Brainwavz B150: Balance in Armatures

Greetings!

Today we are going to be looking at the second in Brainwavz’s new balanced armature (BA) lineup; the B150. The B100 was great, and the B150 is too.

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 (DD).

All that changes with their new balanced armature lineup. First we have the single armature B100 which I reviewed here (http://www.head-fi.org/products/brainwavz-b100-balanced-armature-earphone/reviews/17800), next is another single armature in the form of the B150 which we’re looking at today, and finally there is the B200 dual-BA model.

Let’s take a closer look at the B150 to see what makes it’s single BA so good.

Disclaimer:

I would like to thank Pandora and Brainwavz for sending over a pair of the B150 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 B150 back. All opinions and thoughts within this review are my own, and are not representative of Brainwavz or any other entity.

The B150 now retails for 69.50 USD. You can check it out here:http://www.brainwavzaudio.com/products/b150-balanced-armature-in-ear-earphone

Packaging and Accessories:

The B150 shows off a new design language for Brainwavz’s packaging, one in which I quite like but that isn’t without a couple niggles worth mentioning.

The exterior box is a nicely textured black and red with Brainwavz on the front in all caps at the top left hand corner. B150 is printed in large, glossy red font dead centre. This appears both front and back. On the front in the bottom left corner you are provided a limited amount of information about the product inside; balanced armature, high fidelity audio, clarity and detail, and that it uses an over the ear design. Other than the 24 month warranty information and notification that Comply eartips are included, you are provided nothing more about the product.

Open the top flap you are greeted with plastic tray holding the case which contains all the goodies. Inside is;

– B150 earphone

– 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

– instruction manual and warranty card

Given the slender nozzle, the B150 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. I wish the tips were red like they are on the preproduction B100 unit I received, but that doesn’t diminish from the B150 experience at all.

There are two qualms I have with this simplified unboxing experience. The first is that there is no viewing window for the B150. If buying online, not a problem. If the average consumer walks into a store to get the B150 they’ll have no idea what it looks like unless they researched it beforehand. That could be an instant turnoff. Second, the plastic tray inside is actually a little too large for the exterior box. When it arrived it was literally bulging at the seams. When I cut the security seals the bottom flap burst open. This is definitely nitpick, but it was just something odd to run into.

At this price I would expect some additional gear, especially given the B100 comes with the same kit at nearly half the price. That said, the quality of what’s included is excellent and works perfectly so I’m not taking anything away for this. I would like to see Brainwavz update the packaging with a viewing window or image of the B150 printed somewhere so they know what they’re getting, and maybe shrink the inner plastic tray so it actually fits properly inside the package.

Build, Design, Isolation, and Comfort:

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 B150 is certainly not poorly built, it uses the same materials as the B100 and comes 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, glossy 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 braided OFC cable below the y-split is the same as the one used on the M100, which is to say it’s excellent. Out of the box it’s full of kinks but that quickly works itself out leaving you with excellent tangle resistance, next to no memory, and good flexibility. Above the y-split things are a little more traditional with a basic rubber sheathed, thin strand of cable. 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.

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.

Comfort is simply outstanding. The nozzle exits at a logical 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!

I would have liked to see the noticeable improvements in quality over the B100 given the price difference, but overall the B150 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/Amping: I liked the B150 through everything I tried, though I did prefer them filtered through my NX1. It seemed to give their mid-bass presentation a bit more punch.

Tips: The included foams tips sounded good, as did those that came with my DIY SE215 Special Edition, though they took out a bit too treble for my preferences. 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.

When I first listen to a single BA unit, past experiences and the wide variety of reviews I’ve read lead me to expect a treble heavy, mid-range focused sound. The B150 surprised with it’s robust, punchy bass, and smooth, rolled off treble presentation. It earns it’s keep with a fairly warm, mid-range and mid-bass focused signature that offers up solid detail top to bottom and an intimate soundstage. Their sound is a little thin up top but as you progress into the mid-range and bass it thickens and has more body.

The treble presentation is pretty laid back and to my ears does not stand out over the rest of the frequencies. It is tight and precise with good detail, though the relaxed nature does mean you have to listen for the more intimate details on some tracks. It also feels like it starts to roll off a touch early. I think this gives them a more natural and less fatiguing presentation than their less expensive sibling, the B100, but at the same time is less entertaining. They lack the toe-tapping quality that I loved so much on the B100.

