These retro over-ear headphones are neither the best sounding nor the most practical
- Stylish design
- One size fits all
- Wide soundstage
- Not the most portable
- Lack punch in the sub-bass
- Wide soundstage not for everyone
Studio headphones are almost always larger than their wireless counterparts, but nothing can prepare you for the size of the Brainwavz HM100. To give you an idea of their scale, they’re accompanied by a solid case that measures 260x240x130mm. That’s an 8L cubic capacity, or the same as a small backpack.
Naturally, you don’t have to pack them away every time you’re finished using them, but the fact they won’t fold away into a small pouch tells you everything you need to know about the HM100s: they’re not designed with portability in mind. Instead, Brainwavz boasts that these headphones offer accuracy, clarity, and a wide soundstage – important attributes for audio monitoring and casual listening alike.
Brainwavz HM100 review: Design and feel
Irrespective of their size, the HM100s have a design that stands out. They not only have polished wood ear cups – something you’ll be hard pushed to find on other models costing £150 – but Brainwavz has also opted for a brown, faux leather headband and earpads. It’s a retro look, but besides the wooden ear cups, we’re not wholly convinced by the build quality.
To elaborate, the plastic parts of the headband look a little tacky and cheap, as do the jack plugs on the 1.5m cable. There’s a noticeable amount of unwanted play in the headband’s metal parts, too, which stops them feeling as solid and robust as we’d have liked.
The HM100s are very comfortable. With an earpad recess measuring 80x60x25mm, they’ll fit around ears of all shapes and sizes, and the soft cushioning of the earpads ensures your head is never clamped too tight. There’s also excellent passive isolation from outside noise.
We were happy wearing the HM100s for hours at a time, with slightly warm ears being our only complaint. Although it never affected us, one caveat is that they seem to be designed with larger heads in mind. Indeed, we were surprised not to have to extend the headband to get the right fit, so those with smaller heads might discover the earcups end up positioned too far down their face.
The upside to the HM100’s large case is that it can comfortably fit all the accessories that come with the headphones. And there’s everything you could need here for casual and studio use alike. For a start, you can pick between the included 1.3m and 3m stereo cables. Both have 3.5mm jack plugs, but can also be used with the provided 1⁄4in adaptor if you have professional sound equipment.
Unlike some headphones, the HM100’s cables connect directly to both ear cups. This makes connecting and disconnecting the cables a little fiddly compared to rivals with a single jack, but it’s not a deal breaker.
Last but not least, the HM100s come with spare velour black earpads. They’re no different in shape to the brown faux leather ones that come fitted as standard, but they should probably get a little less sweaty.
Brainwavz HM100 review: Performance
The HM100s sound good, but they’re not even close to being the best-sounding headphones we’ve heard under £160. Audio-Technica’s ATH-M40x have all the sparkling detail, and a more accurate frequency response, for only £80.
The HM100s deliver plenty of clarity, but it’s a little too much for our ears if anything. Mid-range and treble frequencies are emphasised to the point that some rock tracks can sound overly bright and harsh.
It’s more of a problem for some genres than others, but at their worst, the HM100s quickly fatigued our ears. Moreover, the HM100s lack a certain amount of punch in the sub-bass, leaving bass-heavy tracks feeling a little underpowered and flat.
One thing the Brainwavz HM100s do better than many of their rivals is soundstaging. The first time you place the headphones on your head and press play, it’s obvious there’s much more of a sense of space than you find with most closed-back headphones. Live classical music, in particular, benefits from this wide soundstage, but even blues songs are all the better for being able to breathe.
However, the advantages to this wide soundstage aren’t always so clear cut. Instruments can sometimes sound disjointed as a result of the exaggerated soundstage, and when sound effects are given a given a particularly sweeping presence in the mix, they often end up distracting from rather than benefitting the overall listening experience.
Brainwavz HM100 review: Verdict
Whether you’ll get on well with the Brainwavz HM100s will likely come down to personal preference. If you’re looking for closed back headphones with a wide soundstage and plenty of instrument separation, look no further.
However, if soundstage isn’t a priority for you, there are other headphones whose sound signature we’re much more fond of, such as the Audio-Technica ATH-M40x. They look better and fold up much smaller, too.