After intense listening to a variety of musical styles, and comparing them with my favorite headphones, I can only conclude this is the best value in headphones I’ve ever seen.
SA950i: Following on from the RHA CA-200 Noise isolating headphone review last week, Benchmark Reviews is all set to take a look at the higher priced RHA SA950i On-Ear Portable Headphones from Reid Heath Acoustics. The SA950i headphones are designed primarily for Apple iPhone/iPod/iPad users, but will also work just as well on most Android devices and other modern smartphones. Available in Apple Retail Stores from October 30th 2012 (MSRP $59.95), the RHA website claim the SA950i Headphones feature "technologies more commonly found in full-sized studio equipment, and delivers professional-grade audio in a compact supra-aural design".
We were quite impressed by the sound quality of the inexpensive RHA CA-200 Noise Isolating Headphones, and looking at the specifications and price of the SA950i headphones we could easily come to the conclusion that they will be even better still. The SA950i Headphones also feature a 1.5m braided cable with a multi function in-line remote, contour forming ear cups, adjustable chrome sliders, 40mm titanium coated mylar drivers, dynamic neodynium magnets and CCAW voice coils. RHA seem pretty confident about the SA950i Headphones, and we aim to see if they can really deliver.
Upon receiving the RHA SA950i Headphones one thing was immediately apparent, they were so much smaller than I was expecting. To put it into perspective, the 600x545 pixel image above (when viewed on a 22" 1080p screen) is merely 1/5th smaller than the actual product. There is 300mm of adjustment afforded by the sliders but this might not be enough if you have a relatively large head.
The ear cups measure 57mm wide by 66mm tall and are an irregular shape, this means that there isn't much room inside the ear cups (after you allow for the 40mm drivers) for sound to resonate, resulting in a reduction in the perceived depth of the sound.
The RHA SA950i Headphones feature a soft comfortable faux leather covered headband and ear pads and the finished product is very tidy and stylish. The choice of materials used, added to the small size, result in a very light set of headphones. There is moderate clamping force and no horizontal rotational adjustment, so the comfort factor of the SA950i Headphones definitely has room for improvement. The SA950i Headphones would definitely benefit from a slight inward angle adjustment to make them feel more comfortable and also to increase the contact area on my ears, I don't feel that the ear pads are cushioned enough to compensate for this.
One of the best features of the RHA SA950i Headphones is the 1.5m detachable fabric braided cable, by now this should be a de-facto standard in all on-ear/over-ear headphones as it is relatively inexpensive to implement. The bundled cable has an inline remote and mic featuring multi-click control over call, music and volume functions on Apple iPod/iPhone/iPad devices. The inline remote also supports full call control and track selection for most Android and other smartphone platforms. Since the SA950i Headphones have a single 3.5mm port, the possibility to use a standard or higher grade aftermarket alternative to the bundled cable is immediately apparent.
Despite their light weight the RHA SA950i Headphones feel like a premium product. The balance between metal, plastic and synthetic leather added to the quality craftsmanship also give the SA950i headphones a premium look.
The ear cups pivot on the chrome adjustment sliders but they only allow for vertical adjustment, horizontal position is fixed in place so that the ear pads don't quite sit flat on your ears. There is a little bit of compensation offered by the cushioned ear pads but it is not quite enough. This shouldn't be a deal breaker though as the SA950i Headphones have other features that make up for this.
The cable plugs into the left ear cup which should ensure correct orientation of the SA950i Headphones during use, the inside of the headbands also feature R and L symbols for correct orientation.
The 1.5m detachable fabric braided cable is prominently displayed in the product packaging, The supplied cable has an inline remote and mic featuring multi-click control over call, music and volume functions on Apple iPod/iPhone/iPad devices. The inline remote also supports full call control and track selection for most Android and other smartphone platforms.
I recently tested the CA-200 Noise Isolating Over-Ear Headphones from RHA and they set a very good precedence. While comparing the on-ear SA950i Portable Headphones to the over-ear CA-200 Noise isolating Headphones might be like comparing apples to pears, there are enough similarities between the two sets of headphones from RHA to reach the conclusion I have. The SA950i Headphones didn't work with my Blackberry via the supplied cable, instead a standard 3.5mm stereo cable was needed to bypass that minor issue.
