Pros: Build Quality, Looks Beautiful, Good Detail, Satisfying Bass with Fun Sound
Cons: Soundstage, Vocals and somewhat recessed midrange
Hi guys, after spending some time with the new IEM from Rhapsodio, I thought I would post a more formal review of my experience with the IEM. So for those who have been interested or curious about Rhapsodio, hopefully this will shed some light on what they’re all about!
UPDATE: Added some general thoughts on the IEM compared to some TOTL IEMs at the very end.
UPDATE 2: Sammy was kind enough to send me his RD3 Version 2 for a comparison to the original version.
Here is my thoughts on original vs version 2:
Version 2 of the RD3 sounds very similar to the original, its very obviously just an upgrade to better a few aspects of the RD3. Thus, I don't feel its necessary to write a new review or to make any massive edits to the original review. Instead I'm putting my thoughts here.
First off, and possibly the most significant change, is actually the fit. If you look at the two housing, you can't tell that they're any different. In fact, when I was switching cables between the two versions of the RD3, I almost made the mistake of mixing which piece is which up. The differences are very subtle. Overall the new RD3 is a tiny bit smaller, with changes to a few ridges and bumps here and there. The fit however, improved drastically. I don't know how Sammy did it, but the fit significantly improves. Even for someone with small ears like me, version 2 just disappears. I had a meet with two other friends who are also very avid audio geeks, and they both made the comment on how much better the fit is, saying how these may be one of the most comfortable IEM out there. Thumbs up to Sammy for making this change!
In terms of sound, again, version 2 retains the sound signature that makes RD3 unique. However, midrange and treble resolution improves, especially in the treble. Snares have just a bit more detail and sparkle compared to the original version. Midrange also comes forward a little bit more, but the vocal weakness I find in the midrange remains, as the vocals are still just a bit too pulled back. The improvement, nonetheless, is quite welcomed.
There is also an improvement in soundstage. Soundstage is a little bit wider, and with a more obvious improvement to the depth of the RD3. Soundstage is still not as expansive as I hope to hear, but having any improvement from the very unimpressive soundstage of the original RD3 is a big plus to me.
Seeing some pretty good review of Rhapsodio’s products around Head-Fi and various forums (mostly of the RDB series), I was pretty interested when I saw that Rhapsodio started making IEMs with full aluminum housing as well as introduce a new IEM, the RD3. I contacted Sammy of Rhapsodio to know more about the RD3 and found his customer service pretty top notch. It was pretty interesting having a series of real conversations with him, talking about the process of getting into the IEM business, and of course, how he came to make his new line of single dynamic driver IEMs with the RD3 being second from the top (the Ref. Ti. One being at the top). I, of course, have no affiliation with Rhapsodio and have no more of a reason to write a review for the RD3 than for my own enjoyment and for others who may be eyeing Rhapsodio like I was.
I had pretty mixed feelings about the accessories that came with the RD3. Simply put it, I hated the tips that came with the RD3. They’re the black and red ones that look like the ones that Heir and Noble use. I’ve always found them a bit too stiff and hurt my ears after a while. They also didn’t stay in my ears very well, so I abandoned the tips as soon as I could and did a little tip rolling to find ones that work for me best. Besides the tips and the IEM, there was nothing else that came in the case with the RD3. As many people have stated before, yes it is quite lacking in accessories.
The case it came with though, is something quite special. It’s a really nice looking case made partly of plastic and metal. It’s definitely not as sturdy as a pelican or otterbox case, but it’s plenty sturdy and it looks fantastic, almost like a fancy mini briefcase with the Rhapsodio logo on it. I thought it was a great touch and definitely something I think Sammy should keep. It is a little taller than traditional pelican and otterbox cases, but the extra height allowed me to fit my DX90 into the case along with the IEM, which saves me some space when it comes to carrying my portable gear.
The case does tend to get a bit dirty though, from what I have no idea. After a trip around Taiwan, I found that there are a bunch of random marks on the case just from sitting in my backpack. Most of them easily washed off but some of them unfortunately did remain.
Another noteworthy thing I got from Rhapsodio was an upgraded cable. It’s the copper Panther MK1 price at 175 USD I believe, and it is one HELL of a cable. It comes with a nice gold plated 3.5mm jack (that somehow reminds me of a jack from a company that Rhapsodio use to be affiliated with…) that works well with mp3 players that have cases. Overall build of the cable is quite good and I don’t see any particularly weak spots in it.
