Sonically, the RHA SA950i headphones are far superior to to many headphones I've reviewed, regardless of price... The midrange was rich and full with vocals sounding absolutely lush. The top end was well extended without being fatiguing.
It's hard for me to believe that the RHA SA950i on-ear headphones only retail for $60. Sonically, they perform much better than their price would indicate. While they may not be the most linear or accurate headphones I've tested, they are easily one of my favorites. With well extended highs, engaging bass, and no real weak point, you could do a lot worse for $60. Heck, you could do a lot worse for much more. I only feel sorry for those of you with large heads as you won't be able to enjoy the RHA SA950i as I have. If this is what RHA can do for $60, I want to see what they can do with a $200 headphone—though I'm afraid my head might just explode from the sonic goodness.
It often feels like I get headphones in waves. A bunch of on-ears followed by a number of in-ear models. It makes comparisons easy but it is sort of weird how that works out. In this case, I had two on-ear models arrive back-to-back with an external slide mechanism for fit. This is a very "old school" design which oftenlooks better than it works. In particular, people with larger heads may have problems with the external slide design. Not always, mind you (and this doesn't preclude other designs from being problematic for people with large melons), but I've found it to be the case.
I reviewed a pair of RHA in-ear headphones a while back and they inquired if I would be interested in an on-ear model. Being a reviewer means that there is only one answer to that question. The RHA SA950i are the highest priced on-ear model from RHA. They represent the pinacle of what RHA can produce in a headphone. After how impressed I was with the $40 MA350 in-ear headphones, I was excited to see what RHA could do with $20 more.
The SA950i have a very unique shaped ear cup. It is basically the same shape as many ears. At first, they looked a bit small to me but, with use, it was clear that they should be comfortable for most users. The SA950i have a gloss black back to the ear cup with chrome accents. The band is leather and very comfortable.
The cable is fabric covered but, unlike the cheaper MA350 headphones, doesn't transmit noise when manipulated. It has an in-line control unit with three buttons. The center button has a large indentation making it very easy to locate blindly. The microphone worked adequately and it was placed on the cord in the correct place to catch your voice without being held to your mouth.
The cable was longer than normal at 1.5 meters (most cables are 1.2 meters). I appreciated the extra length as I've often found the 1.2 meter length just a little too short when placing my phone/MP3 player in the side pocket of my cargo shorts (as I often do). The cable was also removable which makes it very easy to switch out if there is a problem.
The SA950i headphones are very light (105 grams according to RHA) so long listening sessions won't be affected by the weight. There are gold-plated connections on the cable/ports. The sides are well labeled but the black on black is hard to see. It won't matter as you just have to remember which side the cable connects. There is a bit of tape on the chrome frame to hold the wire to power the headphones in place.
RHA claims the SA950i have an "ultra-portable design" though I'm not seeing how. Yes, they are light and relatively small but they don't fold up in any way and RHA hasn't included any sort of carrying case. There are also no adapters for airline or 1/4" plugs, or any other extras you'd expect for a headphone that is designed for traveling.
As mentioned, the SA950i have a slide adjustment. Here I ran into my first concern with the RHA SA950i headphones. While they fit me just fine (with room to spare I might add), it was clear that those with larger heads were going to run into problems. For comparison, I wear (depending on the make/model) anywhere from a small to medium motorcycle helmet. There was probably less than an inch left on the slide on each side. I'm not seeing how the SA950i headphones will work for those with larger heads.
The fit was tight but not overly so. The ear pads on the SA950i headphones were very soft and comfortable. Long listening sessions weren't a problem though you never "forgot" you were wearing headphones. With time, this may loosen up but I didn't get that impression from them. The slide mechanism worked well and held its position without having to be readjusted each time I put them on. The leather in the band actually creased slightly where the slide connected making a natural hold point.
It was hard to reconcile the weight of the RHA SA950i's and their perceived quality. They were so light, I kept expecting them to fall apart in my hands. The gloss black back covers of the ear cups, in particular, seemed like they should pop off easily though, with repeated trying, I was unable to find any problems with the construction of the SA950i headphones.
I very much like the in-line controls. The large indentation for the center button made it very easy to control blindly. I never had a problem locating the correct button and I never had a complaint about intelligibility when using the in-line mic. The extra length on the cable was a plus. Noise isolation with the SA950i headphones wasn't great though there wasn't a ton of sound leakage to bother your neighbors on the train.
When I reviewed the RHA MA350s, I found them to be very bass heavy. I was actually surprised when RHA contacted me to review the SA950i as they have the same size drivers and I expected that they'd have similar sound. Usually, manufacturers tend to stick to a "sound" that becomes their signature. But, as I said, I don't typically turn down reviews.
On closer inspection, while both the MA350s and the SA950is have 40mm drivers, the MA350 sport a mylar driver while the SA950i have a titanium-coated mylar driver. Both are rated down to 16Hz but the MA350s have a rated impedance of 16 ohms and sensitivity of 103dB. The SA950i, on the other hand have a rated impedance of 32 ohms and a sensitivity of 113dB. On specs alone, they should sound different.
The first thing I did was take a listen with the RHA MA350 in-ear headphones for comparison. For $40, I really liked the MA350s though I found them a little bass-heavy for my tastes. While it may partly be the headphone design, I found the SA950i headphones to be much more balanced overall. The top end, in particular, sounded much more forward and present while the bass, while still fairly prominent, wasn't nearly as overdone.
Sonically, the RHA SA950i headphones are far superior to to many headphones I've reviewed, regardless of price. While their little brethren, the MA350 seemed to have slightly better bass extension, the SA950i's bass was better balanced giving a more neutral presentation. The midrange was rich and full with vocals sounding absolutely lush. The top end was well extended without being fatiguing.
I tested the SA950i headphones with everything from show tunes to rap to heavy metal to electronica.Often, headphones will sound good with one type of music or be more forgiving of lossy encoding. The SA950i headphones really didn't seem to have a weak point.
Imaging with the SA950i headphones was very good with good stereo separation especially for the price point. Dynamic range was acceptable. I find that a bit of bass bump (which the SA950i's have) makes the presentation of the headphones much more engaging and pleasing but often sacrifices dynamic range. Unlike the I-MEGO Throne headphones, the sacrifice on dynamic range was slight with the SA950i headphones. Listening an lower volumes did result in a muddier presentation (that's always the case to some degree) but, frankly, who puts on headphones to listen at very low volumes?
It's hard for me to believe that the RHA SA950i on-ear headphones only retail for $60. Sonically, they perform much better than their price would indicate. While they may not be the most linear or accurate headphones I've tested, they are easily one of my favorites. With well extended highs, engaging bass, and no real weak point, you could do a lot worse for $60. Heck, you could do a lot worse for much more. I only feel sorry for those of you with large heads as you won't be able to enjoy the RHA SA950i as I have. If this is what RHA can do for $60, I want to see what they can do with a $200 headphone. Though I'm afraid my head might just explode from the sonic goodness.
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