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HiFiMan RE800: Goldfinger 24k - [Review] 🇬🇧

Prolog:

Neben dem für einen In-Ear mit einem dynamischen Treiber je Seite preislich doch ein wenig fragwürdig positionierten RE2000 hat HiFiMan zeitgleich einen weiteren In-Ear mit einem neu entwickelten dynamischen Treiber je Seite vorgestellt.



Mit einem Preis von 699$ ist dieser „RE800“ genannte In-Ear zwar um ein ganzes Stück günstiger, gehört aber nichtsdestotrotz eher zu den teureren dynamischen In-Ears, wenngleich Modelle mit dynamischen Treibern im vierstelligen Euro- und Dollar-Bereich mittlerweile auch keine Seltenheit mehr sind.


Der Name, Preis und eigens entwickelte dynamische Treiber mit strukturierter Nano-Beschichtung, welche laut HiFiMan die Membransteifigkeit erhöhen und ein Feintuning des Klanges ermöglichen soll, sowie die kleinen Gehäuse mit fest angebrachten Kabeln sind mit dem Sennheiser IE 800 auf den ersten Blick gut vergleichbar, weshalb es wohl keine große Überraschung ist, dass mein IE 800 in dieser englischsprachigen Rezension des RE800 der Haupt-Antagonist sein wird.

Nach Fertigstellung meiner Rezension erreichte mich noch die Meldung, der RE800 werde ab sofort nun doch mit wechselbaren Kabeln produziert. Änderungen am Ursprungstext sind durch kursive, dunkelgrüne Additionen kenntlich gemacht.


Introduction:

Along with introducing the $2000 dynamic driver RE2000 in-ear as well the $6000 SUSVARA planar magnetic headphone, HiFiMan also introduced the (in comparison) more affordable RE800 that retails for $699 and uses one dynamic driver per side, too.
Just like the RE2000, the driver diaphragm features a new design that HiFiMan calls “Topology Diaphragm”. What this means is that it has got a layer of nano-coating in a specific pattern, which can be used to fine-tune the sound waves and to also increase the membrane stiffness according to HiFiMan. Whether this is a revolutionary invention or offers just a small real-world advantage is up to you to decide.

While dynamic driver in-ears that cost more than the RE800 do exist nowadays, making it fall into the upper medium price bracket in comparison, it is ultimately one of the more expensive dynamic driver in-ears, and, besides the price, shares other features with the Sennheiser IE 800, such as a proprietary as well as newly designed and developed dynamic driver, comparatively small housings as well as non-detachable cables [this was changed after the review was finished - now the RE800 does indeed come with replaceable cables], wherefore the IE 800 will also be one of its main antagonists in this review.


What tonal direction does the RE800 head into and how does it perform? This and other questions will be answered in the course of this review.


Full disclosure: I was approached by HiFiMan who wanted me to review the RE800 that was sent to me at no additional cost as a sample. As with all of my reviews, I am not affiliated with the company in any way, am receiving no monetary compensation and was not given any directions or restrictions for my text.


Technical Specifications:

Price: US$699
Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz
Impedance: 60 Ohms
Sensitivity: 105 dB
Driver: 9.2 mm dynamic “Topology Diaphragm” driver
Cable: silver-coated crystalline copper wire
Weight: 27 g


Delivery Content:

The RE800 arrives in a quite luxurious package that is a fairly big, hinged box/chest that somewhat reminds me of the one my Sennheiser HD 800 came with.
Inside, one can find the in-ear, along with a standard, unbranded carrying case (really?! They could have at least put a HiFiMan logo on it) that includes a bag of different ear tips and silicone ear guides.




Although the ear tips consist of a variety of different tips (Comply Foam, single-flange silicone, bi-flange silicone, triple-flange silicone), the selection is rather poor, especially at this price point, since not more than one or maximally two sizes of each tip type are included. This would be tolerable for a lower two-digit in-ear, but definitely not for an in-ear in the higher three-digit price range.




