Added the RBH EP1/EP2
(2B25) RBH EP1 / EP2
Reviewed December 2013
Details: First in-ear earphones from speaker manufacturer RBH
Current Price: $124 from amazon.com for EP1; $154 from rbhsound.com for EP2
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 16Ω | Sens: 101 dB | Freq: 14-18k Hz | Cable: 3.9' I-plug
Nozzle Size: 5mm | Preferred tips: stock Comply foam
Wear Style: Straight down
Accessories (3/5) – Single-flange silicone tips (3 sizes), Comply foam eartips (1 pair), shirt clip, and spring-clasp carrying pouch; EP2 model includes 1 extra set of Comply eartips
Build Quality (4.5/5) – The housings are aluminum with plastic nozzles and on the whole feel extremely solid. The design is of the half in-ear type, with long strain reliefs and a cloth-sheathed cable. The cord is not very thick and lacks a sliding cinch but has no tendency to kink and resists tangling rather well. The mic/remote module on the EP2 model is located in the y-split but works quite well regardless
Isolation (3/5) – Despite the half in-ear design, the EP1 isolates well, especially with the included Comply eartips
Microphonics (4.5/5) – The cloth cable of the EP1 is among the least noisy such cables I’ve come across
Comfort (4.5/5) – The shells of the EP1 house large 13mm drivers but are smooth in finish, compact, and lightweight. They fit snugly and securely, and don’t feel bulky in the ear
Sound (8.5/10) – The EP1 is the first in-ear earphone from Utah-based speaker experts RBH Sound, a company with a four decade-long history in the manufacture of audio components. The tuning of the RBH EP1 earphones follows an enhanced-bass profile. The low end extends very well, with no sub-bass roll-off, and has good impact thanks to sizeable mid-bass presence. The EP1 is tighter at the low end than, for example, the VSonic VSD1S but more mid-bassy than the rather neutral-sounding Philips Fidelio S2. All in all, the EP1 boasts a warm sound with great underlying bass power.
Despite its authoritative bass, the EP1 does not sound mid-recessed as do most earphones with similar bass quantity. Instead, it has strong and very clear mids – noticeably clearer, for example, compared to the VSonic’s VSD1S and SteelSeries Flux, two of my favorite budget IEMs. The EP1 makes the Flux sound downright mid-recessed and is a touch clearer than the similarly-priced RHA MA750 as well, boasting more midrange presence but also a slightly thinner note presentation.
Part of the reason for the EP1’s midrange clarity and presence is the lack of upper midrange recession. The prominent upper mids allow the EP1 to sound crisp and clear, but a cut in that region typically tames harshness. The EP1 can be a little harsh as a result – more so, for example, than the Philips Fidelio S2, especially at higher volumes. It is a stark contrast to the smooth and forgiving, but also somewhat dull-sounding, RHA MA750. Happily, the top end of the EP1 is not peaky and dips down towards the upper treble, making the earphones less sibilant than, for example, competing sets from VSonic.
The soundstage of the EP1 is about average for an in-ear of this type. It is noticeably more spacious than, for example, the lower-priced SteelSeries Flux but a touch more congested than the more neutral Philips Fidelio S2. On the whole, the RBH earphones have a slightly warm/dark coloration and sound especially good at moderate volumes due to their strong midrange presence and solid bass. At high volumes the earphones can get a little harsh, and it’s worth noting that they do reach higher volumes easily thanks to rather good sensitivity.
Sony MH1C ($60)
The street price of this Sony headset has been growing steadily ever since it became popular in audiophile circles for its warm, smooth, and overall capable sound. The sound signature of the EP1 is not all that different from that of the MH1C, which made the Sony set a natural starting-off point for comparisons. Through the bass region the earphones don’t differ much but the mids of the EP1 are more forward and clearer. The MH1C appears more recessed in the midrange and offers up a little less clarity as a result. The EP1 sounds more crisp through the upper midrange and treble regions, though as a result it has a greater tendency towards harshness. The MH1C, on the other hand, sounds smoother and more forgiving, especially at higher volumes. Lastly, the presentation of the EP1 is a touch more spacious, though the MH1C is no slouch in this respect.
HiFiMan RE-400 ($99)
Though the EP1 is an enhanced-bass earphone and the RE-400 is a balanced one, the HiFiMan set is one of my favorite benchmarks and makes for a good contrast to the EP1. As expected, the RBH earphones boast lots more bass, but focus on the sub-bass region and don’t sound particularly bloated even next to the balanced-sounding RE-400. The HiFiMan set is more mid-focused but the EP1 does not sound mid-recessed in comparison. In fact, its mids actually appear more prominent at times, likely because it has more upper midrange energy than the RE-400. The RE-400, on the other hand, offers up smoother but seemingly more extended treble and has a more neutral overall tone. The RE-400, thanks to its more mid-centric sound, has a slightly more intimate presentation. On the whole, these earphones are different enough to the point that each makes the other sound lacking.
Onkyo IE-HF300S ($129)
The Onkyo IE-HF300S and RBH EP1 make for an excellent match-up – they fall in the same price bracket and share a similar form factor, and while the Onkyo set has detachable cables, the aluminum housings of the EP1 feel more sturdy in the hand. In sound, too, the earphones are quite evenly matched, though they each have a strong tendency to accentuate the other’s flaws.
The RBH EP1 is the bassier earphone of the two, offering especially more presence in the subbass region. The IE-HF300, on the other hand, while far from bass-light, has less low end presence overall and focuses more on mid-bass. This endows it with a warmer tone, though bass control is still quite good, not yielding to the RBH unit. The midrange of the EP1 is more forward and often clearer as a result compared to the IE-HF300. The mids of the Onkyo set are nonetheless not overly recessed and the HF300, with its lower bass quantity and greater treble energy, sounds a bit more balanced overall.
Tonally, the EP1 is a little darker. It has a more presence in the upper midrange, which makes it sound more harsh at times, but the Onkyo set has some peaks in the treble that cause it to be more revealing of sibilance. Lastly, the presentation of the HF300 is more to my liking – it is broader and more open. On the whole, these two earphones are certainly very distinct in sound despite being on a similar performance level. More so than with any other matchup I can think of, the set I found preferable here really varied from track to track.
VSonic GR07BE ($179)
VSonic’s range of GR07 models is getting a bit long in the tooth but for me they remain an excellent showcase for the type of fidelity a good dynamic-driver earphone can achieve. The RBH EP1 is bassier than even the Bass Edition of the GR07, boasting more impact and slam, while the GR07 sounds a little more detailed. The GR07 has more recessed mids whereas the EP1 is more mid-forward and has a bit more upper midrange presence. As a result, the mids of the EP1 can at times appear clearer and more intelligible but both earphones have excellent midrange clarity. The GR07, as is often the case with VSonic earphones, is more sibilant than the EP1, though it also appears to have slightly more extended treble. Overall, I found the GR07BE to be more neutral and balanced than the EP1 despite its more recessed midrange and preferred it in this matchup except for its tendencies towards sibilance.
Value (8/10) – The first in-ear model from speaker manufacturer RBH, the EP1 delivers good sound quality and a solid construction. The half in-ear form factor is comfortable and while I am not usually a fan of cloth cables, this one is sturdy and carries little noise. The earphones also isolate well for this type of design with the included Comply eartips. Sonically, the RBH EP1 earphones offer up enhanced bass and strong presence all the way through the upper midrange and are especially enjoyable at low to moderate volumes.
Pros: Solid build quality and good wearing comfort; bass-heavy sound with good midrange clarity
Cons: Can get a touch harsh at higher volumes
The ranking has been updated here.