May 8, 2011

Tale of two brands: Xears and Brainwavz - 11 IEMs compared


Xears is a German web site that sells IEMs (and now even MP3 players) under the Xears brand.  IEMs are also available through the ebay store 4Satisfaction Store.

For someone who has not heard about Xears through the reviews at Head-fi, it's easy to get confused with a garden variety of names, shapes and prices (apart from the long list of discontinued models both under the Xears name as well as Playaz Audio). One interesting fact that sets apart Xears IEMs is that they have no concept of fixed price. Web site and eBay store prices don't match at times and it's not that hard to see an IEM sell at €90 and €20 weeks apart. I've come to regard them as something akin to a small-cap stock whose prices fluctuate widely and wildly on a daily basis. As a result, it's tough to assign Value for money rating as you are valuing against a moving target. Luckily, most Xears IEMs can be had for $25-50 shipped at some point in their life.

Brainwavz is MP4Nation's line up of re-branded / re-tuned IEMs, mostly based on Visang R series. 

At the time of writing the long review (12th February, 2011), I owned five Xears IEMs and have the entire M series (Pro Alpha, M1, M2 and M3) available as loaners, but since then have bought Xears TDIII, Brainwavz M2 and obtained Brainwavz Alpha for free along with Nanite N2 player.But, I no longer have Pro Alpha and M1 for comparisons. Be warned! It is going to be an annoying long diatribe crossing 5,000 words. I will review the IEMs in the order of my preference.

General Build Quality

I've read that Xears uses Japanese drivers in Chinese OEM housings, though I suspect it's all made in a Chinese OEM factory, much like Fischer, MEElectronics and Jaben's Hippo. In general, Xears neither have a great cable nor carry a hefty strain relief. Fret not! The cables are still thicker than the one used on the $200 MSRP Head-Direct RE-252, but that's largely on account of the much cheaper and thinner cable on RE-252. Several of the models use a J-Cord, though newer models seem to be moving towards the more prevalent, easier to wear Y-Cords. I have nothing against J-Cords as I can easily differentiate between Left (Shorter cable) and Right in the dark. All cables are terminated in a straight 3.5mm plug, with the plug's housing colored according to the scheme used for the IEM. The shells of the IEM are made of metal with Left and Right markers on one side and Xears logo on the other in variety of shapes and sizes. I'm much more confident handling the metal shells of Xears compared to the plastic shells as I can throw them around a bit. On the flip side, they do add to the weight in your ear (depending on the model) for longer sessions, so it's a small trade-off. To save costs, Model name is not marked anywhere on the IEM and there's no box packing either. Hence, most times, I have to refer to the web site photo to figure out which is which. Cables are slightly microphonic when worn straight-down. In the absence of chin slider / cord cinch as well as shirt clip, they are better worn over the ear to reduce microphonics. The stock tips bundled are not of the greatest quality, but have shown a slight improvement compared to the older TD100-I stock tips. Yet, if you buy a Xears, you should have access or need to acquire some after-market tips (5.5mm wide, like UE / V-Moda compatible tips from LostEarBuds). They come with 3 sizes of single flanges, any extra tips Thomas may choose to throw in and a soft storage pouch in a nondescript anti-static wrap. Many of the Xears suffer from a case of mild to annoying driver flex. I personally get most from the older TD100-I than TD-II, but experience seems to vary from person to person.

Brainwavz are better built with braided cables within a plastic sheath (except for Alpha, which comes with a normal cable) terminated with a 45 degree 3.5mm plug. The build quality feels much superior to the average Xears IEM. The downside is that the cables tangle easily and retain some memory character. It’s pretty annoying when you are trying to A/B them in quick succession as I need to untangle them first (if I don’t keep them straightened up). They too lack the Chin slider / Cord Cinch and hence tend to be annoyingly microphonic when worn straight down. But, when it comes to accessories, unlike most budget brands, Brainwavz come with a good hard carry case and 3 sizes of tips. I got the foam tips for M2 from the Indian distributor, but the newer shipments do not come with foam tips or the ear glider as noted on their web site.

General Sound Signature

All of them were tried directly out of Rockboxed Clip+ with volumes ranging in -25 to -27dB. Only M1 required a substantial -21 to output the same SPL. All the IEMs have been burned in for at least 50 hours, with more than 100+ hours on my TD100-I. The loaners are likely to have more hours on them too.

