Saturday, October 1, 2011

[REVIEW] Brainwavz B2 - Phoenix’s Rebirth

First, I’ll like to thank MP4 Nation for the sample.

Before we go into the review of B2, let’s take a look at the story of B2 itself. Well, for those of you who have done your reading, you would have known there is another ‘B2’ before this B2. It is the very well received DBA-02 from Fischer Audio (reviewed here). MP4 Nation is able to contact the same company that OEM the DBA-02 for Fischer Audio and begin a production of its own (note, this is not considered cloning since the OEM company is holding the design right of the IEM and free to sell it to anyone). While the IEM itself might be largely the same, MP4 Nation has given it a facelift and much easier accessibility for those who want to buy one, which is the one hinder that keeps DBA-02 from getting really popular and a full 5/5 recommendation from me. With the B2 however, everything is a step closer to perfection.






SPEC
Drivers: Dual balanced armature
Rated Impedance: 40ohms
Frequency range: 20 ~ 20000Hz
Sensitivity: 110dB at 1mW
Maximum input power: 60mW
Plug: 3.5 mm 90-degree gold plated
Cable: High grade copper cabling
Cable length: 1.3 meters



Packaging, Accessories and Build Quality
Different from the minimalist’s approach of its Fischer Audio twin, the B2 goes all extravaganzas on its packaging. With a crimson red / gold theme, the box is well layered and showcases the IEM itself from the transparent window on the side. While I have never been disappointed by Brainwavz’s packaging, they do seem to go all out on this one. In sum, it can be placed next to any Japanese or Western brands and doesn’t feel short of itself.

Accessories include a decent nylon hard case, three pairs of single flanges silicone eartips (S, M, L), an airplane adapter, a 3.5mm to 6.5mm adapter, plus a pair of red Comply T100. The inclusion of Comply is a good move on Brainwavz. B2, like DBA-02, offers isolation only to what I consider as slightly below average. It is still good for city commute (as I have tried it in subway) but might not suitable to very noisy environment. The Comply will help a lot here to improve the isolation, easily pushing the IEM to over -30dB (which is what some of the best isolating IEM offer). Those who find the T100 absorbing a bit too much treble can try the latest Ts100 from Comply (reviewed here). If you want foam tip that is very durable, Shure black foam (olive) will fit but slightly tighter.



Build quality is quite good. I have used my DBA-02 for some time now and it still holds on strongly, thus I have no reason to suspect any problem with B2 of the same design. Of course, like most IEM, you do need to take some care as they are not something that will take abuse well. Like DBA-002, if I were to nitpick - I still think the strain relief on the IEM housing can be better. Also, the lack of left / right marking on the housing can be confusing to new IEM user. As with DBA-02, I like the Westone style twisted cable on the B2 but the black and white combo still looks funky. I also know it will slightly untwist itself after a few months but it will still hold the general shape. I do hope we could see an even better cable on B2 in future that better resemble the real Westone cable. The two main differences between DBA-02 and B2 are: 1) B2 comes in a non-transparent black and red housing instead of the transparent and blue housing of the DBA-02. Whole the material might still be the same kind of plastic, the new color combo does make classier. 2) Different from my early sample of DBA-02, B2 (and I believe the later generation of DBA-02 as well) comes with a better filter. It is not user replaceable so you will be wise to try to keep the nozzle as clean as possible. More filter discussion in the Sound Quality section later.

Overall, I really like B2 packaging and build quality. Now it is packed and looks like it belongs to the top-tier world. In case there is any problem, there is also a one year swap-for-new replacement warranty in place that will get you a new unit instead of waiting for repair. This adds even more value to the already bang-for-bucks IEM.


Fischer Audio DBA-02 (left) and Brainwavz B2 (right)

Sound Quality
Over 50 hours of burn-in was given before the review. Overall there isn’t much sonic change during the process. Since B2’s internal is pretty much identical to DBA-02, there really isn’t much point to rewrite the whole sound signature description so I am just going to copy and paste most of what I have written on the DBA-02 for the B2.

