Today we’re checking out the B200 from Brainwavz.
The B200 was originally released early 2017 alongside the B100 and B150. What set the B200 apart from it’s more budget friendly brethren was the use of two balanced armatures per side in the vein of the B2, a legacy model in the Brainwavz lineup that found quite the following.
2018 saw the B200 receiving a pretty hefty update. Gone were the shells shared with the B100 and B150. That was replaced by a 3D printed unit very similar to the design and shape used for the successful B400. Fixed cables were also made a thing of the past with the B200 now featuring MMCX equipped removable cables.
How does the current generation B200 perform. Let’s take a closer look!
A thank you to Marlon with Brainwavz for sending over a sample of the B200 for review. The thoughts within this review are my own opinions based on time listening to and using the product and do not represent Brainwavz or any other entity. At the time of writing, the B200 was retailing for 119.50 USD. You can check it out here: https://www.brainwavzaudio.com/products/b200-dual-balanced-armature-earphones
The B200 was generally used straight out of a Shanling M0 on low gain. It’s not particularly challenging to get up to volume and the M0’s warmth paired nicely with the B200’s lean neutrality. It was also used with my TEAC HA-501 desktop amp on low to mid damping with the M0 or a ZiShan DSD playing source duty. The B200 doesn’t hiss when paired with a more powerful source which is welcome.
I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. My preferences for earphone tuning are quite relaxed and as such their is no one signature I look for. The HiFiMAN RE800, Brainwavz B400, and Massdrop x MeeAudio Planamic are examples of earphones with wildly varied signatures that are enjoyable for different reasons. I generally listen at very low volumes, so keep this in mind when perusing my thoughts on how an earphone sounds.
- Driver: Dual balanced armature
- Impedance: 30ohms
- Sensitivity: 110db @ 1mW
- Frequency Range: 12Hz – 22kHz
Packaging and Accessories:
I quite enjoy the packaging Brainwavz has created for their armature series. It has a very premium feel to it compared to much of the competition, partly because it shares a number of qualities with the packaging of the significantly more expensive HEM series of earphones from Optoma Nuforce. The cardboard has a nice texture and is dense and durable. It offers lots of protection for the contents inside so they’re kept safe and sound until they get to you, the buyer.
On the front of the cream white exterior sheath in a clean, contrasting black font you find the usual Brainwavz branding and model information. In addition, there are notifications for the inclusion of Compy foam tips and Brainwavz’s generous 24 month warranty. The sides of the sheath are completely blank while the back contains some trademark info, the Brainwavz logo, and a number of images to coincide with the contents.
Sliding off the sheath reveals a matte grey box with ‘Brainwavz’ pressed into the magnetically seal flap and ’24 month warranty’ pressed into the main panel. Flipping back the flap you find the inner left panels contain the Brainwavz mission statement and a short description of what the warranty covers. In the enclosure on the right you find one of Brainwavz’s outstanding black and red elongated hard shell cases set within a foam insert, a spare cable tucked in beside it. Resting on top of the foam, surrounding the case, is a paper insert with a psychedelic colour scheme thanking you for your purchase. Within the case resides the B200 and accessories. In all you get:
- B200 earphones
- MMCX 3.5mm cable
- MMCX mobile cable with inline control and microphone
- Shirt clip
- Velcro cable tie
- Red Comply T-100 foam tips (m)
- Single flange silicone tips (s/m/l x2)
- Manual and 24 month warranty card
Overall a great accessory kit. You get a spare cable, one of the best cases in the business, quality ear tips, and some potentially useful little extras like the shirt clip and velcro strap. No complaints here. Plus, you can’t argue with a 24 month warranty which shows that Brainwavz is confident in the quality of their products.
Build, Comfort, and Isolation:
Like other models in Brainwavz’s armature lineup, the B200 features liquid resin 3D printing for their construction. The shape and design is quite similar to it’s bigger brother, the B400, but shrunk down to something more suitable for a dual-driver. The printing quality is good with the two halves of the shell fitting together nicely and the MMCX ports smoothly integrated, though the cloudiness is a bit of a turn off. I also miss seeing the Brainwavz logo integrated into the face plate design. It all looks somewhat barren and overly simple. FiiO’s recent release, the uber stylish FA1, is also 3D printed but unless you knew ahead of time it would be exceptionally difficult to tell just by looking at them. While I appreciate what Brainwavz is doing with the tech and give them huge kudos for being one of the first to start making retail-ready earphones with it, some additional refinement would go a long way towards improving the visual appeal. As is, I think the appeal is in function over form giving the B200 a very subtle appearance that does not draw attention.
