Before writing this review, I would like to thank Charles for generously sending out multiple IEMs and amplifiers for us to try and review. Charles is also one of the friendliest and most responsive guys that I have met in the audio world and often responds to emails in a few minutes. This is something that I take into account when buying any product, especially one at this price. I am in no way affiliated with nor against Rhapsodio in any way so these are my own, unbiased opinions on the Rhapsodio RDB v1 IEM.
Introduction Rhapsodio is a relatively new company to the audio world and they’ve already caused quite a stir on Head-Fi with their interesting products which have been compared to much more expensive ones. For example, swimsonny thinks their $400 R^2 has been said to compete very well against the $1300 Tralucent 1plus2, even winning in some aspects. But this IEM that I will be reviewing is the more expensive model, the RDB v1 priced at $US650 not including fancy cable upgrades. It uses a TWFK driver for the midrange and treble and an 8mm dynamic driver for the bass. To my knowledge, there was another similar model, the RDB+ v1 (which has now been discontinued?) which uses a 10mm dynamic driver but I haven’t heard that one so I can’t provide any comparisons. The reviews from H20Fidelity, mrAdrian and svyr are of the previous version.
Testing Gear All testing was made with my HDP-R10, my Sansa Clip+, Samsung Galaxy S3, K2 amp and Shozy amp. First off, I want to make it clear that this is not very source dependant, well not as much as my UM Miracles anyway. They do not need to be amped and there is not as much difference between my Sansa Clip+ and my HDP-R10 as you would expect since the HDP-R10 costs 30x as much as my Clip+. However, a better source does help make the sound better. For example, if the sound from my HDP-R10 was 100%, the Clip+ would be 70-80%.
Accessories I don’t know what it comes with if you bought it, but I think that it comes with 3 pairs of silicone tips and a pair of foam tips along with an Otterbox (2000?) case which is waterproof and crushproof. It’s pretty much the same as a Pelican case if you’ve used one of those. My demo version also came with a large metal case with “Rhapsodio” written on it which IMO is unnecessary but a nice addition. Good, but I would have liked to see it come with some extra tips; I don’t mind the fact that there is no IEM cleaner because there is a filter that stops ear wax from going into the IEM.
Isolation, Design & Cable Being a vented IEM, isolation is not one of its strong point. Most IEMs that I have heard do isolate much better than these. The degree of isolation is about the level of IE8(0), Sony EX1000 and some other dynamic driver IEMs which need a vent to breathe. As for the design, you can customise the colour of the body and faceplates. The faceplates can be carbon fibre black or silver and the body can be any colour I think. What is interesting is that if you look closely at the drivers of the IEM, you will see that the TWFK drivers are actually inserted into your ear full as they are at the tip of the IEM.
I’m not sure what cable it comes with if you order the most basic IEM with no upgrades, but I got a really well built brown clothed cable that Charles said was copper and silver crystals whatever that means. The braiding was very consistent and didn’t have different sized gaps. While it was quite thick, it was still very easy to use. Microphonics is worse than normal stock CIEM cables, but being a couple of times thicker, this is hardly a surprise. It was the best sounding and easiest cable to use out of the 3 cables that I received even though it was the thickest. I think that this cable is able to be purchased directly from Charles for $160. The first pic is of the old version, the second pic is the RDB v1 next to my full sized customs and the last one is the RDB 2v1 on the left and the RDB v1 on the right.
Sound Quality Sorry if I have bored you with all of that, but now we are finally at the meat of the review – the sound. I will be breaking this part into a few sections like in my previous reviews and as you will soon see, (spoiler alert) I really like this IEM. However, if you are looking for an analytical IEM, this is not for you.
Bass I’m not sure if this is true, but someone mentioned that RDB stood for really dynamic bass. I really do agree with this statement since the bass is certainly more forward than one of a neutral IEM, but it doesn’t always sound like a dynamic driver. Personally, I have always been on the BA side of the balanced armature or dynamic driver debate, but I must say that this dynamic driver has the control of a BA driver, but also has the rumble of a dynamic driver when the song calls for it. The bass rumble is exceptional, but sometimes I think that it is just a tad bit too much, drowning out some micro details. Bass extension is superb and there is no bleed into the midrange. To sum up, bass on the RDB v1 is exceptional and it was certainly the first thing that hit me when I listened to them.
