Reviewed Jan 2010
Details: Head-Direct’s latest creation that strays from the path set by the RE2 and RE0 in favor of an even more balanced and less intense sound
Current Price: N/A (discontinued) (MSRP: $199)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 16 Ω | Sens: 103 dB | Freq: 16-22k Hz | Cable: 3.9’ L-plug
Nozzle Size:5mm | Preferred tips: Altec Lansing / UE biflange, Soundmagic Single flange
Wear Style: Straight down
Accessories (3/5) – Silicone single-flange (3 sizes) and bi-flange (2 sizes) tips, shirt clip, and replacement filters (5 sets)
Build Quality (3.5/5) – The silicone housings are fairly soft and seem protective but time will tell if they will stay intact or not. Strain reliefs are integrated into the housings and should work as long as the cable is anchored well. The new cabling (compared to the older cloth cords on my RE0) is flexible and seems sturdy. The L-plug is nice as well. An odd issue with these is that they are absolute dust magnets. Not really a problem per se but those who like their earphones shiny and clean may have some trouble
Isolation (3/5) – Isolation depends hugely on fit (and therefore one’s ears) and tip choice. Smaller biflange tips give me solid isolation at the expense of long-term comfort. Single flange tips do the opposite
Microphonics (3/5) – Not too bad but the cord is quite energetic (much more so than my cloth RE0 cord) and can be loud when bouncing around. The included shirt clip helps
Comfort (4/5) – The RE252 are almost custom-like in form factor and take some getting used to after conventional IEMs. The shells do get softer with break-in. I stopped noticing them around the 3rd week of use. Wearing them over-the-ear is possible with longer tips but not for everyone. Persons with very small ears may not be able to get a good fit at all
Sound (8.9/10) – When the RE252 (at that time called the RE3) was first announced I expected that it would be a spiritual successor to Head-Direct’s previous flagship and one of my all-around favorite IEMs, the RE0. From the first listen, however, I realized that they are very different animals. The soundstage has great width but not as much air as the RE0, which gives them a strange lack of intimacy but also a headphone-like immersion and imaging that’s often difficult for an earphone to achieve. Balance, however, is superb. I have seen them summed up as sounding like the RE0 with more bass and less treble. While technically correct, this description really ignores a lot of nuances. Compared to the crisp and endlessly extended treble of the RE0 the treble on the RE252 is much softer and more subdued, resulting in a more laid back sound. With the right tips treble quantity can approach that of the RE0, but it never sounds quite the same. The midrange has much more weight to it with the RE252, making the RE0 sound slightly thin in comparison. It is still impeccably smooth, however, and the detail never gets glossed over. The bass is fast, accurate, and not lacking in quantity for my tastes but also a little too soft in impact. When properly amped, the RE0 can get about 80% of the way there in bass quantity and has a tighter presentation, but unamped the RE252 wins. One of the necessary hallmarks of a great earphone (for me) is the ability to provide an enjoyable sound at very low listening volumes. On this front, the RE252 simply cannot be beaten in my book. Several times during my testing I wanted to see if I could still enjoy them at a slightly lower volume only to find out that dropping one more notch on my mp3 player or muted it.
Amping: Straying off the path set by the RE0 again, the RE252 benefits no more from amping than the average 16-ohm earphone. An amp can be used to modify the sound signature (e.g. the iBasso T4 for more warmth), and a good source will scale these up a notch, but I can’t say that getting an amp for them is recommended. Also, the higher efficiency compared to the RE0 means they can hiss slightly with certain amps and sources.
Value (7.5/10) – The RE252 is an excellent choice for anyone who tried the RE0 and thought “Hey, I would enjoy these more if they were more restrained in the treble, more lush in the mids, had more bass, and were reshelled into mutant gummy bears”. I really think they are near the top of the upgrade path for anyone who craves a wide and balanced sound, a path that stems from enjoyment of earphones such as the Soundmagic PL30 and Cyclone PR1 Pro. But it is also here that the RE252’s main problem lies – this signature is definitely not for everyone. While I do feel that the RE252s sound fuller and more engaging than the RE0 with dense rock and metal tracks that rely on spatial positioning and require at least some bass, I can’t help but feel that I would still choose an (amped) RE0 as an all-around earphone with its crisp, sparkly, and airy treble. This certainly has a lot to do with the innovative housing of the IEM, which makes the fit too restrictive for my tastes and results in other small quirks. I do think that some people will find their perfect sound in the RE252 and certainly applaud Head-Direct for trying something new, but for me an IEM is something that should, aside from sounding good, make my life easier on all fronts and the traditional approach just seems to do that better.
Pros: Impossibly balanced sound, top-tier detail and clarity
Cons: Cannot be worn over-the-ear, potential fit issues for some, can be microphonic, mediocre isolation, absolute dust magnets