Tuesday, December 27, 2011

[REVIEW] HifiMan RE272 – the Purist

First, I like to thank HifiMan for the sample. I have had the RE272 for a while now but writing this review doesn’t become easier with time. There is something incredible about RE272’s sound but at the same time, there is also something hard to describe that is holding me back from an unreserved recommendation. This is more apparent if we were to compare RE272 to its elder brother, the very smooth and musical RE262. RE262 makes music comes to life like magic, but RE272 is much more technical and raw. It is perhaps that rawness that I have reservation for – No, I am not saying RE272 is inferior when compared to RE262. In fact, I think RE272 is better technically. However it comes with the cost of musicality, especial when driven from most common sources (i.e. iPod and such, even with portable amp). To really squeeze out a 100% from RE272, I truly believe you will need the right synergy to smooth out the rawness of RE272’s presentation and makes it really sounds effortless. That is, at least from my point of view, RE272 should be driven with a balanced amp. We will discuss this further in the Sound Quality section. For now, let’s focus back on the review.

RE272-01.jpg

RE272-02.jpg



Spec
Driver: 9 mm Dynamic
Impedance: 20 Ohm
Sensitivity: 103 dB
Frequency Response: 15 Hz to 22K Hz

Packaging, Accessories and Build Quality
Packaging is never quite the game for HifiMan’s IEM. But with the RE272, it is quite a looker - at least in a geeky audiophile way. I think the box that house the RE272 is best described as the miniature version of the box for HifiMan flagship DAP, the HM801. It is great looking of course, and equally good for long term storage, but not quite portable if you need it to be. The solution? Just gets a hard case from eBay for less than $5 and you are all set.

RE272-03.jpg

Accessories wise, it is fairly standard for the RE series. You will get some spare filters, a shirt clip, three pairs of single flange eartips, a pair of big bi-flange and a pair of small bi-flange. What not so standard are the three extra extension cables. RE272 has a two-pieces cable design – the earpieces to the stereo plug is only about 75cm, while the extension cable is around 70cm. This adds to a total of 145cm. The reason to use a two-pieces cable design is HifiMan’s solution to avoid the extra adapter needed for the TRRS balanced plug used on RE272 (plus RE262 and RE-ZERO). The extension cable itself acts as the adapters, and all you need to do is to use the right extension cable for the jobs. One cable is for normal stereo source; another one is for balanced TRRS source (such as the HM801 with balanced amp module); the last one is the reversed normal plug – this is for those of you who want to wear the RE272 upside-down for over-the-ear style and don’t feel like listening to the wrong channel (right for left / left for right). This is really a smart and elegant move for HifiMan to address all the problems related to its earlier models with the TRRS plug and wearing style by simply giving the user their own choice of cable.

RE272-04.jpg
The different cable that allows RE272 to be used with balanced and single-end output.

Build quality wise, I think the RE272 is fairly solid. It is no secret that HifiMan old models are never quite stable on build quality. I have had my old RE0 for over 3 years now and it is still working fine (though I did recable it recently as the old cable has begun to harden after so many years of regular use). But on occasion you do find people complain about housing split on some batches due to weak glue issue. The new housing used on RE262 / RE272 is supposed to address this problem. It adds a rubber ring to hold the housing together and as far as I can tell, it is doing its job well. The difference between RE262 and RE272 housing is only on the outer finish. RE272 has a glossy finish that makes it look metallic in photo, but it is actual just plastic like RE262. As for cable, it is similar to that of the RE262 – thick but soft, and by far the best cable since the very first RE model.

Overall RE272 looks well build and well packed. For $250, I don’t think you can quite compare it to the name brand out there. But I have listened and reviewed the HifiMan IEM since their very first model back in 2008 and I can honestly say it is an evolution for both the company and its user. While it might not look quite as expensive as its price tag, it sure does sound expensive. HifiMan is never really a mainstream brand and it will likely to stay that way for now. While it does have its share of disadvantages as a small brand / outfit, there is no denying that HifiMan has earned its reputation as an audiophile orientated company in an extremely competitive market.

