Like big headphones but aren’t too fond of the larger fit and how it covers your ear? A pair of in-earphones from RHA might just do the job, and they even cater to the pickiest of audiophiles, and people who are just dabbling.
Larger headphones aren’t for everyone, and if you like to walk around with high quality audio in your ears, your choices aren’t nearly as varied without larger cans that can ruin your hair, or make wearing a hat a little miserable.
RHA’s T10i in-earphones aim to help with this, providing an in-earphone that separates you from the world with a stainless steel body, hand-made driver, and several tips to let you find the best fit for the earphone for your ear.
Beyond this basic set of earphone bits, you’ll also find tuning filters for the T10i, little pieces metal that screw into place on the outside of the earphones that allow you to customise the sound, with either more treble or more bass, depending on which of the three tuning filters you use: reference (regular), treble, or bass.
The cable for the RHA T10i is reinforced and relatively thick, and the connections for the earpieces are designed to hook over and around your ear, doing so with a combination of metal and plastic that is, according to RHA, patent pending.
RHA includes a three-button remote with a microphone along the cable of the T10i earphones, though the remote has been designed for use with iOS device (iPhone/iPad), and as such may only pause or play other devices.
A case is included for both the headphones and the tuning filters, with the tuning filters screwing into place for safe keeping on a specialised metal holder designating what each filter does by colour, while a black pleather case holds the headphones.
Let’s start with the basics, because the T10i aren’t your typical pair of in-earphones. Rather, they’re a little special, and given how nice RHA’s equipment has been in the past, we’re eager to play with these.
For starters, there’s the design, which takes the generic in-earphone and basically enlarges the earpiece dramatically.
You might think a pair of earbuds can get big, but the pieces used for the T10i earphones are noticeably large, in that people who see you wearing them will probably wonder how you managed to fit such a large earphone into your ear.
Fortunately, these aren’t total canal-phones, and you only have to put the tip of the earpiece in, leaving the rest of the earphone to rest in the cradle that is the bit of flesh on the side of your head.
That said, they’re still large pieces of metal, with stainless steel casings protecting a handmade drive in a body that will be bigger than most of the earphones you’ve seen.
And this has to sit on the side of your ear.
To help with this, you’ll find a bit of strengthened cabling that you can wrap around the rest of the ear to let these hang down over your ear, dropping into place so that you don’t have to take the brunt of the weight, because even small things can make a difference.
At the first fitting, there’s a good chance you’ll find these a little uncomfortable, and most of that comes from the weight. All you really need to do is put the earpieces in your hand and you’ll feel at least 10 or 15 grams of something, and we suspect most of that heft is coming from the casing, though it will at least be highly resistant.
The cable is also relatively strengthened on the rest of the earphones, with relatively thick grey cabling used for most of the pieces, complete with a small remote that iOS owners will find highly useful, and Android owners will be left grumbling. This reviewer is an Android guy, so… grumble… grumble… one of the buttons pauses and plays… grumble.
Before we get down to brass tacks and test the whole thing, we need to point out why the T10i earphones are so special.
It’s not enough that RHA has provided a metal casing which should survive your life and backpack and pocket and things, and it’s not even enough that you have tips galore, with several silicone options and even some memory foam.
No, what makes the RHA T10i truly special are the filters at the end of the earphone piece, with three different options: treble, reference, and bass.
Think of these as custom tuning pass filters that sit on the end of the driver, just before the comfy tip made for your ear, interpreting the sound by way of some material, and sending that through to your ear drums.
And you get three of these, with each apparently made for slightly different styles of listening.
Out of the box, the reference filters are attached, and it is this pair that you’ll probably start with, because being reference, they give you a firm footing for how the earphones are going to sound for everything.
Over our test, however, we found the treble suited our ears best, with the least amount of bass running through these, but just enough for us to be comfortable. In fact, in our tests, the reference was fairly bassy, and the bass tuning, well… you can probably guess what these were like.
So for this review, we’ve gone with the treble driver, as these seemed to have a better balance, though the inclusion of custom filters is something new, and means you, dear reader and listener, now have the power back and can decide for yourself, which many will see as awesome.
We’ll jump around our sound test a bit, but starting with Tycho’s “Awake”, we found a warm tonality in the highs and bass with the treble driver, with a fairly decent balance to everything, and a good punch to some of the low drum hits in the bottom end. This is with the treble filter, and the reference filter just punches that out a little more aggressively, equalising the bass and making the treble and bass on even footing.
That said, we prefer the low end to sit below the other sounds, and the treble filter did that for us, something we could hear in other tracks, including Daft Punk’s “Solar Sailer” and Radiohead’s “Everything In Its Right Place”, with the high and mids overwhelming your ears, and the bottom end just pushing through underneath.
Harder electronic seems more suited to the bass or reference tuning, and in tracks where more work has been paid to the bass, the highs will seem a little under impressive, though there’s still plenty of noiseless bass to go around, evident in Mooro’s “M66R6” and The Glitch Mob’s “Skullclub”, as well as Bastille’s “Bad Blood”, the latter of these sounding a tad empty and shallow.
From what we can tell, these aren’t “one size fits all” tunings. Rather, the earphones can be customised for the style of music, and we get the feeling music where bass is the priority will be better off with the bass tuning.
In fact, when we tested these tracks with the bass filter, we found more or less that, with more sound at the bottom end, essentially providing a more pronounced bass compared to the mids and highs the treble driver was offering.
Over to rock and back to the treble driver, and we’ve found The Deftones are a little soft but tight in the highs in “Digital Bath”, while Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” pulls back on the bass with the treble tuning and appears a little shallow, almost as if you were listening to the band from afar in your living room. That said, it’s still a good sound, and fitting of people who don’t want their ears bombarded with sound.
