HIFIMAN RE800 Earphone Review

One of HIFIMAN’s new “Topology Driver” IEM’s and this is one of the first looks at how it performs and oh my, does it perform.

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First Impressions

Well this isn’t really my “first” impression. It technically is with an actual retail set but…. Well yeah that working with bit I mentioned. I’ve been playing with these for basically the last 6 months and unsurprisingly, I like them. I like them rather a lot. Okay so I’ve liked every IEM from HIFIMAN I’ve ever heard so this is not likely news to anyone. These are in keeping with the RE262 – RE600 vein and it matches up more or less perfectly with my personal tastes. They are bit warm, bit bass boosted, bit middy and a little gently sloped in the highs. So if you’re a treble junky these may not be for you but…….. for me and for all day listening. FCUK yeah!!! So easy on the ear the RE800 is like they took the RE600, dipped it in magic sauce then sprinkled pixie dust on it. Particularly with the big Comply’s on, it further just dampens the treble for my treble sensitive ears yet has hidden depths of resolution in there. It’s so nonchalant, casually presented which is just how I like it. If I want to listen out for micro details I can, or I can stop and just listen to the big picture, the entire grandiosity of it all. Oh and if you were in doubt, they do a glorious rendition of cello’s. There will be much Elgar this coming week.

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Source

HIFIMAN 901S with Minibox Gold card, HIFIMAN Supermini, HIFIMAN Megamini, Nuforce uDAC 3 and Hifiman 901s + Dock into the Graham Slee Solo Ultra Linear, lastly my Google Pixel.

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Lows

Well its rather glorious. The natural thing I’m going to compare it to is its sibling, the RE600. The 600 was a tweaked evolution form the RE262 and thus when you first hear the 800 its seems in the same vein. It is, sort of, it feels like the natural next step up and then you stick the 600 in your ears and wonder what happened. The 600 sounds so nasal and mid focused, no breadth, no spaciously open smoothly rich low end. The deepest reaches are a bit boosted yeah but it seems to cling on a with a ruthless yet utterly natural feeling tenacity. I mentally get its boosted. I know it is but to know what’s in a lasagne you look at the ingredients list but it doesn’t in any way describe what the combined sensation is like in your mouth. These, they do that but in your ears. These are good in such a non-attention-grabbing fashion, they lull you into it ever so smoothly. While I’ve been playing with these for about the last 6 months which is dramatically longer than I usually spend with an item to review. These are so sumptuous and controlled like some hyper control freak yet like a swan effortlessly and gracefully gliding across a lake, its melodiousness is pure perfection.

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Kicking into artificial bass lines like those form Enya, “Even in The Shadows” to “The First of Autumn” they just grip on to the note so incredibly tightly yet go with it in perfect sync, like some perfectly synchronised figure skating. They sweep, they swoon, they shrink to almost nothing then they roar and thunder. “Your Father And I” comes barrelling out at you like a force of nature, you can practically touch the articulation of the notes. These remind in me in same ways of a well amped and impedance added IE8 yet when I try the IE8’s they feel so, grey. That spark has gone, the clarity has fuzzied and they just feel like a lesser product. Mars the bringer of war, seems more like Mars the bringer of slightly unhappy but can’t be bothered. The lows are just so vague, soft and flabby in comparison and those are not things the Senn is normally thought of as, but side by side it is. The RE800 takes what was once thought of as the best by far, single dynamic IEM and solidly spanks them.

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The quantity, while so far these may have been coming across as a bass monster but they are so not. Not only because they so clean in their articulations but that they are not really that bass boosted. Sure they are bit, these are in the RE262>RE600 line, not the RE0>RE272 more neutral line. These are not strictly ruler flat, but what is, still the bass, is boosted but not ever present like on the IE8 which is my go too bass IEM. It does tail off in the furthest depths but that’s really what should happen. It’s the natural timbre of it all. The lower end ranges of a cello and into that of a double bass, I can practically touch the strings. Good god they feel so alive and natural for an IEM. It’s so unspeakably nuanced for an IEM. This is more heading in the direction of an open backed headphone and yet unlike the IE8 and IE7 they haven’t done it at the expense of giving sod all isolation.

