RHA T20 Flagship Earphones: Flying the Flag

Discussion in 'Headphones, Earphones & Portable Music' started by Steven, Jul 9, 2015.

  1. Steven

    Steven
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    This review was originally posted on another site as part of the UK tour. All words and images are my own.

    RHA T20 Review Tour

    Many thanks to RHA and forum member Rearwing for arranging the tour and the generosity of a 10-day listening period (my suspicion though is to pass some thanks to reviewer no.2 for postponing posting out the unit to him or her). There has been no discussion or attempt to preview my review. Just instructions on forwarding on the review unit. For completeness, no freebies or discounts has been offered for my time :p ;)

    This is my first personal experience of RHA. Quite looking forward to it as have been aware if the buzz for some time and being a British company to boot.

    Testing

    Samsung Note 4, iPad mini Retina, clas -dB and Pico Power stack and Sansa Clip+ (rockbox). All music 320kbps ripped from original CD. Everything from Prince, Jimi Hendrix and Iron Maiden to modern pop hits like Daft Punk. From rock to jazz to manufactured K-pop. BBC iPlayer R1 Live Lounge and Glastonbury shows thrown in also as we live in the Internet music video / streaming age.

    Photo Gallery: RHA T20 Earphones | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

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    Packaging and Presentation

    In ten-years owning many different IEM and headphones this presentation ranks highly. Many an IEM manufacturer in particular remain content with providing tips in a little plastic bag and being done with it. The selection of tips and filters stored within stainless steel plates will likely be that key initial visual interaction with the consumer when this hits store shelves. Removing the upper foam layer reveals a branded black zip "premium" case (material unclear), a shirt-clip and paper manufacturer text printed in several languages. The only items seemingly missing perhaps a 6.3mm adaptor and an airplane plug.

    Some may have preferred a hard case or drybox but that is no deal breaker in my view. Perhaps something like the black Shure case that comes with the SE846 is a good compromise. Pelican or Otterbox would seem overkill and increase costs.

    Design

    The theme continues with the main attraction of the earphones. RHA has adopted a 'Designed in UK, assembled in China' leader line. Metal injection stainless steel constructed earpieces enhances the first impressions; this looks and feels like a premium product. The marketing blurb indicates there are sonic benefits though nevertheless RHA did not strictly have to use metal. Even many times more expensive monitors will use moulded plastic. Not knowing what effect there are on costs versus plastic, am still prepared to give out credit. The use of stainless steel spreads out to the Y-splitter and plug, which are nice touches.

    The more you handle the item the more you encounter little design flourishes that delight. A lip built into the 3.5mm plug to make it case friendly. A genius coil spring at the plug connector end to provide strain relief. An elegant solution for the modern consumer pulling their portable device in all directions. The same "coil" is utilised to a more subtle, softer extent for the over-ear hooks or guides. As a glasses wearer the ear guides were quite fine. Am super pleased RHA did not adopt the industry standard transparent plastic sheath ear-guides - a design that really needs to be consigned to history. They are horrid as they may or may not penalise glasses wearers, but worse still they tend to pull the earpiece away from the ear. Plastic ear guides were fine 10-to-15 years ago, not in 2015. RHA are evidently also proud as the T20 ear hooks are labelled "patent pending".

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    The cable is non-removable. This can be a positive or a negative. No weak point versus cable failures tend to be one of the culprits if your earphones sadly fail. This reviewer will not be able to comment on long-term durability and build quality. The cable is a touch thicker than preferred but it is somewhat nit-picking as it feels well built and did not tangle during use.The Y-splitter point is though oddly set quite low. Standing tall it will be located around the belly button area give or take your individual height. It is a strange reflection of human anatomy! Perhaps RHA intended the extra length to allow sharing one earpiece with a neighbour.. In practice it does not matter. The cable has a rubbery feel so the slider does not move position unless you intentionally move the slider.

    Finally and not that anyone would be concerned, for thoroughness the recent - brief - UK heatwave (by local standards, everyone else would just call it 'summer') peaking at 31.5* Celsius had no apparent effect upon the earphones.