Like DBA-02, B2 is fairly balanced sounding with a brighter, more analytical presentation. Treble is very well extended to the top, detailed and full of sparkle, but might be a little too aggressive for non-analytical listener. Mid has good texture, neither too forward nor recessed, but the upper mid is a little more forward which can sound slightly harsh on brighter music, especially on loud volume. Bass has good impact, body and speed. Neither quantitatively big nor bone rattling deep, but above average. You do however need a good seal for the bass to reveal itself, so be sure to try different eartips. It also responds well to EQ so you can give that a try if you really need to shake your ear bone. Soundstage is quite good, very airy. While it lacks the best layer, separation is among some of the best.

So does B2 really sound the same as DBA-02? Well. That is a tricky question for me to answer since my early DBA-02 comes with paper filter and the B2 uses a more conventional IEM filter (something that looks like an Etymotic ER4 filter). So whatever difference I detected could just be the filter and not the IEM itself. However, since the two sound so close to each other, it is confident for me to say they are really within the last few percent of each other. To make thing even more confusing, the later batches of DBA-02 have also switched to the conventional filter as well. In any case, I can only say the B2 sounds just a little crispier in the top than my old DBA-02 but without being noticeably brighter or harsher. However, I double most can detect such a slight difference without listening to both at the same time. I think the safe thing to say is there really is no practical difference between the two models – that is, they are both offering sound quality closer to the top-tier category in the universal IEM’s world.



Verdict
As I have mentioned in the beginning, accessibility (which is the combination of availability of purchase, shipping and warranty claim) is the one hinder that keeps DBA-02 from getting really popular and a full recommendation from me. With B2, the disadvantage is gone. MP4 Nation has web store in both Hong Kong and U.S. (Amazon.com based), plus a few resellers over the world. Given the $170 price tag is pretty much the same to a DBA-02, there is really no reason why I won’t want to recommend B2 with a full [5 / 5] Sonic Diamond.

Check out The List for numeric rating.

59 comments:

Kevinjit SIngh said...

Great review, i auditioned it before, love how it sound with my rock songs collection. only need the bass of my brainwavz m1 to be the perfect IEM! izzit achieveable or it cant coz m1 is dynamic? an amp wud help izzit? im really lovin how b2 sound with electric guitars!!!! need cash to get one :(

Tai / ClieOS said...

It will never get as much bass as M1, but an amp with bass boost or even simple bass boost EQ will help. I was listening to the B2 with the upcoming FiiO E10 with its bass boost turned on and it definitely helps to bring out the lower end.

Louis said...

I've been reading your reviews for a couple of years now, and I've tried some of the IEMs. So far, I can say that you have almost the same impressions as I do.
Actually, I sold my TF10 because I couldn't stand the little harshness on treble without the Comply Foams. So, now, I'm wondering about the Brainwavz B2. Can you tell me how they sound, paired with TF10? As you said on B2 review: "Treble is very well extended to the top, detailed and full of sparkle, but might be a little too aggressive for non-analytical listener. Mid has good texture, neither too forward nor recessed, but the upper mid is a little more forward which can sound slightly harsh on brighter music, especially on loud volume". Will I be disappointed with this one as I was with TF10?
In time, the TF10 was awesome with Comply Foams, but I use my rigs a lot, and they don't sell Comply Foams in my country... Would be very expensive to me to keep TF10, importing Foams in a regular basis.
I'm loking for a new toy to bring joy to my ears. Any hints?
Many thanks for your time!

Tai / ClieOS said...

If you use the stock silicone eartips, you probably won't like the B2 for the same reason as with TF10. But with the B2, you can use Shure black foam (olive) which will be a lot more durable than Comply.

Generally, a pair of Shure olive can last over a year with basic care and it will absorb just like Comply. That will be what I'll recommend if you want to pick up B2.

Louis said...

