Brainwavz B400: Aim High, Hit Hard
Today we’re checking out one of Brainwavz’s newest balanced armature (BA) only creation, the quad-driver B400.
When I first heard last year that Brainwavz was jumping back into BA-based earphones, I was pretty excited. At that point I was lucky to have experienced and enjoyed a number of their products. Given their reputation for high quality, wallet-friendly gear and my relative inexperience with balanced armatures, I was hoping I’d have the chance to hear these new models. To my great appreciation they sent over the B100 and B150, both of which utilized a single full-ranged armature. While they certainly sounded similar, the B150 offered up a warmer, bassier signature. Deep into 2017 Brainwavz is back with the B400. After spending a month with it, I can safely say that Brainwavz is on their game. I had high expectations going in based on my experiences with the babies of the lineup, but I wasn’t quite prepared for what the B400 brought to the table.
The B400 earphone utilizes Knowles sourced BA drivers with one handling the low end, two covering the mid-range, and one pulling treble duty. The housings are fully 3D printed and assembled by the Brainwavz team in Hong Kong, though the printer and resin are sourced from the United States. The Litz wire used in the housings themselves is sourced from a premium cable manufacturer out of the Netherlands while the Kester solder used to tie it all together is made in the United States. The only components made in China are the case, which if you know Brainwavz is amazing, the tips, and the packaging materials. The entire process of printing and assembling, burn-in, quality checks, and finally packaging the B400 takes over 28 hours. It’s not a simple and straightforward process making the B400’s more than reasonable performance and price all that much more impressive to me.
Enough preamble. Let’s get this show on the road and check out the reason you’re here; the B400.
A huge thanks to Raz for reaching out to see if I would be interested in reviewing the B400 in preparation for it’s release. This unit was provided free of charge in exchange for a fair and impartial review. While the B400 does not need to be returned, all thoughts and opinions within are my own and do not represent Brainwavz or any other entity. There is no financial incentive for writing this review.
At the time of this review the B400 retailed for 189.50 USD: https://www.brainwavzaudio.com/products/b400-quad-balanced-armature-earphones
The Candy Cane cable retailed for 45.00 USD: https://www.brainwavzaudio.com/collections/accessories/products/candy-cane-silver-plated-balaned-cable-with-mmcx-connector-2-5mm-jack
The Frosty Silver cable retailed for 45.00 USD: https://www.brainwavzaudio.com/collections/accessories/products/frosty-silver-premium-earphone-cable-with-mmcx-connector-3-5-mm-jack
The upgrade cables can be purchased alongside the B400 at a discounted rate, or separately at the above-mentioned prices.
**Despite being able to keep the review sample, I bought another set because I adored this earphone, wanted to support the brand, and it looked bad@$$ in red in the pics. One year later and this is still one of the best iems I’ve heard.**
For at home use the B400 was powered by a TEAC HA-501 desktop amp or straight out of an Asus FX53 gaming laptop. Since the B400 has low power requirements, I didn’t feel there was any benefit in amping. Besides, when running the B400 through the Walnut F1 in balanced there was a lot of hissing. My LG G5 and the HiFi E.T. MA8 also produced readily apparent background noise. Through the HiFiMan MegaMini and Shanling M1 the B400 was silent and could easily be driven to ear-blistering volumes, if that’s your thing.
I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. While I enjoy a variety of signatures in my headphones I generally lean towards slightly warm with elevated treble and sub-bass, an even and natural mid-range response, with reduced mid-bass. The HiFiMan RE800 and thinksound On2 offer up a couple examples of signatures I enjoy.
- Drivers: Quad Balanced Armature
- Rated Impedance: 30Ω
- Frequency Range: 10 Hz – 40 kHz
- Sensitivity: 115dB
- Cable: Detachable MMCX in balanced 2.5mm or standard 3.5mm formats
Since the sample I was sent did not come with retail packaging or the standard accessory kit, here is a list of what you get, as pulled from the B400 product page linked above.
- 3.5mm Standard MMCX Stereo Cable
- 2.5mm Standard MMCX Balanced Cable
- Earphone Hard case
- 1 Set earphone cleaning kit
- 6 sets of Silicone Ear Tips (S M L)
- 1 set of Comply™ Foam Tips T-100 Red
- 2 Earphone sanitary wipes
- 1 Shirt Clip
- Velcro Cable Tie
- Instruction Manual & Warranty Card (24 month warranty)
I was sent a set of upgraded cables in the form of Brainwavz’s new silver-coated Candy Cane balanced 2.5mm cable and OFC copper Frosty Silver 3.5mm cable. Should you choose to upgrade your cables at the time of purchase, these are fantastic options.
Both cables are very flexible, memory and tangle resistant. Since the Candy Cane cable does not use memory wire or ear guides the lack of strain relief at the plugs is a big oversight when considering long term use, especially given the B400 is for over-ear wear only. The memory wire on the Frosty Silver is very well implemented and holds the shape you set it to. I would have preferred Brainwavz carry over the formed ear guides from the B100 and B150 because they were essentially perfect, but the memory wire works well too. Strain relief is flawlessly implemented at the compact 90 degree angled jack and sturdy y-split. This is easily my preferred cable of the two and gets an easy recommendation, especially since I didn’t notice any benefits I could clearly attribute to driving the B400 balanced.
