RHA MA-350 Review
Thanks to RHA for the sample.
First Impressions: On getting a message from someone over at RHA I was surprised, I had enquired many months ago about the 350, its nice to see a new headphone company appear and nice that its UK based too. Having previously gotten not even so much as reply the offer to review a pair was unexpected. Still I had seen some nice things said about them, note anything from what I’d call reliable audio sources, (oh What Hifi, that means you sadly.) So they came and I didn’t really have what you might call high expectations, they are cheap, not from China and they look rather swish. Weave covered cable and metal buds all made me think visual appeal has been prioritized over acoustic, the big 10mm dynamic in there too just makes me think it’s going to full of bass too. Sigh, oh well at least they look nice. Then as I sat I saw Paul over at MoDaCo comment on them and slapped up his review, so I had to look and them have a listen as they had only just arrived a day or so before. So he really liked them but I didn’t really honestly think I would so much. That was a foolish assumption.
Pre burn in and no playing about but I am impressed, very impressed. Sure the treble needs to calm itself a touch but for £30, its disturbing how good things at this sort of price are getting, this was all so not what I expected!
Source 1G iPod Shuffle mostly.
Lows: Now I expected a metric F ton of the stuff, I thought quantity over quality and this is maybe why I’ve not seen a review of these from somewhere I trust when it comes to audio. This is much better than I expected. It’s pretty V shaped so it’s not to say there isn’t plenty bass, there is in spades. I did note that it very unusually didn’t take kindly to the addition of extra impedance making the bass became rather woolly. Not unpleasant but all soft and pillow like. So not adding any, which is the norm anyway, things are really quite lively. The depth is rather good and even though it does seem to rise as you go lower and get correspondingly softer, you can tell the drivers being stretched but it can do it. Most things don’t try to get some good low lows going on, this does and does surprisingly well. It may not be its intended use but, these and Jurassic Park are fun in great big gigantic truck loads. Lots and lots of fun. You know when the T-Rex comes to tea and we all first learn about impact tremors, very convincing lows.
Flicking back to music and Gwen Stefani’s “What Are You Waiting For?” It has a solid and powerful bass line running through it and when it kicks in its powerfully authoritative, visceral. Not overwhelming but solidly present. As the song progresses the bass begins to melt into the rest of the spectrum as more and more starts happening. For a cheap IEM that’s really good and for one that I’d have thought aimed at Iphone users is well behaved. I keep trying to think of things to compare it too but I’m having trouble finding a fair comparison. Is it me or is there a seeming vacancy of IEM’s just now around £30? The only thing I see is the PL-50 but acoustically these are the exact inverse of the PL-50.
Mids: They are a touch mid vacant, not unlike the old Ultimate Ears house sound, a great big V and dry, airy sounding vocals. This leads to them being clearer and easier to pick out despite their relative lack of abundance. It also lends itself very nicely to the likes of Regina Spektor, dry, airy and almost ethereal sounding vocals sweeping back and forth. Like I said these are the anti PL-50’s. it’s all distance and space, dry, cool breathiness. So its maybe not what I’d personally go for but it does work well for her and in particular it helps make vocals audible in far faster paced music. Guitars seem twangier, crisper and more articulated. The down side to this dryness is that despite the abundance of bass the vocals don’t feel weighty. They lack the richness and body that they ought to have. Okay so it’s a bit of a nit-pick at £30 but I’m all about the mids and for me these are too airy, too light. Adding in a rather warmer Dap does assist here so if you have say a Sony or something like that then you may find they pair nicely, they did quite like my HM-601 when I tried them together.
Still vocally these are much more well suited to quick pop music than they are to my more favoured slow and smooth girly vocalists. Still if you want to slap on Now 483 or whatever number they are up to now then these are very well suited.
Highs: When I first listened to these the highs were what stood out. Being the purist that I am I’m always weary of cheap things being treble abundant as its far and away the hardest thing to get right. Also I’m rather treble sensitive so if I’m going to hate something, that’s what it shall be. So right off the treble here bothered me a little, out of the box it was a bit hard and the Shuffle 1G is too so it was asking for trouble! So this section I’m really more using the HM-601 which is a higher quality DAP than I’d realistically expect the 350’s to encounter in the wild but it’s got that Sony esq warm DAP sound. With a good bit of burn in the highs did seem to mellow but they are still attached to what I’d characterise as a cool, dry set of IEM’s it very much is that same sort of sound that’s found in the TF10. Now obviously there is a gulf of difference in the quality of the treble but there are many similarities in their nature. They are both very prominent; they both like a crisp, hard edge to emphasise detail. Now it’s not my favourite way doing things but for something this price with this abundance and this over crispiness it should be making me want to hurl them out the nearest window but they aren’t. I’m not going to say I think it’s right tuning choice to have made but I have way more sensitive ears than most people do and it manages it really, really well. A couple of years ago and I think these would have left me speechless but things are now at a level where this possible to achieve.
I would though have liked to see a little less edge and more a shimmery decay but when paired with the HM-601 I can’t help but be a little impressed. This great big V shaped, dry, crispy, dramatic sound should not work at this price but given its hard to do without making it ear ravaging no one tends to do it. I can’t think of something with the same type of sound outside the TF10 but obviously they are not exactly comparable products.