Thanks for the reply.
What do you think about the DIY solution with 3M foam? Would save my ass regarding the TF10/B2 problem?
There are few IEMs I would like to try on your list, but for now I just can afford one. Wich one sould you pick from the list below:
-HifiMan RE-262
-Brainwavz B2
-Sunrise Xcape Impressive Edition
-Phonak Audéo PFE 121
-Sunrise 'B' ('Xcited')
Keep in mind that I use my media player (Cowon J3) full of files with 320kbps MP3 or FLAC, and I have had a TF10 who was wonderful with Comply Foams, and a HifiMan RE0 bordering on perfection, but it used to create pressure inside my ear canal, I believe because of the construction of the EMI, plus the fact that I must be an alien, since the person who bought it never complained of the same problem.
The other IEMs that I have are cheap. Soundmagic PL30, PL21, PL20, Brainwavz M1, M2, ProAlpha, v1 and v2 Beta, Alpha, MEElectronics M6 and M9 (and soon A151). Among them, the ones that I use are the M1, M2 and PL21, as they have a sound that pleases me more.
Once more, thanks in advance for your time!

Tai / ClieOS said...

Yeah, you do seems to have very close impression to me when it comes to IEM. In that case, I'll really recommend Phonak Audeo PFE. It is very analytical, yet there is no sibilance. It also very comfortable as well.

Anonymous said...

hey ClieOS,

how does the Brainwavz B2 fare against the Vsonic GR07?

Thanks in advance!

Tai / ClieOS said...

GR07 is technically better sounding than B2 - better extension, texture and neutral. B2 is more analytical sounding that is crisp and airy. The two doesn't share the same sound signature.

Anonymous said...

Noticed a typo in "Packaging, Accessories and Build Quality" section.
"Shore black foam (olive)"

Anyways, thanks for the review!

Tai / ClieOS said...

Corrected. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

hi
having the 3 an analytical and bright signature. how the B2/DBA-02 compare to the RE0 in bass and mid-range?
thanks

Tai / ClieOS said...

RE0 has a better mid, especially upper mid - more texture and thickness. B2 / DBA-02 has quicker / tighter bass with better impact, but volume wise they are both in the small side.

Anonymous said...

do you think pairing the B2/dba-02 with a warm amp would give better mids? or can other eartips help?

Tai / ClieOS said...

If you are looking to add bass and warmth to B2, I'll recommend the digiZoid ZO. They are quite a good match.

Anonymous said...

well. actually i was asking for the ath-ck10. but as both use TWFK drivers, i guess is the same question

as for the ZO, i cant find it anywhere, not even its price.
at digizoid homepage there's the new version ZO 2 for $99

how are they compared to the E11 ? worth the extra $30-40?

Tai / ClieOS said...

As an amp, I'll say E11 is better than ZO (haven't received my ZO v2 yet). But getting an ZO is not about amping, but about its bass boost feature. Most BA based IEM doesn't really need that much amping to sound at thier best and certainly most decent source can drive them without a problem. The point of pairing ZO to B2 (or CK10) is to get the really excellent bass boost feature of the ZO. That alone is worth the $99.

Anonymous said...

oh i see. had no idea. many thanks for the explain.
too bad, i hope i could pair the ZO (or even more ZO 2) to the PK1 and RE0 too =(
i dont really care about getting too bass. mids worry me more

still, i'll wait til you get the ZO 2, before deciding

Anonymous said...

Hey ClieOs,

I went on amazon to purchase these buds but I noticed that they're out of stock, so I went to the mp4nation website no longer lists the b2. Do you have any idea of what happened to the iems?

Also, if they are discontinued, what are good iems that are in the same price range with good isolation?

thanks in advance clieos :)

Tai / ClieOS said...

There are rumor about a B2 MK II being developed but I have no idea how real that story is. It is likely the B2 just sold out for the holidays as MP4 Nation did a promotion on late Nov. I'll suggest you drop them an email to see if they will bring it back to stock or now (and when).

If you are looking for the same sound signature, Phonak PFE is a good choice. Though it is a little less isolation as B2. Or lese Etymotic HF5 seems to be a good choice as well, and it isolates a lot more than B2.

Anonymous said...

Could you recommend any earphones that i should buy if i want to upgrade from my B2 ?

Sorry for my English

Tai / ClieOS said...

What kind of upgrade are you seeking? Any budget?

Anonymous said...

my budget around $350

i'm seeking for better soundstage and bass with less harsh upper

Tai / ClieOS said...

Westone 2 will be a good choice. I personally prefer it over Westone 3 (which is more V-shaped sounding)

Anonymous said...

How would you compare M4 to those B2 ?

Tai / ClieOS said...