RE272-06.jpg
RE262 (left) vs. RE272 (right).

Sound Quality
The IEM has been given no less than 50 hours of burn-in before the auditioning. No significant change was detected after the burn-in.

The overall sound signature of RE272 is best described as the continuation and perfection of RE0, but it is not a simple ‘bettered-RE0’ at the same time. That is, those who love their RE0 might not immediately get what RE272 is about at the first listen, at least not without the right setup. While HifiMan has made a point in their RE272’s ads about its easy drivability of 32 ohm impedance and 103dB sensitivity, it will be foolish to ignore the potential of amping – perhaps ‘amping’ is the wrong word here. What I really meant to say is the potential of RE272 being balanced driven. Taking RE0 as an example – it is perfectly fine sounding without extra amping. But if you pair it with a decent amp, it will shine. Another example will be Etymotic ER4P – fine sounding by its own but transformed with a 75ohm adapter to the even better sounding ER4S. For RE272, amping is less important than how it is driven. But once you pair with it with a balanced source or amp, it will shine as well – and more so than any universal IEM that I have listened in a balanced or semi-balanced setup (via Meier Audio Corda StepDance and the Active Balanced Ground inside it). This however shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. After all, RE272 is tuned with balanced source in mind (*via HifiMan’s own HM801 with balanced amp module).

When not driven in balanced mode, RE272 has a sort of mid centric flavor in its overall neutral and analytical presentation. The vocal seems to have just a little more energy when compared to the rest of the spectrum. Bass is quick but quantitatively small. More importantly, the deepest end seems to be missing which causes the lower end texture to be lacking (or should I say ‘mildly decent’) – which is not something uncommon for most analytical sounding IEM and certain a trait shared by both RE0 and ER4P/S. The overly fast speed and short decay that make them good analytical IEM in the first place are often a curse for good texture. Being among the best analytical IEM in the market, RE272’detail retrieval can easily match up to Etymotic ER4S with treble extension that is almost as good as RE0 and soundstage much wider than both. If it is not for the slight mid forwardness that tends to hinder the overall clarity, it would have been the most impressive analytical IEM I have ever heard without the need of extra amping – and perhaps in many ways, it is really impressive as it is. However, the story of RE272 doesn’t quite end with that. There is something more to discover.

When I first plug RE272 into HM801 (with the balanced amp module installed), I know I am listening to a very special IEM. To be fair, I have listened to StepDance for a while now (which Active Balanced Ground provides similar effect as a true balanced setup) and the most IEM don’t seem to take the full advantage of it. Yes, they all sound better with StepDance, but they all sound really good on Meier Audio previous generation Corda 3MOVE as well – and I can’t say Stepdance is taking them to the next level. Well, not till RE272. Both (balanced) HM801 and StepDance do one incredible thing to RE272. They make RE272 sounds effortless, like taking an invisible barrier away from RE272 and expend the dynamic to multi-dimensions. Everything sounds more refined and layered, and most importantly, the slight mid forwardness is gone and the bass begins to show texture and depth. It is analytical but not excessively bright, warm yet remains mostly neutral, extends from one end of the frequency to another end without sounding lacking or overly done in any particular area, and has an impressive soundstage that isn't common to the analytical sound signature. It is as close to a perfect equilibrium as I can imagine, if there is such a thing in the IEM world.

Now, let’s take a step back. A 2StepDance (*StepDance successor) is almost $400; a HM801 with balanced amp module is over $1k. Neither is cheap option and certainly doesn’t make sense to buy a StepDance or HM801 just to pair it with RE272. The reverse however makes a lot of sense. If you already own either one of the two and are considering one of them, then RE272 makes a rather good choice for an incredible sounding universal IEM. For a less expensive option, the new iBasso T5 also pairs really well with RE272. Though not quite as good as balanced HM801 or StepDance, T5’s BTL grounding is still managed to deliver great result with RE272. It hasn’t driven it quite to the ‘effortless’ level, but still leap ahead of other sub$-200 portable amp I have tried as far as the whole synergy of the setup is concerned.

