Silly brand name, splendid sound
You know me. I’m the person that recommends headphones that are the size and weight of VR headsets, but cost two or three times more. Sometimes, however, my attention is grabbed by simpler and cheaper in-ear headphones, as was the case with the 1More Triple and Quad Drivers last year and is the case today with the new Brainwavz B400. These are $199 wired earphones with nothing especially futuristic or remarkable about them, except for the fact that they sound terrific.
I’ve been listening to a pair of the Brainwavz B400 for a week, and I’m confident their designers have cracked one of the trickiest problems of earphones: judging the perfect amount of bass. It’s not too much, as you might get from the similarly priced Meizu Live, nor too little, as you might occasionally find with the 1More Quad Drivers. The B400 sound is lush, warm, and inviting. The bass is distinctly boosted, as is appropriate for portable headphones intended to be used in noisy environments, without ever straying into feeling boomy or making the music sound like it’s being played underwater.
Using these earphones on a pair of two-hour train rides from London to Birmingham and back, I was delighted by their external noise insulation and the richness and quality of their music presentation. Granted, I had low expectations from a company that calls itself Brainwavz (even though it has a good track record among headphone enthusiasts, most notably with its HM5 studio monitor headphones), but the B400 still outperformed what I expected by a wide margin.
Their sound is expansive and versatile, going from the grandeur of something like Woodkid’s “Iron” to the intimacy of The xx’s “Angels” to the lyrical complexities of Aesop Rock’s “Supercell” without breaking a sweat. There’s only the slightest hint of sibilance to the vocals, but it’s never enough to spoil the B400’s enjoyable presentation. The bass of these earphones is best shown off in the realm of big-drop dubstep and EDM, as exemplified by Two Fingers’ Stunt Rhythms and deadmau5’s entire discography.
I had zero issues with fit and comfort with the Brainwavz B400. Using their default medium silicone tips, I found them instantly comfortable and unproblematic to wear for many hours at a time. You also get a choice of larger and smaller tips or a set of Comply foam tips. The B400s are super light, come with a reassuringly thick (and replaceable) wire, and include a hard carrying case to protect them. Having over-ear hooks as they do, these earphones might not be to everyone’s liking, as it takes a little more fiddling to put them on and take them off, but those hooks also keep them in place and contribute to their comfort.
The in-line remote control on my review pair of B400s had a nasty malfunction: the volume-up button would occasionally get stuck and one press would push the volume all the way to the max. Given how sensitive these earphones are, their maximum volume is uncomfortably loud, so this problem basically put me off using the remote entirely. The good thing is that Brainwavz uses standard MMCX connectors, so you have a very wide choice of replacement cables, though obviously this is the sort of issue that shouldn’t be happening at all.
I’m spending more and more of my time listening to wireless rather than wired earphones. The Jabra Elite 65t, Apple’s AirPods, and OnePlus’ Bullets Wireless are the best-sounding examples in the wireless class. They are undoubtedly the future of mainstream in-ear headphones, thanks in no small part to the gradual extinction of the headphone jack on flagship smartphones. This situation leaves me plenty frustrated and a little conflicted about how to rate the Brainwavz B400.
If we’re talking purely about performance and comfort, the Brainwavz B400 easily outperform their $199 price and compete with earphones from bigger brands that have much loftier reputations and pricing. I can listen to the B400s for days without fatigue. And yet, I find myself mostly listening to them when I’m at my laptop, owing to my Google Pixel 2 XL’s lack of a headphone jack and my distaste for dongles. In the narrow market of hi-fi in-ear headphones, the B400s are a great value, but in the broader consideration of how best to spend $200 on portable personal audio, I suspect the better call today would be to opt for a wireless alternative.
The Brainwavz B400 are a pleasant surprise with their sweet sound and easy fit. They do a great job of recreating the audiophile experience delivered by bulkier and pricer over-ear headphones for mobile consumption. And they also serve as an indictment of the crusade against headphone jacks among the majority of smartphone makers.
Photography by Vlad Savov / The Verge
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