Though none of the Xears share a particular signature, you are likely to be encountered with good bass, warm mids and treble. Usually, none of the ranges are too recessed / forward and are in fine balance. The changes come in the form of sound stage size, warmth, bass quality & quantity, midrange and treble quality.

I am always a little annoyed with critical/attentive listening and analyzing signatures. But, I’ve never been as frustrated as comparing the four Brainwavz (except Alpha). They all share a very similar signature – engaging, warm, smooth mids with good bass and a not so sparkling treble. I would not be shocked if the Brainwavz line-up shares the same driver with tuning, housing and vents making up for the difference. Before you start to worry, there are differences, but they are still too close; reminds me of a quote from the movie “Fight Club” – ‘Everything's a copy of a copy of a copy’.

I am averse to monotony and that’s precisely what I got when comparing Brainwavz. This is not the first time I am comparing IEMs that share a driver. Xears TD series share the same driver, but they do have unique characteristics. I am also told that Hippo VB and Crossroads Woody 2 share the same driver, yet they sound very different. If they did not have to be returned, I don't know what I'd have done to them. If you gave me any of the four Brainwavz (SPL matched, of course) and let my brain adapt to the signature (2-3 songs) and later ask me to figure out which one is it, I could go wrong many times. 

With amplification, Brainwavz seem to tighten up a bit, but the difference was not great enough for me to use an amp for this review. I've not tried Xears with an amplifier as they are already efficient.

Some Notes

A note on my Value for Money rating. I use some benchmarks to arrive at this "value". It is mostly based on SQ with RE0 at $80 as the reference and adds / subtracts a bit for build quality if things get too close. There are interim benchmarks as well (like Silver Bullet for $70). While it can be considered a bit unfair, comparing against the best I've heard in each tier, all is fair in war and valuations. As with everything else in the review, VFM is a very personal opinion and does not necessarily mean that you will find it unworthy at a higher price.

The rankings are based on personal preferences. For all practical purposes, most IEMs within the same tier don't sound too far apart from each other in terms of SQ i.e., No night and day differences or wiping the floor here. Each main tier is a slight upgrade in SQ until Tier-II, with sub-tiers used for further classifications within the tier. IMO, Tier-II is a good upgrade from the others. From thereon, differences become even more marginal.

Xears TM2 Pro

Current MSRP30 + 8 shipping from

Build Quality: Y-Cord

Sound Signature:

The bass of TM2 has good impact, has slight texture, but is a little uncontrolled in the sub-bass region. Mids are recessed, very veiled and dull. The vocals sound like they have been covered by a thick cloth. Lower mids are a bit sucked out in comparison to the upper mids.  Bumping up the lower mids lifts the veil somewhat, but not entirely. Treble is neither recessed nor forward. It is in fine balance with the mids. There's not much by way of sparkle.

Sound stage is a bit narrow. It has decent amount of depth, some height as well, but not enough to make the stage feel spacious in any way. Imaging and portrayal of distance is good with the IEM. It's a pity really, since these characteristics would have made it a very decent budget IEM had it not been for the dull coloration like a washed out painting. When I listen to it long enough, I don’t hate it as much. This is one of the instances where even a technical novice like me can state things like “driver is capable, tuning makes it suck”.

Since it has many drawbacks, I thought it fit to compare against the low priced Kramer modded JVC Marshmallows (HA-FX34), which I bought for $11. In terms of SQ, I don't consider Marshmallows to be any great except for their nice bass. Another of my $11 acquisitions, V-Moda Vibe (Blush - the girly pink one, which I’ll forever be ashamed for and can never be photographed with) has great bass with deeper extension going to the lowest lows in comparison. TM2 sounds a bit inferior when A/B-ing the three.

Value for Money: I’ll be happy to pay around $5-10 max. 

Ranking: I don’t hate it as much as Hippo Epic-Sparkle, but would rank it a bit below JVC Marshmallows and V-Moda Vibe. Tier - VII: Other IEMs. Ranking - 52/54

Brainwavz Alpha

Current MSRP:  $19 from MP4Nation

Build Quality: Alpha uses the same housing as ProAlpha, but uses a normal cable instead of the braided cable used from Pro Alpha onwards.

