Admired by headphone obsessives for its value-focused audio gear, HiFiMan has debuted RE300i ($50), a budget-priced earphone model targeted at iPod, iPhone, and iPad users. Featuring an integrated three-button remote control and mic unit, RE300i’s glossy white all-plastic construction and sparing collection of pack-ins have a distinctly OEM-style first impression. But the inclusion of extra filters — the little parts between the earphones and your ear — and the oversized, not-particularly-case-compatible 3.5mm headphone plug make RE300i stand out as designed with extra durability. We don’t really review $50 earphones any more, but we’ll be adding some brief impressions of the RE300i along with the 1.5-year old RE-400 Waterline ($100), the well-regarded black and silver model also shown here. RE-400 lacks a remote but has a more compatible headphone plug, titanium-coated drivers, and metal housings. While RE-400 comes in a small box without a carrying case, it appears that HiFiMan is bundling the case — plus two sets of Comply eartips and a large collection of rubber tips – with orders.
After testing the RE300i and RE-400, we can see why HiFiMan’s fans have been so consistently pleased with the brand. Each of the headphones offers uncommon sonic clarity at its price point, though their sound signatures are not the same, nor are their features or our ability to recommend them to Apple device users.
The RE300i would normally be a fairly easy pair of canalphones to recommend to users. Small, affordable, and built with the aforementioned Apple three-button remote and microphone housing, RE300i impressed us quickly with clear and reasonably balanced sound that was only a little anemic on the treble side and a hint too artificial in the bass department. We really liked the sound, and though there was room for improvement on both sides of the spectrum, the mids and overall clarity were impressive, as was the warmth of the bass. The problem is the headphone plug, which is gigantic and so case-incompatible that we can’t actually use it with any of our encased Apple devices. For this reason, despite liking the sound here, we wouldn’t recommend RE300i to most of our readers.
By comparison, RE-400 Waterline has nothing specific to appeal to Apple users. There’s no integrated remote and mic, the look and feel are a couple of generations behind Apple’s color patterns, and the headphone plug—while more case-compatible than RE300i due to a tapered base—is still on the big and chunky side. You also give up some of the bass offered by RE300i, which many users, including a lot of budget-conscious ones, would consider a fault. This is a very neutral-sounding earphone.
But the comfort level offered by numerous included eartips and the clarity delivered by the miniature speakers are certainly extremely compelling to serious listeners. RE-400 is akin to earlier Etymotic earphones in producing very clean, crisp sound that isn’t particularly thumpy but works really well for technical listening and revealing extra detail in songs. This is an uncommon asset for $100 earphones, and if you like that type of sound signature—at this price point—you’ll appreciate the very nice build quality and overall value of the RE-400 set. We’re not rating either of these models, but hopefully will be able to test a sequel to the RE-400 in a more timely fashion whenever it’s released.
Company and Price
Compatible: All iPods, iPhones + iPads