Pros: Warm, bassy, clear for the price. Cheap
Cons: Build Quality, Build Durability, Sound reverb
Reid Heath Audio has been pushing out headphones these past year that many are beginning to take notice of. They are still new to the world of headphone audio and don't have too many headphone units out yet, but they do have a passion for audio, making it available world wide, and at affordable prices. Today I have a newcommer (late 2012 to early 2013) to RHA's lineup. Their new portable headphone, the SA950i($60) is what we will be looking at today. I wish to thank RHA for providing me this review sample.
The SA950i's feature a somewhat retro looking design with the ovular shaped headphone housings and the usage of two metal prongs held together by a caliper. The unit is light, easily transportable and uses decent materials. Nothing really squeaks or feel like it will bend and break the moment you use it. The materials used aren't of premium quality, but they aren't of sub par either. They are materials made for the headphone of this price and that is that. The headband is tightly stiched and smooth. It's slightly soft but with a hard backbone, there isn't really any discomfort however, and the amount of plush cushioning on it is just enough to be comfortable without overdoing it. The calipers and the metal that hold the headphone up are a bit stiff however. It's a very simple design, but this also makes it a bit hard to operate its ups and down actions smoothly. An indent is formed in the headphones band if the metal gets lowered enough, and makes it a bit harder to slide as the metal is rubbing against the headphone itself, this indent could degrade over time or be ugly to look at if the prongs are moved. The metal, as it is only staticly clamped by the calipers, does not allow for any swivel motion at all. The metal is strong enough to resist it being bent during un-natural operation when taking the headphone off, or putting it on, but I am worried about it. It isn't of the highest grade from the feels of it, but it does the job and doesn't deform out of nowhere. The outer ovular driver housing uses a lightweight plastic. It feels like, whilst it won't shatter, it can bend and have problems if stepped on due to how thin it is. And finally, the headphone pads are of a thin layer, but provide enough cushoning so that most won't feel their ears being hit by hard plastic. The drivers are protected by a near full plastic housing rather than a vented one which is a bit different, but also provide another level of protection for the headphone.
Overal, I'd say that whilst the build quality of the SA950i isn't exactly of the highest, the materials are lightweight and do exactly what is meant for a headphone of this price. The headphone is stylish to some and has enough durability to survive normal portable operation from my usage.
There obviously isn't going to be much microphonics with a portable headphone, but the microphone unit of the RHA does catch onto the zippers or shirts sometimes, and when walking can produce a 'zz' sound as it continues to slightly rub against zippers of a sweater or jacket.
Isolation and Leak:
The SA950i's do not isolate very well, the housing's platic is quite thin and this is a portable headphone as well of course, and so your ear doesn't get entire covereage. These will not isolate against Harley's and other loud enviroments when listening at a decent volume, however they do get rid of the usual chatter, cars passing and etc. The lack of full isolation however does mean that this headphone works well for those that prefer to walk with headphones, this means that its a bit safer as you can somewhat be more notified of any enviromental changes, of course this depends on volume, but the RHA's do give you a higher possibility of being notified. The RHA's don't leak that much at an average volume, but of course, again, the inability to swivel, light plastic housing does mean that if the room is relatively quiet(library) and you listen to Justin Beiber. The person next to you will know, and he will stare you down. In louder enviroments however, you should be safe, but of course, don't be using these thinking they are leak resistance IEM's.
The RHA's feature very good usability as with most portable headphones, you pick it up and pop it on your head and go. However, there are some hits against this RHA model. The caliper clamp for the headphone drivers(to adjust how high or low it is) isn't exactly super tight so it does lose your previous settings sometimes. The lack of a swivel for the RHA's is one of the biggest problems I have with it. The only way I can get a seal with the headphones if by using the headband it self. The RHA's when used by me, are situated about 1.5 inches backwards on my head's top than where I usually place headphones. This is to compensate for the lack of the swivel and so I can get a full clamp on my ears. The headband has enough traction to prevent it from falling off, but it is something that should be noted. Lastly, due to the usage of the TRS plug(3 prong with mic ability), using it with desktop units means you need to pull out the headphone plug a tiny bit so that the signal gets to the 'right' place. This isn't a problem on most mobile devices however and it seems to really only be a problem on units that require me to use a quarter inch to eight inch adapter. The cable uand cable input is just a plain 3.5mm jack with no special obstructions or format to it. This means you can easilly use another cable of your choosing or fix it cheaply if the cable breaks. Lastly, the biggest chagrin I had with the usability was the cable length. I found that there is generally an average cable length that companies had measured out so that its just long enough for tall users while not being too long for short or average users. The regular cable length of the SA950i's for me at 5 foot 6 or 167cm, was a bit way too long. It would catch onto my shorts, or possibly even be a hazard when walking around if it catches on items due to how long the end loop was. I ended up tapping a section of the cable together to shorten it. It would be best that I didn't need to do this.
Driveability and amp:
The RHA SA950i's when paired with the regular iPod are weirdly a bit harder to drive than I expected. When turned to max volume, the RHA's get to a volume loud enough that I would say is the highest safe volume to listen to. But I know that some like it louder(not recommended) and that the 'loudness' of it pales in comparison to what is usually the norm with other headphones. So yes it is a bit harder to drive than regular portables, but at 100% iPod volume, its as loud as I would recommend. So for those out there with an amp already, and like to listen to older recordings that don't use up the entire noise floor. Use an amp, otherwise, I leave it to your decision on the usage of an amp or not.
