Over the past few years, Hi-Fi+ has followed the evolution of the Scottish earphone specialists RHA Audio closely. Over time the firm has consistently shown that it knows how to make musically satisfying, well constructed, beautifully finished, and keenly priced earphones that stand as a reference standard in terms of value for money. First we favourably reviewed RHA’s MA750i (£89.95) and then the T10i (£149.95), keeping close tabs on the firm’s successive new flagship models. Now, we have the firm’s latest flagship earphone, the T20 (£179.95), which may well represent RHA’s greatest single leap forward in sound quality to date.
If you are familiar with typical earphones in the sub-£200 price class, you might picture them as comparatively generic and, frankly, unexceptional products—products built down to a price point rather than up to a quality standard. Happily, RHA’s T20 proves the exception to the rule. Instead, from the moment you first crack open the packaging, everything about the T20 exudes quality, refinement, and attention to detail.
For example, where some competitors might mould their earpieces from comparatively cheap-looking thermoplastics, RHA fabricates the T20’s earpieces from injection moulded stainless steel. Similarly, where competitors might provide flimsy-looking signal cables fitted with fragile connector plugs, RHA instead equips the T20 with multicore, steel reinforced, oxygen-free copper cables terminated with robust, gold-plated plugs enclosed in stainless steel housings. When you hold an RHA earphone in your hand, then, it has the unmistakable feel of something built with genuine care and precision.
RHA’s list of differentiators doesn’t end here. Where some competitors provide only minimal earpiece strain reliefs for their signal cables, RHA equips its earpieces with ingenious, mouldable wire guides that users can form into comfortable over-the-ear shapes (and that retain those shapes until re-formed by the user). While such guides are not a new idea, it is rare to see them so well executed on earphones as affordable as these. Over and again, one has the sense that RHA has found a way to serve up luxury-class products at near-utilitarian prices.
The T20’s accessories show similar attention to detail. The earphones come with two pairs each of three sizes of single-flange silicone ear tips, two sizes of dual-flange ear tips, and two sizes of compressible, closed-cell memory foam ear tips, all of which attach to a stainless ear tip holder sized to fit inside RHA’s included, zip-closure, leatherette earphone carry case. Thoughtfully, RHA provides a detachable signal-cable garment clip, which can help keep cables from flopping about.
Two design key details lie at the heart of the T20’s sound. First, like the T10-series models, the T20 provides three pairs of screw-in, metal-sleeved, colour-coded tuning filters (labelled Bass, Treble, and Reference); an RHA frequency response chart shows the effects of these filters are blessedly restrained—never garish. In simple terms, the Reference filter provides the most neutral voicing overall, the Bass filter adds a judicious touch of low-frequency lift, while the Treble filter adds upper midrange and treble lift above about 2.5 kHz. A case could be made for using any of these filter sets depending upon the listener’s tastes, though I strongly preferred the Reference filters and used them for most of my listening. The key point is that RHA—unlike many of its competitors—gives users freedom of choice.
Second, and most important of all, RHA has fitted the T20 with its all-new DualCoil dynamic driver, which injects a considerable amount of fresh (perhaps even iconoclastic) thinking into the traditional dynamic driver design formula. While astute observers will note that the T20 looks much like the T10i/T10 on the outside, the fact is that it sounds different to and significantly better than its precursor—an improvement I would attribute directly to the DualCoil driver.
As its name suggests, RHA’s DualCoil driver incorporates a single diaphragm that is powered by two discrete voice coils, which in turn are powered by an annular (ring-shaped) motor magnet. The inner coil, positioned at the inner rim of the magnet, handles bass and lower midrange frequencies while the outer coil, positioned at the outer rim of the magnet, handles midrange and treble frequencies. RHA stresses that, “each coil operates independently to produce part of the frequency range.” The voice coils are fed by a miniature two-way crossover network and together drive an unorthodox three-section diaphragm that looks something like an archer’s target with a central ‘bull’s-eye’ surrounded by two broad concentric rings. The inner coil attaches to the diaphragm’s central ‘bulls eye’, while the outer coil attaches to the next ring out from the centre. Finally, the rim of the diaphragm attaches to the driver’s metal frame, providing a surround of sorts. RHA emphasises that the driver’s voice coils, “are able to manipulate the different areas of the diaphragm to generate sound waves.” In short, the DualCoil driver provides the benefits of a two-driver array, but with the coherency only a single-diaphragm driver can provide.