Sound Signature:

Alpha takes a departure from IEMs in this price range, which generally tend to be all about bass and nothing else. With Alpha, it is mostly about mids. It has decent clarity for a $15 IEM, but won't be competing against better IEMs for sure. The bass has comparable mid-bass quantity and a bit more extension than the ProAlphas, but sounds slightly muddy in comparison. Mids are the most dominant aspect of the IEMs, but they are not as forward or engaging as the others in the M series. Rather, they are thick and a bit sleepy. Treble is thick with cymbals/Hi-Hats sounding very congested and does not carry much air, but has some amount of sparkle.

Sound stage is smaller and easily loses in both width and depth compared to the Pro Alphas.These are decent sounding IEMs, but with not much detail or speed to go with it. Put in another way, these deliver good sound for the price and are even good for casual listening, but expecting more than that would be an exercise in vain.

Value for Money: I’ll be happy to pay around $8-15. 

Ranking: Since it does not have the terrible drawbacks of TM2Pro, it moves a step ahead. Tier - VI: Casual Listening IEMs. Ranking - 49/54

Xears Bullet XB120 Pro

Current MSRP25 +8 shipping from

Build Quality: The bullets have a J-Cord. As the name implies, the IEM shells are bullet shaped. The supplied tips are clear silicone unlike the rest of Xears.

Sound Signature:

Bass has decent texture. It has a bit more quantity and extension than Brainwavz M1, but stays similarly on the softer side without hitting deeper. It lacks the tightness, a bit of speed and quantity in bass compared to M2. Compared to the generally bass heavy Xears, it’s a nice departure though. Mids are forward and slightly on the warmer side and slightly thinner compared to most other Xears . The Mid range is clearer and well rounded compared to TM2, but the notes are not as ‘tight’ or crisp as I’d usually like, a bit smeared at the edges. The vocals sound clean devoid of sibilance, but are not seductive / romantic either as they are short on the lushness part. The treble is not ‘recessed’, but not as emphasized as the midrange. Treble has a bit of sparkle and is a bit more forward when compared to M1.

Sound Stage of the Bullets is narrow in width, good in height with a decent amount of depth. The narrow space leads to an intimate presentation. Details while present don't have the bite or crispness of the more analytical IEMs - similar to M1, but not as hazy. Timbre is one good thing with the bullets. Within the limitation of the smaller space, imaging is good, but I cannot say it's the best of the lot. On it's own, Bullets are engaging with a good mid-range, ably supported by bass and treble without punching a hole in the pocket.

Value for Money: I’ll be happy to pay around $25 for the SQ. But if you are the one to complain about J-Cord or don’t need the attention seeking bullets in your ears, perhaps it’s better to stay off!

Ranking: When I had RE2 on loan, I preferred XB120 a bit more. Tier - V: Nearly Good IEMs. Ranking - 41/54

Xears XTreme XT120Pro 

Current MSRP:  Discontinued

Build Quality: Y-Cord. Cool coloring scheme.

Sound Signature:

Without the wonderful EQ of Rockbox, I would have probably ranked XT120 somewhere between JVC Marshmallow and RE2, which is the last quartile of my IEM ranking. XT120 suffers from many drawbacks, yet manages to sound good enough for me to consider placing it above the Bullets. 

Without the EQ, bass on the XT120 is monstrous enough to cloud everything. Even bass guitars can overshadow the mids. The bass lacks texture and feels very muddy, but has good impact and extension. The bass somehow seems better textured when using iPod Touch as the source, but not with the Clip+. In fact, with iPod Touch 3G, I liken it to a lower end Eterna when it comes to engagement. Mids are a little sucked out, reminding me of the other IEM I have on loan, Crossroads Woody 2. The details in the mids are lusher and crisper when compared to XB120. But, there's also some hint of sibilance. Treble is in fine balance with the mids and has good amount of sparkle. Good enough for me to dabble with EQ-ing using every band available.

The issue with XT120 is that the range running up-to upper bass is boosted, while the mids are quieter in comparison. EQ-ing can alter the frequency balance, but would not add texture or timbre where you need it. Luckily, the problems with XT120 can be fixed to an extent. Even after knocking 19-20dB off till 100Hz, bass still remains hard hitting like Klipsch S4 with negligible texture. After EQ-ing the rest of the spectrum a bit  (1dB) at various points (900 Hz and 2 Khz up; 5 Khz and 8 Khz down), mids are slightly more forward.

