Brainwavz HM5 Headphones Review
Ear Pads The Headphone: Part Two!
About 6 weeks ago, I reviewed the NVX XPT100's. They’re a slightly cheaper version of this same headphone.
So wait, what? Why am I reviewing the more expensive ones?
Because, a few days after I finished my review, my loose left slider on my XPT100’s got even looser. And then I noticed that there was a piece of plastic rattling around in my left ear cup. I chalked it up to a defective pair, returned them…and missed them almost immediately.
I was already iffy about the build quality in my review, so when it came time for me to plunge in again…I went with the Brainwavz version for some reasons I’ll get into below.
The Brainwavz HM5 headphones are a ~$100 closed back pair of studio monitoring headphones with perhaps the best protein leather ear pads in the world. There’s an extra pair of pads included in the box, and Brainwavz sells a number of other types of replacement pads on their website in different colors.
Also included in the box are two cables and a very nice hard case.
You might be wondering…why are there two different versions of this headphone? There’s actually about a million.
From my research, it seems like these started life as the Yoga CD-880, a headphone made by a Taiwanese company that carries the hi-res audio certification. It seems that Yoga licensed that design to a number of other companies, who all made their own takes on it.
You can find the CD-880 rebadged and redesigned as the Fischer Audio FA-003, Lindy HF-100, Digitech Pro Monitor, Jaycar Pro Monitor, NVX XPT-100, and Brainwavz HM5. And there are probably other models as well. Phew!
Each of these seems to use the same core driver and design, but they come with different complements of extras, and other tweaks. From what I can tell, they all also have slightly different manufacturing chains, and they’re not just being made by Yoga.
Brainwavz is headquartered in China and has their own manufacturing facilities thanks to their parent company. NVX is headquartered in Kentucky, and from what I can tell, contracts out their manufacturing overseas.
The point of this long-winded and confusing diatribe is that the HM5 headphones have more differences from the XPT100’s than I thought they would!
These definitely have a “studio style” sound, but it’s not as harsh or aggressive in the treble as some pro users might like/need.
The bass is well- extended all the way down to 20hz and generally accurate, the midrange has a strange rise in the upper end that gives these a little bit of a kick/edge, and the treble is a bit recessed, but still free of grain and pleasantly detailed.
I like listening to these. I think I like listening to them a little more than my XPT100’s, but I haven’t had those for a while and auditory memory lies all the time.
This review of the XPT100’s by metal571 (Subscribe to him right now, he’s awesome!) seems to show that not all the Yoga derivatives sound the same…though in the comments he says it might just be due to manufacturing variations.
So maybe I’m not just losing it? This is a very mod-able headphone that’s quite sensitive to differences in the ear cups/damping material/etc, so maybe NVX is doing something that makes them sound a little honkier/grainier? Lindy actually makes an open-backed version called the HF-101 that apparently sounds quite a bit different.
Anyway, if you want a detailed, generally neutral sound with a slight push in the upper mids/female vocals area, you’ll love these. And there’s enough bass that you can have fun with them.
They’re not going to wow you or slaughter you with bass, but they will present the sound to you more or less how it was made. In this price range, I think they compete well with the HRM5's and the M40X’s, and they’re an easier listen than the MDR-V6/7506's thanks to the more laid-back treble.
Soundstage and imaging are also both quite exceptional thanks to the large ear cups and ear pads. They image nearly as well as the DT770’s, which is great for this price. These would be a really good gaming headphone….even though you’d have to add a separate mic for chat.
You won’t need a special amp for these…though they do like a little more power than some of my other headphones. They’re not as sensitive as my M50X’s, so don’t be surprised if you have to use a couple of extra volume notches to achieve the same sound level.
There’s a reason that Brainwavz has made a whole business out of selling these ear pads: they’re awesome.
They use a nice leatherette covering and a wonderful memory foam. Just like my XPT100’s, the pads got a bit squished on my HM5’s in shipping, but by the end of the first day of ownership, they had popped right back into their normal shape.
I love these ear pads and I wish every ear pad was this nice. The openings are huge and deep, and they should float around just about any ear. They seal really well over my glasses, and almost completely disappear around my head.
The clamping force of the HM5’s is slightly stronger than average…but it’s almost totally negated by the amazing ear pads.
The headband isn’t bad either. It’s not as plushly padded as the ear pads…but the underside is made of a nice breathable neoprene fabric, and it doesn’t cause any hot spots on my head even after a prolonged session.
