Disclaimer: The following review is my subjective assessment of the headphone. I am in no way affiliated with HiFiMAN nor am I getting paid for this. The sound/build/comfort de-ions come from my subjective assessment of this product. If you have any other questions or if you want to point something out, please do let me know. Hope you enjoy the read ^_^
- I received the HE-300h in early December. Initially, I did not find the headphone to my liking in some ways as it is a clear deviation from my preferred signature – the RE-400 is my current reference earphone and the two sound quite different, but over time, I’ve assessed it more carefully and started to like it for what it was. Listening to different songs of various genres, I dug deeper into this signature so I could write this review as objectively as possible. Granted, there’s always a bit of one’s subjective touch in his work. Without further ado, here it is.
Type: 8.5mm dynamic driver, in-ear monitor
Frequency Response: 15Hz - 22KHz
Impedance: 16Ω +/- 3.2Ω
Weight: 14g [with cable]
Media: HiFiMAN HM-601LE Digital Audio Player / JRiver Media player 20, using ASIO/WASAPI direct connection output to a PCM1794 based DAC.
Source: HiFiMAN HM-601LE / USB output of a desktop-PC, through the Schiit Wyrd.
DAC: HM-601LE [TDA1543 chip] / Creative SB X7 [PCM1794 chip]
Amplifier: HM-601LE [OPA2104] / Audio-gd SA-31SE [discreet, no op-amps] via single-ended RCA input
Headphones: HiFiMAN RE300h via a 1/8 plug [HM-601LE] / 1/4 TRS adapter [SA31SE]
Files: FLAC, 128-320kbps MP3, 256kbps AAC,
Cables: stock power cables, decent RCA/USB/TOSLINK/Interconnect cables
- The -300h comes in a nice white showcase-style package. The plastic packaging has a plastic, transparent mold that holds the headphone in place, serves as a showcase window and should also protect it from damage during transit. Inside the package are the earphones, the owner’s manual, the warranty card, a pair of large tips, some filters to swap if needed and a clip. I feel that the packaging itself is rather simple and clear, which is quite nice. You might use it as a storage for the earphones if needed, since there is no carrying pouch or hard-case or anything else to store them in or protect them when not in use. Things are fairly easy to take out and you won’t tear the packaging apart in the process. The accessories are few, but for the price it’ll do. I think it is superior to the prettier ‘case’ the more expensive RE-400 comes in because that thing simply falls apart. The only thing I miss here is the said pouch and perhaps more tips, but given the price, it is understandable. Still, it is a solid and functional package, without any additional bling added to it to inflate the price.
- I think this is the best in-ear HiFiMAN has produced yet! As far as build quality goes, there’s little to criticize – the molded shells are plastic but are very well put together, the cable is improved from the RE-400 and is similar to the RE-600, which is a noticeable improvement in this case, as it doesn’t only mean much better structural integrity throughout, but also a much lesser tendency to tangle. This headphone is easily better built than any other HiFiMAN’s monitor – much better than the RE-400 and on par or better than the RE-600. If this is the new trend that HiFiMAN will follow from now on, then that’s certainly good news to anyone who’s ever had any problems with their previous products. In the limited time that I’ve owned the RE-300h, I’ve certainly put it through its paces and there hasn’t been a single problem yet.
As far as looks, I find the RE-400’s aluminum shells to be the prettier of the two but that’s a personal thing. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Structurally, the RE-400 is clearly inferior.
- Let me start by saying that I’ve always had fit issues with in-ear earphones. This is because my right ear’s outer portion is different than my left ear. The RE-400 and RE-600 with the while tips were the first earphones where I managed to achieve a perfect or nearly perfect fit on both sides. With the RE-300h, it is not as great but still very good.
Bear in mind that this issue is exclusive to me and I think with the way these earphones are molded, 90 – 95% of people shouldn’t find any trouble with the fitment. The shell molding is well thought out and definitely will fit most ears. It does fit mine too, but my right ear’s seal is not perfect because it’s a weird ear. In conclusion, there should be no issues with the fit and even if there is, rolling different tips is something that is always helpful and potentially instrumental in achieving a better fit.
- This earphone has a very nice and potent bass, with good impact and weight. It starts to roll off slowly at 60Hz but easily extends down to 30 -35Hz before it drops completely. These are certainly not bass light but neither are they bass heavy, though I’d say these have a bit more bass than what I consider neutral, which is not necessarily a bad thing of course. They have noticeably more bass than the RE-400, granted it is not as tight, but there’s more quantity at a slight expense of quality. Still, it does not bleed into the midrange, making it suitable in this regard for most genres. Bass is one category that depends a lot on good seal and fit. When either is less than ideal, then the bass presence will be less or lost. I think I achieved a good enough seal to say that overall, the bass is very well extended, reasonably clear, nicely defined and certainly present and I was definitely not left wanting for more, making the overall bass response quite satisfying. Still, if you are a bass-head and need gobs of bass regardless of track or genre, you might want to look elsewhere.
