But the RE-262’s not only go low, as on pipe organ material, but also tackle with gusto those low frequency instruments that have more transient snap and punch, or that rely on subtle variations in low-frequency textures and timbres. Listen closely, for example, to Avishai Cohen’s acoustic bass on “Bass Suite No. 1” from Cohen’s Adama [Stretch Records]. You’ll find it captures the initial “jump” and resonant sustain of the bass strings, while giving you a clear-cut sense for the resonances of the large wooden body of the instrument. Note, too, the way that the RE-262 captures very subtle variations in Cohen’s finger and plucking notes—letting you feel as much as hear the effort he puts into bending or sliding some notes. But perhaps the most spectacular effect comes when Cohen accents certain plucked or sustained bass notes by rapping his knuckles against the body of the instrument to create counter-rhythms. Those knuckle raps sound amazingly realistic.
Few earphones this price can dig more deeply (or articulately) into music’s lower octaves the way that this one can.
Articulate, Vibrant, Lifelike Mids: Most of the music really does live in the midrange, and the RE-262’s honor that fact with mids that are evenly balanced and that—more importantly—are rich in luscious tonal colors and textures. The result is a sound that, more so than is the norm for this class, pulls you in and holds your attention through both its richness and dynamically expressive qualities. This, along with the killer bass mentioned above, is what makes the RE-262 sound like a higher-end model than its price would suggest.
One recording that shows these qualities to particularly good effect is violin virtuoso Hilary Hahn’s performance on the first movement of the Meyer Violin Concerto [Sony]. While portions of this movement are briskly paced, I would not call it a showcase for violin pyrotechnics; instead, what makes the movement work are its slower passages where the voice of the solo violin sings out sweetly and purely—at time sounding terrifically alone and exposed. The RE-262’s let you hear how Hahn deftly balances technical mastery of her instrument with an equally important quality of musical soulfulness. I’m not talking about sloppy romanticism, here, but rather about honest emotion and sensitivity to the sheer beauty of the music—a quality that fills Hahn’s performance with energy, purpose, and life. What the RE-262’s do so well is to put the you in touch with the articulacy and liveliness of music without turning listening into a sterile technical exercise whose objective is to see which earphone can reproduce the most detail or carve the most abrupt transients.
Clear, Smooth Highs: Many earphones that strive for a detailed sound do so at the expense of highs that are either overly prominent or that easily become edgy and brittle sounding. Happily, the RE-262 has neither problem, as its highs are unfailingly graceful and smooth, albeit ever so slightly subdued. Even so, I think many listeners will appreciate the compromise HiFiMAN has drawn.
The RE-262 offers a healthy measure of treble detail, but without any of the downsides that treble detail sometimes implies: there is no tendency toward piercingly overblown high-frequency transients, no blare or glare in the critical upper midrange/lower treble region, and no overheated treble textures scorching their way into your skull. Instead, the RE-262’s highs are always clear, yet at the same time gentle, engaging, and easy to live with.
Like certain fine high-end loudspeakers, the RE-262 thrives on well-recorded treble material, though it will not create the illusion of treble “air” or “detail” in recordings that don’t actually possess those qualities (which is all to the good). But when the recording is up to the task, the RE-262 can sound extremely detailed and revealing.
For a good example of this, listen to the track “Farrucas” from flamenco guitarist Pepe Romero’s Flamenco [Lim, K2HD CD remaster of the Philips original]. What makes this recording jump to life is not only Romero’s fleet-fingered guitar work, whose light-speed runs and trills the RE-262 handles with ease, but the spectacular rhythm accompaniment, which includes the sound of flamenco dancers shoes reverberating within the recording space, as castanets and handclaps keep time in the background. This track features a remarkable variety of high-pitched transient and textural sounds—all of them at play at once, and the RE-262 does a great job of delineating them cleanly and clearly. There is no mistaking, for instance, a handclap for the snap of a castanet or the harder, sharper crack of shoe heels striking the floor. Each treble sound is preserved, separate and distinct from the others.