Tidal Force Wave 5 headpone review: Planar magnetic headphone tech on the cheap

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Tidal Force has joined the ever growing headphone marketplace
with the launch of its Wave 5 planar magnetic headphones. Most
headphones you are familiar with are driver-based designs, like
loudspeakers. Not the Wave 5.

Planar magnetic headphones use an extremely thin and light
diaphragm to reproduce sound, instead of the more traditional
driver. A magnetic system drives the entire surface of the
diaphragm evenly in a pull-push manner. In the case of the Wave
5, the diaphragm’s size measures 56mm and will reproduce notes
from 16Hz to 50kHz. Tidal Force says that the magnetic
structure is a matrix double pole and uses neodymium magnets.

High-quality construction

The Wave 5 headphones have a high-quality, all-metal
construction, but this leaves the headphones tipping  the
scales at 480 grams. The outer headband’s metal skeleton has
the company’s logo laser-cut in an alternating pattern.
Touching any part of the headphone’s metal skeleton will
transfer vibrations into the headphone cavity. In other words,
you’ll hear it. If you like to lie down wearing your
headphones, or wear them while doing some work that requires
moving around, you’ll definitely encounter this. Anything
touching either arm of the “Y” cable produces the same effect.

A secondary, self-adjusting, imitation leather headband
auto-tensions to your head. With this design, you’ll get solid
clamping pressure to the sides of your head like
recording-studio headphones. Just be aware that some might find
the pressure a bit much. For me, I got somewhat uncomfortable
wearing the Wave 5 after long listening sessions.

The ear cups rotate 90 degrees so that the headphones can fold
flat. The ear cups themselves pivot freely to fine-tune comfort
and adjustment to your head. The ear cups attach magnetically,
and guiding pegs make sure they fit perfectly to the ear cups.

Regrettably, the magnets are not as strong as the ones Bowers & Wilkins uses across its headphone
line
. I accidentally knocked the magnetic ear pads off more
than a few times during my review period. If you’re plan to
fold the headphones flat so you can slip them into a backpack,
make sure the ear pads are still attached when you pull them
out. If and when Tidal Force updates the Wave 5, I’d like to
see a stronger magnetic hold in the new model.

tidal force wave 5 have removeable ear pads Theo Nicolakis / IDG

Magnets hold the Wave 5’s ear pads  to the ear cups by
magnets.

The ear pads seem large from the outside, but they have a
narrow, oval opening, like the capital letter “O” on a serif
font. The left and right side walls are thicker than the top
and bottom. Your ears don’t fit into a nice large cavity like
other circumaural designs. When I wore them, the ear pads
touched my ears and pressed them down.

The Wave 5 are an open-back design. That means the ear cups
have an opening to the outside world and do not create a
completely sealed cavity like closed-back designs. Typically,
open-back designs create a greater sense of space and
soundstage depth. I didn’t find that to be the case here. The
Wave 5’s sound was more forward than most other open-back
designs I’ve reviewed. In fact, when I compared the Wave 5 to
Oppo’s open-back PM-2 planar magnetic
headphone
, the Oppo PM-2 delivered a more relaxed and
spacious musical presentation.

tidal force wave 5 headphones have a metal body Theo Nicolakis / IDG

The Wave 5 headphones have a metal body

Accessories

The Tidal Force Wave 5 come with a hard case, a 1/4-inch
adapter, and a soft pouch to hold the included 3.5mm “Y” cable.
Most headphones that include a Y-cable separate the left and
right audio signal. That’s not the case here. Both
arms of the cable carry a full stereo signal (as indicated by
the two stripes on the 3.5mm tip and the two stripes on each
arm). The respective ear cup knows to separate the left or
right channel from the cable.

Unfortunately for me, the cable that came with the Wave 5 was
defective out of the box and would often cut out sound on one
of the ear cups. The defect was consistent with a cable that’s
had too much stress applied to the connector. The company sent
me a new cable, which worked just fine.

accessories included with tidal force wave 5 headphones Theo Nicolakis / IDG

Accessories included with the Wave 5 headphones.

I did notice some things with the two sets of cables. The
nylon-braided cable is far stiffer than most. It will tend to
keep a shape or twist instead of falling in a supple manner.
The 3.5mm plug on both cables was also slightly bent. I noticed
it when looking at it straight on, and it had a slight bend
when plugged into any of my digital audio players. Tidal Force
might want to look into the Q/A process wherever these cables
being manufactured.

There's no designated left or right cable for the ear cups. Both cables carry the full stereo signal Theo Nicolakis / IDG

There’s no designated left or right cable for the ear cups.
Both cables carry the full stereo signal.

Planar magnetic bliss? Not quite.

I tested the Wave 5 with an Astell&Kern AK70, Sony NWZ-A17, and
Pioneer XDP-100R high-res audio players
using mostly high-res FLAC and ALAC files and a handful of
AAC-encoded music files.

Listening to Natalie Merchant’s Ladybird (16-bit/44kHz
AAC), Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin II ( 24-bit/96kHz
FLAC), and Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here
(24-bit/88.2kHz FLAC) gave me a good indication of the Wave 5’s
sonics. The headphone’s overall character was smooth but darker
and with less air than I know is contained in familiar source
material. It’s as though the Wave 5 tries to smooth out musical
rough edges, but it does so by applying a slight veil over the
music. Orchestral works like Star Wars: The Force
Awakens
soundtrack (24-bit/192kHz) suffered in this
regard.

tidal force wave 5 bent 3.5mm jack
Theo Nicolakis / IDG

The 3.5mm headphone jack arrived with a slight bend.

Bass was controlled and well defined; the kick drums, however,
lacked solid dynamics and punch. The difference was noticeable
when I compared the Wave 5 to Oppo’s far more expensive planar magnetic PM-2
headphones
, which did a far better job. To be fair, it’s
not uncommon for open-back headphone designs to be a bit bass
shy.

If you’re the type who likes digging into the details of your
music, then you’ll enjoy firing up your favorite tracks with
the Wave 5. Microdynamics across the audio spectrum were good.
Playing the high-res version of Michael Jackson’s Bad,
the complex mix found in every track came through nicely.
Nevertheless, I continually noted that the one area where (for
me) the the Wave 5 fell short was the refinement and delicacy
I’ve experienced with planar magnetic cans.

Turning to Patricia Barber’s “A Taste of Honey” and “Too Rich
for My Blood” from Cafe Blue, the Wave 5 failed to
elevate the tracks to their full potential. The midrange and
top end just couldn’t reach the point of sonic bliss that more
expensive planar magnetic headphones can muster. I felt as
though the three-dimensional character inherent in vocals and
instruments got compacted.

woman listening to wave 5 headphonesTidal
Force

Wave 5 planar magnetic headphones.

Worth an audition

The Wave 5 deliver planar magnetic technology and solid build
quality at a reasonable price point. If you’ve craved to
experience a pair of planar magnetic headphones but  been
turned away by their cost, then the Wave 5 certainly deserves
an audition. By any measure, the Wave 5 are a solid
value. 

Whether or not you like their sonic character will be
a matter of personal preference. I found that the Wave 5’s
sonic character inclined towards the euphnoic, with a tendency
to smooth out recordings. For me, they failed to deliver the
breadth, excitement, and openness I’ve come to expect from my
music. For those who find Tidal Force’s Wave 5 to be a bit
underwhelming, then you might be better served by saving a bit
more and spending the extra $100 for Oppo’s PM-3 planar magnetic headphones instead.

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