First, I’d like to thank the folks at HiFiMan for providing a sample to review.
No doubt, I’ve been a fan of HiFiMan’s products for about a year and a half now ever since buying a pair of RE0s early last year. I’ve tested a number of their products and reviewed them right here so it should be understandable that I was quite excited to review the RE242. This is HiFiMan’s first entry into the budget market since the well-received RE2 and one of the most intriguing sets I’ve come across in terms of design. So, with that in mind, read on for my full review of HiFiMan’s RE242 earphones.
Packaging and Accessories
The RE242 comes packaged in a basic plastic box, which is acceptable for an earphone in this price range and doesn’t seem wasteful or unnecessarily extravagant. In terms of accessories, you get a pair of medium bi-flange tips and two pairs of single flange tips, both of which were a bit too large to fit comfortably for my small ear canals so I ended up using a pair of Sony Hybrids. I wish these would’ve shipped with some form of carrying case and a larger selection of tips but I guess that can’t be helped. It does make the RE242 look a bit worse in terms of sheer value when compared to MEElectronics’ M9 and its excellent accessory pack.
Design and Build Quality
I have to say these IEMs have the smallest housings I’ve ever seen. The metal (likely aluminum) shells are painted blue for left and red for right, making them very easy to identify in most instances and feel very solid but aren’t weighty. At the rear of the housings is a pinhole vent and a rubbery but stubby strain relief which extends down to a disappointingly cheap and plasticky-feeling cable. This cable does feature an integrated three-button remote and microphone, which is nice a surprise, as I’ve never seen a set of earphones in this price bracket to feature such a remote. At the end of the double-sided cable is a beefy 45-degree 3.5mm TRRS jack which looks like it can take a beating.
Overall, the RE242 isn’t an earphone that amazes me with its build quality because of the plasticky cable and short strain reliefs on the housings but I can’t say I don’t have confidence in their ability to last a decently long time and for an earphone in this price range, the RE242 seems adequate.
Comfort and Isolation
Being the smallest IEMs I’ve ever come across, it should come as no surprise that these are the most comfortable I’ve ever used as well. The tiny housings make insertion a breeze and once they’re in, they melt away. It’s easy to forget you’re wearing these at times and allow for just about as deep an insertion depth as you’d like. With aftermarket triple flanges, you could probably use these to tickle your eardrums if you were so inclined (though that is extremely dangerous and no one should try it, ever).
Isolation on the other hand, is a bit below average, even for a vented dynamic. The vents at the rear allow for more ambient noise than usual to leak in so these probably won’t be the best for a commute or in other noisy places.
Normally, I place a small burn in notice here but these earphones are a special case so I’m going to go into more detail this time. The RE242 were given upwards of 50 hours of burn in time and they are, without question, the most drastically affected by this time, for the better. When I first heard these upon taking them out of the box, they were, to be blunt, garbage. I abhorred the sound the RE242 were putting out and was almost willing to write them off based on this first listen but of course, I would be remiss in my duties as a reviewer if I did that. So, to the burn in machine they went. Listening to them again, many hours of burn in later, I was shocked to hear that the RE242 sounded dramatically better. So, if you happen to buy a pair of RE242s, make sure you burn them in first before judging them.
Moving on, the low end is more prominent than I’m used to from HiFiMan earphones but is still calm and controlled compared to other, bassier sets such as the MEElectronics M16, M9 and M6. Extension is about average, rolling off smoothly after about 50Hz or so and still rumbly and perceptible at 20Hz.
The midrange is a bit warm but not really full sounding, quite the opposite actually. The midrange sounds a bit hollow or “sucked out” to my ears. Vocals have a bit of shrillness about them that makes them sound a bit forward, but aren’t really and instruments don’t seem to have the right amount of impact or presence to me so everything just sounds…off. Technically, the midrange is decently detailed for something in this price range and it doesn’t do much wrong aside from the aforementioned shrillness but just doesn’t sound quite right.
Treble presence is decent. Extension is mostly even on the way up, with a fairly big peak between 8 and 11 KHz which tends to create some rather piercing sibilance but isn’t a major problem and rolls off steadily at the highest of highs. There’s a decent amount of shimmer and sparkle but these will likely not be the choice of the treble fan.
The soundstage sounds rather open and spacious, likely causing that hollowness I spoke about, but imaging performance isn’t all that great. To be fair, I don’t really expect it to be for something in this price range but there are others that perform better for around the same amount of money.
As far as I know, the RE242 isn’t available for purchase yet but I’ve heard it will retail for around $30 or so, give or take when it is made available. At that price, the 242 faces some stiff competition from MEElectronics’ budget lineup as well as DUNU’s slightly pricier but oh so good Trident. This is the cheapest set I’ve encountered that features a full three-button remote and microphone for use with iPhones and other such smartphones that support it so that does add some value over many other headsets in this price range that only feature one button and a microphone. Nonetheless, I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed in the RE242. Sure, the 242 is a competent pair of earphones that doesn’t really slack on the detail compared to its competition in this price range but given HiFiMan’s track record, I was expecting better from them.