Earbuds and earphones don’t always have the best reputation. They’re often tinny or overly bassy, and almost always uncomfortable, so it’s a nice surprise when we encounter a pair of earphones that aren’t expensive and are, well, good. Really good.
Produced by the Scottish brand RHA, the MA450i earphones are small in-ear buds that are inserted in the ear, though not as deep as some of the more expensive earphones and canalphones you find out there.
The 450s come in two colours – black and white – with the main earphone housing machined from solid aluminium and connected with a 1.5 metre cable that’s coated in fabric.
RHA has provided seven different silicone eartips, essentially catering for all sizes of earcanals, and they follow the pretty generic design, making them fit most earphones and canalphones we’ve come across thus far.
A small remote sits on the cord for the right earpiece and offers volume up, volume down, playback control, as well as a microphone on the reverse side. Depending on how many times you press the main playback control button, the audio could pause or play (one press), skip forward one track (two presses), or go back a track (three presses).
The 3.5mm connection is gold-plated, much the norm these days, and a carrying case is included, made of a velvety material.
Earbuds and earphones don’t generally have the best reputation for quality sound, and we’re never sure what to expect when we throw a new pair in our ears and switch on some tunes.
It’s nice to know, however, that we can be pleasantly surprised.
With RHA’s M450i, you’ll find a pair of lightweight metal in-earphones that sit just ever so slighlty inside the ear, and don’t go in all the way like some high grade premium canal phones do.
This sort of ear placement makes the earpiece comfortable, even if a light tug on the cord can cause them to fall out without a problem. Thankfully, there’s a cable tightener on the cord, which can keep the left and right ear cords close together, so they don’t go tumbling to the dirty ground.
The braided fabric on the cord is interesting, too, becauce it elicits a feeling that the cables will last longer than other rubbery or plastic ones, though it can still tangle easily enough, unlikes the flat cables from other earphones.
A choice of seven silicone tips is a first for us, especially on a pair of earphones that have a price tag of under a hundred dollars, and the inclusion of bi-flange tips is nice, especially since we only expected the rounded silicone tips that generally fit most of these earphones.
Most people buy headphones to listen to music, so we plugged these straight into our iPad to check out what our regular set of music sounds like through them.
Rock and alternative tracks were generally quite bright, with an emphasis on deep and punchy bass, even if the heavy low sounds could overpower the mids and highs quite easily. In Alex Clare’s “Up All Night” and Muse’s “Uprising,” the bass stood out, though it wasn’t nearly as prominent in Jimi Hendrix’s classic “Voodoo Chile,” which had a clear cut balance between the mids and the highs, as the sounds traveled throughout the left and right channels.
Over on the electronic and pop front, most of our test audio yielded clear separation, such as in Imogen Heap’s “Headlock” and Ellie Goulding’s “Lights,” where you could hear a difference between each of the overlapping sounds, and which all had a degree of dimensionality across the sounds.
The one thing we noticed about the RHA MA450i earphones is that they feel like they have a personality, erupting with a warmth that almost feels like you’re wearing high grade headphones. We’re not quite sure what RHA has done to make their earphones sound this good, but we like what we’re hearing.
Jazz and funk echoed this feeling too, with Trombone Shorty’s “Buckjump” clear and vibrant, even if the bass could occasionally be a touch overpowering. The Miles Davis classic “All Blues” was well balanced too, and sounded full, as opposed to the often shallow and empty combination of audio other earphones can leave you with. Likewise, Chano Dominguez’s take on “Flamenco Sketches” sounded close to live, with the combination of percussion all evident, band members calling out, and the keys and bass all working together.
Interestingly, we didn’t have to turn up the music too much with these earpieces, as they were loud enough at just under half the volume capable from our iPad, much less than the close to maximum volume we need on our Bluetooth headphones.
Overall, it’s very impressive.
The remote is also useful too, providing an easy way of controlling your iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch, but not necessarily your Android smartphone.
We’re not sure why they’re so different, but the MA450i remote – which we’re told is the same one on RHA’s other listening devices – won’t control the music in the same way on our Samsung Galaxy S3. You can still get the audio out to your ears with the earphones, which is great, but depending on the app you use on Android, you may not be able to switch tracks or change the volume.
With the native Samsung Music Player and our preferred app Doubletwist, we had no problems pausing and skipping tracks forward, but couldn’t go backward a track, nor did we have any volume control.
If you use an Android smartphone, it’s worth noting that your audio will still be good, but the remote won’t necessarily work the same as it will on Apple’s slate of iDevices.
When you’ve reviewed technology as long as we have, earphones don’t often get you excited. Generally, the quality on offer isn’t as good as what the companies like to tell you, with typically tinny sound, so-so comfort levels, and prices that don’t really substantiate what you’re getting. Headphones are a different story altogether, but earphones can often leave you feeling like you’ve been shortchanged.
With the MA450i earphones, it’s nice to be proven wrong, for a change.
For once, we have comfy earpieces with more volume than we’re used to, and a lovely warm quality to the sound, providing the sort of audio we’d expect out of something that would normally come with a much higher price.
Given the $60 price tag, it’s a pair we can easily recommend, and since it comes in white, it should make the colour coordinated iPhone people out there very, very happy.
Where to buy: available from Encel Stereo