Earphones are a funny thing. In the realm of audio-reproducing equipment, they endeavor to do the most with the least. I mean, how can you expect to get the same quality and complexity of sound from little 8mm drivers you hang off your ears which are fed power measured in milliwatts as you do from big floor speakers getting hundreds of watts of amplification?
In a way, this explains the proliferation of big on- and over-the-ear headphones; they have bigger drivers and you can usually feel the music more when it’s pounding against your whole ears, rather than just being fed into your ear canals. And yet, they’re using the same power (in most cases). But it is possible to get excellent sound out of little earphones, and the T20i from RHA are an excellent example of this truth.
I’ve reviewed quite a few earbuds over the last few years. Prior to these RHAs the best pair I’ve had were some Etymotics with custom-fit ear molds. Those were amazing for noise isolation, which is usually a big part of getting a good listening experience out of earphones. But in general these days, when I try on a new pair, I’m not looking to be wowed, because I’ve set my expectations for earphones at a certain level.
The RHAs wowed me.
I have a few go-to pieces of music when trying out earphones and headphones. Today, I used “13 Angels on my Broken Windowsill” by BT. It’s a beautiful, atmospheric song with a variety of movements and range of bass, mids, and highs with plenty of layers to test out audio performance. I tried them out on both my iPhone and my laptop, using the Boom app on each for equalization and boost.
The T20i earphones are crisp, clear, and energetic. Notes are distinct, and tracks can be heard on top of each other. Nothing gets blown out, and with the right equalization, bass thumps into your head without putting a blanket over the rest of the song. These are earphones that don’t need a DAC or additional amplification to deliver simply excellent reference-quality sound. Knowing that the lightning port on the new iPhones will actually boost sound, I’m really looking forward to trying them out with the new adaptor on the iPhone 7 Plus I have coming soon.
Physically, the T20i earphones are substantial.. They are made of injection-molded stainless steel, so they’re not light (tech specs show them at 41 grams, compared to less than 28 grams for my old Etymotics. The weight could be irritating for folks with sensitive skin or delicate ears. But build quality is simply amazing. The cables are heavy-duty, and here’s an astounding design feature:
The earphone jack is super-heavy-duty, and the cable to jack connection is shielded with a spring. I’ve never seen this kind of robust quality in a pair of earphones. What’s also amazing is what you get in the package.
Included are two pairs of each type of ear tips (and these are much better quality that the ones that come with cheap earphones), plus these little tuning filters that screw on and off the tips of the earphones, allowing you to fine tune the sound for more treble or bass (most folks will prefer the latter, adding just the right amount of thump). All these things fit on cut-out plates of stainless steel for easy organization, and are kept in a zippered case for portability.
But here’s the kicker: the T20i earphones from RHA cost $250.
That’s not cheap. Indeed, you can get (crappy) earphones for 1/20th the price. Earphones that cost that much are perfectly fine for podcasts or phone calls, but if you consider yourself any kind of real music fan, you’re not going to get a decent-sounding pair under $50, or a good pair under $100.
The thing is, these are better. Even more amazing: they come with a 3-year warranty; on a pair of earphones!
So, consider them a treat, a present for the holidays, or your birthday, but if you want great sound from a pair of earphones, just get them.
RHA provided a pair for this review; the opinions are my own.