Hifiman RE600s: Timely Classic
Today we’re checking out an older release from Hifiman, the RE600s.
While this brand is probably still best known for their planar headphones, their iem lineup has received it’s fair share of accolades over the years. The RE600s is one of them, though it has largely become overlooked in what is a shockingly fast moving industry. New releases are forgotten within the month, and older gems might as well not exist given how little attention they get. When the updated RE600s was released in 2017, it was already far from being a new product (original released in 2013), it just so happened to have been updated and revised with a better cable and more common 3.5mm jack. In 2020, reviewing such a product might seem like an especially weird choice. Surely tech has moved on and the RE600s is completely irrelevant? While there is one aspect in particular where the RE600s could and should have been improved upon by now, it’s guts still out compete many of it’s modern counterparts and it remains a very competitive earphone.
Let’s take a closer look.
What I Hear The RE600s is one of the few iems that I would say aims for a neutral signature. The extremities are lightly elevated keeping the RE600s from sounding sterile and lifeless, broadening it’s appeal to my ears. This is one that can satisfy pretty much everyone. My first listen brought to mind the RE600s’s little brother, the RE400, but with a dose of refinement and some tweaks that make it the standout of the two (as it should be given the chasm in price).
Treble out of the RE600s is fairly well balanced between upper and lower regions. Lower treble gives the signature plenty of detail without crossing into analytic territory, while upper treble is boosted just enough to give instruments some shimmer and sparkle. The best part is that, while raised above neutral, the RE600s’ upper regions remain smooth and impressively fatigue free. Notes are well controlled and absent of splashiness. Dynamics are great too with notes having plenty of depth, snap, and attack to them. There is very little to criticize here. “Some Skunk Funk” from The Brecker Brothers has a tendency to become grating through earphones with less refined treble, but here through the RE600s you get the detail and energy without the pain.
Bass is much the same, though I can guarantee there will be many that feel quantity is greatly lacking. Basshead earphones the RE600s is not. That said, even as someone that thoroughly enjoys bassy iems, I had no problems enjoying myself with the quantity of bass on hand from the RE600s. It was enough to satisfy on everything but dedicated bass tracks. Mid-bass is lean but notes hit with authority and texturing is phenomenal. There is no sense of bloat, nor is the midrange affected in any way. Subbass extension is great with the RE600s pretty easily replicating deep rumbly notes that you feel more than hear, like the opening of Kavinski’s “Solli”. Just don’t expect them to rattle your eardrums because the quantity needed for that simply isn’t there.
In the mids is where the RE600s really shines. With a near perfect balance and zero sibilance (that wasn’t already there in the recording), all vocalists I’ve tried from Yazmin Lacey to Corey Taylor sound absolutely stunning. They come across textured and natural, shining among the instruments and effects present throughout the rest of the track. This extends to instrumentation too where timbre is pretty much spot on, matching benchmarks like the venerable JVC HA-FXT90. About all I can fault the RE600s for here, and this could also be a plus given personal preference, is that intense micro-details picked up by analytic earphones, such as the EarNiNE EN2J, are smoothed over slightly. It’s still a very detailed presentation, just not one that can be used to truly pick apart and dissect a track in a way that some others do better. I’m going to use a term I know the community loves; musical. The RE600s’ midrange is musical and engaging, not sterile and analytic.
The RE600s’ balanced presentation is set within a fairly average sized sound stage, but one that is very well rounded and even. Effects will dance off into the distance at times, but for the most part music plays within the realm of just past the confines of your head. This isn’t a bad thing because stereo imaging is top tier and extremely accurate in the way sound is placed, and sweeps from channel to channel. Layering and separation are very good too, among the better single dynamics I’ve heard, but falling short of multi-driver setups like my benchmark in this price range, the Brainwavz B400.
Overall I can’t help but love the way the RE600s sounds. The balance of treble, mids, and bass is just right. Timbre is natural and engaging. The somewhat intimate sound stage works well with the technical performance. It all rolls together to create a cohesive experience that few earphones in this price range provide.
Compared To A Peer (volumes matched with Dayton iMM-6)
Not going to go over build in these comparisons since the RE600s is pretty far behind the competition in this regard. They’re also ahead of the rest in terms of comfort and ergonomics, so that’ll be skipped too. Sound only this time around.
BGVP DM6 (199.00 USD): The DM6’s penta-armature setup provides a very different listening experience than the RE600s’ single 8.5mm dynamic driver. Where the Hifiman is balanced and even from top to bottom, the DM6 is bassier and more aggressive. The DM6’s low end and mid-range are thicker and more weighty compared to the RE600s but sub-bass rolls off earlier, or at least it feels like it since low notes lack the visceral feel of the RE600s’ dynamic driver. Treble is similar in emphasis through the presence region with the RE600s holding strong into the brilliance region where the DM6 loses emphasis. This results in the RE600s having a more sparkly, airy top end. That said, the DM6 has a larger sound stage all around, especially width, though it’s imaging lacks the razor sharp precision of Hifiman’s single driver. Layering is quite similar between the two with the DM6 showing slightly improved instrument separation when tracks gets overly convoluted. Timbre out of the RE600 is more accurate, especially on brighter instruments and effects where the DM6 comes across somewhat artificial and metallic. Both earphones display snappy attack and decay characteristics with the RE600s’ bass being more nimble, textured, and articulate.
