I am aware I have been absent from this arena for a while and I could write pages on why this has been but you don’t need to be bored by this! One of the reasons though, is that frankly, neither Josh or I can be bothered to write about the same crap that keeps getting churned out at the moment! I don’t have the time in my life to give an honest effort evaluating a product I simply can’t enjoy. – Thankfully, there are a few products I currently have that I thoroughly enjoy and when the time becomes available I will write about them. StereoPravda’s SB-7 is one of them so stay tuned. A couple of others are thankfully the subject of this review… RE: The Latest HiFiMAN IEMs.
So I love HiFiMAN IEMs, I have never had a bad experience with the sound of them. The RE400 was a ridiculous feat of its time under 100 bucks, the RE600 more than warranted its price increase and I am pretty sure they both won awards in Inearspace & TotallyDubbed’s IEM awards 2013. That was some time ago now and going back even further I actually preferred their older RE-272 even more. Man that earphone still to this day gives me a shiver down my spine just thinking about its poetic presentation of music. Funnily enough the hobbyist that loaned me his RE272 back in the day now works for HiFiMAN and contacted me about reviewing these two models today.
I missed the RE800 and RE2000, they were getting some chat just as I was moving to Oman and beginning to go underground as far as Inearspace was concerned. I didn’t even pull up a review of one so when Mark asked me if I fancied the new silver versions I had no idea they were a thing or more importantly why?! Firstly they seem a little cheaper without any 24K Gold on the housing, i’d rather save some bucks if we still get the same going on inside. I think change in housing material also has removed a few grams off the weight (11 grams less) as well as some slight housing shape changes by the looks of some image comparisons. These earphones run for $599 & $1500. They both use HiFiMAN’s new topology driver. It is a single 9.2mm dynamic with a nano particle treated diaphragm to control the surface structure and there for allow much more precise control of sound. HiFiMAN have always strongly led the charge in dynamic drivers over balanced armature and this is said to be their current pinnacle of dynamic sound!
The housings are actually an aluminum alloy (in opposed to brass with the old versions), not silver as one may guess based on the name. That being said they certainly do look silver so does it matter? These are the cost effective variants after all. It has clearly been the better part of 5 years since I unboxed a HiFiMAN product but wow they have come along way in creating an experience for their buyers. I am opening a HiFiMAN IEM like a kid in a candy store. You now get a bloody owners guide in immaculate english, back in the day you’d be lucky to not find a spelling mistake on the box.
The RE2000s are loaded in a slick crushproof case and the cable comes in a separate box. Also in a separate box is various tips included and they answered my prayers and put the selection in a little foam casing, so I don’t have to rummage my fingers around a tiny silicone baggy. They did stick to their ways with the included tips that are a little more thought out that your usual mundane selection and you get a range of different silicone styles. The RE800 has a slightly less premium clamshell case and they revert back to the classic baggie for a huge tip selection. Why you get loads more options with the 800 does strike me as a little backward? It comes in and equally as stylish box with the same hard covered guide.While I did mention sound was always top drawer on HiFiMAN IEMs, one of their biggest drawbacks would be the build quality. RE400s were notorious for failing and even the RE600 with a hefty price tag did not feature removable cables. They didn’t actually sway to removable cables until the RE1000 CIEM (built by Unique Melody not them) and then finally the RE2000. Even the RE800 still is hardwired, something I will always see as a negative on an earphone of that price, especially when it goes without any type of strain relief!!!
The two earphones are designed differently. The 800 is your standard trumpet style that can be worn as easily straight down as it can over the ear while the 2000 is a angular beast that will slip over your ear. It’s 2 pin connector is fairly recessed but they have included a little adapter so your existing cables will fit it properly, thats a cute little touch. The metallic structure feels great, until you get to the odd addition of plastic to the housings, which just seems a little unnecessary at the price point. Both models seem to have a very similar cable (2000 is thicker), one that on the inside is silver plated copper and on the outside feels rubbery and supple. After the Y-split is much thicker and as of now and has been performing admirably.
