HiFiMAN RE-00 Earphone Review by mark2410
Thanks to Massdrop for the loaner.
First Impressions: So while I expect that many readers of this will know the name HiFiMAN but since Massdrop may be bringing these to a more mainstream audience too I’ll give a bit of background. Years Back HiFiMAN made an earphone called the RE-0. It retailed for err a couple hundred US dollars and it was wide lauded as a dynamic version of the venerable ER-4 from Etymotic. Though you gave up a lot of isolation you gained perhaps an even better treble reproduction. In short it was one of the most accurate earphones ever created. Then one day HiFiMAN slashed the price of the RE-0 to US$100 and Head-Fi went bat poop crazy. Old guard audio peeps lavished praise on it like mad and were blown away with the audio quality given its price. However not all was roses. You see new people saw all this praise, grabbed a set and then discovered what neutral bass actually was and they weren’t thrilled. So you need to get right from the start these have very neutral bass which means they are probably less bassy than just about any earphone you may have ever heard. The way humans perceive sound means that most things dramatically bump up the bass quantity, these do not.
Now with that out of the way we can talk about these a bit. Now why have I told you about the RE-0 when this is the RE-00? Well, HiFiMAN decided a few years back to kill the line and its replacement was the RE-400. It got rave reviews too for the money but it wasn’t the RE-0 and it wasn’t just quite as resolving or detailed. There were people who lamented the end of the RE-0 and I was one of them. So Massdrop has gotten involved and I don’t know how it came to be but they have got HiFiMAN to make this, the RE-00. Now it’s not exactly like the 0, there are some differences but this is close, soooo close with one exception. Its price. This Massdrop will deliver you one for US$35 in the US or for US$40 elsewhere in the world. With that price I thought these must just be playing on the old 0 name.
So in came my box and they come in a very small little box. Not anything fancy at all and when you open the box you get a pretty, err shall we say Spartan bundle. You get the earphones with a pair of tips on them and you get a little plastic bag with 1 more pair of tips. Basically you get sod all. No case, no adapters, no shirt clip, nothing. So when you order a pair of these, order a case too.
You see I put them in my ears after raking out a suitable pair of foamy tips and started playing music. Oh my god!!! Now it’s been a long time since I fished out the RE-0 but from memory these must be dangerously close to them in audio. Oh good god, that means you can get a pair of RE-0’s practically for US$35!!!!!!!!!!! Now while I hear a lot of stuff and as a rule stuff is all so good these days for the money that I’m never really surprised that something is great if not amazing for the price but these…… these are just taking the piss. Go right now and order a pair. If you care enough to have read this for, go order at least one pair right now then come to finish reading the review. I can tell you now though, just buy a pair and thank me later.
Source: FiiO E7/E9 combo, Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd Anv., HiFiMAN HM-650, 1G Ipod Shuffle, Nexus 5 and Graham Slee Solo Ultra Linear.
Lows: If there is anywhere that may contentious it’s probably the lows. If you think Beats sound awesome but you’d like a bit more bass then these are not for you. These are neutral which by the powers of human perceptions, you’re not feeling the bass with your whole ear and whole body so those unaccustomed to only hearing bass will find them very bass light. Now normally I’d say more bass doesn’t mean better or whatever but the fact is these are right, it’s you that’s wrong. These are for all intents perfectly balanced. Still the reality is most people aren’t used to only hearing bass and will want very much more than is here. You can slap in a little bass boosting amp if you want that’ll fill them out but they will never be bass monsters.
So what about the quality? OMFG!!!!!! These sound like they have forgotten a 0 off the end of their price. The sheer nuance and articulation these things have, for US$35 is F-ing nuts!!!! Pick all of the sweary words and still you’re not going to full express how staggeringly and jaw droppingly good these are for that price. Nothing else come close and I doubt ever will. I can only liken it the acoustic equivalent of some Bernini masterpiece, both Apollo and Daphne and the Ecstasy of St. Teresa spring to mind. Marble like hardness yet so delicately sculpted, flowing and intricate.
Mids: Staggeringly good. They may be technically a tiny smidge dry and cool in their expressiveness. They are more detail than smoothly focused but their detail levels are just so off the charts for this price. Mariah Carey may be the perfect vocal for these to reproduce being so breathy and at the same time being able to swoop and soar to an absurd degree. Everything sounds excellent on them, and not just for the money, excellent full stop. Now you can get better and you can get more flavoured options, I mean the PL-50 is still some of the best mids around and in a very, very mid centric form with the most buttery, creamy mids. The mids here are not smooth and involving, they are a little dry but text book quality. The detail levels they spit out is crazy and for strings, it’s just crazy town. The nuances and the detail they extracts so easily is stupid, guitars aren’t just plucking but you can hear their fingers sliding up and down the strings where the ridges of their fingertips meet the texture of the strings. Once more you can get more detail out of IEM’s but not for anything on the same planet as this price.
Jesus if ever there was a hard core audiophile, pure sonic marvel that everyone needs to have in their collection it is this. It is benchmark grade, sonically pure neutrality.
