When it comes to personal audio, looking for the perfect earphones is a seemingly impossible task. If you haven’t got more than $50 to spend, the choice is difficult. Do you go for something that looks really cool, but sounds awful, or do you go for Apple’s earPods? If you make the latter choice on purpose, there’s something wrong with you. Let me start off this review by making a confession: I really hate in-ear headphones. It’s not that I can’t appreciate their quality, it’s just that I don’t like having all the outside world completely blocked off like I’m in my own little bubble. I always sense that there’s no air movement and a lot of pressure inside my ears, making them quite uncomfortable to use. But, I will ignore my personal preference for the sake of this review, because this headset deserves to be praised for many reasons.
RHA’s ma450i set has impressed me immensely. A lot of work has gone in to the design, and 3 years of research in to the acoustics and sound. The earphones themselves have been designed to replicate the bell of a trumpet. They’re made from aircraft-grade aluminum, making them incredibly sturdy and resonant (also not likely to rust). The cable is lined with a weaved fabric to make them less tangle-prone. To top it all off, they ship with 8 different sized earbuds, so they’re bound to fit anyone’s ears, and the mini-jack is gold plated to increase connection quality. The only negative on the hardware side is that the plastic casings around the 3.5mm jack, inline mic and controls seem a tiny bit cheap. But, to create earphones this good for such a low cost was bound to have a few trade-offs, and this is one I’ll happily accept.
The most important thing about earphones is sound quality, and these have it in bucket loads. Without spending over $100 on a set of Beats/Bose/Sennheiser etc headphones, you’d struggle to find a better in-ear pair than the ma450i’s. The sound produced from these tiny speakers is stunningly clear. I’ve heard sounds in song backing tracks that I never knew were there before. It produces all the little subtle sound effects added in that you’d never notice without a great audio system. When considering sound quality, it’s not necessarily volume that should be used to judge (although these do pack a punch if cranked up to 11), it’s the breadth, and depth of sounds you can hear that’s surprising about this tiny set of earphones.
The earbuds also keep pretty much any exterior noise out: positively or negatively. I had them in my ears walking up my road (which has no pavement/sidewalk) and didn’t notice a huge truck driving past me until it had already gone. An unnerving experience – I’m sure you’ll agree – but, it did fill me with a huge sense of awe for the RHA earphones I was using.
On the sound side, the only disappointing thing is the same that comes with any in-ear earphones. I don’t feel like I’m immersed in sound, and bass/treble balance is swung a tiny bit more towards the bright/treble side, and with the aluminum earphones, it obviously tends to sound a little too clean and metallic at times. Not enough to put me off using them in favor of anything else. I’ve had plenty of in-ear sets before now at similar prices that concentrate far too much on bass, and drown everything out with a horrible indistinct drone. These pick up and isolate all the sounds within a track and produce them back with such clarity. If they’ve had to tone down the bass a tad to achieve that, again, I’m happy with that trade-off. What you’re left with in the end is a sound that baffles. How the heck could they achieve this for less than $50? Simply stunning.
If you want to purchase them, they’re available online on the Apple Store. To find out more, check out the page on RHA-Audio’s site. They’re available in black or white, and cost $49.95 U.S, or £39.95 in the UK (British Apple store link).