When it comes to finding the right source for the HiFiMAN RE800, I admonish you, seek neutral, or even rolled-off treble. Steer clear of devices attempting anything special in that region. The RE800 will take that “something special” and corrupt it to its dark purpose, twisting those highs into a weapon against our kind.
Also, be prepared to give these things the juice. They require more amperage than both the Meze 99 Classics, and AudioQuest NightOwl.
For my money, the Opus#2 is the perfect DAP. I call it “neutral done right”. Meaning it’s as musical and vibrant, meaty and full as anything, yet very, very flat. While the highs are super well extended, they aren’t bright or aiming for overly energetic. Opus is simply the most natural and realistic-sounding player I’ve heard. This makes it a great source for the RE800, which constantly strays into unrealistic territory with its bright highs. Opus is like an anchor, tethering the IEM to reality as best it can.
As good as the iFi iDSD Black Label is, it does push a bit more energy into the treble. RE800 takes that as encouragement to rampage against our species with genocidal intent. The Black Label was the first DAC I used on the RE800 when it came in. For a while there, I knew only hate for these IEMs. It wasn’t until I tried it on my Opus#2 that I realized there was indeed hope. But no, I do not recommend the iDSD>RE800 setup. They don’t play well with each other.
The Cayin i5 with this IEM is a little splashy, but sounds very good on acoustic music, especially classical. Bass is in full-force with this DAP, and the robust DD sported by the RE800 loves that low-end attention. Things get strident when you put on something like AC/DC, but not as bad as some players. Overall, the very warm i5 is a great partner for this sensitive IEM. Treble is clearly not the focus, and may even be slightly rolled-off. In this case, I call that a good thing.
Shanling’s M2s is everything I just said about the i5, only not quite on the same quality level. In terms of tuning, they are freakishly alike. The treble may be even more rolled off. The soundstage is not as big. Refinement is lacking here and there. But for the most part, if you find yourself pinching pennies, it’s a solid DAP for the RE800.
Opus#1 is my choice for mid-tier awesomeness. Unfortunately, it does have a bit more in the treble department than you’d want for this earphone, so keep it as warm and acoustic as possible. If you do, hot damn! Combining one of the cleanest, clearest, reference-quality DAPs with the most crystalline, detailed IEM is quite the f**king experience. My DSD copy of Salvatore Accardo – Antonio Vivaldi Le Quattro Stagioni was possibly too good to be allowed.
Let me tell you, Pinky was not looking forward to this review. I knew I’d have to come down pretty hard on that goddamn treble, but occasionally I’d have sessions of pure euphoria. It’s definitely a love/hate relationship. My favorite genre, Rock, is hit or miss with the RE800. Very warm Rock, like Led Zeppelin, can sound pretty damn good. A clean master of the The Beatles is only a tad sibilant. But take something like Nirvana’s Nevermind, and it gets grating fast. But switch over to Nirvana Unplugged, and it’s mostly wonderful. Classical music takes these HiFiMAN’s to a whole new plateau.
If you want a life-altering experience, put on an extremely well-recorded binaural record, like one of Amber Rubarth’s. Play it off something like the Opus#1, at least. The RE800’s soundstage explodes outward on all axes. The imaging and separation humiliates every IEM I’ve ever heard. The amount of space and air between elements is on par with only the Sennheiser HD800 full-size open-back headphone. When there is no sibilance on the track, even these brutal savages can’t produce it.
Clearly acoustic, binaural, and classical music is what the HiFiMAN RE800 is made for. It is not the wisest choice for really any other type of recording, though you can still find solid enjoyment from the right albums. There are simply better headphones for that. I dare say there are no better headphones, certainly none that I’ve tested, for the above mentioned genres. The RE800 has a wheelhouse, and it dominates within it. I am in utter awe when these in-ear monitors are fed the correct meal.