A few months ago, TNW got its greasy mitts on the Brainwavz HM5 — a pair of entry-level studio monitor headphones that definitively impressed. Now, just a few short months later, it’s time to take a look at the follow-up: the Brainwavz HM100.
Before we get into things, I want to talk about something that’s been bugging me. Brainwavz? Really? When you think about iconic headphone bands, their names usually roll elegantly off the tongue and inspire reverence. Bose. Shure. Even Sennheiser.
Brainwavz, on the other hand, sounds a bit like a marginally successful West German pop band from the 1980’s which scored exactly one hit, and now plays birthday parties.
I don’t get it, and my confusion is compounded by the fact that Brainwavz HM100 are an absolute joy to listen to. As you’d expect from a pair of studio monitor cans, they’re well balanced and offer spectacular listening clarity. They’re also really comfortable to wear, even during long listening sessions, and look pretty nice.
Crap name? Sure. Crap headphones? Absolutely not.
Black. This is seemingly the default color for most headphone manufacturers. While I don’t deny that this tends to work well, it does feel a bit samey. Bucking this trend, the Brainwavz HM100 adopts a genuinely lovely leathery-brown aesthetic, which gives it a sense of gravitas seldom seen with headphones in its price range.
Clad in a soft brown faux-leather are the earcups. These are wide enough to encompass the entire ear, and sufficiently deep to ensure that your ear doesn’t physically press against the speaker. Combined, this means that the Brainwavz HM100 is ideally suited for long listening sessions.
That’s handy, since these are studio monitor headphones, aimed squarely at people who spend hours editing and producing audio. However, if you spend your entire workday plugged into Spotify’s Electronic Concentration playlist, you’ll be able to listen without your ears getting sore.
The back of the cups come with a rich, walnut-brown effect which feels nice, while the hinge connecting the cups to the earband is made out of a brushed chrome that’s undeniably sleek. Overall, these are some lovely looking headphones.
Finally, the headphones come with a (somewhat excessive) carry case. I can’t quite overstate how big this is. It’s absolutely massive.
How big? If I shove it into my rucksack (which I often take on weekend breaks), scarcely any is left room for anything else. It’s practically a carry-on bag in itself.
The good news is that you probably don’t need it. The Brainwavz HM100 is reasonably hardy, and in my experience, should be able to survive being thrown in a bag without breaking.
Studio monitor headphones fill a very specific niche in the audio landscape. While some headphones try to emphasize certain frequencies and ranges (like, for example, the lower bass tones), studio monitor headphones don’t. They avoid artificially coloring audio, and focus primarily on the faithful reproduction of sound.
In this sense, the Brainwavz HM100 delivers. Bass tones don’t feel especially over-rich, while higher frequencies are crystal clear.
One track which really emphasizes the capabilities of these cans is Lana Del Rey’s ‘National Anthem’, from her 2012 album, Born To Die. This song opens to a crescendo of soaring strings and fireworks, before plateauing into a blend of guitars, violins, and throbbing hip-hop drums, with Del Rey’s sublime vocals.
The detail offered by the Brainwavz HM100 really brought out the best in this song, and allows the listener to more accurately pick out the elements that otherwise would fade into the background. The gentle fingerpicking of Jeff Bhasker, for example, is more obvious than you’d expect with other headphones in the price range.
Another example (which will appeal to the West Wing fans in the audience) is Dire Straits’ ‘Brothers In Arms,’ from the album of the same name. This notoriously moody track opens to a cacophony of thunderstorms and synthesizers, which feel delightfully atmospheric on the HM100’s.
Who is this for?
The Brainwavz HM100 are great cans. We were impressed with the comfort on offer, as well as the neutral, balanced listening profile. That said, we know they’re not for everyone.
Looking for something that emphasizes bass tones? Maybe consider VAVA’s bargain earbuds, or Beyedynamic’s $450 Aventho Wireless cans. Want something to take to the gym? Consider the RHA MA650 Wireless. Looking for portability and noise cancellation? Consider Anker’s SoundCore Space NC cans.
The HM100 is far too cumbersome to lug around with you. It’s just too big. Moreover, it lacks many of the bells-and-whistles you’ll find in other headphones of its price range, like active noise cancellation (ANC), a microphone, or volume control buttons.
This isn’t strictly a criticism of the HM100, as you wouldn’t expect those features from a pair of studio monitor cans. I mention it only to remind punters what they’re getting — a pair of headphones that concern themselves with audio performance first and foremost.