails for 49.50 USD. You can check it out here: http://www.brainwavzaudio.com/collections/earphones/products/b100-balanced-armature-in-ear-earphone

Accessories:

Since this was a preproduction B100, I was not provided any packaging. They arrived safely stashed in Brainwavz’s new-ish elongated hard case that I first came across on the Jive. It’s a very well-designed, well-contructed case that has tons of storage space while still managing to remain fairly compact. It was more than large enough to hold the B100 and the included accessories. Speaking of accessories, while not as plentiful as with other models, what is provided is perfectly adequate. In addition to the already mentioned carrying case, you also receive;

– three pairs of silicone ear tips in small, medium, and large sizes

– A set of Comply foam tips (T-100)

– a shirt clip

– a Velcro cable tie

Given the slender nozzle, the B100 won’t be compatible with a wide variety of tips. Therefore, it’s a big plus that the included sets use a very high quality silicone, are comfortable, and seal well. Note that the tips on the production model will be black. I would love to see Brainwavz revert this decision and include red tips as they not only give the B100 a unique look, but fit right in with the red/black color scheme Brainwavz is so fond of.

Oh yes! Can’t forget that the B100 also comes with the standard Brainwavz 24 month warranty.

Build, Design, Comfort, and Isolation:

One aspect of nearly every Brainwavz product I’ve tried that has impressed is build quality. They generally use durable cables that are well-relieved and strong materials for the earpieces. While the B100 is certainly not poorly built, it does come across as one of the less rugged models in the Brainwavz stable.

Starting with the earpieces, you immediately notice that they are are tiny and composed of very light plastic. They remind me of a scaled down VSonic VSD3 with elements of Mazda’s Nagare styling language tossed in. They’re subtly attractive in that from a distance there doesn’t seem to be much to their design, but up close you get to enjoy sweeping lines and subdued creases encompassing the length of the ear piece. The nozzles are also plastic and quite slender. I’m always optimistic that manufacturers will build in some extra strength when using such thin nozzles, but I’d still be careful not to sit on them or put undue pressure on it.

The cable on the release version of the B100 is the same as that found on the B150 and quite similar to that chosen for the M100, another new Brainwavz release. The OFC copper cable is braided below the y-split, where it splits into a more traditional rubberized cable leading into the housing. I wish the braid was maintained all the way through as it feels quite nice, evidenced by it’s use on the M100. The braided portion is fantastic; it resists memory, is flexible, and feels very durable. The more standard section leading into the ear pieces is okay, though it is quite thin. The sheath feels tough enough to provide some protection from tugs but I’m not planning on testing that anytime soon. Relief is excellent at the 45 degree angled jack, leading into the y-split, and heading into each ear piece.

Comfort is simply outstanding. The nozzle exits at a good angle, the ear pieces weigh next to nothing, the cable is light, and the guides carry them smoothly around your ear and out of the way. As a wearer of glasses these built in guides can often be a pain, but Brainwavz did an excellent job in choosing the right material and shape for theirs. Top points for comfort!

Isolation was surprisingly poorer than expected. Not bad by any means, just not as good as a sealed housing, single BA unit could be. It was fine for around the house, but walking around downtown I had no issues hearing vehicle noise around me. Things definitely improved with the foam tips, so that would be the way to go if isolation is a priority.

Overall the B100 is well built and extremely comfortable, just try to avoid tugging the cable too much as it’s a little thin above the y-split.

Sound Quality:

Pairing: I found they sounded best with a warmer source such as my PS Vita or Samsung Nexus S, both of which use Wolfson DACs and output decent sound. It also sounded great with my HTC One M8, though it could only be used if run through a splitter. The pre-production model’s 4 pole jack wouldn’t register with the HTC for whatever reason, yet it worked fine with every other device I tried. The release version uses a standard 3-pole which based on my experiences with the B150 is compatible with just about everything.

Tips: The included foams tips sounded fantastic, as did those that came with my DIY SE215 Special Edition, taking some of the edge off the treble and warming up the low end further. There was no noticeable change in signature with the silicone tips from the DIY or those provided with the ADVANCED Model 3. In the end, I stuck with the pre-installed medium tips primarily for comfort, convenience, and because I like a bit of extra energy up top.