The ergonomics of this cable is just fantastic. Let me say that again, Fan-Tas-Tic. It’s a bit tensile with a rubbery feel to it with the ability to bend and fold in any shape or form. Completely tangle free, and just extremely flexible. Because it’s so crazily flexible, it has zero ability to retain any sort of shape or form. So there is an ear guide, but a very good one at that. Yes I do believe to some extent that cables make a difference in sound, but most of the time I simply don’t believe dropping 500 dollars on a cable is worth the upgraded sound (if any at all to some people). However, being someone with glasses, I am more than willing to spend some extra money to get a more comfortable cable, as I really don’t like ear guides, and the Panther really does that. The ear guide is a very thin plasticky material (questionable whether its heatshrink or not) that retains the shape around the ear very well while feeling like it’s not even there. Again, just fantastic ergonomics, and definitely up there with the ergonomics of the Noble cable but without the pesky earguide.
Cable noise wasn’t a problem and adding in my own little shirt clip brought it down to very low levels.
One downside I did find with the cable, however, is EMI. It seems that the cable is quite prone to EMI. Having my phone near the cable causes quite a bit of sound.
Another downside was the slider. It's a very thin plastic and its just a bit too loose. After a period of time it does tend to start creeping its way back down to the Y-splitter.
Overall, just a very usable cable with very little to gripe about and with a lot going for it (dare I say the best sub 200 USD cable I've yet to try?... I want to say yes it is!)
Design, Comfort, and Build
Build quality of the IEM and the Cable were both very good, and it’s clear that Rhapsodio has really upped their game in terms of build quality. With their machine made aluminum housing, there are no more problems with different sized ear pieces.
There was little problem that I had with the recessed sockets of the IEM (will explain more later) but it was something just a tiny bit of super glue fixed and it wasn’t really enough of a problem to justify me sending it back to get it fixed. The IEM is in perfect working condition, and is very sturdily built. So quality control issue, yes it’s still present, but I have to say I’m impressed with the way Sammy dealt with it. Seeing the problem and the weakness in the recessed socket, he created a new design for it that he will be implementing in the IEMs to come. So for those who are interested in his IEMs, this will not be a problem for you.
The aluminum housing is really great and I’m a big fan. It’s not super lightweight, but I was surprised at how light it was. It is quite big though. As someone with MINISCULE ears (we’re talking TINY), I was a bit worried that it might not fit. I did have some initial issues with fit but finding the right tip made all the difference. Honestly if you have anywhere near normal ear size, you will have no problem at all.
The fit was surprisingly comfortable for me despite them barely fitting my ears. They fit very snugly in the ear and do disappear after a while. I did get some discomfort after 3 or 4 hours, but again, that’s really because of how small my ears are.
*Random Side note: Something nice about the IEMs that Sammy did mention to me is that the housing was designed to be easily taken apart (for future upgrades).
Now back to the recessed sockets. The RD3 does have bass ports to let the dynamic drivers breathe a bit and give it more bass power. What’s interesting about the bass ports though is that they’re designed with the recessed sockets, making them very low profile. I didn’t even notice they were there until Sammy pointed them out to me. The recessed sockets are not part of the aluminum housing, and are a plasticky material that’s inserted into the IEM. The bass ports, are a small gap that’s left between the aluminum housing and the recessed sockets. Hard to explain, so I’ll let the picture tell the story. You can see a tiny gap on the bottom side.
Isolation these are good but not amazing. It's definitely more than enough isolation for everyday use, going on the train, plane, or just walking around the city.
Now that I think I’ve covered most of how the IEM performs on the outside, let’s get to how they perform sonically.
Right off the bat, this IEM is not for everyone. Neutrality is not its game. The sound signature is quite fun and V shaped and definitely packs a punch in the bass. Sammy did mention to me that these are his “musical” IEM design while his flagship Ref Ti One is the one designed for a reference and neutral sound. Despite having quite a fun signature, the RD3 does present detail well. Most of my listening is done with just the RD3 and the iBasso DX90 running mostly ALAC and FLAC with resolution up to 24/192.
The RD3 has had over 200 hours before I listened to it to write this review. In all honesty, they sounded awful before burn in, and I was kinda pissed. Yes part of it is definitely the “brain burn in” aspect of the sound changing. Coming from the ASG-2, with a wamer sound, the RD3 was very hard to get used to. But without a doubt, a HUGE aspect of it has been the IEM, and it’s dead obvious. At first listen, the bass was so overly boomy and with so much bass rumble, that I couldn’t listen to it for more than 20 or 30 minutes. It hurts my ears. Bass has become much more controlled since. Of course, will get into more detail later, but just a quick example of how drastically the sound changed, because it really did.
