19
Dec
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The MA350

The MA350 is an earbud produced by RHA, subsidiary of the UK firm Reid Heath Ltd., based in Glasgow. RHA currently manufacture only two models earbud, both of which use the same audio guts - one of them just has inline controls. The MA350's are the model without them. They retail for $40 (buy here). A small carrying pouch and three sets of eartips are included.

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The Sound

For $40, the RHA MA350's produce sound that is - I would argue - far more comparable to headphones of the $80-100 range. My primary point of comparison, therefore, were my trusty old Etymotic Research hf2's (equivalent to the hf5, which are $100 street price, $150 MSRP).

Being dynamic driver headphones, as compared to the balance armature Etymotics, there were bound to be major differences in the sound - and there are. Now, to be fair, I am comparing one headphone to another with a suggested price three times as high. So keep that in mind. I didn't have a pair of crappy iPod or in-the-box smartphone earbuds to put them up against.

The MA350's claim to fame is RHA's "reverse trumpet"-shaped soundhole which the driver sends audio through to your ear. They claim this produces a more balanced output across the spectrum of sound, which I'm not sure I really buy - but I'm not an expert on earbuds acoustics (or, as RHA calls it - aerophonics, which frankly has far more to do with instruments that headphones).

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The sound signature of the MA350's is interesting. Bass-heavy, to be sure, but not to the point of sounding unnatural. They sound like a solid, powerful dynamic driver earbud. Bass also isn't so extreme that it overwhelms the decidedly gentler mids, and is fairly tight, with little muddiness. The mids feel a little too subdued to my ears, resulting in a somewhat "compressed" sound at times (like your ears need to pop), especially on tracks lacking much in the way of low-end. These wouldn't make great jazz / classical earbuds - strings and keyboards just don't have the depth of a good balanced-armature IEM like the hf2's.

The treble end of the equation is a mixed win for the MA350's. The amount of detail able to be drawn out by these headphones amazed me - I've never heard something on this side of the $50 mark quite so able to extract the subtleties of a song. The little, imperceptibly quiet things that you just don't hear on a cheap set of headphones without maxing the volume (and, as a result, destroying your ears). The drawback is that the MA350's are also very bright - without a heap of bass to balance out the equation, songs heavy on cymbals, snare drums, and other sibilant percussion can become grating and harsh. The same goes for very high vocals, or particularly shrill guitar squeals.

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I found the soundstage a little wider than I expected, but nothing to write home about - which is to say, still a million times better than Apple earbuds. Instrument separation was solid, though I found this was one area where my hf2's very noticeably bested the MA350's.

Overall, the MA350's produce great sound for the price, though I'd advise you to explore other options if you're into classical, jazz, or mellower / classic rock. The MA350's are tuned great for modern rock, pop, and are plenty suitable for hip-hop. Electronica listeners may demand yet more bass, though I'd argue the MA350's have plenty for anyone who does not actively endeavor to distort their music.

The Fit

I won't say the MA350's fit brilliantly - I lost seal at times - but they do fit very well. While walking, they didn't dislodge themselves. The only difficulty really stemmed from getting them in correctly in the first place, which I found was best achieved by lodging them unusually loosely into my ears, probably due to the interesting chopped-off-egg shape of the tips. Still, once they were in, they generally stayed in. The machined aluminum housing makes them feel rather durable, as well, and didn't cause my ears any discomfort (aside from the fact that they're icy-cold when you first put them on).

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The cord is evil. It's a very light and narrow fabric-wrapped affair, and it gets tangled and knotted up like sewing string when left to move about in your pocket. That really annoyed me, but it's far from a dealbreaker. The cord also makes a fair bit of noise, though that's the tradeoff of fabric - you don't get the annoying reverberation when the cord strikes your body/clothing, but you do when it slides up against anything.

When it comes to earbuds, my judgment of fit is generally reduced to a binary result: good or bad. The MA350's fall squarely into the "good" category.

