Brainwavz ZETA: Reliable

Greetings!

Today we’re checking out the ZETA, a new entry level offering from Brainwavz.

Brainwavz is a brand I am quite familiar with as over the years they have provided many opportunities to review their products, opportunities of which I am very appreciative. The excellent single dynamic Jive won me over with it’s comfy metal shells and precise driver, while their B-series iems brought Brainwavz storming confidently back into the world of armatures. Their quad-armature B400 model sits right near the top of my favorite audio products to this date. At the time I reviewed the Omega in February of 2016, the 6mm micro-driver equipped, steel bodied earphone was the most wallet-friendly offering in Brainwavz’s lineup. The introduction of the ZETA means it and now holds the position of ‘wallet’s best friend’, with the Omega coming in at a couple dollars more.

20 USD is a very competitive segment where you find a wide variety of purchasers; those that just want something cheap and cool looking to listen to without much care for sound quality, to those that are hunting for that one budget earphone that offers crazy value for money. The ZETA find itself in a comfortable middle ground offering up a non-fatiguing signature with solid technicals in an interesting looking and durable package. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

Disclaimer:

A huge thanks to Marlon for sending over a complimentary sample of the ZETA for the purposes of this review. The thoughts within this review are mine and mine alone, and do not represent Brainwavz or any other entity. The was no financial incentive provided to write this review. At the time of writing, the ZETA was on sale for 14.99 USD. Regular retail price is 20 USD. You can check them out here;

https://www.brainwavzaudio.com/collections/earphones/products/brainwavz-ZETA-iem-earphones

Source:

The ZETA is really easy to drive and sounds consistent across sources. It spent most of the time being powered by a Shanling M0 or the Radsone Earstudio ES100 connected to my LG G6 over LDAC Bluetooth.

Personal Preferences:

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, Brainwavz B400, and thinksound On2 offer varied examples of signatures I enjoy. I generally listen at very low volumes, so keep this in mind when reading my thoughts on how an earphone sounds.

Specifications:

  • Driver: 10mm dynamic
  • Impedance: 16 ohms
  • Frequency Range: 20Hz – 20kHz
  • Sensitivity: 103dB @ 1mW
  • Rated Imput Power: 3mW
  • Cable: 1.3m, copper

Packaging and Accessories:

The ZETA arrived in a durable plastic bag sealed shut by some exceptionally sticky, double-sided tape. On the front you find some angular design flourishes and an image of the earphones. Also mentioned is that the ZETA is equipped with a microphone and remote, and has a 24 month warranty. Not bad for 20 bucks. Flipping to the back you find a list of contents, features, specifications, and a statement outlining the purpose of the ZETA:

The Brainwavz Zeta are a lightweight day-to-day earphone with finely tuned dynamic drivers, producing high fidelity vocals with a smooth, detailed bass. These dynamic in-ear-monitors with in-line remote provide a lively and wide soundstage that’s perfect for all genres of music.”

Inside you find the following:

  • ZETA earphones
  • Velcro cable tie
  • Shirt clip
  • 3 pairs of single flange silicone ear tips (s/m/l)
  • Silicone ear stabilizers
  • User guide/warranty card

While I do wish that one of Brainwavz’s amazing semi-hard shell cases were included, I totally understand why one isn’t; cost. As such, this is a perfectly acceptable accessory kit for the price. The tips are of decent quality, the Velcro cable tie is useful, and the shirt clip combined with the ear stabilizers work well to keep the ZETA steady during heavy activity.

Build, Comfort, and Isolation:

The ZETA doesn’t feature any special materials and is constructed entirely of plastic. That said, the plastic used feel to be of good quality. They feel solid in hand and if flicked, return a dense thunk as opposed to the cheap sounding click you get from lower quality plastics. While mold lines are present, fit and finish is just fine with the various parts composing the earphone fitting together well. Special mention goes to the rubber ring that you can replace with ear guides. To ensure they stay lined up properly, there are small notches that keep it from sliding around. That sort of attention to detail to a feature many will probably overlook is welcome.

If you’ve used a Brainwavz earphone before, you’ve very likely experienced the rubber sheathed cable affixed to the ZETA. Below the y-split it is quite dense and well relieved at the 45 degree angled jack. The y-split is made from a solid rubber with good relief leading into the bottom. The cable splits into two thinner strands heading towards the earpieces where you also find a handy chin cinch. That’s going to come in handy because without using it, the cable transmits a fair bit of noise through to your ears. Leading into the ZETA’s earpieces the cable enters a rubber opening. I’ll consider this a weak point because the opening is wider than the cable which lets it move about. It’s also quite stiff and doesn’t offer much give or support during tugs. That said, this cable has proven to be very durable in my experience so I’ll give Brainwavz benefit of the doubt.

Given the light weight and fairly traditional, low-profile design that often comes with a larger driver, the ZETA is quite comfortable. The rubber ring surrounding the housing ensures there are no hot spots where it touches your ear. Not sure what more I can say here. You insert the ZETA and you listen to your music. No fiddling, no pain, no discomfort. It’s perfectly fine.

Isolation is below average, which in my experience is pretty normal for housings of this design; wide, low profile, with a stubby, shallow fit nozzle. I can easily hear those around me, even with music playing, requiring 3rd party foam tips to block out noise as best as possible. On the plus side, the ZETA’s bass forward sound works well with this limited isolation, retaining good bass performance where it becomes completely drown out on other earphones.

Sound:

Tips: The stock tips are a perfect match in my opinion. Something with a smaller bore like Spinfits or those generic tips you get with tons of other earphones boost mid-bass too much, and foams smother the already relaxed upper ranges. Stick with wide bore tips.