The cables included with the B200 will be familiar to Brainwavz faithfuls. They feature multiple twisted strands coated by a tough, matte black sheath. While they tend to retain bends out of the box and are a bit springy, the cable materials used have shown me time and again that they are tough as nails. Plus, microphonics are pretty minimal, strain relief is prominent (less so on the mobile cable), and you get the same style of angled ear guides that were first introduced with the B100 and B150. I love the shape of these guides as they work very, very well. While the wire and sheath materials are the same between the two, the hardware is quite different. The standard cable has a rubber 45 degree angled jack with excellent strain relief, and a beefy rubber y-split that is equally well-relieved. Above it sits an effective chin cinch. The mobile cable adds in a metal three-button remote. The y-split and chin cinch are swapped out for more compact metal units, still with adequate strain relief. I’m glad they didn’t omit the chin cinch, even if it can only raise as far as the inline control unit. The 45 degree angled jack becomes a small metal straight jack. Strain relief here is a bit short and stiff making me think it won’t hold up as well long term as the 45 degree jack. Overall, both cables are quality items and welcome inclusions.
Due to the B200’s light weight, small size, and low profile ergonomic design, this is one earphone I can’t see too many having issues with. It tucks into the outer ear like it belongs there and ceases to exist while you enjoy your music. The tiny nozzle, 4mm at its widest and not ideal for tip rolling, does help the B200 with it’s universal designation in that it should be suitable for ear canals of all shapes and sizes. Another nice perk is the location of the vent on the inside of the ear piece. Thanks to this and the sleek shell design, it doesn’t pick up much wind noise making the B200 a nice companion when walking around outside on a windy day.
Like other models in the Brainwavz armature lineup, the B200 provides well above average isolation thanks to it’s reasonable insertion depth, minimal and smartly placed ventilation, and form fitting shape. These are nice to wear in noisy areas, even more so with the included Comply foams installed. Chilling at my computer you hear only the highest pitched portion of a key stroke. In my local coffee shop and on my walks around the city, you hear only a dulled murmur from the activity going on around you. The only thing stopping the B200 from being an amazing travelling companion is the bass quantity which is more suited to the quiet of your home than the chaos of the outside world.
Bass on the B200 is certainly not a focal point thanks to what is quite a reserved presentation. Playing a support role, it goes about it’s job without ever overstepping boundaries. While some might call them anemic, I can’t agree. Extension is just enough and they’ve got some solid mid-bass punch and overall speed. Running them with The Crystal Method’s “Bound Too Long”, a track that in the past I found reliant in a robust low end to fully enjoy, was a surprisingly complete experience. The B200’s presentation certainly isn’t ideal for bass heavy genres, but it can still hold its own thanks to its extension, speed, and impressive texturing.
The midrange is where the B200 is at its most impressive. Thanks to the reduced midbass the midrange runs lean, but that’s the only criticism I can levy at it. The detail and clarity afforded by the B200s mids are intoxicating and impressively capable. The vocal presentation in particular is stellar. From the screams of Warlock’s Doro on “East Meets Wesrt” to the soft, melodic crooning of Riya on Lenzman’s “Open Page”, female vocalists sound like they should. Male vocals work too, regardless of whether you’re listening to Aesop Rock’s relentless barrage on “Catacomb Kids” or Paul William’s emotional discharge on Daft Punk’s “Touch”. Timbre is fairly accurate as well with instruments sounding mostly accurate, but a bit lighter than they should thanks to the lean note presentation.
Treble is extremely tight and well controlled with a clean, inoffensive presentation. Extension is fine with a smooth roll off and a fairly even emphasis between upper and lower regions, though the lower treble sees more of the spotlight. This gives the B200 an extremely detailed and airy presentation without it coming across overly analytic or bright. I like the snappy decay of cymbals and crispiness each hit displays. The treble really nails my personal preferences. Elevated just enough to give me the detail I want without stepping too far. It’s not laid back, but not aggressive either.
The B200’s sound stage gives off a pleasing sense of depth and width that I just don’t hear often from armature-only iems. This seems to be something Brainwavz does better than most. Notes swirl off into the distance and multi-instrument tracks sound layered and well-separated. This presentation is fantastic and about as far from congested as it gets for this driver layout, at least of those I’ve tried.
The B200 is a pretty impressive performer. If it had the B400’s low end emphasis it would probably be my favourite of the lineup. As is, if you value detail and clarity and a neutral bass presentation, the B200 unquestionably delivers.