While the DM6 provides some serious “wow factor” on first listen, this quickly wears off and the RE600s’ more mature and balanced tuning wins me over.
TFZ Secret Garden HD (199.00 USD): Like the RE600s, the Secret Garden HD (SG from here on out) features a single dynamic driver setup, though one considerably larger at 12mm vs. the Hifiman’s 8.5mm. It too is coated with a dense material. Where Hifiman chose titanium, TFZ went with graphene. So what does this do for the listening experience? I don’t know, but they’re both good, but also quite different. While I’d still say the SG has a well-balanced tune (esp. for a TFZ), the RE600s is notably more so. The SG’s lower treble is significantly more emphasized making the SG the more detailed and analytic earphone, but this combined with an upper midrange bump results in sibilance not present in the RE600s. The SG’s midrange is leaner and colder sounding which to my ears makes it best suited to male vocals, while the RE600s handles all genders wonderfully. The low end of the TFZ is more abundant in both upper and low bass, with sub-bass presence being much more prominent. Personally, this is right up my alley and as such I find the TFZ’s bass much more engaging, especially since it gives up little to nothing in terms of texture and control. Sound stage falls into TFZs’s camp with the SG sounding wider and deeper. It can toss sounds well off into the distance in a way the RE600s simply cannot. In Hifiman’s corner is imaging accuracy which the SG cannot touch. The RE600s also replicates tracks in a more layered and nuanced way, with instruments retaining greater separation during congested moments. The biggest gulf between these two is when it comes to timbre. TFZ does a good job in the bass and and lower mids, but as frequencies rise it sounds less and less natural, unlike the RE600s which simply sounds “right” top to bottom.
Like the DM6, the TFZ provides plenty of “wow factor” on first listen, but unlike the DM6 it sticks around. Despite enjoying the SG’s bass more, the RE600s’ technical prowess and more realistic and consistent presentation means it fairly easily takes the win.
Campfire Audio Comet (199.00 USD): The Comet is Campfire Audio’s most affordable earphone at the moment, but they didn’t cut corners to achieve this. This is evident in the outstanding build quality and the impressive sound coming from the single full-range armatures installed in each earpiece. Next to the RE600s, the Comet provides listeners with a warmer sound signature. The presentation is more silky and smooth, with additional mid-bass presence that gives the Comet a heavier sound, thicker midrange, countered by some shimmery treble energy. While upper treble on the Comet does roll off somewhat early thanks to the limitations of it’s single armature, it’s more emphasized than the lower treble. This gives it a bit more sparkle than the RE600s, but it’s resolution suffers in the process and it lacks the micro detail of Hifiman’s 8.5mm dynamic. This reduced texture and detail is present through the entire frequency range. On the plus side, I find it makes the Comet easier to listen to for VERY long periods, though neither is particularly fatiguing to my ears. The Comet has a wider but somewhat flat and generally confined stage. Imaging is tighter and slightly more accurate on the RE600s, whereas imaging and instrument separation is clearly in the RE600s’ corner. When it comes to speed, notes through the Comet’s armatures hit with less rapidity and decay slower. Bass notes tend to linger which I appreciate, which feeds into the smooth, somewhat mellow experience the Comet exudes.
Since these two takes such different approaches to replicating sound, I’m having a hard time saying which I enjoy more. I appreciate the RE600s’ accuracy and technical competence which are clearly superior, but at the same time the Comet’s warmer, more mellow presentation is so very pleasing to the ear. I guess I’ll have to give them a tie and say they are complimentary. If you want a more neutral, accurate experience, go for the RE600s. If you want a bassier, more relaxing experience, go for the Comet.
In The Ear The RE600s shares a shell with it’s more budget friendly sibling, the RE400, but there are some notable improvements. Where the RE400 is bare aluminum, the RE600s is finished in a glossy piano black that makes it look and feel more premium. This also helps with scratch resistance. The cable is similar to the one on the RE400 but has been beefed up a bit, especially below the y-split where the cloth section is much thicker. Doesn’t help much though, as the sheath quality is still well below average. The rubber sheath above the y-split is very stiff and plasticy and in cold weather loses most flexibility while the cloth cable below the y-split is prone to kinking and tangling as it wraps up upon itself. To put it simply, the cable feels cheap and unbefitting of the RE600s, let alone any iem above 10 USD for that matter. At least strain relief at the earpieces and straight jack is good, though it’s missing at the y-split, a common failure point with iems. On the plus side, Hifiman was thoughtful enough to include a chin cinch, but it’s shape doesn’t flow with the design of the y-split so it comes across as an afterthought. Still, I’d much rather have it than not and it works well, so thanks Hifiman for including it. Despite the mediocre cable, fit and finish is good. The individual pieces that make up the earphones are put together neatly without any gaps or misalignment, the cable feels securely attached, and the nozzle filters are stuck in evenly.
