Brainwavz HEX: Bewitched
Today we’re checking out the new HEX from Brainwavz.
When I first saw this product announced, there were a few things that drew my attention. The first of course was the design. The hexagonal, honeycomb pattern adorning the face plate immediately grabbed my eye as it gave the 3D printed HEX a unique look, especially in their now familiar ‘Stay Frosty’ color scheme. Second was that it was coming in at 99 USD. Third was that this was being accomplished with triple Knowles armatures.
I know that more drivers does not necessarily equate to ‘MOAR BETTER!!’ but at this price point you’re lucky to see a single Knowles driver being used. Sonion and other more budget oriented options tend to rule the roost. Such value is nothing new for Brainwavz given they did the same thing with the B400 which has quad Knowles armatures for under 200 USD. It’s nice to see Brainwavz is still at it, but this time tackling an even more affordable segment.
Of course, none of this matters if the HEX sounds like crud. Does it? Or will it entrance you with the sweet songs of its balanced armature people? Let’s find out.
What I Hear: The first time I tossed in the HEX for a listen I was reminded of one of my favorite earphones of all time, the Brainwavz B400. It had the same smooth, easygoing presentation that worked with everything I tossed its way. That said, where the B400 has a near neutral tune with slightly boosted bass to liven things up, the HEX runs a little closer to a more traditional u- or very light v-shaped signature.
I perceive the treble on the HEX to be slightly more prominent than on the B400 thanks to it’s slightly recessed mids. Combined with more emphasized bass, the HEX gives off a fairly lively and energetic presentation. Treble extension is good, with roll off up top. Upper and lower treble balance is quite even giving chimes and cymbals a touch of shimmer without being anywhere near aggressive. I wish there was a little more lower treble since clarity and raw detail is merely average as noticed running through “No Amnesty” by Havok. This leads to attack being somewhat blunted. On the plus side, this results in a treble presentation that is very much non-fatiguing, unlike the majority of products in this price range. Brands tend to artificially enhance clarity by cranking the treble which also makes the product quite fatiguing.
The midrange on the HEX is a bit of a mixed bag, though the overall result is positive. Let’s get the bad out of the way first. Clarity and detail is not the HEX’s forte with vocals sounding clear but too smooth. Subtle details like the sliding of fingers across a guitar string are present but lacking texture. This is fine with everyday pop music and does a good job of hiding compression if listening to compress mixes, but if you feel like analyzing something, the HEX falls short. The good is that the mid-range otherwise sounds quite accurate with vocalists and instruments coming across weighty and timbre accurate. I really enjoyed revisiting my favorite albums like Supertramp’s ‘Crime of the Century’ and Warlock’s ‘Triumph and Agony’ because of how good Davies, Hodgson, and Doro’s voices sounded.
Bass out of the big Knowles armature is solid at best. I enjoyed the presence it held across the overall signature keeping the HEX suitable for EDM tracks like Notion’s absolute banger, “Hooked”. It’s fairly quick, well textured, and has enough punch and slam to carry a track. Bassheads will be pretty disappointed if they for whatever reason settled on the HEX, a product better suited for those that like elevated but far from overwhelming bass. As is typical for armature based products, mid-bass takes the spotlight thanks to the driver’s inability to hit really low notes. When tuned right, such as on the AS06, AS10, and BA10, the low-range armature found in Knowledge Zenith’s still thwomps the majority of competitors when it comes to bass representation.
Soundstage is an area where Brainwavz’s armature lineup tends to fare quite well in my experience, and the HEX is no exception. Maybe this is why the ear pieces are so large, but the HEX has a wide, deep stage that frequently tosses sounds just past the head. This is still an iem so you’re not going to be getting the same experience you get from a headphone. Regardless, I found the HEX quite engaging, easily pulling me into a track. Imaging is good and in line with what I expect from the price point while separation and layering is above-average and more in line with what I experience from products beyond 200 USD. It would be even better too were it not for the somewhat underwhelming mid-range clarity noted easily.
Overall I really enjoy the HEX. It’s not the last word in raw detail and analytic capability, but it makes up for this with a very clean, open presentation that works well across a variety of musical styles thanks to it’s timbre accuracy and tuning balance.
Compared To A Peer:
FiiO FA1 (99 USD): The HEX comes across as having a more balanced tune thanks to treble, mids, and bass which share a move even presence. The FA1’s upper mids are more forward and upper treble more prominent and sparkly giving it a leaner but more detailed presentation. The HEX’s mids are more lush and natural though which combined with a wider, deeper sound stage results in a more realistic sounding product that has a richer, more organic timbre, even if it falls behind in clarity. Bass on neither is amazing, but the HEX digs deeper while maintaining the same level of control. In addition to having a larger sound stage, the HEX provides a more engaging experience thanks to better layering and separation qualities. While I appreciate the clarity of the FA1, the HEX’s more well-rounded and natural sounding tune wins me over.
Both earphones are 3D printed with FiiO’s offering being the more stylish and refined of the two. The build is simply cleaner and more uniform on the FA1 with only the inside of the nozzle giving away that it is 3D printed. The FA1’s cable is also a step up. It shares a twisted design but without the HEX’s stiff sheath over top. More effective strain relief is at the 90 degree angled jack while the y-split is similarly relieved on both.
Shozy & Neo CP (165.00 USD): While still a brighter experience overall, the resulting tune of the CP’s preinstalled filters are more closely aligned with the HEX. The alternate filters dial down mid-bass leaving the presentation feeling slightly bass anemic, all the while perception of mid and treble presence increases. Since the stock filters are most alike the HEX, I’ll use those for this comparison.