- The midrange is forward and very present on this earphone. There is slightly more presence than with the RE-400, but those are already quite midrange oriented to begin with. As someone who likes neutral-forward mids and hates recessed ones, I find this quite pleasant and euphonic even. Lots of people say that ‘midrange is where the magic happens’ and I’d agree to a point – one needs a well-integrated bass and treble as well. The midrange has good clarity, but the RE-400 is better in this aspect. Still, you’ll be able to hear every instrument nice and clear, if not with the finesse its more expensive siblings provide. At times, I thought the mids were just a bit too shouty and forward with some tracks, but that was more because of the track’s mastering, rather than the headphone itself. For the price again, there’s little to fault here – a well-presented midrange, with forwardness that, coupled with the punchy bass, makes for a very dynamic and exciting listen. Particularly this is because of the nice bass-midrange integrity and their integration. Still, there’s a coloration to the sound and this is a colored headphone. Mostly in the treble presentation.
- In the treble, the integrity starts to fall apart a bit. This is mainly because of a large 10 – 12 KHz dip, which is followed by another 15 – 16 KHz one. This mostly does not affect primary harmonics directly, save for a few selected ones, like certain cymbal crashes or some ruffling electric guitars. It does, however, affect almost all secondary harmonics, that is vocal’s/instrument’s decay, air and timbre, to a point. That means that the core tone is still there – vocals, guitars, violins, … - the problem is that instead of a particular instrument/voice naturally decaying away as it’s been struck/sung, it is cut off right after it’s been presented. So a voice is not carried through the air, the string does not vibrate through the air, the cymbal crash is not carried through the air. No instrument or voice is, because the large dips take this away. Instead they simply vanish in place, with a very short and unnatural decay. In return, however, this makes for a very smooth and fatigue-free treble, but nonetheless for a treble that is a bit uneven in its energy, making also some instruments or vocals sound more distant than others, depending on the frequency at which they are recorded. The extension, correlating with air presence to a point, is also poor as a result. It is a far cry from the RE-400’s light and airy presentation – one that I personally find more accurate. I am not saying the treble is destroyed because of it – not at all. It is simply important to point out that if you like a presentation that is airy and extended, this is not the right earphone for you. However, if you want a headphone that has a very smooth, non-fatiguing treble, accompanied by a very competent and sweet midrange and potent bass, conveying an all dynamic sound, then this might be the earphone for you! It is certainly the preferred signature for traveling, as opposed to a bright and harsh one. I can’t stand a harsh sounding IEM on the go, can you? Dark ones, such as this, still are the preferred and better choice in my opinion.
- Male vocals have good presence overall, with strong body and weight, but not overly so – they don’t sound bloated or overly heavy. I’d say male vocalists sound a bit more present than on the RE-400, but they aren’t conveyed with the same detail and finesse. The extension is again not too great because of the lack of air but compensating for that, the presence is more than adequate and there’s nothing inherently missing in that aspect, especially for the money.
- The female vocals have decent presence, but this time I feel the RE-400 has more of it. To a point, this is affected by the frequency they occupy – if a female vocalist’s voice is conveyed in one of the dipped points of the RE-300h’s frequency response, then her presence will be greatly reduced. Regardless of where a vocalist is, the extension and ‘power’ of her voice is still not going to be great as the air needed to convey it is simply not there. For the price, the female vocals are good but not great, as while the presence is not an issue most of the time, they don’t extend too far, which I find fundamental for proper female vocal reproduction. If you really like female vocals more than anything, the RE-400 does them better.
- Sibilance is not an issue with these. There’s minimal sibilance even with the brightest of tracks. Granted, the RE-400 fares just as well in most cases and, at the same time, can convey more air and information. But looking strictly at the sibilant aspects, both earphones pass with flying colors and certainly don’t disappoint here. As someone who is very, very sensitive to sibilance, I approve of this.
- These have a decently sized soundstage, though in comparison to the RE-400 it is a bit smaller and the instruments sound a bit less distinctive and slightly congested. The difference is pretty small though and I took no issues with the RE-300h’s soundstage per se. Instruments had a very decent and rather precise left and right spacing, while the vocals mostly stayed in the middle. Most IEMs lack the depth of full-size headphones so that is not something to criticize, but the panning from left to right of various instruments and vocals was very good. I imagine a bit more air would help with the staging, but such is not the tuning of these earbuds.
- The imaging is likewise mostly stellar, but again a slight step down from the RE-400. Instruments and vocals are locked into their position and there’s no center-stage issue that I could detect. For the price, there’s little to criticize, though I think a bit more air would again help and as a result the RE-400 does image with better precision. If you just want to immerse yourself in the music for cheap, then the -300h is certainly the right place to start for sure.