The SA950i On-Ear Portable Headphones are good, but I was expecting more. The 40mm titanium coated mylar drivers produce deep low frequency bass without over powering the mid and high range frequencies. There is definite clarity, fidelity and definition but they lack the perception of depth, the sound is perceived in your head rather than around it. My other problem with them is that they are not really loud enough until you amplify them.
Bass boost on an iPhone/iPod resulted in all other frequencies being lowered rather than bass being boosted, which means that while I had the required EQ to suit the music I was listening to, my need for a louder listening experience wasn't satiated. I had a similar experience with the Samsung Galaxy S II but there were other factors out of my control with these devices; The iPhone's, the iPod Touch and the Galaxy S II are not mine and therefore I couldn't listen to the same music files across all devices. When listening on my Blackberry (which has AUDIOBOOST) via a standard 3.5mm stereo cable I found that the experience was only slightly louder. When listening on my PC (amplified via external surround system) the RHA SA950i On-Ear Portable Headphones really showed what they are capable of.
The RHA SA950i On-Ear Portable Headphones are very good but to get the most out of them they need to be amplified, the volume level afforded by your mobile device well be enough for your needs but I felt they were a bit tame compared to the less expensive little brother - the CA-200 Noise isolating Over-Ear Headphones - which are half the price of the SA950i On-Ear Headphones. All products from RHA come with a standard 3 year warranty which adds value and peace of mind.
They do have other up sides too, they are small, light and compact so you won't look like a goon walking the street with massive cans on the sides of your head. They are also much better looking and use higher quality materials than the CA-200's which are all factors that go into the price consideration. There is no horizontal adjustment in the ear cups and that affects the comfort experience. As I write this I am wearing the SA950i Headphones and the pressure is not evenly distributed on my ears, there is more pressure on the back of my ears than on the front and this could be simply remedied if the front of the ear cups pointed inwards slightly.
Important: In this section I am going to write a brief five point summary on the following categories; Performance, Appearance, Construction, Functionality and Value. These views are my own and help me to give the RHA SA950i On-Ear Portable Headphones a rating out of 10. A high or low score does not necessarily mean that they are better or worse than a similar set of headphones that have been reviewed by another writer here at Benchmark Reviews, which may have got a higher or lower score. It is however a good indicator of whether the SA950i On-Ear Portable Headphones are good or not. I would strongly urge you to read the entire review, if you have not already, so that you can make an educated decision for yourself.
The performance of the RHA SA950i On-Ear Portable Headphones is very good but to get the most out of them they need to be amplified, your mileage may vary, you may well be content with the performance under mobile conditions but I felt they were a bit tame compared to the less expensive little brother - the CA-200 Noise isolating Over-Ear Headphones - which are half the price of the SA950i On-Ear Headphones. Get the SA950i On-ear Headphones hooked up to your PC or home studio and you will see what they are really capable of.
The SA950i On-Ear Portable Headphones are small, light, compact and look good. Many people refuse to wear full size headphones in public because the massive headphone look isn't desirable, they instead prefer to wear in-ears, and I think RHA may have found a nice balance.
The aesthetical construction of the RHA SA950i Headphones is very good and there are some nice design touches incorporated into the headphones. The chrome sliders insert into the ear cups and allow them to tilt up and down, the problem is that they are not secured into the ear cups and it doesn't require much effort to pull them out. They will lose a point for not having horizontal adjustment (pivot) of the ear cups which affects the comfort and long use wearing experience.
As far as functionality is concerned the SA950i On-ear Headphones almost deliver on all their marketing promise. The fabric braided detachable 3.5mm stereo cable with inline control and mic adds a unique touch that you won't find in all headphones at this price point. The range of adjustment means that these headphones will fit most sizes of head. The ear pads are comfortable but there isn't enough cushion to compensate for the lack of horizontal pivot in the ear cups. The microphone is very clear during calls and voice recording and is comparable to a high quality computer headset microphone.
Presently available for £49.95 (Amazon UK) / $59.95 (Amazon.com). The RHA SA950i On-Ear Portable Headphones will also be available in Apple Retail Stores from October 30th 2012 (MSRP $59.95).
They are by no means overly expensive, and comparing the SA950i On-Ears to the CA-200 Over-Ears may be like comparing apples to pears but the lower priced CA-200 Over-Ear Headphones gave a better overall experience for me so my recommendation would lie there. If you prefer the look of the SA950i On-Ear Headphones and you intend to also use them for voice calls etc then you should attempt to see if you can try before you buy.
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