by Eric Franklin Shook
My publisher stumbles upon me in the halls at Rocky Mountain Festival 2017 and tells me that he’s caught wind of something special inside the Can Jam. What exactly has Scot found? A small company out of Glasgow Scotland called RHA Audio.
Still fresh to the headphone scene, I walk into the Can Jam room and it’s a little overwhelming. Tangles of wires strewn about a sea of tables, I can feel my OCD creeping up my spine. I luckily find the RHA booth, unremarkable to me at first sight so I’m left wondering what the big deal is. Maybe it’s the fact that the table is busy with listeners, and showgoers are asking about show specials, meaning they are ready to commit with only a Can Jam listen. All of these things bode well for RHA.
My turn, I take a knee at the table and am greeted by Lorna Smith of RHA UK. I tell her about my inexperience with IEMs and she smiles and says “that’s OK, you’re not the first.” We talk about what’s on the table, but immediately the bright and shiney stainless steel IEMs with what looks to be aftermarket cables draw my attention. “What are those? They look custom, and they look expensive.”
The CL 750 requires more power than most cell phones can summon up. These are noise isolating, all stainless build, ultra-wideband resolution, no design constraints — baby monsters if I must say. With high-end extension up into the 45khz range it’s easy to discern why distortion is undetectable. It may sound odd, but I’m reminded of planar headphones while listening to these. But I am assured that they are in fact dynamic drivers with a trademarked loading to the enclosure they call Aerophonic design. It allows all of the sound to remain in phase when it enters your ear. Giving the IEM for what I can say is down right perfect timing. I am expecting a price tag I don’t want to hear at this point. But at only $159 USD — I am now thinking I’ve been missing out on so much and for what? The cost of a bar tab? Get your life sorted out Mr. Shook.
Noticing my disbelief, she mentions that the pair are being supported by something very special.
The demo pair are powerfully handled here on RHA’s own DAC/AMP, cleverly named The Dacamp L1 ($599 USD) with Dual ESS 9018 Sabre DACs to decode and process stereo channels individually meaning that varying channel signals won’t even have a chance to exhibit interference. Also real Class AB amplifiers, 32 bit / 384khz and Quad DSD support . OK, I’m impressed. Furthermore, at a glance the outer design looks uncluttered, but there are more than enough inputs and outputs to render incompatibility only something of interplanetary issue. There are even EQ dials for bass and treble. Is this frowned upon in head-fi circles yet like it is in two-channel? I hope not, because I only see this as a positive note.
Coming from the two-channel world I am also aware of a glowing disparity in the prices of equipment in my hands. In the “stereo world” it’s often implored that you put the bulk of your money be placed on the speakers, but here I’m listening to an astonishing headphone system with all of the value I can imagine being in the ‘buds. What a strange new world. I’m excited to be here.
Oh, and wait… there’s more. Wireless headphones. Take RHA’s already popular and in-house designed 380.1 headphone driver, add Bluetooth, apt X, and balanced power amplifiers and you now have 12hrs of noise isolated and rather esoteric looking IEMs for only $99 USD at the time of this article. Perfect for that long haul flight or daily commute where the entangled part of daily life not become even more complicated by the entanglement of roaming wires.
I leave the table with this in mind, there is nothing common about this brand, their designs, or what they offer for the money. What I have left? Desire.