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RHA MA750i Earphones

RHA MA750i Earphones

RHA is a British (well, Scottish) audio manufacturer that aims to revise our thinking on what a genuinely modestly priced pair of earphones can be and do, both in terms of sound and build quality. As a case in point, I would cite RHA’s flagship model, the MA750i which sells for $129.95 (US), £89.95 (UK), or €99.95 (EU). If you stop to think about it, you could easily go out with your mates, spring for some delectable pub grub and a few pints, only to find you’d actually spent more for the evening than RHA’s top-flite MA750i would have cost you. In my book, this math makes the MA750i a potential bargain (or what we Amurricans might call “a screamin’ good deal”), provided the earphones sound good and are well made. But is that the case?

Yes. Full stop.

We could pretty much end this review right there, but it would hardly seem sporting of me. After all, surely Hi-Fi+ readers are eager to learn how and why a British earphone is acquiring a bit of a reputation as a giant killer on both sides of the Atlantic and on both sides of the English Channel. I generally prefer to leave discussions of sonic character for last, so let’s begin by looking at what your £89.95 will buy you if you invest in a set of MA750i’s.

When you open the box you’ll discover the MA750i is beautifully made. For starters, its earpiece enclosures are made of machined 303F-grade stainless steel, which creates a strong, positive first impression. Nothing—absolutely nothing—looks cheaply made, here. The ‘phones are supplied with a large diameter set of smoothly-jacketed, steel reinforced, oxygen free signal cables that terminate in a robust, knurled metal mini-plug fitted with a gold plated, four-conductor plug tip. The “four-conductor” bit refers to the fact that the MA750i is fully iPod/iPhone/iPad compatible and accordingly comes with a machined metal in-line three-button remote/mic module (with soft rubber button surfaces for better ergonomics). Sturdy strain reliefs are fitted where the signal cables enter the earpieces and where the signal cable routes into the connector plug. Even the “Y-yoke” (the joint where the left and right earpiece leads join the main signal cable) is handled via a knurled metal connector whose fit and finish mimic those of the main output connector.

 

On the inside, the MA750i equipped with RHA’s handmade 560.1 dynamic drivers said to provide “precise, balanced and articulate sound reproduction with a great depth of soundstage.” In a move rarely seen amongst earphone makers, RHA publishes a frequency response curve for the 560.1 drivers on its web site, enabling prospective buyers to judge for themselves how smooth the curve is. In particular, the broad region between 20Hz through 7kHz is exceptionally flat and smooth, with the MA750i’s high-frequency response handily extending out beyond 22kHz.

But another big part of the MA750i’s appeal involves (with apologies to Thomas The Tank Engine fans everywhere) its really useful set of accessories. We think users will especially enjoy the RHA’s padded, leatherette, zipper-closure, carrying case, which is about the size of a small pocket diary. On the left hand interior of the case, elastic straps hold in place a stainless steel ear-tip holder populated with an impressive assortment of tips. All told, the MA750i comes with six pairs of dual density tips (two sets each of sizes S, M, and L), two pairs of double-flange tips (sizes S and M), plus two pairs of universal-fit memory foam tips. The sheer variety of ear-tips provided should enable most any MA750i listener to obtain a comfortable, airtight fit. The right hand interior of the case provides a stretchy mesh pocket where the earphones and their signal cables can be stored. Finally, there is a cable garment clip for those who wish to use one.

The picture I hope readers will take away from the foregoing description is that the RHA MA750i neither looks nor feels like an “entry-level” earphone; instead, it feels like something more, which may explain why these ‘phones carry an impressive (and uncommon) three-year warranty. All of this is well and good, but how does the MA750i sound?

Sonically, the MA750i does not disappoint. It’s defining characteristic, I would say, is a broad, smooth midrange band that is, as promised, articulate, smooth, and expansive. Indeed, the MA750i’s midband performance makes the entire earphone sound more sophisticated (more “high-end-orientated,” if you will) than it has any right to do for the price.  Thus, the MA750i’s midrange is the star and centerpiece of the entire show, which is all for the best.

