Pros: Balanced yet slightly warm and sweet, beautiful and realistic mids, price
Cons: Lack of sub-bass and a tad sparkle, microphonics
After I bought the HD 598s, I was soon looking for a portable set of headphones or IEMs for casual use on the bus or outside. Sure enough, I found the lauded HifiMAN RE-400 to be an interesting option and even with concerns of durability and the possibility that a neutral sound signature wasn't for me, I bit the bullet. Were they worth it?
Comfort, Design and Accessories:
I found the RE-400's to be well-designed overall, featuring a rather large plug and a cable comprised of both cloth and rubber. The drivers and the casings surrounding the drivers are rather small, which is a definite plus for portability. They also come with a wide array of tips and a rather convenient little case that can hold some extra tips and the RE-400 itself. I myself found most of the tips uncomfortable and stuck with the smallest tips but with the plethora of choices at hand, one can easily find a fit comfortable for them. To note, the RE-400's can sometimes be annoyingly microphonic at the rubber part of the cable in particular but this can be somewhat avoided by wearing them over the ear.
Though I've heard the cases of unpleasant durability, so far that doesn't seem to be true and these seem like they'll last easily for another two years. As far as comfort goes, I find the RE-400 to be satisfactory but not perfect. The fit is fairly comfortable but over time it can get warm and unpleasant in my experience for listening sessions over an hour or two. Perhaps with other tips this can be remedied but I haven't found that to be the case. Isolation for the RE-400's is average for the most part and even with a good fit, much of the background noise around myself is still discernible.
Overall, I found the RE-400's to be easily satisfactory for my musical listening purposes. The sound signature of the RE-400's does seem to be neutral and balanced but as many have noted, is also warm and sweet which makes the RE-400's sound detailed yet not analytical.
The treble of the IEMs is well-extended and definitely unfatiguing with a small amount of sparkle in the upper regions of frequencies. Drums and cymbals sound detailed and well-presented without being overly detailed and sibilant. However, this can at times sound a bit too smooth and without more sparkle, instruments and electric guitars in particular don't sound completely realistic. (when I hear a violin, I expect to hear some bite on the sustained, higher notes but the RE-400's present them without much harshness)
Mids on the IEMs are wonderful, bring very realistic and slightly forward in its presentation. In particular, guitars and vocals sound beautiful and almost immersive with detail to attention in the depth of vocals and string instruments such as violins and cellos. Most impressively, I can hear the breaths of vocals and little footsteps which I hadn't heard before in my music. However, male vocals, though sounding beautiful can come off as a tad dry and not quite as lush as I'd like but at this price point, it's to be expected and so this is a very small concern.
Initially, the bass of the RE-400's seemed far too anemic and lacking, especially the sub-bass. I expected this and waited to burn them in for about 50-100 hours before deciding my feelings on the bass. After burning them in and getting used to the sound signature, bass seemed much more present than beforehand and even though I still feel there is a lack of sub-bass, I'm pleased. Bass overall is well extended (perhaps even more than my HD598!) and is tight and fast, which I appreciate.
The soundstage on the RE-400's is slightly better than what I expected pretty much at the price point and the design and it does seem reasonably wide and tall enough. Curiously enough, the soundstage seems to be slightly angled. I don't know if I'm imagining this but it really does seem to be angled and it sounds a bit more 3-D than what I expected from these.
In short, the RE-400's sound wonderful with a warm, sweet neutral sound signature and a satisfactory soundstage. Though I have minor problems with the treble, mids and the bass, this is due more to the fact I prefer a slightly more colored presentation and so these are really good all-rounder portable IEMs at this price especially. The RE-400's are great all-rounders but if you are looking for a headphone/IEM that can deal with more electronic and hip hop music of that sort, you're better off looking for something else.
To conclude, the RE-400's are most definitely worth the $99 price tag. These don't require an amp but it does benefit a bit from amping if you wish from my own experience. More to the point, these are a great value and it does seem like HifiMAN has made a new waterline for the $99 IEM. These hit a rare balance in sound, good overall balance and detail yet pleasantly warm with an angled soundstage. Companies will be surely trying for years before they succeed in producing an IEM equal or better to the RE-400's. Right now these are only $99, a price that HifiMAN could've made $199 and costumers would still be satisfied.
Belle and Sebastion- If You're Feeling Sinister
Daft Punk- Discovery
Jeff Buckley- Grace
Living Stereo: Bruch Violin Concerto No.1; Scottish Fantasy & Vieuxtemps: Violin Concerto No. 5
Nirvana- In Utero
Radiohead- In Rainbows
Wilco- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot