Review: Hifiman RE800 – Balance

Tuning

I first listened to the Hifiman RE800 at the Hifiman booth during the High End show in Munich in May earlier this year. In those noisy sound conditions, I didn’t really appreciate RE800’s tuning and I preferred the thicker sounding RE2000. Once I got to listen to these in a quieter place however, after a serious burn-in period of over 100 hours, these quickly won me over. Hifiman does recommend burning these drivers in sufficiently so don’t judge these straight out of the box.

Hifiman tuned the RE800 to the neutral side with a touch of smoothness and sometimes even warmth but always with a high musicality level. Body-wise the RE800 is a bit lighter overall and that’s mostly noticeable in the mid region. The Hifiman RE800 excels in clarity, cleanness and precision. It’s one of the clearest and cleanest dynamic driven IEMs I’ve had the pleasure to listen to, and this clarity goes from the bass all the way up to the treble region. The Hifiman RE800 has excellent speed with great attack, and it everywhere and all the time sounds tight and precise. The left-right balance is really nice as well and you get a great stereo image from these in-ears.

The RE800 has a nicely wide sound stage, its depth is very good too but it’s not as deep as it’s wide. For a one-driven IEM however the sound stage simply is impressive. The RE800 is precise and has a very high level of detail which even more audible because of the great clarity. The RE800 just sounds gorgeously rich. I however do recommend listening to high quality recordings as the RE800 definitely will show you how bad your recording or low-resolution file really is.

The way the Hifiman RE800 does bass is exemplary: it’s fast, tight and detailed with a good level of depth and layering. Bass reaches down fairly low and when the music allows it, bass body-wise will appear when called upon. I’d still say the bass overall is to the neutral side regarding body and impact but when needed it will positively surprise you with its depth, body and impact. Bass doesn’t necessarily have the “rumble down below” but I can’t say I have missed this in the RE800, with this configuration and specific tuning. Bass heads however might find the RE800 bass light overall.

The RE800’s mids are dynamic and transparent with pretty good layering. Mids are rich in detail with a neutral tuning. Like the bass, the mids are fast, dynamic and tight. Vocals sound natural and precise and they probably are the best part of the mids section

The RE800 has a nicely extended and dynamic treble region but a focus on treble most certainly is present. As I quite like (extended and very lively) treble, you won’t easily hear me complain. Treble is clean, fast and rich but I have to admit that on some tracks with recordings of lesser quality, treble can sound somewhat harsher. In general the treble simply is very good though: lively and extended. Yes, on some occasions it has indeed gone to the harsher side, even for me nut in total however I can’t say this IEM sounds harsh all the time.  You do have to take into account this is a somewhat treble focused IEM, if treble in general isn’t where you get your kicks from.

For me personally

The RE800 is a lively and engaging universal IEM with great precision, speed and an awesome sound stage. Separation wise it’s perfect and it’s got the right amount of space. Bass, mids and treble work really well together and bass will only positively surprise you, especially once you’re used to the RE800’s specific tuning. Treble for me is excellent as it’s detailed, lively, dynamic and nicely extended. Treble can in some cases go to the harsher side with bas recordings or low quality files but it does also depend on the source you’re using the Hifiman RE800 with, and that brings us to the next chapter.

Sources       

The Hifiman RE800 – and the RE2000 for that matter – isn’t the easiest to drive universal IEM although the 60Ohm impedance and 105dB sensitivity wouldn’t immediate show that. When coming from a custom IEM in example the volume level on your DAP or amp will go up considerably but there’s always enough headroom to play with. So the RE800 isn’t the lightest to drive but at the same time none of the sources in my collection, including all DAPs, had any issue driving the RE800 to its fullest potential.

Because of the RE800’s lighter and very clear tuning, I – in case you like a smoother or warmer sound – would recommend sources such as the Sony NW-WM1Z, Hidizs AP200 and Fiio X3iii. The more neutral Cayin N5ii or AK SP1000 have an analytic, fast and precise nature on their own and sometimes this can put too much focus on the treble. That said, the three sources I used most of the time with the RE800 are the Fiio X3iii, the Cayin N5 MKii and the SP1000. You might like these with a very different selection of DAPs however.

Amplification

Again, this IEM really doesn’t need a lot of extra power to shine, so an external amplifier isn’t a necessity. As I always have the Chord Electronics Mojo and Hugo 2 with me for use on the go and at my day job office, these are the only external “amps” I’ve used this latest Hifiman creation with. In case you wonder why I’m putting “amps” between brackets, that is because the Chord creations theoretically aren’t amps. They’re using the DAC output as explained so many times by Chord.

