HiFiMAN RE-400 In-ears [2013-02-12]
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http://www.techpowerup.com/reviews/HiFiMAN/RE-400/1.html

Introduction

HiFiMAN was one of the first brands to produce high performance in-ears based around a dynamic driver. RE-series in-ears have always provided excellent bang for the buck and are highly touted, even amongst audiophiles. Today, we are taking a look at HiFiMAN's newest RE-series in-ear solution: the RE-400s. The design takes after the RE-0s in some areas through its aluminum housing, but the RE-400s are, other than that, completely new iterations that have been built from the ground up.

Everything from the driver and onward has changed, largely due to the new small diameter dynamic driver that has been in the works for quite some time. This completely new 8.5mm dynamic driver should perform well across the audible spectrum.

Specifications

The Package

HiFiMAN's new retail boxes are sturdy and protect the earphones well during transport. You can read about the main features of the new RE-400s on the front. The main feature is the brand new 8.5 mm driver, of course.

The bundle for HiFiMAN in-ears has changed with the RE-400 earphones. You only get two double flange tips and one small single flange tip. The tip design is also brand new, with the two flanges being very close. This is something I have not seen on any other in-ear, and it works really well for the HiFiMAN design.

The mini-jack is not so mini and is identical to those featured on the RE-2x2 series in-ears. A smaller jack is nice from an aesthetical point-of-view, but the big and bulky might fare better in the long run, since they are more durable.

Closer Examination

The design of the RE-400s looks sweet. Its bell-like shaped housings and the new tips look much better than the more ordinary design of the RE-0s, which the RE-400s supersede. The strain reliefs on the housing are still very large compared to what is featured on competing products; however, HiFiMAN's implementation works better than on most due to them being angled outwards slightly. Also, part of the bundle is a wire wrapper that is alright, but it is quite bulky.

HiFiMAN seems to be well aware of the huge potential optimized cable solutions have, and the new RE-x00 series in-ears feature a hybrid cable design. The cable is, from the y-split up, completely PU covered and features a braided sleeve from the jack to the y-split, which should make it withstand more physical abuse. This is quite a neat feature, since it effectively beefs up the cable where it needs reinforcement while retaining optimum flexibility and microphonics dampening around the most critical area.

The new tips are quite a bit different than what HiFiMAN used to make. The new fit kit only consists of three tips ranging from small through medium to very large. The medium-sized double flange will be killer for anyone that was able to get a good fit with the older medium single flanges. The small tips are much better than the old ones that were too sensitive to placement.

Performance

HiFiMAN has put a lot of effort into the design of the RE-400, and it has payed off in so many areas. First of all, the fit is heaps better than what we are used to from the older models, which helps tremendously with the sound quality of in-ear designs. The fact that you get a marginally better seal gives a more-than-marginal improvement in sound quality. Wearing comfort has also gone up quite a bit because the new tips are more ergonomic, but also due to the different housing design - the less microphonic cable is just a bonus.

The in-ears were tested with the following gear: Samsung Galaxy S3 (International Edition), iPhone 4, and JDSLabs O2+ODAC DAC/amp.

The only issue with the RE-400s is due to the tips: they are comfortable to wear, but the sound quality with them is a bit lower than with a set of dual compound tips that ship with Sony, RedGiant, or many other higher end in-ears. This is a minor issue, as they are very cheap to source online, but we would have preferred these in-ears to come with a set of tips that match their performance.

The RE-400s supersede one of the most influential in-ears in the midrange price segment - the RE-0s. The RE-400s have been introduced for the same price as the RE-0s after two years on the market, which bodes well for the price/performance ratio of these in-ears. The good news is that the RE-400s definitely sound the way HiFiMAN wants them to sound; however, they are tuned more like their bigger headphones - the emphasis is on creating a slightly warm midrange and producing a tight and well extended bass. The RE-0s sound great, but their at times slightly exaggerated treble can be a bit annoying, especially on modern recordings with subpar mastering. The RE-400s have a slightly less sparkly top-end and the upper midrange is even less sibilant than that of the RE-0s, which is a major plus.

The RE-0s thrilled us when they were released. A multitude of very good in-ears in the sub $150 range were launched within the last five years since then; however, the RE-0s kept their attractiveness because of HiFiMAN's aggressive pricing strategy. HiFiMAN is now clearly starting anew with the RE-400s, which is very interesting to audiophiles and music lovers alike. The RE-400s, like the RE-0s, boast tremendous control of the midrange and are even smoother sounding. Their sound stage has also been improved vastly over the RE-0s and RE-262s. The detailed midrange coupled with a very coherent sound stage makes the RE-400s very entertaining to listen to, and it is immediately apparent that the RE-400s are in a different league than the RE-0s. Listening to quality masterings on the JDSLabs O2+ODAC showed an amazing display of midrange control and sound-stage definition that almost made us forget the fact that they were in-ears. They are much better at conveying depth than any of the RE-series earphones preceding it, which gives them a more "out of the head" sound stage.

A lot of bass was never the older RE-series earphone's strong point, and the RE-400s are no different. They have more bass than the RE-0s and the RE-262s, but it is marginal compared to both Sennheiser CX300s and RHA MA350s. The bass control and extension is still ahead of the rest, but it is, amount-wise, struggling to produce enough low-end grunt.

The new RE-400s are very smooth across the range. There are no nasty peaks and the bass, midrange, and treble seem very well-integrated. This is probably one of the reasons why every little detail is conveyed so beautifully. The midrange is simply fantastic and has a level of smoothness and detail you used to pay over $300 for. The new RE-400s are very natural sounding and the low-end reminds me of less powerful Westone ES5s. If you want a lot of bass, there are other options for you. These in-ears are still catering to those looking for a true to life reproduction of the music.

The detail level you get with the RE-400s is rivaling that of much more expensive sets, like the Westone 3s and the midrange offerings from Phonak. The fact that you can get such an experience for $99 is just absurd.

Value and Conclusion

The HiFiMAN RE-400s are available for $99 online at the HiFiMAN Store!

These in-ears are, simply put, amazing. They are, all things considered, extremely hard to fault. They are not designed with bass heads in mind, which is probably a good thing because it makes them sound wonderful all around. These new HiFiMAN creations should be on the shortlist of any serious music listener on the go. The new design is very well crafted, and HiFiMAN has taken a huge leap forward in terms of ergonomics and general quality. We miss a way to store and keep the earphones safe while on the move, but it is not a major issue, since the new housing and cable designs are quite durable. The hybrid cable is a stroke of genius because the part between the jack and the y-split receives a lot of wear and tear. Beefing that portion up while leaving the upper part alone gives you a durable cable that is very silent in terms of microphonics.

The midrange on these in-ears is just something else. It excels at portraying even the smallest detail and has an exceptionally balanced sound. The RE-400s are not sibilant in any way except for on horribly mastered recordings - those unfortunately exist in vast numbers. For a serious music listener, the RE-400s are just what you want. These in-ears are equally well-suited to casual listening on a train or bus, because the new design makes them more comfortable than most $100 in-ears on the market.

The primary issue we have encountered with the RE-400s is the tip selection. You only get a few tips, and they are not as good as those of competing products. These are inexpensive little things and ultimately a preference thing. The good thing is that the RE-400s only cost $99, which makes a $10 shopping spree for the tips of your preference easy, and the supplied tips may just, with some luck, fit you perfectly, since no two ears are alike.

If you can live with a bass that is slightly less bonkers than on musician endorsed headphones, these are the ones for you; they even come at a shockingly low price considering their performance. HiFiMAN once again proved that they set the bar for sub $100 in-ears when it comes to performance.