Reviewed Nov 2010; 2010 single-ended version shown
Details: Latest dynamic-driver offering from one of Head-Fi’s favourite brands
Current Price: N/A (discontinued) (MSRP: $149)
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 150Ω | Sens: 95 dB | Freq: N/A | Cable: 4’ L-plug
Nozzle Size: 5mm | Preferred tips: Large stock bi-flange, Meelec ‘balanced’ bi-flange
Wear Style: Straight down or over-the-ear
Accessories (4.5/5) – Single-flange (3 sizes) and bi-flange (2 sizes) silicone tips, replacement filters (5 pairs), and shirt clip; latest version adds storage case,balanced extension cable, single-ended extension cable, and single-ended channel swap extension cable
Build Quality (4.5/5) – The glossy plastic housings of the RE262 are far more to my liking than the gummy shells of the RE252 not only in ergonomics but in general usability. The RE262 doesn’t collect dust and features proper strain reliefs as well as metal nozzles with replaceable mesh filters. The new cable, too, is thicker, sturdier, and less tangle-prone. The modular system adds an extra layer of protection and the new beefy 45º L-plugs and proper strain reliefs all around inspire confidence
Isolation (3.5/5) – The channel swap adapter allows the RE272 to be worn cable-up, which should help provide a deeper fit. With the stock bi-flanges or other deep-sealing tips the isolation is surprisingly good
Microphonics (4.5/5) – With the new cord cable noise is very low when worn cable-down and nonexistent cable-up
Comfort (4.5/5) – There are now a total of four ways to wear the 262 with the additional cord configurations provided by the included adapters. I find three of them to be quite comfortable and would imagine most people won’t have trouble finding at least one that works
Sound (9.1/10) – HIFiMan has long been trying to perfect the high-end ‘neutral and balanced’ dynamic-driver earphone, starting with the RE2 and RE0 and then moving to the RE252 and RE-ZERO. I have owned all four of the above and, with slight reservations about the RE2, loved them all. To be fair, until very recently there was little competition for the HiFiMan sound in the dynamic segment and I had a feeling that the company may venture outside its comfort zone with the new flagship. Venture they did, and what a departure it is – at first listen the RE262 is a vastly different animal from the more analytical Head-Direct earphones with no thinned-out midrange or desaturated tonality anywhere in sight.
At the heart of the RE262 is still an impressively clean and quick dynamic driver with plenty of headroom – more so due to the 150Ω impedance and low sensitivity. Indeed, the RE262 is a power-hungry beast of an IEM – and one that drains the battery in my much-abused Cowon J3 in less than 8 hours when running unamped. Though still very impressive right out of the J3, I do feel that the RE262 benefits from a dedicated amp, sounding tighter, cleaner, and bigger with added power (more on that later).
At the base of the RE262’s sound signature is a smooth and articulate low end. The bass is plentiful for my tastes and has better depth and impact than on any of the other HiFiMan earphones I’ve tried (which is all of them except the RE1). Attack and decay are also more naturally extended than with the RE262’s siblings – the earphone easily has the most fleshed-out lows of the HiFiMan range (again, cannot speak for the RE1). The core driver speed is still there, however, and the earphones never miss a beat. They also aren’t as rumbly or textured at the lowest of lows as one would expect from a high-end dynamic-driver set from any other manufacturer. The Sennheiser IE7 has comparable subbass quantity but the IE8, the Monster Turbine range, and even the Denon C710 place significantly more emphasis and weight on the lowest lows. In terms of presentation the bass is soft and notes come out warm and somewhat ‘rounded’ – those who like aggressive, edgy bass will likely be disappointed by the RE262’s tactfulness.
It is the midrange, however, that is the true meat of the RE262’s sound. The mids – especially the lower mids – are forward, warm, and very smooth, always remaining at the focal point of the sound signature. ‘Fluid’ is the best word I can think of when it comes to comprehensively describing the mids of the 262. There is none of the thinness commonly associated with the RE0 and, to a lesser extent, the RE-ZERO and RE252, but the RE262 is not a thick-sounding earphone. Excessively thick mids can sound a little sloppy and opaque on a dynamic-driver earphone but the RE262 suffers from none of that – it is a fairly transparent earphone with great detail despite being less crisp compared to, say, the Ety ER4S or DBA-02. Interestingly, excessive midrange ‘bloom’ actually works well for certain armature-based earphones such as the Earsonics SM3, but that’s a matter for another discussion. On the whole, the bottom-skewed midrange balance of the RE262 may not be to everyone’s liking but it is what it is – for those in search of an earphone that emphasizes no particular frequency range and has relatively ‘flat’ mids there’s always the DBA-02 or RE252.
The treble of the RE262 is laid-back but not rolled-off – smooth and completely inoffensive but not missing altogether. The RE262 isn’t a particularly dark earphone despite the lack of treble emphasis and even carries a bit of sparkle at times. Treble detail is good but not RE-ZERO-good and the RE262 doesn’t quite have the airy feel of the RE-ZERO at the top. It is still competent and highly resolving but the energy just isn’t there compared to brighter earphones. I’m not one to pass judgment on a particular sound signature and won’t claim that a brighter presentation is more natural on the whole. I do, however, know that cymbal crashes are supposed to be slightly startling and I don’t get that sense from the RE262. In that respect, too, the RE262 is in good company – its treble is no less prominent than that of the Monster Miles Davis or Westone UM3X – just don’t expect them to match any of the other Head-Direct earphones in top-end presence.
Aside from the seductively fluid midrange the biggest strength of the RE262 for me is the presentation. The earphones boast both and excellent soundstage and headstage – still a relatively rare occurrence in the IEM realm. Compared to my RE-ZERO, the RE262 is decidedly out-of-the-head –sounding. It really gives a great sense of ambient space without losing track of individual instruments or diluting other location cues. Positioning is helped by good — perhaps even excessive – layering; the RE262 really leaves no doubts as to what is in a track’s foreground and what is in the background. When amped, the RE262 sounds even bigger and the soundstage seems to lose its outer limits – something even the stadium-sized sonic space of the IE8 can’t quite pull off. In addition, an amped RE262 needs less volume to shine, revealing more detail and texture at lower output levels. Naturally the effortless dynamics of the earphone are an asset here as well. Tonally, the RE262 makes no attempts to hide its coloration from the listener, but then that’s part of its charm. The RE262 really is a very basic and honest earphone – it doesn’t pretend to be neutral or analytical, nor does it pretend to be a conventional high-end dynamic with loads of subbass power and heavy midbass emphasis – and I like that.
Value (9.5/10) – Despite being enough of a sonic departure for HiFiMan to cause some die-hard fans to feel left out, the RE262 is an incredibly capable earphone with a fairly unique sound signature. There is no doubt in my mind that the older RE252 is the more neutral and accurate set, but it is also the more boring one. The RE262, on the other hand, is quite captivating with its greater (albeit not too great) bass weight, smooth and forward mids, and laid-back, non-fatiguing treble. The lower-end RE-ZERO, too, is crisper-sounding and brighter but lacks the liquidity of the new flagship and its soundstage is quite claustrophobic in comparison. HiFiMan went back to the drawing board with the design as well, which shows with the RE262 being both more durable and more ear-friendly than the RE252. As always, do make sure that the sound signature of the earphone is the right one for you before dropping $150 but aside from that the folks at HiFiMan have done a great job reducing the list of caveats usually attached to their earphones.
Pros: Immersive presentation, seductive midrange, smooth and effortless sound; can be worn over-the-ear
Cons: Still no carrying case included, cable-down fit not for everyone