Pros: Warm and fluid midrange, delicate highs, large soundstage, excellent vocal reproduction, exceptional detailing
Cons: Heavily microphonic cable,
First, I’d like to thank Fang at Head-Direct once again for generously providing me with a RE-262 review sample.
HiFiMan has come a long way in just a few short years. Priding themselves on offering exceptional sound quality for a relatively low price, Their RE line of in ear monitors has been a perennial favorite at forums such as Head-Fi for their very high price to performance ratio. The RE0 was my first entry into the world of higher end audio and has remained one of my favorite IEMs in the time I’ve owned it, even after trying several other IEMs throughout the past year. It’s a great all-rounder that can hang with the big boys.
Enter the RE-262, the spiritual successor to the RE-252, another high end IEM from HiFiMan. While I haven’t heard this IEM personally, I’ve heard very good things about it so when I heard that the RE-262 was going to be released, I was understandably excited. Having listened to these IEMs for a considerable length of time now, these are something special. A considerable departure from the HiFiMan “house sound” that I’ve heard in the RE0 and RE-ZERO, the RE-262 are undoubtedly a new bang for the buck heavyweight. To see why, just read on.
Packaging and Accessories
I didn’t receive these in the typical retail packaging so I can’t comment on that but I wouldn’t be surprised if the RE-262s were shipped in a package similar to those the RE0 and RE-ZERO were shipped in. The accessory pack is identical, featuring the same large and small bi-flange tips, the same array of small, medium and large single flange eartips, a shirt clip and a set of replacement mesh filters.
Design and Build Quality
The RE-262, like the RE-252s before them, features a very unconventional design though not nearly as much so as the RE-252. The RE-262s are made out of a hard, glossy plastic and feature a rubberized coating on the end of the protrusions jutting out from the sides. The nozzles appear to be metal (or merely chrome painted plastic) and strain reliefs are identical to previous designs and just as effective. The cable itself is a good deal thicker and less flexible than that of previous HiFiMan products which gives it a slightly more durable feel and terminates in a very beefy and well relieved angled plug.
Comfort and Fit
The RE-262s are actually rather comfortable during regular usage, despite their unusual housing design and fits securely and comfortably in my ears with the stock small single flange tips. Wearing them over the ear is rather difficult unless you use the bi-flange tips and since neither size of those felt right for my ears, this effectively ruled out that wearing style for me but as usual, your mileage may vary. Being vented dynamic IEMs, the isolation provided by the RE-262 is about average at best.
The thicker cable I mentioned prior, as you’ve probably guessed, ends up being even more microphonic than the RE0 and RE-ZERO which rules them out for much active listening. The microphonics aren’t the worst I’ve ever heard from an IEM (that crown is still worn by the Altec Lansing Backbeat Plus IEMs and their awful cloth covered cable) but they are pretty bad overall. Personally, this is not much of an issue because I find the RE-262s better suited for home use than on-the-go listening but I’m aware that my tastes are likely far from typical.
Burn in: These IEMs were given upwards of 200 hours’ worth of burn in time prior to review but settled into their final sound signature after about 50 hours.
Having much experience with previous HiFiMan products, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from the RE-262…or so I thought. Upon the first listen, I knew these were something different, something special. The RE-262 is a big departure from the tonally neutral and analytical sound signatures delivered by both the RE0 and RE-ZERO. The RE-262 has a very warm, inviting and musical sound signature. To explain why, let’s start at the bottom.
The low end response is deep and textured but rather soft in impact and tone. Much unlike the RE0 and RE-ZERO, there’s plenty of bass to go around. By no means do I think these will satisfy the cravings of your average basshead but the low end presence should be adequate for the majority of users. When I listen to the RE-262, I often don’t feel the need to add a bit more bass presence via equalization, something I did regularly when using the RE0 and RE-ZERO. There’s a warm, roundedness to the lower end that doesn’t sacrifice detail and is more in line with my tastes in regards to the amount of bass I want to hear. In addition, contrary to the slightly rolled off bass response of its siblings, the RE-262 maintains composure all the way down into the lowest of frequencies audible to the human ear and rumbles pleasantly down as far as 20Hz.