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Mids

Taking those low cello notes and going the other way, well, if you like a cello (and I do) then these are not just good but breath-taking. Not so mid focused as the 600 is, the sound staging here takes on a breadth but doesn’t then layer on breathy dry, stripping any liquidity away from it. Elgar and his cello concerto is just magnificent. It really is the way these can move from the simple and humble, focus on a delicate and almost trembling solitary cello. So meek and unprepossessing, then it symphonically rises up and becomes this staggeringly full bodied cacophony of power. I know part of the intention in the creation of these was to give the listener a presentation that aims toward that you might find, sat in a concert hall and…….. while a big open can can do that semblance of authority and majesty better…… these are tiny itty bitty things which fit in your ear.

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The flavour of the mid-range means that it’s not so focused and in your face. Moving to a broader spatial presentation they are a smidge of distance back and lack that dash of extra fluidity I like. Vocals aren’t as smooth and creamy as I often like but these feel more realistic. I know I like things a little too creamy and buttery and while these give the impression they might go that way they never quite do. You see doing that starts to obfuscate their clarity and they can’t bring themselves to do so. The clarity and natural timbre, while I hate the term “organic” they do have that feel. There is something real, non-artificial, might I say, no artificial sweeteners. Both male and girly vocals are so persuasive. Tracy Chapman feels like you’re in the studio with her. Everything so clear, natural sounding, every inflection, every note, that sadly mournful, yet clinging to that last lingering ounce of hope for the future. So emotively alive and real.

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In strict quantity terms, they aren’t as mid stand out as most other reference type products, these have nudged the bass up a smidge and the mids are only a teeny bit. Just the slightest of nudges yet they have so much clarity and detail that I don’t care. Vocals aren’t that Shure like, hyper fluid and smooth like, better than the actually vocalist sort. These are aimed at a natural reproduction, tone, body, air and breathy nuance. Be it Barbara’s “Papa Can You Hear Me” or Michael Ball’s “Tell me There’s a Heaven” Or Barbara’s “Send In The Clown’s” good lord that woman can sing, these do her so well. Either belting a note out or as softly delicate as you can imagine. There is a reason these have been the IEM I’ve been using most days for the last 6 months. They do all the things I care about supremely well.

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Highs

So if there could be anywhere these may not find fans it could be here. These are not bright, in your face and if you wanted a new RE272 you’re not getting it here. Flicking back and forth they haven’t that, “neutral” treble, it is like the old 0 , being ever so gently tapered off. While this may not make for the most sparkling presentation its one that is so easy on the ear. Again, there is a reason this has been my default thing to pick up for the last 6 months. These are not the most wild of trebles, its’s tamed, its nudged gently in the direction of polite. The detail levels it can do are every bit as good as the RE272 ever was and these actually surpass it if you listen close and have the right pairing. These are very VERY detailed but it’s not in your face detail. So much so that you can completely get away with so so recordings. I don’t know about you but a lot of the music I like is not well made, mastered or recorded and here I can enjoy the finest of recordings and still like the badly made stuff.

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The treble though isn’t all completely forgiving, due to the thing being so very VERY highly detailed it means that it’s got the clarity and speed to hit notes hard. You feed it a hard-edgy treble, looking at you Owl City, and it will impact hard, a little too hard my ears. I mean I can’t fault the RE800 for accurately playing back what they are being fed but…. This is the danger with super high-end audio stuff, you find music you like isn’t well made so once or twice I was tracking skipping I liked on lesser things because it was just to clean and hard edged. The actual quality is when you find some really fine recordings which unfortunately all seem to be classical the mellitic clash of a cymbal comes across with a refinement and natural delicacy to it that is unspeakably real. It is superb and comes the closest in an IEM to truly being real yet it’s hard to focus on it alone. The coherency you get from this being a single dynamic means everything is so well integrated nothing artificially stands on its own. Great for listening to, a pain in the behind for reviewing and even more so given the lack of superbly recorded treble happy music. Still the Chesky demo disc with “sweet Georgia Brown” has a morass of treble notes all splashing in from every direction and its hugely impressive. The detail and refinement these display is so great and yet so casually presented it really isn’t until you go back to something lesser that you fully apricate the difference.

