Scottish audio brand RHA has given us a taste of customisable earphones before, and in the T20, it’s all about refinement and improvement.
Seriously, these may just about be the best in-earphones we’ve ever heard.
Features and performance
One of the more high-grade pairs of in-earphones you’re ever likely to come across, RHA’s T20 are made from stainless steel and rely on a proprietary design that features a “DualCoil” dynamic driver.
This technology is unusual because it relies on two voice coils inside a magnet to work separately from each other, resulting in what RHA claims is an “ultra-efficient performance”.
Adding to the unusual twin coil system inside the each earphone body, you’ll find a small assortment of tuning filters to change the very definition of the sound.
These include a reference tuning filter, which is what arrives pre-installed to the T20 earphones, as well as one emphasising treble while the other handles bass, and these allow you to tweak the sound not only for your preferred style but for what your ears may or may not prefer.
The tuning filters sit on a metal carrying block, screwing into place with a key to remind you what each filter represents based on the colour of the filter — bronze, silver, and black — while another metal holder providing a selection of tips for the earphones, and the selection here is quite generous, including two pairs of memory foam tips, two pairs of double flange (small and large), and six pairs of standard silicone ear tips with two sets of small, two sets of medium, and two sets of large.
A carrying case is also included which is made to be fairly durable, similar to the cable which is a multi-core cable with a relatively strong and thick cord, even to the point of wrapping around your ears using RHA’s patent pending mouldable over-ear hooks.
Looking at what is included in the package, it’s pretty clear just how premium the T20 earphones aim to be, and taking them out, that feeling continues.
Simply put, the package you get is just so friendly, with plenty of customisation in a product type that normally doesn’t offer any at all.
That’s the thing about earphones: changing sizes of tips isn’t customisation, but can be viewed as such.
But modifying the tuning of a sound product? That’s akin to changing the very personality of the headphone or speaker, and to be afforded this chance whenever music tastes demand it is very cool.
This isn’t the first time we’ve had this opportunity, mind you, because the company first let customers have a taste of this idea in the T10, a model that made Aussie landfall last year offering a set of tuning filters for reference sound, heightened treble, and then heightened bass.
The T20 continue this trend and even keep the tuning filters screwed into a full metal holder which gives off the feeling that these earphones are very premium, which they certainly are.
When you’ve picked the right filter, you just need to install the right tip, and fortunately, there are a bunch of those to choose from. Small aural cavities, big aural cavities, foam, silicone, bi-flange; it’s all here, and ready for those little nubs on the side of your head.
Fitting them to your head can be a little interesting, that said, not just because the RHA T20 earphones are a little heavier (you can thank the metal bodies for that), but also because the cable needs to wrap around the ear.
Once you get the hang of it, it’s a comfy and firm fit that can survive a bit of head movement, meaning running is a distinct possibility, as we found non-stop walking barely nudged them from their spot. Goodo.
Getting stuck into the earphones with the 2016 GadgetGuy Sound Test, electronica starts this thing off, and there’s a nice deep warmth on the reference tuning filters for Imogen Heap’s “Headlock”, the bottom end covering you like a warm blanket while Heap’s voice barely takes a step back from the lows of the instruments.
And there’s balance; oh sweet mercy, is there balance.
That impeccable balance — that distinction between the highs, the mids, and the lows — is something we hear in Demi Lovato’s “Cool For The Summer”, which pumps the bass hard and keeps the vocals and instruments working at pretty much spot on volume differences. Little is lost, and the bottom end may push a little harder in this track, but it’s pretty clear and is easy to get lost inside.
Even gutsy earthy bassy tracks with sensual lows reveals a softness in that bass that takes over, something we found in the ominous back end of The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face” as well as the roundness and clarity of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”.
R&B and pop tends to feel a little more vibrant, while the soul of Marvin Gaye is beautifully clear, a solid separation between the instruments with nothing lost to the dynamics of the track.
Rock lends an ear from the gutsiest of tracks, and you find the bass in the bottom end call out and own your eardrums, while vocals sit just marginally behind, with Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” feeling like an overpowered live session that has been beautifully mixed while the hard edged “Psycho” from Muse has the potential to shatter ear drums with a practically perfect balance between vocals, bass, rough guitar, and the pounding of an eager drummer.
Softer music from The Beach Boys is just as clear, even if the bass doesn’t ring out as much, and the only slight hint of a bottom end is just as distinct, clear, and separate, making for a good prep ahead of the last few tracks which introduce these earphones to jazz and classical.
