Review: The T10 in-ear headphones from RHA
In November last year, British headphone maker Reid Heath Audio (RHA) released a new flagship in-ear headphone model called the T10i that featured interchangeable tuning filters which altered the frequency response from the company's reference signature to focus on either lows or highs. The high fidelity, noise isolating earphones went on to earn the company a Red Dot Award in the Product Design category. RHA has recently added a sibling that's sonically the same but doesn't have an inline control and is a little cheaper, and it's this T10 model that Gizmag has been taking for a test drive.
The inline remote of the T10i in-ear headphones was designed to be used with compatible Apple devices. For those who listen to most or all of their music through non-Apple systems, this control can be something of a waste. Hence the T10 earphones, which provide pretty much exactly the same listening experience, but without the redundant remote.
Within the ergonomic metal injection-molded stainless steel housing of each earpiece, the result of a 10-hour metal injection molding process that involves heating the steel to over 1,300° C (2,372° F) while the shape is formed, is a hand-made dynamic driver. This flagship 770.1 holds the promise of a natural, true-to-life balanced sound signature. Other than the fact that it has a Mylar diaphragm, the company has not revealed anything else about the driver, saying that "detailed specifications can sometimes be misleading (for example, bigger drivers equals better sound)."
We can tell you that the T10s offer passive noise isolation, an overall frequency range of 16 Hz to 22 kHz, 16 Ohm impedance, 100 dB sensitivity and a maximum power output of 5 mW. The in-ear headphones also come supplied with three custom tuning filters. The reference filter (silver band) came screwed into the housing and offers the most neutral of the three responses. The bass filter (black band) enhances the lower registers for genres such as hip hop, dubstep and metal. The treble filter (copper band) tips the balance in favor of the highs for jazz and acoustic listening. Filters not is use are stored in a metal holder. Very classy.
The high-end feel continues with the inclusion of 10 ear tips – dual density silicone, double flange silicone and memory foam – all but the ones in use being stored on a stainless steel ear tip holder. Between the business end and the 3.5 mm gold-plated jack is a multicore, oxygen-free copper cable that's 94 cm (37 in) from cable end of the jack to the Y joint and then a further 46 cm (18 in) to the start of the patent-pending over-ear hooks. When listening to music on the move, we found this to be rather too long for our tastes and led to a few awkward tugs when rising from kneeling or sitting position to standing.
The earphones didn't budge from their positions in each ear though due mainly to the hooks that can be manipulated for a contoured, secure fit. But the ear hooks did lead to a few tangled knots when removing the earphones from stow-away safety for use.
The T10s won't be duking it out for any featherweight earphones crown, they tip the scales at 38 g (1.34 oz) with filter and medium silicone tips attached. That's more than the weight of the Moderna MS 200 earphones we reviewed back in 2013 and Samsung's great-looking but sonically disappointing Level in-ear headphones put together.
Bringing up the rear to complete the supplied package is a spring-loaded plastic clothing clip for extra security and a zipped carry case (12.8 x 7.9 x 3 cm/5 x 3.1 x 1.2 in).
All-day comfort in a stylish package
From the stainless steel jack cover to the soft-touch feel of the cable and the signatured casing at the Y joint to the molded driver housings, the T10s just ooze high end style. They appear well constructed and that RHA has put a lot of thought into the aesthetics as well as the sound is evident.
For those who don't like ear hooks, they keep their manhandled position so you can flatten them out and dangle (though doing so will add another 10-11 cm/4 in to the length of the cable). The only problem I had with this was that the shape of the housing seemed to fight against me stuffing the bud in my canal, meaning that I had to place right earphone in left ear and left earphone in right ear to get something approaching a snug fit. I did discover a sport-friendly alternative though.
The over-ear hooks can be bent into all manner of shapes, you could even tie them in knots if you wanted and they wouldn't utter one word of complaint. The play on them is also quite good so I pushed the right and left buds into their proper ear canals as though I was going to feed the hooks over the back of my ears, but pushed the top of the springy bit under the inferior crus of the antihelix to rest against the cymba of the concha and the T10s pretty much didn't budge when I was running for the train or out for a run with the dogs. Definitely not as comfortable as hanging the hooks behind the ears though.
When used as designed, I found these earphones to be very comfortable indeed. I've listened to over 100 hours of music and watched a good number of videos wearing these and felt no long haul fatigue. For the most part – and despite their weight – I hardly noticed they were wrapped around my ears and plugged in at all. The pre-music preparation was a bit more fiddly than simply popping in a pair of straight-down-dangly earphones and moving off, but the audio performance was worth the effort.
Plugged in performance
Comfort is very important, but a good many audioholics will put up with a little discomfort for top notch sonic performance. So were the T10s just ear candy, or did they deliver? I've spent much of my waking hours over the last few weeks plugged into RHA's weighty in-ear headphones, and have listened to various genres played through a number of different portable devices, media players and hi-fi systems.
The same set of medium silicone buds were used with all of the filters and the EQ flattened on all music sources. The following selections are representative of how the T10s performed overall.
First up, the Third Bardo's late 60s epic Five Years Ahead Of My Time given an 80s reworking by Rhode Island's psychedelic garage masters Plan 9. On this occasion, the format was MP3 through the reference filter and a Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 was the source device.
The T10s allowed a goodly amount of space for the multiple guitars mixed left, right and center to do their stuff without bashing into one another or fighting for attention (though not nearly as much as Phiaton's MS-200s). The overall sound was clear and detailed. However, though the rapid-firing bass runs sounded rich and fat, the kick did seem to get a little lost in the mix. Elsewhere a spirited full kit workout was given plenty of room to impress, from the colorful tones of the toms to the washing, crashing and ringing of cymbals and hi-hat.
