RHA is a British audio company that has transitioned into premium products over the last few years. In 2014, they released a pair of in-ear headphones called the T10/T10i — meant to be premium in-ear headphones, they introduced a solid metal build, a molded section of cable to be used as an earhook, and the ability to swap out physical filters to adjust balance toward treble or bass. Just one year later, RHA came out with the T20 series, using the T10’s design while adjusting an audio balance that many thought was too bass heavy. We got to try out the T20i in-ear headphones, and while they’re expensive and not for everyone, they’re certainly worth a look to anyone willing and able to spend a lot of money on good audio.
Note: We reviewed the T20i in-ear headphones. As with the T10 series, the only difference between the T20 and T20i is the absence or presence of an in-line microphone and remote. The i models have the in-ear remote, which is MFi (Made For iPhone/iPod/iPad) certified.
Tracklist: Steely Dan – “The Fez”, Röyksopp f/ Susanne Sundfør – “Running to the Sea”, Coolio f/ L.V. – “Gangsta’s Paradise”, Godspeed You! Black Emperor – “Moya”, Radiohead – “Reckoner”
At $250, in-ear headphones have to hit audio quality on the head. That’s not just because $250 is expensive, either — at that price, there are loads of competitors like Shure, Sony, Etymotic, and Klipsch that have proven themselves to be able to get high-end audio right consistently. The T20i in-ear headphones seem to have done so. I haven’t had a chance to try the T10 series, but it seems like any issue those had with overly heavy bass has been corrected on the T20 series. The audio is pleasantly balanced, and there are no harsh volume spikes when listening to tracks with extremely low or high frequencies. They can sound a little cold or technical at times, though, and there was some all-around harshness at higher volumes.
To me, the greatest strength of the T20i was clarity. When directly comparing them to an average pair of cheap earphones, it really becomes clear why they command a premium price. With cheaper earphones, a lot of midrange notes tend to get smashed together when the sound is produced by the drivers, resulting in a sort of blob of noise with minimal differentiation. With the T20i, guitars, bass guitars, snare drums, strings, piano, vocals, etc all sound clear and distinct. The virtual soundstage is a little wider than your average pair, too, although anyone used to using a pair of over-ear headphones to get that imaginary sense of being in front of a stage likely won’t be impressed — a fair criticism, because at this price, the T20i are competing with some serviceable midrange over-ears. For what it’s worth, the RHA T20i have been given Hi-Res audio certification by the Japan Audio Society — the same kind of certification Sony has on their high-end Walkmans and headphones.
There’s good reason why the audio sounds so clear — the RHA T20i uses dual-coil drivers. In speakers, a lot of times we’ll see multiple drivers in one unit, with each one only responsible for playing notes in the low, mid, or high frequency range. This allows each driver to reproduce their respective frequency ranges more faithfully, resulting in clearer audio. In in-ear headphones, it’s not really possible to do that, because there’s no room in those tiny in-ear housings for more than one driver. RHA’s dual-core drivers, then, are kind of like a 2-in-1 driver — there are two coils wrapped around a magnet inside the housing (see picture above), with one for lows and lower mids and the other for highs and higher mids. That little bit of driver differentiation helps to keep the audio clear, especially the mids.
If you don’t like the way the T20i have been tuned, you can also physically replace the filters at the ends of the housings (reference, bass, and treble filters are included). Don’t expect a huge change, though — as you can see in the graph above, the bass and treble filters only slightly raise the volume of the low and high frequencies, respectively. Those with well-trained ears should be able to notice the difference immediately, but I had a pretty hard time detecting changes in the tracks I was listening to. The filter switching is a cool idea, but it’s not always practical — the process of removing the eartips, unscrewing the filters, getting the new filters off the carrying plate RHA provides and then onto the housing, then finally replacing the eartips is time-consuming enough to make it impractical while you’re out and about (to say nothing of the risk of dropping one of those tiny filters). The T20i are much better suited for home use, a theme we’ll return to.
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