Head-Direct RE2 inner earphone in Review – Almost perfect at 39$

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In the quest for the ultimate headphone, TMA has bumped into some great low-priced options as well ubiquitous top-tier earphones. Head-Direct, American distributor for fine Chinese headphone equipment, began production of its own headphone line in 2008: the RE series. The current top spot is domineered by the RE0, a headphone that only a year ago cost about double, but now happily resides at 99$. Today, the RE2 which last year cost 99$ is on table at TMA and ready to purchase at Head-Direct for only 39 bones.

Specifications:

  • Driver unit: 9mm
  • Impedance: 32ohm
  • Sensitivity: 103dB/1mW
  • Rate input: 10mw
  • Max. input:    30mw
  • Frequency response: 20Hz ~ 18KHZ
  • Cable length: 1,4 metres

The Package
Since initial production, the RE series’ packaging has undergone a few changes. Our sample is housed in a quality pleather case that belies the RE2’s pricepoint. Inside, there are several pairs of double-flanged silicon earpieces, several more single flanges, interchangeable filters and, a shirt clip. Other versions I have seen come in a more traditional cardboard boxes and may or may not include an extension cable. Y-splits and cinchers too, come in several differing styles.

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Emblazoned on the pleather jewel-case are the words, “Product of China” – a proud message which Head-Direct endorses on its high-quality products. Indeed, Head-Direct deal in audiophile spades. From headphones like the RE2 that can be had for less than 40$ to Electrostatic HE-Audio phones that sell for nearly 1500$, Head-Direct deal with a select few hi-end and meticulously ordered Chinese companies.

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Fitting the RE2, like any inner earphone, consists of a push and twist (or the reverse) combined with finding the right tip. Fortunately, Head-Direct didn’t leave users with only a few ear pieces. For my awkward ears, the longer translucent dual flanges are the most comfortable and best suit my musical tastes. If fit is a problem, experiment; earplug foams and other vendors’ ear pieces may be to your liking. But again, the RE2 comes with a veritable arsenal in its fit-kit, so most people will have little to worry about.

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Like its more expensive siblings, the RE2 is a semi-open design which features 7 rear-mounted breathing ports which aid bass reproduction and improve echo characteristics. Because of the open design, however, there is less isolation and many other inner earphones. Worn outside, wind noises can creep into your music and at times react slightly with the driver and you will hear a slightly muffled version of the world around you. Again, this earphone is not designed to truly isolate the outside – the semi-open design is engineered to provide sonic excellence, not environmental ignorance.

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Cable
Cables go through more stress than any other part of the earphone, but even posh manufacturers such as Ultimate Ears fail to deliver good cables with strong bumpers to customers.

Recent RE2 models come with the afore-mentioned hybrid cable which is very strong and not easily tangled. Unfortunately, like many earphones, it lacks stress relief bumpers along its length and is terminated by the weaker straight plug. Sadly, the RE2 cable is also extremely microphonic; any movement will drive the cable to tremulous behaviour in the ear. In fact, it is so tremulous that at times that I long for even the poorly built Monster Turbine cable especially when worn over the ears. But even worn in such a position, the cable’s smooth hybrid surface effectively creates its own accompanying soundtrack, complete with bumps, grating sounds and an energetic tapping that is annoying. Fortunately, the included shirt clip can be used to help alleviate microphonics and aid fit.

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No stress relief, but a great clip!

No stress relief, but a great clip!

Onto the Music!
The RE2 is no slouch in any genre, but performs especially well in genres that rely heavily on forward mid-ranges. The following albums are excellent companions to the RE2’s sound signature and indicative of its performance with vocal, pop, hip-hop, folk as well as faster musical genres.

Nick Cave – The Boatman’s Call(UK) Nick Cave – The Boatman’s Call (AUS)
While still brooding and dark, this Cave album is wrought with an unkempt soul and melody. It could be considered a signature work that pulls listeners into the ballad-full lair of alternative’s godfather. In order to do it right, headphones need the right attitude in order to beautify Cave’s sometimes lustless music.

Yelle – Pop Up – Version Deluxe
Yelle is everything to all people – maybe. She is pop, but has her hand in rock and the speedy lanes of electronic music. Ce Ju and Les Femmes hit with hard bass, but are well controlled songs with a great focus and vocal energy. The boppy beats are of course, ripe for the remixing.

