Itâ€™s a common story. â€œPrettyâ€/flashy headphones generally sound like garbage. Or, they are priced so high because of the high $$ in design work that purely based on sound, theyâ€™re several times too high in terms of competing headphones that put sound first. And therein lies the problem, too many popular, mainstream headphone brands but design first and sound second. Headphones are not and never have been a fashion piece yet companies try to make them be. In the end you get a product that makes you look absolutely stupid worn as a fashion accessory and at the same time, weak in the one area that really matters: sound quality. Every once in a while, however, youâ€™ll get a manufacturer that manages to put out a product thatâ€™s pretty good at both. While Iâ€™m still looking for the holy grail of well designed and sonically awesome headphones, the latest pair Iâ€™ve tested are closer than ever.
RHA is a fairly new name in headphones. Theyâ€™ve only been around a few years. Thankfully I was fortunate enough to check out several of their products early on which intrigued me with their lower price points but at said price points, good to great audio quality. Fast forward a couple years and design has become important. And after a couple weeks with their T10iâ€™s, I can say that (thankfully), while design has become more important, RHA has not let audio quality slide.
Hardware & Design
With the T10i, RHA went with a tried and true design?â€”?aluminum. While cold and sterile to the touch, aluminum is solid, strong and looks nice when done right.
Packed in the box (a very well put together box Iâ€™ll add) are a boatload of ear tip sizes and types as well as 3 pairs of filters. Sound filters are still a fairly rare thing in the in-ear space. High end models generally donâ€™t make use of them and lower end models are, well, low end. Itâ€™s in that mid-range area where filters are being experimented with. And Iâ€™m all for it. Headphones are very much a subjective thing as ear canals are like fingerprints. Most are unique and different. A pair of headphones that sound overly bright to me, may sound simply flat to someone else. Also, one must take into account hearing damage and/or age. All of these play into the sound characteristics. And with swappable sound filters, it gives end users a little bit of control. And considering the T10iâ€™s are $200, that control is very much appreciated.
Besides the fantastic unboxing experience and aluminum design, the T10iâ€™s ooze quality even in the cabling. Some manufacturers use â€œanti-tangleâ€ cords. In my experience, though, they tangle just as much as any other cable. The T10iâ€™s use a non-braided, but noticeably thicker cable as well as heavier duty, heftier 1.8mm headphone plug at the end. The weighty feel to the entire pair of headphones feels nice and robust.
There are only two things I donâ€™t care for on the physical side of things. First are the firm(ish) ear loop covers. Theyâ€™re somewhat stiff and pliable to mold the wires around your ears and therefore keep them falling off (great for gym goers). But compared to some other models Iâ€™ve used, this part of the cable is abnormally long and too far on the softer side, meaning the mold you make deforms rather easily. Itâ€™s not a deal breaker for me personally, but I can see some with more active lifestyles (who also focus on that) might want to look elsewhere for headphones. Second, volume up/down and play/pause/ff buttons on the in-line remote, while encased in a solid chunk of aluminum, are hard to feel quickly at a glance. Also, while the play/pause/ff is easier to discern thanks to the valley it resides in, the click travel of the button is very small, meaning accidental pauses when I meant to skip a song were fairly common.
The holy grail. If your headphones donâ€™t sound good relative to their price point, Iâ€™m sorry, you donâ€™t have a product. RHA has a product. But it takes a tad bit of work. It all revolves around the filters. Out of the box, the T10iâ€™s ship with the â€œreferenceâ€ filters installed. For those new to this level of audio, â€œreferenceâ€ refers to (or should refer to) flat. Thereâ€™s no noticeable bumps in the lows, mids, or highs. However, for me, the reference filters sounded like there was a noticeable bump in the low end as it was fairly bass heavy. Now, thatâ€™s not really the filtersâ€™ fault. That has more to do with the T10iâ€™s drivers and design. (That said, itâ€™s not a bad sound.) In some songs, this actually turned out to be a fun way to listen to them, giving the low end a force and presence not normally there. In busier songs, though, it caused some details to be lost behind the wall of bass. Switching over to the treble filters did help in bringing the mid and higher ranges forward and subduing the bass noticeably. While some songs lost that very strong presence of bass (the kind you could almost feel), the songs that were created with that level of bass in the studio still had it. While itâ€™s sometimes fun to less to that artificial level of bass on songs that werenâ€™t originally recorded that way, I ultimately like a more dynamic soundscape for my music.
Iâ€™m proud to say that I did not personally ever hear any sibilance, even with the treble filters installed. Sibilance (harsh â€œSâ€ sounds) are one of my biggest pet peeves.
I tried out the bass filters for a little while (by far the least used during my time with the T10iâ€™s) and found that they were only usable on bass-heavy music such as rap/hip-hop, electronic, dub-step, etc. And even then it could get a bit tiresome in extended listening sessions. If I had to pick a pair of filters to use as go-toâ€™s for daily use, it would be the treble filters on the T10iâ€™s. They produce a better overall sound for the types of electronic/metal/indie concoction I listen to. For extended rap/electronic music Iâ€™d probably switch back to the reference filters.
*After reading some reviews of the T20â€™s, RHAâ€™s more balanced, dual coil design aimed at more audiophile sound characteristics, Iâ€™m intrigued about a comparison down the road to see how both the headphones and the filtersâ€™ influence differs. From what Iâ€™ve read thus far, the T20 responds more noticeably to the filters because of a much flatter frequency response across the board.
$200 is a lot for a pair of headphones to many people. But at least with the T10iâ€™s, I can sleep at night even after telling you to buy them. Again, I care about audio quality first and foremost. And with the T10iâ€™s, you wonâ€™t be disappointed. The sound filters really give you a chance to make them into your own and fit your own preference for sound characteristics. The in-line controls and remote make them a convenient mic for phone calls and audio playback control. And finally, the physical design of them is nice without being overly flashy or too gimmicky that they detract from the sound quality.
Overall, the T10iâ€™s are a solid pair of headphones at this price point and the included in-box items are representative of a pair of headphones that would typically be priced noticeably higher. While you probably wonâ€™t use most of the tips included in the box, itâ€™s a very nice added perk to have so many available. There really shouldnâ€™t be any ear that isnâ€™t catered to with everything RHA throws in.
In short: RHA is still killing it on price vs. performance several years later.
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