Tuesday, 27 June 2017

HIFIMAN RE1000 Custom / Universal Earphone Review by mark241

HIFIMAN's big dual driver custom fit offering finally gets a looking at in some detail.
HIFIMAN RE1000 Custom / Universal Earphone Review by mark2410

First Impressions

Well the very first time I heard these was waaaaaaay back at Canjam London, 2016.  I didn’t spend too long with them obviously as you can’t at a show but I did make a note or two as I went around listening to things.  If you want to know what I said, you can find a pic of my scrawled notes in the Headfi Canjam London 2016 impressions thread.  Suffice to say it was largely a bunch of expletives.  How a year can change things yet others hardly change.  While these are no longer the far extreme high end they once were as I’ve been playing with the RE800 and RE2000 for months now yet…. These are still damn fine.

Now, I have a universal pair that gets used for demo’s so the full custom experience should be a little bit different but I’d like to think aside from a slight treble dampening the foam tips I’ve got on the sound shouldn’t change all that much.
 HIFIMAN RE1000 Custom / Universal Earphone Review by mark2410


HIFIMAN 901S with Minibox Gold card, HIFIMAN Supermini, HIFIMAN Megamini, Nuforce uDAC 3 and Hifiman 901s + Dock into the Graham Slee Solo Ultra Linear, lastly my Google Pixel.


Grandly grandiose and full bodied, these having a dual driver set up means the lows can do what they want without having to concern themselves with what the treble is doing.  Strangely for a dynamic these feel very closed.  The fan that keeps blowing in my face generates some wind noise so they can’t be totally but this feels very closed.  The bass too then takes on a certain darkness and weight of that from a closed headphone.  Heavy, full and solid.  It’s funny but I almost want to call it a little slow, funny that as for a dynamic it’s really not yet having been playing with the RE2000 and its lighting agility, this feels beside it so grown up and mature.  Listening to Twenty One Pilots “House of Gold” the bass feels big, beefy and rich, maybe a bit overly so yet these are wow, hearty and potent little beasts.  Okay maybe not that little.  Hmm just how big is the diver in these things, it feels and sounds huge.  (9mm)

Going to town with these and slapping on some party tunes, they feel endlessly powerful.  While they aren’t marketed as so they have big boost in the bass, slightly rounded towards the mid bass then a little peek right down low.  Doing the Cheskey audio demo, heartbeats the 40Hz def has a little dip before the 30 and 20 roar back at you.  Good god that 20Hz one, there is no stopping the driver in here.  Holy crap these will shake your brain apart if you let them.  Woah its impressive though while I’m not accustomed to music containing that much so low down, a good friend of mine is an organist and I could see him wetting his pants with excitement over these.   Stunningly vigorous, visceral and a little disturbing.

Tonality the bass is a little rich, slightly more of a brown than a grey but it has that certain dark quality, a foreboding and gloomy candle lit gothic architectural wonder.  Like there is some impending horror hiding in the shadows.  Mossorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” in IEM form.  Its’ so darkly delicious yet something scary I just can’t put my finger on.  These are at their best when you throw them headlong into something beastly.  Having just listened to “Night On Bald Mountain” 4 times something is clearly working.

From a completely detached perspective, these are rather bass heavy, very atypically so for HIFIMAN, so much so you could legitimately could start to think of these as bass cannons.  They are big, vast scale and power with a hint of an obfucative grainy darkness.  It is epically powerful and while it has me giddy like a school girl at times (its super fun party time) in delicate works it is a big hump that, well it’s like giving the Venus de Milo a breast augmentation.  There is something a bit wrong with that, I know it’s not quite right but…… I cannot help grinning like an idiot anyway.
 HIFIMAN RE1000 Custom / Universal Earphone Review by mark2410


Next to the bass the mids are following up behind, wonderful clarity as always (mids are what I love and HIFIMAN always do great mids) yet they aren’t so dominant and I find that beside the RE800 these feel so much deeper, warmer and darker.  The 800 can do little and delicate vocals that glide and float across the senses.  These are deep and vast and rich and monumental, impressive and elephantine.  Like some grand wall of power is where they shine.  Squeeee, its fun and silly and wild and sumptuous and flowing and dark and secretive.  Some faint monster hiding in the dark shadows of that grand gothic cathedral I spoke of earlier.  A gargoyle half covered in shade waiting to thunder or to melt in the gloom.  I may have been listening to “Night On Bald Mountain” too many times.  If you have never seen it, go get a copy of Fantaisa and watch / listen to it.

A/B’ing back and forth I find the mids on the 1000 to be a little on the rich, slightly thick for something of this calibre, beside the 800 the 800 feels so light and nimble, so much midrange detail and at first glance the 1000 is too thick, it hides things.  At first look anyway, when you pay closer attention it actually has a very good degree of detail yet it’s not so readily apparent.  Like a coffee where someone has been a little over zealous with the cream.  Yes, it’s delicious, creamy and richly sumptuous but perhaps a touch too much so.  Then when I stop flicking about and just listen the detail levels are such that I don’t in any way feel anything is missing.  Then I fire up Nana Mouskouri’s “Ave Maria” and simply melt into it.  Her weirdly ethereal voice and Schubert’s masterpiece go hand in so well, airy and dreamy and while there should be more air, it remains a staggeringly beautiful rendition.

The mids are creamy and rich, we have established already but they are sufficiently clear and detailed enough that this level of richness isn’t over kill.  Never the less these are at their most happy I think with some beastly power flowing forth.  The most light and delicate vocals in particular not having all the air they should.  Then I hit the skip button a few times and your ears are thrown in to this abundance of riches.  Enya’s “Book of Days” takes on an epic scale.  Carly Simons “Let the River Run” is like a deep flowing river dragging you along in the current.  Grand and impressive for sure but hmm, maybe it’s all a little too grand and impressive for all the time.
 HIFIMAN RE1000 Custom / Universal Earphone Review by mark2410


Now, I’m using universals and I’ve got on foam tips so the treble I will be getting will be a little dampened beyond what a pure custom model should be.  However if you’re after brilliant, in your face treble, details hurled at you like an exploding crystal decanter hitting a granite floor……. this isn’t it.  Opening up the big IEM tub and grabbing the Finder X1 (first trebly thing I spotted) and they sound so shrill and brittle, so much treble it’s like someone’s grinding slivers of broken glass into my ears.  Okay I exaggerate a little but you get the idea.  The treble on the 1000 is that bit muted, relaxed, gently so and it just rolls softly over your ear drums.  It’s a highly pleasing presentation and for me I’m VERY happy with it bit I’d be lying if I said it made for a reference flat sound.  Treble junkies and absolute purists will probably not be satisfied with the quantity.

