It was with much interest and anticipation that I began to explore the capabilities of this new IEM created by HiFiMan, as they have discontinued previous models, many of which received very complimentary reviews and comments. They decided to create a new line of in-ear monitors and place all their in-ear eggs in a new, untested basket. The first of these was the RE-400, which many feel performs far above its price point.
The RE-600 represents the flagship model of the new in-ear line of headphones. Needless to say, given Dr Fang's success with his planar line of circumaural headphones, expectations for the new IEM's are quite high.
Does the RE-600 live up to these expectations? For those who wish to read no further, I can, with no reservations, say YES.
Below are some photos I took as I unwrapped the box and examined the phones in detail. Having previously purchased the RE-400, I was impressed with the elegance of the RE-600 leather case compared to the more spartan packaging of the RE-400. One must keep in mind, however, that packaging is not what we use for listening!
As can be seen from the above pictures, there are quite a few tips (more later) included along with a cable roller and replacement filters.
For those who have not seen the RE-400 in person, both the RE-400 and RE-600 are very small, more so that one would expect for a dynamic driver-type phone.
One can appreciated the truly small size by relating the RE-600 to the dime shown in the photo.
The cable is fabric covered below the junction and smooth rubber/plastic above the junction. The RE-600 cable is more flexible than that of the RE-400 and not as prone to kinking. The composition of the cable on the RE-600 is a silver/copper blend, but I am not sure of the exact proportions of each.
One can also see the short balanced to SE adapter in the photo. The RE-600 is terminated with a TRRS 1/8" plug for balanced use. Not having a HiFiMan balanced amplifier to use with this review, I am in the process of making a suitable adapter for use with my balanced equipment and will add my impressions at a later date.
For purposes of this review, I used all of my portable and desktop amplifiers as well as listening directly from my Verizon Thunderbolt. To get an idea of the overall capability of the RE-600, I used a number of my .wav test files, including a high-quality binaural thunderstorm recording actually recorded in the field, a number of selections that include instruments that are difficult to reproduce accurately such as flute, violin, drum kit, and applause. I also have a number of acoustic performances recorded by a friend of mine who I have heard perform live many times. These recordings really enable me to determine how well a headphone or speaker can create a true representation of a live performance.
So....How does the RE-600 deliver??? It is not quite as easy to put into words as I had expected when I first heard the phones. I always listen for first impressions prior to any "burn-in" as I feel that the sound out of the box is most often representative of how the phone will sound over time. They did sound OK out of the box, but just OK. My first impressions were not as good as I was expecting.
I quickly discovered that none of the included eartips would allow me to achieve a proper seal. While there are 4 pairs of short biflange gels and 2 pair of large biflanges, all the shorts are the same diameter and both pair of the large biflanges were also of the same size. This necessitated a search for eartips that would both fit the RE-600 and my ears. Fortunately, I have a good stash of tips left over from many long-since departed IEM's and I was able to find a set that fit us both very well. So onward with the listening!
I quickly gained the impression that Dr Fang intentionally designed the 600 to be extremely flat in frequency response across the full audio spectrum. I listened to a number of 20hz to 20khz sinewave sweeps and noted absolutely no peaks or dips in the response. I don't recall ever hearing a sweep without the typical spikes in the 3-5 khz portion of the sweep, but these phones were very linear. Perhaps the lack of crossovers helps in this regard.
My initial perception was that they tended to the bright side, but after listening longer, the sound I heard was only bright compared to most of the phones I have been used to hearing. The brightness was actually a lifelike representation of what I most often hear during most non-amplified live performances. In other words, no veil at all. Anywhere.
Likewise, the bass didn't seem overly impressive until I heard a 20hz sinewave replayed with no doubling at all. Furthermore, I was about knocked out of my chair when I played my binaural thunderstorm bass reference recording for the first time. I have never heard the CRAACK and subsequent rumble of a nearby thunderstorm and lightning strike like I heard with the RE-600, yet there is no overshadowing sense of warmth or darkness anywhere in the mids or highs. If true bass is actually there, it is rendered with authority that one usually expects from a properly integrated sub-woofer. The sense of clarity and transparency is most impressive, as is the timbral accuracy of every instrument or voice in the recording.
These phones do not seem to care whether they are reproducing a huge orchestra, a string quartet, a jazz combo or a solo vocalist, all are reproduced with aplomb and no congestion at all. For example, on one of my binaural recordings consisting of a music mix with thunder, rain, birds and crickets, I could still clearly hear the crickets off to the side despite the heavy downpour of rain.