MC Solaar – Mach 6
Mach 6 is simply a phenomenal album. A mix of Pop and hip hop with great bass, lusty lyrics and fast singing, it is a benchmark for a historied genre. MC Solaar’s voice is silky and yet quick – splendid with the right earphone. La vie est belle and Introspection remain my benchmarks for hip-hop because of their pace, melody and quick instrumental work.

Sound
A simple ‘Wow!’ would suffice. The RE2 is better at everything when compared to its many rivals: it isn’t dark, overly bright or sibilant. There is a good sense of stage and instrument placement, and for 39$, the RE2 is the king of the price/performance jungle.

Its bass is rich and well extended. Both electronic and natural instruments sound great, and while bass isn’t excessive, it is encouragingly deep and resonant. Body, space and detail – the low frequency is stunning. Whereas Nuforce’s NE7M tendstoward the darker in atmospheric music, the RE2 will spryly sing according to the mood of the song. For this reason, Nick Cave’s People Ain’t No Good, accentuated by at times, the barest of bass tones, is perfectly voiced and appropriately dark, yet remains clean and unstuffy. MC Solaar’s music at no time is overpowering or obtusely resonant in the 100-350 Hz bass lines. After smoothly passing my hip hop and alternative bass test, how did the RE2 fare with Yelle? She was brilliant in every instance in both artificial and instrumental bass thanks to Head-Direct’s brilliantly voiced earphone.

If your passion is bass quantity, there are other, better options. The MetroFi 220vi hit with more force as does Monster’s Turbine and the Nuforce NE7M, but the RE2, not far behind, never lacks for speed, reaction time or clarity. For sheer quality, it is a step above the Nuforce and fights evenly, though in parallel with the MetroFi.

The open-port design directs mid-range production with perfectly placed instruments and vocals that suffer nary a bad echo or reverberation. Rock, pop, jazz – even the more intricately composed classical and trance genres never catch Head-Direct’s RE2 off-guard. If bass was good with the RE2, mids are better – in fact, they are unparalleled in any sub 100$ earphone I have used. Singer’s voices are smooth, organic and full of passion; in music that shies away from the brooding atmosphere, the RE2 is clinical and clean; and in music that cries with emotion, the RE2 also, cries. Mid-range poise, finesse and clarity are the finest selling points for this earphone.

Fortunately, high frequencies do not suffer and the hands of a forward midrange. There is not a hint of sibilance or grain in the RE2. Its driver responds quickly, shimmers, resolves details and picks out cymbals, drum kits and wind instruments keenly. However, similar to most dynamic earphones, the RE2 is not overly bright and for fans of balanced armatures, may seem slightly veiled. An altruistic hero, it defends excellent bass and the richest of mids with what can only be described as a casual treble.

Staging and Separation
Bright headphones give the impression of space, speed and detail and often fail when faced with tangible low notes. The RE2 is a midway point between detailed, pin-point treble-accurate phones like the Audeo PFE and bass-detailed phones like the Turbine. The open design allows for a wider stage than most other dynamic phones, but bows out to the superior Sennheiser IE8. Deft and able, both stage and instrument separation are well-rendered; again, bettering the currently more expensive Nuforce and Ultimate Ears’ models.

For the Ophidiophobic, the RE2, while not noise-free, hisses much less than some other earphones. Owners of the first generation iPod touch and iPhone will likely look for the snake in the grass, but later generation owners won’t be stomping any heads.

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Conclusion
I will say it: Wow! This now-39$ product wipes the floor with the sound of previous low-cost benchmarks, but considering its introductory price of 99$, a little rev under the bonnet should be expected. If it were not for the truly sub-par cable microphonics and overall construction, these would be the easiest Kiss among many suitors. As it is, the RE2 is an excellent sounding, solidly constructed inner earphone that suffers from a sub-par cable and is hardily Grabbed by TouchMyApps.

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App Summary
Title:Head-Direct RE2Developer:Head-Direct
Price:$39 (was $99)
  • Great protective case
  • Best-in-class sound quality
  • Great Fit Kit
  • Well-constructed (other than cable)
  • No stress relief and highly energetic and microphonic cable.
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Please also take a look at our Headphone section or, if you want to read other low-cost hifi earphone reviews, check below:
Nuforce NE7M Mobile Phone Compatible Inner Earphones in Review

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