The quality though as ever from HIFIMAN I really cannot fault, I would expect it to have been a bit more trebly but how much of that is down to my using a universal with foamy tips, I cannot say, the flavour of the treble is slightly warmed over where it should be, smooth and enveloping.  The detail level is very good but its rather obscure, its so not in your face.  Yet while I keep feeling it should be a bit slow, then I test it with something and nope its not, not at all but that doesn’t seem right.  How can it be fast as it is yet sound so laid back and smooth?  I need to investigate what driver is doing the treble but I have a feeling it could be the one used in the RE-ZERO or maybe the 262.  Its perplexing, I can hear that its fast, the micro detail is good but it is more relaxed feeling.  Time and again I drift back to soft and smooth tracks, like Barbra’s version of “Ne Me Quitte Pas” and just melt into it.

As much I find the presentation to be delightful on the ear I think that it does want to be paired to a crisp and clean source, if you want the treble to come out and play.  It may be detailed and fast but stylistically you could very easy not notice much of the detail otherwise.  It is there but draped over chaise lounge.
 HIFIMAN RE1000 Custom / Universal Earphone Review by mark2410


Its labelled as being like Carnegie Hall, which I’ve never been in but I’m not seeing it.  The presentation is just too rich to provide a truly open and spacious soundstage.  Its grand and melodramatic, a bombastic wonder in grand symphonic pieces.  Mars himself could be conducting the Orchestra when playing back Holst’s tribute to him.  It’s fun and giddy and HUGE and powerful like the world is getting ready to end.  Yet airy…....not so much.  However, in vocal heavy pieces it doesn’t ever pull in too close.  “Papa Can You Hear Me” hasn’t the up-close intimacy I’d like.  Nevertheless the richness of the vocals are such that I don’t care, air is something my lungs need not my ears.  Volume, body and power are the watchwords here.


Great.  Granted I have a universal which you probably won’t and your comfort will be totally dependent on how your ear moulds are and what not.  Still do note that they are physically very large, by universal standards these are massive things but then what custom isn’t?
 HIFIMAN RE1000 Custom / Universal Earphone Review by mark2410


For me, in and done but again I’ve got universals, it should be for a custom you slide in with a little twist but it’s all your ears dependent.


In a complete departure from every HIFIMAN cable this one is braided.  I can only assume that was Unique Melody’s influence as they make the physical housing.  Oh and the cable is removable as is the UM way.  It’s a nice cable physically yet I can’t help feeling something silvery looking would go so nicely visually with them.
 HIFIMAN RE1000 Custom / Universal Earphone Review by mark2410


Well, with their ear guide memory wire bits, I did get a bit.  If I pushed them right, tight onto my ears it went away but this is why I like removable ear guides.  Not that it was bad or anything but wearing up I like there to be none at all but I could snap my head about and make the braiding rub on my collars.


I really do like them.  I’m a sucker for silver but I really want a pair like they use in the promo images.  The smokey black and then with the tips offset red and blue…..omg it looks so good.  Sadly, I don’t have my own custom pair (yet anyway) so I’m doing the ghetto solution, red and blue foamy tips.  Still the silver outer back plate has garnered a few, “ooooh what are those” enquiries.  Of course, you can choose whatever you want.  The tip and the main body can be whatever from a selection and then the faceplate can be from another bigger selection.  Some look awesome but some….. seriously who is picking the 6 wood ones or the gold glitter one, I shouldn’t judge.  (yeah, I’d be totally judging you if you had gold glitter ones.)
 HIFIMAN RE1000 Custom / Universal Earphone Review by mark2410


They come with a case which is more or less it if you have the full custom version, if the universal you get a handful of tips but I’d say just jump to foamys otherwise their being so sealed gave me that little suction air pressure effect.  While totally fine in normal use but reviewing where your swapping back and forth it really begins to stress my ears.  That’s why I generally always jump to foam tips when reviewing.
 HIFIMAN RE1000 Custom / Universal Earphone Review by mark2410


While I do not expect a custom to be run out of a big desktop amp I also don’t expect it to be run out of a phone either, yet it’s actually really easy to drive.  Owl City’s “If My Heart Were a House” came on and the bassline, Holy crap!!!!!  That is a bass line and the 1000 out of the Huawei P8 (it fit in there without having to take the case off) roared out, positively thunderous, ear shaking, oh my god it’s an earthquake bass!!!  Plus, the thing goes absurdly deep but that is extremely clean for just out of a phone.  Maybe I’ve been overkilling it with the desktop amp?  It’s actually sounding freakishly good from the phone.  Maybe its lack of electrical power has toned down the richness of the 1000 and the P8 is a bit on the clean / lean side of things.  So is the little 1G Ipod Shuffle I keep around.  Which, actually isn’t such the great pairing I was hoping for.  It is lean a bit yeah but the 1000 is fairly sensitive and its picking up all the static that the Shuffle spits out, for me that rather spoils the show.
So the RE1000 it seems is very easy to drive out of any old thing but…. you need to stick to things with a pretty black background or hiss crackle crackle is all I’m noticing.  Maybe vinyl lovers will love it, they seem to love that extraneous noise in recordings.  Still the take away is, no need for power here and I’d say a little bit of a colder source works really well with them.
 HIFIMAN RE1000 Custom / Universal Earphone Review by mark2410


