Pros: Magical mids. Warm lilt in the neutral sig. Fast, accurate and punchy mid-bass. Extremely comfortable. Easily driven,
Cons: Sub-bass presence is low. Treble might be too smooth for some. Isolation is average
Packaging and build:
The packaging is minimal and exquisitely so. The extra tips filters and manual are behind the felt coated foam holding the earphones. As I gingerly dislodged them from the grooves, I was struck by how tiny they are. I always try to avoid gripping the strain relief as a precaution, but it was difficult considering the size. The shiny bead blasted aluminium back goes well with the brushed aluminium housing. Which brings me to the build. This is the most common qualm people have reported. The plug is beefy, the y split seems sturdy enough. However, I noticed that some free movement of the cable is possible at the entry point of the strain relief. As long as the cable is secured properly within the main housing this shouldn't be an issue. (I was tempted to add a dab of glue at the strain relief end to restrict that free movement).
The half and half cable is… okay. The cloth half is a little kinky (pun not intended). The sticky half is thin and flexible making it very comfortable when worn over ear. Apparently, the hybrid design serves to reduce weight among other benefits.
Accessories, Comfort and Isolation:
Tips galore but an odd assortment. Anyway, I have very narrow ear canals and the smaller tips gave me a good seal. The pseudo-double bump tips gave me pressure problems, so I settled for the bar-tips. The complys are good, but the foam overhangs (ahead of the rubber tube) get scrunched. (I have modified them by cutting off the overhangs) Cable noise is more than present when worn cable-down. Almost disappears when worn over-ear. Can hardly feel then in my ears after a while. It is evident that the HiFiman team has paid a lot of attention to ergonomics. Other accessories include a shirt clip, 5 pairs of stock filters. I have dry wax so I won’t be changing them out anytime soon. Perhaps I could use them to hard EQ them (doubling the filters, felt mod etc.) Maybe later.
Isolation is average, even with a good fit. But maybe that’s about as good as it gets for vented earphones. The vent is placed ventrally and only the deepest fit might shield it partially.
A short intro/disclaimer My experience when it comes to iems is very limited. The RE400 is my first foray into audiophile territory. I’ve been in a V/U-shaped bassy world thus far.
Chronologically....Sony MDR-E818LP>Sony MDR-EX35LP>Creative EP-630>Xears TD4 Ebony Blackwood>Brainwavz R1>HiFiman RE-400
I’ve loved and hated every set. So I set my sights higher and decided to bravely plunge into a neutral world just to see if that was the right direction for me.
Doing an A:B comparison doesn't make much sense with iems that differ this widely.
My impressions may seem overblown to some. But such a drastic change in direction can do that. Back to the review I expected to be disappointed by the RE-400 in the bass department. I like a little rumble and feel in my bass. But given my inexperience, I was very curious about bass quality vs quantity.
Fast forward to my impressions… I initially thought of describing it by music genre. But after a week with them, I’ve decided to go ahead with the classic break-up.
I’ve always found sharp treble to be off-putting. There is a (false?) sense of enhanced clarity that comes with sparkly treble. But for me, the overall enjoyability dips. I’m absolutely amazed by how smooth the treble is on the RE-400. Some may like a little more sparkle, its sooo perfectly where I want it to be. It may lack some bite with fast electronic music. I found no nasty peaks or dips. To me, the detail and clarity was eye widening (considering my experience or lack thereof).
I was expecting to be impressed. But not blindsided like this. It felt like I had suddenly switched from 192kbps to a vinyl track. The first thing that struck me was how much more life-like it felt. The vocals had a certain texture. Simply put, if that texture was absent, the vocals wouldn't be as immersive. A striking feature was the depth to the vocals (not necessarily to the soundstage). It sounded “wholesome”(male and female alike). I’m finding this very hard to describe but I must persist, because it’s that important. I am able to gauge how much breath and effort the singer is taking. Apart from the core vocals I hear a lot of nuances and details that contribute to that sense of “completion”. This particular feature impressed me the most in this iem. Another thing I noticed is how untouched and unaffected the mids are. No matter how busy rest of the spectrum gets, the mids always come through unadulterated. Like I had a separate pair of ears for the mids. And it seemed like the bass and highs complemented it nicely. Like they were all on the same plane of preference.
I will have to divide this segment into two. Initial impressions and Brain-burnt–in impressions.
