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RHA MA350 Earphones Review

By Ian White

There's such balance in nature...

Is there anyone not making headphones at this point? There are so many brands of headphones on the market now, one has to wonder if anyone is purchasing loudspeakers. Based on the number of high-end loudspeaker manufacturers rushing earphone and headphone products to market it would appear that the balance has tipped. While it is nice to see that a new generation of listeners is taking the plunge and tossing those crappy white things Apple includes and stepping up, I am almost starting to miss the days where my choices were limited to AKG, Sennheiser, Grado, or Stax.

Headphone listening is also not necessarily for folks with kids; as much as we'd like it to be at day's end. My pair of AKG K702s sit gathering dust as the lady of the house gets medieval on me should I dare to sit down at 8 pm and attempt to have a private moment with Jimi or Sam.

The best parts of my childhood (which kinda speaks volumes about my parents) involved a pair of closed headphones, a beat-up Marantz receiver, and listening to George Carlin on Sunday nights on 104.5 CHUM-FM. Just George and I discussing the seven words you couldn't say on television. Those three hours each week restored balance to my troubled nine year-old mind. Balance is important in life. It's even more critical in a pair of headphones. That probably explains why I like the RHA MA350 earphones so much.

They make stereo gear in Scotland?

The audiophile snob in me wants to raise an eyebrow to such a stupid question, but then again not everyone has heard of Linn. Great Britain has some of the best audio manuacturers in the world; Naim, KEF, Harbeth, Cambridge Audio, Arcam, Spendor, SME, Rega, Rotel, NAD, Tannoy, and many more. Scotland is better known for its whiskey, kilts, awful food, Sean Connery, and the television. Yes, the television was invented in Scotland. Seriously.

So where does that leave a company like Reid Heath Audio with their impressive line-up of affordable over the ear and in-ear headphones?

In really good company. Guid.

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It's hard to imagine Renton or Begbie standing around a street corner in Edinburgh listening to music on a pair of headphones (let's be honest...they would be stealing a pair to pay for their next hit), but if they could, a pair of RHAs would be on or in their ears. Guaranteed.

What's most notable about the MA350s (aside from their ridiculously low price of $39.95) is how balanced they sound. Looking for a pair of bass heavy in-ears? Move along. Nothing to see here. There are a pair of Beats by Dr. Dre for almost three times the price calling out to you in that case.

Inspired by the aerophonic design of a trumpet's bell, the MA350s are a simple-looking design constructed from solid aluminum that weigh only 11 grams. The construction of the headphones reminded me of a carbon fiber tonearm I once owned from another British manufacturer; Wilson Benesch. The A.C.T. One tonearm was the lightest I've ever tried but also one of the best sounding.

The MA350 uses a 10mm Mylar driver with an impedance of 16ohms. It's quoted frequency range is 16-20,000Hz and at 103dB sensitivity is a relatively easy load for tablets, smartphones, and iPods.

Like the Paradigm Shift in-ear headphones, I recently reviewed, the MA350 use a very strong fabric-braided 1.2m cable with a 3.5mm gold-plated connector. It is a sturdy pair of headphones for a rather paltry asking price.

Along came Sandy...

Unfortunately for the MA350s, this little thing called Hurricane Sandy decided to punish my section of the Jersey Shore so listening to music became an afterthought as we stood in line for gas at 4 am and ate outside on our BBQ before falling asleep at 7 pm in a frozen house surrounded by downed trees. It was an awesome experience to bond even further as a family and the worst time for me to settle in at 3 am listening to music when I needed to be on the lookout for looters.

Sitting in my driveway one morning as we charged our phones on a powerstrip connected to a generator (which is a good way to ruin your phone BTW...), I decided to forget about how awful life was at that exact moment and drift away to the sounds of Sam Cooke, Animal Collective, Kraftwerk, and the Who.

Unlike the Paradigm Shift E2ms which sounded rather heavy-handed out of the box, the MA350s were remarkably easy to listen to; although their bass response was a tad too anemic to my ears.

The bass became more taut over time, but they don't match the more expensive Paradigms which have a more visceral punch and better definition in the upper bass and lower midrange.

The MA350s also suffer from a mild case of chestiness with male vocals compared to the E2ms which have a cleaner midrange. Nothing too terrible for $39 but even my sleep-deprived brain could discern the clarity of Sam Cooke via the more expensive cans from the colonies. Greater presence for sure.

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It was impossible to stream movies on my Nexus 7 or iPad 2 post-storm on the shore (no Wi-Fi) but I found a working Starbucks on Staten Island and relaxed with the kids who desperately needed to watch something to take their minds off our living situation.

Movies had a nice sense of clarity and spaciousness via the MA350s and while I refuse to let my six year-old son listen to headphones (let him ruin his hearing as a teenager like the rest of us), his older sister has displayed enough maturity with the volume control to earn a limited amount of time with headphones. After six days without power, she needed something to make her happy and it almost brought tears to my eyes to watch her smile for once as she watched a cartoon on Netflix. She's a rather visual kid so when I lifted my fist with thumb raised high, she gave me both thumbs way up. Nice job RHA.

We have both kinds of music here. Country and Western.

The MA350s have a genuinely balanced sounding presentation but do they favor certain types of music? Yes, Ewan...they most certainly do. If heavy metal is your thing, I'd look for something else as the MA350s do not have the ability to really blast your ears into oblivion with bone crunching bass. Should your brain prefer something more cerebral like Dvorak or Sharon Van Etten, there is a distinct possibility that you may like their laid back, more ethereal presentation.

Electronic music such as Kraftwerk sounds quite energetic via the MA350s but they don't posses the E2m's ability to recreate that sense of space which I found to be one of their strongest points of differentiation. But compared to the latest "new and improved" set of earbuds from Apple, the MA350s are dramatically cleaner sounding and far easier to listen to for extended periods of time.

Noise isolation? One of the best I've used so far and that includes headphones that are 3-4 times the price. You lose yourself completely with these in your ears.

Turn Ons:

  • Great value for the money
  • Excellent build construction
  • Laid back and balanced sounding
  • Kick the crap out of the Apple earbuds
  • Excellent noise isolation

Turn Offs:

  • Lightweight bass response
  • Don't recreate the sense of space as well as competing (but more expensive) products
Final Thoughts:

If it sounds like I have been slightly hard on the RHA MA350s, that's because I like them a lot. Huh? If the folks in Glasgow can work on altering the tonal balance just a tad (need more meat in the bass), they have a monster in the affordable in-ear category. $39 for these quality headphones is a steal and something to think about when buying gifts this holiday season. Quality Scotish engineering that will leave a warm fuzzy feeling in your belly like a good scotch. The world of headphones just became even more crowded with these.

Manufacturer's Specifications:
Manufacturer's Contact Information:

RHA, a Division of Reid Heath Limited
Unit 3, 69 Haugh Road,
Glasgow, G3 8TX
Scotland

What did you think?

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