Midrange I must say that the mids are really a love or hate thing. They have this texture that sometimes makes vocals very enjoyable to listen to, but can also seem a bit thin on certain tracks. When I first listened to it, my first thought was that the mids were too thin like the RDB 2v1, but after using it for a while, I realised that they were not as lush as those of my Miracles, but still extremely enjoyable. It is also worth mentioning that the mids are recessed due to the bass and treble being more upfront. As a result, on a few tracks in my collection sounded a bit off. I wouldn’t sound bad, but I enjoyed those of the Miracles and AKG K3003 more. I did like the mids on some songs, but other sounded a bit odd. The Miracles are much more solid and present everything in a more polite manner and it is much harder to fault them.
Treble I can’t decide which part of this earphone I like the best – the bass or the treble. Both sections were extremely fun for me. As I mentioned in my UM Miracle review, I would have loved to have a bit more sparkle without it going overboard and the RDB v1 almost gets it right. It is maybe 1 or 2 db off, being slightly too bright for me. There is slight sibilance but treble detail more than makes up for that. Going from the Miracles to this makes this seem bright and harsh and going from these to the Miracles makes the Miracles seem like there is a slight veil. The cymbals sound a tad harsh, but that is actually what they sound like and if you have gone to hear a band or play in one, you will know what I mean.
Presentation I have read all about the Tralucent 1plus2 and just recently found out that the original RDB+ v1 and the 1plus2 v1 used the same drivers. These are exactly what I read on the 1plus2, but maybe a bit worse. The soundstage is large for an IEM, but not huge and it a bit smaller than the UM Miracles. The RDB v1 also makes music sound like there is a stage in front of you instead of a surround feeling like the Miracles. I actually prefer the RDB v1’s presentation over the Miracles since it is more realistic.
Accuracy I personally perceive accuracy as how similar it sounds to a live presentation and I’m glad to say that the RDB v1 has done exceptionally for a sub $1000 IEM. The reproduce instruments extremely well but there is quite a bit of colouration to the sound. This does make the sound more fun but it is certainly not for one who craves accuracy.
Imaging and Soundstage As mentioned above, the soundstage is very good for an IEM, but not the best that I have heard in an IEM. I just feel like the soundstage of the Miracles and the IE8s are slightly bigger.
The imaging however, is the best that I have heard from an IEM. It is very slightly better than the Miracles because the imaging is more exact and the stage is in front of you rather than around you.
Instrument Separation This puts every IEM that I have heard under $1000 to shame. Everything is so coherent yet you can hear each layer of the music without even trying to. With the Brainwavz B2s, a TWFK driver based IEM, the separation is miles behind this and just cannot match it in any way. On congested tracks, this really does let some instruments shine through or make some things easier to hear. However, it is not the last word in instrument separation and my UM Miracle is better in this area and the K3003 is as well, but only very slightly.
Details This certainly does have a lot of detail, but due to the bass, the details are sometimes a bit hard to make out and some micro details are left out altogether. This is not completely a bad thing since it is much more forgiving of badly mastered tracks than many other IEMs. For example, “Hall of Fame” is truly hard to listen to using my Miracles, but it is still very enjoyable with these.
Summary Rhapsodio have created a world class IEM that they could have very easily priced at $800-$1200 but they have decided to price it at $650. This is not to be interpreted as low worth but is actually high value. I recommend this to anyone who likes a fun sound signature who has less than $1000 to spend and doesn’t mind the low level of isolation. Edit: changed to 4 star because of Rhapsodio's QC problems and their unresponsiveness.
Pros - Great value for money, comfortable, compact
Cons - average soundstage, with some tracks it lacking bass
The Rhapsodio RDB+ 2v1 (formerly known as RDP+ v2) is the baby brother of the RDB+ v1. It's still a 2xBA & 1xDD but instead of a 10mm driver that the older brother has, it sports an 8mm driver instead. As such the overall shell of the RDB+ 2v1 is smaller. In addition, the sound of the RDB+ 2v1 isn't necessarily a successor of the RDB+ v1. Talking to the makers, the RDB+ 2v1 is meant to have a more accurate sound signature, a goal of which I feel they have achieved.