EarNine EN2J (267.00 USD): Like the B200 the EN2J is a dual armature model, though the EN2J uses EarNiNE’s own in-house designed drivers. The EN2J is a brighter, more precise sounding earphone that is quite analytic. Like the B200 it is light on bass. The EN2J is more textured but lacks the extension and as such doesn’t offer much in the way of visceral feedback. The B200 doesn’t offer a lot of that either, but it does better than the EN2J. The EN2J’s mids are rife with clarity but not as timbre accurate giving vocals a dry tone that is characteristic of the EarNiNE drivers. I personally like the presentation quite a lot, but someone wanting a more realistic tone would be better served by the B200. Treble on the EN2J will be overwhelming to those sensitive to upper frequencies. If you aren’t, you’ll be rewarded with a level of clarity the B200 cannot match. It’s tight and extra crisp and almost makes the B200 sound veiled, which it isn’t. Sound stage on the EN2J is similarly large but it sets the listener closer to the action by default. This gives sounds a greater range of motion and more impressive imaging. Layering and separation are slightly better on the EN2J as well. While the EN2J is the better performer, for less than half the price the B200 more than holds it’s own.
Where the two are somewhat comparable in terms of audio performance, the EN2J takes a few leaps forward with it’s stainless steel build. Like the B200 it is low profile and isolates quite well. The EN2J’s cable is not as dense and durable, but is much lighter and more flexible. I liked it enough to donate it to my Campfire Audio Polaris. It’s an awesome cable but feels like it needs to be babied to survive. Brainwavz’s cables need no such thing thanks to their tough sheaths and effective strain relief.
Havi B3 Pro I (discontinued): The B3 Pro I is a classic example of budget neutral and has a legendary status in the Head-fi forums. Outside of the B200 being much easier to drive, it and the B3 are quite comparable in their style of tune. Light on bass with a luxurious mid-range and smooth, detailed treble. The B3 and it’s twin dynamics have a larger sound stage, width in particular, but the B200 isn’t too far behind and offers more depth to its presentation. B200’s imaging is more precise and accurate with better separation. B200’s treble is slightly more forward and it’s overall presentation a bit more lean and cool. Seems tighter and more defined. I’m split on the low end. B200 is tighter and more punchy but the B3 Pro I provides more extension, though it isn’t impressive on either. The B3’s mid-range has a thicker note presentation with a warmer, more organic feel, but it isn’t as crisp and clear.
Build isn’t spectacular on either with the B3 suffering from cracked housings. It certainly looks more impressive with it’s Sennheiser inspired design and Gorilla glass face plates. It’s fixed, quad-core flat cable also looks snazzy but is subject to drying out and cracking over time. While the B200’s 3D printed housings are somewhat uninspired looking and I doubt their ability to stand up to heavy abuse, Brainwavz offers a 24 month warranty and a solid repair service, something you never received with the now discontinued B3 Pro I. The cables are also replaceable. And they’re far more form fitting and comfortable than the B3’s housings.
Along with the Macaw RT-10, the B200 is one of the closest things I’ve come across to a proper replacement for the B3 Pro I. The RT-10 is closer in tone sharing the same, soft, slightly warm presentation as the B3, but it’s not as capable on a technical level and is notably bassier. The B200 bests the B3 technically, but gives up warmth and note weight.
Aiming for an “ideal” target tune is great and all, but when everyone is doing it you end up with a bunch of samey products that lack a unique identity. It’s boring if I’m being frank. The B200 doesn’t have that problem.
It has a niche tune that is not going to have wide appeal with your average consumer. Bass on the B200 is well-extended and nicely textured but very much downplayed in favour of the detailed mid and treble regions. To some that is a fatal flaw since it means the B200 isn’t well-rounded. To others that specialization is exactly what they want. Neither party is right, but neither is wrong either. This is simply another flavour to choose from within the vast see of earphones available to us consumers, and choice is always a good thing. It breeds competition and innovation.
The rest of the package is nice too with Brainwavz’s usual in-depth accessory kit. Their case is durable and spacious and the two cables are useful. Even the quality of the stock tips is good avoiding the need to replace them immediately. I hope to see some refinements to the printing process in future products making the frosty/clear models a more attractive, but as is the printing process does what it needs to do. Function over form as they say.
In the end, I think the B200 is a pretty good product. If a bass-lite sound is your jam, there aren’t too many options at this price range, and fewer still that do it as well as the B200.
Thanks for reading!
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
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)