While the thud of your heel into the ground may be amplified with a closed IEM it also means that the external isolation is extreme for a dynamic set up.  Its pushing at the door of what a typical BA IEM can deliver.  This means that for most uses they are great, for a bus or a flight, they are perfectly usable.  Maybe not for a massive long flight but easily good enough to use for most.  Naturally you won’t hear traffic noises so if your new to high isolation IEM’s then please do remember use your eyes when near traffic or the last thing you hear will be your skull impacting some motorised vehicle.
 HIFIMAN RE1000 Custom / Universal Earphone Review by mark2410

Build Quality

The pair I have here has been around the block a few times as it’s a pair that has been used for demos for a long while.  It’s held up to all the abuse airport baggage handlers could throw at it and hordes of you people at various audio shows.  To my eyes they appear unblemished and unscathed so I can only rate them as being rather good then.  It’s hard to tell without a time machine of course how well things survive but these have been used and abused by many and are still going strong.
 HIFIMAN RE1000 Custom / Universal Earphone Review by mark2410


Well, is any earphone really worth more than US$100, hell I know people that don’t think any earphone is worth more than US$10 so can we ever sit and say this is worth more than 20 years’ worth of water for 250 people in Africa?  The reality is, first world values are more like, is it better value than a weekend in Barcelona or Prague?  In which case I can absolutely say yes, these will last you damn sight longer than a weekend and bring you considerably more joy.  If it comes down to what would bring your soul more joy, I’d take these in a heartbeat.  Also, l like that these can come in either a full on custom fit or if you want you can get it as a universal, why don’t all custom makers let you do that?  You know if you don’t fancy hard acrylic or you’re in a band and you guys want to be able to share, just whip off the tips and you can rotate roles round in the band.
N.B. these are presently (24/06/2017) on sale at US$699 which is very significant saving and wildly boosts their value for money.
 HIFIMAN RE1000 Custom / Universal Earphone Review by mark2410


So these are not what I really expected when I set out.  I remember my time at Canjam last year and being somewhat blown away.  For me they were the thing at the show that year I most wanted.  For practical reasons, I gravitate to IEM’s because a big chunk of my available listening time is being sat on a bus, commuting.  That is what got me into audio and the world of earphones outside of what is available in a high-street shop.  That good stuff, actually seriously good stuff was out there if you just knew where to look.  Thus, for me the most important listening space is one in public where I can shift into my own little universe.  Me and the music.  I want, no need, high enough isolation so I don’t have to hear traffic noise or anyone when near me.  I need something I can carry and they also need to be small enough to go in my pocket when I’m done.  These are pushing that last criteria a little but they are totally liveable.  For the price, a slightly big case you get a rip-roaring sub-woofer in your skull.  Not that I’m saying more bass equals better, the purist in me is a little unhappy at the bass quantity.

Having now spent more time with the RE1000 I’ve found it to be at its best for me, out of leaner sounding things like my Studio V (which is what I was using at Canjam) that bass is just so epic, so ludicrously deep, sooooooooooooo much power.  Good lord that Cheskey Heartbeat demo thing is intense, seriously strange, the depth and the air movement it’s like my whole head is pulsating.  It’s so firm too, being a closed, sealed tight that pressure is giddy, epic and queasy and unsettling plus a heap of other adjectives.  It’s a wonder for sure but all that power, thrilling but aurally exhausting for my delicate little ears.  It’s just such an extravaganza in fast paced or complex music.  If we then look to music that is more me, smooth and sweepingly gently flowing melodies.  “The Windmills of Your Mind” sounds so effortless and creamy but like audio crack I cannot stop myself putting on some poptastic sound explosion.  It is fun, lots and lots of fun.
 HIFIMAN RE1000 Custom / Universal Earphone Review by mark2410
So, would I buy one?  Yep.  I mean it might not be the only IEM I would ever want to own and I’m personally still a total sucker for the RE800 as its tonality and balance just happen to perfectly pair up with my ears and my tastes.  These would be what I’d have around for bass party time.  As I write that Owl City’s “Tip of the Iceberg” comes on and it’s like someone’s got a gigantic sub in a sealed room, then added another five of them for good measure.  It’s fun and thrilling and giddy and silly.  Like eating a mound of profiteroles, gloriously indulgent and rich but not maybe something I would personally want every day.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a mountain of profiteroles to devour.

HIFIMAN RE1000 Custom / Universal Earphone Quick Review by mark2410

HIFIMAN RE1000 Custom / Universal Earphone Quick Review by mark2410

HIFIMAN RE1000 Custom / Universal Earphone Review by mark2410

Brief:  Two times the drivers, Ten times the power.
Price:  US$999 but presently on sale for US$699
Specifications:  Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz, Impedance:  12Ω, Sensitivity:  105dB, Dual Dynamic Driver, 9mm Dynamic Driver, 8.5mm Dynamic Driver, User Replaceable Braided Cable.
Accessories:  You get a case, nothing that special but hey ho.
Build Quality:  The pair I have here has been a demo set for ages now so, it has actually been in use for ages and it’s still going strong.  Big, solid and short of accidently standing on them they should last as long as you do.
Isolation:  Freakishly good for a dynamic.  They feel and sound completely sealed which is rare in a dynamic.  We are talking practically BA levels so you could not only use on a bus but get away with a Tube commute or two.  Excellent isolators so please if near traffic, use your eyes or get an organ donor card.
Comfort/Fit:  I have a universal version here but I’d expect almost everyone to get the full custom version.  Therefor you should get a perfect fit and likewise perfect comfort.  Though with the universal here I was good with the foam tips.  Just remember these are huge in comparison to normal universals (as all customs are.)
Aesthetics:  Customs.  Size aside you determine the colour options used so your ones should always look great to you. Even if you have no taste and want the gold glitter faceplates.
Sound:  Epic, vast grandeur and power.  The micro detailing is good but it’s not thrust at you in anyway, these are slanted to the bottom end and the bass driver is a thunderous beast of a thing.  Woah, it’s like it might rip your face off at any minute.  Stunning, in its raw pawer capabilities and at times even too much.  The depth is frankly stupid.  The Cheskey 20 Hz heart beat thing makes me giddy, I grin like an idiot then I realise my skull is pulsating with it.  There is just so much power on hand, they are so easy to drive that if anything running off a weedy source like a phone is not only easy but I found preferable.  It tamed the bass potency and nudged them towards the light.  Not that they are very trebly, there is a great deal of micro detail in there, yet the richness of the presentation does somewhat gloss over it.  The creaminess overshadows the most tiny of nuances to give this grandiose wall of acoustic monumentality.  Thunderous and magnificent which yearns to have songs with power behind them played.  Mids so flowing and smooth be they string or vocal, as little too creamy maybe, so it does stifle breathy delicate stuff a little but you’ll be having so fun you won’t likely care if you even notice.
Value:  Sure 1k isn’t cheap but what custom is and none I’ve met has the vigour on the low end this one has.  You want awesome stuff, your wallet takes a hit, simples.
Pro’s:  Stunning bass power and ridiculous depth.  High isolation. Super creamy.
Con’s:  Bass is rather dominant.  Treble too smooth for some.

