PerformanceThe Head-Direct HiFiMAN RE-242 in-ears were left burning in for over 100 hours before we gave them a thorough listen. One of the things you immediately notice with the RE-242s is how easy they are to insert and remove. Due to the design of the ear pieces getting a good seal is really easy. Compared to the older Head-Direct designs the RE-242s are definitely the most comfortable to wear. The earphones were used primarily with the medium sized single flange as they gave the best overall presentation. The soft double flange tips increase the bass amount somewhat, but make the seal a bit harder to achieve.
The earphones were tested on the following rigs: iPhone 4 (headphone out), HiFiMAN HM-801 (headphone out), and HiFiMAN HM-801 (line-out) to RSA Protector amplifier. The RE-242s need a bit of juice to sound good since their sensitivity is low compared to an earphone using balanced armatures. On the iPhone 4 you would have to put to volume to around 40% to get a good listening volume with most modern masterings. Unlike the Head-Direct RE-0 and ZERO in-ears from Head-Direct the RE-242s are much more laid back. They are not analytical in any way and possess a fun warm sound signature which is very appealing.
The bass is definitely there, but there is not a whole lot of it and it does not extend that deep either. Compared to the SoundMagic PL-30 in-ears with the bass set to max the RE-242s probably have a bit less, but it sounds better. Definition wise the bass is pretty well off. The midrange is really good price considered, and has warm sound to it without sounding congested. Treble wise the RE-242s lack a bit of definition, but fare surprisingly well against the Sunrise SW-Xcape in-ears, which offer the same general sound characteristics as the RE-242s. Considering that the RE-242s are roughly one third of the price of the Sunrisem, that makes them really good value for money.
The sound stage is incredible. In this area the RE-242s are miles ahead of the SoundMagic PL-30s which are to be considered its main rival in the sub $30 price tier. Compared to the PL30s the RE-242's design is much more handy and easier to get a good seal from. Microphonic noise is roughly the same with the shirt clip on. The RE-242s are more transparent than the PL30s without having quite as edgy a sound which makes them less fatiguing to listen to on modern recordings.