Customizable, hi-res earbuds. Those aren’t words we often hear next to each other and yet that’s exactly what RHA Technologies have delivered with the T20 Hi-Fidelity In-Ear Headphones. Featuring a DualCoil driver design, injection molded stainless steel housings, and unique tuning filters to customize the soundscape, they’re easily one of the most exciting pairs of earphones we’ve had in yet. It’s been almost a month since we’ve received them here at the office. Is it all a lot of marketing-speak or do they live up to the hype and premium $189.95 MSRP? Let’s dig in and find out in our full review.
Over the last several months, we’ve we’ve grown quite familiar with the specialist British audio firm, RHA, first reviewing the MA-650 Hi-Res headphones and following up with a pair MA-750 wireless AptX headphones. In both cases, the in-ears impressed, blowing us away with their sound quality and features. As a tech enthusiast, when I find something I like, a company who seems to do things differently and push their market segment forward, I’m always curious to see what else is in their catalog and read up on their history. Doing this, it seems to me, paints a picture of who a company is, where they’ve started and where they’re going.
And that’s exactly how I discovered RHA’s T20 and T20i headphones, the latter being the iPhone version of the standard T20s. These headphones are one of the most exciting I’ve come across, featuring replacement treble, bass, and reference “tuning filters” that attach to each earbud. These filters, their product page promises, allow you to customize the soundscape adding +3 dB to bass or treble, or to hear the recording exactly as it was captured with the reference tips. It’s an interesting concept and one that gets around some of the audiophile taboo of using an equalizer to customize a headphone’s sound. The promise of the T20s is in customizing their character, not fixing their deficiencies, and adding more sonic versatility than any other headphone we’ve tried.
Starting the the packaging, RHA again knocks it out of the park. I’ve always appreciated the elegant, high-class way in which they present their products. I love the use of white with bold colors in the photography on the inner cover. The presentation of the headphones and plentiful ear tips is also a great touch that reinforces the premium nature of their products. Inside the box you’ll find a zip-up travel bag for the headphones and accessories, a whopping nine replacement tips, including two pairs of excellent Comply foam ear tips, as well as the bass and treble filters.
The filters come screwed into a stainless steel tent. They’re identified by color, so you’ll always know which is which and won’t need to worry about mixing them up by accident. They’re quite small, as you would imagine, so I’m pleased to see RHA threaded their attaching ends to prevent them from falling out of both the plate and earphones. They do tend to screw out when changing rubber/foam ear tips, though, so be sure to take care when swapping them out.
The headphones themselves are extremely well-made. The injection molded stainless steel driver housings are as close to a guarantee of safety as earbuds can provide and make the headphones feel extremely premium. They’re slightly heavier than other in-ears we’ve tried but when properly inserted don’t fall out any easier than others.
They also feature durable metal reinforcement at each of the most likely breakage points. Even above the joint where the jack meets the wire, we find a spring shield to protect against deterioration over time. These headphones are clearly made to last and at this price point, that’s great to see.
Do note, though, that the T20s are purely listening headphones and aren’t made to take to the gym. They’re wired, for one, with a slightly thicker than average wire, so they’re likely to drag on your clothes while you’re on the treadmill. They also lack any kind of microphone or in-line volume. Like any earbud, you can use them in any situation, but their core purpose is clear: provide the best possible listening experience for the discerning audio enthusiast.
The headphones feature an extended 16 – 40000 Hz frequency response range, which earns them Hi-Res Audio certification. The average range of human hearing is 20-20000 Hz, which may lead one to wonder why RHA would go through the trouble of so vastly extending their range. One of the core facets of hi-res audio is clarity. By using high quality components, RHA has been able to certify that their DualCoil driver system can accurately reproduce sound well outside of human hearing. Therefore, it stands to reason that everything you can hear will be presented with the utmost fidelity. Lower quality headphones featuring a standard 20-20000Hz response range might sound just fine at first glance, but listening around the edges of that range and you start to experience frequency loss. Small details in music sound fuzzy – like the pluck of a reverb-laden guitar string or the rolling tap of a drum stick on a shimmering cymbal; these are things you often don’t realize you’re missing until you’re finally able to hear them. The T20s present these minute details with ease.
In the pursuit of that clarity, the T20s make use of a proprietary DualCoil driver system. While most headphones use a single voice coil to produce the entire frequency spectrum, here that job is split into two with each coil taking on a portion of the frequency response range. The result is an in-ear headphone with pristine clarity and a wide soundstage.
At this point, we would typically talk about the character of the earphones’ sound, except, well, it changes. By default, the T20 features the reference tuning filter installed. As you might image, the sound here is very neutral. This filter would allow you to hear near exactly what the artist intended you to hear; or, alternatively, if you create content yourself, you could use these for balancing our your different audio levels.
The bass and treble filters each offer a +3dB boost to frequencies 200Hz and below and 1000Hz or above. In practice, it’s a very subtle difference, but one that does have an impact. To best hear their effect, we suggest swapping from bass directly to treble. For the best experience, we recommend switching them for the type of music you’re enjoying. If you’re listening to rock, hip hop, or ambient music with deep pads and synths, the bass filter will fill out the sound and deliver it with an exceptional richness. For songs lead by unplugged instruments and vocalists, the treble filter provides an extra shine to the notes.
The T20s don’t come cheap, there’s no way around that, but they’re also operating at a different level than most headphones they’re competing with. In my desk currently are a very good pair of $500 over-ear headphones that I keep on standby for use at my PC. The T20s easily top these, which isn’t something I would have expected, even with replaceable sound filters. Their sound quality, excellent construction, and versatility make them the best in-ear headphones I’ve yet heard. If you’re in the market for a high-end pair of audiophile grade in-ears, look no further: the RHA T20s are it.