HiFiMAN RE-262 and RE-272 In-Ear Headphones Page 2

Sound quality
Finish aside, the RE-262 and RE-272 have so far been completely identical---the $100 difference in price set by HiFiMan is rooted entirely in sound.

The $149 RE-262 is a beast of a performer---in traditional HiFiMan fashion the dynamic driver it is built on is quick and clean, but the earphone follows a warm and smooth sound signature. The midrange leads, placing vocals front and center, while the top end is laid back in character.

The bass is fuller and more powerful compared to other HiFiMan in-ears. The RE-262 does not offer elevated sub-bass like one might find with a higher-end Monster or Denon set but the low end is impactful and natural-sounding, with sufficient weight for the earphones to sound balanced with a slightly warm tilt.

The midrange is smooth and intimate---a little thicker than that of the higher-end RE-272 but still transparent and revealing of fine detail. Emphasis drops off in the upper midrange and treble---the RE-262 is entirely non-fatiguing, even during extensive listening, but lacks the bright and energetic treble response of competitors such as the Ultimate Ears Triple-Fi 10 and Sony MDR-EX1000.

The RE-262 also has a solid presentation---not entirely out-of-the-head like the Sennheiser IE8 but well above average in soundstage size. Imaging and dynamics are good---there are sets that perform better, such as JVC's FX700, and the RE-262 does tend to push the mids forward and pull the treble back a bit, but on the whole tracks sounded neither flat nor congested, allowing for a well-rounded, ambient musical experience.

When the RE-272 was released as a follow-up to the RE-262, its $249 price tag seemed reasonable in part due to the large number of improvements outside of sound quality. Over time, however, the RE-262 has taken on the thicker cable, balanced wiring, and even the nicer packaging of the RE-272. All that separates the two now is the sound, and the difference is far from astronomical.

In short, the main improvement of the RE-272 over the RE-262 is a gain in emphasis on the upper half of the frequency spectrum, giving it more treble energy for a flatter overall signature. It is more neutral in tone compared to the warmer RE-262 and lacks the thickness of the lower-end model for a crisper, cleaner sound. Indeed, the clarity of the RE-272 is top notch, keeping up with balanced armature-based sets such as the $600 Phonak PFE 232.

The mids and lows end of the RE-272 don't govern the overall sound the way they do with the RE-262, and there is a touch less body and impact to the low end. Even the reference-flat Etymotic ER-4S has more deep bass and greater punch than the RE-272. The treble of the RE-272 is brighter than that of the RE-262 but remains smooth and very refined, not at all rough or grainy. The greater balance also means that the soundstage is more even-handed, with the mids pushed forward less and the treble more prominent in the overall sound. As with the RE-272, soundstage size is above average and rather good for an in-ear, and instrument separation consistently impresses.

There is also a difference in efficiency between the two---HiFiMan made the pricier RE-272 more portable-friendly with its lower impedance and higher sensitivity. Though both earphones give the option of being used in balanced mode, the RE-262 generally seems to benefit more from amplification. It still sounds quite good out of a portable player, however, requiring a higher volume setting for the same output and giving up small amounts of dynamics, clarity, and bass depth.

The HiFiMan RE-262 ($149) and RE-272 ($249) are two highly capable earphones that---sound signatures aside---are pretty much identical despite the price gap. Their modular cable system, unlike most, actually adds value to the product and the fit, finish, and construction all impress. While I happen to think that the pricier RE-272 is the better earphone, there is no guarantee that other listeners will agree. The RE-272 is a little more balanced, clear, and neutral while the warmer RE-262 is more lush-sounding and laid-back. The more colored signature of the RE-262 is magical with certain tracks and even where a mid-centric presentation is less desirable, it does not fall far behind the RE-272. Those looking for a great all-round earphone at a great price will find either of these to do the job as well as anything out there.

Just as importantly, the two HiFiMan earphones tell a story of passion for audio---these monitors were crafted by audiophiles, for audiophiles. Having followed HiFiMan on their journey starting with the RE0 and RE2, it is clear just how far they have come; products such as the $500 Shure SE535 or $600 Phonak PFE 232 are designed from the start to be exemplary but the HiFiMan earphones have gotten there with sweat, toil, and lots of revisions. It's safe to say that these two will not need a celebrity endorsement to appeal to their target audience.

Measurements analysis by Tyll next ...

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