HiFiMan RE-400 Waterline and RE-600 Songbird Dynamic In-Ear Monitors
HiFiMAN RE-400 ($99) and RE-600 ($399) Dynamic In-Ear Monitors
HiFiMan's lovely RE262 and RE272 models were discontinued last year shortly after their inclusion in the InnerFidelity Holiday Gift Guide. Hopefully that was a coincidence, because I've been waiting for a chance to hear the new RE-400 and RE-600 side by side all year.
The RE-400 debuted in early 2013, offering the same type of accurate dynamic-driver sound that has become synonymous with HiFiMan earphones. The RE-600, released just recently, is billed as an all-around upgrade but carries a hefty price tag of $399four times what the RE-400 costs. Let's see what each of them has to offer.
In contrast to the oddly-shaped housings of the RE262 and RE272, the new HiFiMan earphones utilize very small metal shells and a more conventional form factor. The shape makes them extremely comfortable for prolonged listening and the tiny size permits use under a helmet or even while sleeping. Over-ear cable wear is easy, too, though the cable cinch sometimes has trouble gripping the cable.
Construction quality is good, with the pricier RE-600 utilizing thicker, more tangle-resistant cables and a piano black finish, and the cheaper RE-400 using a plain aluminum shell. The upper part of the cabling is similar to HiFiMan's previous-gen earphones while the section below the y-split is nylon-sheathed. The RE-400 is single-ended, terminated with a 45 degree stereo plug, while the RE-600 has a balanced TRRS (tip-ring-ring-sleeve) connector and ships with a matching stereo adapter.
The balanced TRRS plug of the RE-600 holds separate L-/R- and L+/R+ leads which, in theory, can reduce channel crosstalk, double the voltage swing of the amp, and create a natural resistance to interference. The only balanced sources that support this exact configuration are those manufactured by HiFiMan, but there are other balanced amplifiers that can be used with an appropriate adapter. Single-ended use with a standard stereo jack requires use of the included TRS adapter.
The packaging is a huge improvement over the HiFiMan products of oldthe cheaper RE-400 comes in a compact, yet sturdy plastic box with an assortment of tips and a cable winder. Orders shipping directly from HiFiMan also include a hard-shell carrying case on the side. The flagship RE-600 comes in a much fancier leather-wrapped box with twice the number of eartips. Again, the carrying case comes on the side. While this has a whiff of afterthought about it, it's great to see HiFiMan responding to the demand for a hard-shell case even if it should have been included from the start.
In all other areas, the new HiFiMan earphones are well above average. Passive noise isolation is quite good for a pair of dynamic-driver earphones, aided by the small housings and good selection of small, thick eartips. Cable noise (microphonics) is also goodslightly bothersome when the earphones are worn in the conventional cable-down manner and negligible when the cables are worn over-the-ear.
All in all, the design, construction, and ergonomics of the RE-400 and RE-600 don't leave much to complain about. The new housings are small and extremely comfortable and the packaging is much-improved. Indeed, I find the ergonomics of the new HiFiMan sets vastly preferable to those of upper-tier Shure, UE, and even Sony earphones. More importantly, the sound they produce is every bit as impressive as the fit and finish, as we'll see on the next page.