RE252 takes the best from ER-4S and RE0
Once I wrote an extensive review of Head-Direct RE0 earphones, made in a form of comparison to Etymotic ER-4P/S and Shure E500 (same to SE530). At the end of the reviewing process, I struggled choosing between RE0 and my beloved ER-4P/S. Finally, I decided to keep Etys and that was tough decision to me. Later, when Head-Direct lowered RE0 price to $79, I re-bought it to complement my Etys. To my surprise, RE252 review sample arrived along with RE0. Thanks Fang, this was very interesting experience for me to try RE252.
When I listened to RE252, I dropped my jaw. It was so fast and detailed; I could not believe this is a dynamic driver. I checked it specs and found that it is dynamic driver indeed, but with unordinary coil made of silver. Then I burned RE252 and RE0 for more than 100 hrs and compared them both with my Etys. I carefully choose best sounding tips for each earphone:
RE0 - new medium-sized bi-flanges, stock. Congrats to Head-Direct, these are their best tips ever. Previous bi-flanges were too huge.
ER-4P – custom silicon tips. They add bass weight, which is very welcome with Etys.
RE252 – it was real pain to choose proper tips. With RE252 unconventional shape fit becomes too tricky. It is either uncomfortable (or even painful) or does not seal well. Finally, I settle on some tips from d-Jays. Their inner tubes are narrower comparing to any of the stock RE252 tips. This affects sound signature, taming the highs a bit, and I consider this influence for the good. Most likely other reviewer, who used stock tips, heard slightly different voice of RE252.
Those who read my other reviews probably know that they are lengthy and circumstantial. It is hard job for me to write such reviews, partially due to English language, which is not my native. This is why I was very happy when I discovered the opportunity to review RE252 in much more easier way. I found RE252 to be right in-between RE0 and ER-4P in most of the terms relating to sound quality. Look, if you take RE0, RE252, ER-4P and ER-4S, you get almost a perfect scale:
stout, lush, smooth, engaging ... RE0 … RE252 … ER-4P … ER-4S ... lean, dry, fast, analytical
This is not a scale in terms of “ER-4S is better to ER-4P, which is better to …” All these earphones are on par in terms of overall SQ and rather represent different sound signatures. So I found the easy way to describe RE252 – get a cross of RE0 and ER-4P (preferably custom tipped). There are plenty of descriptions of RE0 and ER-4P at head-fi, one of them is my very detailed review I mentioned at the beginning.
I like how it blends the best characters of balanced-armature and dynamic drivers. It takes ER-4P speed, clarity and details and mixes them with RE0 body, tonality and impact. RE252 combines ER-4P deep bass with RE0 smooth highs. At the same time it does not inherit disadvantages of the “parents”. I can tell that RE0 is congested when un-amped; I can call Etymotic ethereal; but I really can not tell any drawbacks of RE252 sound. It do nothing wrong to me, providing a nice balance of two worlds.
I also like its sensitivity, it surpass RE0 and match ER-4P here. It plays fast and detailed with any source, either Clip or iPod 5.5 gen. Un-amped, it surpass both RE0 and ER-4P slightly in overall SQ. When amped by Pico or Supermicro, Ety gets more body/warmth and overcomes by a little margin.
The fit is nothing but crazy; I hate it because it makes a whole heap of excellent tips unfit to me. Even with the appropriate tips, RE252 chafes my ears. I am thinking to remove all this silicone excrescences, but I am not sure if RE252 will survive such surgery. I asked the vendor about this mod, but he does not reply.
What I agree with other reviewers
When someone tells RE252 has no character, I completely agree. It is very even and clear, one of the most neutral headphones/earphones I heard, better than RE0 and Etys.
What I do not agree
I can not call RE252 transparent as some say. By the transparency I mean the headphone ability to reflect the differences between records/source/amps without overriding them by its own character. RE252 is not transparent like RE0, it is more similar to Ety. Though clear and detailed, it keeps its character independently of the various amps. At the end you hear equally (50/50) the sound of the amp along with the RE252 sound. In contrary, with RE0 the proportions are like 80/20, where RE0 share is no more than 20%.
Update Apr 6, 2010: I changed my mind on RE252 transparency. At the end of the day, with 50/50 ratio mentioned above it is quite transparent. It is more transparent than Etymotics, revealing source/amp character more obviously.
I like RE252 sound as much as I hate its fit. Though it may replace both RE0 and ER-4P sonically, it is too inconvenient and uncomfortable comparing to them. I will probably mod it, removing excessive silicone. I am sure it will make both RE0 and ER-4P obsolete if mod would be successful. Thus it may probably end my dilemma – “RE0 or ER-4P? RE252!”
Update March 10, 2010
Finally I've got my RE252 reshelled into some unknown cheap earphones cases.
Meet RE252km (kostalex mod)!
