Brainwavz HM9 Portable Headphone Review
The Brainwavz HM9 is stylish, sleek, and intimidating. Can those three words even fit together? Notwithstanding this weird combination that embodies the HM9 – and believe me, it fits quite well – it is still passable as fashionable. At $130, the HM9 has some unique features in store. Read on to find out more!
The only term I can think of to describe the HM9 would be ‘tank’. I’m not talking about the main-battle-tanks(MBT) of today, but of a tank somewhere off into the future. The HM9 is surrounded by metal and hard plastic. The side arms are raw and strong in that it’s flat, before bending into a much more ‘soft’ shape; just like the frontal armor of an Abrams. There isn’t any free-play or twisting in the metal – although the side arms is actually composed of two metal pieces – it is undoubtedly there to stay. This holds true for the headband and driver housing as well. These two sections are hard plastic bolstered to the edges of durability with intertwined metal. That’s not to say that the headband won’t snap, or that the driver housing won’t crack. The metal fortification however does help with day-to-day abuse and I can personally attest to this. The HM9 was shoved into backpacks and tight spaces through my everyday usage and testing; it has held up incredibly with no permanent scuffs or damage yet.
Every single point that is often a weak-spot in headphones was reinforced not just once, but seemingly twice and even thrice. Modern MB Tanks get reactive armor, classified armor, and active anti-air to help make up for its weak points. The Brainwavz HM9 takes engineering and applies it to the problem spots. The side joint gets an amazing upgrade with internal metal hinges, a metal locking pin, the headband’s intertwined metal fortification, and a wad of hard plastic. The actual amazement for me here is not in how strong they made it, but in how they were able to make it so small and out of the way.
The side joint doesn’t pinch your head, actively weigh down that specific section, or get in the way of wearing the headphone. This practice is transferred over to the adjustment slide as well. The slide is shielded on the outside by the large metal arm that connects the headphone together. The internal slide mechanism itself uses a piece of metal – a tad bigger than the metal fortification that runs throughout the headband – as its main material of choice. I’m sure you guys get the deal now, this headphone has some serious metals in it.
The HM9 overall is a tough puppy, that is for sure. It’s got some nice thick pads to help you sleep in, a comfy headband, and joints that don’t get in the way. However, the HM9’s build is a bit too much at times. More on this in the usability section.
The HM9 sports a removable headphone jack and it comes with three different headphone cables. This allows the user to easily swap cables on the go for whatever problems life throws at them.
The HM9 comes with two flat stereo cables and a cable with a microphone. The first flat cable (1.3m) is short and made for on the go purposes. The second flat cable (2m) is made for when you want to listen from across the room, or in a studio. The last cable is made for smartphones (1.3m) and computers and features a microphone add on. The cable end with the black protrusion past the metal casing is the end that goes into the HM9.
The flat cables are of pretty good quality. The metal housing of the jacks feel good and solid, and the gold-plating hasn’t rubbed off yet. The flat cables allow you to unscramble them easier, and for fashion purposes. It has a pretty good weight and feel to it. I would even say that they are a bit fancy thanks to how good the whole line looks. The black glimmers in the light while the metal housing offers a contrast to it before being terminated by a gold colored jack.
The microphone cable is a bit on the weaker side. The cable feels a bit like al dente spaghetti and doesn’t have the authority that the flat cables have. The weakest part would be the microphone housing itself. The button and build of the housing itself isn’t anything out of the ordinary. It’s very plain and doesn’t stand out in being anything fantastic in feel or look. A lot of this is psychological of course, as most of the cable is pretty much the same internally as the others – or at least it seems.
Usability: (Cable and Build)
I found that I liked the short flat cable the best. It had a good length for using it with a computer, or in taking a walk. It didn’t touch the floor often, and so it was clean – a plus. Thanks to that, it was almost always in pristine condition, and my go to cable. No cable hasle to deal with.
The longer flat cable however was just very awkward. Even when I was listening across the room – granted I wasn’t very far from the computer – it was a weird hassle to bear with. Imagine sleeping or sitting on a bed away from your computer with a 3m cable. You hold the cable in one hand or stuff it somewhere so that it doesn’t fall off the bed or bend at weird angles. Then imagine going back to sit in your chair, and rolling all over the long cable because there is nowhere to put it. That was my experience with the 3m flat cable, it wasn’t very nice. I will note that this is of course opinionated. Others will obviously have a use for a 3m cable, and by all means, this is an optional cable and will suit those users well. The HM9 allows for removable cables and comes with all these choices, so why not both?
The skinny microphone cable was very awkward feeling with the HM9. It doesn’t ‘flow’ with how the unit looks. I also can’t imagine speaking with the HM9’s on, but I guess some will do it.
A problem the HM9 has is that it is overly built. I’m sure this was anticipated by many readers already. What, with all those fortifications, and ‘out-of-the-way’ design of the hinges and everything, that weight has to go somewhere! And it does, this headphone is not lightweight.
The weight, and feel of the HM9 doesn’t pose a problem for the first half an hour, but the usability nightmare comes in after that. The HM9 doesn’t have feel like it’s fully secure on your head due to its weight. It feels like it can come sliding backwards or forwards at any time, especially during adverse weather conditions. Do note that I don’t mean to say that it is unstable. The main point is that walking around on the street when it’s windy out or going out for a jog is less than desirable with the HM9.
