A Golden Touch!
PROS: detailed hi-res sound, excellent bass response, wide soundstage, unique topology diaphragm tech, removable cable.
CONS: price, ergonomics of the design, eartip selection.
The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.
Manufacturer website: HiFiMAN, also available on Amazon and Audio46.
HiFiMAN came a long way since their releases of RE300, RE400, and RE600 which I had a pleasure to review a few years ago. While I consider myself to be a portable audiophile, focusing more on IEMs and DAPs, lately I noticed that only their full-size headphones went up the TOTL ladder, from HE400 to HE1000, while IEMs continued to be more budget friendly and actually even reduced in price. There was RE1000 CIEM, designed in collaboration with UM, but I don’t think it got too much attention. Perhaps, that’s a reason why the announcement of RE2000 IEM took many by surprise, including a backlash from some of their diehard fans who didn’t expect this new flagship to be priced according to its model number.
I’m only bringing up the price (deja vu from my recent 64 Audio review) to reflect on the questions I received from my readers and the posts I saw on Head-Fi. If you look at the latest flagships from other manufacturers, you will see a trend with an average price being around $2k, often including a basic OFC cable and a generic Pelican case. That’s simply a reality which drives today’s premium IEM/CIEM market, including how many consumers judge the quality of the product by its price. Sadly, in some cases, undervaluing the product will only cast a doubt of its flagship status.
HiFiMAN was overdue for its own TOTL IEM flagship, and I found RE2000 to be not just another premium single DD IEM, but also an innovative product with a unique technology behind its sound tuning. I also want to add that RE2000 announcement came along with another HFM release, RE800, which shares the same technology but with a different shell design and a polarizing sound tuning. The focus of my review will be on RE2000, though I will offer a comparison to RE800, along with other IEMs. So, without further ado, let’s proceed to the review!
Ever since the original RE600, HFM stepped it up in packaging, making sure you get the premium experience when unboxing their IEMs. RE2k takes it to the next level with a high res image of these models on the cover sleeve surrounding a very sturdy faux leather covered box with a hinged top cover and a nice front latch. It has a quality of a wooden jewelry box (at least, makes a hollow wooden sound when I tap it), and the top of the box has a brushed aluminum plate, laser etched with a company logo, “Innovating the Art of Listening” slogan, and “RE2000” model name.
When you lift the cover open, the foam insert has a cutout in the middle for the metal travel case, and little boxes on each side, picture-labeled with eartips and the cable. Underneath of this top foam layer insert, you have a high quality printed Owner’s Guide booklet, along with S/N card, and a plastic bag with additional accessories. Call me crazy, but I was actually impressed with chrome L-shaped hinges of the box cover, indicating this is a not a cheap imitation just for looks.
There was definitely a generous selection of included accessories, but the contrast between luxurious packaging box and the quality of accessories was noticeable.
You have a pair of earhook cable guides, which could be very useful for a cable without memory wire to shape up around your ear. The only problem, these earhooks work better with IEMs that have a straight cable attachment, while in case of RE2k with 45deg angle of the housing connector – I wouldn’t recommend using this earhook because you will end bending and damaging the cable.
A number of eartips were included, 2 pairs of triple-flange (large and medium), 2 pairs of double-flange (same medium size, just a different color and slightly different bore opening), a pair of single-flange tips (medium size), and 2 pairs of Comply foam tips (large and medium). Personally, my earcanal can’t fit any double/triple flange eartips, and I prefer a large single flange silicone tips, though none of the included tips worked for me. I was actually a little disappointed because RE400 and RE600 included the same selection of tips plus 3 more pairs of custom single flange tips which I absolutely loved. I hope HFM can reconsider adding those eartips with RE2k accessories.
A removable cable was included as well, with 2pin standard connectors, and to my surprise HFM also included a set of DIY 2pin connectors which you can use when building your own cable or requesting an aftermarket cable. Of course, any universal 2pin connector should fit RE2k shell socket, but their own connector just “fits” better the look of the design. Plus, it could give some people an idea to maybe convert their mmcx based cables. Either way, this was a unique and very surprising accessory.
While, I couldn’t use any of the included eartips, I went for my latest favorite Symbio hybrid eartips which have a comfort of memory foam under the cap, and a soft medical grade silicone on top. These eartips (available on eBay) have a seal quality of foam eartips with a fit quality of silicone tips.
Last, but not least, is the case. For sure, it was nice to see something other than a zippered clamshell. The case is aluminum, round, and inside there was a foam insert with a precise cutout for RE2k shells. This secure packaging was great for transportation, though you would want to remove foam insert to use the whole case for RE2k with a cable attached. It’s a nice aluminum case, but it’s too tight to open (be careful to do it over the table) and it just doesn’t fit the luxurious theme of the packaging box. Wish HFM would include some leather case, made of the same material as the box.
