RHA MA350 earphones.
When the left bud of my beloved Sennheiser CX300 earphones stopped working recently, i felt quite bereft, not to mention aurally lopsided. I couldn’t really complain about this failure having had over 4 years1 of near-daily use from them, but it didn’t help with the sense of loss. Nor did the discovery that CX300s aren’t as cheap to buy as they were 4 years ago. Sure the £17 i paid at that time probably wasn’t full RRP but now even the likes of Amazon are asking twice that – just shy of £34 for a set. That’s nothing to some people but a bit more than i wanted to pay. Fortunately there are lots and lots of other headphones to choose from. Unfortunately there are lots and lots of other headphones to choose from. Seriously, there are thousands. Limiting your search by price range, manufacturer/brand and so on obviously helps a great deal but you’re still left with hundreds of choices. Picking through them wasn’t a chore i was all that bothered about completing2. I was therefore cock-a-hoop when i received a hugely enthusiastic recommendation via twitter for the RHA MA350 earphones.
I’d never heard of RHA before but the MA350s immediately appealed – great sound (apparently), good looks, solid construction (machined aluminium!), a three year warranty and, best of all, they were British3. Together with the glowing words coming from twitter, this convinced me to overlook my budget4 and shell out £30. I ordered directly from RHA, receiving notice of dispatch in about 3 hours and, despite opting for free (and slower) delivery, had new earphones in my hands (and ears) within 48 hours. A promising start.
The TL;DR version for you young whippersnappers is that the MA350s are basically as good as promised by RHA’s marketing bumf and by my enthusiastic tweeter.
For those that like to know a little more than that: These earphones sound great. The output is perhaps not as bass-y as my faithful old Sennheiser CX300s but there’s a good range of sound and i’ve definitely noticed a few new notes, effects and subtleties in well-loved songs. Where the CX300s were a bit of a aural revelation to me after using Apple’s iPod headphones for so long, these come as more of an iterative improvement. A minor step up in quality. But a welcome one all the same.
In terms of design and build, i think they look good and are very well put together. The aluminium earbuds are not heavy but definitely feel solid and robust, and the somewhat bulky connector housing the 3.5mm jack looks like it will also withstand some punishment. The braided fabric cord feels strong and durable, plus that fairly unusual covering to the wires provides a nice added bonus – quite easily freed tangles. Every headphone user knows the frustration of tangled and knotted rubber wires but the fabric of the MA350s alleviates this a little, slipping past itself more easily than the traditional rubber does.
For all the benefits of that braided fabric cord, there is one drawback – cable rub noise. That is to say, as you move about the tiny vibrations caused by the headphone cable rubbing on your skin or clothing travels up the wire and interferes with your listening. It’s the same principle as the two-yoghurt-pots-on-a-string telephone your kids play with. All in-ear headphones seem to suffer with this issue to some extent – it was something that bothered me about my CX300s in particular – but the MA350s, because of the texture of the fabric cord, seem to affected to a greater degree. It can be distracting at times and, if you end up focused on the noise, even infuriating. I think the number of angry 1-star reviews these earphones receive on Amazon is testament to this. You definitely don’t want these earphones if you’re heading to the gym. All that said, after a couple of months of use i’ll admit i seem to have tuned out the cable noises, just as i did with my Sennheisers in the past.
As you might expect, these in-ear ‘phones are supplied with three pairs of different sized silicone earbud tips, thus ensuring you a good, snug fit no matter the size of your ear hole. Please be warned, however, that these tips can be very, very, very fiddly to fit. I was quite happy with the pre-fitted Medium tips but thought i’d see what the Large were like. Mistake. It took me an excruciating, profanity-filled 20 minutes to get the little bastards back on. (If there’s some special technique to fitting the silicone tips, please do let me know. I’m happy to be made to look stupid.)
In addition to the earphones and set of silicone tips, RHA also supply in the box a small “fabric carry bag”. It’s a not a bad idea at all and a nice gesture but unfortunately here is very badly executed. This little drawstring bag is made from some nasty faux-velvet material and looks horribly cheap. You could believe they’d made from the scrotum from some dusty old taxidermy horse and dyed it dark blue, except that for the fact that something this unpleasant could only be man-made. And aged horse scrotum probably costs a lot more to procure. Ordinarily i might include a photo here to show off the offending article but infuriatingly the thing seems to be very photogenic. Add treachery to its list of crimes. But seriously RHA, if you’re reading this, ditch that little bag. Or make it from cotton. Something. Do something about it please! Everything else positions this as a premium product but that little bag simply cheapens and detracts.
When some inconsequential little box-filler like a travel pouch is the most disappointing thing to write about in a review, you know you’ve got an otherwise great product. The MA350s sound great, feel solidly made and come with that reassuring three year warranty. If you’re going to be moving about a lot and suspect the noise of cable-rub is the sort of thing that might drive you batshit crazy then you should definitely look elsewhere, probably well away from the in-ear headphone section altogether. For the more sedentary amongst us, I reckon these are fantastic headphones which you’d be hard pressed to better at this relatively low price point. Thumbs up.
RHA are based in Glasgow. The kit is actually manufactured in China, which is sad but wholly unsurprising. ↩
At the time RHA did have a cheaper model, MA150, that appeared to be identical to MA350 but made from plastic and didn’t carry the three year warranty. They’re no longer listed on the RHA website but are still for sale on Amazon. ↩