- I talked a bit about this in the ‘soundstage’ and ‘imaging’ sections and basically the same applies here. The -300h, as a consequence of having more impact and weight to its sound overall and having a shelved treble region, has a bit worse separation than the -400. You’ll be able to separate things just fine though, but not to the same degree of accuracy of the RE-400. But what you lose in accuracy, you do gain in enjoyment and this indeed rings true here. Not that the RE-400 isn’t enjoyable, of course.
- There’s enough of it to keep you interested in your music. This earphone certainly doesn’t sound like a muddied mess - on the contrary, even though the treble is shelved, which often makes matters worse - it is still very decent in those aspects. Decent as in ‘most $50 dollar earphones with similar signature won’t give me that’ and ‘maybe the RE-400 is better because it costs a bit more and has a different tuning’. You can just buy the 300h and reap the benefits of spending a bit less, hearing a bit less but enjoying a bit more, if this is your cup of tea. Or don’t. I should say the two have a very different tuning, if that hasn’t been obvious until now. One targets detail and finesse, the other has musicality and dynamics. One is also better built.
- There’s not much going on in terms of air here… The RE-400 has it, the RE-300h doesn’t, or just a tiny little bit. It reminds me of my previous HE-560/HE-400i and RE-400/RE-600 comparisons, where I criticized the RE-600/HE-400i for a relative lack of air and openness. Well, they still have more of both than the RE-300h. That’s because of the severe dips in the treble, obviously. I guess you can’t have both a completely fatigue-free headphone and lots of air, because air requires lots of treble energy, which will almost always bring at least a hint of fatigue. Though the RE-400 and HE-560 do come to mind as examples of just that done right. But they’re more expensive. They also again target different tonalities and tunings. For what this earphone is, I don’t blame its lack of air – it is tuned that way - but it is a fact and it is something that should be noted. If you are an air lover, this earphone is not meant for you. But you probably already know that! Or you do now. Nevertheless, there’s more that makes a headphone than just air.
- Very much connected with the lack of air, I found the decay to be simply off. To me, decay is a combination of timbre and the subsequent air, which contributes to the realism. So basically timbre + air = decay => realism. So in this case, the RE-300h has a good timbre but lacks air, so the decay is off and so is the realism and overall transient response. What this means that the instruments might sound good, but they’re colored and thereby don’t sound very realistic. The -300h has a pleasing tonality to it but simply sounds ‘canned’ compared to my other headphones. Is it more engaging or better that way? Yes and no. Depends. You decide. The rating does not tell the whole story and it is what it is.
- The RE-300h’s signature makes it a dark sounding headphone – the bass is very active and punchy, the midrange is forward and dynamic and the treble is… shelved and veiled. It makes for a very forgiving and dynamic headphone, with good musicality, presence and PRaT throughout lows and mids. The treble is undeniably its weakest link, especially compared to the RE-400, which clearly outclasses it there. The RE-400 is not dark, it is slightly on the warm side, but it is extended and isn’t dark. These two headphones target two very different audiences and have two very different sound signatures, midrange being the one aspect where these headphones are relatively similar. As for balance, the RE-300h is balanced about 2/3 through and some, so 7 is about right.
Subjective value for money/Conclusion
Judging a headphone is hard. While it might be obvious that I’d reach for the RE-400 in a heartbeat, any day of the week, a friend of mine might do the exact opposite. Headphone signature is an acquired taste then and a personal preference that might change over time. 3 years ago, I would reach for the RE-300h myself, because that was my sound preference then, but since I joined head-fi, my sonic priorities have changed significantly and they will probably change again over time.
The RE-300h is a well-built earphone, versatile in all aspects, with great fit and ergonomic properties and a sound quality that is a rare find in its price category, regardless of tuning or signature. At 49$ it is a great value – a headphone that will probably last for years with an enjoyable tonality to boot, that one can savor at any time.
The RE-400 at 79$ is more pricey, yet possibly close enough to directly compete, but should it? It is nowhere near as rigid and requires care if it is to last for some time. As far as sound quality goes, this earphone is a perfect match for me. It has all the things I like – tight bass, air, finesse, mostly smooth and extended treble and it pretty much nails every aspect for me. Despite this, all the build quality issues I and others have had with it are real. But I still don’t regret buying it for the sound quality alone and how well it fits my taste. But that’s my taste and the build quality can be a substantial sacrifice for many. You might like things the other way around, prefer different things or have different priorities.
To be honest, I am not sure these two should compete the same way I made them to, but they are not priced too far apart – within ~30$ off each other with the current RE-400 price - and I decided to compare the two a bit as such. Simply put, both sound great and have their strengths and weaknesses. Your taste should ultimately determine which one you choose. You honestly can’t go wrong with either one. Or the RE-600, which lies somewhere in between, if that’s more to your taste. Yep, I reviewed that too! There’s also the upcoming and mysterious RE-1000…
In conclusion, the RE-300h is a solid product that’s certainly worth a good shot if you like similarly tuned headphones, or simply want to try something different for cheap. Or just, you know, are curios. Thank you for the read.
Overall Value 8/10 [at 49$]