The sound stage is somewhat below normal in size, but feels slightly more airy due to the presence of treble. But when pitted against the Brainwavz, XT120 is less engaging as it lacks the serene smoothness of the Brainwavz M2. With bass too, M2 has better quality even though it does not carry as much impact. XT120 not only has thicker notes in the mids compared to the M2, but sounds a bit veiled as well with vocals. But still, XT120 despite it’s drawbacks, sounds more lush, engaging and rich compared to the XB120. One of the best things about XT120 is it’s treble, which is sparkling, even though it is not as detailed. The imaging of XT120 within the limited space along with the richer mids makes up for it’s defects well. Taken in parts, it may not even make a decent IEM, but it’s overall presentation manages to be better than the sum of it’s parts.

Value for Money: I’ll be happy to pay around $25 for the SQ. But, if you are a purist averse to EQ-ing, I wouldn't even think about it.

Ranking: I rank XT120 (EQ-ed) above XB120.  Tier - V: Nearly Good IEMs. Ranking - 40/54

Brainwavz ProAlpha

Current MSRP: $40 from MP4Nation

Build Quality: ProAlpha shares the same housing as M1, but has a tiny bit of strain relief.

Sound Signature:

ProAlpha like M2 can be driven much easily straight off the Clip+. Bass of PA is similar in character to the rest of the line-up, but with a slightly more bumped up mid/upper bass. It also extends well, but is slightly on the slower side and lacks the tightness of M2. Mids are positioned similar to M1 – slightly backward; but due to the bumped up bass appear a little recessed. Midrange is not as warm as M2, but warmer than the M1. Compared to M2 and M3, midrange is a little less smooth. Treble is slightly more prominent on the PA compared to M1 and M2, but it’s also a little thick and flabby without carrying as much details as M2.

The sound stage is slightly wider than M2, but not deeper. Imaging is pretty similar to the M1 and M2, though at times, I feel that imaging is slightly better with PA. The presentation is sort of a cross between the warmer M2 and the balanced M1. 

Value for Money: It’s a choice between the slightly balanced presentation of M1 and the warmer, but not as balanced PA. PA, being easier to drive is well worth the $40.

Ranking: I’d rank Pro Alpha a slight step below M1 and M2. Since these are more alike than different, I don't think they will be far apart in terms of SQ scores. But then, I don't use scores. Tier - IIIA: Very Good IEMs Level II. Ranking - 33/54

Brainwavz M1 

Current MSRP: $40 from MP4Nation

Build Quality: M1 is strangely shaped like a half egg on a pointer. Strain reliefs are lacking near the housing.

Sound Signature:

I used M1 with the stock foam tips for this review.

I'd like to think of M1 and M2 as two sides of the coin. M1 requires at least 6-8dB more than M2 to achieve equal loudness. Bass of M1 has some texture, but much lower in quantity compared to the M2. It is neither lacking in bass like RE0 nor does it extend deep enough to rumble. Mids are slightly recessed and less warm than M2 bordering on neutral tone. It still remains smooth and as detailed as M2 on equal loudness, but does not carry the clarity of M2. Vocals are positioned a bit back, but don’t feel recessed as in the case of ProAlpha. Treble is thinner and has a bit more sparkle than M2.

The sound stage (much like M2) is wider, but not deeper. The imaging and positioning are again good, but not great. M1 tilts more towards a balanced signature with the help of thinner notes, a bit more airiness and reduced bass quantity. 

Value for Money: M1 is among the few balanced IEMs I’ve come across in the $40 range. It’s worth a buy if you don’t like the bumped up mid-bass of M2.

Ranking: I’d rank M1 a slight step below M2. Though on some days, I prefer the balanced presentation of M1 over M2.  Tier - IIIA: Very Good IEMs Level II. Ranking - 32/54

Brainwavz M2 

Current MSRP: $60 from MP4Nation

Build Quality: It has proper strain relief, though it seems to have a bad habit of coming off (at least in older batches). I don’t like the ‘bright’ idea of Left and Right etched markings at the back of the metal housing.

