Whenever I'm on the New York subway I see lots of folks using the free ear buds that came with their phones, and I think that's a shame. It's not just the buds' so-so sound, those little buggers provide zero isolation from external noise. To be clear about this, ear buds rest on the outer folds of your ears, in-ear headphones like the new Hifiman RE300 fits inside your ear canals. So they function like earplugs, suppressing some of the noise around you. Right there, that's the biggest difference between ear buds and in-ears, because once you're not forced to play music loud enough to overcome external noise you can turn the volume down. In-ear headphones also produce another benefit: deeper, more powerful bass than most ear buds.
The thing that first grabbed me about the RE300's sound was its sweet demeanor, it's not bright or overly bassy. Its mellow character makes even harsh MP3s easy on the ears. The RE300's soft, forgiving nature lacks the crisp detail of the next model in the Hifiman line,, so if you crave maximum resolution go for that one.
With electronica wizards Aphex Twin's new "Syro" album the RE300 the low bass beats and thumps have plenty of weight; Boards of Canada's chugging "Happy Cycling" set my toes a tapping. Acoustic music sounded pleasantly rich, vocals are natural. The orchestral strings floating through Annie Lennox's new "Nostalgia" record sound like the real thing.
The RE300's driver size is listed as 8.5mm. This headphone boasts above average sensitivity, 108 dB/1mW, and its low impedance, just 16 Ohms, makes it super-easy to drive. Even the feeblest phones and MP3 players will rock your world with a set of RE300s. I credit the incredibly tiny ear pieces with this headphone's above average comfort (the image at the top of this page doesn't show show the proper scale of the two headphones).
There are three RE300 models, I used the RE300h, it has a "straight" cable, but if you need a mic and inline controls, opt for the RE300a for Android phones or a RE300i for iPhones (those last two have 32 Ohm impedance ratings). One concern, some users have noted the RE300's bulky, L-shape 3.5mm plug has compatibility issues with some phones in cases.
All three RE300 models come in black or white and sell in the US for $49, they will soon be available in the UK for £35, and in Australia for AU$59. The RE300 is terrific, but the RE400 is definitely worth paying a little extra for. Right now it's $79, £59 in the UK, and AU$99 in Australia.