RHA S500i Review
Thanks to RHA for the sample.
First Impressions: Unusually, these coming through my door isn’t the first time I’ve clapped eyes on a pair. Waaaay back at Canjam London I got a little demo of them and I posted in the Canjam Impressions thread what I made of them at the time.
So box, weirdly laid out, it’s very much about the edges with the tip assortment on one side and the buds displayed on the other edge. Curious but it works. Opening up, the first thing I note in that the tips come in a plastic tray rather than the metal one, what what, no foamy tips?!?!?!? Aww, sad face. I very much like RHA foamy tips and I may have a pair free so guess what’ll be happening sharpish? The next notable is the baggy. Hmm now as baggies go this is epically nice to the touch but it’s still a baggy. I’d have preferred a little had case.
Buds in the ears and yeah I remember these. If there is any justice in the world RHA are gonna shift plenty of these. Look amazing and they have great sound quality, with a really vigorous bass. Bass is a bit toned down from what I recall but I’ll put that down to sources. The E7/E9 combo is clearly warmer and more mellow than my little Studio V. Anyway, burn in time.
Source: FiiO E7/E9 combo, Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd Anv., HiFiMAN HM-650, 1G Ipod Shuffle, Nexus 5 and Graham Slee Solo Ultra Linear.
Lows: Curious. They have a big, round feel to them, a big rotund dollop of bass that feels memory foam soft at the first and lightest touch. Underneath though it feels like there a lump of steel. Inclined to be hard, unyielding and it gets more so the more power through at it. However when you play with something warm and softer like the 650 it thickens that memory foam layer. The softness is what becomes more dominant. Mind you if you crank the volume dial that hardness comes back. Weird. Is it the resonance form a hard, metal and unyielding enclosure?
It is really good. As I turn to its natural competition (S0 and Hyperion) I’m forced to accept that the S500 beats them both. Though it can be reasonably source dependant. The S500 wants power and I have DAP’s that can supply it. However just out of the N5 its lead fades away. The bass remains bigger on the S500 and a little more forceful. They want to punch, with a good firm, solid punch with a layer of velvet on the glove. The more powerful the DAP the more power the arm has.
Mids: They are in a little bit of a valley but otherwise I’m very pleased with them. Spacious and airy with a slight dryness tonally. Breathy and open vocals are really nice though, they show off what dynamics are better suited to and giving you a vocal breadth and depth to the vocal staging. There is a light purity to it. I think its metallicness is coming out, it really doesn’t want to naturally go all soft and creamy. Vocals can at times feel like they are a bit ethereal and lack the fullness and oomf behind them. Though if you throw power their way, they really improve. I get the feeling I’m going to be saying “if you throw power at them” a lot in this. They just get so much better. I can’t make myself go back to my crappy N5.
Bugger me, out of the Ultra Linear and 75 ohm adapter in there, Beverly Cravens “Missing You” is jaw dropping good. It’s been a while since I’ve heard it and its VERY good. So light and airy, so mush casual delicacy in the mix. Sans all that power and I recognise its good and as I flick about it may still be the best at it price but I miss what the added power can do.
Highs: Here we have the mast marked differences between that power and impedance can give over neither. Their metallic natures as I picked up waaaaaaaay back at Canjam and with my Studio V hold true. It is metallic and the Studio does it no favours. The HM-650 was a far more pleasant pairing, taming that crisp edge they have ever so slightly. I might have liked a little more still. Flicking over to the warm Iphone 5 and they actually pair up rather well. It hasn’t the power to drive the highs hard and its mellow treble compliments the natural clean metallic edge of the S500. I might be given to think that these were tuned with Apple products in mind and as such they go together well.
In quantity, they are a little above the mids, not quite matching the bass level but its naturally metallic clean edge will make very treble heavy tracks sound easily trebly enough. The treble isn’t subtle so it will be very audibly noticeable for its given quantity level. Owl City stuff can if anything sound over trebly. Not to the extent the older 350 and 450 would but by treble sensitive ears recoiled a bit.
Soundstage: Size is pretty good, width isn’t huge but they have a good depth and breadth, a good semblance of scale. They don’t always sound the most full bodied as they have a rather airy feel to them. Instrument separation is pretty reasonable. The more power you throw at them the more clear everything feels from everything else.
Fit: Great. No issues at all and given their fairly normal shape I’d expect most would get on fine with them, worn up or down.
Comfort: As with the fit, great for me. Though I did just right to a spare set of RHA foamy tips I had, in ever got and flex or air pressure issues but there was a bit of suction when I did try a silicone. Reviewing you pull out all the time and shove back in so things like that become issues fast but in normal use you’ll never probably even notice.
