HiFiMan was founded in New York in 2005 by Dr. Fang Bian, at that point under the name Head Direct. Over the last decade the brand has grown and their lineup expanded with numerous models of headphones, earphones, media players, and more, spread across a vast swath of price points. 2017 has seen the release of some pretty impressive new top tier products.
Today we are going to be checking out one these new products; the 9.2mm, dynamic driver based RE800. This is a compact in-ear monitor which advances and refines the physical design of the popular RE400 and RE600, with the inclusion of some neat new driver tech. Are they any good? Yes, yes they are, so let’s look at why.
I would like to thank Mark with HiFiMan for sending over the RE800, along with a few other goodies, for the purposes of review. I’m not entirely clear yet on whether this gear needs to go back to HiFiMan after the reviews are up. The thoughts within this review are mine and mine alone, and do not represent HiFiMan or any other entity. There is no financial incentive for writing this review.
At the time of this writing, the RE800 retailed for 699 USD: http://store.hifiman.com/index.php/re-800.html
My Gear and I:
I’m a 30 year old professional working for what is currently the largest luxury hotel chain on the planet. I have a background in Psychology which probably explains my somewhat dry writing style. My entry into the world of portable audio was due primarily to a lack of space for a full-sized stereo system during my university years, and truly began with the venerable JVC HA-FXT90. After reading pretty much the entirety of IjokerI’s multi-earphone review thread, reviews from other established writers, and thus being greatly inspired, I took a chance and started writing my own.
Fast forward a couple years and I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to write about products for wonderful companies like HiFiMan, RHA, Accutone, ADVANCED, NarMoo, Mixcder, Brainwavz, Meze, and many more. I don’t do it for money or free stuff, but because this is my hobby and I enjoy it. If my reviews can help guide someone to a product that makes them happy, I’ll consider that a job well done and payment enough.
Gear used for testing was a Shanling M1, HiFiMan MegaMini, and my TEAC HA-501 headphone amp. I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. While I enjoy a variety of signatures I generally lean towards slightly warm with elevated treble and sub-bass, an even mid-range response, and reduced mid-bass. Lately I’ve been enjoying more mellow and relaxed products with a bass tilt. Two of my favorite in-ears, the Echobox Finder X1[i] with grey filters installed and the Fischer Audio Dubliz Enhanced are good examples of my preferred signatures.
Packaging and Accessories:
I have to admit that I was pretty excited to dive in and see what the RE800 was all about after catching my first glimpse of the packaging. The exterior sleeve contains a close up of the RE800 with a honeycomb pattern in the background. Up in the top right hand corner is a sticker highlighting that this is the 24k Gold Edition, “electroplated with a fine 24k gold finish”. Cool. The rear of the sleeve has come contact info for HiFiMan, their supported social media platforms, and some basic specifications.
Sliding off the sheath means you’re getting to the interesting parts. It reveals a large jewelry box sized case on which the HiFiMan logo is printed along with “Innovating the Art of Listening” and the model number: RE800.
Flipping open the steel latch and lifting the lid reveals a swath of deep black, felt-like material coating a thick, dense foam displaying the RE800’s earpieces and the included hard, clam-shell carrying case. Lifting out the foam sheet you find some documentation and those accessories not being held in the clam-shell case. Overall you get:
– RE800 earphones
– full-size display case
– clam-shell portable case
– 1 pair Comply T400 Large
– 1 pair Comply T400 Medium
– 1 pair grey bi-flange silicone tips (small bore)
– 1 pair black bi-flange silicone tips (medium bore)
– 1 pair black single flange silicone tips (wide bore)
– 2 pair tri-flange silicone tips (medium/large)
– 1 pair of stiff, silicone ear guides
– warranty card
– social media info card
– soft cover Owner’s Guide
I have to give special acclaim to the Owner’s Guide which is less manual, and more small coffee table book. The quality is fantastic with each page made from a thick, durable paper that shames the packaging many earphones come in. It starts with a message from HiFiMan’s Founder and CEO, Dr. Fang Bian and proceeds to explain the technology behind the unique Topology Diaphragm used in the RE800, materials used for the housings and cable, and how to properly wear and maintain the RE800. It’s a fairly basic but interesting read and a welcome inclusion.
Overall I am pleased with the RE800’s unboxing experience. The accessory kit admittedly feels a bit lacking, particularly the clam-shell case which you can pick up on AliExpress for less than a dollar, but there should be enough variety in the included tip set to find something that works for you. If not, someone who is in the market for this earphone probably already has a slew of ‘favorite’ tips to choose from instead.