Sound Signature:

I used the M2 with MEElectronics Bi-Flanges for this review.

Bass of M2 is well textured and has a mid/upper-bass bump. It still manages to remain softer on the ears. It extends well, but not as much as TD100-I. Mids are forward, clear, smooth and totally non-fatiguing. The mids are on the warmer side, though not as warm as any of the Xears. While detailed, mids stay mellow and do not sound as crisp as some of the IEMs. On the positive side, they stay devoid of sibilance, which helps the vocals. Treble is a little recessed on the M2, but still good enough to hear the details. Treble notes are thicker than M1 and M3, but not as thick as PA.

Sound Stage of M2 has normal width and height, but not much depth. Imaging is good, but nothing special - a bit of airiness and crispness in presentation would have made it even more engaging. One of the things I like about M2 is it's efficiency. It's possible for me to use M2 at as low as -38 / -39 on the Rockboxed Clip+. e-Q5, RE-252 and to a lesser extent, RE-ZERO and some of the Xears come close to that, but I can't go as low as M2 with them.

Value for Money: While M2 is worth the $60 it demands, I'd like it more around $50

Ranking: M2 is a step below the Tier-II IEMs like RE0/ZERO and a sub-tier below IEMs like Hippo VB for me.  Tier - IIIA: Very Good IEMs Level II. Ranking - 30/54

Xears Turbo Devices TD100-I 

Current MSRP: Discontinued  

Build Quality: TD100-I has a J-Cord with looks inspired by Monster Turbine Pro Copper. It has annoying amounts of driver flex. The accessories supplied viz., the tips and the pouch were slightly inferior in quality even when compared to the Xears I purchased later.

Sound Signature:

Bass of TD100, in typical Xears fashion is very hearty, thick and extends very well. With no EQ applied, bass covers up the mids a bit. The bass has less impact and much more quality than that of XT120. Compared to M2, TD100 has much more quantity as well as impact with comparable decay. The extension is very good as I can hear up-to 25Hz much like Hippo VB / Crossroads Woody 2 / V-Moda Vibe. I get used to the bass quantity after a while, but if needed a 5-7dB can be taken off the bass via EQ. The mids sound thicker in comparison to many other IEMs. But on it's own, it should not present any issues when listening to TD100. When bass is EQ-ed down, vocals benefit the most as they move a step forward. Treble is clear, detailed, has sparkle and well extended, but would stay a safe distance away from IEMs like RE-ZERO. Treble is a little similar to M3 when not EQ-ed, as bass tends to be a tad more prominent to cover up the sparkle.

The sound stage is decently wide, deep, tall and spacious. The imaging and positioning of TD100 is very good and makes it stand a bit apart from the equally good Brainwavz M1 and M2. The presentation is as airy as M1. Thickness of note comes in the way of making TD100 sound as balanced, but it’s not as much a deterrent for an engaging listen. For an IEM with as much bass quantity and thickness, TD100 sounds very balanced. 

Value for Money: None. But if available, I won’t mind paying $50-60.

Ranking: TD100-I, while lacking the detailed mids of RE-252 or the smooth presentation of the Brainwavz is still engaging enough to move it a sub-tier above Brainwavz M2. Due to the lack of last mile of clarity without EQ, I’d place it below Hippo VB. Tier - III: Very Good IEMs Level I. Ranking - 26/54

Brainwavz M3 

Current MSRP: $90 from MP4Nation

Build Quality: Visang R04 Collector’s Edition / M3 has a small ‘arm’, which I thought would be hurting in the outer ear. But surprisingly, it is comfortable and nice.

Sound Signature:

Bass of M3 yet again follows the path of it's predecessors - smooth, soft and textured. Quantity wise, it's somewhere between M1 and M2; better than M1, but much less than the bumped up M2. Extension is similar to M2, but shows a tiny bit more presence in sub-bass region with the Hifiman bi-flange tips (which are a pain to wear, by the way), but still far less than the TDs. Bass still remains soft and smooth, which is a good thing in my book. Mids of M3 is one of the reasons I like it. It's lush, smooth, slightly warm, clear and forward. It is not as forward or as warm as M2 though. Treble is laid-back, but has a bit more sparkle as well as extension compared to M2.

