Britain still produces some great audio gear, but how do the RHA MA450i earphones available from the Apple Store stack up against rivals in the same category?
Lately I’ve been wondering what the popular earphones choices are for the average consumer if they aren’t going to stick with the Apple EarPods that come with their iDevices, the Apple Store sells the RHA MA450i and have gained very positive comments during the holiday period. The RHA MA450i is inspired by the aerophonic design of a trumpet’s bell and are stylishly packaged with the included box of ear tips visible through a window in the side of the box.
The box itself tells me that this is a product made for iPod, iPhone and iPad, the side of the box proudly displays the Union Jack next to a ‘Designed & Engineered’ above a holographic RHA sticker, the blurb above this talks about how this product is designed and engineered in Glasgow, UK, now normally I would associate the term ‘engineered’ to equate to ‘manufactured’, but the bottom of the box reveals a ‘Made in China’ which makes this about as meaningful as Apple’s ‘Designed in California’ adornment to their packaging.
The box also provided a handy spec sheet on the side of it, which shows these are unusually high specification earphones for this price range. The RHA MA450i earphones themselves are machined from solid aluminum and contain 10mm Mylar drivers with a frequency range of 16Hz – 22,000Hz, an impedance of 160hms, max power of 3/10mW and a 103dB sensitivity.
My one gripe about the packaging, although no doubt done for hygiene reasons, is that the box is sealed with very strong glue which means you need to tear the carton open at one end which is a bit of a disappointment considering how the majority of products in the Apple Store require zero force to actually open and the box remains intact too.
Starting at the 3.5mm gold plated connector is a 1.2m Y-cable with a woven fabric sleeve on the outside of the cables which looks and feels nice whilst decreasing the chance of your earphones getting tangled whilst in transit. The in-line buttons allow you to control music, calls and volume without needing to take your iPod or iPhone out of your pocket. The in-line buttons work with Android as well as iDevices, but note that the degree of support for earphones of this nature is dependent on which model and software you have on your Android smartphone. The in-line microphone is of reasonable quality makes taking a phone call whilst on the move pleasant and works well when used with my iPhone to take calls on the train, but I have used better in-line microphones, though I doubt most people make enough phone calls to really use something like this when most communication is done through text whilst listening to music.
This particular pair of earphones are black with a flash of orange on the ear tips with silver elements, but they are however available in white if you need your earphones to match your white iDevices, or if you just like white. These are a particularly well-executed pair of black earphones and won’t show the dirt as easily as the white will.
Included with the earphones is a black drawstring pouch to transport your RHA MA450i and box of ear tips in which is a really nice touch. The bag is adorned with a fabric RHA tag stitched onto the side of it and the bag itself is lined with a stiffer synthetic material.
Changing the ear tips on the MA450i was pretty difficult and took both myself and my partner over half an hour to change them on two different pairs of RHA MA450i, but a plus point was that the ear tips certainly wouldn’t be coming off in your ear when you take them out of your ears.
The ear tip storage box being made of cardboard with a plastic tray is a little bit of a letdown, but at $50 for a seldom used part of the product, it isn’t much of a surprise. The cardboard storage box starts looking a little scruffy in the corners after a few weeks of having them with you, though taking them with you probably isn’t normal use as your ears aren’t going to be changing shape any time soon.
I must be fairly accustomed to closed circumaural headphones completely removing me from the environment I’m in, it isn’t that the RHA MA450i don’t succeed with their noise isolation, they do that remarkably well with the selection of ear tips included, but brushing your hand or so much as grazing the RHA MA450i cable against your shirt produces an unpleasant sound in the ear which has to be countered by raising the volume at times much to my displeasure.
Upon my first listen of the RHA M450i I was pleasantly surprised by how they provide a pretty great stereo soundfield and highlight the subtleties in music such as The Slip and The Fragile by Nine Inch Nails. The volume was more than adequate and I kept my MacBook Pro on the first volume level.
There were a few things I didn’t like though, I wasn’t keen on the unusual amount of treble, the high end was particularly penetrating on some tracks with a lot of percussion and falsetto, but the sound was overall quite thrashy at times. I decided to do a typical burn-in as I would do on monitors, headphones or even some in-ear monitors. After leaving the RHA MA450i playing my burn-in playlist for a day, the difference with how they sounded was immediately noticeable with a more more pleasant upper end and definitely more clarity in the mids. They were still a bright pair of earphones, but nowhere near as shrill as they were upon my first listen. We also did the burn-in on a second pair of the RHA MA450i in white; the same was true with this pair, much better after the burn-in playlist.
The great frequency response made listening to the two most recent EPs from Wheatus extremely pleasant versus standard Apple EarPods, which quite honestly don’t do justice to the downsampled MP3s or FLACs from the DSD Pyramix system Wheatus are using for recording, if you truly care about audio quality then you need to move away from Apple EarPods. These earphones perform well with electronic music such as deep house and hip-hop (The Pharcyde!) which have a lot of lower frequencies which most earphones fail to convey. Surprisingly you can turn the volume up on RHA MA450i past a safe and comfortable listening level and still be getting pristine audio across the spectrum with no distortion, but I don’t recommend you try doing that as your hearing is delicate. This lack of distortion is largely due to the aerophonic design of the RHA MA450i versus the traditional earphone shape; The inverted bell shape channels air and sound from the widest part to the most narrow which concentrates the sound.
Is the RHA MA450i worth buying?
If you are a consumer who is sick and tired of having your ears rubbed raw by the Apple EarPods then these are definitely an upgrade if you are after earphones rather than headphones. I also recommend these to anybody who has difficulties with finding earphones that fit your ears thanks to the variety of ear tips included with the RHA MA450i.
At a few pennies less than £40 you can’t really go wrong and you will be hard pushed to find anything comparable in the same price range. All RHA products come with a three year warranty, the MA450i is no exception, this is very generous, especially for something as heavily used and frequently abused as earphones. If you’re willing to spend an additional $50 then you can get much better earphones, but we expect that the majority of consumers would be very happy with their purchase of the RHA MA450i, though prosumers, musicians and producers will want to look at other products in a far higher price range. You can purchase your own pair of RHA MA450i here.