Friday, 23 June 2017

HIFIMAN RE800 Earphone Review by mark2410

HIFIMAN RE800 Earphone Review by mark2410

Disclaimer: I work with HFIMAN so feel free not to believe me if you so wish.


First Impressions: Well this isn’t really my “first” impression. It technically is with an actual retail set but…. Well yeah that working with bit I mentioned. I’ve been playing with these for basically the last 6 months and unsurprisingly, I like them. I like them rather a lot. Okay so I’ve liked every IEM from HIFIMAN I’ve ever heard so this is not likely news to anyone. These are in keeping with the RE262 – RE600 vein and it matches up more or less perfectly with my personal tastes. They are bit warm, bit bass boosted, bit middy and a little gently sloped in the highs. So if you’re a treble junky these may not be for you but…….. for me and for all day listening. FCUK yeah!!! So easy on the ear the RE800 is like they took the RE600, dipped it in magic sauce then sprinkled pixie dust on it. Particularly with the big Comply’s on, it further just dampens the treble for my treble sensitive ears yet has hidden depths of resolution in there. It’s so nonchalant, casually presented which is just how I like it. If I want to listen out for micro details I can, or I can stop and just listen to the big picture, the entire grandiosity of it all. Oh and if you were in doubt, they do a glorious rendition of cello’s. There will be much Elgar this coming week.


Source: HIFIMAN 901S with Minibox Gold card, HIFIMAN Supermini, HIFIMAN Megamini, Nuforce uDAC 3 and Hifiman 901s + Dock into the Graham Slee Solo Ultra Linear, lastly my Google Pixel.


Lows: Well its rather glorious. The natural thing I’m going to compare it to is its sibling, the RE600. The 600 was a tweaked evolution form the RE262 and thus when you first hear the 800 its seems in the same vein. It is, sort of, it feels like the natural next step up and then you stick the 600 in your ears and wonder what happened. The 600 sounds so nasal and mid focused, no breadth, no spaciously open smoothly rich low end. The deepest reaches are a bit boosted yeah but it seems to cling on a with a ruthless yet utterly natural feeling tenacity. I mentally get its boosted. I know it is but to know what’s in a lasagne you look at the ingredients list but it doesn’t in any way describe what the combined sensation is like in your mouth. These, they do that but in your ears. These are good in such a non-attention-grabbing fashion, they lull you into it ever so smoothly. While I’ve been playing with these for about the last 6 months which is dramatically longer than I usually spend with an item to review. These are so sumptuous and controlled like some hyper control freak yet like a swan effortlessly and gracefully gliding across a lake, its melodiousness is pure perfection.


Kicking into artificial bass lines like those form Enya, “Even in The Shadows” to “The First of Autumn” they just grip on to the note so incredibly tightly yet go with it in perfect sync, like some perfectly synchronised figure skating. They sweep, they swoon, they shrink to almost nothing then they roar and thunder. “Your Father And I” comes barrelling out at you like a force of nature, you can practically touch the articulation of the notes. These remind in me in same ways of a well amped and impedance added IE8 yet when I try the IE8’s they feel so, grey. That spark has gone, the clarity has fuzzied and they just feel like a lesser product. Mars the bringer of war, seems more like Mars the bringer of slightly unhappy but can’t be bothered. The lows are just so vague, soft and flabby in comparison and those are not things the Senn is normally thought of as, but side by side it is. The RE800 takes what was once thought of as the best by far, single dynamic IEM and solidly spanks them.


The quantity, while so far these may have been coming across as a bass monster but they are so not. Not only because they so clean in their articulations but that they are not really that bass boosted. Sure they are bit, these are in the RE262>RE600 line, not the RE0>RE272 more neutral line. These are not strictly ruler flat, but what is, still the bass, is boosted but not ever present like on the IE8 which is my go too bass IEM. It does tail off in the furthest depths but that’s really what should happen. It’s the natural timbre of it all. The lower end ranges of a cello and into that of a double bass, I can practically touch the strings. Good god they feel so alive and natural for an IEM. It’s so unspeakably nuanced for an IEM. This is more heading in the direction of an open backed headphone and yet unlike the IE8 and IE7 they haven’t done it at the expense of giving sod all isolation.


Mids: Taking those low cello notes and going the other way, well, if you like a cello (and I do) then these are not just good but breath-taking. Not so mid focused as the 600 is, the sound staging here takes on a breadth but doesn’t then layer on breathy dry, stripping any liquidity away from it. Elgar and his cello concerto is just magnificent. It really is the way these can move from the simple and humble, focus on a delicate and almost trembling solitary cello. So meek and unprepossessing, then it symphonically rises up and becomes this staggeringly full bodied cacophony of power. I know part of the intention in the creation of these was to give the listener a presentation that aims toward that you might find, sat in a concert hall and…….. while a big open can can do that semblance of authority and majesty better…… these are tiny itty bitty things which fit in your ear.