Both of these very popular units don’t really impact the sound signature of the IEM, but they do show more resolution and control compared to say my Samsung smart phone. If you already own a good portable or desktop amplifier I certainly recommend using it with the RE800 as you will get the very best out of it, but if you don’t have an amp yet, there’s no need to worry, the Hifiman RE800 will still sound fantastic.

Comparisons

The most asked after comparison of course is to the RE2000, it’s bigger brother. The RE2000 is very different from the Hifiman RE800 and not only in the looks department, even though the reference model also has the 24K plated finish. Comfort-wise the RE2000 is bigger and it doesn’t disappear in your ear the way the RE800 does. For my small ears it in this regards is less comfortable as you can always feel it sitting in your ear. Sound-wise the RE2000 sounds bigger, it has more body from bass to treble but it still sounds very clean. To me the RE800 has the better clarity levels as the RE2000 has a softer, smoother and very musical approach. The RE2000 sounds more relaxed but it at the same time is incredibly rich in detail and it does everything effortlessly. The RE2000’s bass is quite a bit bigger body-wise and it has bigger impact. Unlike the RE-800 where the bass comes up when needed, the bass in the RE2000 is always present. The RE2000’s mids have bigger body and the voices are softer and even more natural sounding. Treble, while still extended, isn’t as energetic as in the RE800 and I’ve never heard it become harsh in any way. You could say the RE2000 is easier to listen to and easier to like but you’ll have to take that very bass presence with it at all times. Both of these monitors sounds great but they’re just very different. The RE2000 has its clear strengths over its little brother in regards to naturalism, depth, layering, instrumental placement and richness and I’ll tell you all about it in its upcoming review.

I don’t own any other single dynamic driven IEMs in this price range and the only two other universal IEMs in my collection that come close are the orthodynamic Unique Melody ME1 ($759) and the 6 BA driven Westone W60 ($999). It wouldn’t be very logic or fair to compare one technology to another but in case you insist I will do so in the comments.

Conclusion

I think Hifiman has done an exceptional job building this 24K plated brass monitor. The new RE800 looks, feels and most important, sound really good. For the $699 price this universal monitor is going for, you get a well built and audiophile tuned (neutral) monitor that fits great and sounds absolutely fine. The brass and gold finishing make it a luxury item but it’s so much more than that, it’s simply an excellent IEM.

I really like how Hifiman tuned this IEM including the treble section. If you’re in to a softer, easier to listen to and rounded-of kind of treble, you do have to know that this IEM might not be the best for you unless you’ll be using it with a warmer sounding, smoother source that will soften the upper levels somewhat.

The RE2000 has its own strengths but these are differently tuned IEMs. Some prefer the one over the other but I like them both. You’ll find out how much I like it in its upcoming review. RE800 approved, RE2000 to follow? Soon on Headfonia!

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Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.

8 Comments

  • Reply November 16, 2017

    Barun C

    Nice review. You guys should do tip rolling, to get an idea of how it performs in terms of isolation and presentation, this would’ve been helpful since you mention the bass might be underwhelming for some.

    Options like Spin Fits, JVC Dotted, Double/Triple Flangers & even custom tips might change partially/whole presentation of the IEM.

    • Reply November 16, 2017

      ohm image

      It is a great idea but honestly not realistic at the moment.

  • Reply November 16, 2017

    Lieven

    Thanks Baran. That’s true but then you would also have to try every other cable as well, cause those have an impact too. It’s a never ending story and unfortunately not realistic time wise. Maybe if we did one review a month but with 5 articles a week, it won’t always happen.

  • Reply November 17, 2017

    floydstyle

    Does the wire last more than a year? Me 272 and my lovely 262 didn’t last more than a year or so. There is no way I will buy hifiman again unfortunately. I enjoyed the sound so much on the 262 while they last

    • Reply April 27, 2018

      Anonymous

      I personally own one, but I think this is the very best cable from hifiman so far. Cablr is very different from the thin and fragile cables from re-400 and re-600. Also, cable this time around is removable, so you could replace it with aftermarket cables.

  • Reply November 20, 2017

    Thomas

    Very enjoyable review. I quite enjoyed the treble on which was particularly well suited to low listening volumes.

  • Reply January 18, 2018

    Steven

    I’m concerned about the treble…

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