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REVIEW: Head-Direct RE0

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 
I was first made aware that Fang was developing an RE0 at the northern NJ meet we had during the summer. He explained that he was developing an all-metal IEM and that the small silver buds he presented to me were a prototype for the real thing. I listened to them and was surprised at their detail but felt they were a little bright. Well, folks, now he’s released the full version, and here they are:

The 'phones.

Rear view.

Great, all-metal build quality. No chance at all of the sound tube on this thing breaking.

RE0 next to the RE1. Very good-looking earphones. Note that the end that the cord comes out of is plastic on the RE1 and rubber on the RE0. Definitely a more secure solution.

They look kinda like the Vmoda vibes to me, but there’s a couple improvements. For one thing, the bud itself is smaller and fits better in my ears (for those who have upgraded from the Shure E2 to the higher-end stuff, it's like that). The finish of the bud itself is better, IMO. Honestly, I think they’re better looking… smaller, more inconspicuous, a little less “clunky” looking, and more refined. Then again, I’m not a looks person (being a Grado fan after all). I also have to say that the cord on these is really nice and thin unlike the ropes that my E3's have.

OK, let’s get to the music:

Test equipment: Laptop, EMU 0404 USB (hooray Christmas!), my portable amp (ktpg-made)
Test phones: Grado HF-1 (reference), Head-Direct RE1, Head-Direct RE0, Shure E3, Altec-Lansing iM716

Since it’s Christmas, I decided a Christmas test track was on order. I began with the CD “Peter Eilander – Kerst in Rouen” and the first track, which is a really good “improvisation on ‘Adeste Fidelis’”.

RE0: My first impressions of these phones when I got them a couple weeks ago (yes, I got them, then had finals to take care of…) were that they’re a lot less bright than the prototypes, but also that they have less bass than my Grados. I admit that my Grados have bass on the excessive side due to my use of flat pads, but it took my ears a minute to adjust just now to the RE0’s. On the subject of the treble, though, the detail these things put out is really on the ridiculous side. They quite possibly could have more detail than the Etymotic (iM716’s) sound while not being on the bright, bassless side like the iM716’s are. It’s really amazing how realistic the sound is with these. The transparency really puts most other IEM’s that I’ve heard to shame. The only other earphones I’m aware of that are on this level of detail are the iM716’s and the Shure E500’s, although I haven’t heard those in a while, and I’ve never heard any of the really high-end beyond-E500 custom IEM’s. Anyway, on to the track. The opening to this is killer. It’s a great cathedral with loads of reverberation and a nice-sized organ. It’s my personal opinion that the quality of the decay of the notes is a good indication of how good a setup is. A poor setup will give the impression that there is a weaker-sounding decay that doesn’t last as long as it does in real life. A good setup will present a room ringing for its full value and with a good, full tone. The RE0 presents this perfectly. My eyes really popped out of my head when I heard the great detail in the decay of the first’s really pretty close to the real thing. This track also highlights the fact that there’s certainly absolutely no lack of bass in the RE0 despite my early impressions. The growl of the pedal is extremely full and extends deep without a problem, so make no mistake, these things do put out a full sound that is not, in my opinion, too terribly top-heavy.

iM716: These earphones don’t actually do that poorly on this track. The sound is reasonably presented, but the highs are overly strident, which gets in the way of the sound. The bass is there and has a good tone, but is inferior to the RE0 bass by a small margin. To quantify the level of detail in these two earphones (RE0 and iM716) is very tricky. To be honest, I feel like the RE0’s are actually slightly more detailed, and that the iM716’s just sound brighter. This is the point at which I would question whether a podectomy would make a difference in unlocking a little more detail that would help it compete with the RE0 as I have not tried that mod. Overall, the harshess of the highs is too distracting on these earphones. The balance went from leaning a little bit in the opposite direction of my Grados to just plain tipping the scale over.

RE1: The RE1’s have a much different sound from the iM716’s and the RE0’s. The midrange is very prominent in these and the details aren’t even close to that of the RE0, so going back to these is definitely hard…haha. They’re definitely still very sensitive and present the resonance of the hall well, but sound a bit muffled compared to the RE0’s. The bass is actually a little more prominent with these, though, which makes for a nice pedal sound. The mids are a little harsh in a shouty way, though, much like the iM716’s are harsh due to their strident highs. Overall, I have conflicting emotions on how these earphones handle the more dense (tonally) sections of this track but can safely say that the RE0’s handle this track much, much better than these do. It's quite an improvement for the small price increase.