Sound Stage is one definite improvement in M3 from M1 and M2. It sounds much more spacious while remaining as wide as M1 or M2. The imaging and positioning also gets a facelift, much better than M1 and M2. It won't be battling for supremacy in imaging against $90 (at least when I bought it) IEMs like Panasonic HJE-900 though.

Value for Money: M3 at $90 offers a slightly different take on sound compared to the $50 M2 and $40 M1. When comparing them, it is easy to see that M3 is superior. But, M3 is very good value for money at $60-75 and not a blind buy at $90 considering that there are better options available.

Ranking: M3 is a step ahead of TD100-I. Tier - III: Very Good IEMs Level I. Ranking - 23/54

Xears Turbo Devices TDIII Blackwood

Current MSRP45 +8 shipping from

Build Quality: Y-Cord. If the site had not mentioned the word "wood", I'd be thinking that the back of the housing was made of plastic. Driver flex is a bit more annoying than TD100-II.

Sound Signature:

I must first state clearly that all three TDs have much more in common. What I am stating is the result of lot of A/B/C-ing between them. While I don't stand much chance in a blind test involving the Brainwavz, I have a better, even if slight, chance of detecting the Xears TD version in a blind test. So, please read the comparisons with the disclaimer that these are not 'significant' like night and day, but audible in an A/B.

Bass of TDIII surprisingly adds bit more in quantity along with slight bit more thickness compared to the TD100-I - both in the mid-bass and the sub-bass regions. However, the bass is slightly more hard hitting and carries much more punch and impact with the TDIII. The bass bleed into the mids is also a bit more pronounced with the TDIII. The midrange is a tad more forward than the TD100-II. The notes, while remaining slightly more thicker than TDII, are not as thick as the discontinued first version. The midrange is warm and lush with a bit more emphasis on the upper midrange, which is not the case with the other two TDs. The vocals on the TDIII sound a bit dry and cold due to the lack of texture. The treble is a bit more forward than TD100-II. While the treble detail is closer to the TD100-II, it is a bit thicker and carries less sparkle and not as much airiness.

Sound Stage remains similar to that of TD100-I. The imaging and presentation are good, but with TDIII everything is a tad more forward compared to the other two TDs. On it's own TDIII is a very good sounding IEM, but  I feel that TDIII is a bit more hard hitting when it comes to presenting details compared to the softer TD100-II or the lush and creamy M3.

Value for Money: I’d be very happy to get TDIII for $60.

Ranking: TDIII ranks slightly below TD100-II.  Tier - III: Very Good IEMs Level I. Ranking - 21/54

Xears Turbo Devices TDII 

Current MSRP42 +8 shipping from

Build Quality: Y-Cord. Black and Blue dual colored shells. Driver flex is very little compared to TD100-I. I am not sure if the current TDII Black version sounds different than the Gray and Black version I have.

Sound Signature:

While my first review was done with stock tips, the current impression is written with the UE compatible single flanges, which brings about slight, but not significant changes to my perception of TD100-II. When I first wrote the review back in February, I described TD100-II as having "thinner" notes. While this still holds true when compared against mega-thick TD100-I or even the M3, TD100-II is not a crisp or lean sounding IEM like DBA-02 when taken in isolation. I must have noted it much more clearly; apologies are in order. Secondly, with the newer tip, I hear a bit more of bass extension.

Bass of TDII, while retaining the thickness and impact of TD100 is lesser in mid bass quantity. But, that does not make TDII a bass-light IEM, as it’s bass quantity is still significant when compared to M2 while remaining similarly quick. While the bass extension is as good as the other two, the quantity is somewhat comparable to TD100-I than the TDIII. Coming to the Mids, if the note thickness in TD100-I can be called thick, TDIII would be slightly thick (as in - certainly not lean), M3 would be creamy (thick), TD100-II mids would be better described as closer to fullness than thick or lean. Mids are forward in comparison to TD100-I, but TDIII is a bit more forward in comparison. While the mids are slightly warmer, they are not as warm as the TD100-I or the TDIII. When it comes to clarity, TDII holds it's own against M3 and the other two TDs. Compared to the lush mids of M3, TDII almost sounds dry, recessed and thinner, though there's nothing a bit of brain adaptation can't help. There's slight hint of sibilance where vocal sibilance is present in the recording, but it's not far from what M3 will show through. Treble is not only thinner when compared to TD100, TDIII and the M3, but also carries more air and sparkle. TDIII trails closer in treble, but loses on the crispness factor.

