The short form: If you have $60 to spend on a pair of iPhone-ready headphones, buy the RHA SA950is. They are hands-down the best $60 I have ever heard, and better than a lot of cans at several times the price. Move over Porta Pros — there’s a new boss in town.
The SA950is are a pair of compact, over-the-head headphones with a detachable cable. This braid-covered cord has mini-jacks on both ends and a remote control with a mic around 15cm in from one side.
The headphones are light (105 grams), good looking (black) and mostly comfortable (more on that in a second). But the most astonishing thing is how great they sound.
I deliberately didn’t check the price when the SHA950is came in for testing, so as not to color my expectations. After a few listens I had them down as a high-end set, perhaps costing around $200, and I prefer them to a couple of $300+ headphones I have around the house.
Why? The most startling aspect of the sound is the “soundstage,” the virtual 3-D space where the musical instruments live in recorded music. With the SA950is, you really do get a feeling that the various voices and sounds are coming from different places — sometime far off to one side or even behind you. This can be a little disconcerting when walking down the street.
The magic appears to come from the 40mm titanium-coated mylar drivers. RHA says that this makes them light enough to respond quickly and stiff enough to give accurate sound and good bass. Whatever, they sound amazing. Bass is deep but also sounds like a sound, not like a monstrous sonic thump. Highs are crisp and accurate without being jarring or tinny, and mids are open and strong.
You really feel like you’re getting all the music that’s there in the file. I heard details in tracks I have never heard before. And — amazingly — I head them while walking down a city street.
(Speaking of walking down streets, these headphones manage to block out a lot of the ambient traffic and other city noise, whilst somehow not making you feel isolated. In fact, these headphone have actually gotten me listening to music again when I go outside, after years of podcast and audiobook-only listening).
The remote works just fine. The torpedo shape has a scalloped cut-out in the center for the answer/hangup/play/pause/skip button, and the volume up/down switches are on the ends. All are good and positive, although when skipping tracks things are a little unpredictable. Then again, I have trouble skipping tracks with all remote headphones, so it’s either a problem with software or with my dumb brain.
This section will be small. The SA950is are well built, and should last, but on closer inspection and extended use, I noticed a few glitches. The first is that the wire loops that hold the cups onto the headband can pop out of the cups and start scratching the glossy black finish.
The second is that the small, teardrop-shaped headphone cups feel a little weird if you have big ears — it seems like you don’t have them properly centered over each ear. You soon get used to this, though, and discover it is your perception and not the headphones which are at fault. In fact, they stay in place rather tenaciously.
These headphones would score well at thrice the price (except maybe on materials), but for $60 they are a complete steal. Better still, you’ll be able to buy them in Apple Stores at the end of the month, which also means that you should be able to test drive them in-store.
Wherever you find them, though, these headphones should be on any sub-$100 shortlist. They look good, feel good (staying comfy during extended wear — like four-hours-stuck-in-traffic-on-a-bus extended wear) and sound great. This is probably the best $60 you could spend on headphones, and they even work with your iPhone.