Brainwavz B2 review

bwb2 main Brainwavz B2 review

After taking a closer look at the Brainwavz Beta and M2, it’s time to review their current flagship product, the B2.

Contrary to other Brainwavz IEMs, the B2 doesn’t use a dynamic driver; they sport a dual balanced armature to create all those wonderful sounds – not just any armature at that, but the widely used Knowles TWFK, the same one found in the Jays q-Jays, Audio Technica ATH-CK10, Ultimate Ears UE700, or the Fischer Audio DBA-02 (which also use the same OEM design as the B2).

Read on to find out how the B2 fare in the sub-$200 price range of in-ear phones.

  • Brainwavz B2 Specs
  • Driver: Dual balanced armature (Knowles TWFK)
  • Frequency response: 20Hz – 20kHz
  • Sensitivity: 110 dB/mW
  • Impedance: 40 Ohm
  • Cable: 1.3m, straight gold-plated 3.5mm plug
  • Accessories: Silicone tips (S/M/L), Comply foam tips (M), carrying case, 6.3mm adapter, airplane adapter

Accessories, Design, Build

The Brainwavz B2 come with three sizes of silicone tips, one pair of Comply foam tips, a nice semi-rigid carrying case with zipper, a 3.5mm-to-6.3mm adapter plug, and a two-pronged airline adapter. There’s not much to say about the accessories, besides the silicone tips. Usually the silicon tips coming with most earphones are sub-par, and I swap them for different ones right away. Not so with the B2 – their tips are very good, similar to the ones that come with the Shure SE530. They have the right texture, material strength, and form factor for a secure fit with better than average isolation. The B2 might not isolate quite as much as the SE530 themselves, but they have better noise rejection than the majority of available non-custom IEMs.

Well, on to the phones… There’s no denying it: the B2 look somewhat cheap and tacky, more like something in the $17 price range than $170. With the red stripe and the Brainwavz logo, the looks of the ear pieces might be subtle enough – but whoever thought it’s a good idea to use a striped cable should take a look in the mirror while wearing the B2. Maybe I’m overly sensitive, but the gaudy cable is reason enough for me to not use the B2 in public – at least not with the cable on the outside of my jacket. This design choice is even more bewildering since the B2 are the most pricy and ‘neutral’ phones in Brainwavz’ setup – yet they look like some Skullcandy kiddie stuff, while cheaper and bassier Brainwavz models like the M2 look a lot more subtle and appealing. Not to mention the $50 M2 are made of aluminum.

The cable is a twisted three-wire construction, as found on most custom-fit IEMs. On the B2 however it is very loosely twisted, and unwinds on its own near the 3.5mm plug and Y-splitter. It is a very soft and flexible cable, which is nice. Strain relieves on the plug and splitter appear to be sturdy and well molded.

The ear pieces are made of average glossy plastic with some visible injection mold ridges, not quite befitting the price range of the B2 – but I’ve seen similar on even more expensive phones, such as the Earsonics SM3. Fit of the B2 is generally quite comfortable, and the over-the-ear cable construction provides additional security and reduced cable noise. A quite obvious flaw of the phones are sharp edges on the housings – not only on the outside, but also on the inside. This isn’t so bad for normal use, but using the B2 while sleeping did hurt my ears a bit. Icky grime accumulates easily near the sharp edges as well; I need to clean the B2 more often than other IEMs.

The B2 are quite efficient, they go loud enough with any low-powered MP3 player. They also don’t hiss overly much with picky sources; their background noise is rather well behaved for a multi-armature IEM, thanks to their higher 40 Ohm impedance. One more caveat about multi-armatures with crossovers: faulty players with high output impedance can’t drive them properly (Sony A840 series, Archos Gen8, etc). They need a better player with low output impedance (Cowon, Sansa, etc), or a decent low output impedance headphone amp, like the FiiO E6.

Sound

The B2 are generally in the same sound category as the Phonak Audéo PFE 112 or Ortofon e-Q5, which serve as my points of reference here: neutral-ish, precise sound with no exaggerated bass response. Being armature-driven IEMs, the B2 don’t benefit from driver ‘burn-in’, they don’t change their sound signature over time. One’s ears and brain however might take some time getting used to them.

Bass quantity of the B2 is about as much as of the Phonak PFE with grey filters, maybe perceived as a tiny bit weightier. They are however differently tuned – the PFE go deeper and have more bass detail and texture, while the B2 display a bit of a midbass hump that overshadows the deepest octaves a bit. Since their bass quantity isn’t far from ‘neutral’, this midbass hump doesn’t affect overall clarity much. The B2’s bass is fine, but I wish it would go deeper and had more punch. Either way, bassheads need not apply – the B2 are tuned for jazz and classical, not dubstep or hip hop.