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Soundstage

It like the treble seems so natural, so beguiling, it’s just sort of there and you don’t really have the typical awareness of the tiny speakers in your ears that most do. Even whipping out those IE8’s which were once spoken of as a miraculous achievement in terms of their soundstage and the vastness of it. These don’t feel huge, they just don’t but they don’t feel enclosed. They capture that quality the RE252 had and I never felt I could really quite describe. The audio seems to come into existence rather be “created” just a fraction of an inch from your ear drum. It is somehow magically just present as though it had happened though some space/time portal. I realise it doesn’t really quite make sense as a description but if I could find the words I’d use them. There is a quality whereby things just are, not enclosed, not distance, things just are. It’s a very “natural” sound like listening to the real thing but coming form an IEM, I can’t help but feel it to be a peculiar sensation.

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Comfort

Great. Nothing particularly notable or eventful about them. They are round, universal in ear things like many others and I could wear them happily up or down and for many hours at a time with no problems. A little more bulbous than the 600 before it so a bit bigger but I never had any issues in the slightest.

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Fit

Super, shoved in ears and was done. Given its me I went right to the included Comply’s because when reviewing find silicon’s just give that little bit of suction when removing. These are vented so I wouldn’t expect anyone to have any real issues with them.

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Cable

Well….. its actually pretty nice. It’s not blowing me away but it’s back to the kind that were on the RE2x2 range and not, the clothe weave ones from the RE0 and 400 and 600. While I know that cable on them was selected for its acoustic properties and yes they did sound great but……I still never liked the feel of them. This however is, I think, a considerable improvement. Its rubbery coated and feels very flexible though I do strangely like the metal Y splitter and the chin slider, while I’m sure a plastic one would have done the job just as well, I like that it, the jack and the buds are all matching metal.

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Microphonics

Worn up none. If you insist on wearing down then yeah there was a little but the cable does a pretty good job of absorbing the vibrations and you can use the chin slider to remove the issue entirely if you want.

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Aesthetics

Well, on the whole I like but….. I’m not wild about the gold. I’ve never been keen on gold and if I’m super honest, I’d rather they were just plain brass as there would be a certain honesty and purity in that. Mind you I’m hoping that we might see some limited editions in the future with more colours, not that the colour really matters but you know. Yet weirdly while I don’t love the gold buds I rather like the golden Y splitter and chin slider, maybe it’s that they are next to the black cable? It least it’s all a matte, sand blasted gold finish so it’s not super shiny.

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Accessories

You get the standard, bunch of tips which now includes some Comply’s so yey! Then you get the little plain black case and less commonly, some ear guide things, if you like that sort of thing. I don’t use the guides but I’m pleased to see them included as it always pains me when I see people using a high quality IEM and then are just wearing them straight down.

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Amped/Unamped

They do have an impedance of 60 ohms so, don’t expect any old thing to do super amazing things with them but…..my itty bitty 1G Ipod Shuffles actually sounded bloody good driving them. The hiss of the Shuffle got in my a face a couple times with the brighter tonality and more brittle nature of it, it made tracks that were hissy, seem extremely so. Still, for a thing so ancient it did a hugely fun attempt at high end audio. Seriously, the slightly warm slant of the 800 took on a liveliness that really worked for mainstream pop music. Dancing in your chair, mouthing along to the words, it really was impressively and surprisingly fun a combination. Not the most grown up pairing obviously. Flicking to the Pixel and…. Well the background was much blacker and arguably of a more mature tonality and style. While it was really very very listenable for a phone I don’t see me retiring separate DAP/s anytime soon. Still the impedance rating really wasn’t the nightmare it could have been, not having a crossover in it meant there wasn’t any wild swings (cough Westone, cough) in their tonal balance. Ditto with adding the Ety impedance adapter, which you know I love to do. That that pushes the impedance super high for an IEM, so your phone or so so DAP wont probably like it if you do.

