NOTE: this essay originally appeared at Headfonia.com. After a tussle with Hifiman, it was removed. The prick in the pudding? Two of this essay’s paragraphs which mentioned build and finish issues. There are seventeen paragraphs in this essay, the bulk of which are positive. Such is the laughable world in which audio reviews are published. BS like this should call into question the majority of reviews which pass Hifiman’s editorial muster. I have added links and fixed as many grammatical errors as I could. Otherwise, nothing else has been added.
NOTE II: The stripes seen on the RE2000 are hastily made cleaning marks left when I removed dust for close-up shots. They are not the fault of poor finish.
I was one of the lucky ones: with no more pomp than an email, HiFiman hooked me up with a box loaners, two of which have blown quite through three pair of my sox, one which left me fuming, and another about which I oscillate between cynicism and joy. In no particular order, that lot is: Susvara, RE2000, RE800, and the Megamini DAP.
As I explained over at ohm, despite a few provisos, the RE800 is my favourite of the bunch- though perhaps not for the most moving of reasons. The RE800 is small, relatively light, generally sturdy, and it sounds great. Its cable is crap, but if you’ve ever owned a HiFiman product, you know you must simultaneously accept both the crap and incredible. Also in its favour, the RE800 is, at least considering its price, the most competitively built and finished of the lot.
Apparently HiFiman compete with the market purely on the merit of sound quality. On the one hand, it’s laudable. I mean, that’s what we’re all here for, right? On the other, there is more to the audiophile experience - especially on the high end - than just sound. Do HiFiman care much at all for the brand in the long run? How about the short? Can the HiFiman of tomorrow retain the upscale model they are building today? What evidence exists to answer yes to those questions?
But those are the questions I’m not supposed to ask. I’m certainly not supposed to go on about the RE2000’s pitted surface, goopy edges, poor fit, the amount of sticky residue found all over the earphones, cables, and connecting hardware. I’m not supposed to go on about the poor quality strain reliefs and sticky cables. None of that belongs in a 100$ let a lone a 2000$ earphone.
I’m supposed to praise the RE2000’s solid body. Which I can, and will do. It’s solid, heavy, and make reassuringly dull thunks when I let it down onto glass or wood or metal. And comes with a purdy (if cheap) display case in which things are nicely laid out in the Jays new q-Jays sort of way.
HiFiman put a lot of effort into the RE2000, but most, if not all, of it was in making the RE2000 sound great- which it does. Oh god, does it sound great.
At first I preferred the RE800 to the RE2000. Comfort-wise, I still do. The RE200 is big, is hard to shoehorn into my ear canals, and presents nearly no plane to hold when jamming and unjamming it into and out of the ear. At great pain, I remove it when unburdening my wife of our daughter, her medicine, or whatever it was she brought home for my birthday. (What my wife brought home was a 1:144 plastic scale model Millenium Falcon!) But let’s get back to the music. Which, God help me, I want to do. The RE2000 sounds like a million bucks. But its design stymie put looks first, second, third, and fourth, and comfort way down the list. Even the Campfire Andromeda is more comfy and far, far easier to insert and remove.
I’m not sure if the RE2000 sounds better than Andromeda. It certainly is more stable than the RE800, whose only real weakness is that it can get a bit tizzy up top, sometimes peaking pretty wildly in the 7-8K range. I’m not hugely bothered by it, but then, I come from Etymotic ER4 land. The RE2000 is far better controlled in both extremes. And, it appears to sound the same regardless the ear shape and size into which it is inserted.
This is important. Why? Namely because, for all its ergonomic bingos, the RE800 is slaved to your anatomy. My small canals plug its front bass port, lowering overall bass pressure. Some ears do not. They will get a lot more bass pressure.
I’ve asked many people to try the RE2000. Those that can get it in their ear say that its bass is strong but only when compared to absolute neutrality. I get no outlier reports saying either too much or not enough. For a high-end earphone with a specific sound signature in mind, stability is of prime importance.
The RE2000’s bass isn’t exactly Even Stephen, but it’s pretty close to flat against the mids, and has really good forward-edge contrast. Under that forward edge is full, weighty, and a tad warm. That edge fuzzes neither over nor under as it hits the mids. It’s not quite as sharp-edged as that of the RE800. Because bass pressure is a lower to start, it doesn’t need harder forward edges to delineate it from a similarly neutral midrange. It is free to front softer edges. And damn, does that meagre, and purring forward edge sound good. It sets up a deep z-axis bass-scape. That scape expands to the left and right pretty well, but it’s its natural height and z-axis extension that define its space. Hard-line bass heads will note that this space feathers out a good distance and is detailed and pleasantly warm throughout. This feather-edged bass soundscape pulls out lots of instrumental and positional cues. But bass pressure congeals naturally around the middle, never throwing weight behind ultimate decay or attack speed. This helps it ease into the mids with strong, defined lines. It drives music forward without ever punching the floor. It doesn’t duff, and it never claps hard. The RE2000’s bass goes low enough to render - though barely, and with characteristically feathered edges - the opening seconds to Markus Schulz’s Mainstage.
The RE2000’s mids approach what I’ll call Earsonics-SM3-neutral. Like their bass, they edge warmth whilst completely dekeing out effusive warmth. Strings’s forward and rear edges thrum on quick-attack, quick-decay warmth. There’s plenty of room in there for strings and vocals to hash it out in their own spaces. Mids go wide with really good instrument separation. Like the RE800, this midrange is better filled than Beyerdynamic’s Xelento and tends toward more natural transitions to and fro forward bass lines.
The RE2000’s upper vocals, strings, and percussion show less reverb than the RE800. Less reverb, but thrown over them is a bit of gauze. That layer of gauze keeps the crackingest edges from the upper midrange whilst keeping generally high sound pressure through vocals, strings, and lower percussion. Here, it reminds me of the Astell & Kern AKT8iE MKII- and that is a good thing.
If you’re a big cymbal head, you may prefer a bit more bite in the highs because cymbals, while plenty energetic, fall off at the back end, effectively stuffing them behind a bit more cloth. If you’re not a percussion head, you may find this earphone either a bit bright or spot on neutral. I fall into the latter category.
The RE2000 and AKT8iE MKII are similarly warm, but here and there the AKT8KiE MKII goes grainy. Both are warmer than Xelento. While not as stereo and instrument layered as the Campfire Andromeda, RE2000 sounds a lot like a hybrid of Andromeda and the AKT8iE MKII with a bit of Grado GR10 bite thrown in for good measure. It is gloriously balanced and tuned for a listener who freely transitions from hard electronic to jazz, classical, stage rock, and back. It’s an acrobat. It’s neither soft nor rolled off nor feather-edged enough to completely smooth out the nastiest bathroom-recorded albums. But it won’t put them through a nasty EQ.
Stereo and instrument layering aside, the RE2000 is simultaneously one of the most technically sound and detail-oriented easy listening earphones I’ve heard.
There are serious things wrong with the RE2000. Sound isn’t one of them. If you want a mildly warm and great-sounding earphone with few to no provisos, and don’t mind fiddly everything else, the RE2000 is about as good as you can get.
Please visit my HiFiman RE2000 flickr album to see the entire image set.