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[Review] Encore RockMaster OE (Over-Ear) - a superb $30 budget headphone [crowdfunding is LIVE]

Discussion in 'Headphones (full-size)' started by armaegis, Jul 24, 2015.
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  1. Armaegis
    Announcement here: http://www.sonicunity.com/blogs/news-1/36252545-the-encore-rockmaster-headphone-coming-soon
    indiegogo is now live:
    I've had the opportunity to evaluate the Encore RockMaster OE before release. For the early crowdfunding price of $30, these are a stupid good value.
    I like them, and that's coming from a guy who's usual headphone setup is literally 100x more expensive. It actually feels a bit odd for me, trying to review something on this end of the spectrum. There's a bit of a disconnect as my mind tries to ratify the huge amount of money I've spent on my other gear to achieve just the “right” sound that I like, and the other half of my ear that puts these on and goes “hey, these are nice!”.
    What (full sized) options do you have in this budget range? Ok there are plenty from the local BestBuy, but let me clarify: what good options do you have in this budget range? There's the Monoprice 8323, the Sennheiser HD201/202, maybe one or two Sonys (there's a dozen different models each year, who can keep track?)... but after that I'm starting to draw a blank.
    What does $30 typically get you? A plastic frame, gaudy colours, and sound that's frankly only marginally better than your freebie earbuds. Even the examples I gave above that sound decent, they're still all plastic and mediocre in build and comfort.
    So here comes this RockMaster guy, and I can't figure out how they do it for $30. It's got a nice clean look to it, metal headband and arms, removable cable, large comfortable pads, and a build quality that inspires some confidence. I wouldn't pick up a Sennheiser and twist it to test its strength, but I'm pretty sure I can toss the Rockmaster down a flight of stairs and survive. (In fact, I just did. It's fine.) On top of that, it actually sounds good. One of my very first big reviews on this site was a big comparison of DJ style headphones all in the ~$150-200 range, so I like to think I have a pretty good grasp on that market segment. I put on the Rockmaster for the first time and I immediately thought “yup, fits right in with those guys... what, this is a fifth of the price?”
    Look at me, I'm a guy with (more than one) thousand-plus dollar headphones who powers them off monoblocks or kilowatt speaker amps and an external dac that blinks the sample rate at me in glorious placebo driven validation. I boarded the train to Nutsville a long time ago. Every once in a while though I'll take a trip back to Sanitytown, and the Rockmaster ticks all the right boxes for me at a price I still don't understand.
    For you established headfi guys looking for a budget can to kick around for fun, kick that Monoprice 8323 to the curb and get these instead.
    So how does this thing sound? I classify this as a well done “consumer” signature. There's extra oomph in the bottom end for all your drum & bass needs and movie special effects. It provides a satisfying thump without gurgling into the rest of the sound and blurring details. The top end is slightly extended to give some extra zing to your listening. It avoids the pitfalls of other cheap cans that often sound bloated and boomy and/or shrill at the same time.
    Those other cheap examples I mentioned above? Lots of bass, and that's about all they have. Most of the time that bass also bleeds into the midrange and makes things blurry and indistinct. The RockMaster avoids this pitfall, although it does sound a little withdrawn, particularly with female vocals (male vocals are fine for the most part). Most headphones also have a peaky treble, meaning the frequency response has a couple spikes due to resonances in the cup. This often leads to shrill and fatiguing sounds after extended listening. The Rockmaster is very very odd in this regard, as the treble feels elevated to me, but very level handed. It maintains a nice sense of cohesion and detailing. There is perhaps a bit of a rolloff at the very top of the hearing range, which also smooths things over a bit.
    If I had to list one downside to the Rockmaster, it would be in its soundstage. In this area it falls flat, literally, as in the sound feels flat. While the elevated bass and treble ranges provide lots of energy, it can make the music seem withdrawn if you're vocal heavy. I found moving the headphones forward on my head did much to improve the soundstage, albeit at the cost of reduced comfort.
    I'm not one to gush about a new product, and perhaps I nitpick out of habit. Make no mistake though, the Encore Rockmaster OE is a killer bargain. The MSRP will be $59 and I'd consider that a good deal, but early crowdfunding pricing will be $30 which is a steal. There are very very few headphones with such solid metal construction at this price point, which is good enough to qualify them as good “beater” headphones. The fact that they sound pretty darned good for the price is just gravy.
    If you're an “audiophile” listener who's library consists of mainly a single female voice accompanied by a cello, this is not the headphone for you. If you're looking for gaming headphones or want to mix/produce, these aren't for you either. If you want something cheap but sturdy enough to toss in a bag and sounds good while walking about your busy day, then you better keep this one your shortlist.