The RHA 950i's were used with an iPod Touch 2G, iPhone 4S, FiiO X3, and my custom Project H unit with Objective 2 and CS4398 DAC. Usage with an FiiO HS2(headphone switcher) for burn in and testing purposes were also used.
The highs aren't as present or extended as one would want. When they are present, they take a backwards role in the song. On reference units, the highs would be present along with the mids, but on the RHA's they are hidden behind the mids and used as an addition to the vocals rather than another full feature. The extension is also sevrely lackluster, not being able to hit very high. For the high range that is present however, it is very smooth, and not bright. This leads for it to be a bad headphone for studio or reference usage, but it is a godsend for just listening to music and enjoying it. It makes the headphone un-analytical and this makes it great for all types of rock and metal. I personally think that for lower priced models, they should either have a good high end that works as a reference, or one that isn't very present, but of good quality to the ranges it does represent allowing for it to play a wide range of genres. The SA950i's allows this to happen incredibly beautifully. Sure, sonically, its not exactly a good thing if we talk about it as if we were all producers. But for enjoying music, this trait in headphones is invaluable. It requires a good balance of just enough high range to allow one to enjoy the song without going over, and this is exactly what the SA950i's do.
-subdued, with lack of presence, but allows for non analytical-
The mid instruments generally will take a more backwards role to the vocals, this of course matters by song. But a wide range of song tests is what I use to isolate if it is truly more backwards or forwards, and in this case it is more in the background to the vocalls. The instruments are detailed, but aren't very sharp hitting, they are a bit more dull, but with detail and impact. Separation is also quite good allowing you to hear a wide range of instruments. The absence of a upper mid range spike is what causes the instruments to not be as detailed as they could be, but this also helps in making the headphones suitable for metal and rock. As those genres regularly feature mids that are fatiguing on headphones that have the spike. Whilst it loses out in sparkle, it gains in universality. The mid range also features a slight reverb effect. This is probably due to the driver housing material and how it was designed. The front driver shield is much thicker than what is usually used while the back uses light plastic. The effect isn't very large and can often not even be heard, but note that it is there. (props to ekey down below for reminding me about it)
-behind vocals, good detail and seperation however with muffling, no sparkle but allows for universality-
The vocals take a forward role to the mid instruments. They aren't quite that full, but are actually flat sounding. Almost neutral and what one would expect from reference headphones in how it doesn't overly try to stand out, and is balanced from the lower vocals to the tops. The detail again, is subdued from the vocals. It's often a bit more muffled than what its supposed to sound like, but this is only a slight bit. The lower vocal portions do however get a bit muddying if the song features a more prominent bass making the lower vocal end to really shine through as much sometimes. However, in the end, the qualities featured allow this headphone to be universal sounding and without developing fatigue to the listener thanks to how everything doesn't try to be analytical detail monsters.
-flat, with muddying in lower end at times, slight muffling, but still good detail and spirit-
The SA950i's feature a very prominent mid bass. This , as reported, sometimes muddies up the lower vocal and mid range, but for the most part does its job quite well. I believe that a good enough bass must be had to accomodate all songs. The SA950i's deliver a bit more bass, than what should be comming out however. The bass should be enough for pop, but also without interuption in classicals. The bass is a bit overly eager with songs that don't require it at all, but only a tad bit. For pop songs, they make the song alive by giving the songs the responce that they need to really sing. And this is perfectly fine. The extension of the bass is pretty good, you can hear that the headphone tries to deliver the sub bass, but the trial does fall a bit flat as the sub bass is a bit un-energetic.
-prominent mid bass hit, a bit too much but with good overall extension-
The RHA 950i's are not reference cans by any means, but they make for some truly amazing cans to listen to music too. The lack of a bright high range and high range spike, but with good bass, allows this to be a very versatile headphone for a variety of genres. Metal, and rock are some of the hardest genres to cater to as the mastering and instruments used with bad headphone responce to them produce a mess of sound that is often times very fatiguing and metalic to the listener. The RHA's combat these all the while providing a good sythesis of responce to go with a wide variety of genres. In terms of sonic correctness, the RHA's don't let any genre really take over in how that genre 'should' sound, but it allows for all of them to sound good. This is a portable headphone, not a studio monitor, and thus it is truly good for it to have a universal quality to make everything sound good rather than to just let a few sound good.
This image perfectly fits how I feel about RHA as a company now. RHA, "You've had my curiosity, but now you have my attention".
Build Quality: 6.5/10
Isolation and Leak: 6/10
Sound quality: 9.5/10
Driver:40mm Mylar Titanium
Fr Range: 16hz to 22KHz
Impedence: 32 Ohms
Max Power: 100mW
Cable length: 1.5m Fabric Braided
Connections: 3.5mm Goldplated
Warranty: 3 Years of "no quibbles" parts and labor warranty
Website and Amazon Links:
(note, the Amazon link is not an affiliate link, so feel free to use it)