Head-Direct, commonly known to the western world – especially the USA – as an importer of quality Chinese audio gear (Yuin, Darkvoice, HE Audio, etc), recently released a range of in-ear phones under their own brand name.
Ranging from the inexpensive RE2 ($39) to the RE1 ($139) and the flagship RE0 ($169) model, we’ll take a closer look at the latter one. Let’s see if the sound quality justifies the rather high price for a dynamic driver IEM.
- Head-Direct RE0 Specs
- Driver: 9mm dynamic
- Impedance: 64 Ohm @ 1kHz
- Sensitivity: 100dB @ 1mW
- Frequency response: 15Hz – 22kHz
- Cable: 120cm (Y-style), 75cm extension, straight 3.5mm gold-plated plugs
- Accessories: Case, silicon tips, protective filters
The RE0 come with a somewhat ostentatious pleather case, great for storing the various tips and filters at home, but not really all that portable due to its size.
Inside the case we find a plethora of silicon tips. Most of them are double flanged, in various sizes, colors, and shapes. The single flanged ones are of your average small, medium, and large varieties.
It seems Head-Direct sourced the various tips from more than one manufacturer: some of them are rather hard to get onto the nozzle of the phones while other ones are too loose, falling off easily or getting stuck in your ears.
The 75cm extension cord might come in handy for home listening, bringing the whole cord length to almost 2 meters. A nice gesture of Head-Direct to include it with the phones.
Design, Build, Specs
The design… how do I put this politely? The RE0 are undeniably inspired by the V-Moda Vibes, but their overall form factor is more along the lines of well known Foster Japan OEM phones, like the Sennheiser CX 300 or Creative EP-630. It might not be very original but it works. The phones are comfortable and their in-ear fit is rather secure. The housing is all metal, by the way.
The cable feels rather cheap; it’s something I would expect on a $20 IEM, not a $170 one. It’s quite stiff and tangles easily. When wearing the RE0 the usual way with the cables hanging down and on the outside of your clothes, cable noise (“microphonics”) is rather bad, but once you wear the cable up around your ears and on the inside of your shirt the noise is reduced to a negligible level. I can’t say anything about the long-term durability of the cable yet – only time will tell.
Another source of unwanted noise is apparent in windy weather or while biking – the RE0 are quite susceptible to wind noise, perhaps due to their semi-open (?) design and the two holes on the back of the housing.
This brings me to the least confidence inspiring aspect of the phones: the shabby paper/felt filters on the sound canals. I’ve only seen those on very cheap OEM phones from Dealextreme and the like, and on the badly built MylarOne X3i. Most decent brand IEMs – no matter what price range – usually sport a metal mesh instead. While trying to put one of the tighter fitting silicon tips on the RE0 I nearly ripped the filters in half. There are four more pairs of filters coming with the phones, but I might just try to glue a metal mesh from another phone on the RE0 instead.
Head-Direct might have to cut costs somewhere to offer the RE0’s sound quality at a – more or less – reasonable price, but I’m not 100% convinced some tiny improvements in build quality would have made the phones that much more expensive. Nevertheless, the phones work the way they’re made, and the few issues are not overly distracting.
Isolation from outside noise is about average, no matter if you use single or double flanged silicon tips. They’re more or less like most other IEMs out there – not as isolating as Shure or Etymotic phones, and not as open as V-Moda Vibes.
The 64 Ohm impedance of the phones is perfect – they work well with any reasonable audio player. They might not make your ears bleed with unbearable volume levels, but that’s not what they’re about anyway: they deliver sound quality over quantity. Advantages of this rather high-ish impedance are that the phones “fix” many of the shortcomings of badly implemented amp/DAC circuits often found in DAPs. The RE0 don’t hiss with any player, display no rolled-off bass, and improve stereo crosstalk (better stereo channel separation aka. “soundstage”).
I wish companies like Ultimate Ears or Shure would take note and consider manufacturing phones without their usual insanely low impedances and too high sensitivity. While these kinds of phones clearly need a dedicated headphone amp to sound their best (or rather to fix the flaws of the players they’re connected to), the RE0 don’t necessarily need to be amped. Except maybe when they’re connected to a player with seriously weak output in need of a volume boost – but even my Sansa Clip is powerful enough for the RE0. On the other hand, an amp might give the RE0 a tiny bit more punch, dynamics, channel separation in general – but for me the differences appear to be rather subtle and maybe not worth the added bulk.
The RE0’s bass is very similar to the Shure SE530. A bit more than average, so things don’t get too thin and boring, but not overly exaggerated. Even though the bass doesn’t extend all too deep without rolling off and having a slight midbass hump (just like the SE530), the bass detail and texture is very fine. It’s way above the quality of one-note “disco” bass IEMs. I just wish it would extend evenly to the lowest octave, like the UE11, Phonak Audéo, or Future Sonics Atrio.
The midrange is very pleasing. It’s lush, smooth, and not recessed. It’s not the most analytical; it’s more like the Future Sonics Atrio, and almost like the king of midrange, the Shure SE530. It appears less “thin” than on analytical phones like Etymotic, Phonak Audéo, or q-Jays – which certainly might not be a bad thing for enjoying some tunes – instead of monitoring mix quality.
Treble is somewhat forward sounding, along the lines of the Phonak Audéo, but n
ot exactly of the same high quality. It can be unforgiving with badly recorded material, resulting in sssss… sibilance. It can sound harsh at times, but it’s still of decent quality. All in all, the upper extension of the treble is rather high; nothing of the audible frequency range appears to be missing. I’ve heard lots of other IEMs that don’t reach as high as the RE0.
Clarity and instrument separation is – as expected – very good on the RE0. They don’t have to be afraid of being compared to some balanced multi-armature IEMs that cost a lot more. They work well with orchestral pieces and metal, both of which are rather difficult to reproduce with tiny dynamic drivers in general.
Soundstage, on the other hand, is nothing special. It’s average to sub-par on the RE0, not nearly as spacious as many other IEMs. It’s not as claustrophobic and narrow as the Etymotic ER-6, but nowhere as wide as the V-Moda Vibes, Super.Fi 5, SE530, or other ones with exceptional soundstage.
The RE0 are very nice dynamic driver in-ear phones. Actually they’re among the most balanced and precise I’ve heard so far (no, unfortunately I haven’t heard the Sennheiser IE8 yet). They might not have the bass impact of the Atrios or the soundstage of the V-Moda Vibes, but the RE0 dynamic driver’s clarity comes close to some high priced armature IEMs, and their treble extension surpasses many other in-ear phones. Slight sibilance is the price to pay for that with some recordings, but with well mastered material they’re well behaved.
While the build quality is nothing special, the sound is worth the price. No matter if you throw Rock, Jazz, Classical, or anything in between at them, they perform well.
- Balanced sound, slightly forward treble
- Very good precision and clarity for a dynamic driver
- Perfect impedance for problematic audio players
- Slight sibilance with some audio material
- Soundstage could be better
- Cheap paper/felt filters, stiff cable
The RE0 can be purchased for $169 (incl. shipping) from Head-Direct.