The flavour of the mid-range means that it’s not so focused and in your face. Moving to a broader spatial presentation they are a smidge of distance back and lack that dash of extra fluidity I like. Vocals aren’t as smooth and creamy as I often like but these feel more realistic. I know I like things a little too creamy and buttery and while these give the impression they might go that way they never quite do. You see doing that starts to obfuscate their clarity and they can’t bring themselves to do so. The clarity and natural timbre, while I hate the term “organic” they do have that feel. There is something real, non-artificial, might I say, no artificial sweeteners. Both male and girly vocals are so persuasive. Tracy Chapman feels like you’re in the studio with her. Everything so clear, natural sounding, every inflection, every note, that sadly mournful, yet clinging to that last lingering ounce of hope for the future. So emotively alive and real.


In strict quantity terms, they aren’t as mid stand out as most other reference type products, these have nudged the bass up a smidge and the mids are only a teeny bit. Just the slightest of nudges yet they have so much clarity and detail that I don’t care. Vocals aren’t that Shure like, hyper fluid and smooth like, better than the actually vocalist sort. These are aimed at a natural reproduction, tone, body, air and breathy nuance. Be it Barbara’s “Papa Can You Hear Me” or Michael Ball’s “Tell me There’s a Heaven” Or Barbara’s “Send In The Clown’s” good lord that woman can sing, these do her so well. Either belting a note out or as softly delicate as you can imagine. There is a reason these have been the IEM I’ve been using most days for the last 6 months. They do all the things I care about supremely well.


Highs: So if there could be anywhere these may not find fans it could be here. These are not bright, in your face and if you wanted a new RE272 you’re not getting it here. Flicking back and forth they haven’t that, “neutral” treble, it is like the old 0 , being ever so gently tapered off. While this may not make for the most sparkling presentation its one that is so easy on the ear. Again, there is a reason this has been my default thing to pick up for the last 6 months. These are not the most wild of trebles, its’s tamed, its nudged gently in the direction of polite. The detail levels it can do are every bit as good as the RE272 ever was and these actually surpass it if you listen close and have the right pairing. These are very VERY detailed but it’s not in your face detail. So much so that you can completely get away with so so recordings. I don’t know about you but a lot of the music I like is not well made, mastered or recorded and here I can enjoy the finest of recordings and still like the badly made stuff.


The treble though isn’t all completely forgiving, due to the thing being so very VERY highly detailed it means that it’s got the clarity and speed to hit notes hard. You feed it a hard-edgy treble, looking at you Owl City, and it will impact hard, a little too hard my ears. I mean I can’t fault the RE800 for accurately playing back what they are being fed but…. This is the danger with super high-end audio stuff, you find music you like isn’t well made so once or twice I was tracking skipping I liked on lesser things because it was just to clean and hard edged. The actual quality is when you find some really fine recordings which unfortunately all seem to be classical the mellitic clash of a cymbal comes across with a refinement and natural delicacy to it that is unspeakably real. It is superb and comes the closest in an IEM to truly being real yet it’s hard to focus on it alone. The coherency you get from this being a single dynamic means everything is so well integrated nothing artificially stands on its own. Great for listening to, a pain in the behind for reviewing and even more so given the lack of superbly recorded treble happy music. Still the Chesky demo disc with “sweet Georgia Brown” has a morass of treble notes all splashing in from every direction and its hugely impressive. The detail and refinement these display is so great and yet so casually presented it really isn’t until you go back to something lesser that you fully apricate the difference.


Soundstage: It like the treble seems so natural, so beguiling, it’s just sort of there and you don’t really have the typical awareness of the tiny speakers in your ears that most do. Even whipping out those IE8’s which were once spoken of as a miraculous achievement in terms of their soundstage and the vastness of it. These don’t feel huge, they just don’t but they don’t feel enclosed. They capture that quality the RE252 had and I never felt I could really quite describe. The audio seems to come into existence rather be “created” just a fraction of an inch from your ear drum. It is somehow magically just present as though it had happened though some space/time portal. I realise it doesn’t really quite make sense as a description but if I could find the words I’d use them. There is a quality whereby things just are, not enclosed, not distance, things just are. It’s a very “natural” sound like listening to the real thing but coming form an IEM, I can’t help but feel it to be a peculiar sensation.


Comfort: Great. Nothing particularly notable or eventful about them. They are round, universal in ear things like many others and I could wear them happily up or down and for many hours at a time with no problems. A little more bulbous than the 600 before it so a bit bigger but I never had any issues in the slightest.


Fit: Super, shoved in ears and was done. Given its me I went right to the included Comply’s because when reviewing find silicon’s just give that little bit of suction when removing. These are vented so I wouldn’t expect anyone to have any real issues with them.


Cable: Well….. its actually pretty nice. It’s not blowing me away but it’s back to the kind that were on the RE2x2 range and not, the clothe weave ones from the RE0 and 400 and 600. While I know that cable on them was selected for its acoustic properties and yes they did sound great but……I still never liked the feel of them. This however is, I think, a considerable improvement. Its rubbery coated and feels very flexible though I do strangely like the metal Y splitter and the chin slider, while I’m sure a plastic one would have done the job just as well, I like that it, the jack and the buds are all matching metal.


Microphonics: Worn up none. If you insist on wearing down then yeah there was a little but the cable does a pretty good job of absorbing the vibrations and you can use the chin slider to remove the issue entirely if you want.


Aesthetics: Well, on the whole I like but….. I’m not wild about the gold. I’ve never been keen on gold and if I’m super honest, I’d rather they were just plain brass as there would be a certain honesty and purity in that. Mind you I’m hoping that we might see some limited editions in the future with more colours, not that the colour really matters but you know. Yet weirdly while I don’t love the gold buds I rather like the golden Y splitter and chin slider, maybe it’s that they are next to the black cable? It least it’s all a matte, sand blasted gold finish so it’s not super shiny.


Accessories: You get the standard, bunch of tips which now includes some Comply’s so yey! Then you get the little plain black case and less commonly, some ear guide things, if you like that sort of thing. I don’t use the guides but I’m pleased to see them included as it always pains me when I see people using a high quality IEM and then are just wearing them straight down.


