HiFiMAN RE800 Silver: More for Less
Today we’re checking out the follow up to HiFiMan’s premium gold-plated single dynamic earphone, the RE800. What’s it called? The RE800 Silver (RE800 S, or just Silver from here on in).
HiFiMAN as they currently exist began in 2007 and is the brainchild of Dr. Fang Bian. Known best for their extensive lineup of high quality planar magnetic headphones, over the years they’ve expanded their lineup to include amplifiers, DAP, and earphones, as well as introduced interesting new technologies. With the original RE800 and RE2000 HiFiMAN debuted the ‘Topology Diaphragm’. This technology applies a nano-level coating to the diaphragm in various geometric patterns. By varying aspects like the surface pattern and compound used, the idea is that you can manipulate the sound the driver outputs and it’s sonic qualities, improving the way sonic waves interact with your ear. To date, four HiFiMAN products featuring this technology have crossed my plate and all have sounded spectacular. With their newest releases, the RE800 Silver and RE2000 Silver, I feel they have refined this process to create the two of the best earphones to come from the brand (from those I’ve tried of course).
Let’s take a closer look at the RE800 S to see why I think it is a premium earphone worth consideration.
This RE800 Silver is a sample provided by HiFiMAN for the purposes of review. It remains their property and will be returned if requested. The thoughts within this review are my own based on use of the RE800 Silver over the last two months. They do not represent HiFiMAN or any other entity. At the time of writing, the RE800 Silver was selling for 599.00 USD: http://hifiman.com/products/detail/292
The RE800 Silver was powered primarily by my TEAC HA-501 desktop amp with a ZiShan DSD or HiFi E.T. MA8 taking on source duty. For mobile use, it was either run straight out of the Shanling M0 which powered it just fine, or through the Radsone Earstudio ES100 over LDAC connected to my LG G6. The RE800’s impedance is higher than usual for an iem, but the high sensitivity makes up for this so it’s not particularly difficult to get up to comfortable listening volumes.
I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. In 2018 I learned that I no longer have a preferred signature and can understand and appreciate vastly different earphones. The HiFiMAN RE800, Brainwavz B400, and Massdrop x MeeAudio Planamic are examples of earphones with wildly varied signatures that are enjoyable for different reasons. I generally listen at very low volumes, so keep this in mind when perusing my thoughts on how an earphone sounds.
- Driver: 9.2mm dynamic with ‘Topology Diaphragm’
- Frequency Range: 5Hz – 20kHz
- Impedance: 60 ohms
- Sensitivity: 105dB
Packaging, and Accessories:
The original RE800 had a premium unboxing experience that was appropriate for the 800 USD price tag. Along with a reduction in price, the Silver RE800 sees a reduction in the quality of the unboxing experience.
Gone is the jewelery box type case, replaced with a more traditional but still quite large cardboard box. On the front of the lid is an image of the RE800 Silver (RE800 S from here on in) set on a dark background. A heavy bokeh effect has been applied, blurring out all but the rear of one of the housings which displays the HiFiMAN logo. Below is a black strip where the HiFiMAN branding and model information is displayed. Around the sides you find additional HiFiMAN and RE800 S branding. On the base of the box you find a few specifications along with some contact information, a QR code, and social media links for HiFiMAN.
Lifting off the lid you find the RE800 S nestled in a dense foam sheet with the same basic clamshell carrying case we saw on the original RE800. Inside the case is a plethora of ear tips. Lifting out the foam sheet you find some silicone ear guides, a warranty card, and a high quality Owner’s Guide that wouldn’t be out of place sitting on your coffee table.
- RE800 Silver earphones
- clam-shell portable case
- 2 pair black bi-flange silicone tips (medium bore)
- 1 pair white bi-flange silicone tips (wide bore, large)
- 1 pair black single flange silicone tips (wide bore, medium)
- 3 pair white single flange silicone tips (medium bore, small/medium/large)
- 3 pair black tri-flange silicone tips (small to medium bore, small/medium/large)
- 3 pair white tri-flange silicone tips (small to medium bore, small/medium/large)
- 1 pair of silicone ear guides
- warranty card
- soft cover Owner’s Guide
I was expecting the same accessory kit that came with the original RE800, but nope. Minus the unfortunate omission of Comply foam tips with no replacement, the RE800 S comes with a much better selection of tips than the original RE800, including most styles in various sizes. This should make the need for after market options less necessary. The pre-installed medium bi-flange set was a perfect fit for me, just as it was on the original RE800, and accompanied the RE800 S throughout testing.
While I found the unboxing experience less satisfying than on the original RE800 due to the omission of the classy case, it’s made up for by a more fleshed out and useful tip set that caters to a more broad range of ear shapes and sizes. It’s a bit of give and take, and in my opinion, if it had to happen it went in the right direction by ditching flashiness for substance.
