Not all earphones are equal. But because the standard earphones and the in-ear monitors (IEMs) look essentially the same, a lot of buyers tend to get confused about the difference between the two. They both have the same in-ear design. But unlike most earphones which fit in the outer concha-ridge of the ear without actually slotting into the ear canal, in-ear monitors are designed to fit partly into the ear canal as well. The immediate benefit is better sound isolation from the immediate environment, and that is the reason why IEMs are also known as canalphones. Even within the ecosystem, different IEMs offer different levels of fit.

Brainwavz Audio’s M5 is an affordable IEM, priced at 2,399 and there aren’t many like this around.

Design

The Brainwavz M5 have a metal housing, dressed in black colour. There is a mesh finish on ear of the earpieces. Not many earphones in this price range have a metal finish, and this is certainly one of the few. Even then, the M5 feels lightweight and very comfortable to wear continuously for many hours on stretch. The M5 is designed as a semi-deep insertion IEM, and the comfort levels as well as the isolation from ambient noise will depend on which size tips you are using—comfort is dependent on individuals, and there isn’t any one-size-fits-all rule here.

The attention to detail in terms of the design and build quality don’t just end there. There are 6 pairs of silicone ear tips, in small, medium and large sizes, as well as one set each of Comply foam tips and silicone bi-flange tips. Between the standard silicone tips as well as the silicone bi-flange tips, there is a perceptible sound quality difference, while the foam tips are ideal for maximum comfort.

Performance

The M5 has 10mm audio drivers, but what stands out is the perceptible “burn-in" impact on these earphones—a lot of similarly priced earphones never really open up this well. After about 50 hours of use, you will see very subtle shifts in sound. The very sharp vocals initially give way to a subtler higher frequency reproduction.

The M5s, in their basic nature, are vocal-leaning earphones. The higher frequencies certainly are crisper than on a lot of other bass-biased IEMs. But, push the volume and you’ll notice there is a little bit of sound graining as far as the spoken word is considered. The instruments are all given their moment in the sun, and the soundstage is pretty well reproduced for enough depth.

The low frequencies aren’t as powerful as we would have liked them to be. It is acceptable for the most part, but there are moments when it just doesn’t feel powerful enough. And there are other times when the mid bass and the sub-bass sound a bit stretched and muddy. Coldplay’s Hymn for the Weekend is one such example of a track where the bass difference is clearly audible, compared to the M5’s rivals. But this should only really be an issue if you listen to a lot of trance or dance genre music.

For once, an earphone that does the mid-range frequencies well enough—they are warm, and have quite good clarity. They don’t overpower the vocals or the bass, and retain enough presence. While still on the lower side for IEMs in general, what the end-user will experience is sound which is much more detailed than what a lot of similarly priced earphones can offer.

What has a huge bearing on the sound are the tips. We noticed that while the standard silicon tips are best if you want to focus on the vocals, the double-flanged silicon tips can reproduce slightly more depth, and the sound just feels that much wider—any sound shift between the left and right (and vice-versa) are more profound here. The comfortable Comply tips tend to narrow the sound you get, but that is a small sacrifice for the excellent comfort that they offer in the long run.

Verdict

These in-ear monitors (IEMs) are not meant for bass addicts, but for the rest, the neat and crisp sound is something that most users will not go wrong with. At this price, these are worth trying out, if you are in the market for earphones.

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