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Kevin Hunt - The Electronic Jungle
The Electronic Jungle
3:58 PM EDT, March 15, 2013
It's a long way from Glasgow, Scotland, to your Apple Store, but it shows how far RHA has come since it started making value-priced earphones and headphones in 2011. Here's a look at three models:
Inline remote/microphone: No.
Construction: Plastic earpieces, 10 millimeter Mylar drivers, rubber cable.
Comes with: Three sizes of silicone tips, gold-plated 31/2 mm connector.
Compatibility: Any device with a 31/2 mm jack.
Comment: The MA150, which weighs only 7 grams, is RHA's no-frills earphones priced like disposables — except these are keepers. They're $10 less than Apple's Earpods, though Apple's stock earphones come with an inline remote and microphone.
RHA designed the MA150 with Mylar drivers like those used in its MA450i, cutting costs elsewhere with earphone material (plastic instead of aluminum), cabling (rubber instead of cloth) and the thickness of the silicone eartips (single layer instead of dual-density). It provides no carry case, with plain-brown "eco" packaging made from recycled cardboard.
RHA says its earphone shape was derived from a trumpet's bell — it uses a word associated with a wind instrument's sound production, aerophonic, to describe the design. For less than $20, the MA150 earphones produce a generous midrange and excellent clarity not often heard at this price point. It overemphasized Marc Johnson's bass on "Moments," ultimately losing control, but these are inoffensive earphones with an overall balanced sound. For the money, it's the best buy in this group.
Bargain rating: 9 out of 10
Inline remote/microphone: Yes.
Construction: On-ear design with faux-leather earcups and plastic backing, chrome sliders, 40 mm titanium-coated Mylar drivers, detachable fabric-braided cable.
Comes with: Three-year warranty.
Compatibility: Apple devices and some functions on some Android devices (not guaranteed by RHA), but the detachable inline remote/microphone cable can be swapped for another compatible with non-Apple devices.
Comment: The SA950i gets the best-in-show award for sound, but comfort issues (at least on this plus-size noggin) and portability limitations would make this a poor choice for most mobile listeners.
No matter how I adjusted the SA950i's sliders or positioned the earcups, the headphones seemed to pinch the back of my ears. The headphones, at less than 4 ounces, are light enough for travel but don't fold or collapse into a more portable shape. (Despite the chrome gliders, the SA950i appear more cheaply made than the MA450i.)
RHA doesn't provide a carry case, either, so maybe it assumes these will be stay-at-home headphones.
The SA950i reproduced Johnson's bass lines more faithfully than the other RHA earphones and the Grado iGi. These would be my choice among the RHAs for long-term listening if they were comfortable enough for long-term listening. On another head, perhaps, these might be the best value in this group.
Bargain rating: 6 out of 10
Inline remote/microphone: Yes.
Construction: Machined-aluminum earpieces, 10 mm Mylar drivers, fabric-braided cable.
Comes with: Seven sets of dual-density silicone tips, gold-plated 31/2 mm connector, carry case.
Compatibility: Apple devices only for the inline remote and microphone.
Comment: Two reasons the MA450i is not your typical $50 earphones: the machined-aluminum earpieces and RHA's three-year warranty. (The MA150, with a one-year warranty, is the only product in this roundup with a shorter warranty.)
These were the favorites of this listener because of the overall sound, construction quality and superb fit — the better the seal with the ear, the better the sound, particularly the lower frequencies. Where the MA150's disproportionate bass distracted during playback of sample songs from Swiss-Albania jazz singer Elina Duni's "Matane Malit" and the Marc Johnson-Eliane Elias collaboration "Swept Away," both on ECM Records, the MA450i presented a more coherent, realistic soundstage. This is where the money and materials matter.
The MA450i still lacks some of the "air" in the higher frequencies available in slightly more expensive earphones like the $89 Grado iGi.
Bargain rating: 7 out of 10
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