OK, let’s get it out of the way… yes, the name “HiFiMan” doesn’t inspire confidence. So much so that a friend of mine refused to buy their products because the name sounded like a cheap knock-off brand. If you haven’t heard of HiFiMan before, don’t be put off by the name – it is a great brand that continues to pump out some amazingly priced products that outperform vastly more expensive products from other manufacturers.
Whew. With that done, let’s get on with looking at the Re-272s, HiFiMan’s flagship in ear monitor.
Having owned and loved the RE-0, I was excited to buy the Re-272s. The Re-272s are designed to be a neutral-sounding IEM and it definitely fits the bill, but I’ll get to that later. First, here are some quick specs:
- Driver: 9mm dynamic
- Impedance: 20 ohms
- Efficiency: 103 dB
- Frequency Response: 15 Hz to 22 kHz
From the specs, it was clear that these should be comfortable running straight out of an iPod, mobile phone, or other portable player. They sound great out of my Cowon X7, iPod Classic and HTC Desire HD. Of course, the quality of the sound is limited by the quality of the source (yes, I’m talking about you, HTC Desire HD!), but the Re-272s will give the best possible sound you can squeeze out of the device they’re attached to.
In addition to the obvious (earphones and associated cable), the Re-272s are supplied in a nice black display / transport box along with a couple of cable options which I’ll explain shortly and a series of different tip options including some single and double flanges (all rubber). They also come with a shirt clip and a set of multiple replacement filters (to protect the earphone from ear-wax).
There are 3 cables provided and these connect to the end of the rather short cable coming out of the earphones themselves.
The reason for this is the ability for the Re-272s to work in a number of different configurations. The connector attached to the earphones is for balanced use (where there are 2 dedicated leads to each earphone – 1 x positive and 1 x negative, as opposed to the more common use of a positive to each earphone and a common ground shared with both earphones).
To allow for the balanced design to work with standard players, HiFiMan provides 2 different adaptor cables which convert the Re-272s into standard, common ground earphones. The reason there are 2 cables is to allow you to choose between wearing the 272s with the cable down, or the cable going up and over your ear for more stability. Essentially, the adaptor for “cable up” wear reverses the channels because you need to put the left earphone into your right ear and vice versa. You could do without the channel inverting adaptor, but it will flip your soundstage horizontally – not too bad for most music, but very confusing for movies!
The third adaptor cable simply extends the length of the balanced cable.
This review is conducted purely with the common ground setup. Apparently, using a balanced amplifier with the Re-272s will improve every aspect of their sound by a hair, but it won’t completely change them , so this should still be a good indicator even if you’re thinking of them as a balanced option.
This isn’t normally a hot topic in my reviews unless there’s a significant issue or extremely good build quality. I’m including build quality here because HiFiMan have had a reputation of poor longevity on some of their previous earphones and I have been a victim of this with my beloved Re-0s which died of a broken driver or connection after about 2 years of careful use.
The Re-272s are made of what seems to be high quality plastic and they have good strain relievers out of each earphone. The 3.5mm jacks are of good quality and the cable is soft, supple and thick enough to inspire some degree of confidence. In the end only time will tell, but they seem to be at least slightly improved over the Re-0s (which also seemed pretty good until the day they broke).
Let’s look at the sound…
I bought the Re-272s knowing that they wouldn’t be bass monsters. The Re-0s were light on bass, but the bass was beautifully controlled and accurate. I’d read the same about the Re-272s and reports were accurate. In fact, I wish I still had my Re-0s in working order because I’d love to compare them.
From memory I’d guess that the Re-272s are slightly better in the bass department, but they’re still lean and controlled.
Attack: The attack is clean and precise on the 272s, but it’s let down slightly by the lack of mass. Bass notes are well articulated and textured, but the attack is let down by the fact that you don’t really feel anything from the bass. On one of my favourite bass test tracks, Roquefort by Karnivool, the short bass guitar solo riff at around 3:09 has plenty of texture and depth, but it lacks a bit of soul on the 272s.