  2. Armaegis
    Anyone who's read my reviews before knows that I am a terrible photographer.
    Look at this, I can't even get the lighting right.
    Too much flash now, but hey that's what the side looks like
    Three dimensional representation of an isometric visualization... aka "picture at an angle"
    Full frontal without the frontalness
    Tyll calls this the jackhole.
    Not the most exciting onoff, but if you knew what that was you'd be heading there now wouldn't you?
    Trying to show the angle to the driver and the riser to angle the pads
    That gap
  3. Armaegis
    Ok so here was an early version of my review, but written from the point of view of a guy comparing it to his $3k headphone rig. It's got my usual snark as I nitpick at everything like I always do, but seriously just keep in mind that the RockMaster is a measly $30. That's working a minimum wage job for a single afternoon. It's rare to find any serviceable headphones in that range, nevermind good ones.
    Build Quality
    Overall build quality feels very solid. The cups are plastic with a soft matted feel on the sides, and covered with a pleathery material on the back with their logo. The forks are metal and feel quite sturdy; I could bend them if I really wanted to, but under normal use they should be fine. The edges on the forks are ever so slightly rough and some of the bare metal might show through the anodizing (nothing a quick touch with a permanent marker won't fix), but that's the engineer in me looking for something to pick at.
    The adjustment mechanism is just a basic slider with no detents. My personal preference would be to have a slightly tighter slider, but when they are on your head the side pressure is more than enough to hold them securely in place. There is no folding mechanism (if they could do that for a future product, I'd be really keen for that). The cups can rotate only across the horizontal axis, and the joint is actually so stiff that you have to manually adjust it before putting it on your head. There's only a couple degrees of rotational play on the vertical axis due to the flex in the headband itself.
    The headband feels like a plain band of metal, with some padding around it. Simple Done. The earpads are likewise a simple pleather and foam affair. They offer ample room and good depth and don't heat up too much. I wouldn't mind something a little softer and deeper, but I've been spoiled by pads that are triple the cost of this entire headphone. The overall fit is somewhat on the large side. I have the sliders in the smallest position to fit on my noggin. I do wish there were some rotation on the vertical axis to account for my wide jawline which often leads to seal issues beneath my ear, but I can't expect the moon here.
    Removeable cable with a 1/8” jack on the cup so you can fit any standard cable into there. The jack is slightly recessed, but the opening is large so you should be able to fit most cables in there. The included cable feels reasonably solid. It's flexible with a cloth sheathing, hard molded plastic ends with a small rubber strain relief on the ends.
    The cup are glued shut, so I don't know what's going on inside. Just under the pads though, you can see that there's a bit of contouring going on to angle the pads and the driver, and at the bottom the lip is actually vented. Very interesting.
    With a multimeter I measured a resistance of 36 ohms.
    These have a moderate sensitivity. I don't have an exact spec, but from my little Sansa Clip+ (which is not what you would call a powerhouse) these can get to uncomfortably loud levels so that's good enough for me. I played around with some amping, and while they do sound a bit better, it is not necessary at all.
    Isolation is quite average for a closed can. Cuts out a decent amount in the treble, not as much in the mids. Sounds like there's that typical resonance in the lower mids that most closed cans have, which makes for a hollow whispering sound from ambient air noises.
    Sound Quality
    The entire bass region is elevated and shows fairly strong extension down to 40Hz. It is not overly humped like most closed cans. I suspect the venting at the bottom beneath the pads helps to flatten that out. There is decent rumble, but not head shaking. If I had to criticize, it is that the impacts feel rounded off and a bit slow.
    The mids feel withdrawn yet a teensy bit pushy at the same time. There is some mild emphasis at 800-1kHz, dips down then rises into and a stronger peak around 2-3kHz. I feel like there is possibly a decay or distortion peak in this region, as something feels a bit tizzy. Female vocals sound a bit boxy, but male vocals for the most part sound ok.
    Compared to the mids, the treble region is bright-ish, not overly peaky but is a bit elevated overall. Instead of the usual rollercoaster ride, it seems to hit a shelf around 5kHz to my ears. I like this actually, as it makes things pop a bit without sounding harsh or shrill. That said, the top is still missing some refinement, although it isn't rounded like I felt with the bass.
    In terms of soundstage, it doesn't have the “typical” closed headphone cupped feeling (which to me feels a bit “honky”), but it is still very obviously a closed headphone. Almost “damp” if I had to pick a word. The staging is very flat and somewhat withdrawn, making voices seem further away. If I push the headphones forward on my head so that the back of the pads are up against my ears, the staging improves a lot actually, giving the sound some width and making it feel less withdrawn.