These are an all-time top-tier headphone, comfort-wise. They’re right up there with the MDR-1A, Bose QC25/35, Steelseries Arctis, and Beyerdynamic Custom One Pro.
And the isolation is great, too.
I don’t do objective isolation measurements. I just put the headphones on in a loud local coffee shop, use them for a few hours, and see how I get on. These are in the top third, for sure…though if pressed, I’d rather have my DT770’s or Custom One Pros for passive isolation. But still, these are great.
These deserve to have a million different versions on the market just for the comfort alone.
Here’s where the differences between the XPT100’s and the HM5’s start to emerge.
I think the design of the HM5’s is better, and I think that my pair feels better- built than my XPT100’s.
The HM5 is a garden variety headphone design…only it’s huge. Like, Beyerdynamic huge. Everything about them is big.
I like the silver-colored metal plates on the backs of the ear cups more than the black plates on the XPT100.
I like the look of the Brainwavz logo on the top of the headband.
I like that the ear cup L and R markers are actually color-coded with red and blue, and match the color-coding on the detachable cables. On the XPT-100, the L and R markings are printed in similar white ink, and the only color-coding on the cables is a small gray ring, and you have to guess which side goes in which cup.
Build-wise…my metal sliders are much better this time, with stronger clicks and a smoother articulation. There’s no plastic rattling around inside either ear cup. I still think that the plastic forks holding the cups to the headband feel cheap and thin.
I’ve seen some reports online that the XPT100 uses a more flexible metal in the headband than the HM5’s, and that some people prefer this due to comfort. I actually like the slightly more rigid feel of the HM5’s, as this helps the build feel a bit better.
It’s possible that my build complaints are because my HM5’s are a good example of the headphones that were better- protected by their packaging, and that my XPT100’s were a bad example that got damaged in shipping.
The dual-entry design of the cables means that you could change out the headband on these, should you ever need to. I’ve seen some folks snapping these cups into a Sennheiser HD 600 headband, which is hilarious.
Hard. Case. Included!
Honestly, everyone should do this. If Brainwavz can figure out a way to do this at this price point…everyone can figure it out. They could just start buying cases en-masse from Brainwavz, if they need to.
The hard case that comes with the HM5’s is great. It’s got a good solid exterior to it with a tough fabric covering. It has a nice little metal Brainwavz logo. It has a velcro-backed removable pouch inside that’s the perfect size to hold the included cables.
The XPT100’s also “include a case.” But it’s a giant soft bag that’s comically large and filled with a soft foam. It’s clearly not as protective in shipping as the hard HM5 case is. The weird bag might be the reason that my XPT100’s had plastic rattling around in them after shipping.
It also might be why the HM5’s cost about $20 more.
Unlike the XPT100’s, the included extra pads are just copies of the regular HM5 pads and not the big angled pads. Brainwavz also doesn’t include extra mounting rings inside the extra pads. That’s not a deal-breaker, but it was nice that NVX did this.
Mounting rings? Mounting rings! The pads on this headphone attach with plastic rings that you can easily twist on and off the cups. It’s an amazing feature, and something more manufacturers should do. It’s much easier to put a new pad on a plastic ring with nothing in the way than it is to put one directly onto headphones.
The two included cables are really nice and supple. One is 3m long and one is 10m long. They both have metal tips with Brainwavz branding.
While some folks might prefer the angled pads that come with the XPT100’s (I know I liked them!), the overall extras package here is still great and I think the hard case is way more practical and usable than the soft NVX bag thing.
I’m happy to have a Yoga-CD880 variant that isn’t broken, and comes with a hard case that’ll fit in my backpack.
These are a great, cheap studio-style headphone. They work well for all sorts of audio. They’re extremely comfy. They’re more comfy than the M40X’s, and they have a better soundstage than the HRM-5s….though those do fold down. I think I’d probably still rather use an MDR-V6/7506, M50X, or even DT770 for studio work…but my preference is very small, and down to personal audio tastes.
For the price, it’s hard to argue against these. They’re one of my favorite headphones I’ve tried this year, and I wish I had tried them sooner. If you can put up with the huge-o design and don’t mind a little oomph in the upper mids and a wired design, you’ll be rewarded with great value for the money, exceptional comfort, and a good hard case. They’re a great work/gaming headphone, too.
Did I just recommend paying a little more for a tweaked design and a hard case? Yes I did. But if you don’t need that case, well, there’s a big list of other variants of this headphone for you to comparison shop against at the top of this article! And hopefully they’ll survive their ride to you!