HIFIMAN's big dual driver custom fit offering finally gets a looking at in some detail.
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 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.