Amping: The B100 is easy to drive and even the wimpy amp in the PS VITA had no issues powering it. I preferred the sound straight from my Nexus S or XDuoo X3 since their stock sound is a bit warmer. Amping isn’t needed, but if you want to I recommend using something with a bit of color

While I don’t have a ton of experience with single BA units, I do have the UE600, the Sony XBA-2 dual-driver, and a number of hybrids to pull experience from. When I hear something is going to be using a single BA as it’s driving force, reading reviews and my experience with the UE600 tells me that it seems reasonable to expect a strong mid-range with nice treble detail and extension. While this seems less and less applicable to modern BAs, I went in expecting bass that might be considered lacking depth and grunt. The B100 met or exceeded my expectations in most every area.

The B100 leans slightly towards the thin, warm side of the scale with some extra treble and mid-range emphasis. Their wonderfully detailed and precise treble presentation isn’t sibilant, but I could see it coming across as a bit overemphasized for some if paired with a brighter source. Even so, the last minute of Run The Jewel’s ‘On My Darling’ is very edgy and aggressive and exacerbates uncomfortable treble spikes. The B100 handles it with ease. On Gramatik’s Bluestep the constant cymbals littering the track sound clean, precise and combined with the slightly thin overall presentation gives the track an airiness that is generally absent with most other products I’ve heard.

The mid-range is ever-present in the mix without coming across too forward or aggressive with either male or female vocals. The B100 has proven to be an amazing companion when listening to my favorite hip hop duos; Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic on their side project Hail Mary Mallon, and EL-P and Killer Mike who make up the devastatingly entertaining Run The Jewels. All three female vocalists on Jessie J’s ‘Bang Bang’ sound equally powerful. The B100’s mid-range presentation is beautifully balanced but could benefit from a bit more weight.

While I would never consider them a bassy earphone, the B100 provides an experience remarkably akin to what I would expect from a more neutral sounding DD-based product but with the nimbleness expected from a BA. Reduced mid-bass presence with surprising sub-bass extension and emphasis with a hint of rumble is the name of the game. I love the way bass on both Pink Floyd’s ‘Money’ and Infected Mushroom’s ‘Deeply Disturbed’ is handled. Bass on ‘Deeply Disturbed’ is quick, tight, and punchy with the right earphone. The B100 does it justice. The bass guitar on ‘Money’ sits behind the guitars and vocals in the mix and has a decently hefty chug to it.

Where the B100 really excels in my opinion is detail retrieval across the board. BT’s ‘The Antikythera Mechanism’ is a very dynamic, well-recorded track that covers a pretty wide range of effects and frequencies. It starts off slow but picks up at 6 minutes when a 110-piece orchestra steps in. The strings sound magnificent. When the drums and horns ease in and BT’s trademark stutter effect is applied, the effect is spine tingling. This is one of the few songs I listen to much louder than I normally would as it immerses me in the emotion and power flowing through the track. The B100’s brilliance is on full display.

I even found the B100’s soundstage to be quite good, aided in part by the thin-ish presentation. Imaging is excellent with great separation and little to no congestion. The way sound moves about on Infected Mushroom’s ‘The Legend of the Black Shawarma’ is impressive. The B100’s soundstage felt very realistic in size when using them with my PS4 and Dirt Rally. The sound design on that game is outstanding and really shines with a good headphone or earphone. Racing in the cockpit view with the B100 was extremely immersive. The pinging of stones in the wheel wells, exhaust barking out back, the whipping of bushes against the doors before careening into a tree or hitting a ridge causing the car to cartwheel down the track (I never said I was good) sounds flat out amazing. I had a similarly positive experience playing World of Tanks, though bass impact was lacking and decay too quick when using high caliber guns.

On Brainwavz’s website they state “The B100 is an ideal entry class balanced armature earphone that will satisfy your audio needs regardless of what genre of music plays through them.” I can’t disagree as it kind of does it all.

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Select Comparisons:

Ultimate Ears UE600vi (discontinued): The UE600 is not a new earphone and has been discontinued but is still generally regarded as a solid example of a single-BA earphone done right. While the UE600 is easier to drive, that’s about all it has going for it. The B100 has a smoother, more natural presentation with cleaner, sparkly treble. The UE600 comes across a bit dull up top, and lacks the bass extension and presence. The UE600 has more midrange presence but it lacks the clarity of the Brainwavz. The B100 also sounds more spacious with more accurate stereo imaging, especially when sounds start shifting towards the centre. On the UE600 nothing truly centres feeling like it stops moving at the edge your nose then jumps to the other channel. The B100 is smooth all the way through.

Sony XBA-2 (discontinued): While I really enjoy the XBA-2, the B100 pretty easily matches or exceeds it’s performance in most areas. Considering the XBA-2 originally retailed for around 200 USD and uses two drivers, though more doesn’t always equal better, this says a lot about how far the tech has come since 2012.