With the stock filters, the CP still has the edge over the HEX in overall clarity and detail in the mids and treble. Bass performance on the two is very similar which I suspect comes down to them probably using the same Knowles low range armature, though the HEX does come across more punchy and mid-bass rich. Mids on the HEX are thicker and more weighty with a more realistic timbre and better balance when it comes to male and female vocalists. The CP is slightly biased towards female vocals. Treble on the CP is brighter and more crisp, lacking the pudding-like smoothness of the HEX. Good for bringing out track nuances and replicating the shimmer of a cymbal or chime, but more tiring on the ears long term. When it comes to sound stage, the HEX feels more spacious and open but falls behind the CP when it comes to layering, separation, and imaging precision and accuracy. Given the price difference, I’m pleased the HEX compares so well. However, the CP earns it’s keep with the extra clarity and detail it outputs, specifically through the midrange.
The CP has flawless hand-built acrylic housings. As with the FA1, overall quality is a step above the HEX thanks to the impressive fit and finish. It is also much smaller despite containing the same number of drivers (including a similarly large Knowles low-range armature), MMCX ports, and a metal nozzle with a tuning filter system. The cable is also a step up thanks to it’s thick, braided cleath sheath showing off the copper within.
In The Ear: The HEX’s shell are crafted using the same 3D printed process we’ve become accustomed to from a number of recent releases from Brainwavz. In addition to the ‘Stay Frosty’ sample shown in the review here, the HEX also comes in Black which looks pretty snazzy. Build quality is good and yet again an iterative step up from past products. The shells are polished smooth with a thick lacquer layered over top to fill in and gloss over any seams. The right ear piece has a few raised spots along the inside but they don’t cause any discomfort and are hardly visible. The nozzles are fairly short and stubby which is good for durability (though I’d still be careful given these are 3D printed) but when combined with the gargantuan size of the HEX might make fitment an issue.
The HEX is light but remains a very large earphone, nipping at the heels of the Campfire Audio Solaris. I’m not sure why it needed to be so big since something like the Shozy & Neo CP uses an equivalent triple armature setup with crossover and MMCX cables, yet remains nearly 1/3 the size. And that’s with a metal nozzle and filter system. Don’t get me wrong, the HEX is quite comfortable thanks to its ergonomic, semi-custom style design which also give it outstanding isolation, its just going to be too big for many to wear in a way deemed natural.
The cable will be familiar to Brainwavz fans since it has been featured on numerous products in the past. It has multiple twisted strands coated by a tough, matte black sheath. While it tends to retain bends out of the box and is a bit springy, the materials used have shown me time and again that they are tough as nails. Plus, microphonics are pretty minimal, you’ve got a chin cinch if needed, strain relief is satisfactory, 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 curve naturally around the ear and work very, very well to hold the cable in place while exercising.
In The Box: The HEX’s packaging is about as basic as it gets, likely in an effort to reduce both cost and waste. It is large enough to hold the case inside with little wiggle room. Brainwavz branding is printed on the front with some generic information that pertains to various models everywhere else. Model information is provided only through large stickers, meaning this same package can be used across a wide variety of products.
Inside you get the same generous accessory kit we’ve come to expect from Brainwavz which includes;
- HEX earphones
- MMCX cable
- Iconic black and red elongated hard case
- Red T100 Comply foam tips
- Two complete sets of single flange silicone tips in s/m/l
- Shirt clip
- Velcro cable tie
Overall a very basic unboxing experience held aloft by a fair helping of quality accessories.
- Bluetooth Version: 5
- Operating Range : Up-to 10 meters
- Voice Prompt : Yes
- Play Time : ~6-8 hours
- Standby Time : ~250 hours
- Time : ~2 hours
- Support : HFP | A2DP (Std Codecs, does not support aptX or aptX HD) | AVRCP | AVCTP | AVDTP | SPP | SMP | ATT | GAP | SDP
Since I do not have this module on hand for testing, I am unable to comment on its performance. A picture of the module, provided by Brainwavz, has been included below.
Final Thoughts: Brainwavz has released yet another quality armature-only earphone with the HEX and continues to strengthen this segment of their lineup. While the HEX’s large shells will limit their audience, those they fit will find them exceptionally comfortable and that they isolate quite well. Brainwavz continues to improve the quality of their 3D printed earphones with each release but there is still room for improvement as evident when comparing to FiiO’s FA1. In terms of sound tuning, Brainwavz has done an excellent job utilizing a triple Knowles setup. The resulting signature is clean and smooth with an open stage and non-fatiguing, versatile presentation.
While there are competitors in this price range that may offer better sound or a more refined build, most of those are from flavour of the month brands that offer little to no after-purchase support. For some that won’t matter; they simply want the most bang for their buck when it comes to sound. For others, the 12 month warranty Brainwavz included with the HEX will provide peace of mind that few other brands can match.
Thanks for reading!
Disclaimer: Thank you to Brainwavz for reaching out to see if I would like to review the HEX, and for sending a sample for this review. The thoughts within are my own subjective opinions based on time spent using the HEX. At the time of writing it was retailing for 99.50 USD: https://www.brainwavzaudio.com/products/hex-triple-balanced-armature-earphones
- Drivers: Triple Knowles balanced armatures
- Impedance: 30Ω
- Sensitivity: 120dB @ 1mW
- Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20kHz
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)