RHA Audio T10i Earphones
- Chris Martens
- Jan 2015
Roughly a year a go I penned a Hi-Fi+ web exclusive review of a very fine and surprisingly affordable earphone called the MA750i from the Scottish firm RHA. (https://hifiplus.com/articles/rha-ma750i-earphones/) If you read that review then you already know that we felt the MA750i offered exceptionally good build quality for its modest (£89.95) price. We were also ‘favourably impressed’ by that earphone’s almost self-effacingly neutral voicing, which offered pleasing and unforced qualities of natural warmth and wonderfully even-handed and uncoloured tonal balance – a desirable quality that many earphone makers have found difficult to achieve.
Now, let’s jump forward a year to the present time to ask a simple rhetorical question: What has RHA has done for us lately? The answer, in simple terms, is that the firm has just created a new upscale, yet still quite reasonably priced, high performance earphone that goes even further than the MA750i did in terms of both sound and build quality. The new earphone is called the T10i (£149.95) and it has a number of distinguishing features that set it apart from the MA750i. Among these features are:
An all-new handmade dynamic driver (internally known as the RHA 770.1 driver) that is said to “reproduce all genres of music with high levels of accuracy and detail. An included set of colour-coded, metal, screw-in type voicing filters to fine-tune the T10i’s voicing for a “Reference” (neutrally balanced), “Treble” (slightly treble-enhanced), or “Bass” (subtly bass enhanced) presentation.
Impressive-looking, ultra-comfortable, and very durable earpiece housings made of Metal Injection Moulded stainless steel (not an easy material to use in moulding processes, so that the construction of the earpieces involves heating the housings to “1300° C for up to ten hours to ensure the steel is the correct shape and density for outstanding comfort and durability”).
Distinctive, patent-pending, over-the-ear ear-hooks that are relatively flexible and easy to shape, yet that hold their shapes quite well once properly adjusted.
A multicore, 1.35mm signal cable with oxygen free copper conductors and an Apple-certified three-button in line remote/microphone module.
An elaborate accessories pack, including a premium carry case, single and dual-flange silicone ear tips and memory foam ear tips, plus a detachable garment hook.
Given how good the original MA750i was, I imagine the first question readers will ask is whether the T10i actually does sound better than the MA750i. The short answer is that it does, though the differences are subtle and more qualitative and textural in nature. As we see it, this is a good thing in the that the MA750i offered such admirably neutral voicing; so, too, does the T10i when its Reference voicing filters are installed. And, unlike most earphones on the market, the T10i offers not just one voicing curve, but three distinctly different ones.
Naturally, the sceptics among us will be quick to ask whether the T10i’s voicing filters give critical listeners worthwhile voicing adjustment options as opposed to providing garish sonic effects that represent little more than ill-judged gimmicks. The answer, I am happy to say, is that yes, the voicing filters do give listeners useful presentation control options—options that offer relatively subtle adjustments to the T10i’s standard, Reference voicing curve. The key word in the preceding sentence is ‘subtle’, as RHA’s Bass filters add no more than a 3dB lift in low-frequency output below 100 Hz, relative to the Reference curve. Likewise, the Treble filters provide no more than a +3dB lift in upper midrange/treble output above 1kHz, again relative to the Reference curve. What is more, the Bass and Treble filters both closely follow the shape of the T10i’s Reference response curve, so that the filters could be said to provide “a little lift”—not huge, overwrought, and potentially over-the-top changes in voicing.
For those who might be wondering about this, the small filters (which are a bit smaller in diameter than rubber pencil eraser tips) feature beautifully made, metal enclosures with knurled rims that make the filters easier to grasp and to install or remove. The screw-in filters fit into machined and threaded holes in the mouths of the T10i earpiece sound outlet tubes. Changes, then, are as simple as unscrewing one set of filters and screwing in another. To help owners keep everything straight, the filters are colour-coded (black for Bass, silver-grey for Reference, and copper-colour for Treble) and RHA thoughtfully provides a small stainless-steel carrier plate where users can store those filters not presently in use.
