CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

Brainwavz HM5 review: These sound good with everything

The Brainwavz HM5s sound great, are very comfortable, and are able to compete with professional headphones for an affordable price.

Ty Pendlebury Editor
Ty Pendlebury has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.
Expertise Ty has worked for radio, print, and online publications, and has been writing about home entertainment since 2004. He is an avid record collector and streaming music enthusiast. Credentials
  • Ty was nominated for Best New Journalist at the Australian IT Journalism awards, but he has only ever won one thing. As a youth, he was awarded a free session for the photography studio at a local supermarket.
Ty Pendlebury
3 min read

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.


Brainwavz HM5

The Good

The <b>Brainwavz HM5</b> 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.

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

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.

In a competitive sense, the Audio Technicas sell for $10 more but have the advantage of a substantial studio heritage and better word-of-mouth. But apart from a slightly better build the Brainwavz have several other things going for them. The Brainwavz headphones are more sensitive than the ATH-M50s, meaning that they can output more volume and sound good for mobile use, and they're more neutral, too.

I used the Brainwavz as my main set of work headphones for several weeks and found this neutrality to be suited to most music, but they do sacrifice some dynamics compared with the punchier ATH-M50s. Whether it was the delicate strum of acoustic guitars in pastoral R.E.M. tracks or the full-blown mental breakdown of Future of the Left, the HM5s were always excellent communicators. About the only people who would be disappointed by these lovely sounding cans would be dubstep fans.

While the ATH-M50s have a warmer, "rockier" sound than the Brainwavz with a fuller bass response and more treble sizzle, the Brainwavz offer better clarity and a wider soundstage. Additionally, the HM5 has a very open sound, which is very hard to achieve with a closed headphone design. By contrast, another headphone -- the more costly AKG K551 -- attempted this but forwent bass response for more "air" and resultingly could become screechy with the wrong music.

Which headphones should you go for: the Brainwavz or the Audio-Technicas? Both are good at different things. If you want something that will render your music and media in a dynamic way, then choose the ATH-M50s, but if you want something more neutral and comfortable, choose the Brainwavz.

As an aside, the Brainwavz are reputedly identical -- according to Head-Fi users -- to the Lindy HF-100 and the Jaycar Pro Monitor Headphones. While we can't vouch for this, they all do appear to be sourced from Taiwanese company Yoga, and at even cheaper prices than the Brainwavz version, how can you go wrong with either?


Brainwavz HM5

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Sound 8Value 8