Seeking a combination of sound quality and value for money, Paul Rigby explores the sonic boundaries of the Brainwavz B200 earphones
For those new to the company, Brainwavz is a Hong Kong-based multinational with 20 employees, that’s been trading since around 2008. But the company is not a stand-alone outfit, it is owned by a company called GPGS (although Brainwavz appears to be its only hi-fi outlet), which was founded by a chap named Prithvi, the CEO (single names are seemingly a big thing in this company. ‘Marlon’ is the Product Design Manager – he is also ex-Lucasfilm – while marketing and sales is handled by ‘Pandora’. Any prospective employee better think up something special, therefore.)
Prithvi began his product range with the Alpha, “[Now, we] have over 25 different earphones and headphones, several headphone hangers (storage solutions) and almost 30 different types/colours of replaceable earpads (not limited to Brainwavz models),” he said. “We design and tune everything in house, have our own quality assurance team and a dedicated office for customer support.”
The new B200 Dual Balanced Armature earphones appear in what the company describe as it audiophile-grade B series, following on from the B100 and B150.
On arrival, the simple, fairly minimal packaging features a large lozenge-shaped hard case including a length-running zip the opens to reveal elasticated pockets within each of the inner box shells. In there, you will find six silicon ear tips of various sizes and one set of Comply foam tips for physical noise isolation. Not as effective as the complex, microphone-based system but good nevertheless.
The 30 Ohm, plastic/polymer chassis earphones are roped by a velcro tie. The 1.3m OFC copper cable includes a Y-splitter and sizing slider. The package also includes a shirt clip. Termination is completed by a gold-plated 3.5mm plug.
That’s it, in terms of build and package. It’s a simple and straight-forward design and package. No messing about or fancy fripperies. The B200s look ready for business.
Earphones are frequently used for portable music devices but also for use with laptops in cafes, offices and the like. So I booted up my MacBook and plugged the earphones direct: no fancy headphone amplifiers here, despite playing the music though Audirvana Plus. I wanted to see how it coped with a typical, music-unfriendly computer. Worse, I played a ripped WAV of Sugababes’ Stronger. A bright, overly compressed and excessively bassy track, it’s a tough listen but it’s also ‘real world’ in form and function.
In this configuration, I was happy to hear how easy the earphones were to drive. You don’t need a great deal of power to get a loud noise from the B200s. Similarly, the soundstage from the ‘phones was both broad in size and airy in nature with an admirable spacious feel to the midrange which the vocals lapped up. Why? Because it gave the vocals room to manoeuvre and, similarly, to emote. The result was a more impressive performance in terms of passion and nuance, while double-tracked vocals could be detected with a measure of success.
Within this spacious midrange, the synths offered an epic grandeur, sweeping across the rear of the soundstage with a sense of majesty.
Bass, meanwhile afforded a full bodied and massy presentation. The balanced armatures removing any sense of the stiltedd or the constricted. The lower frequencies provided a powerful and rather focused impact without any boom or, indeed bloom.
I wanted to see if the B200s could stretch their legs a little and so turned to jazz and Sony Rollins’ St. Thomas at 24bit/96kHz. Packed full of complex drum patterns, sax, bass and piano. The open and airy nature of the soundstage was particularly useful for the considered and delicate musicianship from the quartet. The intricate drumming, especially, with it’s often dainty and sensitive approach, was tracked well while the shy piano run at the rear of the soundstage was monitored well by the B200s so that it was never lost to the ear.
Bass was steady and organically impressive, providing a solid foundation to the track while Rollins’ own sax was suitably reedy, giving the lister an indication that this instrument was being performed by a human and not a machine.
Turning to my Astell&Kern AK120 (Red Wine modded) and ATC HDA-P1 DAP/amp combo, I played Bob Marley’s I Shot The Sheriff at 24bit/96kHz as was impressed by the overall sonic balance of the output. Sonics never felt awkward or out of place. Nothing screeched or barked or blared, the B200s offered a balanced approach, so to speak. Yes, there was a slight warming to the upper frequencies…just a touch. This meant that there was an ever so slight treble roll off while the upper mids were not quite as extended as some might wish. This was not a serious issue, though, especially for the price. The comparatively neutral character of the B200s, rather than dynamic highlights, were the principle attraction.
The Pixies’ Bone Machine via DSD confirmed the overall neutral character of the earphones. There’s no obvious nasties here, no sonic traps to be wary of, these are reliable designs. The drums were punchy with plenty of impact and power while electric guitar was able to translate both effort and intensity to the listener. Bass guitar was always in view and never disappeared from the mix for an instant.
The Brainwavz B200 earphones do not present any sense of luxury or frippery in terms of their basic build or within the accompanying packaging. Some might balk at that, considering the price but, for me, the priority is sound and if the build budget has been slanted towards sonics, then I’m a happy bunny.
This is not a design for sonic highlights. They do not amaze. They don’t leave you aghast. They don’t ‘Wow’. The B200s are not going to offer thrills and spills. The B200s are, though, great sounding, largely neutral (except for a little bit of warming) and tonally balanced earphones that do their job and, for the price, do it supremely well.
Nit-pickers wanting their aesthetic egos stroked should avoid the the B200s. Anyone looking for great sounding earphones, though, should apply immediately.
BRAINWAVZ B200 EARPHONES
Pros: neutral sound, tonal balance, open and airy mids, solid and powerful bass
Cons: prosaic design and packaging, upper frequency warming might deter some