The treble region turned out to be probably my favorite part of this IEM. Its sparkly, airy, and probably borderline sibilant for some people (not for me). It’s very crisp with really nice detail and texture a decay that's really pleasant and natural to my ears. Cymbals and snares are fairly present and, in my opinion, are what they’re meant to sound like – energetic and fun. The upper treble is extended well to give the IEM a nice sense of air without causing the sound to be thin (which apparently the Ref. Ti. One does to some degree). I also had no problems with the treble ever getting too energetic or hot, and sibilance was never an issue.
Instruments take the spotlight. Good detail on instruments and nice realistic sounding instruments for an IEM around the 500 dollar mark. The ability to “feel” the instruments is remarkable and really brings some realism to the music. Texture on instrument is also done very nicely.
Vocals on the other hand are a bit more of a hit and miss. The RD3 overall has a more recessed midrange, and it hits the vocals most obviously. Vocals are pulled back a bit and lose some detail and focus in comparison to the fantastic instruments of the RD3. Male vocals in particular, are more recessed, while female vocals are more forward with better detail, but can still be a little bit thin.
The bass of the RD3 is quite a treat. The RD3 presents bass in a way in which I've never quite heard in other IEMs before, and honestly, I'm not too sure how to describe it. The bass is very big on the RD3, and as stated earlier. Bass has good extension (starting to fall off ever so slightly around 40Hz) that gives the bass a good amount of rumble and texture with almost a sub woofer like feel to it. I've enjoyed the bass quite a bit with acoustic tracks. Drums and bass guitar have great authority in the low frequency and really have great texture to them without ever really bleeding into the mids or bloating. The Bass is big, but the impact doesn't quite have the finesse of something like the parterre, which may suggest the bass being muddy or bloated, but the bass of the RD3 is anything but that. It just sounds very raw and realistic. When it gets to songs that are very demanding on bass, however, it shows that bass can be a little slow and you can hear the bass lose a little bit of its focus on impact.
The IEM also has the awesome ability to move air very well without distorting the sound. It really shows with how visceral the bass is as well as the IEM's ability to make instruments sound so live, allowing the listen to feel the plucks of a string. The bass from the RD3 is one of the best I've heard from headphones and IEMs alike and it's quite unique in all honesty.
Soundstage and Imaging
Ah… the soundstage… its the weakness of the RD3. It’s on the smaller side. Coming from the ASG-2, which has a pretty respectable soundstage, the RD3 soundstage seemed claustrophobic. It’s small. For a 500 USD IEM, the soundstage is really what disappoints from the RD3. I'm being a bit overly critical of the soundstage, it's just that I really expect more out of it at its price point. For a frame reference, the soundstage is comparable to the Heir Audio 3.Ai that I have, being a little better than the 3.Ai, a 300 USD IEM. So its my no means bad, just falls behind the competition in the price point.
On a brighter note, imaging was quite good. Despite the smaller soundstage, instrument separation was, nonetheless good, with each individual instrument being very clean and able to be easily picked out from the rest while at the same time working together well for a nice coherent sound. Layering is also surprisingly good at able to be detected despite the lack of soundstage.
Despite some of the flaws of the RD3, I’ve enjoyed my time with it quite a bit and it’ll be an IEM I save when I want some energy and fun in my music. Would I recommend it at its price point, yes and no. It’s a very enjoyable IEM and there’s a lot to love about it. But its sound signature simply is not for everyone. And the soundstage again is a bit disappointing. I honestly think the RD3 would be an easy recommendation if only its soundstage wasn’t so subpar with what other IEMs in the same price range offers. The soundstage lost the RD3 a few of points in my book. If you can overlook that, I think the RD3 is an excellent IEM and a good IEM at its price. In conclusion, I give the RD3 a thumbs up if you're looking for a really fun and engaging IEM, but I do hope that Sammy can expand the soundstage a bit if he chooses to update the RD3 somehow.
Now a few pictures to end
What its like in my small ears!
Update: General thoughts and impressions/comparisons after hearing some very fine IEMs
I have found new love for the RD3 after spending some time comparing it to some IEMs in its price range as well as 1K+ IEMs, and this is my attempt at putting my thoughts together. A few things to note is that I did not have NEARLY enough time to audition each IEM and compare them to the RD3, so these are fairly general and obvious things i took notice of in the time that i got. Also to note is that I got the opportunity to try some very good demo CIEMs, and naturally, being demo CIEMs, take my thoughts with a grain of salt as the custom version sound can and will be different to some degree.