Amped/Unamped: They do have an impedance of 60 ohms so, don’t expect any old thing to do super amazing things with them but…..my itty bitty 1G Ipod Shuffles actually sounded bloody good driving them. The hiss of the Shuffle got in my a face a couple times with the brighter tonality and more brittle nature of it, it made tracks that were hissy, seem extremely so. Still, for a thing so ancient it did a hugely fun attempt at high end audio. Seriously, the slightly warm slant of the 800 took on a liveliness that really worked for mainstream pop music. Dancing in your chair, mouthing along to the words, it really was impressively and surprisingly fun a combination. Not the most grown up pairing obviously. Flicking to the Pixel and…. Well the background was much blacker and arguably of a more mature tonality and style. While it was really very very listenable for a phone I don’t see me retiring separate DAP/s anytime soon. Still the impedance rating really wasn’t the nightmare it could have been, not having a crossover in it meant there wasn’t any wild swings (cough Westone, cough) in their tonal balance. Ditto with adding the Ety impedance adapter, which you know I love to do. That that pushes the impedance super high for an IEM, so your phone or so so DAP wont probably like it if you do.


Isolation: Well in most regards these are hitting it out of the park by most IEM standards but…. These are dynamics and they are vented. Only a little bit vented so while for a dynamic their isolation is actually really good but it still won’t hold a candle to a pair of deep seating BA IEM’s. It is the same argument you get with headphones, open vs closed. Open has generally considerably superior properties but they don’t block out anything so they are not as useful in all situations. While its less extreme as these do isolate pretty well and I have been absolutely using them on a bus and on flights, if I had a daily Tube commute, probably not so much.


Build Quality: If there is an area where HIFIMAN traditionally gets flack, it’s the build, okay specifically the cables on the 400 and 600. They rubbed many people the wrong way and while year they sounded great, I for one shall not be mourning the loss of that cloth weave on the outside. I’ve had no issues so far and I do like the jack. The jack is big and beefy that you will maybe want to keep away from your phones screen. I like it though, big chunky beast of a thing. Still the main improvement is the cable, it feels so much better in the hand than the one on the v1 RE600 and 400.


Value: Well let’s face it, at this price we are into diminishing returns and these are not 20 times better than the RE00. However, nothing is, a Ferrari isn’t 20 times better than a Ford but if you go to a Ferrari show room and your thinking about which is the best “value for money” you have totally missed the point. If you want the highest reaches of performance, then you had best prepare your wallet for a beating. You know, while US$699 is a fair chunk of change, in terms of speakers it’s a drop in the ocean so you could say these are super awesome amazing value compared to what you’d pay to get this level of audio quality in a speaker set up. To date, these are, I think, my favourite IEM out there. If ever was there an IEM made especially for me and my ears, it is basically this.


Conclusion: Right off the bat I can state with no equivocation that these are a magnificent work of acoustic art. I know bits of their design and construction and I realise that saying, oh we painted patterns on the driver sounds like, big deal, so what. However, it really actually is a monumental step away from what the industry has been doing for years. Instead of making diagrams ever stiffer to combat deformation and ripples HIFIMAN has said, okay so it’s impossible so let’s aim to control them instead. This is not unlike is attempted in BMR (Balanced Mode Radiator) speakers and despite being on teeny little IEM drivers, it works. Holy crap does it work too. It sounds like such a simple little thing, I mean how much distortion could there be on the driver anyway right?


The tonal balance on these and the purity with which they are capable is a real feat of engineering, sure they are a hint warmed so treble junkies or those with high end hearing loss may want something more bright but good lord, sooooo much detail. If anything, these are well into the territory whereby the biggest problem they face is showing up flaws you don’t want to hear. So much music isn’t well made and while these are trying to be forgiving and not thrusting it in your face…… its so easy to notice if you have a keen ear. I did find that some tracks I just had to skip because they just aren’t well made and the 800 presents it all so cleanly its completely noticeable. It may not count as the worst flaw ever but it is a problem. However, once the music industry, as happened with TV when HD came in, they will begin to tidy up background rubbish that shouldn’t be there.


So would I buy a pair? Well my wallet wouldn’t be thrilled but these are about as close to what I would make for me if I was making an IEM. The tonal purity, the clarity they are capable of, the expressiveness that strings and and brass instruments can portray is sublime. You can auraly melt into everything, not just hearing music but it speaking directly to your soul, washing over and through your senses. They are so accurate and detailed yet have zero coherency or timing issues which you tend to get with crossovers and multi driver setups. The more drivers, the harder it gets and with some things now having 14 drivers per ear, the scope there for anyone thing being just even the most tiny of hints out smears the audio. A single driver means none of that takes place and no crossover where either drivers have to work over each other, smearing as their performance will never be perfectly the same, or you dip them so they don’t shout over each other. Sure some multi-drivers are still awesome but I’ve not met one that sounds so completely integrated sonically.


In short, the RE800 is a masterpiece of engineering and of audio art. It won’t be all things to all men but I would very much doubt that anyone who listens to one won’t give it the praise and respect it commands. There is so far, in my opinion, no finer audiophile IEM. Timing, coherence, tonality, timbre are all as fine as its sounds signature is sublime and beautiful.

HIFIMAN RE800 Earphone Quick Review by mark2410

HIFIMAN RE800 Earphone Quick Review by mark2410

Disclaimer: I work with HFIMAN so feel free not to believe me if you so wish.

Brief: Solid Gold.

Price: US$699 or £649

Specifications: Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz, Impedance: 60Ω, Sensitivity: 105dB, Topology Diaphragm, 9.2mm Dynamic Driver, Brass Housing, Silver Coated, Crystalline Copper Wire

Accessories: You get a handful of tips, though I still find them a little on the small side. For small Chinese ears maybe? Whatever but the ones I’m really interested is the inclusion of a couple pairs of Comply’s so they are what I go to right off. Oh, and the ear guides and the little case.