From it’s single driver, the B100 has better extension than the XBA-2 on both ends. The XBA-2 is more like the B150 in that it focuses on the mid-range and mid-bass frequencies. The B100’s mid-range lacks the weight and warmth of the XBA-2 but is clearer. Sony’s offering sounds slightly muffled in direct comparison. Treble is slightly brittle and unnatural compared to the B100, lacking the sparkle and presence. The XBA-2 sounds notably more sluggish, especially apparent with the drum and bass tracks I often listen to. The XBA also has a more condensed, focused presentation.

I love both earphones as they give off difference experiences. The XBA-2 is warmer and more mid-focused with decent bass that improves when amped. The B100 is the better all-rounder. The extra extension at both ends is especially welcome.

Brainwavz B150 (109.50 USD): When I first popped in the B150, I thought they sounded strikingly similar to the B100. While they undoubtedly share a general tonality and some characteristics, they are certainly not the same. To my ears the B150 is a touch more refined all-around with a more relaxed treble presentation. Focus is placed on a more lush mid-range and stronger mid-bass punch. This leads to a less open and more intimate soundstage and what comes across to me as reduced extension at either end, though this could just be those outlying frequencies being overshadowed. Detail and clarity on both seems nigh identical. Same with imaging and placement performance.

What I don’t understand is why there is such a vast difference in price between these two models. The B150 doesn’t really perform any better and sounds remarkably similar but with a light shift in frequency emphasis. It feels like choosing between the two would come down to signature preference. For my preferences, the B100 would be the one to get. I find it’s upbeat presentation exciting and more musical; the price helps too. That said, I find the B150’s slightly warmer, smoother presentation appealing for longer listening sessions and vocal-focused tunes. They’re both so good! Argh!!!

JVC HA-FXH30 (~55 USD): Finally, something worth comparing to the FXH30. If any of you have been following my posts since August 2015 you’ll know the FXH30 holds a special place in my heart. It’s been my favorite earphone under 100 USD for a while now and while that isn’t going to be changing, the B100 will be sitting alongside it as an alternate recommendation for someone that is looking for a fun, detailed sound but with less prominent bass.

The B100 has a slightly thinner presentation with a more balanced presentation. Treble is similar in emphasis, but slightly tighter on the B100. The FXH30’s titanium-coated micro-driver is significantly more sparkly though. Midrange presentation is less forward on the JVC, but has a warmth and weight to it that makes up for the lessened focus. Bass is where the major differences lay and the JVC is, as expected, much more prominent here. Sub-bass extends deeper and there is significantly more mid-bass umph. The B150 is more alike the JVC here.

I think these two earphones perform at nearly the same level. If you want BA-like qualities but with more bass than you’d typically get from a single BA, the FXH30 is a great option. If you want a more balanced sound with the detail and clarity afforded by a BA, but don’t want to sacrifice on a dynamic bass presentation, the B100 (or B150) would be a fantastic choice.

Final Thoughts:

I was hoping the B100 would be a strong sonic performer and they certainly did not disappoint. They either met or exceeded my expectations in pretty much every way showing that they are a wonderfully flexible and adept earphone that plays well with a wide variety of music, shining even in the gaming sphere. I also love the bass presentation in that it reminds me of what you’d get from a dynamic driver, doing it without sacrificing what makes balanced armatures so appealing.

The only area of concern for me is the thin cable above the y-split. I would like to see Brainwavz revise that in the future with a slightly thicker cable which I don’t think would hinder comfort or usability, especially when they have such an excellent preformed ear guide in place. They may also be slightly too bright for some users, particularly if paired with a brighter source. This is a situation where the B150 could step in as the superior alternative.

Overall I think Brainwavz has done a fantastic job with the B100. They have jumped back into the BA game with a quality product that sounds excellent, looks good, is very comfortable, and in my opinion is priced aggressively low especially when compared to the B150. If these do not become a routinely recommend earphone in the under 100 USD category I would be very surprised. They’re certainly worthy of recommendation.

Thanks for reading!

– B9Scrambler

***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Test Songs:

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

Infected Mushroom – The Legend of the Black Shawarma

Jessie J – Bang Bang

Kiesza – Hideaway

King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black

Pink Floyd – Money

Run The Jewels – Oh My Darling (Don’t Cry)

Skindred – Death to all Spies

Supertramp – Rudy

The Prodigy – Get Your Fight On

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