While the future of Monster’s lineup of Beats by Dre headphones is somewhat cloudy now that Monster and Dre’s team have parted ways, their influence remains clear — customers proved that they were willing to pay premiums for the distinctive Beats designs, and companies rushed to come up with similar-looking alternatives. Last year, Scosche released the $230 Realm RH1056m as a direct and worthy challenger to the $350 Beats Studio, and now the company has a smaller model called Realm RH656m ($130) to rival the $230 Beats Solo HD. Just as was the case last time, Scosche’s design, features, and sound engineering have come together nicely to create a much smarter alternative to the Monster product at a more attractive price.
To be clear up front about where Realm RH656m fits in the broad spectrum of headphones, this model and RH1056m are substantially different designs. Whereas RH1056 was an “over-ear” model that attempts to completely surround a user’s ear with a cushioned speaker, RH656 is a “on-ear” model that instead rests a smaller cushioned speaker atop your outer ear, focusing on isolating the ear canal from ambient sound. Interestingly, both models use 40mm speakers, though the higher-end RH1056 uses genuine leather padded cushions, while RH656 uses a similar enough faux leather, switching from a large, rubber-lined headband to a much smaller and lighter version that’s covered in the same faux leather.
It’s worth noting that RH656 makes no attempt whatsoever to fold down for portability, or even to include a carrying case—in fact, Scosche doesn’t bundle this model with any frills at all. The cabling is non-detachable, and there are no hinges in these headphones to fold them down; they only expand and contract for different head sizes, with two-axis pivoting for each earpiece to let them accommodate different head shapes. We don’t consider these limitations to be real problems, particularly considering RH656’s price, but if you’re concerned about folding your earphones down and carrying them around, you may want to look elsewhere; Beats Solo HD and Bowers & Wilkins’ P3 are just a couple of examples of the many on-ear models that fold down, albeit at higher price points.
As was the case with RH1056m, there are actually two different versions of RH656m: the white version carries the “m” letter, while the black version shown here is RH656md, and their coloration is the only major distinguishing factor. Scosche has used soft white faux leather with chrome accents on RH656m, and similarly soft black faux leather with black chrome for RH656md, connecting the speaker housings to the headband with expandable silver or black metal stems. No one will confuse this new design with a pair of Beats Solo HDs—Scosche has made the new Realms even less plasticy than before—but these are handsome earphones, halfway between the Beats and V-Moda’s Crossfade M-80 in design, again only a lot less expensive.
The single most striking feature of the RH656 is its sonic performance for the dollar. When our editorial team first tested RH656 back at CES in January, we were all genuinely wowed: Scosche has tuned its drivers with the sort of balance we love to hear in “fun” earphones, complete with crisp highs, respectable midrange, and deep, powerful lows. While it leads with bassy sound, occasionally somewhat overemphasizing the low end just like a subwoofer can when it’s just a little too dominant, RH656 lets you enjoy kicking back with music in a way that more clinical headphones don’t, and doesn’t feel like an assault on any part of your ears. We’ve criticized bass-heavy sound signatures similar to this in earphones selling for much higher prices, but RH656 sounds just right for $130; every one of our editors really enjoyed listening to different types of music through these headphones. There’s just no comparison between this and the Beats Solo HD, which sounded flat and anemic in the treble department—RH656 makes music sound alive and energetic, rather than muddled.
Another standout feature here is the tapLINE III remote and mic system, which Scosche offers as an alternative to the Apple-developed remote and mic capsule found in most earphones and headphones we review these days. Scosche uses two housings that start at neck level on the left headphone, placing the microphone in an ideal location close to your mouth while separately locating a larger three-button remote control down further at the Y-split of the headphone cable, where it can more easily be seen during operation. As has been the case with earlier tapLINE-equipped headphones we’ve tested, callers told us that we sounded at least a little clearer through RH656 than other headphones we compared it with, both in raw voice quality and in ambient noise filtering, and we found the remote considerably easier to access because of its more natural location.
If RH656 has any flaws, they’re not fatal—just things that could be better. By comparison with some of the $200 on-ear headphones out there, Scosche’s headband and ear cushions could stand to be oval-shaped rather than circular, as they could put less pressure on a user’s ears and reduce fatigue during extended use. Enhanced portability wouldn’t hurt, either, in the form of a folding mechanism and carrying case. And as abstract of an issue as this sounds, we’ve been waiting forever to see Scosche fix these needlessly confusing product names, dropping the “m” and “md” color designations, as well as the random letters and numbers that precede them. As you can tell, these are all relatively small complaints. Given the asking price here, plus the overall industrial design and sonic experience Scosche has delivered, RH656 is an excellent option if you’re looking for stylish on-ear headphones. This new model certainly merits our rare high recommendation.
Company and Price
Model: Realm RH656m/md
Compatible: All iPads, iPhones, iPods