 

Bass is taut and nicely defined with good depth, though it might be just slightly too lightly balanced for some tastes. This bass characteristics results, I suspect, from the fact that RHA designers have given the MA750i uncommonly flat bass response, whereas some earphone aficionados would argue that a judicious, well-calculated touch of bass lift can help earphones more closely duplicate the in-room sound of fine monitoring speakers. (If that statement seems odd—as in, “How could flat bass response not be good?”—it helps to bear in mind that loudspeakers typically enjoy some degree of low frequency “room gain,” whereas earphones do not). Connoisseurs of flat response, however, should be quite pleased. Either way, let your ears be your guides.

Up in the upper midrange and treble region, the MA750i is a good performer with plenty of edge definition and clarity, though—on some tracks—occasional faint hints of a very subtly coarse or granular sound. This may not be a matter of inaccuracy or colouration, however; rather, it could be that the MA750i is simply “telling it like it is” vis-à-vis less than excellent recordings. Like many upper tier audio products, the MA750i sounds noticeably better when fed with good musical software and driven by high quality (though not necessarily high cost) electronics.

During my tests, I tried the MA750i with both my iPhone and my office iMAC, playing lossless files from both. Both Apple products had adequate output for the MA750i, but they were not good enough, in a qualitative sense, to tap the RHA’s full sonic potential. To do that, I found a good portable amp (or amp/DAC) was required and two I might suggests would be the terrific iFi iDSD nano DAC/headphone amp and/or the iFi iCAN nano headphone amp. Through electronics like these, you’ll soon get a much clearer picture of the performance potential the MA750i has on offer.

Listening to the MA750i’s on Charlie Haden and Antonio Forcione’s performance of “For Turiya” from Heartplay [Naim, CD] proved instructive. On this very well recorded track, the bass balance of the RHAs seemed picture perfect, while the low-end tautness, control, and pitch definition of the MA750i’s let me hear the textural subtleties of Haden’s acoustic bass. Haden, in my view, is one of those bassists able to go far beyond merely playing the right notes at the right time, so that he becomes in a very real way a sculptor of timbres. Here, the RHA ‘phones are in there element showing one layer of textural subtlety after another. At the same time, the clear, lilting voice of Forcione’s guitar lofts up above the bass lines, supplying melodic direction and piquant sonic commentary. There is a spacious and almost ethereal quality  to Forcione’s performance and the sweet, detailed, and expansive mids of the MA750i do it full justice—especially in terms of capturing the sound of the guitar as it interacts with the reverberant acoustics of the recording space.

The MA750i is not a perfect earphone (common sense should tell us there probably is no such thing), nor will it be all things to all people (especially not for those who want either a little or a lot of bass boost in their ‘phones), but it is hands down the finest earphone I’ve heard at its price point. If you’ve debated over whether to pick up a good set of earphones or to make do with the cheapie earbuds that probably Came with your iPod or mobile phone, the MA750i gives you a compelling, no-brainer answer. Buy a set of these RHA ‘phone and you’ll soon enjoy surprisingly sophisticated sound at what must be considered a bargain basement price. Our thought: buy ‘em before RHA comes to its senses and decides to charge more.

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

Driver type: Single RHA 560.1 dynamic-type driver

Frequency range: 16Hz – 22kHz

Impedance: 16 Ohms

Sensitivity: 100dB

Cable: 1.35M, steel reinforces, OFC conductors, with gold-plated 3.5mm mini-plug.

Weight: 36 grams

Price: $129.95 (US), £89.95 (UK)

Manufacturer Information

RHA (Reid Heath Acoustics)

Tel. +44 (0) 141 221 8506

URL: www.rha-audio.com, www.rha.co.uk

Tags: FEATURED

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