Build, Comfort, and Isolation:
While the RE800 S shares it’s compact shell design with the original RE800, it eschews gold-plated brass for a lighter, more cost effective aluminum alloy. As such, the shape is still alike a Hershey’s Kiss with the twirl lopped off. At their widest point, the RE800 S is only just over 10mm thick, and from the tip of the nozzle to the back of the ear piece is only 19mm long. The 6mm wide nozzle is pretty standard in size and shape and can accommodate a wide variety of tips which in my opinion is pretty awesome. You can use pretty much whatever tip you want with the RE800 S. Construction quality is okay, but it could be better. The two main sections that make up the majority of the ear pieces are nicely machined and fit together well with a tight but visible seam. As on the original RE800, I found the front half of the the shell slightly glossier than the back half. Hardly noticeable, but it’s there. The protrusion the cable enters is fitted less neatly, with some uneven spacing where it should be touching the rest of the ear piece. It doesn’t look bad and isn’t particularly noticeable unless you’re deliberately hunting for flaws. It is also a bummer to see that there is no strain relief, criticism I had with the original RE800.
Unlike the original RE800 which ditched this fixed cable design for an MMCX upgrade shortly after release, HiFiMAN went back to the original fixed cable design with the S model without addressing potential durability shortcomings. The cable itself is mostly unchanged with a fairly plain looking rubber sheath housing quality silver-plated wiring within. I actually do like the cable quite a bit for the most part. It is pretty flexible and doesn’t tangle, with my main criticism being levied at cable noise. Wearing the RE800S down, it picks up a fair bit of noise from movement, especially if you’re not using the chin cinch. Noise from anything that touches that little ring of aluminum travels straight up the cable and into your ears. Wearing the RE800 S with the cable up and around the ears, especially with the silicone ear guides in place, addresses this nigh completely.
At least comfort is amazing. Given the RE800 S is lighter than it’s predecessor, it is even more comfortable. The RE400/600 inspired design is tiny, there are no sharp edges to rub on the ear, and since it is so light they virtually disappear when in use. The low profile also means that on windy days, you don’t have to worry about a ton of interference from wind rushing by. The two vents on the base of each ear piece are protected from the wind, while the rounded shells let it rush by with little interference.
I found isolation, even with silicone tips in place, to be above average for a dynamic based earphone. Going out for my nightly walks with the RE800 S saw me leaving one ear piece out most of the time so I could hear cars and others around me. Using it in my local Tim Hortons was a great experience with the RE800 S pretty easily drowning out the chatter and bustle around me, without needing to resort to volume to block it out. Using the included triple flange tips or some spare Comply foamies I had lying around improves isolation even further. If you like to enjoy your high end audio in noisy places or on the run, the RE800 S is a good companion.
When much less expensive products using the same type of materials have better fit and finish, often with more complicated designs and removable cables, I can’t help but be underwhelmed with the construction of the RE800 S. It’s certainly functional, but I know HiFiMAN can do better. At least the RE800 S makes up for any build shortcomings with outstanding comfort and long term wearability, and above average isolation.
Tips: The pre-installed bi-flange set is my favorite with the RE800 S. Wide bore tips like Havi bi-flange and JVC single flange tips tend to accentuate treble and open the sound stage. While the treble accentuation was a bit too extreme on the original RE800, the pairing was much more acceptable on the Silver. Foam tips like Comply Isolation T400s or Comfort TS400 were also a nice pairing. They tamed the treble somewhat and let the clean mids and deep bass shine. These are my second choice to the stock bi-flange, if only because it’s inconvenient to have to compress and reseat them every time the RE800 S is removed from my ear to tend to something. KZ’s cost effective, community named “Starline” tips are a great alternative to the stock bi-flange since they retain the stock signature. They also allow a slightly deeper fit if needed.
Like the original RE800 before it, the RE800 S is a vibrant sounding earphone. While they certainly share some traits, the S model comes across as the superior product from an auditory perspective.
The S is less treble heavy to my ears with reduced spikes that make aggressive cymbal work on Havok and other metal bands albums more natural. Cymbal decay is still snappy as heard on something like Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes”, enabling stong instrument separation, further aided by some solid air between notes. It also sounds wonderfully realistic with higher register instruments easily matching the emotional vocal performance of Paul Williams on Daft Punk’s “Touch”.
The RE800 S’ midrange is amazingly clear with outstanding vocal articulation that really stands out. Artists like Aesop Rock have a very dense lyrical style which can lead to listeners having a hard time understanding what he’s saying. This is especially notable on older tracks where he was still finding his flow and didn’t articulate quite as well as he has in recent years. Since he has so much to say and does so in a way that requires analysis, an earphone with outstanding vocal clarity and detail is helpful. The RE800 S is just that, easily picking up every tiny detail and nuance. Sibilance is kept in check too, something that in lesser earphones can be a prominent issue on Aesop’s “Blood Sandwich”. Timbre is accurate too which each instrument on King Crimson’s ‘Lark’s Tongues in Aspic’ album sounding distinct and unique from each other.
