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RHA MA600i + MA750i In-Ear Headphones
Editor-in-Chief, iLounge (Google+)
Published: Monday, October 21, 2013
Category: Headphones, Earphones, Headsets + Accessories, Headphones + Earphones (Wired - Remote/Microphone)
British headphone company RHA first appeared on our radar screen last year, after debuting a series of metal headphones priced from $40 to $50 -- notably the same prices as all but disposable plastic models from other companies. The company recently expanded its lineup with fancier, more expensive models called the MA600i ($90) and MA750i ($130), each with integrated three-button Apple remote controls; non-i versions are available for $10 less without the remotes. While the two models are more intriguing for their designs than their sound, they're distinctive enough to be worthy of a quick collective review today.
Of the two models, MA600i is closer to traditional in design. Picture a megaphone made from silver aluminum with its smallest point covered in silicone rubber and its other end capped with a black cover; that’s MA600i, a hybrid between earbuds and canalphones in shape and size. Standard gauge gray translucent cabling leads to a black, diamond-machined metal Y-splitter, a silver remote and microphone tube with black plastic buttons, and a black L-shaped headphone plug with a silver ring in the center. While the pieces don’t feel heavy or expensive, they look a lot nicer than the vast majority of sub-$100 earbuds we see these days, and come bundled with three accessories: a shirt clip, a zippered hard carrying case, and a collection of eight total pairs of silicone eartips, seven of them managed at a time by a metal holder that fits inside the case. You’ll find tips to match all but the smallest ear canals; even so, the smaller of two double-flanged tips may work for some people.
From our perspective, MA600i is a fine rather than great earphone sonically, though your interest in it will depend on what sort of audio balance you prefer. MA600i has a very bassy sound signature, with less treble and mid-treble than we prefer from sub-$100 earphones but also smoother low end. As a result, you won’t hear terrible distortion in low beats or voices, yet also won’t notice much sparkle in the highs. Music is presented with enough of a bass emphasis that the lows are always the first thing you’ll notice and what’s most dominant in the sound, thankfully without any Darth Vader-like echoing or other effect applied to make the audio artificially engrossing. Microphone performance was just as expected: clear, intelligible, and largely indistinguishable from either MA750i or Apple’s own mic and remote units.
Despite some major similarities, MA750i is a different type of earphone in execution. The earphones are shaped like the MA600i versions but made from silver stainless steel with plastic wires sticking out of their tops rather than downwards. Consequently, MA750i’s wires are shaped to curl in the same way as an ear, running upward from your ear canals to behind the backs of your ears. Unlike MA600i, which has wires dangling downwards, MA750i cannot be worn without the wires atop your ears—a design we typically don’t like, but found more acceptable in this particular model due to proper weighting of the earpieces and cabling. That said, we believe that earphones really need to be excellent to be worth managing the cables in this way, and we’ve yet to test a single- or double-driver earphone that meets this standard. Athletic users looking for extra cable stability may feel otherwise.
RHA has done some seriously funky stuff with MA750i’s cabling. While the microphone and remote units are identical between models, MA750i uses thicker cables that look and feel almost like surgical tubing, splitting at a gray metal Y-junction and terminating at a matching straight machined metal plug housing. A spring is at the cable end of the plug housing, presumably to assist with strain relief, and looks a little odd but cool. Thanks to heavier weight components, MA750i feels like a step up from basic earphones, though with an almost clinical style. These earphones wouldn’t look out of place in a doctor’s office, and perhaps that’s by design.
The price difference between the two models is primarily justified by their components, as their sound and pack-ins are more alike than not. MA750i does include a larger, soft padded carrying case and ten different sets of tips—two sets of foam tips are added to the MA600i’s single- and double-flange silicones—while the metal tip holder is enlarged to hold the extra sets. You still get a shirt clip in the package if you’d like to use it.
Just like MA600i, MA750i is a bass-heavy earphone with fine midrange performance and too little treble; RHA describes one as having a “560.1 driver” and the other as including a “320.1” driver, but they really don’t sound much different from one another. In the MA750i, the still ample bass sounds just a bit more restrained so that it doesn’t hit your eardrums with the same dominance we noted in MA600i; it’s not that MA750i is less bassy or better in the treble department, but rather it’s just not as forceful in presenting bass notes. Particularly as prices go up, we tend to prefer greater detail and a better balance of highs and lows in earphones, but these models both sounded like sub-$100 earphones to us.
Overall, we’d rate RHA’s MA600i and MA750i in the “good” rather than “great” category, with the MA600i rating a little higher based on a couple of factors. While MA750i has a small sonic edge because its bass is a little more controlled than the MA600i’s, this benefit is offset by the higher price, oddly surgical cabling, and less than thrilling over-the-ear way they’re worn. While some users won’t mind or will even prefer the MA750i design, we find it harder to recommend something with considerably more weight and bulk that achieves only a 5-10% improvement in sound and appearance, hence our limited recommendation. The less expensive MA600i delivers a substantially similar experience in a more compact form factor with less hassle. It’s worthy of our general recommendation.