Before venturing off into the review I will issue a small disclaimer. It is a bit long just in case you are in a rush.
Since I've been a member of head-fi no earphone has proved to be more interesting than the unveiling of the RE-Zero by Fang sometime before Canjam. .There are a couple reasons why it is unique compared to other earphones. First off the RE-Zero is a limited edition to celebrate the 3 years of their RE lineup being in existence which is cool. The thing that separates this from anything else is that is has a balanced output. That's right a balanced output for a earphone at this price range is unheard of. What's also very interesting is that at the time of writing this review there are a grand total of zero portable amps and digital audio players (dap) combined that accept this kind of plug which makes me wonder if this product is worth it. Soon you shall find out but I can say that only Fang of Hifiman can think of something as crazy sounding as it is.
Also one thing I don't like is audio jargon but that's inevitable here. There are times when I have some issues trying to explain what I am hearing as that is not easy to do imo so hopefully you will all understand me. I know some of you may be new and don't understand some of the terms so this link should make it easier for you and imo is the best audiophile dictionary I have seen.
For most of the readers you probably are unfamiliar with my previous gear you can get a list of everything I have owned in order of ownership by clicking on my profile and you will see a nice short list. My personal sound signature is something along the lines of neutrality. Some of my favorite earphones are the Audio Technica CK10 and Hifiman RE0 to give some reference.
My musical preferences in no particular order are pop, rock, trance, country, jazz and asian pop.
Source: Rockboxed Sansa Clip+, Audinst HUD-MX1 (w/OPA627)
Phones: Hifiman RE-Zero
Bitrate: A mix of mp3 to FLAC
Frequency Range: 15-22000 Hz
Impedance: 16 Ω
Rate Input: 10mw
Maximum Input: 30mw
Connector: right angle balanced TRRS plug (adapters to SE is included)
Driver: 9mm dynamic driver
The packaging is very simple and pretty typical of a Hifiman product if my previous purchase of the RE0 means anything. They come shipped in a padded envelope. Inside the envelope you see the cable adapter from balanced to SE and a thin zip lock bag which contains a case which has everything else. For those of you worrying about it being damaged in transit you should stop right now. The case would need to take a lot of abuse and I do mean a lot for these to be damaged inside that plastic case. You have the RE-Zero obviously, a set of black silicone tips (S,M,L), two different sized biflange tips, a shirt clip, another balanced to SE adapter (but is shaped more like a block than a cable) and lastly five sets of filters. The plastic case that the RE-Zero comes in can also be used as a case to carry in your bag but is too big for most pockets.
On another note Hifiman has fixed that spelling error on the side of the box that the RE0 (most recent edition) had in case you were wondering.
My build quality standard is and will be the Audio Technica CK10 until I own another pair of phones that surpasses that phone's build quality. There is no comparison as the CK10 are miles ahead in build.
I can't confirm this myself but I feel the cable on the Zero has a slight difference than the RE0. I don't own the RE0 anymore so can't confirm but that's just how I feel.
I very much like the build of these. You get metal housings in gunmetal color which looks absolutely stunning. The chin slider and the split are also made of metal. Although the chin slider may be well built it's not that useful because it has one major downside. The downside is that there is way too much resistance when trying to adjust it and if you use it very often I fear the cable will not last very long. I had to make my own chin slider with some tape and electrical tape. You also get a shirt clip that you can install on it if you desire to. The cable I am assuming is made of a PPE material like the RE0. I do not like the feel of the cable. It is very rubbery and no where near the best made cable. There are strain reliefs by the right angle plug and the housing but none exist by the split but that section is made of metal so that can be forgiven. The cable unfortunately retains memory of how you store it which I hate but I also do leave them stored in a case for long periods at a time. I suspect it won't be as bad if you use them every day but it definitely will still be present.
Lastly there are two adapters from balanced output to single ended if you do not have a source that can accept the balanced output which is most likely the case since there are a grand total of zero balanced dap's and balanced amps that accept this kind of plug. One is a soft cable adapter. The other simply a hard adapter. Which one you use is up to you. The soft adapter is awkward since you have two right angle plugs in the mix which can leads to unnecessary kinks. The hard adapter adds some bulk but doesn't have the problem with the right angle plugs. I prefer the hard adapter since I'll take the slight additional bulk over two right angles.
While it may not seem like a big deal tips make a huge difference. A poor fit may make a great phone sound horrible and I certainly do not want that to happen to me and since I have a large pile of tips that fit I will put them all to the test. Before that I will let you know what tips these come with. You get one set of black single flange silicone tips and you get two different sizes white biflange tips.