    Overall this is a warm sounding headphone, but with a bit of crispiness in the top end that gives it a V-shaped sound with the ends flattened out. What I would call a very comfortable “consumer” sound, but not overdone. As with all v-shaped signatures, there's good energy for all the drum & bass and the crashes & zings, but there's a bit of a disconnect where vocals are concerned, like they're a separate layer of the music instead of being within it.
    I actually quite enjoy these for watching movies. The tonality is just right for all the FX sounds, and the vocal layering actually works better in a non-musical setting.
    I very recently reviewed the Noontec HammoS (MSRP $110), so since it is the freshest in my head I'll put up some quick notes comparing them:
    - doesn't extend quite as deep (but close)
    - treble hotter but flatter
    - basically rotate the whole FR a bit clockwise
    - needs more power
    - overall tone more neutral
    - flatter soundstage
    - much less fatiguing, does not have that pressure build
    I am very much a modder, and nary a headphone makes it across my desk without alterations of some kind.
    I wanted thicker pads, so I simply stacked some T50rp pads on top
    - get more depth to soundstage
    - less withdrawn
    - slightly better isolation
    - improved seal, deeper rumble, tiny boost; because pushing forward gave that better stage
    Shure 840 pads are fantastic
    - they make everything better; the thicker fabric in the middle helps cut down treble, better seal and thus better bass, thicker and more comfortable
    I wanted to tame a bit of the top end
    - a bit of damping/felt/filler in front of the driver beneath the pads to bring that shelf down
    - tones it down; not necessarily more balanced, just different
  4. jasonl Contributor
    This is the Indiegogo preview page: https://www.indiegogo.com/project/preview/e984f477#/story
    Some of you might know that many headphones in the < $300 price range are built from OEM house models. There are literally thousands of models being offered by the OEM factories at any given time. We selected these two over-ear and in-ear headphones from a lot of OEM house models from different factories, customized them from OEM tool and then crowd fund in one single production (there is no guarantee that there will be another production). This approach significantly lower the retail price and our cost.
    It will only work when 1) we are able to find good and low cost OEM housings that are easy to customize; 2) able to find enough people to crowd fund the production to meet production MOQ (minimum order quantity).
  5. Roderick
    Nice review! Like you, I have expensive headphone system but I've been following budget headphone industry for years. I have not heard the rockmasters, but I'f those will be available in EU I will propably try those. I like the angled pad system, which is still quite rare in cheap headphones.
    Like JasonL posted these are an OEM headphones but Rockmaster's are not the first version of the same OEM model. Rock-It Sounds R-Studio headphones have been available for couple of years. Would be nice If someone could compare Rockmasters to Rock-it sounds. 
    JasonL: Is the driver used from the same oem as the housing? Completely new or just tuned to your liking? 
    Anyway, thanks for the honest approach. There are so many companies these days that claim they have done everything from scratch, never mentioning they use oem parts. After your post my interest on these headphones peaked :)
    It seems to me, that you been out of budget game for quite a while now? In the recent years headphones in the sub $50 category have evolved a lot. Many experienced head-fiers often recommend the monoprice and sennheiser (and koss porta pro) for beginners, because those were the good cheap choices when they were new to headphones. Truth is those headphones became outdated years ago. In my books they don't even make the top 50 of inexpensive headphones today. Of the older budger headphones CAL! and JVC ha-rx700/rx900 are the only ones still relevant today imo.
    My favorites are Takstar HI2050 and Takstar Pro80. For less than $50 those have a build and sound quality of $150 headphones. I like pro80's better than ath-m50, dt770, , ue6000, Beyer COP... And it's not just Takstars. There is Superlux, Somic etc... Even the fischer audio fa-003/Brainwavz hm5 is originally a budget headphone. Digitech Pro monitor headphones which are identical to HM5 were sold by jaycar. I got mine for 40 euros, that includes shipping from Australia to EU. 
    I hope that more people with expensive setups take a further look into budget headphones of today. Like Armaegis discovered with Rockmasters, it can give a new perspective on what little money can get you these days.  This is what some $50 headphones look like:
    takbox.jpg symp.jpg
    digi.jpg hi2050.jpg
  6. jasonl Contributor
    There is another in-ear from a different OEM still being reviewed. Basically we take the OEM++ process as if we are going to make an "expensive" headphones, but stop short of completely changing the look & feel.
    We evaluated some of the popular cheap headphones that you mentioned too, what we found is that they are good, but not quite there yet. For example, besides customizing the driver (there is a limit to what driver and how much to customer since it has to fit the existing housing), normally cheap headphones don't use high quality memory foam and that's another upgrade. We also invested in some tooling to align and shape the memory foam for better acoustic. Cable change. More acoustic tuning etc. 
