HiFiMAN RE-272 Review
Thanks to Head Direct for the samples.
First impressions: Ohh the box is fancy, oh hold on once you touch it it’s actually not so much, even less so when you open it. Fancier than the usual HiFiMAN boxes but nothing get all frothy about, not that the box really matters in the grand scheme of things as it’s just going to live in a corner anyway. Looks wise I thought they would be much more silvery than the 262 but they really aren’t. What I am noticing is the selection of cables and that the cable attached to the buds is super short i.e. its intended to be modular which I’m always a fan of. What I’m not a fan of is the length of the extension. Now I think I’m pretty average in height, (6ft) and the first cable I’ve grabbed to try (the white one) is just barely long enough to reach my jacket pocket. The little paper insert too I can’t say smacks of something that belongs with a premium product either, its screams photocopy of a photocopy. I know HiFiMAN is all about representing value for money but it makes a poor first impression (well it would if I was someone who didn’t have experience with the brand) and in a shop it wouldn’t make me want to hand over US$250.
However... the first little listen to them somewhat answers any questions you may have about whether it’s a premium product or not. Frankly it is amazeballs spectacular. Listening to them on the bus ride home I was floored, they are phenomenal. I can’t really tell right now if it’s the presentation at work but these are making me notice things in songs I’ve never noticed before. On getting home I swapped them over for a pair of Etymotic ER-4S and in comparison they sounded so thick and fuzzy. Yes they made the ER4 sound muddy.
Source 5G iPod Video line out through a Practical Devices XM5 with LM6171 opp amps
Lows: Right, let’s not beat about the bush about this. There is not a lot of bass and many will find it a deal breaker, personally I find it a bit light too but hey, it’s what the Bass Boost button is for. Once you get used to the idea this is pretty bass light (honestly I pretty much always used the bass boost when listening to it) then you can think about the quality a little. Unsurprisingly it’s of the absolute highest possible quality and what little there is feels like its been carved from marble, it’s so solid, controlled, so unbelievably tight and precise. It’s so incredibly unyielding. It will do what it will, no bloom, no softness, no artificial punch to convince you it’s tighter than it really is. It flawless, faultless is everyway bar the fact there is next to none of it. Even with the bass boost going the rest of the sound signature still isn’t going to make it seem bassy. A direct comparison to the legendary ER4 made the Ety seem bassy in comparison. Sure it didn’t sound like a bass monster but it was pretty clear that the RE-272 is not about the low end even its excellent.
Mids: Super, hyper open and airy. Spectacularly articulate to the point you will hear every breath, every whisper, every tiny little detail. As astonishingly impressive as it is it’s not the most emotive mid range I’ve ever heard. This really isn’t a complaint or negative, it’s just a tuning choice and HiFiMAN have the 262 if you want a gloriously liquid mid range. What we have here is all about the hyper detailed and analytical. I can honestly say that I have heard and noticed things on the 272 that I never have before. It’s frighteningly articulate and detailed. It’s like when HD came to TV and all the TV presenters suddenly realised you could see what a mess they actually are. It’s a little like that. Everything is so incredibly articulate and hyper transparent that you can’t help but focus on the minutia and honestly I found it detracted from the whole. When I listen to vocals I marvel at the revealing power of the 272 and am floored by that but I never find myself thinking “oh what a beautiful voice XYZ has,” I am listening to the 272 not the vocalist. It’s the 262 that I listen to and find they just melt away leaving me and the music, then never happened once with the 272. For me that’s not what I want, well not all the time anyway, while it’s not a fault it does mean it won’t be loved by all. A gentle, relaxing, creamy midrange these have not. Actually on occasion they can get almost shouty, not that they ever actually do but certain lady’s hitting certain notes make them leap forward a little.
Highs: This is what the 272 does. It is bright and a mean BRIGHT. Normally this would be the cue for me to have a moan and say it’s too harsh, it’s much etc etc. Okay it is too much but honestly I really don’t mind, it’s the most spectacularly brilliant treble ever in both senses. Its abundance is significant but it’s so incredibly detailed and articulate I can think of nothing I’ve heard like it. As I mentioned I directly compared these to the ER4 and found the ER4 sounded so thick and muddy in comparison. I’m serious. The shimmer and delicacy these can produce is a step up on everything else I’ve heard. Oh my god there is so much detail it’s terrifying, there is soooooooo much I wonder if it’s too much? As I said I find that these are so hyper articulate and detailed that all I do is listen to different instruments and picking out tiny detail from the back ground. Think of the first time you heard something like the ER4 or the RE-0 (both of which are blown away by the 272) that “oh my god” moment where you realise that there was a vast array of things going on you had never heard, even in your favourite song that you have heard a thousand times before. That’s what the treble on the 272 can and will do. It is so unimaginably impressive.
The down side is it is very, very ill suited to bad mastering, low bit rates, rubbish sources etc etc. The other is that the treble is very, very abundant. Seriously people it makes the ER4 and RE-0 sound warm and fuzzy. I suspect this won’t really ever be anyone’s one and only IEM, it’s just too bright for that.
Soundstage: It doesn’t have the vast scale that the masters have but its sounds enveloping and projects a good sense of scale but not entirely unlike the weird 252 I can’t really place where things are coming from or distance them. Sound just is, like they somehow just will the music into existence rather than creating it on a little speaker. It isn’t really expansive or intimate but yet can turn its hand to both pretty well. Separation is pretty good too but can as integrated as your brain or the song requests.
Comfort: Absolutely fine. Its slightly unusual shape worked fine on the 262 and here it works exactly the same (it is exactly the same.) It lets you wear it up or down and both work fine but I really can’t imagine why you would want to wear them down.
