- Oct 18, 2009
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.