HiFiMAN RE-300a and RE-300h Review

HiFiMAN RE-300a and RE-300h Review

Thanks to HiFiMAN for the samples.

First impressions:  The boxes are looking nicely professional, simple but pleasant.  Getting into the a one first, err does it really only come with 2 pairs of tips?  Yet it does have a shirt clip.  Seems an odd arrangement but hey ho.  They look quite nice, starting to look much more mainstream than say the slightly flimsy looking 400.  Nice wee mic too on them.

In the ears, well these are pretty warm for a HiFiMAN.  Hmm treble is quite dialled down, bass is dialled up.  Gosh this is like the total opposite of the old RE-0.  Whoo the bass is pretty lively stuff, gosh this is all so unexpected, oh my word it really is so different.  My god, could it be that HiFiMAN has made an IEM that could be thought a generalist?  Oh my they may have just shafted every other IEM maker at this price. No, maybe it’s that I’ve only tried them out of the E9 and it’s working magic on them.  God this is just so not and yet everything I expected all at once.  Sometime I really do wonder if HiFiMAN tune things with my preferences in mind.  It’s just spooky.  I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here to say I think this might be a rather glowing review.

Source: FiiO E7/E9 combo, Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd Anv., HiFiMAN HM-650, 1G Ipod Shuffle, Nexus 5.

Lows:  Given this is a HiFiMAN product there is a surprising amount of bass.  It’s really somewhat elevated.  Of course it’s not what I’d say is over bassy, it’s no bass cannon and I’d wager that some normal consumers would still find it a bit light.  It is sufficient that its going to make some purists unhappy.  It is clearly elevated above neutral, its clearly well above the 400 too.  Comparing it to the GR06 which is its natural rival, the bass here feels so much thicker and more weighty.  The 300 is far more of an enclosed affair and so it should sound much more closed.  It doesn’t have the open lithe nature of the 6 but your trade-off is that you get a much more robust low end.  It’s not quite as agile as I might hope but again it’s often the trade you make for weight.  If I’m honest though I’d stay away from really fast bass.  The 300 would much more enjoy a little Julie London or something similar.  Mellow and sumptuous is where its heart lies.  It’s rich and smooth with a dark chocolaty warmth to it.

If you do make it play fast thumpy bass it will do its best but its all about the solidity and richness, not agility.  If you force it, you will get a good hearty thump that feels over weighty and lumbering.  Then you remind yourself its price and then you really can’t complain.

Mids:  To continue with its rich mellow nature. The 300 is not like its siblings in having more detail than you can shake a stick at, the 300 knows it can’t show you everything so it paints a softer, warmer picture.  That same mellow, chocolaty richness that so loves to ooze and flow.  As you might expect, melodic vocals work exceedingly well.  Yes detail is gently obscured but it’s all a smooth expanse of vocals, rising and falling.  No harshness, like a gentle wave upon the ocean, peaks and troughs come and go smoothly, gently, carrying you along with it.  It’s beautiful.

What it can’t do however is harshness or explicit detail.  Songs that want to be aggressive just aren’t quite.  Likewise detail that you know the 400 would show you, here it’s just not quite there.  The 300 is much more about painting the whole picture rather than expressing any particular fine point.

Highs:  Smooth once more.  That is exactly what they should have done too, the 400 is veering towards abrasiveness in the highs and the lower you go in price the less capable a driver gets.  For me the best thing to do, if you’re not very high end, is to gently mellow the highs and give a delicate rendition rather than sound like a grater.  The 300 does this ever so well.  Metallic twangs cut through and decay away, cymbals splash and shimmer too.  It’s all a smoothly delicate display of what the song has to offer and it’s presented with reasonable detail. It is superbly easy on the ear.  For some I realise it will be too genteel but for my somewhat treble sensitive ears this sound signature means I could with ease listen to them all day, every day.  It’s so kind to the ear and polite.

If you do throw more energising stuff its way the 300 will become more lively but if you want abrasive metal it really wont please you.  The detail is good but it has no hard abrasive edge to it.

Soundstage:  Gently wide and enveloping.  You do still feel rather enclosed as closed IEM’s tend to do.  Still it feels wide and a reasonable sense of depth.  Just so long as you’re not hoping for a big airy expanse, this is not airy at all.  Instrument separation as okay, somewhat distinct but placement is a bit fuzzy.  It’s that soft focus filter at work again.  Vocals to tend to be pretty upfront and intimate.  Great for mellow and vocal centric stuff.

Fit:  Well they look odd but I had no issues.  The first thing I did was swap them round and wore them up.  I’ve never been fussed about the left bud being in my right ear so I was quite happy.  Yes I know they look a bit of a funny shape, especially compared to the 400 but I had no issues even with them being rather sealed, zero driver flex or air pressure issues.

Comfort:  Again despite their weird shape they worked just fine in my ears.  Honestly they were just perfect, after 10 seconds in my ears they entirely disappeared.  I realise that can’t be the case for absolutely everyone but was perfect here.

Microphonics:  Wearing them down not much on the h version.  The a version with the attached mic did like to hit my collars and make a bit of noise.  Since I always advocate wearing up anyway, once I did that there was zero issue.  There is a chin slider though if you insist on wearing down.

Amped/Unamped:  Well first off, let’s assume that if you’re buying the a or i version then you want for use in a phone.  With that in mind then you probably won’t be using an amp because then you’d loose the mic use.  So the h, well out of lower power sources it got a bit lighter sounding.  The great solidity of the 300 was traded for a slightly more sprightly sound.  The bass particularly diminished in its authority.  That suited me fine but if you want all you can extract from the bottom end then maybe a little amping is what you want.  Personally I think I preferred the fractionally lighter sound out of a phone.