Build, Comfort, and Isolation:
Since Brainwavz chose to roll with 3D printed housings on the B400, I wasn’t expecting anything amazing from them in terms of build quality. They’re pleasantly well-constructed though. With a couple exceptions at the rear of each housings, the seams between the two halves are clean and tight and can’t be felt when running your finger over them. At the back I could feel a slight ridge on each ear piece, but the edge was minimal and faced outwards avoiding issues with discomfort. Since I was sent the ‘Stay Frosty’ version of the B400, it was nice to see the neatly laid out driver setup and printed channels for directing sound from the armatures to the nozzle. Looking down the nozzle you can see the dampers used; Knowles green and white. I’m sure modders will eventually figure out how to swap them around to adjust the tuning.
Modders probably won’t be interested in changing the housing geometry. That’s pretty much spot on, just like it was with the B100 and B150. The gentle curvature of the housings conforms naturally to the outer ear. The slender and somewhat short nozzles keeps the tips from protruding too far into the ear canal, which for someone like me who can’t use deep insertion iems was a relief. The balance of comfort and stability inherent to this design works exceptionally well and despite the relatively shallow insertion for an earphone of this style, isolation remains top notch.
Even without music playing, I found external noise was nullified quite effectively. Not to the point of near silence, but significantly dulled. Typing was reduced to a light clatter, tire noise a smooth wispy hum, and voices a murmur. I could still carry on a conversation with music off and the B400 in place, but it wasn’t easy. Start playing some music and external noise is all but gone, especially with the included foam tips in place. With those the B400’s isolation is crazy good.
Overall the B400 is durable feeling and put together well. The design is very ergonomic and as a result comfort levels are stellar. Isolation with the stock silicone tips is effective, made even more impressive with the Comply foam tips in place.
Tips: This is one of the few earphones where I didn’t hear a significant difference swapping between the silicone and foam tips. The foam tips are more comfortable and better isolating, so I guess those are the best set to use until they wear out and you need new ones. I also squeezed on some NuForce HEM tips but those did nothing but kill any semblance of treble. Advanced Model 3 tips had the same issue. Panasonic HJE-295 tips sounded virtually identical to the stock tips. They are made from a softer silicone and folded over if inserted too far, so they were no good. Lastly, I tried both silicone and foam tips from Shure. The silicone tips were too stiff making it tough to get a seal. The foams? They sounded very similar to Comply’s set with maybe a touch less treble presence. Since the comfort and isolation were still there and they’ve got a built in wax guard, they’re be a suitable replacement for when the stock Complys wear out.
I hear the B400 as characterized by a fairly neutral signature with a smooth yet authoritative mid-range. It has ample bass for a BA-based earphone with a fairly reserved yet detailed treble presence. All that sounds well and good, but the signature isn’t what makes the B400 a must-buy in my eyes. That honor goes to it’s technical prowess which bests earphones that play in a much higher price bracket.
The B400’s soundstage is decent in size, giving you a good sense of space and air. What it does within this space gets my blood running and is unlike any other earphone I’ve tried, which as you’ll see later includes some pretty respected company. Imaging is pinpoint accurate as I found out when using the B400 for gaming (PlayerUnknowns’ Battlegrounds, Dity Rally, Wipeout Omega Collection, etc.).Sound transitions seamlessly between channels. Instruments and effects layer upon each other with no discernible clutter and prominent space between each. The way every aspect of a track is separated is inspiring. This is about as close to “3D” as I’ve heard from an in-ear. Detail retrieval overall is quite good too. Nothing sounds veiled or masked. The B400’s excellent separation lets minute intricacies stand out clearly.
Aesop Rock’s ‘Fish Tales’ is a fairly low resolution track with lots of grimy textures, layered vocals, and sweeping effects. It doesn’t take much for it to sound sloppy and congested. My go at this song with the B400 was eye opening. Bass notes would swoop in from the sides. Aesop’s vocals would clearly show up in three places at once. It made for a good showing.
The B400’s bass is lightly boosted, especially above what I have come to expect from most BA only offerings. While it doesn’t have the extension of an earphone sporting a dynamic driver, I was pleased with the amount of sub-bass they could output when the tracked called for it. It’s actually quite reminiscent of my old XBA-2 in that regard. The bass output on that model is one of the reasons it still finds a place in my collection. While the B400’s bass is quick as expected, but I found it’s decay slower and more realistic than what I’ve come to expect from balanced armatures. This makes it especially pleasing with my usual EDM tracks.
The mid-range of this earphone has guts, as would be expected from one that uses two armatures to cover those frequencies. Vocals are alive and rife with detail with both male and female vocals sounding truly fantastic. Listening to Paul Williams on Daft Punk’s ‘Touch’ is intoxicating. Guitars are crunchy as heck with amazing texture and wind instruments sound impressively breathy. Pianos have an authoritative body and presence. When you place this mid-range within an earphone with the layering and separation qualities that B400 has, it leads to some truly involving experiences.
