HiFiMAN RE-600 Review
Thanks to Head Direct for the sample.
First Impressions: Well the box is a bit of a departure from the HiFiMAN stuff of old. It’s much fancier looking but oddly the little case was outside of it. I’m going to assume this is because it’s a review sample. I have to confess I am a little bit giddy looking at the box. I’ve heard just about all of HiFiMAN’s IEM offerings and without fail they have all been stunning. So this new flagship it’s just got to be good, I mean the 400 was fantastic and this must better than that!
I’d normally now comment with my first impressions but little confession time, I forgot. I don’t really think it’s my fault entirely as I found my “I’ll just have a quick 30 min listen” turned into a listened to them for the rest of the day. I don’t really need to say these are good, you know that already, it’s a question of just how good they are and that’s going to take more than a 30 min listen to tell. However it’s a reasonable statement to make at this point that these are one of the best IEM’s I’ve heard.
Source: FiiO E7/E9, Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd anv., HiFiMAN HM-601, Galaxy Nexus.
Lows: The lows off the bat remind me of the 262 most of previous HiFiMAN things, A/B’ing them reveals that to be technically true. The 262 was the warmer, smoother, a touch bass boosted of the HiFiMAN’s and the 600 is even more boosted. So purists you may want to have a little fit because this is not an improved 272, it’s very much the upgrade to the 262 though. The bass is fun, seriously enjoyable stuff and tonally just that bit warm. The quality of course is as you’d expect, flawless. Though I do detect it isn’t as granite like as the uber fast 272. Now I greatly prefer the 600’s presentation style. What’s more is the expansiveness of the 600’s low end that gives it the impression of scale that makes me think much more of the IE8 than of something more monitor like. It feels huge, that impression of endless scale heading off into the distance. It’s verging on the epic.
Rattling through the alphabet of A/B/c etc etc with some other things so far the UM3x, W4 IE8, RE-262 and they all fall short next to the 600. The only bass of them that comes close in its vigour and scale is that of the IE8 but it feels so soft and woolly side by side. The texture is so tactile and dynamic. If feels more like that of a speaker than a little IEM driver and is vastly more sumptuous than any of the BA IEM’s there. However when it comes to clarity and detail it smashes the IE8. The depth is endless too and easily bests those others. Its depth and fullness both far outstrip that of it sibling, the RE-400 too.
Looking back at my 262 review I asked Fang if we could have just the tiniest bit more bass and its that’s essentially what we have. Tonally it’s got the same silky, chocolaty smoothness when you play smooth stuff. When you play fast though, it really steps up and deals with the power and punch aspect in a way the 262 never did. it’s so much more convincing. Actually I’m really hard pressed to find anything wrong with it. This could be essentially what I’d consider to be the perfect bass.
Mids: Erm, well they are mesmerising. These could be the finest mids I’ve ever heard. It may sound like I’m being wishy washy but at this level the differences are not so much as anything being better than another but simply being different. The one that stands out here for me is the W4, an IEM that is very monitor like. I’ve commented previously that it’s a faultless IEM and it is and as I have A/B the two I find myself thinking that the W4 is indeed flawless in its vocal presentation. The 600 therefore must be flawed if it different right? Well that’s kinda true, its mids aren’t I believe a perfectly accurate representation much like those from the SE530 and the RE-262 that came before the 600. They aren’t trying to be perfectly accurate but aim more a for a sound that aims to be perfectly beautiful.
The vocals here are wondrous, they can do breathy, sumptuously smooth and flowing, every little intonation and inflection is there for your perusal and it is simply wondrous. I love them. Such openness too. Critically I can argue they, like the 262 and 530 are a little over liquid and over expressive than is perfectly true. Things like the 252 and the W4 do that and what HiFiMAN have gone for here is a beauteously expressive and enchanting sound. Its perhaps not as quite as liquid sounding as the 262 was but this only aids in the fantastically high level of detail here. The perhaps seem a touch over dynamic in comparison to the level headed W4 and while I know deep down the additional exuberance exhibited here is not acoustically neutral. Vocals are a little more narrow and a little more focused.
The only thing a can hold as a negative is if you push them they can veer towards getting shouty with certain vocals. There a is a good degree of focus that the 262 and W4 allow for a greater width to the vocal range and stage but I’m going out of my way to pick faults. Quantity wise overall though there is a fair amount here, it hovers around the same as the bass. At times I think it a smidge more and others a touch less.