Midrange is very nice on the B2. Instrument separation, clarity, and detail are excellent. It is not overly lush or mellow sounding, as expected from phones tending towards the analytical side of things, but it lets one catch every nuance of the music played. They are about as clear as the PFE 112, and even surpass the e-Q5 a bit in that aspect (the e-Q5 sound somewhat richer, fuller, though). The B2’s midrange works well with dense, complex music, no matter if orchestral pieces or death metal tracks. They should not have much difficulty with any genre you throw at them.

Treble is a bit of an Achilles heel of the B2. While it is as clear and precise as the midrange, it is very forward and bright. With certain audio tracks – especially with female vocals – it can get quite sibilant and fatiguing. Sometimes the treble might even sound a bit grainy, but that could already be in the source material. The B2 won’t sugarcoat bad recordings; every flaw can be heard with all its gory details. Either way, the B2’s treble sounds better to my ears than the ATH-CK10’s, which use the same TWFK armatures. The B2 lack the ‘metallic’ character of the CK10, they sound more natural. They sure are not the right phones if one is sensitive to bright treble or sibilance, but for people used to this kind of sound signature (or people with hearing loss in the higher frequencies), they might be just fine.

Personally, the B2 sound ‘just right’ for my taste when I EQ some 6dB of sub-bass in, and remove about 6dB of treble. Then their frequency response more or less matches my favorite IEMs, the SM3. Of course this is just a matter of taste, and some people might cringe at my preference. The good thing is that the B2 respond quite well to EQing, so their sound can be tailored to one’s liking.

Stereo imaging is average in the B2. Same as most other sealed armature-equipped phones, they can’t quite match the wider sound stage of an open dynamic driver. Instrument separation however is very good thanks to their excellent clarity – it’s easy to pick up every single instrument in a mix, nothing is smeared together (depending on the quality of the recording, of course.)

Dynamics are very good at louder listening levels, but played quieter they sound a bit flat. No wonder, that’s just how the Fletcher-Munson curve works, regarding human ears and neutral phones. Mind you, they aren’t as anemic sounding as Etymotic phones at quieter listening levels, but they could use a bit more… pizzazz under these circumstances, for my liking.

Conclusion

The Brainwavz B2 are nice analytic in-ear phones. While they might not be quite as refined as the Phonak PFE or Ortofon e-Q5/e-Q7 in some aspects, they do deliver all the details of a recording with precision and speed.

They might not be the biggest bargain at $170 – PFE are $160, UE700 are $150 – but they are definitely worth the money over the $350 CK10, in my opinion. Unfortunately I haven’t heard other phones with TWFK armatures, like the Fischer DBA-02 or the Ultimate Ears UE700, so I can’t say where the B2 rank among those. I had the q-Jays some four years ago, but I can’t remember their exact sound signature any more. In the grand scheme of things, the B2 perform well – I would take them over the Etymotic ER-4 without a second thought.

If forward treble and ‘polite’ bass is your thing – and you’re not as picky as I am, regarding the striped cable – the B2 might just be the phones for you.

Pros

  • Neutral-ish, analytic sound with quite forward treble
  • Clear, precise, and fast
  • Over-the-ear fit
  • Good isolation, very good stock silicone tips

Cons

  • Treble can be rather sibilant and fatiguing sounding with certain audio material
  • Might not have enough bass impact for some people’s tastes
  • Somewhat tacky, cheap looks and materials
  • Sharp edges on the insides of the ear pieces

Purchase

The B2 can be bought from MP4Nation and other Brainwavz resellers.




3 Comments

KaliKot on October 28, 2011 10:26 AM

Great review. I agree with everything you said.

I’ve owned these for about a month before I sold it.

They can go for near the $100 mark when they have promos.

I’m wondering when you will compare it to it’s brother the DBA02?

Martin Sägmüller on October 28, 2011 11:05 AM

I think I’ve had my share of TWFK-based IEMs, don’t think I will be needing more of them. ;)

Alexander on July 2, 2012 5:37 PM

Great review,I am planning getting this phones, I bought the Panasonic hje900 thanks to you and I love them but I broke the cable and the sleekaudio one fail me too, so and thinking about a new phones and this little fella can be had for 110 bucks, would you recommend them or are something better for my money?

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