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
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
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.