The mid-range is where the B150 really stands out. Vocals are prominent and presented close to the listener. Both female and male vocalists are equally well-presented, benefiting greatly from the warmth that the B150 displays. Guitars and other instruments ring clear as day with lots of emotion and feeling. Something I wanted from the B100 was additional weightiness in the mid-range, and the B150 delivers.

I found bass on the B150 lacked balance and focused too much on mid-bass presence. As a result, it feels like it rolls off too early lacking the extension and occasional hint of rumble the B100 can produce. Still, it’s presentation is quite punchy and quick though with an experience more akin to what you expect from a DD than a BA.

I found the soundstage to be decently open, but fairly intimate due to the forward nature of the mid-range. Sounds carry nicely around you but lack the distance and spaciousness of the B100. This was especially noticeable playing Dirt Rally where the cockpit felt a touch cramped. Engines backfiring and exhaust popping sounded magnificent though! Separation is still top notch however, and I never felt like effects were blending into each other. Everything remained distinct.

Overall the B150 came across as a pleasant earphone. Their smooth, warm signature makes for good long-term listening at the expense of the raw clarity and detail you find in the B100.

 Select Comparisons:

Brainwavz B100 (59.50 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!!!

Havi B3 Pro 1 (~59 USD): Havi’s offering has been a budget audiophile staple for a while now, and for good reason. Paired with the right gear and enough power, you get a cavernous soundstage (though lacking depth I found), strong technical ability, and a slightly warm, neutral, balanced signature. The B150 provides a similar experience but is a little brighter, has more mid-bass presence, and a notably more intimate soundstage. I found it’s technical abilities to exceed the Pro 1’s while maintaining that same easy listening quality.

The B150 is much easier to drive and doesn’t run into distortion when EQ’d like the Havi. I also feel the B150 sounds cleaner at higher volumes. Brainwavz’s offering is also easier to seat for a comfortable, hassle-free fit. The Pro 1 is a somewhat odd shape which combined with a shallow fit can cause troubles for some.

Both are wonderful sounding and very capable earphones. While the B3 is the more neutral and balanced of the two, the B150 brings with it greater versatility and detail.

Blue Ever Blue 1200EX (130 USD): The 1200EX is a stellar single driver earphone. Compared to what I’ve heard, at 130 USD it doesn’t have much competition. The B150 makes a strong case for saving yourself a few bucks, however.

The 1200EX is balanced more like the B100 with more prominent treble and dialed down mid-bass. As a result, the B150 is warmer, it’s strong mid-range has more presence, and it’s bass more impact. The B150’s treble offers up nearly as much detail but is better controlled. Bass on both is snappy and precise, but the 1200EX’s sub-bass extension is sorely missing from the B150. I personally prefer the B150’s mid-range which is thicker and more weighty. The 1200EX’s soundstage and imaging is a step above the B150’s and is one of their greatest strengths.

In the end both are very capable and worthy purchases. I feel that choosing between the two would come down to signature preference and intended use. The B150 is easier to drive, more ergonomic, more comfortable, and as a result is better for mobile use. The 1200EX brings to the table slightly more detail and a significantly more open soundstage, but it also might also be a tad bright for those wanting something leaning towards a more neutral signature.

Final Thoughts:

The B150 is a stellar earphone. When you take into account that it’s using only a single BA, it’s even more impressive. Their treble is mellow but still quite detailed and accurate. The mid-range is lush and weighty. It’s bass is quick, punchy, and warm. They are extremely comfortable and are easy to drive from a cellphone, so they’re great when on the move. I only have two concerns, one of which is the thin cable above the y-split. Time will tell if that’s going to be just fine, or if it will be a failure point.

My second concern is price. While I think the B150 is priced fairly and in line with the quality of sound produced, I just can’t tell what it is that justifies the extra 50 USD over the B100. Performance is on par, build is supposedly the same, and the accessory kit is identical. The B150 is a bit smoother, slightly more refined, and doesn’t seem to be as sensitive to the chosen source, but it gives up soundstage and detail in the process. I generally consider those pretty valuable attributes in most cases. Since value is personal and what I look for might not be what you consider in a purchase, you can decide for yourself if those small differences are worth stepping up to the B150.

In the end, just as with the B100 I think Brainwavz nailed it with the B150. It’s an awesome earphone with a lot going for it, and is quite competitive with with other products in it’s price range. Great job Brainwavz!

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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