T10i, Reid Heath’s Stainless Steel Beauty

Full Disclosure: The T10i used in this review was provided as a sample from RHA.

The T10i is the new flagship from Reid Heath Acoustics (RHA), a Scottish audio company.

Founded in 2008, RHA began research and development into earphones and headphones, but it wasn’t until 2011 that they launched their first products to market.  Until 2013 and their introduction of the 750i, RHA had been targeting the lower-tier market with budget offerings. However, the 750i ushered RHA into the $100 and over mid-tier market.

The T10i is their first foray into upper mid-tier markets with an MSRP of $199. At the same time, regardless of price, RHA products have been about high quality offerings that exceed their respective retail tiers in build quality and innovation, and their latest product continues that tradition, with an opportunity to really stand out from the crowd.

Design & Build

They’ve taken this mindset of innovation to the next level using metal injection moulding (MIM) to produce an elegantly-designed stainless steel housing in the T10i. More on the metal injection molding process and the immense amount of precision and control it requires can be read here.

While other specialty audio companies like Japan’s Final Audio Design have been using the MIM process to produce their higher-end IEMs for while, RHA brings the process to the mass market — the T10i is simply stunning, possessing a clean and industrial aesthetic that would be perfectly at home in any Apple Store worldwide.

shells mic
RHA uses a special metal injection moulding (MIM) process to produce an incredibly beautiful and durable outer shell.

The shells sport a tasteful, small vent for the dynamic driver on the faceplate, next to the RHA logo and have small color-coded piece where the wire exits the housings, for easy right and left identification.

The overall wear is very ergonomic, comfortable, and low profile. Comfort is on par with previous generation Westone and Shure shells. The T10i is strictly made for over-the-ear wear and the patent-pending memory wire design is uniquely genius. The memory wire, or ear hook, is of a spring-covered ‘mouldable’ design. The springs ensure you can get any shape you need without being overly rigid and cumbersome like many typical memory wire designs. The spring also blends well with the industrial feel of the T10i design.

Perhaps the only out-of-place feature at this point is the bulbous strain relief ending to the ear hooks. Its black, rubbery, and over-sized appearance looks a little out of place on an otherwise beautiful monitor.

T10i shells mulch
The bulbous terminations of the mouldable ear hooks are an odd inconsistency to the otherwise beautiful design of the T10i.

The microphone module (with volume control), Y-split and plug are all made of the matching, shiny stainless steel of the housings. The T10i comes with three sets of interchangeable filters.

The filters allow the user to tailor the overall signature to their tastes and are labeled: Treble, Reference, and Bass.

They are of a simple twisting on/off design, and also have a small O-ring gasket to ensure an air tight seal. The filters are also color-coded for easy identification along the threads and stem: copper for treble, black for bass and plain stainless steel for reference. Attention to detail is apparent almost everywhere, from the matching spring covered strain relief on the plug, to the rotary blade like covering of the filters. Anyone who sees the T10i in person will certainly reassess their expectations for what a sub-$200 offering should be.

Accessories

The accessories are plentifully appointed — double sets of single flange silicone tips and two sets of bi-flange tips, all of which are of very high quality. Also included are two sets of foam tips. So many in-ear monitors today come with cheap or otherwise low quality tips, but RHA’s offerings are up there with some of the best like the VSONIC, Ortofon, and Aurisonics Sure-Seal tips. The tips are mounted in a stainless steel plate, similar to the filters.

The case, tips holder, and filter set all package elegantly together.
The case, tips holder, and filter set all package elegantly together.

Also included is an over-sized, leather-like case that could hold the ear tips plate, the filters plate, and/or possibly a DAP, such as an iPod Classic or a Sansa Fuze. While I feel the case is ultimately too big for my personal tastes and uses, I appreciate RHA‘s stepping out of the box and offering something a little different.

Ramblings

Everything outward about the T10i screams durability, robustness and high tech engineering. However, I do have a couple of quibbles with some of the design choices.

First, the microphone and volume control placement is questionable — it is low enough that you can only push the neck slider so far up, which is still somewhat too low (perhaps mid-breastbone, before it runs into the microphone). I would have preferred to the see the microphone module pushed another few inches closer to the driver housings.

The Y-split is also oddly placed; it’s very, very low on the cable. I’m average height and the Y-split sits around mid-stomach.

The odd placement of the Y-split is a strange choice.
The odd placement of the Y-split is a strange choice.