Initial: Sub-bass felt non-existent. Some tracks need that sub-bass to sound right. It adds to the ‘natural, warm’ feeling. Sub-bass is more ‘feeling’ than ‘hearing’. Tracks that had a strong mid-bass component were handled beautifully. I couldn’t believe the detail and how fast it sounded. But I would have liked some more punch. Sadly the mids keep grabbing the spotlight therefore I didn’t get to try many bass heavy tracks.
Brain-burnt in: Sub-bass still felt weak. I do see they measure near flat through the bass, but they could do with more presence in the sub-bass. I did find out at higher listening volumes, that the RE-400 extends pretty deep. I feel the punch in the mid-bass now(I think it feels more apparent when you get accustomed to the signature). I find the quantity sufficient(not lacking) now. Surprisingly enough, I’m actually enjoying them immensely. I love the attack speed and the detail, even when it gets busy. I want to say “resolving” but I’m not sure if it is the correct term. I’m quite stunned to find myself enjoying this “type” of bass. The initial disappointment only surfaces when I find the sub-bass lacking. ljokerl advised me to try a “narrow” lift of a few dB in the sub-bass. This improves presence without affecting the mid-bass or the mids. The RE-400 is a very capable iem in this respect. The overall tonality has warmed and I’m not disappointed as often. I still find myself wanting a bit more presence but I don’t think EQing it in is the answer. (Perhaps a vent redesign, dampers coupled with a sub-bass lift). Drums sound very natural (except the deepest reaching ones). It’s easy to differentiate between the types of drums. The bass conveys that much detail.
Bottom line: Bass enjoyment is very track subjective. EQing helps because the drivers are capable
Extra tip: The EQ in Poweramp for Android (with the DVC audio setting enabled) is very effective in boosting the sub-bass without "upsetting the tonal balance"
Other miscellaneous rambling:
The soundstage isn't the widest. The Brainwavz R1 has spoiled me in this regard. But it isn’t congested either. It conveys a good sense of space. Vocals can be very very intimate. And orchestras can be sufficiently spacious. No complaints there. All the music components are clearly positioned and layered without any interference. I believe that is good “imaging”?
Like I mentioned before, I sense an overall “completion” in the music. Vocals will have a ‘bass’ component and a ‘lower highs’ component in addition to the core “mid” component. The RE-400 delivers all of it in equal measure (just a tad more in the mids). I have observed that they sound even better at higher volumes (+1/2 dB above normal listening volume).
I am curious to as to how the RE-400 will perform when powered by a better source. That will have to wait as I don’t have the resources :(
Some have reported good results by using dampers to add a little warmth and presence (even going as far to comparing it to the 400$ RE-600). I will try these mods later on.
Conclusion: This iem was meant to be a test, an experiment. My first foray into neutral audiophile territory. And they have surprised me. They have made me second guess my sound sig preference. I know what I want now (until the next revelation). But what I want now is so different from what I wanted, I doubt I’ll ever have such a drastic change of heart.
I expected it to fit a small segment of my music but I’m shocked at the versatility and satisfaction it has given me in most of my music.
I have a very non-technical way of knowing when music sounds really good to me. It has nothing to do with genre, mood or content. It depends solely on raw music quality. This happens to me with “certain tracks” that span a wide genre(Examples: Imogen Heap- Let go, Jasmine Thompson - Home, Mick MCauley & Winifred Horan - A Daisy in December, Eminem- Sing for the moment etc). Well….. My eyes well up. Not related to feelings of sadness, happiness etc. My eyes simply leak a lot of tears without warning(freaked me out the first time). Let’s just say, I can’t see through the haze of tears when I have the RE-400 on. It’s only happened with the Fidelio L1, some active speaker I can’t remember, rarely with the Brainwavz R1.
The RE-400s have set the bar very high for me. If these had a more sub-bass presence I would have absolutely nothing to complain about. I think finding something much better will be very difficult unless I burn my wallet, so I will now look for an iem to complement (not beat) the RE-400.
@esantosh for all the advice he’s given me. And for replying to my monotonous PMs.
Big ups to HiFinage for bringing HiFiman to India.
Edit: I have rephrased by impressions of the sub-bass. It is my first review, and a year and a lot more experience later, I do feel my wording was not an accurate representation of what I felt regarding the sub-bass.
HiFiMAN has now reduced the price to 79$. The 100$ market is very competitive and the new price gives it even better value.