Brainwavz HM5 review: These sound good with everything

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4 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good The Brainwavz HM5 is an excellent set of monitor headphones yet it's still able to make music enjoyable to listen to; the package includes two different-lengthed cables and a spare set of earcups; the build quality is very good and the fit is very comfortable.

The Bad The cosmetics are boring; the sound can lack low-end punch and high-end sparkle, making them not so suited to dance music; and apparent clones are available for much cheaper online

The Bottom Line The Brainwavz HM5s sound great, are very comfortable, and are able to compete with high-end headphones for a relatively affordable price.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 8.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Sound quality 8.0
  • Value 8.0

Getting into high-quality sound these days is simpler than it used to be. If you have a computer, for example, you are already halfway there: all you need to do is add a decent-quality output device -- a sound card or a headphone amp/DAC -- and a pair of headphones. You can get great sound for under $250 this way, and you'd have to spend 10 times that to get great sound from a traditional hi-fi. Even the latest mobile phones are good enough to power a decent set of headphones on the move.

The Brainwavz HM5s are an unassuming-looking pair of headphones but have plenty of ability when it comes to presenting music with an even hand. These are true monitor headphones -- designed to bring out details in music without unduly affecting their overall frequency response. All genres of music -- bar the heaviest of dance -- are well-served by these, and at only $130 they're well worth checking out.

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Yes they're relatively inexpensive for hi-fi headphones, and as so, something's got to give. It costs money to make something look attractive, and while the HM 5s are well-made, they have been touched by an ill-favored hand. It seems that unless you're paying over $300 for a pair of headphones looks are the first thing to go. The earpads are covered by a brushed-aluminium panel that should look fine, but when set against the dark gray of the frame the effect is a little drab.

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Comfort though is excellent with "protein leather" earpads that fit around the ear rather than on it, and a padded headband holding them together. While it is winter, I didn't experience any ear sweats or discomfort while wearing the HM 5s for an extended period.

Though the earcups swivel up and down, the headphones fail to fold in any way; if you are foolhardy enough to take these out in public, be sure to make space in your bag. Compared against the Brainwavz's biggest threat -- the Audio Technica ATH-M50 -- build quality is actually a shade better due to the lack of moving parts. The Audio Technica's hinges have an irritating habit of creaking whenever you move your head.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

As with other professional headphones, the cable is detachable and comes with a 1.3-meter or 3-meter cable in the box. There is also a spare set of earcups once you sweat your way through the originals.

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