Highs: It’s peculiar. I sit and swap the 600 and the 272 back and forth and yet I don’t find the 600 to be lacking. Clearly the quantities deployed are rather different but the quality, the level of detail retrieval on them both is staggering. Of course it’s wildly more apparent on the 272 which at times can feel blindingly bright, the 600 is considerably more subtle about it. I feel like I want to say the treble is just as good as the 272 but I can’t quite bring myself to make that categorical statement. For sure they are, if not the same, super close but that the 272 makes it sooooooo obvious. The 600 is that much more relaxed and nonchalant about it all. Honestly I think both of them are good enough that the limit of detail offered by them both is held back by the mastering. Not to mention these while reasonably relaxed sounding may not have the brutally harsh revealing nature of the 272 but it’s no lover of carp. You feed the 600 a poor source, poor bit rates, poor mastering and it while it may not stamp on your head with a stiletto its clarity makes these things readily noticeable. Thankfully the super detail offered here is a little muted by its warmer sound signature so it’s not really what I call over revealing.
Dynamics in my opinion always to treble better than BA things and the treble here is essentially as good as treble gets. It was the one area that for me the 400 lacked compared to the old RE-0 but the 600 really has taken the best or both the 262 and 272. Tonally its rather more 6 than 7 with its smoother gentility. The treble feels serene and comfortable rather like that of the 262 but with a clarity boost. I’m finding it hard to reference these in relation to things other than its elder siblings as when it comes to this level of sound quality there are so few high end quality dynamics. Most things are BA and BA things do treble very differently, so quick, so edgy and they find the delicate natural shimmer of a cymbal impossible to get quite right. Dynamics do this far better but other than HiFiMAN the only true high end dynamic I’m familiar with is the IE8 and it’s a radically different sort of sound than what we have here. The treble is a little relaxed but has possibly the best natural decay I’ve heard on an IEM, yet can ping as clean and crisp as you like.
If I was tuning the treble on an IEM this is probably how it would sound.
Soundstage: One of the greatest qualities of the 252 was its endless distance. The 600 has captured some of that. It sound big, hearty and has that same sense of scale that the IE8 has. Okay it’s not maybe as big as the IE8 but it’s a similar nature. Its feels big, particularly orchestral works sound BIG. It’s not perfect but given it’s a closed IEM I think it’s mightily impressive. Of course instrument separation is good but not vast; these feel rather better integrated. It’s a big and wide cavernous hall.
Comfort: Unlike the previous generation of top end HiFiMAN’s these are much more typically shaped. In fact these are rather similar physically to the 400’s and as such were great and I can see anyone having any bother with them.
Fit: Great. I found these to be far less fit fussy that the 252, 262 and 272 were. They gave me a hint of air pressure in the ear but these don’t. Granted early on I slapped on some Comply’s as I was going to be pulling these out with some regularity and I didn’t want to have to deal with the prospect.
Cable: Well it’s rather more substantial than that found on the 400 but I found it to be a little solid. Supposedly it’s all fancy Kevlar and whatever which I’m sure is great but…. I found it gave me the impression of being a bit stiff and wanting to kink. Oddly the cable is also modular and normally that would bypass any issue but it has a rather unusual set up. The cable is rather long and only has a very short add-on. This is the reverse to what they did with the 272 so I assume they have a reason to. The reason then the little extensions are there at all are because the IEM cable is terminated with a balanced connector. Since no one has a balanced 3.5mm source (okay a few do but it is proportionally very few) they add in connectors to fit the internals of a normal 3.5mm jack.
Microphonics: Wearing them up you don’t really get any. If you insist on wearing down you do a bit but it largely solved with the chin slider.
Amped/Unamed: Rather surprisingly these really didn’t demand an amp. Of course they improved with one but even just out of my phone they sounded good. Imaging and layering suffered as did the dynamics but there is a reason people buy DAP’s rather than use their phone. These are nothing like as power hungry as the old 262 was. It practically needed its own little power station to be all it could be. Of course what is more of an issue here is not so much the power but the quality of what you’re feeding it. The detail level on offer is sufficient that if feed it carp then you will hear it. While the difference between amping my phone and its little HP out wasn’t vast. The difference between the phone and the Studio V 3rd Anv. was pretty vast. If you going to buy these then they deserve to be hooked up to a more credible source than your phone. Sure it’ll work and sound good but it’s a real waste of potential to take one of the best IEM’s in the world and hook it up to the US$2 HP out in your US$850 phone, it’s a spectacular waste, the RE-600 deserves far better. Like buying a Ferrari and then running on the wheels and tyres for a Honda Jazz.