Isolation:  Pretty good.  Squarely on the upper side of what you tend to get for a dynamic.  Compared to its prime competitor, the GR06 this is very much rather more isolating.  To the point it’s nearing usability for the odd short flight or two.  Easily fine for normal day to day usage.  As ever not what I’d want for a daily Tube commute but remember, if using look where your going lest you get yourself run over.

Build Quality:  This is an area HiFiMAN hasn’t the best reputation in the world for but the 300 despite being its cheapest offering it’s actually not bad.  The little buds see nicely constructed and the cable seems alright too.  I means it’s no MA750 clearly but it’s alright.

Model Variations:  So the review is titled the a and h reviews.  Why you may ask or more likely you won’t.  You’ll just think, ah the a is the android one, the i is the apple one and the h is the no mic one, simples.  That is what I thought but I was wrong.  Do not ask me why for truly I do not know but there is more to it than that.  The i and a versions are the same essentially just with different controls.  The h though, you may see it’s the same price as the mid’ed ones which is unusual.  What HiFiMAN have done is upgrade the cable on the h to an “advanced OCC cable” and it would seem from their website and box that the frequency range is increased, though I’m told that’s not correct.  Now swapping back and forth I do hear a difference, how much is down to the complys being warm or cold I don’t know but the a one sounds a little less big in the bass and a tiny bit less twangy in the mids.  Honestly though I could be going mad but I do hear a bit of a difference.  I can only assume this comes from there being an impedance difference which should be the same but I’ve seen said that the h is 32 vs 16 for the a.  The difference is slight and while if forced I’d say the h is better, it’s a slight difference.  If you get the mic’ed one you aren’t missing out on much, frankly I’d expect it’ll be the mic’ed ones that most go for anyway.  The biggest difference is that the h cable is rather softer and more flexible.  The a one is a bit more ridged.

Phone Use:  Obviously I’m only talking about the a version here.  So I gave my sister a ring as I know she won’t be too annoyed at my ringing just to ask how I sound down the phone.  Well normally all is great but I was told that it was not.  Normally I wear things up and get no issues despite the mic sitting quite high but this time I was told differently.  I could be heard okay but I sounded like I was on speaker phone.  That distant, slightly echo’ey sound you get when someone is on speaker.  Wearing them down was a bit better but sadly not perfect.

Value:  Well yeah, it’s pretty good value.  For what is almost £32 you get a pretty damn excellent sound.  No mistake it’s a beautiful offering but I’m not sure what its aimed at.  Sure its bass levels are veering towards “consumer” levels so perhaps it’s to introduce the HiFiMAN brand to a more mainstream audience?  Its audio quality is nice for the money but it’s not in a class of its own like the 400 is.  I know I should be comparing it to things at its own price but I just keep thinking the 300 is US$50 but the 400 is only a tiny bit more at US$80.  If it was my cash, I would opt to go hungry for a few days and go for the 400 than buy the 300.

Regarding the a, i and h variations.  Well they all cost the same.  The i and a versions you get a mic for phone use which I know will matter for many.  That the h version is not identical but without mic is most unusual.  While the sound differences are slight the cable is a much nicer feel and more flexible.  Unless you really want that mic it take the nicer cable one.

Conclusion:  Earlier I said these were nothing like what I expected but everything I hoped for.  That is essentially true in the sense that these are tuned nothing like I expected.  These are much more bassy and rich than anything I’ve seen from HiFiMAN.  To date they have always gone for quite audiophile tuning and they have tended to aim at the higher end.  No one who ever heard the RE-0 could ever criticise it for it detail retrieval.  It is unmatched still in its ability to extract detail and yet be so insanely cheap.  The RE-400 while not quite as amazing as the 0 still blows everything at its price out of the water.  There may be aspects HiFiMAN fall down on but audio quality per currency unit it surpasses all.  The RE-300 then, well it’s different.

The 300 is very cheap at only US$50 and it does something unusual.  When I reviewed the 400 I did criticize its slight grittiness in the highs that the 0 didn’t.  It’s a basic fact that when you go down the range that the first thing to go is the highs.  It’s just the hardest thing to nail and if it gets brittle and broken it is the most brutal on the ear, in a way neither the mids nor bass are.   So the wise thing to do is accept that fact and dial down the highs, let them gently and smoothly roll away and blend into the background.  Let them be a gentle framing sound that doesn’t dominate.  Aim for a richer, smoother more mellow sound and let the treble highlight what and where it needs to.  This is just what the 300 does.

The 300 is quite wonderfully lovely.  It still pulls up a good amount of detail but more importantly everything is so effortlessly well integrated.  Music flows into creation and around your ears in a way that few others ever manage.  The bass while rather elevated, after a short time feels so serenely smooth and effortless.  If you make it play fast or slow it remains ever effortless even when thundering out bass.  It’s so organically flowing and enveloping.  It even does a very decent showing of more bassy pop music.  Its bass is too heavy and that slows it a bit but for the price its coming it at, how many will consider that a problem.

For the money the RE-300 is nice but there is the RE-400 which on an entire other planet.  The 300 is very closed, deeply rich and molten chocolaty smooth.  It’s a rather flavoured sound which is unusual for the brand.  For their play at the cusp of consumerism these would be a deeply dark attractor for those venturing into its chocolaty depths, showing them what a brand like HiFiMAN can do.  It’s lovely and its bassy and I’m sure consumers will love it.  Those of a more audiophile bent however, the 400 offers just so spectacularly much more for very little extra money.

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