RHA T10i review: Stainless-steel earphones deliver polished sound

Small Scottish company RHA has brewed up a pair of swanky stainless-steel in-ear headphones that hit the spot as far as sound goes, but will they be a perfect fit for everyone?

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David Carnoy
Steve Guttenberg
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David Carnoy

Executive Editor / Reviews

Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable e-reader and e-publishing expert. He's also the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks and Nook e-books, as well as audiobooks.

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Steve Guttenberg

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.

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Earphones are made out of all sorts of materials, but it's not too often that you hear about metal injection-molded, stainless-steel ones, which is why RHA's T10i model piqued our interest. They cost $199.95, £149.95 UK or €179.95 EUR (they're not not available in Australia, but the US price translates to about AU$227.)

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RHA T10i

The Good

The well-crafted, uniquely designed stainless-steel RHA T10i earbuds sound great and come with an abundance of accessories, including three sets of acoustic filters, 10 different eartips and a carrying case. You also get an Apple-friendly inline remote/microphone for making cell-phone calls.

The Bad

They're a little weighty for in-ears and may not fit everyone comfortably. Some of the inline remote's functions won't work with Android and Windows Phone devices.

The Bottom Line

While the design may not work for everyone, the RHA T10i earbuds are great-sounding and well-built, with some nice extras, including three sets of swappable acoustic filters.

In case you've never heard of RHA, it's a Scottish headphone maker, though its products are produced in the Far East, as most headphones are these days.

RHA says the stainless-steel T10i model features a handmade dynamic driver (model 770.1) "engineered to reproduce all genres of music with high levels of accuracy and detail." It's also interesting to note that the earphones include a tuning filter system that allows for frequency response customization. It's a feature we've seen on a few in-ears in the past (the high-end Phonak Audeo PFE 232 comes with acoustic filters), but you don't usually see it in a $200 headphone.

RHA T10i earbuds product photos

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Everything about these seems well crafted -- from the housings to the reinforced, oxygen-free copper cable to the gold-plated plug -- and the sound is excellent, too. Factor in all the included accessories (RHA provides eartips in several different sizes and shapes along with a nice case), and you really feel like you're getting a lot of headphone for your money.

The only potential problem is the fit. The T10i earbuds are somewhat weighty for in-ears and the over-the-ear cable system won't appeal to everyone (I'm not a huge fan, while CNET audiophile Steve Guttenberg finds it more appealing).

The T10i's cords are bendable at the top to allow them to wrap better around your ears. Sarah Tew/CNET

I had a little trouble maintaining a tight seal, especially when I hit the streets and walked around with the earphones in. They were fairly comfortable, but I found myself regularly adjusting them in my ears. Also, the cords are fairly heavy, too. I was always aware the cord was there. Ideally, you want to forget you're wearing headphones.

Part of the cord weight is due to the inline remote. It's sleek and sturdy, but it's got a little heft to it. The remote works with iPhones, controlling music transport and volume; don't expect them to work with Android and Windows Phone devices. Note, though, that the RHA T10 is also available, sans remote, for $10 or £10 cheaper.

Performance

First impressions count for a lot and the T10i's were terrific on every count -- bass, midrange, treble, low distortion, dynamics, stereo imaging. And the earbuds' clarity made us feel closer to the music.

We felt similarly about another set of in-ears we reviewed recently, the Bowers & Wilkins C5 S2 , so that's where we started our comparisons.

Drive-By Truckers' "Southern Rock Opera" album has some of the cleanest drum sound we've heard on a pop album in ages, and the T10i made that abundantly clear. The C5 S2 was close, just a little less transparent. The C5 S2's treble was brighter, so any harshness on Jack White's "Lazaretto" album had no place to hide. The T10i was highly detailed, but somehow made White's sound sweeter and smoother than what we heard over the C5 S2.

The acoustic filters' stainless-steel storage compartment. Sarah Tew/CNET

Before we go any further describing the T10i's sound we need to talk about the "tuning filters " that slightly alter the frequency response. Up to this point we listened with the flat Reference filters installed. Changing the filters is easy enough: you remove the eartips, unscrew the installed filters, and then screw-in one of the other two (Bass or Treble) filters.

We first tried the Bass filters, which RHA claims raise under 200 Hertz bass 3 decibels. When we listened to Jimmy Cliff's "Rebirth" album his deep reggae grooves didn't sound any different.

The Treble filters raise the sound of all frequencies above 1,000 Hertz three decibels from the reference level. With jazz trumpeter Jon Hassel's "Fascinoma" album the Treble filters definitely brought out more detail and air from the mix. After dialing up some more test tracks, we decided we liked the difference the Treble filters made with great sounding recordings.

The included carrying case. Sarah Tew/CNET

As far as final comparisons with the Bowers & Wilkins C5 S2 go, the T10i was clearer than the C5 S2 with the Reference filters and pulled even further ahead in terms of detail resolution with the Treble filters installed.

Even so, the C5 S2 is close to the T10i and they're both superb-sounding. That said, the C5 S2 model is significantly lighter and arguably more comfortable. As always, getting a tight seal is imperative for maximizing sound quality with in-ears, and the C5 is probably the better choice for mobile use.

Conclusion

The T10i earphones are impressive and well crafted in-ear headphones that sound great. My only reservations are about fit and comfort level. My gut says that they'll be be a good fit for many people but not everyone, so if you can, try before you buy.

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RHA T10i

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Sound 9Value 8