RE-262 vs SM3: Natural vs Neutral?
**Warning: These are my subjective (and maybe slightly insane) opinions**
Accessories and Build Quality
The SM3 is quite Spartan when compared to the RE-262, but the RE-262 isn’t a treasure chest either. Both come with spare tips, and either a cleaning tool or extra filters. The main key difference, for me at least is that the SM3 has a portable case and RE-262 comes with shirt clip and ear guides, so pick your poison. Both are well built, however I do think the strains relieves on the SM3and terminal plug is better than the RE-262. However, I do think the cables are on the RE-262 looks and feels thicker and have a better texture. However, I am inclined to say the SM3 cables might be better as they don’t tangle as often. Housing I would say are pretty even, plastic housing. The SM3 do look nicer. I do find the driver cords a bit short since the SM3 are worn behind the ears. And, if the RE-262 not having a case is a deal breaker for you, well you're not really missing out if you get the SM3 instead but, I bet your breaths stinks and could use some altoids mints! If you didn't catch that I'm referring to using the altoids can as a carrying case.
Fit / Isolation
No fitting issues from either. Besides the cord issue on the SM3 both fit extremely well. I generally wear the RE-262 cord down as I find the best seal while using the bi-flange. I do like the flexibility of wearing the RE-262 down or over the ear, but again no fitting issues.
For isolation the SM3 isolate better than the RE-262 when both are equipped with the stock bi-flange tips. However, swap to comply both are very comparable. I do get a deeper and better seal with the SM3 with the bi-flange. While the RE-262 isolate just like the RE0 until I put comply and flip them over and wear them behind the ear.
I received both the SM3 and RE-262 fully burnt in, over 150+ hours. I really liked them both, however I could immediately tell the difference in sound signature. I am very accustomed to the RE0 sound signature. Both the RE-262 and SM3 are fuller, fun, engaging and “warmer” sounding over the RE0. However, when it comes to overall balance sound signature the RE0 is still King. But, being King of Neutrality and Tonal Balance doesn’t make the RE0 King of Fun. It is quite the opposite, many perceive the RE0 as boring, too analytical (Freud anyone?) and too bland sounding. However, what the RE0 represent is hard to beat, especially for the price range. However, I do think the SM3 and RE-262 are an “upgrade” over the RE0 sound signature. An upgrade in “flavor” only, everything else may be considered a side step.
Back to the RE-262, I have to admit I was really impressed with the RE-262. I really enjoy them and prefer them over the RE0, RE-252 and probably even the RE-Zero (never heard), It has similar characteristic of what I really enjoyed about the RE0/RE252 but with better fit (take a look at the RE252), sound flavor, signature, and sound stage, without losing the articulation, detail and tonal balance over its predecessors. While I did say the RE0 is still King of Tonal Balance, the RE-262 is still quite balanced when compared to other headphones in my stable. I also enjoy that I don’t need to wear them behind my ears if I don’t want too. I had problems with the RE-252. RE-262 really needs a good amp.
Now, I’ve read 1 or 2 reviews off the forums (in the 2 closed threads on the SM3), so I had somewhat of an impression laid out in my mind. When I first listened to them I can see why people raved about them. Now, the SM3 were already fully burned in by its owner, so I just plugged and play. The SM3 doesn’t really need an amp. However, there are some benefits from amplification but it’s not enough for me to justify buying one if I didn’t have an amp before. That being said, I would assume that the SM3 would prefer a different source. A quick play time with the Sparrow reveals that. The SM3 sounds a lot better with the Sparrow, in my opinion.
Of course, with the review I will be using my Sansa Fuze, as these are portable. So, I actually think the SM3 sounds better unamped. However, I have noticed that not only they are quite detailed but have a more pronounced mid range and bass over the RE-262. However, the treble sounds recessed and maybe even masked by the pronounced mid range and treble. A completely different sound than what I am used too and it is quite refreshing, indeed. However I have noticed that the overall sound signature is a bit veiled when compared to not only the RE-262 but my other IEMs as well.
The Review: SM3 vs RE-262
Source: Sansa Fuze with Pico Slim Amplifier and Fiio L6 LOD
Music: All FLAC Files – Test list are as follows:
Nightwish – Nemo
David Brubeck – Take Five
Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto in C minor No.2 op.18
Women of Jazz – Goodnite (Melody Gardot)
Lady GaGa: Poker Face
Celtic Women – Harrys Game
DNX – Lord Give Me A Sign
Tips could be an issue. For both the SM3 and RE-262 I used the stock bi-flange tips. I have found out that comply do change the sound characteristic (tested with the RE-262), however, for this review I thought the sound with the bi-flange was more clear over the complys (again, tested with the RE-262).
While the SM3 do have a much higher sensitivity it doesn’t annoyingly pick up background noise or hiss when compared to the RE-262.