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    Fit and Isolation

    The earpieces are physically compact and so likely to fit most ears. My Shure SE846 are a touch 'fatter'. The Cypher Labs C6iem are considerably bigger than both. For the purposes of the review a disposable pack of silicone single-flange tips was enclosed. As such it was not possible to try the double-flange or foam tips. Isolation was reasonably good. The T20 was shallow-fitting in my ears, with the entire body snugly covering the ear canal. Your experience may vary. To permit speculation, longer tips may have given deeper fit, leading to greater isolation (and better fit normally enhances bass response). My suggestion to RHA would be to research the viability of longer length single-flange tips a la the Westone tips mentioned in the next paragraph. Double-flange tips are taller but then may be too fat width for some ears.

    Before touching upon isolation the T20 has a small "vent" located on each earpiece. Travelling on the London underground the roar of the train hurtling through the tunnel was largely minimised. Interestingly (and usefully) it was still possible to make out tannoy announcements. With my SE846 plus the benefit of Westone star / tru-fit tips, tannoy announcements would be too muffled to listen out for. For routine public commutes and even walking alongside main roads the main thrust of unwanted engine or vehicular noise was kept out. It was not possible to hear human conversation at street level. One occurrence which was noticeable was wind noise. Not to a defeating level, but not something that affects my other IEM. My suspicion is maybe a side-effect of the vents.

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    Filters: Reference, Treble and Bass

    As a current SE846 owner and ex-Phonak PFE-232 owner, RHA impress highly in design implementation. A simple screw-cap system completed by hand. That is it. No changing tool or fiddly parts.

    As to the difference to the sound there is indeed an audible effect but a mixed bag. The Bass filter increases mid-bass quantity versus the Reference filter, however taking something away from the mids. The Treble filter would never get used if I became a T20 owner. The Reference filter is where it is at. Balanced yet punchy. Plenty enough bass to my ears and so the Bass filter does not feel necessary, though that is personal taste. Best mids and vocal presentation of all three. Treble nicely rounding things off.

    The Treble filter is not to my taste. It hollows out the overall signature. The upper registers adopt this wispy thin effect and also thins out vocals. Given the loss of body and integrity the Treble filter was only used very briefly by the writer. In comparison the SE846 White filter is more technically proficient as it does what it says on the tin.

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    The Sound

    To get it out of the way from the outset: the RHA T20 earphones sound great. Particularly with popular music of your pop or hip-hop variety. My initial impression, one which remained sustained, is that the overall tonal balance is tuned very well. No honky vocals or out of place notes. No peaks or troughs. You would be surprised how many earphones out there make instruments sound digital or mess around with the timbre whereby instruments either sound off or the same. For example The A Team by Ed Sheeran has two guitars and a piano and the T20 renders them all correctly. One is indeed able to pick out the individual components.

    The second observation is that there is a cohesiveness and nice marriage of the overall sound signature. Even the Bass filter that increases the bass quantity a notch in honesty also leans towards being 'balanced'. The T20 seemingly copes with mid-range focused pop, delicate live female vocals or fast-flowing jazz. It is a chameleon.

    The third main observation is that all the meanwhile the T20 has this clear sound and clarity that cuts through. It is clean sounding but in a positive way. With the balanced Reference filter bass notes hit with suitable quantity and slam, such that the additional tonic of the Bass filter does not feel required. A lot of modern radio music is peppered liberally with bass beats. The T20 delivers that fun bassy quality desired. There is however not so much sub-bass extension or rumble. The mid-bass that is present though is not bloaty and neither does it intrude upon the rest of the sound spectrum.

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    The midrange is the star of the show. Vocals have an airiness and intimate quality. Sweeping musical notes have a nice full presence. I mentioned the bass does not interfere with the rest of the sound despite being fat and very much present. In fact the midrange stands up confidently. This would be assisted by the wide-ish soundstage spreading out the music on a flat horizontal plain ear to ear. There is not much by way of height of depth, but the horizontal width helps to avoid congestion. My personal opinion is that the Treble filter thins out the upper midrange too much and just no good for music, not least the vocals.

    The treble is pleasantly surprising. Sweet, controlled and extended. There is a nice energy listening to Hiromi and the T20 can indeed cope with fast interchange. Treble is pitched just right. Not forward or subdued. Perhaps erring on the safe side. That is to say there is no risk even the most sensitive will encounter glare, grating notes or loose splashy-cymbals. The T20 does lack the sparkly extension that higher price points deliver but that is perhaps understandable. Bass is easy to focus upon but the real test of mettle is how an earphone renders the upper registers. The T20 achieves a pass.

    Detail retrieval scores highly. If it was captured on the CD then individual elements are discernible. Mercifully there is no exaggeration. It is all merged seamlessly into the overall sound that you will take it for granted. The T20 absolutely does not zone into random information. Detailed and accurate but not overdone.

