UPDATED REVIEW (1/11/13)
I really hope the emperor isn't in the nip.. if it turns out he hasn't got any new clothes and is parading around in the nuddie then I'm going to look a bit daft here.
The short version of my advice is to play 'em hard and loud for a few hours to break them in before judging the sound quality.
In my original review (below) I really liked everything about these in-ear headphones except for the most important thing - the sound (oh, and the lack of right-angled jack connector). A month on, and after about 6 weeks of use, I think things have improved significantly, hence this update to my review.
The comments to this review, from both other users and from RHA themselves, suggested that my problems with sound quality were likely to be related to finding the best fit tips for the headphones. While I have some experience with other ear-buds from other manufacturers, and while the fit and outside noise isolation with these seemed good I just could not get the sound right regardless of which tips I used.
It was actually user 'StarkRavingMad's comment that put me on the right track in the end. I'd been listening to quieter, more relaxing music generally (though had tested with everything from classical, folk, industrial dance, guitar indie and spoken word) and was generally listening at quite low level while reading on my daily commute.
After reading StarkRavingMad's comment about breaking in, I decided to crank thing sup a bit and for the last couple of weeks I've been listening to the Chilli Peppers, The Prodigy, Nine Inch Nails and Transglobal Underground at pretty high volume in an attempt to loosen up whatever needs to be loosened in these buds. (It's a testament to the noise isolation quality in these headphones that I haven't once been nudged by a fellow commuter for annoying them with the loud playback on the train).
I'm actually back on the silicone tips that I'd first settled on - the double flanged being too long for me and the foam being a bit too hard as other have commented.
The sound reproduction seems to have leveled out quote nicely. As my original review says, to start with I felt that the sound almost felt like it was being run through a couple of 'notch' filters that were dropping certain frequency ranges. That effect seems to have disappeared now. So, either the breaking in process with a few hours of loud music has worked a treat, or I've trashed my hearing by playing my music too loud. (Either that or the emperor is running around with all his glory on show and I've just got used to what everyone else thought was 'gorgeous' sound in the first place).
I still have a bit of trouble getting the buds placed correctly in my ears, but the over-ear loop really helps keep them there once that's right. And I can't give five stars because the lack of a right-angle jack was a real drop off for me. But in terms of sound quality, I uprating these a good chunk. If I could give a half I'd be upping the rating to 4.5 stars.
Revised score breakdown:
- 9/10 for build simply because there is no right angled jack connector,
- 9/10 for sound reproduction
- 10/10 for comfort and looks.
[ORIGINAL REVIEW (2/10/13): Look and feel great quality - but I'm struggling a bit with the sound quality.]
I'm actually worried about writing this review as every time I write something that is negatively contrary to the popular opinion I'm down-voted. However I have to be honest - especially when people could be forking over eighty quid for these ear-buds.
First of all the package looks absolutely brilliant. These are well constructed and well designed. They are very comfortable to wear - the over-ear molding meaning the way I've been wearing ear-buds for years is now actually comfortable! - and the cable and connectors are incredibly solid and 'industrial'.
The inclusion of so many buds - different sizes and multiple pairs of each size - including both silicone and memory foam options is very very welcome. With ear-buds getting the right fit is crucial both for noise isolation and sound reproduction (loss of bass response being a particular problem if the buds don't sit far enough in your ear). The choice here means that won't be a problem, or at least the size and fit of the buds won't be the cause of any audio quality problem.
The buds come in a pretty lavish package with a carry case and a metal plate that houses all of the bud options - the plate and phones fit in the case snuggly but without much problem.
My first criticism, however, is that the 3.5mm jack is a straight jack, not a 90 degree jack. And in a package with so many bits I was surprised to see no 90 degree adapter included. A 90 degree jack works with (almost?) any kit, but a straight jack means that any kit with a side mounted jack socket - such as my trust Cowon iAudio x5 music player - is a problem.
Indeed, after just a day and a half of use the protruding jack on these 'phones caused a recurrent fault on the x5 to resurface. The jack socket on this player is prone to dry / cracked joints and any flexing of the jack plug causes crackling audio. I ended up having to dismantle the player and re-solder the jack socket connections to get the audio back. The long term solution was to buy a 3.5mm Stereo Jack Socket to 3.5mm Stereo Male Right Angle Plug Gold
to plug these phones into - that seems to have done the trick.
Now the controversial bit. I'm just not that impressed with the quality of the sound reproduction, sorry. I know that just about every review here is raving about how good they sound, but I'm just not convinced. Don't get me wrong, they don't sound bad - far from it, in fact - but they just don't sound that good either. (To put this in context I was a sound engineer for TV for a number of years and am now a broadcast systems engineer which still includes sound so I am pretty critical of audio.) My old, sadly now dead, Sony EX-71 ear-buds far out performed these in terms of audio quality and were less than half the price. When I replaced the EX-71s the replacement were close but not quite as good though the price was comparable. These are closer to those replacements than the EX-71s.
So what's wrong with the sound? I just don't find it 'full' enough. There seem to be bits missing. The top end seems a bit too much, the bottom end seems fine, but there are bits in the middle that don't seem to come through. I've fiddled with eq to try to get things right and improved things a bit, but I just don't seem to be able to get a genuinely balanced spread of frequencies. I've come directly from a set of Marley Destiny Collection TTR TrenchTown Rock Active Noise Isolating Over Ear Headphones with Mic and One Button Controller EM-DH001-IO
full size cans so some eq adjustment was going to be necessary, but I've never had to play quite this much to get a set of 'phones just right.
They are definitely usable, though, and the Marleys have been packed away for now, but for eighty quid I'd expect a bit more (the old EX-71s were about thirty quid for comparison).
I expect unhelpful vote for this review as the vast majority of other people seem to find these 'insanely good' and 'gorgeous'. I'm afraid I don't. In terms of build and noise isolation they're great, in terms of audio quality I find them good and not much more than that. Note that I have tried them on my trust iAudio x5 (mp3 @256kbps, ogg and various other formats) and directly from my HiFi (CDs). Personally I just don't find the sound that impressive - I've heard better. It may be personal taste, but as I've said I find some frequencies seem to be lacking. Unusually this is not the bottom end, it seems to be a few ranges in the mid-range.
I am, however, giving them 4 out of 5 as they really are not bad headphones.
To break-down that score:
- I'd actually rate them 9/10 for build simply because there is no right angled jack connector,
- I'd give 7.5/10 for sound reproduction
- and a full 10/10 for comfort and looks.
As sound reproduction is top priority for me that has to bring the overall score down a star.
[Tested with various music styles including indie, rock, pop, dance and folk. Also a bit of a TV programme - actually it was the spoken word in the TV programme that seemed to be most faithfully reproduced.]