Conclusion

I really like the MA350's. These are the sort of headphones I'd recommend to my friends who aren't particularly interested in sound, but who suffer through overpriced products like Apple's god-awful earbuds (even the new ones sound pretty terrible), or whatever marked-up Skullcandy crap Best Buy puts in the smartphone aisle. For $40, you're getting an experience, I would say, that matches or exceeds many earbuds at twice that price.

I reviewed the MA350's because I find that many of our readers tend to think spending anything more than $50 on headphones is just excessive, so I wanted to showcase something a little more economical. While I still disagree vehemently and absolutely with the notion that something like the eargasmic $400 UE 900's simply "aren't worth it," I can understand wanting the most bang for your buck - who doesn't?

In that sense, I think the MA350's are an absolutely stellar headphone. I'd argue that, compared to numerous earbuds around the $100 mark that I've tried, you're getting 90% (or more) of the performance at around 50% of the price. That's serious value.

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David Ruddock
David's phone is an HTC One. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, imparting a legal perspective on tech news, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • Pete Van Wattingen

    Lots of IEM reviews lately. As for budget IEM's I find the Brainwavz M1 to be amazing for the price.

  • Bob G

    Until I can find an IEM with a mic worth buying, I'll stick to my M31P from MEElectronics

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      Finding Android-friendly IEMs with inline controls is rough. Though I do recommend the Klipsch S4A II: http://www.klipsch.com/image-s4a-ii-headphones

      A little overpriced for what they are are sonically, but they're insanely comfortable and have a very warm tone with solid bass.

      • Kurt Laws

        I am curious about this. I am looking for a good par of IEMs with decent inline controls in the $50-$100 range on Amazon (have a couple of Amazon gift cards to use, so it has to be on there). I really only need the ability to play/pause, and go to previous or next track, other stuff like volume control is nice, but not a deal killer.

        I've found 3 I like, all in my price range, and all 3 are actually pretty close in price, so that really isn't a difference maker. The Klipsch S4A II, which can be had for $79; the Etymotic hf2, which can be had for $82.57, or the NOCS NS200 which can be had for $69.95 in black for $41.41 in white.

        I like the price of the white NOCS, but I'm still having trouble deciding. I'm leaning toward the white NOCS because of the price or the S4A II because I like the sound of them, but I also really like the sound of the hf2s. I tend to prefer a more warm, bassy sound, so I'm thinking the S4A II or NOCS may be the better choice, but I also am interested in the AWARENESS! app that is available for the hf2's, since I wear them in situations where I need to be able to pay attention to other things at times.. Also, my phone is a HTC One X, and I'm wondering what the experience is like in terms in the in-line controls.

  • YoHoJo
    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      I guess, if you want a mediocre pair of earbuds that shake your eardrums loose.

  • JonJJon

    I've had these headphones for a couple months now and they are brilliant. The solid full aluminium build of each bud is great and durable, the cable does tangle easily in my pocket but because it is braided it untangles easily I find. Gives great sound that really do sound like you are listening through much more premium buds. I highly recommend these for the price bracket :)

  • 0vermind

    I'm really considering getting these, but I'm worried....

    "The drawback is that the MA350's are also very bright - without a heap of bass to balance out the equation, songs heavy on cymbals, snare drums, and other sibilant percussion can become grating and harsh. The same goes for very high vocals, or particularly shrill guitar squeals."

    That scares me. So are they worth it? I don't want my ears to hurt or cringe listening to my favorite songs. I usually listen to rock (Linkin Park, Imagine Dragons, etc) and classic rock such as Led Zepolin, AC/DC, etc. And the occasional pop/hip hop.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      It's only a concern coming from earbuds that don't have this characteristic. It's not like a defect or anything, it's just part of the audio signature of this particular headphone. It won't be severe enough to annoy most people, I don't think.

  • Shanem

    i love the sound of my new iPhone Earpods and i bought it at just $28.99 from [http://www.wirelessemporium.com/p-165431-apple-earpods-w-remote-mic.asp|Wireless Emporium]