With a bulky box shape and a short stout the 2000 doesn’t have the deepest insertion. Probably why they come preloaded with a dual flange tip and have 2 sizes of triple flange in the box in the hope of adding some extra depth to the insertion. Regardless of tip I tried they did still have generally low level of isolation compared to similar styles of balanced armature earphones that do not share the need to be ported. Good job that this is an audiophile delight and not a stage monitor.
The 800 are a much smaller profile and therefore with a little tug of the ear can get deeper into your canal. I wouldn’t go as far to say they isolate any better, but they certainly are more comfortable. They are light, small and disappear effortlessly into my ear. I do get microphonics when wearing cable down so I prefer to slap the cable over my ear and get stuck in. RE800 is ten out of ten for wearability for me while the RE2000 would push a four.
Thick & Thin
I will talk about the RE2000 first. It sounds epic. Really epic. I wasn’t messing around when I said I need to enjoy an earphone to write about it. I won’t be giving a minute of my time to listen to something I don’t want to. I WANT TO LISTEN TO THESE. I can happily say they injected a little passion back into this hobby for me, downloading new tunes, revisiting old, comparing to my other current favorites like aforementioned ProPhile8 and SB-7. It feels like the old days.
I want to get straight into the expansive presentation of these. It is really wide and instruments have incredible spatial precision. It doesn’t seem to be as deep as the PP8 but regardless it has so much more width and space between percussion that it sounds a lot bigger and is way more “out of head”. It isn’t just all about width either with a clear and focussed centre image glueing everything together in the middle for a soundstage that is realistic as well as large. Very few IEMs create an experience like this in terms of sheer airy expansion.
Assessing the actual sound signature and I think we just about have a mild V shape. The bass is oh so juicy and we keep thickness into the lower midrange, with a slight disservice to a shy(er) presence range. We get a little bit of extra energy with some sparkle in the treble to complete a full and cohesive sound. Even the areas we see least of we have a lot, just not quite as much as in the bass. Putting all the quantities and frequency response aside and we have a very refined and clear sound. It doesn’t have the SB-7s somewhat extreme and overkill resolution but is an earphone that actually seems to play on something as benchmarked as the HD800s’s level and that is me really singing high praise. When it comes to technicalities these are without fault, but then again I guess that should be expected with quite the asking price, but I think these are better than just that.
The bass is incredible, there would definitely have been a day where I would have said these are a little too boosted in the mid-bass at the price but right now I am addicted to the quality. The speed and punch makes for such ample quantity to sound almost linear and not distracting in the slightest. Even the PP8 that probably has less gain, sounds heavier because it can’t match the finesse. Its like Mohammed Ali of bass responses, nimble yet thunderous on impact. I find comparing them in bass response to the SB-7 futile, they are very lacking in that area so these come off as bass cannons, not much learned.
Even though I have called these V shaped the mids are just so creamy and smooth. Leaning to the lower midrange ever so slightly they come across as a tad warm, but nothing extreme as far as I am hearing. Just a little rich. Just the right amount of thickness as well, everything is in proportion. The timbre although probably quite different just gives me flashbacks to some of the best dynamics of the past, products like the legendary Sony MDR-EX1000. Even dated products like that just have a tonality to instruments that is so much more natural than either the thin or loose sound balanced armatures can have, regardless of the driver count. This is not something you can emulate. Even with a slight upper midrange recession the range is captivating and correct and like I have said about this earphone previously, flawless.
The treble may complete a V (just) but it is certainly not as favored as the low end. 5kHz mounts a little sparkle and that gives a fun ring to notes and extension is great. I would potentially say that the treble doesn’t quite have the same realism as midrange and bass, but we are splitting hairs if that is the case. It doesn’t have that analytical flare like Campfire’s Andromeda or the SB-7, but then you never have that risk of getting cut.