Design & Ergonomics
As can be seen, this isn't a very big IEM. Used with Ortofon tips, it fits snugly and comfortably in my ears and don't protrude out that much. Despite movement from walking or head motion, the IEM sits in place in the ear. Unlike the RDB+ v1, the bass port is placed next to the cable socket instead. At least for my ears, the port doesn't get blocked. However the IEM is prone to wind noise especially in a wind tunnel situation (subway exits, etc.). On normal days though, isolation is decent. I can hear external ambient noise however are easily ignored and not distracting when music starts playing. The construction material is the same as other IEMs and seem durable although it seems more recently it's been revised with an even more robust shell. Note also the goove in the nozzle seems to hold the tips reasonably well. Having said that, My Ortofon tip has fallen off twice early on but haven't fallen out recently.
The RDB+ 2v1 is an easy-to-drive IEM which is easily driven by an iPhone or other mobile device. It doesn't require an external amp, however one still can be used to suit the listener's signature preferences. Although not particularly sensitive to hiss, it is sensitive to poorly mastered recordings however not necessarily sensitive especially with live recordings. However, I've not encountered any issues with poorly ripped tracks.
Tests were all done with the Ortofon tips. Overall, as mentioned in the introduction, I find these IEMs to fulfill it's designers' objectives. The signature is almost somewhat neutral. I'd venture to say that, as per the maker, mostly accurate too. The reason why I mentioned mostly is that occasionally, I find the upper bass/lower mids to be just a tad lacking but not by much. Usually the other positive features of the signature distracts from noticing that lacking point.
I never realised until recently that I'm particularly sensitive to bright trebles. This is coming from someone who used to enjoy the Edition 8's and owned one for 9 months! As such with the RDB+ 2v1, I find the trebles to be sitting on the fence really depending on how the wind blows. Given the right conditions (cable, amp, DAC), it has a very airy and smooth presentation - one of the highlights of the IEM in fact. However with a bright amp + pure silver cables + bright musical tracks, then the trebles could sound harsh. However I don't actually encounter that latter combination that much which means most of the time I'm actually enjoying the airy trebles quite a bit. I also suspect that the mids have a big part at play to the relative perception of the trebles (which is why I may not find the trebles sibilant most of the time).
To my ears the mids are also quite flat except for the lower end where I personally feel it takes a little bit of a dip but not by much. In fact due to the rest of the frequency and the airy trebles, I actually don't notice it most of the time. Vocals sound detailed yet rich and musical. In fact vocal tracks seem to shine with this IEM's signature. Listening to the Norah Jones' Come Away With Me album, there's a lush richness in her voice with an intimate presentation. Listening to Taylor Swift's "Ours" and vocals are great whilst guitars to be quite crystal clear. Similarly with A1's When I'm Missing You, the vocals & guitar at the introduction is quite musical. With Adele's 21 album (possibly more particularly to the "Set Fire To The Rain" track, I personally could do with a little more upper bass/lower mids emphasis. However it's ever so slight that the other positive features of the signature seem to distract me from noticing this little dip.
The bass is an area where I think most listeners will perceive this IEM to be lacking. However what I find rather interesting about the bass is that most of the times when it's truly called for it's there, but's just not forwardly present all the time. Back to the Taylor Swift's track, the bass there fills nicely without being overpowering. However with the A1 track, although the bass is tight, the sub-bass does feel somewhat lacking, therefore lacking the fun-factor too.
Soundstage and Imaging
The soundstage is decent. These days with the likes of FitEar MH335DW or Tralucent 1Plus2 with their supermassive soundstage, the average IEM's pale by comparison. Having said that, it doesn't sound congested by my standards at least. But not exactly super vast either. I feel it performs well amongst its peers. The imaging on the other hand is another forte of the RDB+ 2v1. This is more prevalent with album's such as "This is Chris Botti" with the live recordings.
Airy Presentation, Timbre, & Speed Response
I'm probably repeating the airy presentation again however this is one of the great features in addition to timbre that stick to my mind. String instruments such as violins or acoustic guitars, and percussions just sound so natural with this IEM. I feel they are presented crystal clear and accurate. The response of the IEM also sounds quite fast. Listening to Cher Lloyd's Sticks + Stones album, the tracks don't sound slow at all and keep up pretty well.