Looks, Feels, Build Quality:

Rather unusually at this price point, the RE800 does not have detachable cables, which is a bit sad. After the review was finished and edited, HiFiMan announced that the RE800 would be produced with replaceable cables with MMCX plugs from now on, based on popular consumer feedback. So it is indeed nice to hear that HiFiMan listens to constructive customer feedback and suggestions for improvements. However, due to the small housings, something more reliable such as threaded SSMMCX connectors, such as the ones used for the Jays q-JAYS, would have probably been an even much better choice.

While the cable is nicely soft and also somewhat flexible (although not as flexible as some other cables), it is a little rubbery and ever so slightly sticky though. Additionally, it also lacks strain relief on most important transitions.
While it is ultimately still better than the Sennheiser IE 800’s cable, it is not a perfect cable either although reports have that it is a clear improvement over the RE-400’s cable.



The cable features a fairly large and angled 3.5 mm plug with gold-plated and aluminium elements. The gold-plating can also be found on the slim y-splitter with “HiFiMan” and “RE800” labelling and last but not least the chin-slider.

The in-ear’s shells are fairly small and consist of brass that was electroplated with 24k gold. While the gold surface is rather matte than flashy, the general design of the in-ears is quite standard and doesn’t really have a design that would be special for a $699 product. On the plus side though, the shape is not unlike HiFiMan’s other in-ears, so there is some brand recognition and a continuous design language.




Comfort, Isolation:

The RE800 can be worn both with the cables down as well as around the ears. Latter is the more professional method that improves the fit as well as security and tames cable noise.
Due to the small shells, the in-ears should also fit people with really small ears very well. For me and my large ears as well as large ear canals, that’s not a problem anyway.

As noted, the tip selection is rather poor given the price. Almost all tips except for the large Comply Foam tips that I however don’t like much were too small for me, so what I had to do in order to get a seal was to trim down the large triple-flange silicone tips to just a large single-flange tip while maintaining the same length as the grey double-flange tips that came already installed on the in-ears. Measurements by the way proved that there was no tonal difference between the modified and grey tips (mainly due to the same length).



This way, I could achieve a good fit as well as seal and get the in-ears to comfortably stay in my large ears.
When worn with the cables around the ears, microphonics (cable noise) are pleasantly low and close to being inexistent.


Noise isolation doesn’t reach the best isolating in-ears’ standards but is fairly good and a bit better than average for a dynamic driver in-ear with two vents per side.


Sound:

Sources I used for critical listening were the iBasso DX200 (AMP2 module), Cowon Plenue 2 and my Chord Mojo-Leckerton Uha-6S.MKII stack.

For listening, I used the included large triple-flange tips that I trimmed down to large single-flange tips that have the same length as the grey tips that came already installed on the in-ears. Due to the same length, measurements indicated both to have the exact same frequency response.

- - -

Some frequency response measurements can be found here.
Keep in mind though that I am not using a professional measurement coupler but a Vibro Labs Veritas coupler that was pseudo-calibrated to more or less match an IEC711 coupler’s response with applied diffuse-field compensation that is definitely not perfect at the current state and shows too little level around 3 and 6 kHz. But if you mentally visualise somewhat more level in those areas, the result will be fairly close.

Tonality:

Depending on how much the tiny vent close to/behind the ear tip lip is covered, the bass can vary from fairly neutral to rather full and sub-bass-heavy.
The reality, when in one’s ears will likely lay somewhere in-between, with probably a less sub-bass-oriented bottom-end presentation with large ear canals and large tips and perhaps a more sub-bass-oriented bottom-end with very small tips and ear canals.

For me with my large ear canals, the first is the case and the RE800 portrays a quite neutral bottom-end with just around 1 dB more bass quantity compared to the Ultimate Ears Reference Monitors but a bit more slam typical for the dynamic driver.
Compared to an in-ear that follows the diffuse-field target in the lows, such as the Etymotic ER-4S/SR, the RE800 has got around 4 dB more bass quantity and warmth in the lower root.
The lowest sub-bass is present with just a minor drop-off.