The B400’s treble extension is adequate with some early roll off that keeps them from fatiguing my ears over longer listening sessions. They are a little lacking in terms of sparkle and shimmer and could benefit from a small bump to both presence and brilliance regions, but then again, I like my earphones on the brighter side of which these are not. Despite the somewhat relaxed treble of the B400, it still feels airy.
Overall the B400’s performance is impressive. It’s treble verges on dull at times and it’s end to end extension could be improved upon (upper ranges in particular), but when you hear the way it moves sound those concerns dissipate. The way this earphones portrays depth and width and everything in between is simply intoxicating and will have you seeking out tracks that push it’s limits.
B100: The B100 is thinner sounding with significantly more emphasis in the treble regions. They both have prominent, clear mid-ranges with the B100 lacking the weight and thickness of the B400. The B100’s bass extends quite well, however, it’s missing the mid- and sub-bass balance of the B400. In terms of soundstage, the B100 sounds larger and more open, but the depth and the way they display sound isn’t comparable. The B400’s soundstage is much more dynamic.
B150: The B150 and B400 share their general signature. The B400’s sound stage is a slight upgrade while it’s imaging, layering and separation are notably improved. They both have a warmer signature than the B100 with a more lush, natural mid-range and added mid-bass presence.
Campfire Audio Polaris: The Polaris is notably v-shaped, especially in comparison to the B400. As expected, the Polaris’ bass depth is well beyond what the B400 can output without any significant hindrance in speed and texture. The Polaris’ mid-range is quite dry with a touch of graininess to it, lacking the forwardness of the B400. The B400’s treble is much less sparkly and energetic and does not have the extension of the Polaris. While the Polaris has a larger soundstage and images very well with similar levels of detail retrieval, it doesn’t layer or separate nearly to the same extent. The Polaris sounds quite flat in comparison, not what I was expecting when I first pit them against each other.
FLC 8S: Since the 8S has 36 filter combinations, to keep this comparison straightforward I left it in my favorite layout; Gold/Red/Grey. The FLC 8S sounds thinner and less weighty than the B400 but with greater end-to-end extension. The B400 falls short in terms of soundstage size, but ups the FLC in terms of layering and separation. The FLC is better than most of the earphones in my collection but it still can’t touch the B400 in this regard. I also found the B400 smoother and more refined with a more organic feel to it’s mid-range. That’s saying a lot because the FLC 8S has a gorgeous mid-range.
HifiMan RE800: The B400 is more balanced but also lacks the end to end extension of the RE800. Whereas the B400’s treble is quite mellow to my ears, the RE800’s lower treble spike makes it much more energetic. The RE800’s presentation is much thinner, especially in the mid-range, yet at the same time it’s also a warmer, more organic sound. The B400 has greater mid-bass presence but less sub-bass, and lacks the extension and rumble the RE800 is capable of outputting. The RE800 seems better with micro details. Combined with it’s leaner presentation, to me it has a more typical “Hi-Fi” sound it. Where the B400 has the upper hand is, unsurprisingly, is in it’s sound stage presentation. The RE800 is no slouch but despite the smaller soundscape it feels like it does a better job a presenting depth using a greater number of layers.
Back when the B400 was first announced, Brainwavz stated they were gunning to take on earphones in the 300 USD price range. From a company known mostly for their budget gear, such a step up and using BAs only no-less, they had set some lofty goals. Obviously, things changed between then and now as the B400 isn’t a 300 USD product, at least not according to the price tag.
Listen to them, however, and you’ll understand why I say that you’d be hard pressed to find a better performing earphone for under 200 USD. I certainly haven’t found one. Sure, other earphones may have a signature that is more exciting (Polaris) or more organic (RE800) but if you’re one that values technical prowess in terms of layering, separation, and a dynamic soundstage, these are an absolute must-listen. Highly, highly recommended.
Thanks for reading and thank you once again to Brainwavz and Raz for the review opportunity.
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Some Test Tunes:
Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid (Album)
Hail Mary Mallon – Are You Going to Eat That? (Album)
King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (Album)
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black (Track)
Supertramp – Crime of the Century (Album)
Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma (Album)
Gorillaz – Plastic Beach (Album)
Massive Attack – Mezzanine (Album)
Fleetwood Mac – Rumors (Album)
Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels (Album)
The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy (Album)
Tobacco – F****d Up Friends (Album)
Felt – Felt 2 (A Tribute to Lisa Bonet) (Album)
Michael Jackson – Thriller (Album)
The Crystal Method – Grace (feat. LeAnn Rimes) (Track)
Jidenna – Long Live the Chief (Track)
Skrillex – Ragga Bomb (Track)
Big Grams – Run for Your Life (Track)
Funkadelic – Maggot Brain (Track)
Aesop Rock – Fishtales (Track)