Overall to my ears, these IEMs are as what the maker has told me - accurate. To me they also sound mostly neutral of which I'd love to compare them to the UERM one day. They don't have a warm signature, nor are these bassy or hi-fi fun sounding IEMs and if a prospective buyer is looking for those kinds of signature, I'd have to politely recommend looking elsewhere. However if one is looking for a mostly neutral IEM, to my ears they're closer towards being the "monitor" styled signatures - at least tonally. Finally but not least for the price I paid, they are extremely great value for money.
Pros - Bass is very well tubed, articulate yet punchy. Nothing muddy, nothing insufficient. A very big success!
Cons - Mids are not as forward as I would've liked. Borderline recessed: see my review below for explanations
Rhapsodio RDB+ Hybrid:
Is it named after Rhapsodio's Dynamic BA, or for its Really Dynamic Bass?!
Rhapsodio's RDB+ is a really fantastic sounding IEM, the best IEM I have heard actually. However I do not have a lot of iem's as I am more of a headphone headfier. Hence in my review I will focus on the sonic performance of the RDB+ instead of any comparisons unless requested.
Most listening are done by my Sflo:2 LO -> TTVJ Slim, critical judgement from my NFB5.2 and casually from my iPod 3rd gen.
Build Quality, Comfort, Sound isolation etc.
To cut it short, very comfortable, better isolation compared to what I own (GR07, TF10), and maybe Rhapsodio could work on the Build quality e.g. the finish, bubbles inside the shell etc a bit more to let the aesthetics match up with its grande sound.
Sound: Bottom up!
The BASS of the RDB+ is certainly the first thing that caught my attention, in fact it stunned me at maybe the first second of my listening! It was something I have never experienced: a very dynamic, clean but generous amount of bass. Quality is absolutely satisfying, VERY close but not as deep extending as the Denon D5000 - but it is a lot cleaner! While some say the Denon has muddy bass or a slower bass response, the RDB+ is nothing like that. Very quick responses, when the song calls for it the bass punches you miles away, and in a split second it feels like nothing has happened, only I was left there thinking what just happened! It is very amazing to listen to such high quality and quantity of bass in such a tiny pair of in ears, very glad for the review and experience!
The MIDS of the RDB+ however is a little bit too recessed for me. Given my headphone selection (AKG K400, Alessandro MSPro, Senn HD580 etc) and my music preference, the RDB+ is just lacking that little bit of forwardness/aggressive mid sound for them to truly grab my heart. This mainly occur at guitars and male vocals --> meaning the lower mids IF I am correct. I think that is where the Dynamic driver and the TWFK crossover occurs, but by all means ask Rhapdsodio instead of trusting me. I have to mention this because one day at work I decided to listen to some Hikaru Utada on my laptop -> UD100 -> TTVJ Setup and it was very very good. To my surprise there was actually a lot of emotions in her voice which I did not expect when I was auditing these with Eric Clapton/RHCP/other rock music. To me I much prefer the mids on the Alessandro's where the guitar shouts for attention. On the RDB+, the dynamic bass overshines the mids which is not my best preference.
The TREBLE is good, very detailed, and balances the bass presence well. It avoids the sound signature turning into a blackhole with too much bass, by adding that clarity and brightness to the mix. Now I actually think it is normal to have the lower mids slightly recessed due to the brilliant treble and seductive bass tuning. Svyr can be my witness, because I actually pm'd him to confirm if the BA is a TWFK because what I read about iems like the DBA02, UE700 and GR01 matches my sonic impression of the RDB+'s treble.
Other notes: DETAIL detail is unbelievably well presented in these little monitors! And that is across the whole frequency response from Bass to Treble! GREAT JOB in tuning and choosing the right drivers, Rhapdsodio!
TRANSPARENCY, CLARITY I can not describe just how amazing it gets when the dynamic bass driver mates the TWFK. The IEM avoids being too dark nor too bright, yet sound has weight and air, all in one very satisfying package.
Conclusion: It is all about the BALANCE
The RDB+ overall is so nicely balanced that it has many things in the right quality and quantity, only except (slightly) the mids unfortunately. It has the good qualities of a dynamic driver iem, where the bass is visceral and pushes a lot of air, punches into your eardrums. It also has a lot of delicacy in its mids and treble, you can hear it from the amazing details and clarity in the overall tone (even with the great quantity of bass) like the good things you hear about the famous TWFK. If only they could give a bit more bite at the midrange - electric guitar distortions! - the RDB+ would have really tempted me to re-build my portable setup and I might even sell a few headphones to fund them!