We Got It For Free: RHA Headphones

We don’t usually review tech gear here at PTO, but the British electronics maker RHA saw a post I wrote a few months ago about headphones, and dropped me a line with an offer of some review product. They looked pretty, and RHA mentioned they were made in the UK, so I agreed. I figured I’d pass them over to my studio engineer, Nick White, for a full assessment.

Nick’s both a music fiend and a man I pay to hunch over a audio workstation all day, headphones on, editing my radio show, so he seemed like the man for the job. Here’s what he had to say. - Jesse

An electronics review at a menswear site might seem odd, but this recent line of headphones from RHA is particularly beautiful. Some people wear headphones daily, and can be as important as any other men’s accessory, so aesthetics are definitely a consideration. I tested two pairs of RHA headphones to find out if their function matches their form, the SA950i over-ear portables and the MA-350 earbuds.

First, I tried the SA950i on-ear portables. In pictures, these cans resemble a large pair of professional studio headphones, but in person you’ll notice that they are small, sturdy and very lightweight. They look attractive and fit comfortably. The threaded, detachable cable is a particularly nice touch. As for sound quality? They sound crisp. In particular, high and middle frequencies are reproduced with tremendous detail and clarity. Our only quibble is that the SA950i over-ears sometimes lack a certain fullness that can be found when listening pricier over-ear studio headphones.

Earbuds are a great alternative for certain situations. After all, in the cold weather only earbuds will fit under that knit cap. But most earbuds offer poor bass response and an overall tinny quality (we’re looking at you, Apple). The MA-350 earbuds stand in stark contrast. In our tests they sounded clear and full and sported a particularly good low end. The catch? They offer a noise cancellation system that is passive. That means they work basically the same way as sticking a giant pair of earplugs in your ears. It blocks out all noise from the outside, but you begin hearing every thud of your heel against the pavement and every brush of the headphone cable against your collar or your sleeve. It’s a true disappointment in an otherwise great pair of earbuds.

So, are the beautiful aesthetics of these headphones worth it? Priced at around $60, the SA950i over-ears are a strong contender if you’re looking to spend less than a hundred bucks, and it’s tough to find a better-looking pair. Unfortunately, I can’t recommend the MA-350 earbuds, even when priced at a very reasonable $40. The extraneous noise when walking or moving is a distraction that their gorgeous sound reproduction simply can’t overcome.

Of course, if you don’t mind a somewhat more retro look, there’s another option for listening on the go: these Koss Porta-Pros are lightweight and sound amazing at about $35 (with a lifetime warranty!). They’re my go-to pair and I love them.