Build Quality: Rather nice, the cable is a great big step up on the original RE600 one, the jack too its some great lump of metal so phone screens beware. The buds are solid metal too so short of putting them in a vice they should be pretty sturdy.

Isolation: For a dynamic, very good but…. not quite up to BA levels so if you have a Tube commute they wouldn’t be my first option but I repeatedly used on buses and on a couple flights quite happily. Should be enough for most people in most situations.

Comfort/Fit: Excellent on both counts. Nothing unusual, rounded symmetrical buds that went in the ear with a shove and that was that. No venting issues and I wore for several hours at a time with not issues at all.

Aesthetics: I have mixed feelings, I don’t love gold but I do like the matte sandblasted type finish. I would just prefer they were black or silver rather than gold but in fairness, I’ve just never liked gold.

Sound: If I had made an IEM for myself, it would be more or less this. They have a slanted sound signature to the bass and a little subdued in the treble but that works perfectly for me. If you’re going to listen to for hours on end you need something easy on the ear and these are. They are rich and mellow, so smooth and with such clarity they make everything look effortless and easy. The bass is superb, so sculpted you can practically reach out and touch it. The mids are a little touch back in comparison but have such a broad scope, such an incredibly natural texture and tone to them. Male or female, oh good god and strings, strings are so fantastically good. The timbre, the tactility, I cannot just feel the strings vibrating in my hand but I can feel what it is to be the string like I’m staring into its soul. It’s strange and freaky that you can just lose yourself into what is nothing more than a harmonic wave. Granted you need some extremely good quality music to really abandon the outside world and create your own mini heaven as you trundle into work or wherever.

Everything sounds so real and dreamy and captivating yet it makes it all look so completely effortless. It feels so relaxed and confident in its paragon like virtues you really need to spend time with it and explore what it can do as it’s so completely non-attention seeking in its presentation. It is simply wonderful sounding.

Value: Wallet ouch yeah but have a listen then it won’t seem so much.

Pro’s: Sublime. Sonically capable to such a degree, tone and coherence it puts others to shame.

Con’s: Won’t have enough treble for some tastes. Isn’t very aggressive.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Accutone Gemini HD Earphone Review by mark2410

Accutone Gemini HD Earphone Review by mark2410

Thanks to Accutone for the sample.

First Impressions:  Hmm, I am still not loving Accutone’s strange naming system.  Looking at their website I’m not sure what these are supposed to have in common with the normal Gemini but whatever, these are the HD one.  Now I see in pic’s that they look fantastically pretty.  I mean damn they look bloody good don’t they!!!  Getting the things in my hand and whipping open the box and err, what.  Okay this is just weird, the shiny metal bits in the pics are covered in a layer of rubber.  Erm well that’s different.  I presume you’re just supposed to peal it off right?  Oh and there are some of the audio filters, erm where is the silver one?  Oh Accutone seriously???  So while you show silver filters, only silver filters on your website they don’t actually have silver filters.  Honestly Accutone you need to find whoever authorised your website, punch them repeatedly in the face then fire them and then all the marketing interns you turned the consumer audio division over too.  I mean why only show silver filters when you don’t do a silver filter????   I mean who thought that was a good idea and then who okayed it???  Seriously even a double face palm doesn’t come close to how much face palm is here.

So they came with the red filters on, giving those a try and hmm, bassy.  I’m not wild about this nor am I seeing that this is deserving to be called Clarity as you website states is their default tuning.  The manual however says the red is the bassy, so let’s nudge in the middle option, the err greenish yellow one.  Okay now that is much better, good god that is an improvement.  I’m still in a bad mood, that website needs to be killed with fire but these filters, ugly colour aside and actually pretty damn good.  Finally Accutone seems to be getting its audio on. 

Source: FiiO E7/E9 combo, Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd Anv., HiFiMAN HM-650, 1G Ipod Shuffle, Nexus 5, Lumia 735 and Graham Slee Solo Ultra Linear.

Lows:  Good, well just skip the red filter I don’t want it manages to do but just skip it, it makes things so muddy that I can find no reasonable explanation for.  The bile coloured ones, now those are waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay better.  Better that I’m looking at the price tag and thinking yep, I’d pay that.  Nooo, seriously, an Accutone that I’m liking, liking rather a lot.  Not only do the look super these actually have audio that’s as accordingly decent.  The bass it’s the biggest, nor is it the deepest but its super clean.  Its practically BA clean, hard, unyielding and lithe.  Now they do want a bit of power to be their best but when you de they toughen up like granite.  Weeeeeeeee!!!!  Firing up, well anything really and they are fantastic.  Yey!!!! I was beginning to think Accutone was a bust but turns out they’ve got some audio chops after all.  Super clean, hard unyielding and well sculpted bass.  Now I might like a smidge more but stay away from the red filter, it sucks.  The blue one, while super pretty it’s a bit light for me, tbh I suspect for anyone without out hearing loss issues. 

Quantity wise these are verging towards reference level, a tiny sliver over and they don’t quite have the extreme linearly as they go down like on an Ety but there are so much more eager to rise up when called upon and the have a wonderful degree of articulation when driven well.  So much agility for dynamic, like a Bernina sculpture its flows effortlessly yet retains a marble hardness beneath.  Wooo yey there are gorgeous sounding and playfully beautiful in their renditions.

Mids:  Fantastic.  That same quality as with the bass, so cleanly sculpted and finely detailed, it’s exquisitely beautiful.  Ahhh so pretty, so so much pretty.  Firing up Beverly Craven’s “Promise Me” and she is awe inspiring.  I’m a big fan of her vocal talents (even though her last couple albums weren’t so great) here she is on farm and the HD’s flow with such effortless melody and intonation in the vocals that its al just such a joy to listen to.  Honestly after the Pieces these are just so fantastically different, these can’t have been made by the same team.  Time and gain vocal heavy tracks would come on and their performance would be just so perfect.  Neither creamy nor dry they are just so damn well spot on!!!  Even stuff with mediocre vocals such as Reliant K’s “Lost Boy” I find I’m having a hard time not bursting into song.  They have that not quite definable awesomeness something that just captures the essence of vocal joy in abundance.  Every vocal just has some magical glaze upon it, everything sounds so wonderful, everything.  From Fiona Apple’s angry yet soft “Limp” to the tear inducing “Papa Can You Hear Me?” from Miss Streisand the HD’s do them all so wonderfully well I want more and more.