Aesthetics: One of the best lookers of the year. RHA have a habit of making lookers and I feel visually these are big step up on the MA350 and 450’s. Much, much pretty.
Microphonics: Well if you wear them up like I did then you get none. Worn down, well as with most things with a mic it sits just at that, hit my collar level. It wasn’t bad actually, more annoying was the slight tug when it caught. Frankly wearing up and over your ear is just better anyway.
Amped/Unamped: If you have power and impedance (the Etymotic 75 ohm adapters) to add then I suggest you do. With an abundance of power and with the additional impedance I was deeply impressed at how good they were. When I looked at the Hyperions I thought they were little champs for the money and clearly RHA have risen to the challenge. The issue of course with power and impedance is that the S500 is a pretty budget IEM. So I find it unlikely that most of them will ever encounter either.
However unamped, they weirdly were at the best out of the Iphone 5, which I’m usually not at all a fan of. It wouldn’t surprise me if RHA have targeted Apple products especially and it feels like the S500i really is. I know that’s all completely contradictory, works best with an amp or a meh Iphone. I could speculate why, it’s probably down to the Iphone not having the detail or oomf to drive the highs and make them over crispy but it doesn’t really matter. They pair up nice.
Phone Use: The play/pause/skip button worked on everything but the volume buttons only played nice with the Iphone. Not unsurprising. Call quality and everything were great however, if you still actually make calls anymore. On the Lumia 735, play/pause yep but no volume controls, ditto on the N4 and N5.
Isolation: A little bit less than I’ve been seeing from RHA, I mean it’s still fine for out and about, on a bus, etc etc, you know normal stuff. Not one for Tube or flights. Seriously, its middling for a dynamic so really not a big isolator. Naturally it’s still more than enough to get you run over if you’re playing music because you won’t hear traffic behind you.
Cable: It’s fine. The build quality seems fine and I have nothing to fault it on. The jack is metal and rather pretty. The Y splitter is plastic though again is fine. The cable mostly though has a woven covering. Mostly the cable is perfectly flexible enough it’s a touch ridged and that woven cover just makes me think of the Klipsch Custom series.
Accessories: You get a very nice selection of tips and in a little tip holder thingy. I miss the metal one even if it is total over kill. What’s more notable though are the lack of a case and of foamy tips. Granted the normal RHA cases are somewhat meh but the foamie’s I really miss. Case wise we get admittedly the nicest baggy ever but it’s still a baggy. First thing I’d do is hit eBay and get a nice little hard case to keep them safe.
Value: It’s excellent. Right now, it’s as good as things get for the money. That it also looks great is just icing on the cake. I mean it’s not perfect, like I’d strongly suggest buying a little case for them and I’d love to have seen a pair of RHA’s excellent foamy tips included. Acoustically however these are suspiciously good. Like there’s got to be some catch or flaw that you’re not seeing. There’s got to be a catch to an offer seemingly this good? As far as I can tell so long as you don’t pair it with cold hard sources with brittle treble then I’m not really seeing a negative. Well maybe that the mic version cost a whole £10 more, which a 33% price just to get a mic, that’s arguably poor value right?
What’s more is that these still come with RHA’s standard 3 year warranty just like their expensive stuff. 3 years for a £30 product, does anyone else offer that?
Conclusion: I do believe Philip said it best. Shut up and take my money!!!
I don’t know what really more to add to it than that. They are just excellent for price, hell they are pretty excellent full stop. I mean I get that Chinese makers have been hammering the bejesus out of that price to performance ratio. There have been some areas where they maybe aren’t as savvy in, the marketing departments, in the West anyway. Then we get the likes of RHA and I’m sure anyone who’s had one of their products in the hand, they don’t stumble anywhere. The packaging is always very visually fetching. Even on what is an “el cheapo” like the S500 it’s all immaculate. The charcoal and silvery grey colour scheme, the little side windows to let you see the product, the tip holder and the 6 pairs of tips on show. Now to Head-Fi people 6 pairs of tips seems perfectly normal. To the likes of your typical John Lewis or Apple shop customer, 6 is mind blowing.
So should you buy one? No. You should buy at least two.
They are staggeringly wow for the price. Just how they sound, the build quality, that warranty, the level of visual pretty, just what isn’t to love about them. Buy yourself a pair and buy a pair for someone who could do with a little more of the wonder that is music in their lives. I expect these will sell out in the run up to Christmas, so be warned. Buy sooner rather than later.