Straight outta Scotland: RHA MA450 earphones
RHA's MA450 in-ear headphones sound great, come with a three-year warranty, and sell for just under 50 bucks!
I haven't covered too many inexpensive earphones in this blog, mostly because I prioritize sound quality, and precious few under-$50 models cut it. The RHA MA450 really stands out in this crowded market, not just because it actually sounds pretty decent; the look and feel are outstanding and RHA sells the MA450 with a three-year warranty. Reid and Heath Acoustics products are designed at its research and development center in Glasgow, Scotland.
Build quality and features are exceptional for a $50 pair of in-ear headphones; the MA450 has machined aluminum earpieces, 10mm drivers, seven pairs of silicone eartips, an Apple-compatible mic and remote, fabric-covered wire, a small, black soft carry case, and a three-year warranty! Few headphones, including most high-end ones, come with three-year warranties, and RHA might be the only company providing that level of protection for affordable headphones (if you know of any others, please share that information in the Comments section). Warranty claims will be made through RHA's U.S. warehouse in Michigan. Following inspection, RHA will repair or replace the earphones, and proof of purchase or a sales invoice will be required.
The MA450s' sound immediately makes a strong impression. It's big, highly detailed, and the bass goes a lot deeper than most competing models. The sound is actually too bright, so if you listen to a steady diet of acoustic jazz or classical music, the MA450s probably won't make you happy. Subtlety isn't a strong suit, but rock, pop, and hip-hop fans will like what they hear.
I compared the MA450 with the Klipsch Image S3 in-ear headphones ($49.99). The red plastic S3s look and feel a little cheap next to the MA450s, and the S3s have a softer, more laid-back tonal balance. The treble is sweeter and less brilliant than the MA450s'. Listening on the street and NYC subway, the MA450s' brighter sound and punchier bass cut through the background noise better. Noise isolation capabilities are about the same from both earphones, but at home and in quiet surroundings, I preferred the S3s' more accurate, less hyped sound. There, the MA450s sounded too bright and overly detailed, and with older analog recordings the MA450 emphasized tape hiss. There's a lot of bass, but it can be a bit loose and fat for my tastes. Then again, if you crave bass impact, you'll love the MA450s' low-end.
To finish up I compared the MA450s with thein-ears ($89). The vPulses are sweeter and their bass output is just as potent as the MA450s', but the vPulses have much better definition, so it's easier to distinguish between bass guitar and bass drums. If you can afford the difference, the vPulses are superior-sounding headphones, but I still really like the MA450s; they're a lot of fun.
The RHA MA450s are available on Amazon for $49.95.