The midrange is where the RE-262 truly differentiates itself from its predecessors, taking on a warm fullness that wasn’t present in either the RE0 or, to a lesser extent, the RE-ZERO. The midrange presentation is liquid smooth and full of energy without sounding edgy and not so smooth that it sounds sloppy or thick. In fact, comparing these side by side with the RE-ZERO, an IEM I personally lauded for their liquid smooth midrange, the RE-262s are lush, full and smooth in a way that almost makes the RE-ZERO sound a bit dry. Despite this smoothness, there’s no shortage of detail present in the midrange presentation and while these aren’t the most analytical ‘phones in the strictest sense, I’m sure detail freaks will love the RE-262s just the same.
Vocal performances and the presentation of stringed instruments are particularly noteworthy as well as this IEM is the best I’ve heard in both regards. Female vocals, such as the unique vocal delivery style of Diana Krall, are amazingly well presented and sound more natural through the RE-262 than any other IEM I’ve tried. This natural quality carries over to every aspect of the midrange presentation and imparts a sonic character unlike any other IEM I’ve heard to date.
The treble presentation is great as well. Once again, the smooth character of every other aspect of the presentation is present here in the way treble is reproduced and, personally, I find it very enjoyable. There’s a nice bit of sparkle to keep things from sounding too dark but the treble overall is rather relaxed in relation to the midrange. This also means that the RE-262s never sound harsh or strident in their presentation, even on treble-happy tracks.
In comparison to the RE0, an IEM with a treble presentation unlike any other I’ve heard with their boundless energy and bright but never too bright sound, the RE-262s are almost antithetical in the way they present treble. The RE-262 is relaxed without sounding recessed while the RE0 is anything but. In comparison, the RE-ZERO are much closer to the presentation of the RE-262 than the RE0 in that they are slightly relaxed but not as much so as the RE-262.
The overall presentation of the RE-262 is rather surprising in that it’s the single most spacious-sounding IEM I’ve heard. The soundstage is actually quite large, which gives the RE-262s a very out-of-head sound and stage presence. This makes it exceptionally easy to pick out the locations of individual instruments and performers on the sonic stage. At the same time, the stage never sounds too big or too open, actually, quite the opposite as the RE-262s are very good at portraying intimacy as well as space, as vocal performances sound very close to the listener (but not too close!).
It’s worth noting that these IEMs feature a 150 ohm impedance rating and they do benefit quite a bit from a good amp. These are certainly listenable and still quite good out of a decent source unamped but they improve noticeably with the extra juice a dedicated amp provides.
The HiFiMan RE-262s are currently unavailable from the Head-Direct website at the present time but are likely to retail for $249 when they are officially released. While this may sound rather steep, it’s actually rather low in comparison to the retail prices of other high end IEMs, such as the Westone 3 at $359, Earsonics SM3 at $379 and Shure SE535 at $499 (!). For the price, you’re getting a mid-centric and exceptionally detailed and well-presented IEM in the RE-262, one that likely compares very well with the above earphones.
Before you ask, no, I haven’t heard any of the above IEMs so I won’t make any definitive statements in regards to the technical proficiency of the RE-262 in relation to them but great sound is hard not to take note of and these are unquestionably the best IEMs I’ve heard, period.
Back to the comparison with the RE0 and RE-ZERO, the RE-262 is certainly superior to those ‘phones but is it worth the $150 - $170 premium over the two of them? Personally, I would say yes. These are a noticeable step up from both IEMs in overall quality and “musicality”. They’re not analytical or focused on neutrality; rather, they feature an unabashedly colored and warm tonality that is irresistible to me. Listening to them is a pleasure unlike everything I’ve heard in an IEM thus far. If you’re in the market for a high end mid-centric pair of IEMs, check out the RE-262, it may be the last IEM you'll ever buy.