I was glad to see RE2k design using removable cables with a standard 2pin connector. Besides the fact that cable can break and you want to be able to replace it, you also get a chance to try cables with a different wire material and different terminations (2.5mm TRRS, 3.5mm TRRS, 4.4mm TRRRS).
The cable itself is not bad. It uses silver coated, crystalline copper wire with all the conductors hidden inside of a thicker rubber cable jacket. This makes cable a bit stiff, with a little memory effect, but at the same time no microphonics and feeling rather durable. You have a right angled Oyaide 3.5mm connector with a short strain relief, four conductors hidden under a thicker rubbery jacket, a gold plated Y-splitter with HIFIMAN and RE2000 etched logo/name, a gold plated matching chin slider, and 2 thinner cables after the split going to 2pin custom connectors (with DIY spare parts included). 2pin connectors have a clear L/R labeling, where you have to be sure both are either facing inside or outside, meaning the same polarity between two shells.
It’s a recessed connector which goes into the socket of the housing which is 45deg angled relative to the shell. This way the cable goes over your ear, and it feels very comfortable without a memory wire or any earhook guides. As a matter of fact, when using other cables with a stiff memory wire – it felt uncomfortable with RE2k shell design, though it worked OK with flex-earhooks which are becoming more popular with replacement cables.
Being able to remove the wires opens a door to replacement cables which I have many in my review collection. Here are some of the cables I tried with RE2k.
SPC -> ALO Ref8 – soundstage expansion is very similar, maybe Ref8 adds a little more depth. Bass was slightly reduced while upper mids came up. The big problem here is the housing of 2pin connectors, the attachment didn’t feel as secure.
SPC -> TWau v2 – felt like soundstage got a little bit wider and deeper. I hear the PRAT factor going up, like an overall sound being faster and sharper now. Bass sounds a little more neutral, mids are still pushed back a little bit (forming a mild v-shaped), while treble is crisper, and I hear more airiness. Sound is more revealing, a bit less organic and more analytical.
SPC -> 1960 4wire – soundstage is wider and deeper, not by a big margin, but noticeable. Bass is more articulate and textured, especially sub-bass. I hear a little higher mid-bass impact. Mids came up a little, sounds more balanced. Treble is still crisp and well defined, maybe with a little more airiness. The biggest improvement I hear is how much more transparent the sound is, including improved layering and separation (literally more air between layers).
SPC -> Lionheart w/Psquare – soundstage width is a little wider, I hear more staging depth. Bass and lower mids are very similar, but upper mids are more upfront now, more balanced, vocals really shine now, more revealing, more detailed. Treble is still crisp and well defined, but you get more airiness. Again, the transparency improvement is very noticeable, including layering and separation of the sound.
SPC -> PlusSound X-series tri-metal – very similar soundstage width with an added depth. Bass sounds similar as well, the same quantity and balance between sub-bass and mid-bass. Upper mids came up a little more forward, and became more revealing. The treble is as crisp, but with more airiness. The sound is a little more transparent, and overall more balanced due to mids presentation.
SPC -> Ares II – very similar soundstage width with a touch of an added depth. Sub-bass extension is similar, goes deep, nicely textured, but mid-bass has a stronger impact, making overall bass sound a little faster and more articulate. Upper mids are a little more balanced, and treble is similarly crisp and detailed, but will a little more airiness.
I have many IEMs and CIEMs which I keep in partitioned watch cases. Often when I glance over, I see a lot of colorful shells with similar designs that blend together. But even from a distance you can easily spot RE2k shells which stand out from the crowd. While brass is used as a housing material for enhanced acoustics, RE2k is 24k Gold Edition with a distinct electroplated finish and a nice weight which is not too heavy (14g per pair) yet has a nice heft.
The shells have a very interesting and quite unique shape, but it’s not the most ergonomic design, I found RE800 shell to be more comfortable. I appreciate over the ear cable fit which keeps the shells secure in my ears, but it does require a bit of fiddling to find the comfortable position. Also, I had to do tip rolling, not just to find the best seal but also because nozzle is on a shorter side. Perhaps it’s a subjective opinion because we all have a different ear anatomy, and triple-flange extended eartip will solve these problems. But I had to look for a regular single flange eartip, and also the shell has a plastic endplate with H logo which has a bit of a sharp edge.
So, as I mentioned above, finding the right eartip is the key here. Once it’s found and you get a good seal and comfortable fit – you will be rewarded with a very impressive sound, thanks to its 9.2mm dynamic driver with Topology Diaphragm design. What makes it unique is a special Nano particles coating (based on Dr Fang Bian’s Ph.D. thesis) applied in special geometric patterns. What Dr Fang discovered is by varying the surface pattern and using different Nano materials (each with its own unique property), you can control the acoustic performance of the driver. If you think about it, you literally micro-tuning the sound by applying a different Nano coating pattern. Plus, the structure of Topology diaphragm also reduce uncontrolled distortion typical of dynamic drivers.
Page 2: Sound analysis, Comparison, Pair-up, and Conclusion.
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