Last year I reviewed a set of earbuds from Brainwavz. This time around, it’s pretty much the polar opposite from the company in the Brainwavz HM100 Studio Monitor headphones. Where the Brainwavz SO earbuds were compact and inexpensive, the HM100 headphones are very large, and at $199.50, not exactly cheap. However, where the former was meant as a nice little upgrade for the pack-in earbuds that came with your smartphone, the HM100s are for serious music listening sessions—ideally while plugged into a headphone amp or a receiver.
Big Headphones With a Retro Look
The HM100s are big headphones. All over-ear studio monitors are big, especially when you look at them beside a set of earbuds. They’re not meant to replace earbuds or wireless on-ear headphones for casual listening to music or podcasts on the way to work, these are aimed at someone who wants to sit back and escape in their music.
The retro styling is what really grabs you when seeing the HM100s for the first time. Brainwavz decided against the usual approach of black with some silver trim. Instead, the headband and ear pads are covered in tan “leather.” I’m using quotes because the company describes the material as having “a real leather look,” so I’m making the leap of assuming it’s fake. What’s not fake are the genuine wood ear cups, finished in a dark walnut stain. Tying the tan “leather” and dark wood together is matte finish silver metal.
Overall, the styling successfully captures a seriously vintage vibe.
If you don’t like the look or feel of the default ear pads, Brainwavz also includes a pair of replacement pads in black cloth.
The HM100s were very comfortable, even for long listening sessions. There’s no claim that the padding is memory foam, but whatever it is, there’s plenty of it on both headband and ear cups. According to my kitchen scale, the headphones weigh a substantial 394g (13.9 ounces), but the padding alleviates that to a large extent. The headband has a wide degree of adjustment and while the flex meant there was a little more pressure that I would have liked, after a few sessions and some gentle stretching it became quite comfortable.
• 52 mm dynamic drivers
• Frequency range 10Hz – 40 KHz
• Polished wood ear cups
• Weigh 394g (13.9 ounces)
• Removable 1.3m and 3m stereo cables included (3m cable is cloth braided) along with 1/4″ adapter
• Spare set of ear pads (black cloth) included
• Foam-lined hard carry case included
The reason these are billed as studio monitor headphones is that they are intended to deliver neutral audio, the way it was actually recorded. So no Beats-style bass tuning bump.
With 52 mm drivers and a sealed off ear (I would have to turn the volume down significantly to hear even a hint of background noise), the difference between these and earbuds or most on-ear headphones is pretty stunning. It was an enjoyable listen, even when connected to my iPhone—which requires the use of the Apple 3.5mm to Lightning adapter thanks to the elimination of the headphone jack…
There may be no deliberate bass boost, but the low end is much more prominent than you will hear with any earbuds and the closed back design means there’s a touch of resonance. I like that, though, it sounds a little more lifelike. At the same, detail isn’t lost to the bass. A good example track is Talking Heads’ “Crosseyed and Painless.” The bass is tight and drives the song, but vocals are front and center and the percussion—a complex mix of cowbell, congas, guitar, and other effects—is there crisp and clear, in full detail. No fading into the mix or muffling. You can easily pick out each of the instruments. With the closed back design and padded seal around the ears, noise bleed wasn’t an issue that anyone around me noticed.
For a real retro blast, I listened to some records with the HM100s plugged into an early ’80s vintage JVC receiver. This is where the headphones really shone during my testing. The combination of vinyl and the analog receiver added warmth to the audio. There’s something about wearing a pair of oversized cans that look like they could be decades old, while plugged into an old receiver using a big 1/4-inch jack, and listing to the occasional pop as a record spins on the turntable…
While the Brainwavz HM100s look very nice, I’m not entirely convinced of how well their construction will hold up over time. There is some metal used, but it’s often anchored in plastic—the ear cup swivels and headband, for example. I noticed a few complaints on Amazon about the “size clips” breaking. I’m not sure if it’s the same thing these buyers are mentioning, but I did notice that shortly after testing the band started to loosen and the weight of the ear cups would be enough to extend it several sizes just by picking them up.
It wasn’t the end of the world for me, as the headphones remained in place when worn despite the loose ear cups, but I could see where it could be an issue for some.
On the upside, the headphones carry a 2-year manufacturer warranty, so if you do have an issue, you should be able to get them replaced.
One weird design choice also has me scratching my head a little. The cable inputs on the headphones aren’t labeled, but are color-coded: red and blue. On the shorter cable, the audio jacks have a corresponding red and blue stripe. Perfect. On the longer, braided cable, the jacks are labeled “L” and “R” but have no color coding… You can still figure out which ear cup is left and which is right by checking the band, but it’s an extra step that could easily have been avoided by picking one method and sticking with it for consistency.
Should You Buy Them?
You can find over-ear studio headphones from well-regarded brands like Audio Technica and Bose in the same price range. At around $200, those will be entry-level models from those companies, but their reputation may be sufficient to win over buyers.
The Brainwavz HM100 Studio Monitor headphones are comfortable (although you may need to work them in a little), offer an enjoyable listening experience and come with an unbeatable collection of accessories. The retro styling really makes them stand apart, too. Personally, I’ll take their tan “leather” and wood look over the usual black plastic any day, all other things being equal. Ultimately, I’d say if you have $200 to spend on studio monitor headphones, the HM100’s are worth considering—especially if you like the retro styling—but if you pick them, I would be careful to use that hard case rather than risk damaging a plastic part by stuffing them in a backpack.