M4, in short, will be like the step down version of B2 with a lot more bass. It doesn't offer the same clarity as B2, but for its price, I'll say it is a good buy on its own.

Anonymous said...

What about Westone 4 ?
My Friend offers me his W4 for only 340$

Tai / ClieOS said...

W4 is a great IEM, and the price seems good. However, W4 is warm and sweet sounding, not quite as detail sounding as B2.

Anonymous said...

thx for your advise

Anonymous said...

Nice review I'm think of getting one of the TWFK IEM's like the B2.

On Head-Fi theres a thread about some new company Rockitsounds and they have a TWFK one called the R-50 I think, do you know anything about those? They have the price listed at $120 which seems to be really good for this kind of IEM and they do look somewhat similar to the B2. There seems to be only a couple of people that have them so I might wait on more reviews and if you did one that would be great.

Zerozorro said...

ClieOS, you said "it responds well to EQ". Were you speaking only about the bass or it is also possible to make it less bright without much issues?

If one wanted to make them much warmer (i.e. "a better PL50") and had a parametric EQ (Rockbox) -- would it be possible?

Tai / ClieOS said...

I am mostly talking about bass.It is possible to tune down the brightness, which most peak(s)in the 2~8kHz region. However, I highly doubt extreme EQing (by tuning a bright IEM to warm sounding) will get you better SQ. Too much EQ will introduce distortion and ultimately degrade the SQ.

Anonymous said...

Hey ClieOs

first, i'd like to thank you for the FA Eterna review. i got the version 1 after your reccomendation.
i'm by no means a basshead, but for my surprise i REALLY liked them. i did't tried the rev 2, nor i want, specially after your opinion about them.
and i definitely agree when you put it in the Mid-signature category. the bass is big and powerful , but the mids have very good position in the whole presentation

now, i'm looking for something else. speed, fast music, lot of sparkle. kinda bright with good and detailed upper-vocals, maybe a tiny bit forward, but just not reccesed. and no boomy, but punchy bass.
my question, would the B2 fit? there'd be a pre-order soon

thank you!

Tai / ClieOS said...

B2 should fit most of what you are looking for. But given you are coming from Eterna, you might not find B2's bass to be enough. However, as I have said in the review, a little EQ can do wonder for B2 and that's what I'll suggest.

Chris said...

Hi ClieOS

Absolutely love your work man! I have (and completely love) my PFE 121, in fact I gave away my klipsch X10 as I found the Phonak to be far more analytical. My question is - I always keep 2 IEM's and I have just ordered a RE262 as you gave it an even higher SQ rating than the PFE. Given that I love the PFE sound, do you think I have made the right choice? Many thanks..

Tai / ClieOS said...

RE262 has a beautiful vocal, but it isn't a particularly analytical IEM. Also, with 150ohm of impedance, it will do better with a good amp in most case. Given you like an analytical sound, I would think RE272 should be a better choice for you than RE262. However, you might like to have a contrasting / complimenting IEM that is different from your PFE121, so RE262 might works out for you. For the least, you should give it a listen.

chris said...

Sure..will do that. BTW I always use my headroom total airhead amp with my iem's. Many thanks

Chris said...

Oh and btw, can you recommend a good amp? I use a headroom total airhead in the car, and I have a headroom microamp paired with my sennheiser hd650 for home use. However am not averse to upgrading. Can you please give me a few recommendations for reference amps. Also do you recommend tubes? Need something small with options for battery and power. Many thanks..

Tai / ClieOS said...

Have a look at this: http://www.inearmatters.net/2012/02/sub-100-portable-amps-shootout-8-amps.html

There will be a sub$200 portable amp shootout as well, hopefully before the end of the month. I won't recommend portable tube amps as they are mostly overkill. For something portable, good price and great performance, I'll recommend JDS Labs' C421 with AD8620. If you can manage the size, the O2 amp by JDS is also a good choice.

chris said...

Thank you so much. I have finally bought the Fiio e11 to pair with the re 262. Do u think they will mate well?

Tai / ClieOS said...

They don't really have the best synergy together, but nothing bad either.

jack said...

hi clieOS, what do you think is the best iem for listening to acoustic, rock/slow rock, is this b2 or dba 02 any good for those genre? i have tried shure 215 but, im not getting the feeling for those kind of song,, my budget is around $100-150

Tai / ClieOS said...

