It’s not often that we hunker down and review in-ear headphones, especially ones in the sub-$100 category. But against some impressive odds, I find myself sitting here at my desk testing out a pair of the HiFiMan RE400i in-ear headphones. And while there are definitely some drawbacks to this earphone, I can’t completely dismiss it.
My first encounter with the RE400i occurred on Amazon, where a wealth of middling reviews made me doubt if these suckers could ever be worth the $79 the manufacturer expects people to pay for them.
However, after a little listening, I still feel there are some reasons why this much put-upon earphone is still worthy of consideration for anyone on a budget.
When you open the RE400i, you may be impressed by the packaging and a wealth of eartips. It also comes with a little clamshell-style semi-hard case. The earpieces themselves feature an aluminum build that is refreshingly compact and lightweight. Once you put them in your ears, there’s a slim chance people will notice them, and an even slimmer chance that they will fall out. Isolation, even on the regular-looking medium-sized silicon tips, is excellent.
The cable is a plasticky, rubbery thing that seems a little stiff at times. While wearing the earphones with the cable hanging straight down from the ears, it had the unfortunate habit of catching on my jacket and jostling the earbuds a bit. Fitting them around the back of my ear, so that I wear them hanging down from the top of my earlobe took care of this issue, and actually improved sound quality a bit, too.
There is a mic and remote on the RE400i and it provides this otherwise-capable headphone with an Achilles Heel. It feels cheap and flimsy and almost every fault people find with this headphone centers on the build quality of the remote.
There may also be an issue with the plug on the latest version of the iPhone 6, occasionally causing music playback to pause, or causing the iPhone to activate Siri – especially when the plug is jostled in, say, a coat pocket.
Now, if you’re like me, and you play music through multiple devices, this last issue may not be that much of a deal breaker. It certainly sucks that the remote has been built to less exacting standards that what you normally find with HiFiMan products, but the fact that playback issues seem to only be occurring in the iPhone 6s is not the end of the world for me. And if you don’t have the latest iPhone (6s or newer), I wouldn’t let it discourage you either.
Why? The sound quality.
Sound on the RE400i is surprisingly detailed for an earphone under $100, much less $80. There’s a certain brightness to the sound that some people will love or hate. Personally, I loved it when listening to classical music – Max Richter’s recomposed Vivaldi, or pretty much anything by Ludovico Einaudi. It’s also decent for more folk-y, acoustic-y recordings, but it may lose some luster when you pair it with harder, more industrial-sounding rock music. Maybe.
There isn’t a lot of bass in the sound, and this may discourage a lot of users right off the bat. However, I’m not a huge basshead, and I was more than happy with the performance of the RE400i when it came to the likes of Mogwai, Slint, PJ Harvey, and Josh Homme’s Desert Sessions. Pink Floyd was different. One one hand I could hear all kinds of crazy stuff in the recordings that I couldn’t hear before – but the bass was a little underplayed. Which kinda sucks when you’re listening to something like “High Hopes” or “Brain Damage”.
All in all, there’s some great things about this headphone. The level of clarity and detail blows other earphones at the same price (and including some around the $100 price point) completely out of the water. The slim profile and inconspicuous look also earn it some points.
But on the down side, there’s that chintzy remote and a wealth of people bitching about it on Amazon, so…
If you’re looking for a clear (if perhaps bright) earphone that doesn’t look horrible, and your price range is anywhere between $79 and $150, consider this earphone. If you tend to like more bass, or you beat the Hell out of your earphones, skip this and get something with better build quality and a crappier sound.