Highs: So if there is anywhere these shine to the utmost degree it is the highs. Not that are super trebly, though they are a little brighter than most they are still a little touch nudged down from the old 0. Actually a bit closer to the ZERO perhaps. Anyway…. these put all that detail retrieval to work and are superbly revealing. The dawn side to that is you really can ruin some well-loved tracks. For example I’ve rather liked Skunk Anansi’s Stoosh album. There are some excellent tracks on there but…. the treble in many of them sounds terrible. Its scratchy brittle garbage that sound like someone made a maraca’s out of a cheese grater and some rusty nails. Once you’ve had these detail thrown in your face it’s very hard not to always hear them. These are easily sufficiently good that they will throw such bad mastering / recordings / low bit rate whatever the problem is, right under your nose. Once you’ve heard it you can’t un-hear it. It isn’t really the RE-00’s fault but it is an issue they present.
Honestly though, that’s just reason to get better music. These can’t and shouldn’t be faulted for being too good. These are exquisite in their detail retrieval and their clarity. The most subtle of details are all presented for your perusal and every aspect is stunning. The reproduction of a metallic twang is stunning as is their ability to smoothly and accurately decay. Good quality dynamic drivers always beat balanced armatures in the level of naturalness of treble reproduction. The treble here is among the best of any IEM at any price. Oh and their extension too is superb. These are practically acoustically flawless.
Soundstage: They are fine. They aren’t huge, they aren’t big. They do depend on the track you’re listening to as they can nail the acoustic lightness and air of a large or completely open space. If you have them shallow and far back seated they sound bigger than if you really shove them in there.
Fit: The included tips, the big bi-flange one well, I get why but I have crap sinuses and the tight seal the silicon tips gives gave me air pressure issues. Very quickly I found a pair of Comply’s and they were just too small to get a seal without ramming them in. However I did find a pair of the big, rounded ones and that made for a much better fit. They could sit more shallow and still give me a seal. Oh and with their bass response level you will want a snug seal.
Comfort: Tip dependant but with the big foamies and sitting shallow I was happy wearing them for hours and hours at a time.
Cable: Well it’s just like the old cable from the RE-0. It kinda sucked then and it kinda sucks now. It’s a cloth weave thing but the issue is it’s a little stiff and the thing is a kinky like a German porno. Sigh if only these were a user replaceable cable but they aren’t. So you buy these and I VERY strongly suggest you buy a case for them, Penon Audio do a few great ones btw.
Microphonics: Actually it was fine. I don’t love the cable but especially when worn up there was no microphonic issues. Just as well since there is no chin slider.
Isolation: Dependant on tip choices and the seal you get. With the big Comply’s on it was pretty good. I’d be totally fine using these out an about and on a bus. As usual Tube or long flights I’d want a bit more but it’s all waaaaay easy enough to make yourself an impromptu hood ornament. I think especially easy given there is a high degree you will be paying attention to all the details in your music you never realised was there. Eye’s people!
Aesthetics: They look fine. They look so deceptively bland hiding their amazeballsness. Looks wise yeah it’s fine, nice but nothing special.
Build Quality: Now the actually buds seem excellent. That cable though, yeah I’ve never loved it and I wish it was user replaceable but frankly at the price it feels wrong to moan about it. The cable is sturdy feeling but it’s that inclination to get all kinky. Once you’ve wound them up to go in the case you have bought for them and you open it, be careful in their unravelling.
Amped/Unamped: Well these have an impedance of 64 ohms. They like power, they like it lots and they scale well with it. Now of course it’ll work out of your phone and still probably blow everything else away but you buy these you will want an amp. Even if it’s just a little FiiO esq bass boosting amp. Hmmm, must remember to suggest Massdrop do a bundle with one of these and maybe a little E6 or something. Yeah these are stupid amazeballs good and they soar to new heights if you amp them, the bass boosting button is just gravy. Welcome to crazy audiophile land.
Value: Shut up and take my money!!!!!
Conclusion: These are insane, insanely good. The value question is just so absurd at the price they are selling them for. There is nothing for a similar that comes close, not just not close but not on the same planet. If you add a 1 in front of their price then you’re starting to get things closer to them. If you add a 0 to the end of their price then you’re starting to get things as sonically capable as them. Seriously these are epic in an epicness way that I need to go buy a thesaurus to even hint at their brilliance. Anyone who has any, and I mean any audiophile pretentions needs to order a pair right this second if you didn’t already when I told you to at the start. These are so close to sonic perfection of the likes of the Etymotic ER4 but for the price of a pizza.
There are a few downish sides. First of all there is the bass “issue.” You see lots of people expect tons more than is here, when the RE-0 dropped to US$100 there were a bunch of people buying then being shocked. These are neutral. The other is that the cable they have and the bundle are not super great. Now the bundle is fine because then you’re not being forced to buy things you may not want and you can always use the little cardboard box they came in ‘till you get a real case. Then that cable. Sigh it’s just not one I like, it’s like it was made from old coat hangers, oh if these had a user replaceable cable but then they are soooooooooooooooo cheap. It’s hard when they sound so phenomenally astounding that you mentally can’t think of them as not operating in the same circles as much higher costing products.
So would I / should you buy one? Duh, seriously have not ordered at least one pair already? At their price of US$35 delivered in the US and of US$40 anywhere else in the world there is no product that sounds like this for this price. There are tiny little things you can quibble over in their acoustic balance and in comparison to other things but long and short of is these are proper world class, first rate, benchmark grade, pure audiophile quality, excellence for a price that is laughably low. These are for all intents, acoustic perfection and are the best value audio product in the history of buying stuff.