Since I have a good amount of tips that can fit the larger nozzle that most dynamics have I can experiment with tips to see if any of my other tips provide better sound than the stock tips. I have tried and tested the following tips: Monster triple flange, Monster gel tip, Monster foam hybrid tip, Monster single flange tip, UE single flange tip, Sony hybrids, MEElectronics biflange tips (both gray and white), MEElectronics single flange tip, Sound Magic biflange tip, Ortofon stock tip and lastly comply foam.
Two tips stand out for me. One is the smaller stock biflange tip and the other is the Monster triple flange tip. The biflange tip is much better than I expected and gives me very good sound but at the cost of some isolation. It still has good isolation but not as good as the triple flange tips. Those tips just give me the best of both worlds. I get good sound as well as good isolation so for this review everything will be judged based on my usage of that particular tip.
Microphonics, Isolation and Comfort
There are microphonics present if you wear these straight down. Most of the microphonics disappear if you wear these over the ear, install the shirt clip and use a chin slider. I do recommend finding an alternative solution for the chin slider since there is far too much resistance when trying to adjust it.
Isolation is dependent on the tips used. Some have better isolation due to its design. I have been using Monster triple flanges which gives it good isolation however it will not reach the levels of any very good isolation earphone such as Shure or Etymotic due to it's design.
Comfort is good but nothing amazing. My DBA02 has much better comfort so it is not like that. I used to own a TF10 which hated ears so it was horribly uncomfortable and it is not like that. The RE-Zero are in the middle of the pack in terms of comfort. If you found the RE0 comfortable then these will be just as comfortable since physically they are very similar. You can also wear these over the ear or straight down depending on your preference which is nice compared to other earphones that give you no choice but to wear them over the ear.
This section of the review was done with my clip+ and the hard adapter. I did go through a period of over 100 and probably closer to 150 hours of burn in before coming to any conclusion.
Treble: The treble is done in an interesting way here and a bit unexpected for me at least. I was expecting a somewhat unending treble extension with a good amount of energy and possibly an aggressive one as well but that is not the case here. The treble is definitely different than those other super detailed earphones that I've had in the past. Something like the CK10 has a good amount of treble energy and gives you the sense of unending treble. The RE-Zero does not have that and ultimately it may be preferred by a lot of users since a lot of people here do not like that kind of treble for their own reasons. This however does not mean the treble is lacking in quality because it is not. The treble is very good here. You get a very detailed treble that has good extension. You also get a non aggressive treble that does not highlight treble. There are times when aggressive treble likes to highlight sibilance such as the CK10 but it does no such thing here. Sibilant tracks will indeed be sibilant (you can't do anything about that expect press the next song button) but it doesn't make it the star of the show. Also clarity is excellent here.
Midrange: I don't have much requirements in the midrange to be honest so I guess I'm easy here :) It can't be recessed and forwardness has to be limited. I can handle it being forward (such as my ownership of the e-Q7) but not too much. It also has to be high quality midrange. I am happy to say that the midrange satisfies all my requirements here. It's definitely not recessed and not forward so it's right where it should be. There's lots of detail and fairly smooth here as well but nothing really stands out. I do like the midrange a lot but there's no magic to it like some other phones. My e-Q7 has colored mids I admit but that's what makes it fun. You don't get any of that here and I don't know any other way to explain it other than that.
Bass: It's time for the bass. I remember the RE0 being so controversial with the bass and how the naysayers insist on it having no bass despite not amping it well when it's meant to be amped. I don't know if they have more bass than the RE0 but they seem to give a tiny bit less than what my e-Q7 is capable of. That means that this isn't a bass head phone but honestly did you expect anything different? Hifiman isn't really known to have a house signature for bass heads like some other brands who give bass heads their audio nirvana. If you are a bass head that's interested in buying this as your new bassy phone you obviously need to step up on your researching abilities for they are seriously lacking. While I'm at it closet bass heads who can't face the truth about them being bass heads should stay away as well. Those looking for bloated, muddy and bass bleeding into the midrange should stay away as well. So how is the bass you may ask? You get a punchy bass that is of very high quality that should not belong at this price range. It is tight, well defined and boasts a good amount of extension. Decay is adequate for the most part but due to the speed of these there are times when it is cut short a bit. Also the bass does not creep into the midrange which is great since I hate that. The bass only comes out when the song calls for it in case you were wondering.
Soundstage: This is something I was surprised about in a good way. I wasn't expecting a very large one but I definitely got something above average. While no one is going to confuse the soundstage with what the IE8 can give you it definitely is very adequate. To be honest soundstage isn't even close to my main concern for an earphone. As long as it doesn't trap me in a little hamster cage listening to the band right up close and personal I am happy. The RE-Zero definitely does no such thing here.