    The objective for this project is > good and cheap headphones out there, bring it closer to the good name brand sound quality, but below the retail price of cheap headphones.
    This approach as its limit. There is also the saying of "you pay for what you get". 
    The RockMaster IE is a very good sounding balanced armature + dynamic dual drivers in-ear that could have easily retail for $99 or $129.  Our approach has another limitation - we rely on crowdfunding for a single production. There is not enough margin for continue production (typically some of the profit from the first production help pay for the 2nd production and so on).  So here you go, buy while it last.  We will bring out something very different next time. 
    International shipping cost is high for a single purchase, but if you combine RockMaster IE and OE, the shipping cost is the same as OE alone. Or some of you could buy as a group for 10-pack pricing with much lower shipping cost.
  7. Armaegis
    While it's true I haven't rotated through as many budget cans in recent years like I used to, I do keep a bit of an eye on the usual offerings that pop up. And being a local meet organizer means I do get quite a bit of exposure.
    I was originally comparing right at $30. Many of those examples you listed are pushing $50+ and some pushing $100. Maybe if you luck out and find it on sale and happen to be in the right country, but not everyone will catch it at the right time or even be able to order it (my options are much more limited here in Canada for example; I know importing to the EU can be a pain as well but I think overall your options are a little wider than mine). The $50-100 market is pretty big. Even the $30-50 has quite a few options. Stepping into the $20-30 range to find solid full sized headphones is fuzzy territory.
  8. Roderick
    I guess I was comparing apples to oranges here. I was focusing on rockmaster full  price of $59. I agree that  $20-30 range is a tough one. Takstar hi2050 can be had for less than $30 shipped, if you order those directly from china. Pro80 goes for $50. For US people there are cheaper rebrands available on amazon.com. But for the rest of us the best way to get a good price is buying from china(aliexpress and such).
    Superlux hd681 is a good one for less than $30 but very shrill on the treble. Fa-004/hm5 rebrands are available under variety of different brands. For the price those are very balanced sounding headphones. I think cheapest ive seen go for $15. But yeah...choices are limited for $30. Tascam th02 gor praise for their measurements but I think those sound mediocre.
    Be the rockmasters $30 or $59 headphones, I'm still interested. I like their approach and it does seem these will be a serious bang for the buck headphones. 
  9. jasonl Contributor
  10. Armaegis
  11. tinyman392
    I couldn't find a general impressions thread, I'd start one, but don't have the time to upkeep the OP to keep track of all the good stuff (others' impressions, etc.).  
    I got a pair of these in today along with their in ears.  It's an interesting sound, kind of v-shaped definitely bass-heavy in a way with a large open sound good for separation and layering.  Midrange seems to be receded a little with a strong focus on the bass that has a thick, yet punchy sound.  The treble is on the thinner end with good dynamics and separation; they sparkle quite well with good timbre overall.  The midrange tends towards the warmer, lusher side, in a way, it's kind of veiled.  Those are my initial ideas though, maybe it'll change as I use them more.  The pads will have to break in to conform to the shape of my head for sure.  
    EDIT: definitely doesn't sound v-shaped, the treble and midrange is pretty level.  
  12. gikigill
    Looking good so far, probably get the bundle as it's pretty good value especially the IEM. 3 drivers for $30 is unbelievable.
  13. Armaegis
    I'm not a huge iem guy and admittedly I don't have a huge scope of experience with many of the newer name brands , but I've got a different one in my hands for review this week which costs thrice as much and has earned generally high reviews here... and frankly it sucks compared to the RockMaster. Yeah the RockMaster was not without it's quibbles, but I overall enjoyed it. This other one was more of a chore, and many times as I was taking my notes I just didn't want to listen to them anymore because I couldn't enjoy the music.
    edit: whoops meant to post this in the IE thread [​IMG]
  14. tinyman392

    I thought it was a dual driver design...  1 BA + 1 dynamic.  They also only list specs for 2 drivers on there (their Indiegogo).  I could be wrong though.  Either way, a hybrid design for 60 is not seen often.  
  15. ahunatu
    A 30 dollar headphone that holds it's own with 150 dollar headphones is very interesting. For 30 dollars is that even possible? And it's good quality sturdy design? Shipping in OCTOBER?! Damn you time!!!!!!!
    I look forward to reading more reviews on these. If they are really that good I don't mind paying 59 dollars(I doubt they will stay at that price anyway). If it's that good it will destroy anything in the 60 dollar price range anyway.
    I don't know I'm a skeptic -I would be very surprised if these sounded better than Takstar pro80(not that the takstars are that great but for the 40ish dollar price they're very ambitious).
    What headphones in the 150 dollar price range would you compare them to Armaegis?
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