What about RHA Audio?
RHA Audio is relatively unknown to the audio scene. They are a UK based company making inexpensive headphones and earphones.
The earphone on review today is their flagship RHA MA450i IEM which at 40 pounds is quite low priced when you consider top tier IEMs sell at upwards of $500 these days. These earphones are very similar to RHAs another model (MA350) and share the same housing and drivers. The MA450i scores over its less expensive sibling by offering an inline remote with mic which is compatible with Apple devices. For non-Apple devices, the volume controls don’t work but the mic worked perfectly with my Android phone.
I have over the years used and reviewed many IEMs from mostly Chinese companies such as Head-Direct, Idance, Brainwavz, Sherwood, Soundmagic, Me electric and others. While I have used IEMs from top-tier Europe and US manufacturers like Sennheiser, Ultimate Ears and Shure I have only used their high-end earphones and never their low-end earphones.
The general trend is that top tier earphone manufacturers like AKG, Sennheiser, Shure and others are competitive only at the higher end of the spectrum on account of their higher overheads of having offices and research centers in Europe or in the US. The lower end models are generally not as competitive to Chinese companies since Chinese companies have much lesser overheads which allow them to have better margins.
So I was interested to know what differences a UK based company having its research center in Glasgow Scotland will offer over these Chinese manufacturers.
First off the packaging was very nice, but one thing really caught my eye. RHA Audio MA450i IEM offers you a 3-year warranty! None of my previous wells used IEMs has lasted more than 2 years without facing any problem, and here RHA audio is offering a whole 3 years of warranty! The only few to last more than 3 years were due to limited usage more than anything else.
The build quality of these IEMs scream quality, and if someone told me these were priced at $300 I would have believed them easily. Of course looking like $300 IEMs means very little with regards to sound quality.
|Cable||1.5m Fabric braided|
|Connections||3.5mm Gold plated|
What the specs don’t mention is that the housings are made of aluminum. Different housings affect the sound quality and generally, metal housings contribute to a cold sound signature while wood generally leads to a warmer sound signature.
The rest of the specifications are generally on par with most earphones and the IEMs can easily be used with a portable device or phone with no issues.
If you use an Apple device (iPhone, iPod, iPad) then you can also control the volume via the inline mic and remote. The remote is made of lightweight plastic so you won’t really feel its weight. Things missing was perhaps a shirt clip and maybe double flange or foam tips.
However, there is a generous amount of tips provided, and these tips are unique as in I haven’t seen any other earphones using such tips. I found the tips very comfortable with very good isolation.
That said I found it very difficult to actually fit the tips on the earphones but once they were seated they stayed put. Isolation of the RHA Audio MA450i is stellar and one of the best I have come across for a dynamic IEM. Some BA earphones, however, offer better isolation.
I tested the RHA Audio MA450i out of my Android phone and my Sansa fuze PMP.
Bass – Was slightly on the higher side of neutral with excellent depth, impact and speed. The bass lacked the speed of a Balanced Armature IEM but was fast enough for most music.
There was very little midbass though (flat bass response) but the sub-bass levels did give the bass a slightly warm tone through the overall tonality of the sound was on the colder side. The drivers are large enough to push a decent amount of air to give some realism to the bass.
Mids – Mids were very well detailed, but the notes were a little on the thinner side of neutral and slightly recessed. However, both female and male vocals sounded fine on the RHA. The mids lacked some of the warmth present in the bass.
Treble – Treble was well extended with plenty of detail and energy. Cymbal crashes are well reproduced and guitar strings sound nice. Sibilance was slightly on the higher side but the effect wasn’t overly pronounced as I have issues with sibilance, but I could use the RHA for a reasonably long listening sessions.
Soundstage – Soundstage was more on the intimate side but the main USP of the earphones are imaging and instrument separation. Imaging was really impressive given the price of RHA, and since the notes were a little on the thinner side it was pretty easy to dissect the music playing and concentrate on a single instrument or passage being played.
The RHA Audio MA450i was a real surprise for me. I was under the impression that a UK based company (with the higher overheads of operating in the UK) would not be able to compete in the lower end IEM market and would probably have a better time concentrating on the higher mid-range or top-tier category instead. I have no qualms to admit that I was wrong, and RHA has really surprised me with the MA450i.
Build quality was impeccable. a 3-year warranty is completely unheard of at this price point so RHA must really have faith in their products to offer such a warranty.
The sound quality, of course, has its negatives like a slightly sibilant treble, slightly recessed mids and a smaller soundstage. However, with a more than adequate dose of bass, superb comfort and isolation and really precise imaging makes using this earphone a treat to listen to. However, I rarely turn to the RHA if I need an IEM to casually listen to music like on a train or bus. But if I wish to critically listen to music that is the one I turn to. I know its cliched but with the RHA I can at times hear some new stuff in the songs I have listened to for years as the RHA have excellent detail retrieval thanks to their thinner notes, crisp treble and excellent imaging.
Of course, the RHA Audio MA450i won’t compete with top-tier detail monsters like the Audio Technica C10 or Etymotic Ears ER4p but for 40 pounds they do a fantastic job AND unlike most analytical earphones they offer great bass to boot.
On a whim, I tried the RHA connected to my desktop setup of Music Streamer II with a custom headphone amp and the sound gets even better.
I would gladly give this product a 5-star rating but ill dock half a star for the products low availability. It is currently available only in Europe, North America and Australia New Zealand.
However for overall build quality, warranty and sound this is for all intents and purposes a 5-star product.