The ZETA comes out swinging with an unapologetically warm and consumer friendly sound. Bass is well-emphasized with good depth and impact, falling just short of what I would considered bassy. It’s notthe quickest low end in the world but it’s controlled well enough to handle quick moments like the closing of Skrillex’s “Ragga Bomb” or Havok’s “D.O.A”. Texturing is decent picking up enough detail in tracks from The Prodigy’s “The Day Is My Enemy” to avoid feeling like something is missing.

Mids are warm and mellow with enough detail and emphasis to remain articulate and clear. They are free of sibilance as evidenced running thorugh Aesop Rock’s “Blood Sandwich”. Female vocals are appreciably lush with a nice level of intimacy that makes tracks like Jessie J’s “Bang Bang” a treat. All three unique vocalists sound distinct like they should, playing off each other perfectly from start to finish. Male vocals are full and robust too, as I noticed when watching the LG G7 tear down on JerryRigEverything over on Youtube.

Treble is comfortably rolled off letting you crank the volume to counter your surroundings without deafening yourself. Add to that some decent refinement and you have yourself a welcome and more competent follow up to the Omega. Air between notes is decent giving the ZETA’s highs a satisfying level of clarity.

The ZETA’s sound stage is spacious and wide with fairly accurate imaging. Layering and separation are quite decent for an earphone at this price that also has with a warm tune and single dynamic. They don’t quite achieve the same level of competency as some hybrids in the price range though. That said, those also tend to suffer from some coherency issues, something with isn’t a problem here.

Select Comparisons:

Brainwavz Omega: The Omega is colder and brighter with a narrower but more accurate sound stage. It outputs more detail and texture than the ZETA. Treble is more emphasized and seems to extend further on the Omega but it lacks the same depth and impact in the bass. The ZETA’s treble is tighter and better controlled with a mid-range that is more full-bodied. Both models share a cable but the Omega’s three button remote is superior to the Omega’s single button, though call quality is similar. Build quality and comfort go to the Omega. The stainless steel shells look and feel more premium in the hand, and the compact size allows for a more universal fit. I prefer the Omega’s overall sound signature but the loose treble has me preferring the ZETA for listening sessions. The Omega’s unique design and compact size are quite appealing though.

KZ ED15: The ED15 has a stronger v-shaped signature. It’s hybrid setup has a BA handling the upper ranges and mid-range and it shows. Treble is MUCH sharper than on the ZETA and displays a fair bit of sizzle that will undoubtedly be uncomfortable for the treble sensitive out there. The mid-range of the ED15 is much leaner, colder, and quite sibilant when compared to the ZETA. Bass quality and quantity goes to the ED15 which has some of the best bass I’ve heard under 50 USD. As nice as the ZETA’s low end is, the ED15 shows greater depth, impact, texture, and attack. The ZETA has a wider, deeper sound stage giving it a more spacious presentation. Build goes to the ED15 which far exceeds most of the competition. Its all metal shells with a fixed braided copper cable feels more premium, though they are quite heavy and as a result aren’t as comfortable as the ZETA. Outside of the bass and premium build, there isn’t really anything I like more about the ED15. I’d much rather listen to the ZETA.

ADVANCED S2000: The S2000 comes across somewhat cold and dry next to the ZETA as a result of its additional lower treble energy. Note presentation on the S2000 is less dense, particularly in the mids, with a lighter, more nimble feel. Bass extends deeper and is more textured on the S2000, but lacks the same mid-bass punch. Sub-bass on the S2000 is more prominent giving a more visceral feel. The ZETA has a deeper but slightly more narrow stage and isn’t quite as accurate when it comes to channel to channel movement. The S2000’s shells feel a little cheaper in hand with it’s mix of glossy and matte plastics. I also struggle to get a good fit and seal due to the overly stiff steel memory wire. The ZETA sits in my ears much more naturally. The S2000’s twisted cable is a touch on the stiff and thin side and as a result I prefer the ZETA’s cable. The inline mic on the S2000 is metal and feels more durable. Call quality is similarly fine. The S2000’s detailed, balanced sound is more appealing to my ears but the tricky fit is too much to overcome. As such I found myself picking up the ZETA more.

Final Thoughts:

The ZETA is a great everyday carry and a fantastic new entry level model for Brainwavz’s earphone lineup. It doesn’t cost much, it’s made from durable materials, and the warm sound signature is satisfying to the ear. The included accessories, while not extensive in any way, are all useful and appropriately matched with the product. The ZETA is a well-thought out release in my eye, and a very solid buy.

One could argue that at the same price something like the KZ ZSN would be a better buy, and for some it definitely is. It has a more premium acrylic and aluminum build, a removable 2-pin cable, and a hybrid driver configuration with outstanding performance. Still, that kind of earphone isn’t for everyone. The ZETA is easier to get a hold of and has a 2-year warranty vs. the ZSN which has none (for the majority of buyers). Should you need after purchase support with it, you need to go through a convoluted process with the seller and many simply do not want to deal with that hassle. Also, in my experience removable cables are a massive turn off for “normal” consumers which the ZETA seems targeted towards. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to give away an earphone only to have someone decline when they find out it has removable cables. They know they’ll lose an ear piece and instead want something with a fixed cable.

When it comes down to it, the ZETA is a quality product that knows it’s target audience. It is well worth checking out if you want something that sounds good, fits well, is durable, and has zero learning curve. This is an earphone you plug into your player, stuff in your ears, and enjoy. No messing about. This is good stuff.

Thanks for reading!

– B9Scrambler

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

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)

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