HiFiMAN RE-262 and RE-272 In-Ear Headphones
Editors Note: To say that I'm ecstatic that ljokerl will be contributing to InnerFidelity would be a gross understatement. His long-time and deep experience with IEMs, and his massive contributions to the community at Head-Fi.org make him an outstanding voice in the world of headphones, and eminently qualified to write for InnerFidelity. A quick look at his profile on Head-Fi and then a long dwell on his IEM review thread, now hundreds of products long, will give you a clear idea of the caliber and quality of his knowledge. I hope you'll join me in giving him a warm welcome in the comments, I know we'll all benefit from his IEM musings in his first review here and in his future contributions at InnerFidelity. Welcome ljokerl, I'm tickled pink.
HiFiMAN RE-262 ($149) and RE-272 ($249)
If there is any one product to be credited with catalyzing my love of in-ear earphones, the HiFiMan RE0 is it. I bought my first pair in 2009, back when the company was better known as a US distributor for a number of Chinese Hi-Fi brands under the name Head-Direct. The RE0 was nothing short of a revelation. At a time when the IEM market was dominated by armature-powered monitors from the likes of Shure and Ultimate Ears, its dynamic driver provided clean, well-balanced sound that the competition couldn't touch. Over the years Dr. Fang Bian & co expanded the lineup to much more than just earphones, but the latest-gen RE-262 and RE-272 in-ears, like their progenitor, are audiophile fantasy through and through.
Construction & Functionality
The newest HiFiMan earphones are the result of years of development and dozens of improvements on the company's previous designs. External differences between the two earphones are minimal---both use plastic housings but the RE-272 boasts a glossier gun metal finish and has the appearance of a higher-end product. Both earphones come with five sets of eartips, a shirt clip, a strip of replacement filters, and a storage box.
The shape of the housings is ergonomic, with angled nozzles and rounded protrusions intended to stabilize the earphones in the ear extending towards the antihelix. Both sets feature lengthy strain reliefs and thick, sturdy cords. Cabling is one of the major improvements over previous HiFiMan earphones---thicker, more tangle-resistant, and lower in cord contact noise (microphonics). It is also modular---HiFiMan took feedback from previous designs to heart and implemented a highly configurable cable system with the latest versions of the RE-262 and RE-272.
The RE-262 and RE-272 are both wired for balanced use---the 1.8' (55 cm) main cord is terminated with a TRRS (tip-ring-ring-sleeve) plug, which holds separate L-/R- and L+/R+ leads. Theoretically, running in balanced mode can reduce channel crosstalk, double the voltage swing of the amp, and create a natural resistance to interference, but there are currently precious few sources, portable or otherwise, that provide balanced TRRS output. Single-ended use with a standard stereo jack requires one of the two included adapters. Three different 2' (60 cm) add-on cables are included---a TRRS extension and two TRS adapters for single-ended use. One of the TRS adapters swaps the left and right channels, allowing left and right earpieces to be switched in the ears. Because the shells are asymmetric, this yields some very welcome fitment options. All of the cables are terminated with beefy 45-degree 3.5mm plugs.
All in all, the design, construction, presentation, and functionality of the RE-262 and RE-272 allow the earphones to run in competition with flagship products from other brands. Indeed, I find the ergonomics to be far more tolerable than those of the renowned Ultimate Ears Triple.Fi 10 and Sony's dynamic-driver flagship, the MDR-EX1000. Isolation is good as well---better than average for a dynamic-driver earphone but not quite up there with the upper-tier Shure and Westone monitors.
On to sound quality ...