Music is an important part of my life and at 45 years old I’ve been around the block with just about every genre of music. While I’m not a huge fan of certain genres I am still eclectic; I can find a song in just about every one of them that I like.
Let me start this review with the fact that I am NOT a high end audiophile. I don’t own an oscilloscope. I’ve never paid more than $30 for a pair of headphones. Most of my music is encoded in 192kbps MP3. This puts me on the playing field with probably 90%+ of my audience. If it is “FLAC or nothing” for you or you would be insulted by paying less than $100 for headphones – this might not be your review.
I’m a regular guy that happens to love all sorts of music – but it isn’t my religion. This is the most expensive pair of headphones I’ve ever used (I was provided a sample by the company).
The S5 is definitely a high quality physical product; there is no doubt there. From the plug to the tips, each and every part feels durable. The tangle-resistant flat wiring is intended to allow for an over-the-ear experience and comes in a perfect length.
I really appreciated the extra reinforcement at the plug/wire connection. This is the first thing that tends to break on “cheap” headphones. At the split for each ear wire, there is more reinforcement – I’m not working about a short there either.
The ear pieces themselves are very lightweight and the actual in-the-ear posts are angled (I hadn’t seen this before) which allows them to insert and stay put while using the over the ear wiring.
Included with the hard zipper carrying case are various ear plugs for the ear posts. These come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They are amazingly soft and remarkably durable (you have to manhandle the tips to get them on and off) and include bi and tri flanges which help keep them in your ears. I fell in love with the tri flange; it actually puts a little suction in my ear which makes me feel like they will actually stay in.
Testing the S5
I wanted to test these headphones out in three fronts; music on a PC, music on a smartphone and PC gaming.
Music on the PC
For music, I wanted to stay as much with “Joe Everyman” as I could; that is, I used MP3s. I used as many 320kbps songs from as many genres as I had readily available. I also dabbled in extreme low bitrate music files. To round things off, I sampled some very older studio recordings such as Elvis Presley and Tommy James & The Shondells as well as more recognizable stuff like The Beatles. I checked out some live stuff too – wondering how the headphones would perform with that type of recording.
Here is the track list I used. All audio is 320kbps MP3 unless otherwise noted.
- Beethoveen – Moonlight Sonota
- Beach Boys – Kokomo
- Tommy James & the Shondells – Draggin’ the Line (Mono original)
- A-Teens – I Promised Myself
- John Williams (Star Wars Eps. 3) – Opening Credits
- Men at Work (Live) – Who Can It Be Now
- ELO – Turn to Stone
- ELO – Evil Woman
- Kylie Minogue – All The Lovers
- Air Supply – Lost in Love (192kbps)
- Beatles – Eleanor Rigby (192kbps)
- LMFAO – Party Rock Anthem
- Fleetwood Mac – Rhiannon
- Lady Gaga – Paparazzi (198 VBR)
- The Three Tenors in Concert – Memory (192kbps)
- Rod Stewart – Maggie May (56kpbs)
- Morning Musume – Koi No Victory! (192kbps)
- Katy Perry – Teenage Dream (256kpbs)
- Sarah Brightman – Phantom of the Opera (192kbps)
- Elvis Presley – Jailhouse Rock (192kbps)
- Motley Crue – Girls Girls Girls (FLAC)
- Garth Brooks – The Thunder Rolls (192kbps)
As you can see, I went as diverse as possible.
It was a very interesting test overall. I was finally able to hear the difference between extremely low bitrate music and high bitrate/lossless music. That’s almost worth the $100 asking price (price at the time of writing) just for the education.
The S5 performed extremely well on all genres of music. The high treble of dance music was well preserved without washout. The bass? They advertise “smooth bass” – and I didn’t understand that until I dug into it. To me, music with heavy bass is almost an assault on my ears. I blame the people listening to horrible music in their cars driving around with the stereo cranked with all their windows open with some obnoxious subwoofer pumping.
With the S5, bass is “smooth”; it isn’t obnoxious but rather clear and contributing to the music overall instead of driving it out.
The S5 allows the full range of music to be heard. I’ve heard things in certain songs I hadn’t noticed before.