For those who prefer to listen to their IEM without a portable amp, don’t feel despaired. Even without a balanced setup, RE272 is still a great analytical IEM on its own. It is just the audiophile in me that wants me to believe balanced RE272 is what it supposed to sound like – and it is hard for me to go back to a regular setup once I have heard how good RE272 can be. Much like it is hard for me to listen to RE0 unamped or listen to ER4P when I can convert it to ER4S. It is a choice to get the best out of the rig regardless of cost, even if it is only for the last few %.

RE272-05.jpg

Verdict
I have a strong feeling that RE272 is the one IEM made for the purist – the technical listener who is obsessed with accuracy and detail. This is very much different from RE262 where it melts people’s heart with its smooth and musical presentation. Priced at $250, RE272 is $100 more expensive than RE262 and definitely not quite as attractive price wise. It does however belong to the top-tier group and arguably the best among universal IEM when paired with the right setup. While it won’t win award in the bang-for-buck category, it certainly doesn’t lack value either. For those who own a balanced setup or looking to own one, I’ll recommend RE272 as one of the ‘must try’ to showcase just how good the setup can be.

Check out The List for a numeric ranking.

45 comments:

Tai / ClieOS said...

Note: Opinion is welcome, but purposeless comment will be deleted.

Sengoku79 said...

Hi Guys,

Great review, I have had a few pairs of HiFi-Man IEMs, the Re-Zero, RE-262 and now the RE-272.

I loved the crisp high's of the RE-Zero and the lush mids of the RE-262.

I do agree that the RE-272 is more analytical than the 262, however I have an RSA P-51 which I find to work beautifully with the 272.

IMO the dark/warm attributes of the P-51 takes a bit of the analytical edge off the 272's, and turns them into a hybrid of the re-zero/262.

I have not had a chance to use them in a balanced setup but would love to see how much of a difference it makes to these.

I would definitely recommend these to anyone looking for an excellent treble/mid based IEM but only if you already have an amp, whilst these can be driven directly from source they really need an amp to shine.

Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Hi,

I am a current user of ortofon e-q5, a couple of months ago I ask you about a good IEM that is e-q5's opposite in signature and you recommended the phonak's PFE and Etymotic. Would 272 a fit instead?

I like my e-q5 but I want to experiment with other signatures too and I have budgeted myself enough to buy a 272 or an Ety.


Have a happy new year!

Tai / ClieOS said...

RE272 will fit, but it won't be as contrasting as PFE or Ety, especially When not balanced driven.

Anonymous said...

Thanks!
Hmmm, I guess it's PFE then...nah, can't decide yet :-)

Anonymous said...

Hey there ClieOS I'm thinking of picking a pair of the RE272's up as I love the more analytical sounding IEM's. I just would like to know how well they would be with electronic music as a lot of my catalog is edm. Will these work good or should I go another route like say the EPH-100 or even the ER-4S (I've heard the HF5 and loved them).

Anonymous said...

I know the TF10's are great for edm and I have a pair, just wanted to let you know because a lot of people suggest them.

Tai / ClieOS said...

Not really sure analytical IEM will have the kind of bass needed for EDM, but if you don't mind it having less bass than TF10 (the amount should be around the same level as hf5), then I don't see why you won't like RE272.

Anonymous said...

Great review.

Can the RE272 main cable, or the balanced extension cable, be modified to use an RSA balanced plug?

Tai / ClieOS said...

It is best for you (or commission someone / company) to make an adapter for TRRS to RSA balance plug. I won't recommend modifying the cable itself in case you need it for something else in the future. You might want to search Head-fi.org for more information.

Anonymous said...

How's the build quality of this earbuds compared to the ER-4? I had a pair of RE0 that quitted after a month, so I returned them and got the HF5. So far they've been working flawlessly, but I feel the need for an upgrade. Which ones should i get?

Tai / ClieOS said...