The midrange is fairly flat except for a moderate clarity lift centred around 3 kHz, followed by two peaks around 6 and 8 kHz that are rather broad than narrow.
The RE800 could have therefore been an almost perfectly neutral sounding in-ear with a slight clarity lift, but the treble emphases around 6 and 8 kHz make it sound a bit strident and unnatural in the highs compared to in-ears that are more linear and smoother up top, and even metallic. Additionally, the upper of the two emphases emphasises sibilance with brighter male and female voices.
More evenness in the highs with less sibilance, stridency and metallic-ness would be definitely appreciated given that there are hybrid, multi-BA and dynamic driver in-ears at lower prices that can achieve this, too.

The Sennheiser IE 800 sounds brighter and splashier around 10 kHz when listening to the two after each other, however the RE800 is more uneven up top in comparison.
Cymbals also sound somewhat more like a sharp “sss” than an actual note. Lowering the emphasis at 6 and 8 kHz by using an EQ, the presentation becomes much more realistic and authentic. To be precise, at least around 8 dB less of a peak (along with 4 dB less around 6 kHz and 3 dB less at 3 kHz) would have made the RE800 a highly realistic and quite even sounding, fairly neutral monitor, but as it is, it is a bit sharper than it should be, especially at the price point.

Extension past 10 kHz is really good however and there is some nice subtle air and sparkle (but without peaks, unevenness or sharpness) in that region if the recording allows it.

Resolution:

Various companies have already proved that single dynamic driver in-ears can be very convincing and capable when it comes to technical strengths, and the RE800 is fortunately no exception and adapts some of the good things and strengths of the RE2000.

Detail retrieval is good and at least on the same level as the Sennheiser IE 800 (more on that with a more detailed comparison further below).
Its bass is pleasantly tight, fast and well controlled for a dynamic driver in-ear. It doesn’t reach the tightness of closed Balanced Armature woofers but is nicely tight and controlled for a dynamic driver, and especially fast, wherefore it does not struggle with handling fast genres and tracks at all.
When comparing it to its larger and more expensive brother, the RE2000, the RE800 however lacks the nice texture and layering in the lows.

Speech intelligibility and midrange details are good.

Despite the upper treble peak, the highs are probably not as radical or annoying if you are someone who either likes and prefers a bright upper end presentation or are generally quite tolerant towards treble emphases. A part why it is not very annoying (but still sharp, somewhat intrusive and bothersome given the price point) is because the resolution is also quite high in the treble.
Note separation in the bass and mids is good. It is good in the treble as well, however slightly behind the other two areas.

Soundstage:

The RE800 has got a soundstage that portrays a nice amount of airiness and size, with a width that is more than average so that it manages to just exceed the base of my head.
While the HiFiMan has got spatial depth, the presentation is overall more oval than circular and the width dominates over the depth.

Instruments are separated well but not outstandingly well – they don’t bleed into each other but the fine borders around them appear slightly less defined with busier recordings.



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In Comparison with other Single Dynamic Driver In-Ears:

Sennheiser IE 800:

Both in-ears are really small and could pretty much be called “tiny” as well. Both have got non-removable cables that are not the best of their kind (however the HiFiMan’s is ultimately superior) and both cost around the same (depending on where you live).
The IE 800, in my opinion, features the more unique design though, while the RE800’s cable is more flexible and a bit softer.

Tonally, the IE 800 is heading into a stronger sounded, more v-shaped direction with a strong midbass and sub-bass elevation, a dip in the middle treble around 5 kHz and a powerful as well as splashy treble emphasis around 10 kHz.
While the Sennheiser’s upper treble emphasis around 10 kHz is splashier, brighter, sharper and stronger, its middle and lower treble appear more harmonious and realistic in comparison – the dip in the middle highs around 5 kHz that generates some head-room for the emphasis is certainly responsible for that as well. So what can be said is that the RE800 is brighter between 2 and 8 kHz, whereas the IE 800 has got more brightness above.
The HiFiMan’s midrange tends to emphasise sibilance more and does not sound as even in comparison.