While the RE-600 scales up very well with my desktop equipment and quality recordings, it also made lesser recordings sound quite good. I have mostly 192kbps mp3 files on my phone and even these sounded very nice. Most revealing phones seem to bring out the faults in less than stellar recordings while the 600 just makes such recordings sound as good as they can be. Quite uncanny in this respect.
I do think that much of why the RE-600 sounds so good can be attributed to psycho-acoustic attributes, such as accuracy of imaging and width and depth of soundstage. The uncolored sound does seem to expand all the things that our ears hear when listening live. This is the first headphone, short of my K1000 that I can actually say that the sound truly does extend past the confines of my ears. In this regard, the RE-600 sounds much more speaker-like than headphone-like.
The depth of the imaging is also remarkable. I find that after a very short time, I am no longer listening to headphones, I am actually immersed in a real performance. I get the impression that what is happening in the mind of the artist is what I am actually hearing. Impressions such as these really are not things that I could measure on my scope, but are rather the sum of all the little parts that compose not only the physical parts of the headphone but also my own sense of musical expectation and perception of musical reality.
I have deliberately avoided making comparisons with other headphones that I own or have owned, but for those who insist, maybe they can be compared to the ER4 but with more life and joy and less dissection and analysis. Maybe like a Grado with better imaging and less "in your face". A lot like my Sony F1.
While I have decided that these fit my preferences better than any of my other in-ear monitors, including my customs, ultimately, each listener will have to reach their own conclusions after auditioning the RE-600 based upon their own personal listening preferences and musical tastes.
And now, what would I list as suggested improvements?
1: The selection of included tips will likely not offer enough of a selection to meet the needs of every user, so there should be additional sizes included, or perhaps even better, offer an optional tip package of varying sizes and shapes to fit the rather large neck of the RE-line of phones. The common Ety/Phonak/Westone tips are much too small to slip over the neck. After a great deal of effort, I was able to stretch a Klipsch gel over the end, but I would not recommend this be done due to the possibility of damage.
2: Put a small rubber dimple on one of the strain reliefs to be able to identify left from right by touch, as the tiny letters are very difficult to read in low light.
3. Include a basic user guide listing specifications, how to change filters, and perhaps some other basic nice-to-have information. Maybe one will be included when the actual RE-600 deliveries begin.
Stay tuned, as I will very likely update this brief review when I get my balanced adapter completed and if I can think of any additional information to add that I might have overlooked.
Addendum #1: I have been informed that there is NO user manual planned for the RE-600. Probably not a big deal as the specs will be listed on the HiFiMan website and use of the phones is not rocket science.
Addendum #2: Fang replied to my question regarding whether the cables are reinforced for additional strength and he said yes, that they had the most kevlar possible used in their construction and that they passed the "11 thousand times swing test". I am not sure what this test is, but it sounds as if the cables should be extremely durable despite the small size. Very encouraging to hear.
Addendum #3: Price of the RE-600 is to be $399 and scheduled release is the end of this month. Specs to follow shortly as Fang is emailing them to me.
Addendum #4: Balanced adapter completed, read my impressions HERE.
Addendum #5: Specifications as provided by Fang:
8.5mm single dynamic driver
16 Ohm +/-3.2 impedance
15-22KHz frequency response
Addendum #6: After much experimentation with different tips, I have come to the following conclusions:
A. Tonal balance and soundstage seem to be best with tips that allow the bore of the nozzle to be square and flush with the opening of ones ear canal. (NOT deeply inserted)
B. Deep insertion into the ear canal will increase bass response, but diminish soundstage and treble response. It will also make them difficult to remove without pulling on the cables as they are so small that they nearly disappear into the ear canal. I tied a nylon thread around the nozzle of mine and attached a small bead to the other end to provide a quick and easy way to remove them without tugging on the cable. The thread is about an inch long from the neck to the bead.
C. For those who find the stock included tips to not be a good fit, Radio Shack has an package of tips that fit all of the HiFiMan IEM's perfectly. There are 5 color-coded pairs of different sizes and are packaged as "Auvio Silicone Tips and Winder". Price is $7.99 They are nearly identical to the Sony hybrid tips.
Edited by HiFlight - 7/3/13 at 8:34am