First Listen: Brainwavz M1 Earphones ReviewJanuary 08, 2015
Brainwavz was seeking new coverage of their M1 in-ear monitor. I was seeking an IEM in a pinch before leaving for an 8-day trip. I didn’t like the Brainwavz S0 too much, my HiFiMan Re-Zero IEMs hurt my ears, I’m now a spoiled audio snob that won’t use generic OEM earbuds, and full-size cans just weren’t an option for traveling with camera gear. The timing was perfect; Audrey at Brainwavz hooked me up with a pair of M1s for my journeys, and off I went.
But before you think that I am just going to praise these because Brainwavz provided them, think again. I tell it how my ears hear it, and as some of you may know, I’m not generally a fan of earphones, earbuds, IEMs, whatever you want to call them. So let’s dive into what these affordable hi-fi IEMs are all about.
When I opened the shipping parcel, I was happy to find the M1 in high-grade packaging with excellent branding despite these being a roughly $40 earphone. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been handling a lot of products from other leading Asian manufacturers like Cayin, Dunu, Fidue, Hidizs and T-PEOS for my work with Canada’s CTC Audio, so it was good to see the Brainwavz packaging is on par, if not better than, its competitors. In your hands, you’d think you’re getting a product that retails for more than $40—everything is neatly and securely packed and placed in its inner holders with care.
Another thing I have come to expect with IEMs competing in this price range is a variety of accessories to customize use and fit. The M1 follows suit by providing a Brainwavz-branded hard zippered carry case and shirt clip, and a variety of ear tips that include one set of premium Comply S-400 foam tips, one set of black silicone bi-flange tips, and six, yes six, pairs of standard black silicone tips (S, M, L).
The hard case is the same one that comes with the S0 I previously reviewed and has two pockets that will secure all of these things in place while you’re on the go. As usual, finding the tip that is right for your ear is key, so please experiment. I ended up using the Comply foam tip with the M1, which, to my ears, offered the best comfort, noise isolation and sound quality.
You’ll hardly notice the M1 housings in your hand, not because they’re small, but because they’re so light. The M1 has an ultra-light composite housing and slim tangle-free 1.3m cable. The design itself is modern and attractive, while maintaining a minimalist appearance. Despite the light weight and general lack of what I would consider “robustness”, the M1 feels solid enough and has held up well to being thrown in my luggage, pushed and pulled out of my camera bags, wrapped around my Hidizs AP100 DAP, and probably rolled over more than a few times when I fell asleep with them in during my recent travels.
As for cable microphonics, they’re minimal—practically nonexistent. The difference between the S0 and M1, for instance, is night and day with the M1 putting the S0’s bulky flat cable to shame. My only complaints I have with the M1 cable is the lack of strain relief may prove detrimental over time and the length of the Y split. The length of the left and right wires seems quite long and there is no slider on the cable to narrow the split. The reason this bothered me is that it could be easy to snag the cables on coats and bag straps, but this is really a minor annoyance more than anything else. I suppose the shirt clip could be used to alleviate this, but that’s not my preferred solution.
Internally, the M1 sports a large 10.7mm dynamic driver wired to a silver-plated OFC cable that terminates into a 3.5mm gold-plated L-plug. The cable can be worn down or over the ear. Of note, there are no plug adapters included with the M1 as it’s intended for use with portable devices.
The important part. Brainwavz claims that the M1 presents a “balanced sound” and “will leave your ears (and wallet) smiling.” Well, I actually can’t disagree too much this time.
The M1 performed very well for me across several genres and surprisingly never left me wanting for too much more across the dynamic range. Granted, I would never sit down for truly critical listening with these. But as a portable solution, I was pleased with the M1’s spacious sound stage, ability to center the musicians between your ears and a relatively balanced response. Instruments and vocals sound respectably authentic with smooth, clean detail retrieval. The M1 is truly easy on the ears without ever sounding too dark or recessed. Brainwavz claims the M1 will sound good with any genre of music, and the M1 handled all of my electronic, indie, punk, rock, jazz and acoustic folk tastefully with nice dynamics, sonic clarity and just enough vibrancy to avoid coming off as being dry or sterile.
The M1’s 10.7mm dynamic drivers are rated at 32-ohm, with a frequency response range of 20Hz-20kHz and a sensitivity of 110dB at 1mW. These stats will tell you right off the bat that they are relatively easy to drive, but will likely lack real deep bass extension.
Before departing on my trip, I ran the M1s through several hours of tracks from The Sound Apprentice Picks Spotify playlist. A mix of songs from the likes of Sleeping at Last, Fink, Bonobo, Odesza, Sublime, Minus the Bear, John Butler Trio, Mammal Hands, Miles Davis, Glass Animals and many more played through my desktop PC and ALO Audio Pan Am tube DAC/amp. Once I left town, I mated the M1s to my new Hidizs AP100 High Fidelity Music Player (thanks CTC Audio) loaded with my lossless audio library.
When the music first hit my ears, I was immediately surprised by the balanced sound and nice resolution. I felt that I was actually hearing the integrity of the recordings and these different amps at work instead of an artificial sound from poor driver tuning. The M1 delivered a refined sound that didn’t call any attention to any specific frequency range. Some people will find this sound boring, but I personally prefer to hear recordings and gear as they were intended to be heard.
So, about that bass. It’s tighter, less boomy and more natural than the S0. It has smooth extension, but it does fall short of rumbling your eardrums. You can hear kick drums and deep synths, but you can’t feel them until pushing the volume into deafening levels. What’s nice, though, is that the bass never overpowers or smears the performance.
From bass to mids, the transition is simply smooth. I’d prefer a little more “meat” in this region, but tuned as they are the M1 handled instrument separation and soul quite well. I found vocals to sound quite natural, a little thin at times, but generally enjoyable.
As for the treble, I haven’t seen a frequency response chart, but my ears want me to say that the highs roll off relatively early. The highs that meet your ears, however, are clean and easy to listen too, but things I hear with my reference-grade headphones I simply don’t pick up with the M1. But, that’s to be expected. So while the highest detail retrieval may be underwhelming for the critical listener, the M1 still manages to not come off as being too dark or veiled. To those that are treble-sensitive, the M1 offers your ears some liberation.
For long listening sessions, I found the balanced and mellow sound of the M1 welcoming. I never experienced any ear fatigue whether I was listening for hours poolside, getting some late night listening in before bed, or soaring through the sky on the flight home (only complaint here is that the drone of jet engines decimates the bass). That said, much like I stated for the S0, for those looking for cutting highs with a vast soundstage, you’ll be left wanting for more. And for the real bass heads, I’d advise you to keep moving along. But for the head-fi guy or gal that wants an earphone that can do it all well enough and cheap enough, the M1 might be the right choice.
To my surprise, I can honestly say that I enjoyed my time with the Brainwavz M1. I tend to stay away from IEMs, and after my disappointment with the S0 I had my doubts about this more affordable option from Brainwavz, but the M1 has earned a place in my travel bag—at least for now. The looks, build and accessories are all winning features, but the weight, comfort and sound quality are what seals the deal.
I’ll close this review by simply saying that the Brainwavz M1 in-ear monitor is for the hi-fi enthusiast that wants a no-frills, enjoyable and easy listening experience while on the go (without breaking the bank). Without any EQ adjustments, the bass goes low enough, the mids can warm your soul, and the highs are supple and smooth with just the right amount of shimmer to keep your toes tapping and you saying, “Just one more song.”
Many thanks once again to Brainwavz and Audrey for reaching out to me and allowing me to take the M1 in-ear monitor on my journeys abroad.