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Isolation

Well in most regards these are hitting it out of the park by most IEM standards but…. These are dynamics and they are vented. Only a little bit vented so while for a dynamic their isolation is actually really good but it still won’t hold a candle to a pair of deep seating BA IEM’s. It is the same argument you get with headphones, open vs closed. Open has generally considerably superior properties but they don’t block out anything so they are not as useful in all situations. While its less extreme as these do isolate pretty well and I have been absolutely using them on a bus and on flights, if I had a daily Tube commute, probably not so much.

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Build Quality

If there is an area where HIFIMAN traditionally gets flack, it’s the build, okay specifically the cables on the 400 and 600. They rubbed many people the wrong way and while year they sounded great, I for one shall not be mourning the loss of that cloth weave on the outside. I’ve had no issues so far and I do like the jack. The jack is big and beefy that you will maybe want to keep away from your phones screen. I like it though, big chunky beast of a thing. Still the main improvement is the cable, it feels so much better in the hand than the one on the v1 RE600 and 400.

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Value

Well let’s face it, at this price we are into diminishing returns and these are not 20 times better than the RE00. However, nothing is, a Ferrari isn’t 20 times better than a Ford but if you go to a Ferrari show room and your thinking about which is the best “value for money” you have totally missed the point. If you want the highest reaches of performance, then you had best prepare your wallet for a beating. You know, while US$699 is a fair chunk of change, in terms of speakers it’s a drop in the ocean so you could say these are super awesome amazing value compared to what you’d pay to get this level of audio quality in a speaker set up. To date, these are, I think, my favourite IEM out there. If ever was there an IEM made especially for me and my ears, it is basically this.

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Conclusion

Right off the bat I can state with no equivocation that these are a magnificent work of acoustic art. I know bits of their design and construction and I realise that saying, oh we painted patterns on the driver sounds like, big deal, so what. However, it really actually is a monumental step away from what the industry has been doing for years. Instead of making diagrams ever stiffer to combat deformation and ripples HIFIMAN has said, okay so it’s impossible so let’s aim to control them instead. This is not unlike is attempted in BMR (Balanced Mode Radiator) speakers and despite being on teeny little IEM drivers, it works. Holy crap does it work too. It sounds like such a simple little thing, I mean how much distortion could there be on the driver anyway right?

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The tonal balance on these and the purity with which they are capable is a real feat of engineering, sure they are a hint warmed so treble junkies or those with high end hearing loss may want something more bright but good lord, sooooo much detail. If anything, these are well into the territory whereby the biggest problem they face is showing up flaws you don’t want to hear. So much music isn’t well made and while these are trying to be forgiving and not thrusting it in your face…… its so easy to notice if you have a keen ear. I did find that some tracks I just had to skip because they just aren’t well made and the 800 presents it all so cleanly its completely noticeable. It may not count as the worst flaw ever but it is a problem. However, once the music industry, as happened with TV when HD came in, they will begin to tidy up background rubbish that shouldn’t be there.

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So would I buy a pair? Well my wallet wouldn’t be thrilled but these are about as close to what I would make for me if I was making an IEM. The tonal purity, the clarity they are capable of, the expressiveness that strings and and brass instruments can portray is sublime. You can auraly melt into everything, not just hearing music but it speaking directly to your soul, washing over and through your senses. They are so accurate and detailed yet have zero coherency or timing issues which you tend to get with crossovers and multi driver setups. The more drivers, the harder it gets and with some things now having 14 drivers per ear, the scope there for anyone thing being just even the most tiny of hints out smears the audio. A single driver means none of that takes place and no crossover where either drivers have to work over each other, smearing as their performance will never be perfectly the same, or you dip them so they don’t shout over each other. Sure some multi-drivers are still awesome but I’ve not met one that sounds so completely integrated sonically.

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In short, the RE800 is a masterpiece of engineering and of audio art. It won’t be all things to all men but I would very much doubt that anyone who listens to one won’t give it the praise and respect it commands. There is so far, in my opinion, no finer audiophile IEM. Timing, coherence, tonality, timbre are all as fine as its sounds signature is sublime and beautiful.

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