Quantity wise with the bass being not super heavy they may come across are being a bitty middy, bit mid centric which well maybe isn’t technically true but there are relatively middy to most things.  Vocals are so good, so well rendered while with such tonal brilliance that I have no complaints, the mids are so well done why not have lots of them.

Highs:  Hmm.  Well tbh I almost forget about the highs with the mids being so nice as they are the treble is, well it’s a bit behind the treble and with it by smidge a good dynamic it’s rather refined.  It’s not edgy, in your face detail and the more power you throw at them the better behaved and refined the treble becomes.  However I really had trouble playing things with heavy treble.  The mids were so well done that I constantly found I was skipping any track that wasn’t heavily vocal.  Making myself fire up “Cave In” and even well amped there is some treble detail loss.  These are more about the pleasing ear friendly shimmer than they are about the sharp edge of a treble note.  Super great for me and its being not too reduced in abundance this style is more easy on my treble sensitive ears.  There is a reason why I love treble as displayed by a good dynamic and these here, are a very good dynamic.

So despite it’s not hard edgy bight they are stupid agile on the bass and glorious in the mids so even fast treble centric songs like “Cave In” They can fire everything with spades of alacrity and never does it even hint at breaking up the treble and getting scratchy.  Super behaviour, exactly how it ought to be done.

Soundstage:  They are pretty good.  They do a nicely rounding sensation, not gobs of distance yet I don’t mind.  They are a pleasing encompassing rendition side to side and a little bit fore and back depth.  The can do volume really well but scale and grandeur not so much.  Vocals can be a little upfront and in wile not right up in your face, they are right in front of you.

Fit:  Good.  The Comply’s on and in the ears they went.  No issues.  Not very deep sitting but no bother.

Comfort:  Like the fit, fine.  I could wear up or down fine and despite their slightly sharp edged enclosure it was fine and I could wear for several hours at time with no problems.

Microphonics:  No chin slider but even wearing down they didn’t really have any.  Wearing up there was none at all, even deliberately hitting the cable.  Yey!

Aesthetics:  Well I’m still a little bit bitter about there not being a silver filter, because let’s face it the pics with it all in silver look awesome.  Though it does mean I can pick the filter based on sound and not feel like I must use the silver for aesthetic reasons.  Though I’d be lying if I said I like the bile coloured filter.  The rod and especially the blue look lush though, that blue, soooooo pretty.  The rest of the things in silver and white and they do look pretty damn good.  Well once you peel off that weird rubber coating, that’s just weird.

Cable:  It’s alright.  Tbh I wasn’t super loving it nor hating it or really having any feelings about it. Its fine, it’s not interesting.

Isolation:  They are dynamics and well they aren’t super high isolators.  A little bit of a shame as they are fine for out and about but pushing towards not so much for a bus.  I mean I would use them on a bus but they aren’t super great for it.  Flights and Tube, na I don’t think so.  Naturally they will be more than to get your accidently run over because you didn’t hear traffic.  Eyes people.

Accessories:  Hmm.  Yeah they still have the Accutone case that they don’t really fit in.  They will go if you shove them in but frankly I’m not pleased with that case.  The tips selection is strangely Spartan, no silicones.  However about the filters, they really need to take a life out of Trinity’s book and get those little metal tubes to keep them in.  Seriously though what’s with the no silicone tips?  I mean I’m fine with the Comply’s but it’s strange.

Phone Use:  Great.  Accutone have a background in headsets and it shows, again I was told they sounded particularly good and that was even wearing them up.  So if you’re on the phone a lot, bonus.

Amped/Unamped:  Well you don’t really ever “need” to amp things but these definitely responded well to amping.  Very well and if you buy a pair then you really ought to amp them.  Throw power at these little baby’s and they will take it all and spit it back out at you with oodles of audio loveliness.  Seriously, if you only ever run them out of your phone you will be missing out and the wonderfully midrange rendition that these are capable off.  Yes they will still sound good but not all they can be.

Value:  Yey!!! They aren’t the cheapest things ever but they really come to life and so deserve their US$130 price tag.  I’m not saying you can’t beat them and there aren’t other things better, especially if you want a lot of bass but I’m super pleased with these and their mid-range talents.

Conclusion:  Well I had been about convinced that Accutone had lost the plot, the Pieces and the Taurus, well they, let’s just maybe pretend they don’t exist shall we.  These, now I’ve no idea what the normal Gemini are like but these are cracking little wonders.  Get that bile filter on them and the balance is fabulous and the mids are sublime.  Sooooo scrummy that I just wanted more and more of it.  Every vocal on them got a dusting of audio crack.  So tonally pure, so clean and effortless.  Squeeee, just all so good!!!  Literally every vocal on them sounded good, even completely crap vocals.  Excellent stuff

Down side wise, well just silly little things, like the no silver filter, that case that’s too thin.  The weird rubber coating on the buds.  The lack of any reasonable way to store the other filters.  Frankly the only things it does wrong are things you can completely ignore and tbh, “accidently” losing the red filters isn’t something I’d shed a tear over.  Quite what they do to muddy everything so badly just to increase the bass, go buy a bass boosting amp if you want more bass.  Hell even EQ’ing more bass in would be better than that filter.

So would I / should you buy one?  Yep.  Yep.  Well for you, you have to like a reasonably middy signature, not vast bass and not hard brutal treble.  If you want a V shaped beast then these wont suit you but otherwise I can’t think of any other reason why you shouldn’t.  These are a fabulous showing from Accutone and shows that they can spit out some damn fine audio quality.  Though can I just suggest, maybe change the bile coloured filter to just a plain silver one?  Yeah seriously my biggest complaint is the filter is an ugly colour.  Love the sound from these little beauties.