In addition, I'd like to note that I purchased UE tips for my RD3 and have found great results with it. Comfort is better than before, a little better soundstaging and imaging, at the expense of an ever so slight bass bloat comparing it to the MEElectronics tips I was using with the RD3. A very good investment though IMO.
Some IEMs that I got to try were:
Demos of flagships from CanalWorks and Clear Tune Monitors (both which were fantastic), UE18, AKG K3003, Shure SE846 (fantastic), Sennheiser IE800, FitEar Parterre and F111, Ocharaku Flat 4 Sui (quite good!), and InEar SD3 (little overhyped for IMO).
And now for some general thoughts and impressions.
Overall I found myself appreciating the treble and bass of the RD3 more after listening to some very nice IEMs. I've loved the treble from the RD3, and I still love it. Finding treble balance is difficult and varies from person to person, but I found the RD3 treble very close to what is ideal for me. Treble detail always just lags behind against some of the 1K+ IEMs, but I'd say its still fairly good an IEM that's around 600 dollars.
The bass, I had initially described as big (and I still say its HUGE), but a little slow at times. Yes bass impact is a bit slow compared to a lot of more balanced IEMs, but the bass of the RD3 left me very unimpressed with the bass of some of the TOTL IEMs I listened to. I found the bass coming from IEMs the IE800 and UE 18 a bit bloated, and the bass coming from the SD3 TERRIBLY bloated. I found the RD3 bass cleaner while remaining very prominent.
On the other hand, the lack of focus from vocals shows more as a weakness of the RD3 comparing itself to some TOTL IEMs. Vocals from SE846, UE18, and AKG K3003, for example, were all more resolving and more properly imaged than the RD3. The RD3 vocal is just slightly more laid back and less detailed compared to them.
Soundstage, of course, shows itself as another weak point. In all honesty though, to my surprise, the soundstage of the RD3 held up better than I thought it would against other IEMs. The most obvious weak point of the soundstage is probably height. You don't get a lot of the nice "choir singing over your head" or percussion hitting above your head sound compared to a lot of IEMs. Despite having a small soundstage, what the RD3 does do well is give a natural sense of space. Although instruments are place much closer together, it doesn't feel like they're confined to a small space, which was something that warmer IEMs like the InEar SD3 often suffer from.
The two IEMs that sounded most similar to the RD3, I felt, were the IE800 and SE846. In particular, I found the SE846 a very worthy upgrade to the RD3 (Note: I heard the SE846 on its neutral filter). The SE846, compared to RD3, has less bass and a little more focus on mids to me. Detail in the mids are very much improved, especially with vocals, and the balance between treble and mids on the SE846 is probably the closest to ideal for me personally, of any IEM I've heard.
The IE800, being a single dynamic driver IEM, shares a lot of characteristics similar to the RD3 in terms of presentation of details like timbre, and, well, basically having that "dynamic driver" sound. I found the sound a little thin however, despite having more detail and bass extension than the SE846, and just personally find the SE846 more enjoyable. Both, to me, share some similarities to the RD3, and could be an upgrade in their own ways to the RD3, although the RD3 performs very well and holds up strong comparing itself against the two.
Comparing the RD3 to closer to something around its price, I thought a comparison with the SD3, often said to be one of the bassiest universal IEM, would be interesting. To my surprise the two were completely different. Yes both had big bass, but that's as far as similarities go. The SD3 was VERY warm next to the RD3, and was hard to listen to. Now, I'm sure if I was coming from being used to the SD3 sound and going to the RD3, the RD3 would suddenly seem thin sounding. But comparing the two IEMs to other IEMs, the SD3 is just a lot more unnatural sounding in comparison. The bass of the SD3 is also VERY bloated next to the RD3, and also quite uncomfortable to listen to. I can't help but feel that unless someone is really looking for a warm sound, that the RD3 is a better option for a bassy IEM at around 600 dollars. Overall, despite still liking a more neutral sound signature than what the two IEMs offer, I really found some respect for the bass of the RD3, being able to remain very clear while being present in the music.
So in general, the RD3 is by no means a giantslaying IEM that challenges the status of many TOTL IEMs and flagships. They're flagships for a reason, expensive for a reason (well... most of the time), and though despite most having some flaws, at the end of the day they are generally quite good (to put it fairly simply... some may say well they're X dollars and you say only "quite good?"... or say ew are you kidding X sounds like they're 100 dollars... so.. general statement here). The RD3 does have its own strengths that makes it quite a unique experience.