B2/DBA-2 is probably better for Acoustic and Rock than Slow Rock. Actually a good choice will be the new DBA-2 MKII. It is slightly less bright than the original DBA-02 but still keeps most of its sound signature and comes with more bass.

Avocado said...

Hi, I was looking at these Brainwavz B2 and the Shure se215. Which do you think are better for rock and alternative music?

Tai / ClieOS said...

Rock and Alternative Rock will go better on the SE215. B2 is better for music that required transparency and detail, like Classical and Instrumental.

Avocado said...

Ok thanks a lot. I have one more question: How is the instrument separation on the Shure se215, and would you reccomend any other IEM for the same price range as the Shures ($100) that would perform well with rock or alternative music? I am upgrading from $20 dollar ear buds and I really want IEM that will blow me away.

Tai / ClieOS said...

There might be one or two IEM that will do certain things better than SE215, but the strength of SE215 is that it is very versatile and doesn't have any major weakness. That means it is generally a very safe choice. Instead of recommending another IEM that will do one thing well but not some other and potentially disappointing for you, I think SE215 should be more than enough to blow you away.

Anonymous said...

I'm a fan of Philips SHE9850, it has my preferred sound signature. The thing is, I want something which has similar character but better in instrument separation, clarity and detail. Would you recommend these or the Phonak PFE 112?

Tai / ClieOS said...

If you like the brightness of SHE9850 and are looking for more, than B2. But if you are looking for an overall refinement, I would think PFE112 makes for a better choice.

Anonymous said...

Too bad, I'm out of luck. I saw a thread on Lowyat.net where someone is selling the Brainwavs for RM385, and it's SOLD OUT already!! tsk tsk T_T

taurusthree said...

Could you please tell me, are these sibilant?
Thanks.

Tai / ClieOS said...

Yes and no.

No, because it isn't the typical sibilance where you get a lot of the 'ssss...' after each word. Yes, because it is edgy for sure. So instead of having a lot of 'ssss...', you'll get more of a spike / peak on the 'S'. That's why I call it being aggressive instead of sibilance.

taurusthree said...

Thank you for answer. :-)

taurusthree said...

Ok, I am using them for 2 months and I can say that they definitely are not sibilant!
BTW Excellent phones. Could you please suggest something ( maybe more expensive ) with better SQ ( maybe with better base ) but without loss in treble extension and separation/ sound stage?

Tai / ClieOS said...

Audio Technica CK100 Pro - not cheap, but an excellent upgrade over B2.

taurusthree said...

I've read few reviews and I think I will go for them in 1-2 years... Bad things are: they are bit expensive, also they are product for Japanese market ( if I'll buy from eBay I'll not get warranty ) and also replacement cable will be difficult to get... Thanks for suggestion, and another question:
What do you think about Westone flagship models? How do they sound after B2/ DBA-02?

Anonymous said...

Rock It Sounds R-50 apparently uses the same driver as Brainwavz B2, but more friendly on the pocket!

I think Rock It Sounds price is about 25% or more cheaper. Can find in Singapore at Treoo.com or Multi5enses.com (cheaper)

Sooo Tai, quickly go and review this Rock It Sound R-50 !! I already saw it on the list, can push it up or not ?! :D

Tai / ClieOS said...

They are all Knowles TWFK series of dual driver, which isn't a particular rare use of this series but it doesn't mean they are all the same dual driver. There are a couple of variation in the Knowles TWFK series.

Anyway, the review will come in due time. I know it takes longer time these day for a review to come, but rushing doesn't make for a good habit, especially when it takes time to fully evaluate a product.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm pretty new to this whole high-end IEM thing. What do you recommend be done if the filters for the DBA-02 or any non-replaceable filter gets really dirty? Anyway to clean them or make a DIY replacement of them? Thanks!

Tai / ClieOS said...

The filter on DBA-02 / B2 is deep inside. If you get it clogged, there is nothing you can do about it. Other type of filter might be on the tip of the nozzle and can be cleaned carefully, or replaced if you can find similar mesh or foam as alternative. The easier thing to do is to keep your ear canal as clean as possible.

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