Build quality on the RE272 is definitely better than the RE0, but it won't compare to ER4. ER4 is just a very simple, modular design that doesn't have much parts that you can break. If you don't think you are the kind of person who take very good care over gears, I'll recommend the ER4 instead of RE272 even though I do find RE272 better sounding. The good news is, pairing an ER4S with the new JDS Labs C421 portable amp is not that far off from RE272 with the iBasso T5.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tai,

Do try the C421 OPA2227 with TDK BA200 as well. Extended Soundstage

cheeq88 said...

Hi Tai,
Thanks for your great reviews.

You say that the 272 is pulled up by the stepdance in a way that other headphones are not, is the synergy and/or overall increase in performance with the 262 and the stepdance as marked as with the 272?

thanks!

Tai / ClieOS said...

Actually RE262 is quite different. For RE262, I usually will go for a more analytical, faster amp than the generally smoother sounding StepDance.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your unbias,ohnest, and accurate opinion and facts its very apricciated and i would like to know what you like better ( monster turbine copper vs hifiman 272) also what they do better than each other

Tai / ClieOS said...

I like RE272 better, but it is quite a different sounding when compared to Pro Copper and that should be taken into consideration if you are planning to buy one of them. RE272 is technically more accurate sounding, neutral and much more revealing while Pro Copper is warm and fun to listen. They are quite the opposite from each other.

ChocoBozz said...

Hi Tai,

I bought the iBasso T5 thanks to your advice, now i have it next to me, but i want to ask you if you directly use the balanced plug into the ibasso, or if you use the balanced tu TRRS cable to the iBasso. Because if i use the built in balanced plug, or the balanced plug extender i only hear the left channel. This is normal? There is a improvement with the TRRS cable, but i was wondering if my ibasso just came in some way broken to used directly the balanced plug.

Greetings from Chile!

PD: Excuse me for my horrible english

Tai / ClieOS said...

No, you should use the normal TRS (unbalanced) plug on T5. It is not a true balanced amp, but a BTL balanced ground amp that's similar to Meier Audio StepDance.

ChocoBozz said...

Thanks a lot! In our forum (CHW.net) we always take your reviews as a reference. You're like a film star to us!

Greetings,
Sebastian.

Tai / ClieOS said...

Thanks for the comment, though I am not sure I deserve such prise :)

hzant6681 said...

@ChocoBozz "You're like a film star to us" thumbs up for the priase Clieos definately deserves it. Clieos is like my "GURU" My Master in this IEM world :-)

Chris said...

Hi,

I have the JDS Labs O2 amp. Would you recommend the 262 or the 272 to go with them. My preference is analytical over musical but not sure whether the O2 would be overkill for the 272 and leave me with an extremely bright sound. Also should I be using the balanced adapter extension for the O2 (I believe it to be a balanced amp)

Many thanks and i love reading your work!

Tai / ClieOS said...

No, O2 isn't a balanced amp. It is single-ended. But it has really good performance so it really doesn't matter that much. It will go very well with RE272 - and since you like analytical sound, I'll definitely recommend RE272 first.

Chris said...

Many thanks. I'm currently using the O2 with Phonak pfe121 and I love the detail. Only negative is the leanness in the sub bass region, though the excellent mids and treble more than compensate. I'm hoping the 272 will be better in the sub bass area.

My O2 is brand new btw with less than 10 hours of use, do you think its sound signature will change after 50-100hrs?

Tai / ClieOS said...

I won't say RE272 has a lot more bass than PFE, but you should notice a more solid body.

No, I have put over 100 hours on mu O2 and there is no sonic change whatsoever.

Chris said...

Hi again,

I'm still a little unsure about the RE 272 because of not having the opportunity to listen to them before buying, and they are expensive. What I'm looking for is an improvement on my Phonak PFE 121 (paired with JDS O2). I like analytical sounding IEM's, fast accurate bass, excellent forward mids, and some sparkle at the high end. Budget is $150. Very interested in your views and recommendations. Many thanks

Tai / ClieOS said...

For your budget, I don't think you will find a full upgrade over PFE and provide better bass. Instead of a small upgrade, the smarter thing to do will be to save up and go for something higher end,

Chris said...