Keep in mind that the HM9 is supposed to be a portable do-it-all headphone. It’s supposed to not only be like all the other portables on the market, but also more. The HM9 can’t fulfill that function if I’m not even comfortable with bringing it out. It’s a hassle to say the least. The headphone’s size and weight make it a pain to put into a bag, and it is very big to put around your neck for long periods of time. It’s just not a comfortable headphone in any place but home when you compare it to others.
The HM9 is a tank, and it behaves like a tank. It’s riddled with a few usability issues due to its size and weight which make it hard to use as a premier go to headphone for prolonged outdoor excursions. The headphone, despite its issues, is a heavy hitter. It can stand abuse wherever you want to bring it – even if it’s a bit unfavorable – and looks fashionable. The HM9 has nothing to fear, as those are basically the only physical weaknesses. This is a fantastically built headphone from all around.
This headphone is comfortable at first – like most headphones on the market – but I couldn’t last past 30 minutes with them at first. I have large ears, and so the pads literally squish my ears into a concave shape. They also heat the ears up a bit, and it does get a bit sweaty after a bit. Like most headphones as well, your ears adapt and you get to ‘break’ the headphone in. I can do about two hours now, but I try not to do that. Panda needs to keep his signature ears in tip-top shape of course.
The Brainwavz HM9 was tested and used with my desktop audio station. This sports a Project-H which couples a CS4398 Flagship DAC with a Burr Brown based customized desltop Objective 2. The HM9 was also used with the FiiO X3, Colorfly C4, iPhone 4S, and Palaios Labs Iona.
The highs on the HM9’s are mildly present, but are active and have good clarity in the upper portions. I was pleasantly surprised by this; I wasn’t expecting such a dark sounding headphone to have this trait. The highs do come through, but aren’t too present. That’s not to say they aren’t clear, because the highs on the HM9 do have good clarity in the upper ranges. That isn’t the same for the lower ranges though. The HM9 delivers highs only when the song puts out high frequency notes in the ‘upper ranges’. The lower ranges suffer from veiling, with a slight muffling. This isn’t too desirable, but you can’t have everything.
The mid frequency of the HM9’s delivers passive instruments that are packed with texture. Nothing really shines in the forefront because the instruments are a bit veiled. Don’t let that deter you though, for the HM9 has some of the richest sounding mids I have heard at this price point. They are deep, and well layered despite the veil. It’s similar in ‘style’ – but not quality – to the LCD2.2’s if someone wants to know what it is that I mean. If you listen to Trance or EDM, these mids are fantastic with it; the bass is not so much though.
The vocals share similar qualities to the instruments in that they are also a bit passive and veiled. They aren’t as layered as the mids are – which is mainly just due to the human voice itself not promoting the same qualities – but do maintain the richness in them. Richness in the sense that it is ‘extensive’, slightly dark, and responsive. The problem then is that there is a slight artificial-ness to the vocals. This is a shame though, as the vocals aren’t being properly reproduced as I would want.
Despite what it may seem, the HM9’s don’t have that much mid bass punch. It’s mainly the sub-bass that the HM9’s deliver. The sub-bass is a lot more noticeable than the mid-bass in most situations actually. The thing is though, is that the HM9 is fully capable of providing impactful mid-bass. With an EQ – software or hardware based is fine – the HM9’s deliver punch and kick without lifting a finger.
The lack of an impact in the mid-bass leaves pop, rap, hip-hop, EDM and other similar genres out to rot without an EQ. This is a bit sad of course, but it does help out other genres. The EQ’ing of the bass does produce noticeable – and somewhat extreme – leaking and contamination of the other frequencies.
Summary and Sound Signature:
The Brainwavz HM9 delivers hearty and deep sound. It’s dark, fun, and rich but it misses the mark on clarity. The signature pretty much works decently with every genre out there, but rarely does it go beyond and above. So while no song will sound bad from poor quality, or just their innate analytical natures, they also won’t excel on the HM9. Despite this though, the HM9 is still preferable for those that do passive listening or want a do-it-all headphone. There is no genre that does poorly either, everything does above expectations for the most part. The richness of the instruments, and how textured the mids get at times are some of the most fun I’ve had listening to instrumentals.
Overall, the sound of the HM9 is quite decent for the price range. It’s capable of a lot of things, and sounds good with almost every genre. It’s inability to excel without pulling down the other frequencies is a mark against it however. For the most part, the HM9 does pack a good deal in sound for listeners that want a stylish portable that sounds good with almost every genre.
The HM9 is a very surprising headphone. It’s build is impeccable but also hindered at times, and the same goes for its sonic section. It’s stellar ability in one section is almost immediately stopped by a thing here or there. Despite that however, I recognize that the HM9 offers great value. Most of the small bits don’t actually hurt anything towards those that will buy the HM9. With that in mind, I can say that I will recommend the HM9 to people who want to head out in style, and who want good sound to boot. It’s three different cord sizes, tank-quality build, large carrying case, and rich sound provides coverage for most situations.
For more information, please check out the product page here:
Build Quality: 9/10
Sound Quality: 7.5/10