As for adding impedance, it didn’t do a great deal. I’d still use though as it does make any source hiss go away giving you a much blacker background which makes the rest seem ever more impressive. So I’d say if you’ve bought one of these spend an extra US$10 and get one.
Isolation: Pretty good. It’s a sealed dynamic so about the new norm for that set up. Vastly more than things like the IE8 but next to the W4, well no it’s not quite the same. If you want maximum isolation BA IEM’s are forever to way to go. It’s likely more than enough isolation for most uses and would easily be sufficient to get you killed in traffic. Just if you want to for daily Tube or aircraft use then it wouldn’t be my first option. Easily enough for most uses though.
Build Quality: It’s notably a bit of a step up on the 400 and is probably the best build of any HiFiMAN IEM but hand on heart, it’s not an area where they excel as a company.
Accessories: Well you get a few things. I think 13 pairs of tips, 10 replacement filters, a cable wrap around thing, a balanced to normal 3.5mm adapter and a little case. The little case is on in that it didn’t come inside the main box. Why I have no idea, maybe it was an afterthought? Its noting fancy but perfectly functional. The wrap thing I’d suggest never using, I don’t like those things as I don’t believe a cable should be wrapped that tightly.
Value: It depends how you look at it. The RE-262 for a long time sat at US$150 which I felt made it far and away the best value IEM ever. The 400 sits at US$99 and again its pretty staggering value. Is the 600 four times better sounding? Well of course not. US$400 equates to £255 at present, that’s of course sans HMRC’s cut (because you’re going pay the tax even if it accidently slips by customs aren’t you) so that will bump to circa £302. That’s before Royal Mail or Parcel Farces additional fees for not steeling it at customs. That’s quite a lot of money for an earphone for most people and more than the vast majority of IEM’s cost. That’s more than the IE80 at £180 and the SE535 at £270, only the W4 at £380 tops it and a few more esoteric things out there. So yes it is expensive but you get what you pay for, it sounds tremendous. Also, as this is top table stuff so you had better have a good source and high bitrate files to feed it too.
Conclusion: The RE-600 is without a doubt a bit of a jaw dropper. It sounds simply superb on every aspect but it’s not without an issue. Its biggest issue is money. Now I’m not saying that the 600 doesn’t deserve its price tag as it’s quite possibly the best sounding IEM I’ve ever heard and possibly my favourite one too. It more than deserves its price tag. Trouble is it’s a high price tag and justified as it may be I think it’s not an outright OMFG you must buy this right now IEM. Yes it is excellent in every way but HiFiMAN’s own RE-400 is pretty damn awesome and it’s stupid cheap. Again another cost issue was the RE-262 which has gone away but it was being sold at the nutty US$150 and it irks me a touch that it is so close acoustically yet the 600 cost so much more. That’s a big jump you know.
Money aside though the 600 is magnificent. It’s like they got the best aspect of the 252, 262 and 272 and rolled it all into one. It’s got near 252 scale and sound staging, near 272 detail retrieval and all wedded to the silky sumptuousness that was the 262. It’s got a truly beautiful acoustic nature that is flawless. Not just flawless it’s fun! It’s got the bass capability to kick it when it wants to, scale and grandeur in abundance and sooooooo perfectly controlled without sounding over tame. The 272 was a little too hard, too quick but the 262 influence has balanced and boosted it. The mids of course are, I want to use the word staggering again, they just are so beautiful. The 262 had some of the very best mids ever and they are if anything even better here. The tone is a hair on the warm side like the 262 and SE530 so I grant it’s not perfectly neutral. Things like the 272 or ER4 do perfectly neutral mids and I find them all a little soulless. The 600 has a natural beauty and it feels so realistically and passionately alive. The treble too is bang on perfect. Sure some like more but it’s as capable as you could ever hope for and the shimmer, oh it’s truly flawless.
The RE-600 may not be an out and out party IEM nor a mere technical perfectionist like the 252 was but something that aims for in the middle. Not too unlike the 262 which mas all about the musicality and simple beauty as exemplified by the like of the SE530. The 600 transforms that organic, rich beauty and adds things. It adds a rather more vigorously capable low end, adds in a scale to the proceedings and dials up the clarity level. I mean the 262 really didn’t know to party but the 600 does.
In short, the 600 is just about the most perfect IEM I have heard. Every aspect of it I have loved. It’s not cheap, it’s not a paragon of balance and neutrality so for those things you may want to look elsewhere but for a little warm, little rich amazingly good sounding IEM and are willing to pay for it then I think this it.