Even though I've been regularly listening to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon for decades, I never tire of this audiophile favorite and Money is usually one of the first tracks I head to when testing audio equipment. For this outing, FLAC format and a Cowon dedicated audio player were used, and all three tuning filters were tried.
The reference filter delivered a lively and engaging listening experience. There was good instrumentation throughout, the saxophone, vocals and multiple guitars were all well placed and, though not the most spacious soundstage we've experienced from earphones in this price range, it by no means felt cramped. I'd say that there's more than enough bottom end punch to satisfy those who haven't grown up in the Beats generation, but those who prefer more thunder can install the bass filter.
First though, the silicone tips need to be removed. Then the filters in residence need to be turned counterclockwise to extract them from the molded steel housings. The bass filters need to take their rightful place in the housings and the silicone tips slid back on.
The whole process is a bit fiddly and, of course, such tuning tweaks can also be achieved by some under the hood EQ tweaking. But screwing in the filter does allow for a more uniform listening experience across different source devices without having to ensure that the EQ precisely matches. It's by no means an exact science, but can save some time and effort making in-device frequency adjustments, so long as a filter doesn't slip from between finger and thumb, resulting is precious listening time being wasted scrambling on the floor looking for it.
The bass filters produced a more pronounced bass chug, and I noticed that the tom action had moved a touch more forward in the mix, particularly during one of the quieter guitar sequences. As the frequency curve moves toward the lower mids, it levels out to match the reference line and the rest of the range is every bit as colorful as with the reference filter.
The change in sound after the treble filter was installed wasn't as pronounced as when the bass filter replaced the reference. The lower registers were much the same as with the reference filter in place, but the hi-hat and cymbal, the tremolo and wah guitars and the upper registers of the keyboard work were all brought further forward in the mix (without being overpowering).
The treble filter is recommended for jazz, a cappella and acoustic music so I had expected it to shine on the slow jazzy 12-bar blues of Call it Stormy Monday by T-Bone Walker (on vinyl), but the brass work was too far forward and T-Bone's subtle chops were too far back. Happily, the reference filter came to the rescue and delivered the kind of intimate performance I'm more used to.
Sticking with the treble filter, the T10s next spent some time in the company of Sweden's acoustic guitar masters Peter Almqvist and Ulf Wakenius (again on vinyl). I've listened to the lively treatment that Guitars Unlimited gives to one of Django Reinhardt's most well-known compositions, Nuages, numerous times through quality speakers and circumaural headphones and the T10s sporting the treble filter more than matched the best of those experiences. These earphones really brought out the beautiful natural tones of both instruments, particularly the pop of the lead breaks. Most impressed.
Where the T10i earphones were designed with Apple device users in mind, the T10s have Android users in their sights. So, the next stop was a Huawei Android smartphone to give an MP3 of Out of Line by Device a listen through the reference filter. The bass and kick are really given some importance in the mix of this modern metal electronica anthem, and I was keen to see if the fine vocal performances from David Draimen and Serj Tankian managed to cut through the noise. And they did, with impressive clarity. Very tight performance.
Swapping over to the black bass filter, the low end wallop was geared up a notch or three. The bass and sub-bass got a little more room to move too, with the thundering bass guitar not cozying up to the kick quite as much. Vocals were still well placed and didn't threaten to merge or conflict with other sounds in the same frequency range and the highs of the intentionally distorted cymbal bashing continued to forcefully dice and slice.
The reference filter was designed as a good performer across a host of different genres, so how did the T10s handle the classics? Well, they offered a very life-like reproduction of Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D major Op 35 performed live by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France with Julia Fischer taking lead honors. The source sound quality was by no means high (a YouTube video via an Asus All-in-One Windows PC), but RHA's stereo imaging, instrumentation and soundstaging managed to inject more emotion and intensity into a captivating performance than Samsung's Level earphones, used as a side-by-side comparison, could muster.
The bottom line
The T10s offered a comfortable secure fit that not only did a great job of isolating me from the outside world, but also managed to keep my tunes locked in. In the sub-$200 arena, RHA's earphones are about the most comfortable I've ever tried.
The choice of tips is quite generous, with the foam tips offering the most noise isolation, and the all-metal holder for between use storage gives off a high-end vibe and goes well with the molded steel housings of the T10s themselves. All that shiny steel (together with that extra long cable) does contribute to a rather heavy pair of in-ear headphones, but the over-ear hooks do a good job of reducing the load.
The sonic performance is immersive, detailed, quite roomy and clear. The reference filters are already rich and full, with a good measure of tight bottom end (and definitely not as neutral as the name would suggest). The mids appear steady and vocals manage to break through whatever the background cacophony of choice. The highs stealthily avoid any sibilance or sharpness traps to round off a solid sonic airing.
As the names suggest, the bass filter give more power to the lower registers while the treble filter brings some extra sparkle to the top end.
Swapping out the tuning filters can be fiddly, an activity that didn't seem to improve with experience, and RHA's in-ear headphones are not the first to include them. High-end in-ear monitors from Shure and AKG, for example, come with filtered tuning, though at a significantly higher price of admission. They do what they're designed for though, and if used correctly can markedly improve a listener's experience.
The T10 in-ear headphones carry a suggested retail price of US$189.95, and are sonically no different from the Apple-friendly T10i earphones for $10 more. If solid performers in a stylish, very comfortable package are what you're looking for, then either of these RHA flagships are highly recommended.
Product page: RHA T10