Treble: Both are good, but I think the SM3 have a slight recessed treble when listening to the overall signature. As well, it does have a much smoother treble over the RE-262. This is especially nice for treble focused music. There is no sibilance just smooth bliss. However, the RE-262 treble does sound more forward when compared to the SM3 as well sharper and crisper without sibilance. However, in some music the treble RE-262 can appear to sound a bit fatiguing since you hear everything. If I were to compare the RE0 and RE262 I would say the treble is much smoother but may sound slightly recessed, even though it really isn’t, on the RE-262. Therefore, I do think the RE-262 trumps the SM3 in treble. I think if anyone heard them both many would agree. The treble of the RE-262 isn't as recessed and is a lot sharper and crisper and will sound as if it extends further than the SM3.
Mid Range: The SM3 trumps the RE-262 in mid range. It’s more pronounced and forward. The SM3 is much lusher and fuller sounding over the RE-262 without losing detail. The mid range is also very smooth on the SM3, a lot smoother than the RE-262. However, the RE-262 also does an excellent job in reproducing excellent mid range music. It's full, warm and lush just like the SM3 but the SM3 does it much better than the RE-262. You want to hear some lovely vocals? SM3 are excellent. I do find the SM3 mid range can be a bit much for my taste in some music. But, mid range lovers and vintage stereo lovers the SM3 are for you. They have this lushness, warmth and fullness that reminds me of several different vintage speakers. Very addicting. But, to my ears RE-262 sounds a bit more crisp and sharper in the mid range (a noticeable trend).
Bass: Again the SM3 trumps the RE-262 in bass. While both extend deep, the SM3 provides more quantity and rumble without losing quality. Between the two the SM3 is better for bass lovers, I do find it a bit refreshing on hearing and feeling the rumble, as I have never felt anything like that in an IEM. However, the RE-262 is no slouch either. The bass on the RE-262 also extends deep but lacks the overall rumble sensation. But, I would say the RE-262 is “punchier.” But, if you want rumble the SM3 is the way to go. I should also say there is no hump at all, just smooth, refined bass for both the RE-262 and SM3. But, the SM3 is truly the winner in terms of bass. The bass on the SM3 is very addicting, it's like having a full size headphones but in a small package.
Clarity/Detail/Articulation/Sound Stage: For clarity, detail, and articulation, I do think the RE-262 is much better. I just find the overall transparency of the music is much more clear, detailed and articulate on the RE-262. This doesn’t mean the SM3 do a poor job, it’s just that the RE-262 does the job better. It might be due to the pronounced mid range and bass, as well the recessed treble and slight veiled sound signature that puts it in second place. When I initially placed the SM3 in my ears, that’s what I’ve noticed and even after getting accustomed to the SM3 sound signature I just find the veiled sound signature is enough for me to tell the difference between the two. I guess darker sounding would be the appropriate terminology? But, again, the SM3 is not lacking in any detail, clarity, or articulation.
Sound Stage: I will admit I’m not the best in gauging this matter. Both excel beyond the RE0. But, again the veiled signature reminds me as if I was listening to live music in a smaller room when compared to the RE-262. Both are expansive with good headroom and sensation. But, if you were to ask which one is better for classical music, my vote would be the RE-262. It just sounds airier, wider and clearer. Due to time constraints I do not have enough time to really articulate on the sound stage. So take this part as more of an impression than a review.
Overall Sound Signature: I do find the RE-262 to be a lot lighter than the SM3. Both can be considered “neutral” but, I would put them on the warm side of neutral. Between the argument of neutrality and natural sounding is where it’s tricky. Both, in my opinion, can sound neutral and natural. It all depends on what I’m listening too. For the past few months I have spent quite some time listening to live concerts and music as well with headphones and speakers and this ideology of Neutral vs Natural can be fatiguing debate. Depending on various circumstances either one can sound natural or neutral so I doubt we will hear the end of it. For example, think about room acoustics when listening to live music. I will say that overall I do prefer the sound signature of the RE-262 but I could live with either. On a side note, I will say that I did forget that the SM3 was both a BA and uses triple drivers, and that the last BA I’ve heard was the Sound Magic PL-50. In this sense, I do find the SM3 reminiscence of the AKG K340, and I don’t know why.
I think both a great for what they represent in the current market. If you know what you’re getting into between the two I don’t see why you would be disappointed. So, do your research before buying. Each has their strength and minior faults. I can’t comment between customs as I have 0 customs. So, choose wisely!
I don’t know if tips make a huge difference as I only played with the bi-flange. The only other set of tips that was lent out to me were the comply however, for sanitary reasons I chose not to use them and if they’re like on the RE-262 it tends to soften the sound and might make it sound more “muddy.”
On a side note: the RE-262 and the SM3 reminds me on a discussion with my Dad regarding speakers, I guarantee that the SM3 would be his choice if he were to choose.
*A big thanks to HeadCred for lending me his SM3!