After a bit of initial run-in the T20’s sound opened up, smoothed out, and was ready for critical listening; immediately, the substantial sonic benefits of the new model became apparent. First, with the Reference filters in place, the T20 driver preserved but also expanded upon RHA’s traditionally smooth, neutrally balanced, and full-bodied sound—in particular offering greater extension at both frequency extremes. Second, the T20 driver handled large-scale dynamics with a heightened and exuberant kind of athletic grace, while rendering small-scale dynamic shifts with superior delicacy and subtlety. Third, and perhaps most importantly, the T20 resolved small textural and transient details with dramatically enhanced focus, acuity, and speed vis-à-vis earlier RHA models. Though RHA’s T10i was and is a very good earphone in its own right, the fact is that the T20 sounds dramatically better.
Honestly, I could cite dozens of musical examples to illustrate the sonic benefits I have just mentioned, but it occurs to me that it might be more useful to describe just one well-recorded piece of music that shows all those benefits in play at once. That piece would be the track ‘Farrucas’ from Pepe Romero’s justly famous Flamenco [Philips/FIM]. At first glance, flamenco can seem deceptively simple owing to its minimalist instrumentation, which according to Romero consists of only “four elements, cante (singing), baile (dancing), toque (guitar-playing), and jaleo (rhythmic accentuation and spontaneous verbal comments).”
‘Farrucas’ features dancer Paco Romero, whose contributions include sharply incisive toe taps and almost violent heel stamps, delivered with the utmost in dynamic control. Pepe Romero provides a guitar foundation that is at times sweet, lilting, and moderately paced, but also at times laced with blisteringly fast and beautifully controlled runs of notes, with dynamics ranging from mild to wild. Finally, the track is seasoned with piquant rhythmic accents consisting of handclaps, finger-snaps, and the sound of castanets. Together, these music elements can prove very challenging for any hi-fi system, headphone, or earphone to reproduce.
Amazingly, though, the T20 handled that challenge with a brilliant performance that would have done a far more expensive earphone proud. First, the RHA’s captured the sweetness and delicacy of Pepe Romero’s acoustic guitar, while also revealing its more fierce and hot-blooded character—especially on Romero’s sometime ferociously fast-paced runs. Second, the T20’s were spot on in rendering the sheer precision of Paco Romero’s sharply accentuated toe taps and positively thunderous heel stamps, on which the RHA’s reproduced the violent bursts of low-frequency energy launched out across the (I think) hardwood floor of the recording space as the heel strikes hit home. Third, the T20 deftly delineated the slightly differently flavoured pitches and textures of the supporting handclaps, finger-snaps, and castanets (a task made more difficult by the fact that these three elements were similar in pitch, timbre, and attack). Even so, the RHA’s made child’s play of the task. Finally, the Scottish earphones did an excellent job of capturing the reverberant characteristics and high frequency ‘air’ afforded by the live-sounding recording venue—in the process conveying a terrific sense of three dimensionality.
If you stop to think about it, the description I’ve just provided would constitute a favourable review for most any premium-priced earphone you might name. But, the fact that this description fits an earphone selling for a tick under £180 reflects both the brilliance and, if I might say so, the generosity of RHA’s T20 design. This is not, then, just a good earphone ‘for the money’; it’s a fine earphone, period. On the basis of sound quality alone, the T20 is an earphone that music lovers really need to hear. Highly recommended, and then some.
- Type: Universal-fit earphone with DualCoil driver
- Driver complement: DualCoil dynamic driver
- Accessories: tuning filters with holder (Bass, Treble, and Reference), six pairs of dual density ear tips (S, M, L), two pairs of dual‑flange eartips (S, L), two pairs of memory foam ear tips (universal-fit), stainless steel ear tip holder, premium carry case, garment clip.Frequency response: 16Hz–40kHz
- Impedance: 16 Ohm
- Sensitivity: 90dB
- Weight: 39g
- Price: £179.95, €229.95, $239.95
Manufacturer Information: RHA Audio
Tel: +44 (0) 141 221 8506