Design, Build, Comfort, and Isolation:
The RE800’s ear piece design is basic, understated, and to my eyes quite attractive in it’s simplicity. The matte gold plating is subtle enough to avoid catching the attention of those around you and doesn’t look gaudy as one might expect when out of your ears and on display. While there isn’t much going on with the design at first glance, a closer look reveals a slight flare at the rear of the housing which helps with gripping the ear pieces. The soft edges that make up the curves of the earpiece add some extra dimension to what would otherwise be a mostly featureless design.
The materials selected for the RE800 are certainly quite nice. Gold-plated brass housings help give the RE800 the tonal properties HiFiMan was looking for. The Cystaline-copper, silver coated cable was selected for “its performance characteristics and notably its low cable capacitance…” which according to HiFiMan benefited the RE800’s high frequency performance. Since I have no way of comparing the various cables that were in consideration, I’ll take their word for it because I quite enjoy the RE800’s vibrant treble presentation. The y-split and chin slider (thank you!) also look to be gold-plated, but I can’t tell if HiFiMan used brass down there too. It’s definitely metal though. The 90 degree angled jack is all-metal, gold-plated as well, and very chunky. Since I’m a blaspheming scrub I tried the RE800 with my smartphone. I found that the case didn’t get in the way of the thick jack due to an extra 4mm of metal that gives the upper portion of the jack plenty of leeway.
Once we start looking at build quality, my enthusiasm begins to wane. It’s not that the RE800 is poorly built, far from it, but at the price I expected more. The two constituent parts that make up each ear piece have a clear seam separating them. On the right ear piece the coloring isn’t consistent with the ear facing section being darker. This contrast isn’t overly visible with the ear tip on, but remove it and it’s quite obvious. It’s not a major issue since it’s purely cosmetic, but at 699 USD I would expect this to be flawless.
I also have mixed feelings about the cable, those cable noise certainly isn’t one of them. Below the y-split it is thick and feels quite dense. Bends from being wrapped up remain after weeks of use, though it’s not horrible and they’ve been slowly lessening, though they’re still there. Above the y-split the cable is wonderfully flexible and all bends are gone. The offset is that it thins out significantly. This wouldn’t be so bad if the cable was properly relieved at the ear pieces, y-split, and to a lesser extent at the beefy 90 degree angled jack (which seems to be self serviceable). This is being somewhat addressed by a revised version of the RE800 with a removable, MMCX terminated cable. Still, I would like to see HiFiMan keep the fixed cable version alive and update it with proper strain relief. It’s a nice cable, it just needs some support.
Another reason I think it needs the extra support afforded by proper strain relief is because it’s a fairly heavy cable. This also results in cable down wear being less comfortable than I know it should be. The RE800 is tiny, ergonomically shaped, and the ear pieces themselves weigh very little. When worn cable down the weight tugs at the ear pieces and while it’s not enough to pull them out completely, it gets obnoxious very quickly when I’m mobile. When worn cable up the comfort levels are high and I can use them pretty much indefinitely without fatigue or discomfort.
When it comes to blocking out your environment, the RE800 is about what I was expecting; average. It’s a ported dynamic driver earphone with a fairly shallow fit. I can hear myself type, the desk fan behind me, my work computer’s fan screaming away to my right, trucks cruising outside, etc. It’s all muted, but I can still hear it.
Overall I think it’s a beautifully designed and very comfortable earphone made from quality materials, but one that needs a bit more attention paid to the finer details.
Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20kHz
Impedance: 60 ohms
Sensitivity: 105 dB
Driver: 9.2mm dynamic driver with “Topology Diaphragm”
I personally quite enjoy the two stock bi-flange options. I’m not entirely sure what the differences are between the two, but I found myself leaning towards the black set as they seemed to seal better. My review was conducted based on how the RE800 paired with the stock bi-flange options. Some other tips I tried were;
Comply T400 medium – If you are treble sensitive toss these on. They do a good job of sucking up any excess top end while filling out the low end. I didn’t notice much effect on the mid-range. If I didn’t enjoy the stock bi-flange tips so much, these would be my go-to.
JVC medium from FXT90 – Opened sound stage even further but attenuated treble to an uncomfortable extent while making the RE800 sound somewhat loose and splashy.
Ultimate Ears medium from UE600 – Similar experience to JVC’s tips but with greater treble control and lessened emphasis.
KZ ‘Starline’ medium – They provided the same sound as the stock bi-flange option, but via a longer tip. If you find the stock tips too short and don’t want to resort to the tri-flange, these might be worth a shot. Only downfall was decreased comfort worn cable down. The extra length made the tugging of the cable more prominent.
Dunu Heir-style medium single flange – Best of the 3rd party bunch. The extra shallow fit helped take in some of the cable weight without affecting the stock signature much, if at all.