One might well ask whether having multiple voicing filters is even a good idea, but I think that it can be, at least where earphones are concerned. I say this because firms such the Swiss hearing technology company Phonak and others have done research that shows different individuals do have different in-ear perceptions of sonic neutrality. Part of the reason for this may be that, with earphones, the wearers’ ear canals, which of course differ from one another in size, shape, and volume, are in a sense the “enclosures” into which the earphone drivers will load. Given this, offering a means of making judicious voicing adjustments seems a step in the right direction. Readers might find it instructive to note that one of the finest and most expensive earphones ever reviewed by Hi-Fi+, namely the AKGK3003i (£1,000), also provides screw-in voicing filters, meaning the T10i is certainly in good company.
How does the T10i sound? Well, obviously the answer depends to some degree on which filters are installed, but to establish a baseline of sorts I did the preponderance of my review listening with the T10i’s Reference filters installed. Then, as a useful comparison I listened to the T10i in comparison both to RHA’s original MA750i earphones and to the more expensive Westone W10 earphones (£199).
The T10i (with Reference filters) is voiced quite similarly to the MA750i, which is to say that it offers refreshingly neutral tonal balance coupled with what I consider desirable qualities of natural, organic warmth with ample (but not overblown) bass weight and impact. If you listen closely, though, one significant difference you would find is that the T10i offers even higher levels of transient speed, resolution, and overall textural nuance than does the MA750i, so that the T10i figuratively might be described as an MA750i ‘on steroids’. Though both models carry the same 100dB sensitivity rating, it seemed to me that the T10i needed just slightly higher amplifier output settings to achieve the same playback levels as the MA750i. Both RHA earphones are, though, extremely easy to drive.
Once the Westone W10 was brought into the comparison, my observation was that the W10 produced a somewhat more midrange/treble-forward presentation than did the T10i—a presentation replete with crisp, energetic transients. But, one obvious trade-off was that the Westone offered noticeably less mid- and low-bass weight and support. At first, casual listeners might be tempted to blurt out that the Westone ‘sounds clearer’, but further listening reveals that this initial perception is mostly down to the fact that the W10 achieves its perceived edge in clarity at the expense of slightly skewed overall tonal balance and limited bass support, both of which are areas where the RHA, by comparison, excels.
This, however, is where the potential benefits of RHA’s optional voicing filters loom large. Suppose, just for the sake of illustration, that you did an A/B comparison between the T10i and Westone’s W10 and found yourself narrowly preferring the Westones (even though you might miss the RHA’s more even tonal balance and superior bass). In such a circumstance, all you need do would be to substitute RHA’s Treble filters in place of the standard Reference filters to enjoy a touch of midrange/treble lift comparable to that provided by the W10s, while still benefitting from the RHA’s greater bass weight and low-end impact. The point is that the T10i’s give you the means to fine-tune tonal balance to suit your personal listening tastes and preferences, yet without veering into the realm of garish sonic colourations.
Type: Single-driver universal-fit earphone with moulded stainless steel earpieces and three sets of voicing filters.
Driver complement: One RHA 770.1 handmade dynamic driver per earpiece.
Accessories: Multiple ear tips (two pairs of double-flange silicone tips, six pairs of single-flange silicone tips, and two pairs of memory foam tips), stainless steel ear tip carrier card, three pairs of colour-coded screw-in type voicing filters (Bass—black, Reference—silver/grey, and Treble—copper-coloured), stainless steel voicing filter storage plate, signal cables made with OFC conductors and heavy-duty stainless steel fitting with gold-plated conductor plug, in-line iDevice-compatible mic/remote control module, zip-closure carry case, and garment clip.
Frequency response: 16 Hz – 22 kHz
Impedance: 16 Ohms
Weight: 41 grams
Manufacturer Information: RHA Audio
Tel: +44 (0) 141 221 8506
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