Now they fit my ears perfectly, both ordinary way and upside-down (over the ears). I choosed the tips from d-Jays, RE252km sound the best with them. Preliminary SQ report: I like RE252km more than both RE0 and custom tipped ER-4P. More later.
Yeah, I know that shells are a bit ugly (those round strain reliefs), probably I will improve their look later.
Update Apr 5, 2010
This mod allows me for better fir and for better sound consequently. I believe mod does not affect sound a lot itself, but rather improves it due to a better seal unavailable to me before. Being able to finally hear all RE252 goodies, I compared it against custom tipped ER-4P / ER-4S, RE0 and ATH-CK10. All these IEMs are excellent but can not beat RE252 as a whole:
- ER-4P has lesser details
- ER-4S has lesser impact, body, sounds dry and somewhat harsh
- RE0 has lesser speed and clarity
- ATH-CK10 has wonderful mids, but some spikes in treble or upper mids lead to sibilance
Well, it is time to retire my old trusty ER-4S and RE0, since they offer no strong advantages over RE252. RE252 provide the middle sound signature between theirs and combines their strengths, getting rid of the weaknesses. The only drawback is the uncommon shape of the stock shells, which someone ears can not accommodate. Those who will achieve comfortable fit would be much rewarded with excellent sound.
I recommend RE252 as top single driver IEM
Probably, some multi-drivers custom IEMs may sound better (I've yet to hear them). But they cost 6 times more and they are not “a purist dream”, because they contain crossovers. In contrary, RE252 has nothing in the signal path aside drivers and wires, so theoretically it is free of phase shifts and other crossover-related problems.
I congratulate Head-Direct and Fang personally with another outstanding product. I wish they would revise RE252 shape to unleash the outstanding strengths of its driver.
As I said before, it has much common with both ER-4S and RE0. With regards to the full-size cans, its sound sig resembles Tesla T1, though RE252 sounds tad fuller with some minor loss of microdetails. I may also mention ATH-W5000, which sounds a bit warmer and somewhat slower.
RE252 is sensitive and do not need amplification, but it may reveal the source weaknesses, so it may not match any source well. It sounds a bit thin with headphone out of iPod 5.5gen, but I am sure this is not its fault, because it sounds fuller with iPhone 3G and pretty warm with Sansa Clip. With Pico DAC/Amp feeded through USB it sounds incredibly good.
Update Apr 10, 2010: I changed the tips to smaller sizes and this allowed me for a deeper fit. Wearing RE252km over the ears (cables up), I've got a perfect seal. Bass became fuller, highs are softer while still detailed. No more "a bit thin" sound with iPod 5.5gen - the frequency response is ruler flat. I am happy as a clam now! I may listen to my beloved iPod 5.5gen un-amped.
RE252 place in my sound quality ranking chart (ver. Apr 4, 2010) - so many good IEMs were beaten
I tried more than 90 headphones, but I list only those I may rate with confidence. I divide them into the 5 classes by sound quality alone - Hi-End, Hi-Fi, Mid-Fi, Low-Fi and Consumer Grade. Then I divide some classes with 3 subclasses - like H1, H2, H3 for Hi-Fi. Inside the rows headphones are listed in the order of my personal preference with no regards to the pricing - I asked myself: "Which do you like more to receive as a gift?". There is an interesting phenomena - I prefer some headphones (say DT770) to those higher rated (say DT880). Unfortunately, I found no way to represent this in a simple way.
I made the headphones I reviewed clickable, most links lead to their reviews or descriptions. This chart may differ from its previous versions shown in my former reviews. Most of the cans from L category are rated un-amped, some of them (say Koss) may move up when amped.
RE252km; ER-4S (custom tips, OFC); AD2000
HE Tesla T1
H1 SR-404; HD650; W5000;
H2 RE0 (custom tips, no filter); CK10; ER-4S (custom tips); D2000; E500; K701; W1000; HD600; AD1000PRM
H3 TM5; RE0; ER-4P (custom tips); DT880/250; AD1000
M1 K501; G1A; ER-4P; DT990/250; OK1; AD900; SA6; UM2; Ergo 2
M2 KSC-35km; PK1; MDR-F1; AD700; DT770/80; SR225; HD595; E4c
M3 G2A; SR80; EW9; ER-6i; CM700; HD555; DT660; HD280
L1 OK2; iGrado; HD485; PX100; PMX100; UE 5 EB; A900
L2 MDR-Q68LW (EQ-ed); UR40; OK3; PortaPro; K319; SportaPro; Grado clip-ons; D-Jays; DT231
L3 PK3; KSC-75; PXC250 (leather pads); PK2; UE 3; E2c; CX300
CG v-Moda Vibe; HA-FX33 (kramer mod); SHE2550; SHP2700; iPod earbuds; K27i ; SHL9500; MX75
Edited by kostalex - 1/11/11 at 10:19am