Older rock fans will appreciate the warm sound offered up in “Gimme Shelter” from The Rolling Stones, with clear distinction between the overlapping guitars, bass line, and percussion, with Mick’s voice shouting out over the top of it.
Again, not too bassy with the treble filter, though if you want to introduce more, there are two other filters waiting for you. And this feeling was recreated in The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” as well as The Beatles’ “A Day In The Life”, both with strong mids and highs, and just visible enough bass, with a warm back-end that was reminiscent of larger headphones.
Next up is hip-hop and R&B, and while we expect this to be more the domain of the bass tuning, the treble filter has a fairly strong balance in Gorillaz’s “Feel Good Inc” with a warm soft bottom end bass with a hint of push back, and some bright vocals and guitars just beneath them. Galactic’s “Find My Home” offers much the same, even though the bass is clearly stronger here, though the sound is quite warm and easy to get used to. Again, if you like it bassier, grab the reference and bass tunings depending on how heavy you like it.
Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” brings on much of the same, and the drum hits that start the sound are a tad empty with the treble tuning, but the rest of the sound is warm and friendly, like when you heard it through speakers the first time, inviting you to dance.
Classic R&B — you know, soul — exhibits much of that same warmth, too, with a softness to the voices of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell in “Ain’t Mo Mountain High Enough”, the instrument tracks clear and distinct from the rest, with rounded bass sitting just beneath everything it. Stevie Wonder’s classic “I Wish” echoes the feelings we had with hip-hop, with the instruments taking priority, separated and clear, and the vocals begging you to turn the song up if only to get more out of the vocals.
Modern music is bright and sharp, though the treble filter does much the same with instruments a little more noticeable than vocals in the highs, the mids coming to life in Maroon 5’s “Sugar” and Katy Perry’s “Roar”, with enough bass in the bottom end rounding everything out.
The soundscape so far is quite close and welcoming, and with more sound quality than we’re used to from in-ear pieces, with enough bass that you’d swear you’re listening to a larger pair of cans.
Jazz and classical end the sound test, and this is one area we expect to go quite nicely with the treble tuning, resulting in an audio quality that is warm and very easy on the ears, with the double bass in Dave Brubeck’s “Maria” just enough to be there, and not take over the ears as the sax, piano, or drums play, with more of that excellent balance in Louis Armstrong’s “Cheek to Cheek” with Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole’s “It’s Only A Paper Moon”, John Coltrane’s “Blue Train”, and the Miles Davis classic “All Blues”.
In fact, this is a pair of earphones that — together with the treble tunings — are spot on brilliantly suited for jazz, with a recreation that will put you in the same room as the musicians, with not too much of the bottom end, and just enough of the top, filling your eardrums with a sound that occurs almost as if it were real, or that you were really there.
Classical is a little bit shallower, though still fairly balanced, with Claude Bolling’s “Baroque in Rhythm” lacking depth but still appearing relatively balanced, Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” by the London Philharmonic spacious and louder in the bottom and mids than the highs, and Jacques Loussier Trio’s “Theme of Symphony No. 7” just right.
The more you listen to the RHA T10i, the more you begin to think that the earphones are a little like “The Three Bears” of the headphone world, providing a sound that can be either too bassy, offering too much treble, or just right, and because you can change these tuning filters are your discretion, it means you can decide whether the porridge is too hot or too cold whenever you want, so to speak.
And that’s a good thing, because it means the quality of the sound is down to you and your ears.
Unfortunately, it’s also a bit of a bad thing because changing the filters means taking off the ear-tips, unscrewing the filter you were using, choosing the right filter relevant to what you want to use, screwing them on, and screwing the now replaced tuning filter onto the filter holder.
Thankfully, there’s a colour coded system to help you work out what filter does what — treble is gold, reference is silver, and bass is black — but it can be a particularly fussy and fiddly affair, and it’s not the sort of thing you want to be doing in public, so make sure you know what you’re going to be listening to ahead of time.
This attention to customisation isn’t totally new to us, mind you, and we’re seeing different tunings being made to other headphones as time goes on. Most recently, we’ve seen a user modified sound in Parrot’s Zik 2.0, with software helping this out to make almost a custom driver suited for any style of music.
RHA’s take on this is interesting, and is hardware based for people who prefer wired earphones and something less noticeable. As a point, this reviewer can wear the RHA T10i earphones with a hat and have a customised sound. He cannot do the same with the Parrot Zik 2.0 headphones as they’re just too big and too bulky. We love them, but they’re not made to be as compact as the RHA earphones.
You have to admire the gutsy move of RHA to try something like the T10i earphones, because it really does take a bold move to make something so fiddly, and bring it to market.
But that’s kind of the problem with these earphones: they’re a bit of a fussy concept, with the tuning filters reliant on you wanting to change the sound dramatically, and hoping the filters do the job properly.
In a high definition audio world, we can see people who would love that prospect, too, as custom tuning tends to be something made for people who know their music.
For instance, if you know you’re going to play some Miles Davis, Ray Brown, or Oscar Peterson — jazz for those of you who don’t know the artists — you can use the reference or treble filters, with a quality suited to those musicians and style of recording. And if you happen to want to listen to electronic from Skrillex, Daft Punk, or Hybrid, you’re probably going to switch to the bass filters.
And why not? If you can make your music sound better, more power to you.
But this won’t be for everyone because it can be fiddly, and if you prefer to have a sound quality that is pretty solid across all genres, you may want to look elsewhere, because these require you to take a few minutes out and change something when the music just isn’t right.
We love what’s going on here, and RHA has made some good efforts with the T10i, but they’re not going to be for everyone.
That said, people who only listen to one style will probably love what’s on offer, if only because they’ll never have to change to one of the other filters ever again.