Score: 4.8 / 10
Mass: You probably saw this coming, but the mass of bass from the Re-272s is a bit of a let down at times when you really want it. They respond very well to some gentle EQ work or Cowon’s Mach3Bass, but I try to review on the natural response of the earphones, not how good I can make them sound with EQ trickery.
Similar to the comments I made about the bass attack, there’s no doubt that the 272s are reproducing the sound accurately – the bass is there and the extension into low frequencies is undeniable, but the bass is just a bit too tight and too clean to really move me.
Score: 4.6 / 10
Not looking good so far, is it?
Vocals / Mids
Once we get past the lean bass reproduction of the Re-272s, things become a lot more interesting.
The midrange and vocal reproduction of the Re-272s is magnificent. Clean, liquid, smooth – just perfect. Listening to Tin Pan Alley by Stevie Ray Vaughan, the guitar work just drips into your ears, but there is amazing resolution and texture at the same time. The hum of the amplifier and the subtle sounds created by the textured guitar strings all creeps through just right.
The Re-272s do something amazing in the midrange; they are smooth and creamy, but clean and detailed too. Sometimes, earphones (like the Shure SE535s) can get so creamy in the midrange that they are seductive, but also slightly soft in terms of clarity and detail. Other earphones get too analytical and loose the seductive element of a good midrange reproduction. The Audio Technica AD-900s occasionally went a hair too analytical in this way for my tastes. The Re-272s walk this line perfectly though. Gobs of detail mixed in with creamy, smooth, seductive goodness.
Just to confirm, the 272s handle female vocals and male vocals beautifully with perfect weight, presence and breath. They handle the depth of male vocals very well despite the lack of deeper bass presence.
Score: 9.7 / 10
(perhaps worthy of a 10, but I have to leave space in case I actually find something that does mids better)
The smoothness of the Re-272s belies their resolution of detail. They are in no way a bright earphone and yet every possible detail and texture of the music is presented as a part of the music – and that’s the key to their magic. The 272s don’t force the detail down your throat and make the music an exercise in analysis rather than enjoyment. They also don’t force you to go hunting for detail – it’s just laid out in front of you.
It’s equal parts relaxing and exciting to listen to the 272s because you hear every possible detail, but without any effort whatsoever. They seem to never get sibilant and don’t create fatigue after long listening sessions.
Score: 9 / 10
The sound stage on the Re-272s is excellent for an IEM. They’re not going to compete with headphones, but are very capable of creating a stage that’s a little wider than your head. They don’t project forward much, but the stage is nicely presented to each side.
The placement of instruments is excellent within the sound stage both in terms of depth and width. Instruments are clearly separated and defined in space. Even though the front-back depth is limited, instruments don’t seem to get lumped on top of each other. There is also a nice sense of height generated by the 272s so a singer’s voice will seem higher than the guitar they’re playing if it’s recorded well.
All-in-all, for a universal IEM priced under $300, the Re-272s create a ridiculously good stage and will amaze anyone upgrading to these from cheaper (and some more expensive) IEMs.
Score: 8.9 / 10
You might have thought at the beginning of this review that the Re-272s were going to get panned, but it’s a testament to the quality and cohesion of their mid and upper frequency performance that the overall experience with these IEMs is nothing short of magic and enough to eclipse their lack of bass.
Of course, if you’re a bass-head, don’t buy the Re-272s – you will be disappointed, but if you’re looking for a perfectly cohesive and natural representation of your favourite music (albeit slightly shy on the bass) then you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better performer for the price.
This blog is all about reproduction of music for music lovers (i.e. not pursuit of technical perfection for the sake of perfection) and the Re-272s do a brilliant job of reproducing a great range of non-bass oriented (e.g. hip-hop) genres and styles of music with ease and with engaging texture and dynamics. Simply put, they make music sound alive, but without colouring it.
Overall Rating: 8.9 / 10
A quick note on comfort…
The Re-272s are generally very comfortable for extended sessions, but I do find that they tire out my ears after a few hours. I use the small single-flange tips so this may be different for other tips, but I find them extremely comfortable for a couple of hours before reaching a point that my ears start to feel a bit tired (from the physical insertion of the earphone, not from the sound).