The original RE800 was lacking sub-bass emphasis and extension in my opinion, and that has been fixed with the Silver. It digs deeper and has a more satisfying texture and punch, in addition to providing a more visceral feel on the deepest notes. This is evident in the closing minutes of Daft Punk’s “Touch” when the choir is singing. A simple bass line plays along in the background. On the original RE800 is it present but lacks impact, while through the Silver you both hear and feel each beat more significantly. On Skrillex’s “Breakin’ a Sweat (feat. The Doors)” you can also feel and hear the improved bass response. As a result I feel it makes the RE800 S a more well-rounded and complete sound earphone benefiting greater compatibility with a wider variety of musical genres.
The RE800 S also has a pleasingly natural sound stage and on King Crimson’s live rendition of “Night Watch” puts you in a small concert hall, a few rows back from the stage. Vocals are forward a centre with instruments splaying out to each side encompassing the width of the stage. Even electronic tracks like Evil Nine’s “Crooked feat. Aesop Rock” somehow manages to sound spacious. The vocals are set amidst dynamic drum beats and swirling digital effects that move with precision and accuracy between channels. Congestion is not a part of the RE800 S’ feature set either, instead displaying impressive layering and separation even during the noisy, closing moments of King Crimson’s “Starless and Bible Black”.
Select Comparisons (volumes matched with Dayton Audio iMM-6):
Campfire Audio Polaris: Let’s just get out of the way now that I feel the Polaris’ construction is vastly superior. The machined aluminum and ceracote housings with removable ALO MMCX cables are oozing with style and a level of durability the RE800 S cannot match. In HiFiMAN’s favour, the RE800 S is significantly smaller and more universal in it’s fit with much better isolation. In terms of sound both display a mildly v or u-shaped signature with deep bass, crisp mids, and well-extended treble. The Polaris has a colder, brighter, less organic sound which places more emphasis on the upper-mids and lower treble. The RE800 S’ bass digs deeper and has more sub-bass emphasis. The Polaris’ mids are similarly weighted but have a somewhat dry, analytic quality to them especially noticeable with male vocals. The Polaris’ treble doesn’t display the same level of shimmer on cymbals and other instruments, but does come across more detailed. The RE800 S’ sound stage is deeper and more rounded when compared to the Polaris which sounds large but reasonable flat. I find the HiFiMAN to provide more accurate imaging, while the Polaris’ additional drivers give it the edge with layering and separation.
HiFiMAN RE2000 Silver: Like the RE800 S, the RE2000 S shares it’s design with it’s more pricey counterpart, swapping out brass for an aluminum shell. Overall build quality is pretty similar to the RE800 S, though the RE2000 S is much larger with an over-ear design and some plastic flourishes for the faceplate and the 2-pin cable port that take away from the premium feel a bit. I really wish HiFiMAN would have pressed their logo into the plastic, but it’s still printed. The RE800 S’ laser etched logo looks better and will be more durable long term. The Silver variants of the RE800 and RE2000 certainly share some qualities, as did the original gold variants. As before, the RE800 S is leaner and brighter, though the RE2000 no longer has an advantage in terms of bass depth. The RE2000 S is slightly more detailed and overall has a fuller and bodied presentation set within a wider, deeper sound stage. It just sounds bigger and more bombastic compared to the RE800 S’ making it seem more intimate and analytic.
HiFiMAN’s high end iems are a testament to the argument that a single dynamic done right is hard to beat. The original RE800 was no slouch and impressed me in a number of ways. The Silver variant builds on the successes of the original by making improvements in just the right places, namely taming some treble peaks while improving bass extension and sub-bass presence. Support that with a lower price tag and a more cohesive accessory kit and you’ve got yourself a top tier earphone that is well worth an audition. While I wish they carried over the MMCX upgrade the original RE800 received shortly after release, the fixed cable used on the RE800 S should be good enough for those that don’t want to worry about the cons that go along with removable cables, such as the inherent fragility of MMCX and the potential for lost ear pieces.
Thanks for reading!
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Some Test Tunes:
Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid (Album)
Hail Mary Mallon – Are You Going to Eat That? (Album)
King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (Album)
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black (Track)
Supertramp – Crime of the Century (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 (Album)
Felt – Felt 2 (A Tribute to Lisa Bonet) (Album)
Michael Jackson – Thriller (Album)
The Crystal Method – Grace (feat. LeAnn Rimes) (Track)
Jidenna – Long Live the Chief (Track)
Skrillex – Ragga Bomb (Track)
Big Grams – Run for Your Life (Track)
Funkadelic – Maggot Brain (Track)
Aesop Rock – Fishtales (Track)