Imaging and Separation: These two aspects are quite important to me where separation is something I value very highly and imaging is pretty high on the list as well. Imaging is decent here. It won't be crystal clear having pinpoint locations but you get the general sense of where things are but a bit blurry. Separation is pretty adequate but not the best I've heard but remember that this isn't a $300 product but rather a $99 one so I don't have much to complain about here.
Timbre: From my experience with earphones dynamics tend to have better timbre than their BA counterparts. I find the timbre of the RE-Zero quite nice and for the most part things just sound natural. I'm not sure if this goes here but I find the electric guitar and hi-hat done pretty well with the RE-Zero assuming the track is of decent quality and recording as some of the tracks I have with bad of either of those don't sound right.
Final Comments: If somehow you missed it the sound signature of these are of the neutral kind. They are also quite balanced to my ears in that nothing is forward or recessed. If you picture the mids, treble and bass on a stage with them being left, right and center then they would all be standing at the same distance away from the crowd.
Also out of the hard adapter connected to my clip+ some hiss was audible but only when music was not playing and volume near max. I would never listen at such volumes.
This section of the review is where I did my critical listening. The listening setup was EeePC1005HA (with Ubuntu 9.10) using mpd+gmpc connected to my Audinst HUD-MX1 via usb and then the RE-Zero connected to the 3.5mm output any adapter. Also the song title format goes as follows Artist – Title [Album Name] File Quality
I will be comparing a couple songs here involving various genres that I listen to and writing down a couples notes here and there about how these phones do with that particular track. I ended up listening to more tracks than I originally planned but that may be better for you to see how these do with various songs that you may or may not know.
Markus Schulz – I Am [Progression] 320kbps mp3
Speed is a non issue and the RE-Zero is definitely able to adapt well to all the changes going on here. Vocals are excellent here and sound natural. Bass extension is nice and it doesn't overwhelm but it does let you know when it is there. I'm really liking this song here and makes me want to play it over and over again. It gives me a nice relaxing feeling.
Eagles – Hotel California [Hell Freezes Over] FLAC
The overall detail on this song is excellent. Lots of good detail with both guitars. They sound nice and natural. The bass has good extension and also being punchy with good definition. Male vocals are good here and definitely no complaints from me. Background vocals are also good and easily distinguished. Sound stage is good and so is separation.
Melissa Etheridge – Indiana [Fearless Love] FLAC
The bass hits pretty low here with that bass rumble that your dynamics come with. Piano is done fairly well. Female vocal is nice with good amount of detail and a good amount of emotion. There's lots of bass detail and nothing lags behind when the song starts getting involved. There's decent amount of decay here but not bass head level for sure. Acoustic is good here in the background with good detail. The drums are done nicely with a good amount of decay on your cymbals. Ride and hi-hat is pretty nice here and quite difficult to reproduce imo. When the electric does into it's mini solo it's nicely detailed with a good amount of authority to it.
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Hey [Stadium Arcadium] FLAC
Bass has good decay with decent definition. Guitars are nicely done here. There seems to not have that sparkle that I like in certain parts of the song which I'm used to here but that's with more expensive phones. Electric shows nice detail and authority here when needed. Male vocal is nice and you can hear all the breaths and all. I'm starting to get the feeling that this earphone does electric very well.
Lady Gaga – Telephone [The Fame Monster] FLAC
Female vocal is nice here and sounds pretty natural. Background vocals are good as well. Speed is good when the song moves from slow paced to fast. Drum is good especially the hi-hat here as that is excellent. Bass has good definition and goes low but may not give you that impact that I'm assuming a lot of people who listen to this song may want. Separation is very good here also and stage is adequate.
Priscilla Ahn – Red Cape [A Good Day] 320kbps mp3
Electric with authority when called for and acoustic with detail is what you get here. Female vocal has good detail hearing every little breath and all that. Drums are good here and lacks a bit of decay but I'm more interested in other parts of the song. There is a lot of detail going on here. Bass extension is good as is definition. Every part of this song just seems to flow smoothly and everything is in place.
Shelby Lynne – I Only Want To Be With You [Just A Little Lovin'] FLAC
Bass goes low here. It is well defined and decay is adequate here. Impact may not be what some people want but it's good for me. Female vocals is excellent here with lots of detail. You get to see the range of the vocals here which is quite nice imo and the upper range produces zero sibilance. Clarity is excellent here and excellent detail throughout here and even micro details. Hi-hat is done wonderfully here. Piano sounds natural here. Overall this song is done well and gives you a nice relaxing feeling and it seems like you are right there listening to the song live instead of on some kind of source. The song is very good with the Zero. Clarity, detail and good female vocal is required here and it delivers on all accounts.
