RHA is a name that fans of high-end in-ear headphones should know well, and for good reason. We've reviewed the T10 and T20 from them in the past, and while they're certainly up their in terms of pricing, they have excellent sound and build quality. Not everyone can afford, or simply sees the need to, spend quite so much on a pair of in-ear headphones, and so this is why the British company now offers the S500 (available as the S500i with a microphone and controls). These retail for around £40 in the UK or $40 in the US of A, so these are clearly a more budget-minded offering, but do they deliver at this low price point?
Features and Specifications
- Micro dynamic (model 140.1) Driver
- 16-22,000Hz Frequency Response
- 16 Ohm impedance with 100 dB sensitivity
- 1.35 meter dual-material cable, 14g total weight
- 3.5mm gold-plated connection
- 6 pairs of dual-density ear tips – S x2 / M x2 / L x2 with 1 pair of double-flange tips in S
- Carrying pouch included
- Clothing clip included
Design and Build
If taking at the feature list for these wasn't apparent enough, these are light and easy to wear day-in, day-out. That's because they're designed to be as such. The S500 are a pair of in-ear headphones that are practically polar opposites of the more expensive T20 or even the not-so-expensive MA750. These are tiny by comparison, and you feel how light they are in your ear, it's almost as if there's nothing in your ear (but more on that later). The cable is an interesting one, the majority of it is fabric, which feels good and is nice and light, but when the cable splits in a Y-shape, the cable becomes thinner rubber. This isn't much of an issue, but it is an interesting design choice on RHA's part. Still, not one part of the cable feels cheap in any way. The 3.5mm connector feels solid, and if you plump the S500i with the microphone, that is worked into the cable really quite well for something of this price.
As for comfort, the S500 sit okay in my ear. I say okay, because they could be much more comfortable. If you take a look at the images below, you'll note that the earbuds themselves are almost twice the diameter of the driver housing. This causes – even the smallest size – earbuds to sort of rest in your ear without much security, pushing them in further just results in discomfort. I guess RHA could have provided an even smaller size to help with this, but unless your either sitting still or not moving very quickly, the S500 just aren't big enough to fit in your ear securely 24/7.
All-in-all, at this sort of price point, this is a good effort from a firm more comfortable asking over three times as much for their best product, but a larger footprint in the driver housing would probably solve how they rest in your ears.
As we keep on saying, RHA is a firm more used to offering up in-ear headphones that cost more than twice as much as the S500 do, so I was weary when I first started listening to them. Sadly, my fears were confirmed. Over the past couple of weeks that I've been using these here and there, I cannot bring myself to use them for long, extended listening. This is because the overall sound signature here is "thin" and "tinny", which are words I never thought I'd be writing about a pair of earphones from RHA.
It's not all bad however, as there is bizarrely some decent response in the lower-end of the spectrum, and bass notes come through fairly well, but it's more of a tubby thud than the resounding punch of other earphones. The best way I can describe the sound of the S500 is that it's a V-shaped signature. By this I mean that there's a decent response at the bottom end of the spectrum, and at the top end, giving you lots of lows and lots of highs as well. The mid-range however, just isn't here, which means that while there's a lot of detail here, there's little warmth or presence to go with it. Everything comes across as a little thin and light, with an almost echoey tone to it. This is a shame, as RHA have offered up some of the best in-ear headphones with the T20 and T10, but these fall short of the mark at this sort of price point.
Now, the S500i features a microphone, and strangely this was a great inclusion. Callers said I sounded fairly decent, and taking phone calls with the S500i is a pleasant experience. This is important because these are designed for modern, everyday users and if you're on the commute and need to take a call, you're less likely to take your phone out of your pocket.
So, if the RHA S500 and S500i aren't that great sounding, for a pair at this price, then what is good about them? Well, ultimately users will be paying for two things with the S500; excellent build quality and a brand name. These feel very sturdy, and I have little worry that they will fall apart easily at all, and even little touches like the 3.5mm connector feel strong, and look good. It is a shame that they can't deliver where it counts, in sound quality, but the irony here is that they do have a lot of great detail, they just lack depth and delivery in the mid-range to bring it all together.
The RHA S500 and S500i might not be for the discerning listener, and indeed I don't think that's the target market. What these are instead, are a great pair for a casual listener that needs something hard-wearing, good-looking and well, wants a little more quality out of a cheaper pair of earphones.