And in jazz, we find the real instruments of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” and Miles Davis’ “So What” can be heard in pretty much pristine clarity, no excess bass and just that recreation of warmth you’d expect with a great pair of speakers, or in this case a beautiful pair of in-earphones. In the latter of these, in “So What”, if you turn up the volume and close your eyes, you can almost see yourself in the mixing studio when the track was first recorded.
It’s that lovely a recreation, and to have it in a pair of in-earphones is very, very impressive.
The richness of classical finishes this off, and the mids of Yo-Yo Ma’s cello in Claude Bolling’s “Baroque in Rhythm” is rich, while Nigel Kennedy’s violin in “To Shiver, Frozen” is harsh and expressive, something that the RHA T20 have captured beautifully, not missing out on the middle of the track that can elude the highs of some headphones and speakers.
Interestingly, the real fun for RHA’s T20 earphones comes from that level of customisation, which is tremendously cool if you’re used to specific styles of sound or primarily listen to one style over another.
We found this last time in that first generation, the RHA T10, but it feels more like RHA has nailed a balance in the engineering of the tuning filters for this model and that makes a huge difference.
Last time, for instance, the T10 earphones felt more balanced on the treble filters (the bronze coloured ones), while this time the reference variants the earphones are installed on out of the box are actually that: reference filters with balance across the board.
If, though, you prefer music with more in the treble — say jazz, for instance — you may find the detail of the treble tuning filters more matching to your personality. These don’t cut out on the bass altogether, but lessen the impact, making highs just a little brighter, while the bottom end is slightly softer.
Meanwhile, anyone who prefers a meatier bottom end may find the bass tuning filters more interesting, with just a little more oomph and pow on sharp bass hits. This isn’t drowning out bass, mind you, and not to the point where you’ll feel you’re sitting in the middle of a club where the subwoofer has just about blown, but just more bottom end, handy if the style of music you generally listen to orients that way.
Regardless of what you pick, we found the tuning filters this time didn’t make quite as heavy an impact as the previous generation, and that’s a good thing because it means that whether you’re on treble, bass, or reference, you’ll find a pretty solid balance across all.
For what it’s worth, we found the reference drivers were suitable for most types of music, and so we’ve kept with those for most of the testing. You may be different, but at least RHA’s earphones give you that option, something we’ve only seen on earphones made by this company previously.
Mostly, though, we love what we’ve experienced in these earphones, as they offer one of the most complete sounds for a pair of earphones we’ve ever heard. In fact, they go beyond the price point, even beating some headphones with a rich sound that is great.
The weight can still be a little difficult to get used to, and that’s because the stainless steel casings are quite heavy, and much more noticeable than the plastic earphones you’re used to using.
RHA’s cable feels just as good, and the company has even found a way to make this look a little less flash and yet feel just as solid, with a new black mouldable ear-hook that runs around the back of your ears dropping into place much like an in-ear monitor might.
Surprisingly, the fit is comfortable, though it can take some getting used to because of the way the cable still runs along the front of your person. With a cable stretching from the front of the ear to the back, you kind of expect the cable to run along the back of your body, and while you can, it just doesn’t feel right.
One other thing stops us from giving the RHA T20 a perfect score, and that’s the lack of a microphone.
There are two generations of this earphone, with the T20 not including a microphone while the T20i does. Now it’s not hard to work out that the “i” in these earphones suggest “iPhone” and therefore the “MFi” or “Made for iPhone” program, meaning it’ll include a remote that only properly works with Apple devices, but RHA could have easily made the T20 earphones include a microphone and a single button and the earphones would have worked on every phone, not just an iPhone.
With only one variant, it would be easier to pick, and on devices where a microphone isn’t required — say a high-res audio media player — the microphone would have done nothing and the button would have paused and played audio.
But RHA didn’t do that, and instead provide a version for $379 that doesn’t include a microphone and a version for $399 that does.
We think that’s silly and unnecessary, especially when most pairs of earphones are sold to be used with phones.
Seriously, just cut the middleman out RHA, and make the T30 earphones include a microphone by default. It’ll just be easier that way.
It’s not unusual for in-earphones to be halfway to decent or something far less, and while we’ve seen some excellent in-earphones, impressive balance tends to be an area better suited for headphones that go over the ears or on the ears.
That’s one of the reasons why we’re so spectacularly impressed by what’s on offer from RHA’s T20, because while the originals were good, the new ones are even better, producing about the most accurate earphones we’ve listened to with a customisation that true audio geeks are going to adore.
Granted, spending near $400 on a pair of earphones isn’t going to be something within reach for all audio enthusiasts, but if you like a pair of earphones that can be seen and not heard by others — only you — RHA’s T20 are a brilliant choice, and even though no one else will hear your tracks, you will be living the dream inside a soundscape only your brain can imagine. Highly recommended.