The RE600s is extremely comfortable thanks to their compact size, light weight, and traditional iem fit. The nozzle is quite average in circumference (6mm) with a prominent lip so there is a good chance you can equip your favourite tips and they’ll fit just fine. Another plus of the RE600s’ somewhat standard barrel shape is that you can wear it equally well cable down, or with it wrapped up and over your ear. The only thing that might be a problem is that stiff rubber sheath which can be noisy and has a tendency to pop back up over the ear when you tilt your head or bend over.
Isolation is about average for a vented earphone, if not slightly below. Without music playing, I can easily follow conversations around me, catch the ‘snick snick’ of keyboards clacking away in the distance when in the office, and hear cars passing by. With music playing, all of this is dulled notably, but still prominent enough to require an increase in volume to counteract it. Adding foam tips certainly helps so be sure to pick up a set if you plan on listening in consistently noisy areas.
In The Box The RE600s’ packaging is easily some of the most premium I’ve come across, if not the most premium. Instead of a traditional cardboard box slathered in branding, model info, and featured bullet points, you get this beautiful leatherette and aluminum box. The design is split into two sections separated by a band of aluminum printed with the model information, the only place where it can be found. The top section contains the earphones fitted with a set of bi-flange tips, nestled into a felt coated foam insert. The bottom section contains another foam insert which contains six pairs of tips and a cable wrap that I initially confused for an eraser. Seriously, it looks and feels like an eraser. Weird, but nothing wrong with the inclusion of a dual purpose item, am I right? The rest of the accessories include a clam shell carrying case, four extra pairs of tips, and five extra pairs of nozzle filters. These extras are simply tossed in the packaging the main case ships with and were clearly not intended to be included originally. Still, who is going to complain about extra stuff? In all you get:
- RE600s earphones
- Clam shell carrying case
- 3x Bi-flange tips (small)
- 2x Bi-flange tips (large)
- 6x Mono-flange tips (varying sizes and styles)
- Filters (5 pairs)
- Earphone Carry Pouch
- Cable wrap
Overall this is a wonderful unboxing experience. It really makes you feel like you’re getting something special. I’m sure some will complain that the money could be better spent elsewhere, and they’re not wrong *cough* cable *cough*, but I’m not one of them. Add to that a ton of extra tips, and there is sure to be something for everyone here. No need to jack up the cost of your new purchase with extra accessories that should have been there in the first place, something Hifiman almost always gets right.
Final Thoughts The RE600 is an earphone I was excited to hear for the longest time with that excitement waning only when I bought the RE400. It took me a long time to warm up to the RE400, with it finding a place in my listening rotation only once I had tried nearly every tip in my collection, settling on some obscure single flange set that came with who knows what iem. Given the community comparisons between the RE400 and RE600 over the years, I was expecting to have much the same experience with the RE600s. Thankfully that was not the case. While the two are certainly similar, the RE600s’ additional low end and reduced upper treble meant it was more immediately enjoyable out of the box, with that pleasure only increasing the more I used them.
The RE600s is a legendary earphone, and for good reason. Its sound signature is neutral without being boring. It is technically competent without being overly analytic. It can hit deep bass notes without sounding overly bassy. It has a midrange that is accurate and balanced. It has the imaging, layering, and separation chops necessary to provide a killer staging experience, despite not sounding particular vast and spacious. The only thing I can fault this earphone for is the cable.
As has been pointed out countless times over the years, it is terrible. If Hifiman updated the RE600s with a removable cable, similar to what they did with the RE800, without increasing the price, I bet it would see a revival among the community. The audio climate has changed drastically since the RE600 was first released, and while it is still plenty competitive from an auditory perspective, the RE600 falls far behind when it comes to how it is constructed. One change could fix everything though. Come on Hifiman! Give the RE600s the love it deserves.
Thanks for reading.
Disclaimer Thanks to Hifiman for arranging a sample of the RE600s for the purposes of review. The subjective impressions within this review are based on time spent listening to the RE600s over the course of a month. The RE600s normally retails for 199.00 USD but at the time of writing was on sale for 74.90 USD: https://www.hifiman.com/products/detail/144
- Frequency Response : 15Hz-22KHz
- Sensitivity : 102dB
- Impedance : 16 Ohms
- Weight : 13.7g (0.48 Oz)
- Plug : 3.5mm
- Driver: 8.5mm with titanium coated diaphragm
Devices Used For Testing Shanling M0, XDuoo Link, LG G6, Asus FX53V, TEAC HA-501
Some Test Material
Supertramp – Crime of the Century
Slipknot – Vol 3 (The Subliminal Verses)
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid
King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black
Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma
The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy
Steely Dan – The Royal Scam
Porcupine Tree – Stupid Dreams