    Comparisons

    Avoided instant switching to and fro as that tends to exaggerate differences. Giving the brain a period of adjustment does bridge perceived differences. Please note these are relative comparisons. If IEM-1 is described as having more A than IEM-2, that does not then mean IEM-2 lacks A, unless that is what is explicitly stated, thank you.

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    Comparison with Cypher Labs C6iem

    As far as packaging goes there is no contest. CL simply wrap everything in a felt bag containing the IEM's and tips selection, then squeezed into a compact minimalist box. No wow factor. No unboxing experience. Does not strictly matter as it is all in the sound although there is nothing wrong with being indulged either.

    Turning to the sound the C6iem bass hits even bigger and harder than Bass filter T20. It is stressed the T20 are not at all bass light by any stretch of the imagination. Still if you have some hyper bass thirst to quench on a budget then perhaps the C6iem fits the bill. In truth the T20 is overall better balanced. The T20 has a noticeably wider soundstage. Perhaps a trick of the smaller field but the C6iem is more fuller sounding in a comparison. Perhaps it is the weighty bottom end propping up the sound that gives the C6iem a thicker signature. Between my experience of CL and JHA that would appear to be representative of the taste of the American consumer market. Upgrading the source Dac/amp does make the T20 have a richer and fuller sound whilst retaining that desirable clarity. The likely consumer of the T20 will be rocking smartphones, which should be absolutely fine unless your phone has an atrocious headphone out.

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    Comparison with Shure SE846 (stock cable, white filter)

    Presentation is a score-draw. The outer Shure box hints at luxury. Two cables, an extensive accessories selection and a lovely black carry case are very welcome. Western markets also get an oversized Shure-branded drybox. Nevertheless the open-like-a-book reveal adopted by RHA and the entire package proudly standing on display wins kudos points.

    White SE846 filter is used because for me that is the true reference Shure filter. For your mon£y you instantly notice the greater soundstage and 3-dimensionality. The improved separation and layering really add extra involvement to the music. That SE846 bass really brings it. Tighter and bigger impact. Sub-bass extension and rumble is now present.

    The extra bass and imaging capabilities brings a presence to [live] rock records that the T20 lacks. It is something that cannot be unheard once experienced. For example Iron Maiden Rock in Rio and Jimi Hendrix Band of Gypsys demands that extra gusto to fully lose yourself in the energy of the performance. The vocals and mid-range with Shure has always been assured, although the SE846 loses the romantic warmth of the SE535. Speaking from memory-only, having owned the SE535 for over two-years, the T20 is better than the SE535 treble.

    The T20 then is no giant killer. Yet having spent the majority of the last nine/ten-days rocking the T20 as my main earphones, I did not miss the SE846 despite knowing it is on an altogether different level. RHA though do not feel too far away. Have heard a rumour - or this is starting one - that RHA are researching a higher-tier. These could be exciting times ahead.

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    Summary

    For a great deal of the population spending more than £20 on earphones is a risk and/or investment. People will readily spend more on clothing, electronics or on a meal out. Then again one would argue non-stock earphones are a discretionary purchase, albeit desirable. RHA has thoughtfully sculpted a product that seeks to reward and reassure that the customer has invested wisely. Who else offers a three-year manufacturer warranty out there that RHA stand behind the T20 with. Earphones are susceptible due to their usage environment. Without any knowledge of the long-term track record, such a statement inspires confidence. For £180 you get big sound. I have no hesitation in recommending the RHA T20.
     
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    Last edited: Jul 18, 2015
  2. MemX

    MemX
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    Great detailed review, thank you for posting it :)
     
  3. Steven

    Steven
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    Have gone back to my Shure's having posted these out to the next reviewer but it has been announced the T20 are now available on the RHA website and other retailers. The remote cable version will be a few months apparently.
     
  4. asimm

    asimm
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    Am doing some research into these after owning Shure SE535s years ago (currently have Soundmagic E10S's and am working my way back up the earphone ladder). You mention the Shure's in the above, seemingly not too far off (or better) the T20s?
     
  5. Steven

    Steven
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    The SE535 definitely benefit from a good fit and also a good source. There are companies that offer custom fit sleeves such as sensaphonics and snugs. But the sound signature is still the sound signature. You cannot correct the SE535 treble roll off for example. I think many would prefer the T20 on first impressions
     

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