This is my third RHA product review, and I’m becoming attuned to what RHA is trying to accomplish. RHA is a Scottish audio company who are making good-sounding and – more importantly – affordable earphones and headphones. It’s common knowledge that just about any earphone or headphone at any price beats the freebies that come bundled with the iPhone/iPod/iPad. However, you can’t appreciate what you’re missing if you listen only to the buds that came in the box. RHA hopes to aurally fix this with their previously reviewed MA350 and MA450i earphones (see related links for reviews of both) and now the SA950i headphones.
The SA950i headphones are lightweight and comfortable supra-aural phones. Supra-aural is a fancy term meaning on-ear as opposed to the larger over-ear designs. On-ear phones are better for commuting and light use, although they can be used for more serious listening. The SA950i headphones are almost perfect for traveling. I say almost because they don’t come with a protective case (a big oversight), and you can’t fold them into something easily packed away. Discounting those quibbles, RHA has succeeded in making headphones that sound very good for the cost and that are more comfortable than some headphones costing much more.
The SA950i headphones are made from plastic, metal,and some very soft faux-leather pads. RHA has given them a retro-WWII bomber look, which is rather cool. While build quality may not feel heavy-duty, they are durable. Plus, keep in mind that the cost is only $60 – and that’s with a mic! The black plastic exterior has a mirror finish which will scratch over time. However, because of the retro design, this wear and tear may just add to the coolness factor.
The mic is identical to the one on the previously-reviewed MA450i earphones. Call quality was comparable, but I’ve always had issues with using headphones to make phone calls. While I can hear the other person just fine, I can barely hear myself, because the mic is not routed through the headphones. That tends to make me talk louder than I normally would, which can be off-putting for some. This is true with every headphone/mic combination I’ve reviewed to date, no matter the cost or manufacturer. A cloth-wrapped cord is also a carryover from the earphones, and likewise, these cords can and will fold and crease. The good news is that the cord is removable; always a good thing.
I connected the SA950i headphones to my iPod Classic as a commuter would to help gauge noise isolation and audio quality. The isolation is obviously not as good as noise canceling headphones, but it’s not bad. You should have no trouble escaping into your world as you commute to work or home.
Interestingly, some songs fared better than others, especially how open or airy they sounded. Certain songs seemed a bit muffled when compared with others. This can mean two things: the SA950i headphones are tuned for a specific kind of music or the recordings themselves are to blame. I think it’s a bit of both. The SA950i headphones are not bass monsters, although they are warm sounding and not as clinical in detail as some headphones can be. They are somewhat forgiving with lower quality MP3 files, but you can hear differences between low and high resolution files.
Also, because the bass is not falsely boosted as on other brands of headphones, the SA950i handles more modern tracks with ease. You can listen to just about any recent song without having your fillings vibrated out of your head – unless that’s exactly what you want. If so, then the SA950i headphones are not for you.
The re-worked classic “I Fought the Law” from The Clash has power to spare. The song sounds a little restricted on the SA950i, but it still packs plenty of punch. “Ministry of Love,” from the largely forgotten “1984″ Eurythmics soundtrack, sounds more open, and as a result, also more ominous, befitting the tone of the film. Plus, there is a hidden delicacy to the music on this album that you can hear with the SA950i.
St. Vincent’s “Marrow” has boomy bass and crisp highs, but the middle is practically nonexistent. The mids seem to be made only from a combination of the highs and the lows. It’s not a pleasant experience. Conversely, there’s David Werner’s glam classic “Whizz Kid” from the album of the same title. This song is all mid range, which muffles the bass and squashes the highs. Gotta love the 70s. When comparing these two approaches to music production, it becomes apparent that the SA950i headphones lean toward the more laid-back recording techniques of 30 years ago rather than today.
The SA950i headphones are almost a contradiction, but not quite. They can handle modern, bass heavy songs like a champ, but seem to be tuned for a more classic rock approach, with less dependency on bone-vibrating bass.
RHA has managed to make a headphone (and their earphones, as well) that most can afford and yet will still surprise them with quality reproduction of their favorite music. If you are still using the earbuds included with your device and are curious about headphones, you should give the SA950i a listen. You just may discover how much more there is to experience in your favorite songs.