Fit: Fine on the whole, it is a dynamic though so there was a touch of a venting issue and it took a minute or two to balance. It wasn’t what I’d call a problem but it’s a bit annoying if you have to pull them out every 5 min.
Cable: Oh righty, well you get the cable that is attached to the buds and its super short. That’s fine as I rather like modular cables. The other cables you get are a TRRS to TRRS (grey) cable for balanced amp use. While I really like the idea of including this, who actually has a balanced source/amp? They are rarer than hen’s teeth right now but hopefully they will become more prevalent. The next is a TRRS to TRS (black one) that is the balanced to normal one for normal use and if you’re wearing the buds down to keep the channels the right way round. The last one, TRRS to TRS reversed (white) does the same as the black but it swaps the channels round so you can wear them up and keep the channels the right way round. I personally cant I say I care that much but it’s a nice inclusion I guess. A note of warning though, the cables are pretty short and really stretching the limit of what I could have in use. I’m not a giant either, a pretty average 6ft and it just barely reaches my jacket pocket.
Microphonics: Like so many others, wear it up none, wear it down you do. There is a chin slider so you can cure it but I don’t see why you wouldn’t just wear them up to begin with.
Amped/Unamped: looking at the spec of these, 20 ohms impedance. That’s pretty low so you should be able to get plenty of volume out of anything. Plugging it into my little shuffles I can tell you they can run the 272 effortlessly but they do at times hiss a bit. Other than that I’m pretty stunned at how good they sound out the shuffles, I know they are little marvels but holy carp, the 272 clearly doesn’t demand a top end source. It does show up in the treble though that they can’t quite keep up and things get a touch edgy on the ear. Very bright. Flicking over to the HM-601 things get a little more genteel, or more accurately, less abrasive. The 601 is a warm player and that works pretty well with the cool brightness of the 272 making for a more rich, organic sounding combo. It’s still pretty trebly and detailed but compared to the almost bright shuffle 1G and the more even ipod 5G / XM5 combo it does make for a comparatively laid back sound. By comparative I mean compared to the sources, most certainly not to other IEM’s. Still, they go together very well.
Overall the 272 don’t really need an amp. They may not be their best without one but they are easily driven so if you really, really don’t want to use an amp then it’s a pretty good option for this performance level. Let’s face it, if you have bought a pair of these you’re going to buy an amp. Maybe not the same week but I promise you, you will.
Isolation: Like its siblings, it’s really rather good for a dynamic but it’s not going to beat the most isolating BA stuff out there. Still it’s nothing to complain about it and I was perfectly happy using them for normal day to day stuff, on buses etc etc. Of course it’s not what I’d grab if I was going to be on the Tube all day or visiting New Zealand but for the unaccustomed it’s still enough to get you run over.
Build Quality: Once more, like its siblings it very good. Everything feels well made and solid but given this a US$250 it may not wow everyone. It does exude class and wealth like some things can but I can find nothing to actually make me complain about. You’re paying for the noise they make, not for pretty boxes and cables.
Accessories: As I mentioned before you get the 3 cables and in addition you get a bunch of tips, some filters and a shirt clip. It’s a reasonably Spartan affair for something so high end (in sound if not cost.) I really do feel that there ought to be a case included. In previous models the box they came in was small so could double as a case but the 272 comes in a pretty big box. It may not make any difference as to whether I think anyone won’t buy it because of a lack of a case I can see no reason why it doesn’t have one. If other manufacturers can include a little case with US$30 IEM’s then I can think of no reason why this doesn’t. Please rectify this. In the mean time I'd strongly suggest looking on ebay and picking one you like.
Value: Today they are sitting at US$250 (but so were the 262 and they have been heaved down to US$150) and at that price yes, easily worth it. At that price they have no competition bar its own siblings the 252 and 262, maybe even the 0 or ZERO. Is it worth almost 3 times the RE-0? Arguably no, even if it clearly sounds better, diminishing returns and all that. Is it worth US$100 more than the 262? Probably not. But then I just adore the sound signature of the 262 and it’s a huge price difference for what is a stunningly superb IEM. (did someone accidently add a 0 to the 262 order and they need to shift millions of them?) If we ignore the absurdly low price for the 262 for a moment because it just skews everything. Looking outside the company the only thing I can think of that comes close is erm, nothing. Seriously.
Conclusion: HiFiMAN now have a triumvirate of top tier IEM’s, the 252, 262 and here the 272. The 262 is warm and lush, the 252 the paragon of perfect neutrality and the 272 is the hyper analytical, bright one. In term of value they pretty much kick the snot of everyone else and in absolute terms I think the 272 is the one that may have taken top tier to a new level. I honestly can’t decide if it’s down to its sound signature but the 272 is revealing in a way I’ve never heard before.
The down side is I cannot ever say I found myself listening to the music as a coherent whole and falling in love with it or the music. The 262 does that effortlessly, it makes a truly beautiful sound if a little coloured. The 272 is coloured the other way and just hurls the most insignificant and microscopic detail at you that I find all I do is listen to the detail and end up largely missing the whole. I cannot deny that it’s a truly incredible level of detail being offered to you and perhaps it’s that until I’m more use I’d to this new level that’s all ill do. Maybe over time I’d learn to listen to the whole again? I don’t know.
What I can say however is that the 272 is unlike anything else I’ve heard. I may not find myself loving it but I have constantly found myself listening in awe of it. It is just simply amazeballs brilliant. It’s the most articulate, textured, brilliant, gleaming sound ever. It has an unparalleled hyper transparency and clarity to it that I’ve never heard before. For god sake it makes the RE-0 and ER4 sound muddy and thick in comparison. I’m not sure I would want to live with its brightness every day, I’d be much happier living long term with the 262 but there is absolutely no denying that the RE-272 is absolutely phenomenal, just absolutely phenomenal.