It’s impossible to look at Scosche’s new Realm series of headphones without thinking of Monster’s Beats by Dre lineup, which three years ago created a market for pricey, iPod-matching audio gear — and a bandwagon of rivals. Since the Beats have maintained steep price premiums over sonically similar headphones, Monster’s competitors have been able to easily offer more affordable alternatives while experimenting with different form factors. That’s why companies such as Scosche have jumped into the $200 Beats-alike headphone market with vigor, and why Realm RH1056m/RH1056md ($230) and IEM856m/IEM856md ($250) have hit the market this month: they’re expensive enough to represent big steps up in price from a company that hasn’t been known for high-end audio gear, but they’re also solid enough Beats alternatives to actually be worthy of your consideration. Their names are unnecessarily geeky and confusing — once you get past the digits, each “m” version means white while “md” means black — but these are very good headphones for people who want a Beats-like experience with superior value.
By contrast with Realm RH1056, Scosche’s Realm IEM856 looks and feels far less inspired by its most obvious Beats equivalent—the in-ear headphone called Beats Tour—than by any of a hundred other canalphone designs we’ve seen over the past several years. IEM856 includes RH1056’s signature circular metal plates and a matching chrome ring to divide the otherwise glossy plastic casing, but there’s nothing particularly amazing or Beats Tour-like about either of these elements. Their greatest similarities are in their flat cabling and three-button remote and mic systems, the latter quietly added to the $190 model called Beats Tour ControlTalk. Unlike RH1056, which undercut Monster’s price by $120, IEM856 actually sells for $60 more than Monster’s most comparably-equipped option.
So what do the extra dollars buy you? Two big things: sound quality and comfort. IEM856 has upped the ante on both Beats Tour and its earlier canalphones by including two small speakers per ear, with a large dynamic driver to handle the lows while a smaller balanced armature driver takes care of mids and highs. The space required for these two drivers makes IEM856 larger than the leading ultraminiaturized double-driver earphones we’ve tested from other companies, while keeping it within the same footprint as Beats Tour.
Additionally, Scosche has chosen good silicone rubber eartips for this model—six total sets of single- and double-flange tips are included for small, medium, and large ear canals—so you get comparatively great passive noise isolation and seal, with none of Beats Tour’s tendency to invert the tips upon removal. Between the driver and eartip changes and IEM856’s more power-efficient design, Realm is a nice-sounding earphone, with a sonic signature that we’d describe as instantly likable thanks to its somewhat warm skew and respectable levels of treble and midrange detail. By contrast with Beats Tour, music sounds considerably richer and more engrossing, adding bass and midrange details to Beats Tour without sacrificing the highs. We didn’t have to fidget at all with IEM856 to get the right seal every time we inserted the earpieces, either, and Scosche’s design performs better at lower iPod/iPhone/iPad volume levels.
IEM856 also benefits from the same TapLine III remote control and microphone system found in RH1056, which here features a microphone capsule dangling from the right earpiece and the separate three-button remote control at a chest-level Y-junction. While Scosche’s carrying case isn’t as snazzy as Monster’s zippered one, a detachable shirt clip is included to hold the remote in place, and the highly case-compatible headphone plug from RH1056 is included here, as well.
The only real issue with IEM856 is its price. At $250, it’s a full $100 more expensive than the considerably smaller, great-sounding double-driver Ultimate Ears 700 earphones, with only added richness and the remote/microphone features serving as possible justifications for the costs. By comparison with Beats Tour, which seemed somewhat overpriced at a lower price point, IEM856 offers a better experience at an equally higher premium. For that reason, it rates a comparable flat B rating, next to the RH1056 which merits a higher B+ and stronger general recommendation. These are both good earphones, but Scosche would be well-advised to follow its competitors and use Monster’s pricing as an aspirational ceiling rather than a floor.
Company and Price
Model: Realm IEM856m/md
Compatible: All iPhones, iPods, iPads