Havi Sennheiser-style dual flange – Normally one of my go-to tips, yet a very bad choice for the RE800. Way too much and very splashy treble.
I’m a bit of a sucker for the application of unique technology. In the case of the RE800 and it’s flagship sibling the RE2000, that technology is HiFiMan’s “Topology Diaphragm”. According to the included documentation, a special nano-coating is applied to the diaphragm. By adjusting the layout, thickness, pattern, etc. they can achieve their desired tune. What I hear from the RE800 is relative neutrality in terms of mid-range and bass presence, with a nice uptick in the treble regions to give them some extra pizzazz.
As someone who enjoys boosted treble, the RE800’s presentation was quite enjoyable. Other reviews have noted a sharp peak in the 7k region which can cause fatigue if overdone, such as on the RHA CL1 Ceramic which re-calibrated my definition of “bright”. I thought it was a fun earphone, but for brief periods only. Thankfully, with the RE800 I did not find this peak a tiring affair. It instead offered a slightly thin, very honed, airy, sparkly sound, not entirely unlike the treble tuning JVC applies to their micro-driver units. This also meant that it wasn’t an entirely natural presentation with cymbals attacking a little too aggressively, though I though the decay time seemed about right. This tuning seemed most effective at the low volumes at which I typically listen; anywhere from 2-5 out of 32 (track and location dependent) through HiFiMan’s MegaMini for example. Only when upping the volume considerably did it start to get uncomfortable and cause fatigue, but to my ears this is the case with most earphones.
The RE800’s mid-range is probably my favorite aspect of their signature, coming across quite natural sounding and exceptionall well-textured and detailed to my ears. Running through some great albums like Supertramp’s ‘Crime of the Century’, Elton’s John’s ‘Golden Yellow Brick Road’, and Massive Attack’s ‘Mezzanine’ were invigorating experiences. Leading into the upper mids the lean qualities of the treble were retained, thickening up as you shifted down into the lower mids. It’s not entirely unlike how the mid-range is handled on my Accutone Pisces BA hybrid, though with greater subtlety and coherence.
The RE800’s bass seems tuned to follow the track’s agenda, not it’s own. If the track has bass in a supporting role, that’s where it stays. If a deep bass line leads the track, such as on Massive Attack’s ‘Angel’, the RE800 will portray it that way. Add to that some authoritative mid-bass punch with a quick attack and decay and the RE800 can quickly draw you into your music as you re-explore familiar tracks. It’s a very convincing presentation that really helps with immersing myself into my music when I simply want to sit and listen.
This earphone’s expansive sound stage also helps with this immersion factor. My live recorded King Crimson tracks sound larger and more open than I’m used to, exacerbated by the RE800’s slightly slender note presentation and excellent separation. The amount of detail this earphone pulls out of the track is pretty intense as well, making tracks like ‘Easy Money’ a blast. Using the RE800 for gaming is a killer experience, handily easily besting some of my favorite (though much less expensive) in-ears that I routinely use for this purpose, those being the Brainwavz B100 and Fischer Audio Dubliz Enhanced. The accuracy of imaging and layering with the RE800 is uncanny. As long as the sound design permits it, minute changes in direction are quite easily picked up.
Overall I found the RE800 to be a very impressive listen. I can certainly see some finding the combination of treble energy and extreme detail a little fatiguing, but for my preferences I wouldn’t have it any other way.
When it comes down to it, I think the RE800 is a fantastic earphone. It’s made from quality materials, the design is beautiful, and it’s small and comfortable. It has an exceptionally detailed and vivid presentation that to my ears manages to avoid being uncomfortably bright or fatiguing. It’s also an earphone that worked well with nearly anything I tossed it’s way.
It’s sound and design are top notch, though fit and finish could see improvements. The poorly relieved and slightly heavy cable is also something to watch when considering raw longevity, but that’s almost a moot concern since an MMCX equipped version is on the way to remedy this.
While earphones in this price range are still somewhat alien to me, of those I have had the opportunity to spend a significant amount of time with the RE800 and it’s vibrant sound clearly stands out and leaves a lingering, positive impression. I’m thankful to have heard and experienced it.
Thanks for reading!
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Some Test Tunes:
Aesop Rock – Skelethon (Album)
Elton John – Yellow Golden Brick Road (Album)
King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (Album)
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black (Track)
Supertramp – Crime of the Century (Album)
Infected Mushroom – Converting Vegetarians (Album)
Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma (Album)
Gorillaz – Plastic Beach (Album)
Massive Attack – Mezzanine (Album)
Fleetwood Mac – Rumors (Album)
Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels (Album)
The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy (Album)
Tobacco – F****d Up Friends
Felt – Felt 2 (A Tribute to Lisa Bone)