Gadling Gear Review: RHA SA950i Headphones

This past holiday season we reviewed two pairs of earphones from a U.K. company called RHA, giving them high marks for excellent sound quality at an affordable price. We were quite impressed with how well both products performed as they presented listeners with clear, crisp audio that was on par with earbuds from the competition that cost considerably more. After testing their in-ear options I couldn’t help but wonder what the company could do with an on-ear product, which typically provides even deeper and richer sound. I recently got my answer in the form of their newest product, the SA950i headphones, which deliver outstanding audio performance for just $59.95.

The first thing that struck me upon taking these headphones out of the box is just how incredibly lightweight they are. The SA950i’s tip the scales at a mere 3.7 ounces, which means they don’t have much heft to them either in your hands or on your ears. But despite their lack of weight, they still feel sturdy enough to survive day-to-day use at home or on the road. A detachable, tangle-free cable, complete with an Apple-compatible, in-line remote and mic, helps to maintain the overall feeling of quality.

RHA went with a nice, subtle, understated design with this product and while they are attractive, they won’t scream, “look at me” when you’re wearing them through the airport. Some of the other headphones on the market today have taken to using flashy colors and unique designs as a way of garnering attention, but the SA950i’s have a simple, classic look about them that I personally appreciate greatly. To say they are understated would certainly be an apt description.It is a simple affair to adjust these headphones to fit and when placed over the ears they are quite comfortable. The lightweight construction coupled with the soft material that lines the speakers makes it easy to wear them for an extended period of time. Noise isolation is good, although it isn’t outstanding by any means. The on-ear design doesn’t provide as much coverage as say an over-the-ear headphone, which can seal out background noise to a much higher degree. The SA950i’s don’t have any kind of active noise-canceling either, which you wouldn’t expect at this price point.

Of course, when purchasing a pair of headphones the most important thing to consider is how they sound. After all, they can be as comfortable as wearing a pillow on your ears but if they sound horrible, you won’t enjoy using them. Fortunately, just like the earbuds we tested back in December, RHA’s trademark sound quality shines through once again with this product. Music reproduction is crisp and clear across the entire spectrum with the mid- and high-ranges both sounding exceptional. If you’re someone who really loves deep bass, you probably won’t come away quite so impressed, but I found the low-end audio to still be very good and delivered without distortion. Vocal tracks also sounded great, as did several podcasts that I listened to as well. This prompted me to wonder how RHA could manage to sell such great sounding product at such a low price.

From a traveler’s perspective, the SA950i’s are a nice addition to your carry-on bag based on weight alone. Their solid construction means they should be able to stand up well to the rigors of travel, although a protective case would be a welcome addition to the package. I’m sure RHA made the conscious choice not to include one in order to keep costs down, but the option to purchase a case would be nice. These headphones also don’t collapse down to a smaller size the way some competitors do, which can help limit the amount of space they take up in our bag. But unless space is already at a premium, I don’t think most of us will notice.

As I mentioned at the start of this review, the SA950i headphones carry a price tag of just $59.95. That puts them squarely into the mid-range category in terms of pricing and competition, but they certainly don’t perform like they are in that category. Considering how clear and crisp music from these headphones sounds, these just might be the best bargain in portable audio at the moment. I would venture to guess that most listeners would not be able to tell the difference between the SA950i’s and a pair of headphones from a competitor that cost twice as much. If you’re in the market for great sounding on-ear headphones but don’t want to break the bank, then I think you’ll be completely blown away with what RHA has to offer here.

In the U.S., the RHA SA950i headphones are available exclusively at Amazon.

[Photo Credit: RHA]