Ok thanks. What do you suggest in higher end. Cheers

Tai / ClieOS said...

For now, if I am looking for a high-end analytical IEM setup, it will be either ER4S with JDS C421-AD8620, or RE272 with StepDance (or the newer QuickDance). Both will cost you around $500 - not cheap, but it never was.

Chris said...

Thanks. Had ordered a DBA-O2, MK2 and its just arrived and have put 50 hrs of burn in time. Just had my first listen after burn-in. Impressed with the detail, particularly treble. Was listening to Acoustic Alchemy's Mr. Chow track in Flac. Wow. Now planning to connect via my JDS Labs O2 amp. Do you think this combo would make for a high end rig, similar to the 2 suggestions you very kindly gave me?

Tai / ClieOS said...

Very close, but no cigar IMO.

Chris said...

Have now listened to the DBA-02 (mk2)/O2 combo for 50hrs after burn in. At first I was a little disturbed by the treble sibilance, its better now, but either my ears have learnt to appreciate the extreme high end clarity or they needed more than 50hrs of burn in! Great sound. One troubling issue - don't get a good fit with ANY tips except for the triple flange, and when they are inserted deep to achieve isolation they come off the IEM while removing. Argh..
Am comtemplating my next foray already :) now that I have a good analytical sound, have been thinking of a mid-high end IEM with a little more musicality, which won't compromise the detail. I found your reviews of Alclair Reference and CTM-200 very interesting and I like the ear of full shell monitors. Both are very low imp/high sens. iem's so am not planning to upgrade the O2 amp, and would use it with whichever IEM I go for. Does that sound like a good idea, to shell out some bigger pennies, and if so, which of the 2 do you recommend! Cheers

hzant6681 said...

hi Clieos,
I bought a 1.5 yr old Re-262 from a forum memember yesterday.it worked fine for 30 mins and then the left ear side piece started to have slight cut-off in music, the music came on & off at any slight movement and also if pressed the left side the output went off and when tapped gently it came back. This went on for a few mins then the output completely stopped in the left side.The right side works fine. The seller claims that they were not at all faulty when it was with him.My clip+ has no problems. what might be the problem according to you. Is it the connectoe pin/cable or the LHS Driver. Can it be repaired?

Tai / ClieOS said...

Obviously the first thing to do is to check every connection (swap cable if you need to). If it is just wire problem, you can fix it by re-cable the IEM. But if the driver itself is burnt out, then there isn't much you can do about it.

hzant6681 said...

how do i swap cable? do i have to pry open the housing. sorry its first time for me. can you please explain how to go about them.

Tai / ClieOS said...

I have not idea how to open RE262 up but it will involve some prying for sure. Once you opened it up, it is just a matter of soldering the new cable in (or resolder the join if it is just a loose connection issue). If you never DIY before, it will not be easy.

hzant6681 said...

They worked fine when i received them i had a very brief listen to them yesterday.The trouble started today.do you feel its justifiable to demand a refund from the owner as i have'nt even used it for say 30mins.

Tai / ClieOS said...

That's really up to you to decide.

hzant6681 said...

thanks for the advice :-)

Anonymous said...

How does it compare with RE600? Its price now is 200 bucks, and RE600 is 400 bucks. So how much better of RE600 when comparing to RE272, much better or a little bit? Thank you CliOES.

Tai / ClieOS said...

RE600 won't be out until March or April, and there is no official price yet. Whatever you are reading from elsewhere is either rumour or speculation.

Mario Baez said...

Hello Tai,
Thanks for your reviews. Are very helpful.
I am from Chile and i want to buy an R727 or a VSONIC GR07 MKII or Brainwavz B2 for my Cowon z2.
Two questins:
1.- which of the three do you recommend, for the best audio? I think i prefer analithic sound.
2.- I absolutely need a AMP for these headphones?

Thanks for Share your knowledge.
regards.

Tai / ClieOS said...

1. Analytical? RE272 for sure.

2. No, you don't need an amp to drive RE272.

Mario Baez said...

Precise and concise, I will go for them.
Grateful Master.

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