The sound tuning of these is explicitly not to my usual taste. I normally would strive for neutrality in a flagship product and while technically these are as good as it gets, they do have colouration, no one can deny that. But they just work for me, they are music and maybe I have found that in my break from reviewing, perfection comes in music and not a flat frequency curve? Maybe I am just going mad!
Coming off the RE2000, the RE800 sounds thin. That isn’t actually the case but they have quite a tonality shift throughout the frequencies. They are also slightly easier to drive. The biggest differences would be more polite bass and a brighter treble. The bass still extends and is still of a higher calibre but does without the boosting. It is weird that the cheaper model for once is the more “reference” tuned while the flagship would be more “fun”. Inverted commas to take the comments with the salt intended. The bass is not as obvious, especially under 75Hz but the mid-bass can still play its hand but with a slightly spongier impact. Without the mid-bass bloom the midrange is not as warm and instead favors higher mids which build into a very in-your-face 7kHz peak. A peak that with some tips will leave a bit of sibilance.
Even though the upper midrange is more plentiful, it doesn’t do so with the composure of the RE2000, instead we have excess energy and heaps of clarity. In the past I was all for that, hell it’s not as if I am having problems listening to these anyway, especially with their superior comfort. I may be wrong here but listening to these I get whiffs of both the positives from RE600 & RE272. The RE600 was perhaps too conserved and sheltered sounding while the RE272 sometime got hot with to much adrenaline, this is the middle ground and it is a delicious effect. I find no offense in the treble, it certainly has a lot going on but I have heard less sanitary replications at higher price points and those earphones have still been praised on all merits. Certain people will find issue though so be aware if you’re particularly sensitive in this area.
While right now I just want to get go back to the RE2000, they are similar enough – and while currently I just prefer their presentation, I do think in the long run the 800 could end up as my favorite with better balance & sublime comfort. I know most of what I said about the RE800s has been how these differ from the RE2000 because tonally they are tuned very differently, but technically you can tell they are cut from the same cloth. The RE800 isn’t as wide but still sounds big and instrument operation is stellar. You still have amazing speed, refinement and liquid coherency across the ranges.
I don’t think the prices of these are justified, nor do I think there is great value in any earphone this price. I find I end up traveling with cheaper earphones these days because I am less worried about what if they get broken or lost and I have enough that still sound fabulous. But what I am more happy about is that the RE2000 proudly wears its cost while just supporting one dynamic driver. Nothing has changed in terms of driver count since their original cheap RE-2. Yes, they have developed and pushed the technology and made advances in both sound and design but they aren’t trying to trick you into thinking you need more. In fact they are spending a lot of time bringing down the hype and rubbish a lot of manufactures are telling you. I can conclude based on my experience with the RE800 and RE2000 that one driver can indeed paint the whole picture as well as anything else out there.
The RE2000 is without doubt in my top three favourite universal IEMs, the other two being the PP8 and Campfire Andromeda. But while in terms of sound I may prefer the RE2000, the Campfire is built a billion times better, with a fancy cable and bag and the PP8 is leagues ahead in comfort.
I am all for prioritising sound but if you are listening for hours on end comfort is going to be the definitive factor. I also have my hesitations about how these will hold up in the future, they even look a bit tacky in my macro images, is it wrong that if I was picking these or the Andromeda’s based solely on aesthetics it would not even be a close competition. I am not even going to finalise with whether or not I think these are a good value purchase, just that I am besotted by their sound.
The RE800 is a weird one. Cheaper. More Analytical. Comfier. If anything it certainly seems like the easy recommendation. But then can I bring myself to recommend a $599 earphone that doesn’t even have a strain relief, let alone removable cables? You get a warranty but I don’t want to be waiting a few weeks every few months to get the very ordinary cable replaced. Maybe I am cynical and it will last forever but I have my doubts. Beyond that they are worth their weight in SILVER.