Low bitrate tunes of course suffer from the compression process – and the S5 will be sure you notice it. This was most noticeable at extreme low bitrates like 56kbps – but the clear sound revealed distortion in some music even at 128k. In some cases, the recordings themselves seemed to be suspect; which is why I sampled two ELO songs from the same album. Turn To Stone did not sound clean – but Evil Woman was crisp and clear.
Normally not a fan of live performances, using the S5 to listen to them gave me something else to do – hear the nuances of a live performance. There are many little things from the audience or small instrument anomalies you wouldn’t normally hear. I found it fascinating to listen to these live performances.
Orchestral performances were simply insane. Classic music is always a great way to check sound quality – and hearing the opening theme to Star Wars from John Williams was possibly better than hearing it at the theater. Every instrument sings out and it felt like it was beamed directly into my head.
These headphones deliver music – pretty much any music – with great clarity at all volume levels.
Music on the Smartphone
Using Google Music streaming on my Note 4, I found the S5 to perform pretty much the same as on the PC. The plug had issues getting into the Note 4 with my case on but this isn’t unique to the S5. Most headphones and 1/8″ jacks do not like my case. Your mileage may vary – but you need to be aware of this possibility.
The tri flange tips are amazing at blocking out noise. These are not “noise cancelling” headphones, but the construction and the flanges blocked a good 85% or more of outside noise, even at moderate volume levels. I took my phone with me into the living room where my wife was watching old House episodes and had her crank up the volume. The flanges blocked almost all the noise, even at high ambient volume.
This also had the effect of rendering me “deaf” to the world around me. Great if you’re in the right environment, but my son literally stood right outside my peripherals and shook keys at me and addressed me and I had no idea he was there.
Gaming on the PC
I chose Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare to test the S5 during a gaming sessions. It is a true testament to the amount of work game developers put into something that so many people don’t hear. Using the S5 in a multiplayer session of Domination, I was able to hear footsteps, crickets, little rocks falling behind me. The boom of the shotgun was insane – being able to hear all the different weapons around you was an amazing treat. Echoes and sound filters were clear and distinguishable.
The Dark Side
No product is perfect. Unfortunately, my concerns with the S5 headphones aren’t likely to surface for months – problems in durability and when working out. As great as they sound, if they short out or break in six or eight months? That’s no deal. If you look at reviews on Amazon and other places, Brainwavz are known for durability. The construction feels solid and I expect a long life. I’ll update this review if I come across a manufacturing or durability issue.
There is one more thing I didn’t mention which could be a little off-putting for those using this type of high-end device for the first time. There is almost an unsettling factor to the sensation that music is being “beamed” into your head. I know, this sounds a bit … odd … but with certain songs it no longer felt like I was listening but rather the sound was being directly fed into my head. I got used to it, but it can be a bit unnerving at first. I’m sure it was a combination of the noise reducing flanges, the comfort level (as Flanders would say, ‘It’s like I’m wearin’ nothing at all’) and the incredibly clean sound.
I’ve always considered headphones a disposable commodity and have always been trained to pay a price commensurate with that consideration in mind. I would have never purchased these headphones on my own for $100. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve made fun of people that pay $199 for Beats or other high end headphones because quite frankly, I could never justify the variance in price. However, in doing this review I’ve come to appreciate the higher end spectrum of headphones. Still, the price WILL be off-putting to “Joe Q. Consumer” despite them being considerably cheaper than the big name brand counterparts.
The Final Word
Using this product has changed my thought process and value when it comes to price vs quality with headphones. I may not be able to be happy with $10-$20 ear buds anymore now that I’ve heard the clear, clean sound that come from these little guys. There is a saying, “If you can tell the difference; it matters” and the Brainwavz S5 can easily prove to you that there is a difference and while $100 seems crazy – I assure you; these are price-wise on the “lower end” of the premium headphone spectrum.
While the price may seem out of line for the common consumer, I have to say that these headphones need to be experienced in your own environment with your own music on your own terms before you can truly decide if $100 is too much for them. Take advantage of a retailer return policy to give these a go and see for yourself. You might be pleasantly surprised and be unwilling to give them up.