Sound Stage remains similar to that of TD100. But due to the relatively thinner notes, the imaging and presentation appear a bit more spaced out. Also on account of the relative thinness, TD100-II appears to present a bit more detail in comparison to M3 at times, but there's not a huge difference between the two, except in treble. EQ-ing is generally not required. But, there's a slight dip at 600Hz, which if compensated for, can give a very slight heft to the sound. Bass can also be reduced if you are coming from bass light IEMs. 

Side Note (2011-06-24): I loaned my TDII to a friend, who ended up buying one for himself. Curiously, his TDII sounds more open. But, I observe no other differences in signature to warrant a change in my view or review. Took this opportunity to update the latest rankings.

Value for Money: I’d be very happy to get TDII for $60-70. 

Ranking: Due to the much more balanced nature of the TD100-II, I prefer it over the other IEMs in this comparison. While they do not differ hugely from each other (M3, TDIII, TDII and everything in between), for my preference, TDII marches ahead over the likes of Hippo VB and even the PR401. These rankings are not set in stone though.

While TDII's ranking may show that it's much closer to the Near Top-tier IEMs like RE0/RE-ZERO, please be aware that I consider that tier to be a significant jump in SQ from the tier below it.  Tier - III: Very Good IEMs Level I. Ranking - 16/54


Among the Brainwavz, I liked M3 the most, followed by M2 (especially if low volume listening is a priority). Xears, a brand managed by one person, scores in timbre and imaging across the range for me. Due to their emphasized bass and not so great build quality, Xears are not for everybody though.

Which one is for me?

Small budget and I need an IEM which does mids well and does not sacrifice on bass – Xears Bullet XB120

I need smooth mids which are non-fatiguing and I need some bass as well – Choose any of the Brainwavz depending on your budget. M3 offers a meaningful, but not significant upgrade from M2. So, somebody on a tighter budget can choose between M1 and M2 based on their requirements. Since there are plenty of choices in the $60-100 range, one can settle for M3 if none of the others fit their requirements.

I need plenty of bass quantity, clear mids with treble that has a bit of sparkle, but not as much as RE0/ZERO – Get Xears TD100-II. If you prefer a bit more lushness and bass impact, choose TDIII (subject to availability).


Anonymous said...

Nice review, thanks a bunch for posting this.

I'm looking to get the TD100-II and regarding the midrange I was wondering if you could clarify whether it's suited for guitar-based rock and instrumental music?

I'm not exactly an expert on the terminology but did you mean that the midrange is somehow hollow or recessed when you called it 'thin' or did it describe the thickness of note?

Also, I have the XB120 Pro. Could you specifically compare the midrange of TD100-II vs. XB120 in terms of presentation?

thanks a lot in advance

Eswar Santhosh said...

By thin, I meant the thickness of note. Should have been clearer. Will fix it in the next edit.

Comparing XB120 and TDII's midrange, XB120 is relatively more forward and richer, but not as detailed. If you listen to lot of vocal based music, I'd stick with XB120.

I listen to lot of Opeth. For me, the details, the sound stage, treble and imaging improvements of TDII make it better suited for Opeth. But, if you are after a more engaging presentation and not particular about the differences I mentioned, you won't gain by moving to TDII. Hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

Cool, a fellow Opeth fan, eh? :D

I do like a forward and rich midrange but unless the TD-II sounds significantly more distant than the XB120 (it's not that bad, is it?) I'd be very interested in the detail and soundstage width improvements of the higher end model.

I remember ljokerl at head-fi saying something about the XB120 sounding 'smeared' on busy tracks and I'm inclined to agree. I take it the TD-II has more resolving power & speed and thus has better clarity when there's a lot going on?

Eswar Santhosh said...

TD-II does not sound that distant. Yes! TDII has much more resolution, clarity and speed. While XB120 is a good budget IEM, that 'smearing' on busy tracks is one of the reasons I don't rate it that highly.

I may get TDIII in the near future and add it to the review. But not sure since I got too many IEMs already :)

Anonymous said...

Great! Thank you so much for this insight!

Now I'm ready to pull the trigger on the TD-II. I found a pretty decent deal on it :)