E3: These earphones really have some serious issues with their highs. It literally sounds like there are sponges in between my ears and the sound, it’s that muffled-sounding. To think that these earphones were once sold at a price equal to that of the RE0 is just preposterous in my opinion because they’re literally not even in the same league as the RE0. The highs just sound completely lifeless… the sound is there, but I’m willing to bet you could barely tell the difference between a good electronic organ (ironic statement, I know) and a real one with the low high-end resolution that these earphones have.

For the next selection, I chose a track from one of my favorite blues CD’s, Huey Lewis and The News’s “Four Chord and Several Years Ago”, the track “Stagger Lee”. This stuff is great for keeping track of the vocals and instrumental presentation of a phone.

RE1: These phones do a much better job with this track. While still a little muffled-sounding compared to some of the other phones, the prominent midrange here helps bring out the vocals and saxophone. The treble is very cool-sounding and the overall sound is actually fairly relaxed and well-balanced, which is an interesting thing to see from these phones as they are actually a bit reserved compared to some of the other earphones.

RE0: The RE0’s tell a completely different story on this track. The RE0’s do have the slightly prominent midrange of the RE1’s, in fact, but on a more subtle, refined, almost undetectable level. Here, though, it’s extremely useful. The phones’ unbelievable detail combined with a singing midrange just makes the opening vocal line sound spectacular, to say the least. The instruments just really jump out at you a lot better with the RE0. The separation is great and the cymbals sound nice and sharp and bright without that ice-pick-in-your-eardrum effect that the iM716’s induce. The saxophone sounds detailed and realistic and not artificially bright like with the iM716’s. Overall, these are easily my favorite earphones for this track…very close to my ideal sound.

iM716: Yikes! Well, these earphones really jump out at you, but not in a good way, more in a “holy crap, are my ears still there?” way. I actually can’t listen to these at the same overall volume that the RE0’s were at because the sound is so bright and shrill that I had to turn it down. Yes, the sound is extremely clear, but the overall sound is completely compromised by the extremely strident highs, unfortunately.

E3: These phones are actually a relief after the iM716’s, but are unfortunately just the polar opposite of the iM716 in terms of the treble. The sound is subdued, muddled, and muffled overall, and just terribly dull-sounding. I’m actually going to disregard these earphones for the rest of the review because if you read my RE1 review, you know my comments are just going to be more of the same from here on.

For the next track, I decided some classic rock was on order and threw on “Southbound” by the Allman Brothers.

iM716: These earphones really don’t do that badly with this track. The instruments are well separated and sound pretty good, and the overall sound is nice and clear. The only problem is that the cymbals are too prominent in the sound, more prominent than the guitars even. This is a small issue compared to some of the other issues this earphone has had on other tracks but it is a problem nonetheless. When I listen to my earphones I want them to get out of the way so I can hear what’s important in the music.

RE0: The RE0’s possess a detail level that is definitely on-par with the iM716, and by contrast the rest of the sound is much better. The bass lines are audible and intelligible now (though a little soft for my liking) whereas with the iM716, they’re like a small background noise. The sounds jump out a lot more now and the guitars really have a great presence and sound just perfect, just like recorded. The piano solo really sounds spectacular with these phones, just having a real nice ring and definitely jumping right out of the sound and grabbing you. These earphones really just demonstrate an absolute superiority when it comes to individual instrumental reproduction, as well as vocals. The only drawback I can find with them on this track is that the highs are admittedly a bit strident, though not in a way that disturbs the balance of the sound, unlike with the iM716’s.

RE1: These phones make the sound seem a bit more distant as the highs and details are just not as good as the RE0’s. The bass is better, though, in my opinion. The bass has more growl and is a little more prominent. The guitar and vocals, though, are just not as clear. The instrument separation is pretty good, though. The sounds have a nice punch and I like the overall sound of these earphones with this track but feel that the RE0’s are just in another league when it comes to reproduction of the individual solo instruments.

For the next track, I chose the Allegro movement from Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto (K622), Sabine Meyer’s recording. This is a great piece, easily the greatest clarinet solo concerto ever written, in my opinion.