Soundstage: The big airy openness leaves you with feeling that there is plenty of space. It’s a big open expanse and when added to the good level of instrument separation it makes for an impressive and expansive show case. It is a closed IEM though and so doesn’t have the endlessly open quality that you can get with some but for something so closed it very well done.
Comfort: They may be great big buds but their shape means they don’t have any trouble sitting in your ear. Or they didn’t mine anyway and I can’t see anyone else having trouble either. Since they are metal they are little bit weighty which you notice a bit if you wear them down but I never do that. They were very happy to be worn up and that way they were absolutely fine.
Fit: I did find that these were rather pressure sensitive and to sound their best has to be sitting just so. That often can be a bother for me but I had no trouble getting to them sit just so pretty much instantly.
Cable: It is woven cloth coated with reminds me a touch of the Klipsh Custom series. That same feel and also the cable is a little bit stiff. It visually gives the impression of quality and premium but I’d personally take super soft and flexible myself. The Y splitter is nice and has an integrated chin slider which is handy if you like those.
Microphonics: Wearing down you do get some. Not as bad as I thought it would be but I never know why anyone would wear things down if you can help if. The chin slider though helped hugely if you do insist on wearing down. As always wearing up largely fixed the issue.
Accessories: Not a lot really, I never expect much at this price as it’s a waste of money when the budgets clearly tight. You get the standard 3 pairs of tips and little baggie to keep the IEM’s in. id have rather seen a hard case but if you want one you can always hit up ebay.
Amped/Unamped: These didn’t very much respond to having better amps used on them and bizarrely for a single dynamic driver they really dint love having impedance added. Amping made a next to no difference and impedance just softened the bass. It did refine the highs a touch but very slight so in short not worth the bother of adding either.
Isolation: For a dynamic rather good. Normally id be saying I’d be happy to exchange that isolation for less air pressure issues but these seemed to give me very little trouble. No driver flex either so good for them. It’s no BA IEM but its rather good, not what I’d be buying for a flight to New Zealand of course but I can think of many a dynamic that is far worse. Certainly enough to get you run over if you aren’t used to it and to remembering to look where you are going.
Value: Things seem to change price constantly, that much is priced in US$ yet comes out of the Far East so from my perspective there must be at least 2 currency conversions going in in there. That RHA are UK based means that their price has so far been a steady £30. That’s pretty much where the GR06 started life and I think have risen ever since. So do I compare them, is that fair? If we were talking about things about £200 then a tenner means nothing but when we’re talking £30 going up to £40 that’s a 33% jump. Tbh they are very different sounds anyway so I suspect if one is to more to your taste then price difference doesn’t matter. So if you want a dry V shaped sound then short of the TF10 or maybe the old Denon C751 I’m struggling to think of a similar sounding IEM. It’s a good looking product that looks and feels like its had some core in its production and it sounds good. That sound like good value to me.
Conclusion: Okay so you have probably picked up that I haven’t been wildly in love with the 350. On paper it’s a lot of what I don’t like, it’s very V shaped, it’s very dry and it has very prominently edged treble. That it’s very cheap too ought to be a marriage made in hell. The reality is that it’s not, it’s a really dangerous sound to aim for if you can’t afford to simply throw money at the problem until its fixed which is frankly what high end BA based IEM’s do. The TF10 is still one the absolute best sounding IEM’s money can buy and despite having really come down in price it’s one of the more expensive ones still and it really needs a powerful amp to be its best. The MA-350 is taking aim at the same sound signature, doing it from a completely different perspective and in a different way and managing to do a really impressive job of it too. Its sound signature isn’t what I naturally think of as appealing to the Head-fi crowd which tends to favour a flatter sound. ABing these with the GR06 and the differences are enormous and it’s no secret I loved the GR06 when I reviewed that. It’s done just about everything I’d want from an IEM and for the music I listen to. The MA-350 is just about the opposite of what I’d want and yet I don’t hate, I’m not sure I like it but I am rather impressed by it.
The bass is really impressive as it never feels like its dominating inappropriately yet when I AB it really stands out the level of difference in quantity. It does some really subwoofer type behaviours and while for me I feel in music I don’t feel the need for massive depth it worked tremendously well in movies. Those big rumbly lows that really only films do was first rate and a huge amount of fun. If I was about to get a long train journey then these would rank highly for entertainment purposes. Actually entertainment may be what these do best, they aren’t trying to be acoustically neutral but have gone for a dramatic and exciting sound. The great big V shaped sound is brash and full of drama. Certainly the bass is tuned for excitement rather than accuracy. The highs too share all the same qualities as the bass, drama, excitement and dynamic all at the expense of being truly accurate.
I can’t claim to have loved the 350 but I have been impressed by them. They have gone for a very difficult type of sound at a very low price and managed to pull it off. The treble is especially impressive in that regard, it’s not perfect but for this style of sound it’s really doing a lot with the £30 you have splashed out on them. You really do get a lot of sound for the money, lots of bass, lots of treble and lots of V shaped drama. There is much to like here and its all packaged in a really quite lovely set of metal buds which gives the impression of having spent far more than you have. It’s very much the sort of thing I’d want to see in an Apple store, it’s got the premium look and feel and has a tremendously capable, highly V shaped sound. It ought to be something the average consumer will love if they ever get to hear one.