The RE800 has got the even slightly tighter and a little better controlled appearing bass compared to the IE 800 while speed appears similar.
The HiFiMan seems to have the ever so slightly better midrange resolution (but I had to switch back and forth many times to make out a “winner” in this area, so it is rather negligible) while the IE 800 has got a bit more body in the lower mids and less sibilance. Treble separation is about on-par with an ever so slight advantage for the HiFiMan.

When it comes to soundstage, the IE 800 has got more spatial width while the RE800 has got some spatial depth that the Sennheiser somewhat lacks in comparison. The IE 800’s spatial precision and separation is somewhat more precise than the HiFiMan’s.


HiFiMan RE2000:

The RE2000 has got removable cables, but the RE800 does as well. The RE800 is a good bit smaller and can be worn both around the ears as well as with the cable straight down whereas the RE2000 is designed strictly for an over-the-ear-use.

The RE2000 has got a somewhat warmer, more pronounced bass and root. The RE2000 is a little brighter in the upper midrange while the RE800 has got the more pronounced 8 kHz region.

The RE800 is a little less bright sounding in the middle treble around 5 kHz, however it is somewhat uneven as well and triggers more sibilance with brighter vocals due to its relatively strong 8 kHz emphasis. Ultimately the RE2000 has got the more realistic treble in comparison even though its cymbals don’t sound 100% spot-on realistic either.

In terms of detail retrieval, the RE2000 features the higher resolution, however not by a large margin at all, while it has got the noticeably better texture and layering.
Where the RE2000 is quite a bit better though is the note separation that is just noticeably cleaner, sharper and more precise.
The RE2000 has also got the more dynamic, textured bottom-end while being slightly tighter at the same time.

Also when it comes to soundstage, the RE2000 features the superior instrument separation and more precise imaging along with the generally larger soundstage.


LEAR LHF-AE1d (upgrade nozzles):

The (now discontinued) AE1d (that will be replaced with the more expensive titanium end beryllium version of it) features ergonomically shaped plastic housings, also removable cables (2-pin) and a bass tuning knob that cleverly attenuates the lows’ level from “sub-neutral” to “neutral/balanced” to “mega basshead” by using a variable resistor.

The LEAR’s bass is variable, so it can be either less present than the HiFiMan’s, more present or on the same level.
The LEAR’s midrange is more in the foreground.
Generally in the midrange and the treble, it is the LHF-AE1d that is (much) more authentic, realistic and even sounding – it is generally one of the most authentic and even sounding dynamic driver in-ear I know anyway.

The HiFiMan has got the tighter, faster and better controlled bass. The LEAR’s is generally more on the softer and slower side anyway.
When it comes to control and separation with complex and fast recordings, the more expensive HiFiMan is ahead as well.
In terms of midrange and treble resolution it is again the HiFiMan that is ultimately ahead, but on the other hand it is the LEAR that is more natural, even and authentic sounding.

The HiFiMan has got the somewhat wider soundstage while depth is about comparable (with still a slight advantage for the HiFiMan).
Instruments are placed equally well and the LEAR manages to create the better empty space around instruments while the HiFiMan separates the borders a little cleaner.


Conclusion:

The HiFiMan RE800 could have been a fairly neutral and excellent dynamic driver in-ear with small housings, a detailed presentation, good separation, a tight and fast bass as well as a fairly nice soundstage, however what’s somewhat keeping it off from being exactly this is its rather over-energetic and also somewhat uneven treble with a fairly strong 8 kHz emphasis that can be just too much at times.



I sincerely wish that HiFiMan had spent some more time with fine-tuning the highs, because everything from the lows to the mids sounds really good and convincing, however the treble only becomes even and harmonious when using an EQ. Un-EQ’d, there are in-ears for less money that are probably not on the same technical level as the RE800, however with a higher treble realism and evenness.

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