My last quibble is with the cable itself — while it’s thick and seems very robust and durable, its texture is very rubbery and frankly of lower class next to the beautiful, accented stainless steel shells. I would have liked to have seen a wire with a more premium look and feel to match the rest of the overall premium design.

Yet, regardless of my quibbles with their design choices, RHA seems to have exceeded all expectations for design, engineering and accessory appointments in the T10i’s particular price bracket. The presentation is professional and elegant, with high quality accessories. All manufacturers hoping to get slice of the hard earned head-fi wallet would be wise to study this RHA offering and up their own game accordingly.

Specifications

  • Custom made in-house dynamic driver model 770.1
  • Frequency range 16-22000hz
  • Impedance 16 ohm
  • Sensitivity 100db
  • Cable 1.35m, multicore OFC

Sound

The T10i possesses a decidedly bassy, consumer-oriented sound, regardless of the chosen filter.

Overall, it is warm, thick, and rich — with evident sparkle. Bass is very powerful and reaches the extreme depths, still pumping air well beyond the limits of hearing. And while mid-bass is also plentiful, providing great impact, the majority of bass presence is centered in deep bass and refrains from muddying up the midrange, leaving it without a feeling of a veil, if albeit somewhat recessed.

Staging is enveloping and reverberant, and somewhat reminds me a little of the JVC woodies I’ve owned in the past. While the reverberation adds to the sense of sound field size, the lack of air in the upper midrange and lower treble take away from overall clarity and transparency.

Overall it’s a very fun sounding phone that’s engaging, spacious, powerful, and impeccably built.

Warmth and very powerful bass define the RHA T10i; with Reference filters, the treble is smooth and refined.
Warmth and very powerful bass define the RHA T10i; with Reference filters, the treble is smooth and refined, though the bass presence remains significantly stronger than those of earphones with more neutral signatures.

The filters, like all interchangeable filters, are subtractive — each takes away a bit more treble from the top, adding to the added perception of bass. I do prefer the treble smoothness of the reference filter, but its sheer bass presence is just too much for me. As a lover of neutral signatures, I ended up mostly using the treble filter, as I find the treble filter provides more high end sparkle to help balance out the bassy nature of the T10i. Unfortunately, the trade-off is occasional sibilance that just isn’t present in the reference filter.

The T10i becomes darker and warmer with the bass filter. Bone jarring comes to mind! Bass remains clean yet somehow seems more powerful and louder — only bassheads need apply.

Due to the design choice of stainless steel and the inclusion of interchangeable filters, the T10i at first blush might draw some comparisons to the AKG K3003i.  While build quality of the shells and filters may come fairly close to that of the AKG (a $1000+ product), the sound signature differences are quite wide.  The K3003i is much brighter and airier; one might even say much more analytical in nature.  The AKG bass quantity is also less in presence, with a somewhat U-shaped response, and greater left-to-right staging. It’s also worth noting that the AKG approach to the tuning filters brought a larger difference between the three choices, going from an analytical, treble focused sound, to a much more balanced reference sound, and then to a darker, bass heavy sound. In contrast, the RHA filters present much more subtle differences between all three, maintaining the same overall signature with only slight changes to the treble.

I don’t currently have another IEM in my arsenal that is quite as bass-present as the T10i.  Probably the closest is the Brainwavz S5, but even that has less bass impact and rumble than the RHA. The S5 is much more V-shaped in signature when compared to the T10i, which has closer vocals due to a thicker and warmer lower midrange. The S5 is also a lot brighter and colder sounding than the T10i, even with treble filters installed — the RHA treble is smoother and more refined in direct comparison. While the Brainwavz S5 gives off the perception of a bit more clarity, the T10i’s more refined nature presents details a little more readily. Whereas the S5 comes off as distant and a little aloof, the T10i manages to feel closer, fuller, and more enveloping.

Conclusion

In a world of ever increasing prices for top-of-the-line earphones, it’s refreshing to see a mid-tier product offer such superb engineering and design, elegant packaging and high quality accessories that rival and often best products many times over more expensive. In fact, it seems RHA has been doing this for quite some time and the quality of their products is reflected in every model down the line. The T10i offers all that quality and comfort, in a consumer friendly, bass-oriented sound, topped off by a robust 3-year warranty. Personally I would hope for a more balanced and neutral signature in future RHA offerings, particularly as they go forward in designs with their metal injection molding engineering process and reach for greater heights in the portable audio food chain.

At an MSRP of $199, the only real question becomes, is the RHA house sound right for you?

For more information on the RHA T10i, please visit:
http://www.rha-audio.com/intl/headphones/t10i.html

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