Launched in 1976 as an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) for companies like Fosgate, and JBL, RBH has grown from an outsourced speaker manufacturer to a serious name in home audio. On its website you’ll find a diverse collection of products, from in-wall, floor-standing and outdoor speakers, to subwoofers and amplifiers. With such a wide product line, perhaps it was inevitable that RBH would eventually dabble in a market that has drawn the attention of almost every other audio company out there: headphones. The EP1 noise-isolating in-ear headphones represent RBH’s first foray into the market.
Marketed as a hi-fidelity option for your smartphone or MP3 player, the EP1 will run you just under $150, and promise to provide “a wide soundstage, free from outside noise and interruption.” Of course, we’ve heard that tune before, but pairing excellent noise isolation and high fidelity sound in a little in-ear is a tall order. Still, RBH has been in the sound-design game for a while now, and we were interested to find out how its first plunge into the deep waters of high-end headphones would turn out. Here’s what we discovered.
Out of the box
The box containing the EP1 manages to deliver a feeling of big-time quality in a miniaturized package. Taking a page from many others, the EP1 box opens like a mini-encyclopedia with a flap on the right side that seals with two small magnets. Inside, a dense foam cut-out holds a small leather pouch with the letters “rbh” neatly stenciled on the front. Opening the pouch like a coin purse reveals the EP1 coiled inside. Also in the box was an assortment of both Comply foam and silicone ear tips, and a cable clip.
Features and design
The EP1 are a handsome set of ‘phones, with a sleek black braided cable, and gunmetal housing around the earpieces. The drivers extend from the earpiece base at an angle, aiming sound down the ear canal. The larger round earpieces are designed to help block the ear canal entrance from outside noise. The design is reminiscent of Phiaton’s “half in-ear” design found on its PS 210 model. A knurled texture where the cord meets the base makes it easier to grip the headphones as you take them in and out – just one more clever little feature that adds to the ergonomic design.
Aside from the hybrid in-ear design, the EP1 provide a healthy dose of noise isolation by way of an included set of Comply foam ear tips. Much more comfortable than the silicone tips also included with the EP1, the Comply foam expands and contracts to fit the ear canal, and the tips did a pretty decent job of eliminating much of the noise around us as we listened at medium volume. Though sound still came through when we muted our player, it was definitely an improvement over standard in-ear ‘phones outfitted with silicone eartips, and the comfort alone had us falling in love with the foam tips. Note, however, that some listeners may experience a notably altered sound when using foam tips as opposed to silicone. In the case of the EP1, though, the Comply tips seemed to work to the advantage of the product’s sound.
We listened to a vast array of musical styles to test the EP1, with the majority of our tracks served up by our iPhone 3GS. It was immediately evident that the EP1 has a highly sculpted sound signature. That can be a bit of a mixed bag: though the more acute design helps create some of the power and excitement the EP1 delivers, it can also cause some inconsistencies with the overall balance.
The first thing that grabbed us was the EP1’s delivery of bass. Those who enjoy a good amount of low end will be pleased with the big foundation the EP1 deliver. The drivers reproduce rich, full beats from kick drums and toms, as well as deep, defined bass guitar lines. We felt that in some electronic tracks, the percussion pounded with enough doom and resonance to distract a little from the midrange. Still, we were impressed by the amount of power the small earpieces were able to muster – especially on hip-hop tracks – and we think many listeners will enjoy the “big beat” sound of the EP1’s low end.
Another standout characteristic of the EP1’s sculpted sound was a bump in the frequency spectrum at around 5-7kHz. Though at times it helped bring some clarity to the treble, we found the push in that region had a tendency to add a little too much sibilance on the “s” and “ch” sounds in some vocal lines, as well as a thin character to some of the instrumentation. When we put on Notorious B.I.G.’s classic track “Hypnotize,” for instance, the snare drum was just too snappy for our taste, distracting from the groove of the song.
Other tracks were more balanced, and we were able to enjoy the clean detail and expansive stereo field the EP1 provide. When we listened to the Talking Heads track “This Must Be the Place,” the thick bass was judiciously spread out, allowing the complex instrumentation and synthesizers of the tune to sparkle crisply on top and fill the expansive stereo channels with their myriad of sound. Turning to more acoustic music, we heard some gorgeous moments in the midrange as well. The guitar in Dan Fogelberg’s song “Leader of the Band” hummed with a warm, woody presence, and Fogelberg’s vocal line was extremely clear and well revealed. When the brass ensemble entered after the second verse, it came through as smooth as silk.
The EP1 headphones are a comfortable and well-designed first effort from RBH. We had some issues here and there with the balance and sharp treble, but we also enjoyed the powerful low end and detailed stereo field they offer. The Comply foam tips worked to the benefit of the EP1, where they have been a detriment to other quality in-ear headphones. To be sure, they are extremely comfortable. Overall, we had a good experience with the EP1, and though they’re a little spendy, they’re also very well built. If you’re looking for a portable set of headphones with good passive noise isolation, excellent comfort, and a big, full sound, the RBH EP1 are definitely worth checking out.
- Deep, defined bass
- Wide, detailed stereo field
- Ergonomic design
- Good noise isolation
- Some balance issues
- A bit sharp in the treble
- Slightly expensive