Aerosmith – Dream On [The Very Best of Aerosmith: Devil's Got A New Disguise] FLAC
Electric is nicely done giving lots of detail here and authority that only this instrument can give. I remember bass in the beginning of the song giving more impact here than I'm used to with other songs but still remains good quality bass. It's official in my book at least that this phone does hi-hat extremely well. Acoustics are nice too giving nice detail and strums are easily distinguished. Male vocals is nice with all breaths and echoes heard which is something I haven't noticed much before. Separation is nice here with a good stage. As with the other songs detail is excellent here and I'm sure you are starting to get the point about detail.
Sarah McLachlan – Building a Mystery [Surfacing] FLAC
Acoustic with great detail here and electric is excellent here. You get authority and detail here. Female vocals are good and sound airy if that's the right word here. Hi-hat is excellent here with rest of the drums being just as good. Bass is low and nicely defined. You get that low rumble as well. There's just something about the treble presentation here that makes it seem so effortless and amazing. I don't know if I've heard the vocals on this song better than right now.
Norah Jones – I Wouldn't Need You [The Fall] FLAC
I get a pretty impressive soundstage that is totally unexpected here which is nice. Female vocal is nice here sounding smooth with great detail. Bass extension is good and nicely defined with decent decay. Impact is adequate for myself. Piano is good here sounding very natural. Guitars are nice boasting immense detail. Micro detail is excellent on this song. The impressive thing about the drums is the crash which is done well but needs a tiny bit longer decay. Everything else about it done very nicely.
Reba McEntire – Eight Crazy Hours [Keep On Loving You] FLAC
Acoustic detail is very nice here. Micro details are also present with lots of it. Female vocals are smooth and excellent here. Piano sounds pretty natural. Bass is well the bass you would expect. Tight, good extension and decent decay but has a bit less impact than some of my other phones with similar signature. Cymbals are good here with all variations of it sounding good.
DJ Tiesto – I Am Strong [Kaleidoscope] 320kbps mp3
Vocals are great here sounding very airy. Speed for this song is great as this phone definitely keeps up with everything going on. The bass is perfect for a song like this. It isn't too powerful where all you hear is bass but not too lean either. It's just right for me and just what I want for trance. Cymbals are nice with good reproduction here sounding pretty natural. Pianos sound nice as well and not much to complain about. Calm, relaxing and laid back is how I feel when I am listening to these which is always good after a long day. I'm sitting back and relaxing on my chair right now as you are reading this :)
F.I.R. - Find My Way [Let's Smile] FLAC
I've decided to include a Mandarin pop song for those of you who do not know this song. I included it since I do listen to a good amount of it and have listed it as one of my genres I listen to. This is an English only forum but I know there are Asians here and the title is in English so all is well :)
Detail is excellent here as are micro details. Speed is a non issue here as everything flows well and nothing gets left behind. Bass is nicely done here showing good extension and detail. Decay is adequate here but might not be enough for some. Electric is just as good but gives more authority than the bass impact does. Female vocals are nicely done and sounds excellent. Acoustic is nicely detailed with good reproduction here and strums and all of that are easily made out. Hi-hat and ride are excellent with the rest of the drums following in excellent quality. Instrument separation is great here as I'm able to separate everything out when I want to focus on one and I am also able to locate things fairly well also.
...You get the point by now don't you? The Zero are highly capable regardless of genre for me at least.
Hifiman has once again created a huge winner (for me at least) and this time we don't need price drops like the RE0 to make it perform so much higher than its price may lead you to believe. I can safely say without hesitation that even though I haven't heard all the sub $100 earphones or as many as others have the RE-Zero simply kills the competition with it's amazing high quality with the exception of it's bigger brother in the RE0. This Hifiman is so good that's it's just unfair to the rest of the competition and they really need to step up their game to match the products Fang is releasing. So are these the perfect earphone and the end to your search? For someone like me the answer is clearly no. I like to have various earphones for what I am feeling that particular day so one earphone wouldn't work for me. However for the person that doesn't want to spend too much and still have great quality this may well be it.
So if you can get past either adapters (or if you are lucky enough that it works without an adapter like the case with my dac/amp) and you want something balanced (lol..I mean sound-wise although their plug is balanced as well so no pun intended) and fairly neutral and do not want to spend too much more than $99 plus shipping to get very good quality then this should be very high on your list and no lower than 2nd on that list.
I do wish I was able to have a balanced output that is meant for this kind of plug (although my dac/amp doesn't need an adapter). I am unable to test how these will fare with a balanced amp but I think that will change in the near future :)
Lastly this is all my honest opinion so your miles may vary. Please don't flame me if you disagree with anything here. If you notice any errors please let me know so I can fix them. If you have any questions please post here and I will try to answer them.
Edited by rawrster - 7/30/10 at 8:35am