RE0: The RE0 does a very good job reproducing the clarinet. The articulation of every note and the configuration of every fingering is just laid out with these phones. The orchestra does sound very nice and stringy due to the great detail. The articulations are really great and the sound is quite full without getting overbearing. The bass is a bit on the light side, but it's basically negligible.

iM716: Like the RE0’s, the iM716’s great detail really helps separate each individual note and sound of the clarinet. I’d say the clarinet sounds a tad bit unrealistically bright, but it’s not too bad. The orchestra in the background, though, unfortunately sounds like a violin choir. I’m really not hearing much else… the bass just isn’t present enough at all and the sound just isn’t full like it would be in real life. So overall, I’d say the iM716’s handle the clarinet well but the orchestra leaves much to be desired.

RE1: This phone reproduces the clarinet reasonably well but puts a bit of an unnatural emphasis on the midrange (random notes on the lower end of the clarinet can stick out). The orchestra is there and sounds fuller than with the iM716, but with the midrange boost sounds gives the impression that the sound is emanating through someone’s cupped hands or being recorded through an older microphone. It’s a bit hard to describe, but clearly, this earphone is inferior to the other two with this particular track.

Conclusion: The RE0 gets my full recommendation. It's one of the best IEM's I've ever heard.

Positive: It is quite possibly the most detailed IEM I’ve ever heard, period. Fang and Head-Direct have truly outdone themselves in putting out an earphone for $200 that is potentially capable of obliterating IEM’s costing over twice as much. If you’re an Etymotic ER-4S fan and you’ve always been dissatisfied and wish the phone just had a little bit of a fuller sound, these are definitely the key. The overall ability of this IEM to reproduce individual musical instruments, wind or otherwise, with a detailed, realistic sound, is just amazing at the price point this earphone is being sold at. I’d say it even rivals full-size cans at its price point, and heck, it’s a single-driver IEM. The midrange is just glorious. I’m a big fan of electric guitar and these earphones just do my classic rock and blues recordings justice, period. Vocal reproduction is absolutely superb also. I've never heard an IEM that has such singing vocals before.

Negative: If you’re a bass freak, I hate to say it, but these phones are not for you…these earphones do not have the subwoofer-next-to-your head sound that you’re going to be looking for. Also, if you’re especially sensitive to high frequencies, you might not like these earphones because while I consider them to be tolerable, these earphones could possibly be considered too bright by some other people, and they will emphasize material that is recorded bright. However, I’d say I’m one of the most high-frequency-intolerant people I know of, and I can handle these earphones, and trust me, it’s worth it for the pristine detail they put out.

Thanks again to Fang and Head-Direct for lending me these earphones for the review. These are on my list of earphones to get! They really trounce my RE1's and raise the bar that much further.
post #2 of 11
These seem to be $159 so right around the price of a Ety HF2/HF5.. I love the ER6i type sound and have been looking to upgrade those... do you think this is a better buy for a iPhone 3G than the HF2? (Yeah, I realize I'll lose the remote and mic features).
post #3 of 11
yeah the details on these phone are the best I've heard from an IEM. I wish they were slightly heavier on bass, but the treble makes up for it.

But I'm considering returning them because I have a hard time getting a good fit & because they are extremely revealing - more than half of my music are at 128kbs or lower.

anyways, great review.
post #4 of 11
Thanks for the great review. My RE0 just arrived a few days ago, and my initial impressions are inline with others here. Coming from the EP-630, the level of detail provided by the RE0 an real eye opener. I re-ripped all my CDs to AAC320 so that the RE0 could show me what I was previously missing. The only issue I have is that while the bi-flange do isolate nicely, they're not that comfortable.

post #5 of 11
Thread Starter 
Try using the white bi-flanges. I've found they're a little fussier than the clear, harder silicone kind, but they're much more comfortable and can give you a better seal.
post #6 of 11
Thread Starter 
Update: Looks like the price on these dropped to $170, maybe just temporarily. My opinion? I'd still pay $200 or more for these. They're ridiculous.
post #7 of 11
I'm interested in these. How do they do with amplification. I'd be using a Go Vibe Petite.
post #8 of 11
I thought they were made to be amplified (high impedance?).
post #9 of 11
RE0 does scale well w/ amplification but it doesn't need one. It is not the easiest-to-drive IEM out there but you can get away by turning the volume up a bit.
post #10 of 11
I just reviewed Head-direct RE0 canalphone and I like it very much. Review is here:
Head-direct RE0 competes with ER-4S and beats E500
post #11 of 11

And to think that they sell for 79 now..

Originally Posted by MD1032 View Post

Update: Looks like the price on these dropped to $170, maybe just temporarily. My opinion? I'd still pay $200 or more for these. They're ridiculous.
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