Brainwavz M100 IEM

I review a lot of Brainwavz products on this site thanks to Brainwavz’ very active marketing and PR team. Sadly, as a reviewer, the result is sometimes fatigue with the same types of products from the same manufacturer. The M100 is a new IEM from Brainwavz, but is crafted in much the same style as many IEMs that came before it. I agreed to review it, but have to admit that I wasn’t expecting a lot. At roughly $120 AUD, I expected another equivalent to the S5, S3, or Jive in terms of sound and presentation. Coming in with average expectations (i.e. “I’ve heard this type of sound before”) I was very pleasantly surprised when I plugged in the M100s and fired up some tunes!

Specifications:

  • Drivers:  Dynamic, 8 mm
  • Rated Impedance:  32 Ω
  • Frequency Range:  12 Hz ~ 22 kHz
  • Sensitivity:  110 dB @ 1 mW
  • Plug:  3.5 mm, Gold-Plated
  • Cable:  Braided 1.3 m OFC Copper
  • Remote & Mic:  3-button control for Apple & most Android phones

Design & Accessories

The M100 comes with the usual (i.e. great) selection of accessories that Brainwavz does so well. A black and red semi-hard zip case, an excellent selection of tips, shirt clip and velcro-style cable wrap are par for the course with Brainwavz. Despite being a budget to mid-price brand, the Brainwavz accessory provisions are always excellent.

Design-wise, the M100 is the same bullet-style shape as many dynamic-driver IEMs. It actually looks most like a re-imagined S5, but is better finished in matte black and with some subtle design flare in terms of a concave outer tip (i.e. the end away opposite the driver) and some grooves to break up the flat surfaces.

The cable feels like good quality and sports a microphone and 3-button control that suits both Apple and Android. The moulded 3.5mm jack is gold-plated and sits at a 45-degree angle. All-in-all, everything about the M100s feels like it’s easily up to standard for the price tag. The final and most important question then is the sound – does it sound up to standard for a $120 earphone?

Sound Quality

The short answer to that question is a solid “yes!” The M100 sounds great. That said, it’s going to run against the preferences of many ‘audiophile’ listeners. In much the same way the AudioQuest NightHawk has pushed back against the treble-centric tuning that is so popular in the headphone industry, the M100 eschews enhanced treble detail for a richer, warmer sound with good bass and mids, but perhaps slightly reduced treble presence – actually moreso than the aforementioned NightHawks.

Treble

The M100 is clearly rolled-off compared to other IEMs of mine like the Noble K10 and Shozy Zero – both slightly warmer than neutral themselves. This results in a warm and lush sound with recessed upper registers, but it’s been managed in an enjoyable way. I’ll specifically compare the M100s to the equally budget-friendly Shozy Zero shortly.

I am not a fan of enhanced treble and will always lean towards slightly reduced treble over enhanced treble. That said, I think the M100s go a little too far with the treble damping. Cymbals occasionally sound distant and artificial because their shimmer has been stolen by the M100’s overly forgiving tuning, however, the M100s are still a very enjoyable earphone so don’t discount them just yet. Read on to fully understand the M100’s charm.

Mid-Range

By reducing the treble energy in the M100s, the Brainwavz engineers have produced a mid-range lover’s delight. Vocals take prime position in the soundscape that pours from each of the M100 earbuds. Textures and nuances in the mid-range are easy to enjoy because there’s no shroud from other frequencies. And it’s not just prominent; the quality of the mid-range is excellent so it’s a good thing the other frequencies take a back seat.

The full, but well-controlled bass creates a foundation for the mids and helps them to feel full and rich without becoming bloated. There’s also excellent balance between the upper and lower mids so the M100s sound equally good with male and female vocals as well as a wide range of instruments. This isn’t always true of mid-centric earphones and can sometimes result in an artificial sound for lower or higher mid-range frequencies. Not so in the case of the M100s.

Bass

The bass from the M100s is also very good. It sits behind the mids in terms of overall performance, but is highly enjoyable nonetheless. The M100s have a rich and full sounding bass presentation that, like the mids, is well-balanced across the upper and lower ranges of the register. Probably the one factor holding the bass back from matching the mid-range performance is that it isn’t as quick as I’d like and results in slightly “one-note” bass where the individual textures and nuances get a little bit overshadowed by the overall rhythm. It’s only minor in my opinion, but the M100 is probably not a good earphone for lovers of snappy, punchy bass. Where the M100 excels is more in its ability to produce rich, full and enveloping sound from its combination of rich, smooth bass, gorgeously musical mids, and laid-back treble.

Imaging and Soundstage

The primary key to a large soundstage tends to be treble quality. For this reason, the M100s have a more intimate presentation with a compact stage that sits entirely inside the listener’s head. The good news is that this doesn’t result in any sense of crowding thanks to the excellent mid-range performance. Mid-range sounds are beautifully represented in an arc around the soundstage and easily create a sense of space around each instrument. The M100 won’t win any awards for its soundstage size, but it produces an engaging and cohesive listening experience that’s realistic despite its compact stage size.

Comparison with Shozy Zero

For some time now, the Shozy Zero have been my go to earphones when I’m not using my custom Noble K10s. For their price, the Zeros are one of the very best earphones on the market (for my tastes) so I was excited when I first tried the M100s and thought that they might actually be even better than the Zeros…

At first listen to the M100s I thought this would be a close contest, but it’s really not. The Zeros are amazing whereas the M100s are very good. The little bit of extra treble energy from the Zeros transforms the sound from musical and nice (like the M100) to compelling and highly engaging. Sometimes that same treble energy can push just a little too hard and make certain cymbal hits or vocal consonants bite more than they should, but it’s worth it for the rest of the listening experience. The bass from the Zero is also more agile and nimble than the M100 while still having almost the same level of impact when needed. The bass presentation isn’t a clear-cut win like the upper registers so which one you prefer will be about your personal preferences, but most people will be very happy with the bass performance of both earphones I expect.

Of course when we’re talking about earphones it’s important to consider the sources driving said earphones. If you’re driving your earphones with a neutral-to-bright source, the Zeros could start to push slightly towards sibilance while the M100s will come alive with the extra touch of treble energy. For warmer, more musical sources, the Zeros are a perfect match while the M100s could seem a little slow and lush depending on your tastes.

Conclusion and Purchasing Thoughts

At $120 AUD, the M100s are a great earphone. They should be on the shortlist for anyone with that kind of budget who enjoys mid-centric sound and warmer earphones. As a well-distributed brand, the M100s will also be easy to get your hands on and support and service (if required) should be straight-forward. The Zeros, on the other hand, are cheaper at $60 USD, but may be slightly more limited in supply based on my past experiences with Shozy products. Service and support might also therefore be less streamlined, but this is just a hunch inferred from other factors – I haven’t had direct experience with either company for warranty / service claims.

If I were to choose which of these to buy today I would reach immediately for the Shozy Zeros given their lower price and superior performance, but if you have a preference for a warmer sound, easy access to retailers or metal vs wooden design the M100s are still a worthy option.

Lachlan Fennen Written by:

Facilitator, training design consultant, blogger / writer and amateur photographer

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