Thanks to the folks at HiFiMan for sending me a sample of their latest IEM to review.
Well, let’s get right to it. This is HiFiMan’s in ear monitor flagship, the RE-600 “Songbird”. Replacing the previous flagships, the RE-262 and RE-272, the RE-600 has some big shoes to fill, and with a $399 price tag attached, higher than either of its predecessors, it’s certainly got its work cut out for it. So, does the RE-600 live up to its lofty expectations and earn its keep? Read on to find out.
I’ve been skipping this part of my reviews for a while as the packaging is rarely exceptional or interesting enough to warrant a mention but in this case, I’ll make an exception.
I mean, just look at it.
It’s not the most practical design but it works well and its leather design is certainly distinctive and unique against the standard array of packaging one tends to see on a store’s shelves. It’s a very classy and luxurious design that makes a lasting impression. That said, it’s not the best packaging I’ve ever seen, and that honor still belongs to the Monster Miles Davis Tributes but it’s a pretty close second.
The RE-600 ships with an array of interesting and different tips, some of which I’ve never seen before. Of course, the new small biflanges make a return appearance and HiFiMan includes three pairs of them alongside two pairs of the filtered single flange tips, a set of large single flange clear tips, a large set of long single flange tips, similar to those included with the MEElectronics M11P+, two sets of HiFiMan large biflanges, a strange set of large single flanges that are certainly unique and interestingly enough, two sets of Comply foam tips in two sizes.
Also included are a set of 10 replacement filters, a white rubbery cable winder, a TRRS to TRS adapter, manuals and (finally), a clamshell carrying case.
Design and Build Quality
The RE-600 housings are identical in shape to those of the RE-400 with their metal build and small form factor. While the RE-400 went for a simple silver look for its housings, the RE-600 steps it up with a more luxurious piano black finish. The cable is similar to that of the RE-400, featuring plasticky but surprisingly thick cables above the y-split and a cable sheathed in nylon below, terminating in a balanced TRRS straight connector. This type of balanced connector design has been seen on older HiFiMan earphones, including the RE-ZERO, RE-262 and RE-272 and are officially supported by HiFiMan’s own digital audio players and balanced amplifiers with the appropriate adapters. For those of us without balanced amplifiers or sources, a short adapter is included to make the RE-600 compatible with standard 3.5mm jacks.
Identical to the RE-400 in this regard.
Being fairly small straight barrel dynamics, isolation is about average but long term comfort was quite good. The RE-600 is annoyingly prone to microphonic cable noise but this issue can be lessened (for the most part) by wearing them over the ear.
These isolate decently well for vented dynamic driver IEMs.
Burn in: These were burned in for over 300 hours. No significant changes were detected.
Bass on the RE-600 is very impressive in that it is tactile, taut, and carries just the right amount of body and speed to sound, above all, natural. Quantity wise, it’s about in line with the RE-400, meaning neutral and far from being excessively emphasized or lacking in any way. The RE-600 has a hair more bass than the 400 but only that much but it goes without saying that the RE-600 renders bass better with its better texture and detail.
The midrange reminds me a bit of the RE-262, albeit not as liquid in its presentation. The RE-600 is very slightly drier and just as detailed, if not more so. It doesn’t command the listener’s attention in the same way the RE-262 does but I can’t imagine anyone will be disappointed. Detailing is exceptional and note thickness and tone are just right. The presentation is mostly centered on the midrange and because of it, creates one of the most involving IEMs I’ve heard yet.
The RE-600 presents what is very likely the most beautiful and realistic soundscape I’ve ever heard in an IEM, and I say that with not a hint of hyperbole or exaggeration. The RE-600 just sounds…beautiful, with everything I’ve tested it with. It works as well with Hip-Hop as it does with Jazz. As well with EDM as it does R&B. This has a sound I can’t imagine too many people disliking or finding much fault with. Like the RE-400, the RE-600 just sounds effortless. Complex passages are handled with ease and notes are presented with grace.
Its versatility is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the IEM. It works with everything. Seriously. I’ve not encountered one genre that the RE-600 can’t present in a way that stands above other IEMs I’ve heard. Its presentation is just that nuanced and impressively layered with just the right amount of treble emphasis and overall sparkle and clarity that I like in an earphone. I know this review is sounding a lot like a bunch of audiophile hyperbole but it’s all deserved hyperbole, if nothing else. The RE-600 just sounds that good.
Compared to its stable mate, the RE-400, the RE-600 is less bright and more mid-centric. Both of the earphones perform similarly in the low regions, with the RE-600 having just a hair more extension at the lowest end and thus, a slightly more visceral sub bass punch but we’re talking very minor differences that are really only apparent when comparing the two side by side in rapid succession.
The midrange sweet spot the RE-600 hits in its presentation is unmatched by the RE-400 and makes its sibling sound slightly unrefined and a touch grittier in comparison. Considering that the RE-400 is one of the more refined earphones I’ve heard, that’s saying something.
Now here’s the million dollar question, or rather, the $400 question. Are they worth HiFiMan’s $400 asking price? I think so. This is the most expensive and overall best earphone I’ve ever tested and its sound is unlike any other earphone I’ve heard. So, why aren’t I tripping over myself to recommend them? Because, like every other hobby out there, earphones also conform to the principle of diminishing returns. The RE-600 is certainly a good buy at $400 in my eyes but that doesn’t mean I think it’s four times the earphone as its sibling, the RE-400 for example. Far from it, actually. Of the two, the RE-600 is without question the superior earphone, but the improvements are more subtle than one would expect, especially given the price difference.
So the RE-600 finds itself in a difficult position purely because of its sibling’s pedigree. HiFiMan created an earphone in the RE-400 that’s so good at $100 that it makes more expensive earphones harder to justify, especially to an audiophile on a budget such as myself. But I digress.
The RE-600 is an earphone that sounds exceptional to my ears. There’s not another earphone in my collection that’s quite as detailed or as versatile with the various genres I listen to. And that’s what makes the RE-600 so special to me, its versatility. It reminds me of my Sennheiser HD 600 in a number of ways including its versatile nature and sound. So, yes, I think many discerning audiophiles will find the RE-600 to be worthy of its extravagant price but be sure to temper your expectations accordingly.